Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Uncle Ho saved me from being a teenager

Uncle Ho isn't a particularly popular figure in the United States compared to, say Uncle Sam or Colonel Sanders.
This is probably just as well because if some bright spark decided to open a chain of Ho Houses, people could get the wrong idea, although it's hard to see how they could be more seedy than Waffle Houses.
Being British I am a firm champion of impossible causes, such as the England football team. it almost goes without saying that I had something of a soft spot for Ho Chi Minh, the mythical Vietnamese Communist revolutionary, Prime Minister and President, notwithstanding the often brutal and misguided nature of his regime.
Uncle Ho may have deprived a whole generation of Vietnamese people from making an easy buck not to mention those McDonald's fries that taste like cardboard, but he saved me from being a teenager for at least four hours of my life, an achievement that should not be belittled.
I'm always suspicious of people who say their teenage years were the best of their lives, a fad that seems to have been growing recently with those wretch inducing prom photos that periodically appear on Facebook. I'm convinced these people now have selective memory loss or were on drugs.
For many good reasons I have made every effort to erase the memory of those years, as effectively as Stalin airbrushed Trotsky out of Soviet history.
I didn't even have to destroy my class photos as a teenager. As soon as my parents opened the envelope, removed the health warning from the photographer and and pulled out images that were more like join-the-dots puzzles than liknesses of a human being, there wasn't the remotest prospect of them parting with their hard earned cash for images that would scare away the few house visitors they had.
Of course acne isn't the only curse of the teenage years.
There's this strange parallel universe you enter in which you come to come to believe tight stripey jeans, lemon colored wife beater shirts and pointed shoes with buckles on the side are the epitome of coolness.
If I had attended an respectable school I may have survived, by cosseting my teenage angst and rampant hormones into a blazer.
Unfortunately I attended the School of Hard Chavs, a place where burgundy staypress trousers, fledgling moustaches and streaky hair were the order of the day, the classrooms and the disordered places in between.
Even the brightest of students tried to dumb down. One photo that does survive from those days is The Grim Trinity, otherwise known as the official image of the three brightest kids in school.
I can't remember how I made the list. I believe I had to spell my name and get all the letters in the correct order.
Demonstrating my impeccable judgement, I chose to wear a jacket that the most evasive of backstreet car salesmen would be proud of, drainpipe trousers and appear to have injected a generous amount of "Sun-In" into my hair. I would have owned a Ford Capri but fortunately I wasn't old enough to fail my driving test.
I was in good company. Even Keithy, formerly so square that we avoided him for fear of being injured by his right angles, had reached for the Sun-In and was spouting the beginnings of a moustache every bit as pathetic and light deprived as my own.
Being away from school provided little respite from being a teenager; in fact it only made it worse. On Saturday nights I would join forces with Dan whose natural teenage awkwardness was excacerbated by an unkept shock of hair the color of the top of a Duracell battery and an unfortunate limp.
Hyped up on cheap lager we'd stagger from disco to disco with the sole purpose of being insulted by girls. Or so it seemed. A for effort, E for achievement, D for desperation.
Most nights we ended up sat on a wall, chain spitting on the pavement while I tried to think of ways to trade in Dan for a cooler friend I never found until one day I stumbled on Uncle Ho.
For a bizarre reason I never understood our school had been selected to take part in a United Nations youth conference in London and I was one of of the members of the three strong delegation.
Our hands, stained with nicotine from unsuccessful teenage smoking escapades, were all over the envelope. It finally came apart and a small label beating the mystical name "Vietnam" floated to the floor like a slogan from a fortune cookie.
The envelope marked a strange phase when we departed from our school's moto, which I recall was "bugger it," (it sounds better in Latin) to do some real research.
One of the big ticket debates at Westminster Hall was slated to be Vietnam's occupation of Cambodia and I was the delegate in the hot seat. I assiduously visited the library and studied Vietnam's pragmatic and often disastrous form of communism and the country's late spiritual leader Ho Chi Minh.
My life was transformed. By the time I attended the plenary sessions I genuinely believed in Vietnam's right to occupy Cambodia, an argument strengthened by the fact that the UN still recognized the muderous regime of Pol Pot as Vietnam's legal representatives, notwithstanding the not inconsequential matter of two million deaths in the killing fields.
I was winning the argument and winning over the girls from a Catholic school in Bedford, until I made a sartorial gaffe by wearing a rat grey leather jacket on the second day and narrowly lost the diplomatic high ground.
But some of the gravitas of being Vietnam carried over to the parties at the University of London, the type where you end up in a clinch in the elevator with some unknown girl from Stevenage and spend breakfast the next day clearing your throat and avoiding her glassy stare.
Soon the crescendo was upon me. On the last day the conference convened in Westminster Hall and voted on the resolutions. Knots formed in my stomach and my hands shook as my alloted time drew near. When I stood up to speak about Pol Pot's atrocities there was a dull murmur in the hall.
The arguments that had been so persuasive with the girls from Bedford were having little effect. But then I had a mental image of the mystical figure of Uncle Ho, his long whispy beard hanging in the jungle breeze.
Abandoning my script I launched into a diatribe against American imperialism. The conference erupted into whoops of delight, clapping and cheering. It was a low trick, perhaps, but Uncle Ho had saved me.
We narrowly lost the vote but I didn't care.
For at least four hours the sartorial horrors and gawky angst of being a teenager had been vanquished. Uncle Ho had rescued me from being a teenager.

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