The Posh Boy is a Hardy Species
At school and well into his professional life, James was the “posh” boy. He was reminded of this on an almost daily basis and, by reminded, what he actually meant was taunted, teased and bullied.
He could tell his audience this. “I’m sure you know the drill,” he might say, with a smile that tried to disguise the fact that “knowing the drill” was not the sort of thing someone who sounded like him would say.
His voice was primarily the cause of the misconception. James had no idea why it had turned out as it did, although his best guess was watching too much BBC as a kid.
“You alright there, Mr Kendrick?” the young man with the clipboard asked.
James looked up from the lectern where, even now, particularly now, his address was beadily looking back at him. So many polysyllables. Exactly the sort of thing they’d have expected from him at school.
“Perfectly, yes. Thanks.”
“I’ll get them through from coffee, then,” the young man said. James saw his own name at the top of the clipboard. The last one to speak today.
“Yes, yes, you do that,” James smiled, shuffling his papers unnecessarily and wondering, not for the first time, exactly how much damage a descent from a first floor window would do to him. It wouldn’t be fair on the organisers, though, he determined, as the young man scuttled away. Waiting around for the ambulance would cause havoc with their schedule.
James took a sip of water. He could tell them, when he opened his mouth and they were forming their opinions, that he was a council estate kid. He could reason with them: “Look, I might sound like this, but you ought to hear my parents.” There was such a lot he could say, but then, of course, that was why he’d been invited.
The first of the delegates came through the door. Three piece suit. Huge Windsor knot to the tie. A flushed, even red, face like you weren’t meant to comment upon anymore. Not since the word “gammon” had been bandied about on social media.
And here he was, in the same room as this creature – as these creatures, James thought, as the first Not A Gammon was followed by another ham-faced gentleman, again with the suit, again with the tie. A club tie, this time. Tie pin, too.
The kids at school had failed to think through just how odd it was to find a member of the landed classes in their classroom, on their badly tarmacked playground, hanging round with them and their nits and their body odour issues. What had he been, then? Some kind of spy? Was that who James Kendrick was to them?
Why couldn’t he have been that boy?
“Should be interesting, this one,” the first Not A Gammon was saying, as he took his seat.
Oh yes, James thought. When I tell you what a fraud I am, you’ll love it, believe me.
Another sip of water. Another look at the window. There was a drain pipe. He’d never been especially athletic – of course not, he’d never even seen the playing fields of Eton – but James reckoned he could shin down it, if it came to it. If nothing else, they wouldn’t be forgetting this keynote in a hurry.
The room settled itself after a reminder or three from the young gentleman and then – James’ stomach went down a few floors at the cue – the lights were dimmed and there was Priscilla from Regional, power-dressed to the nines as ever, striding to the front to introduce him.
You can say it, James told himself. You can tell them you might sound like you do – might look as you do – might have shiny shoes and a Windsor knot of your own – but you’re just the little runt in the playground who’d never socialised properly with his own crowd and learned how to deal with other people only through the thesps on telly. You should tell them.
“Giving us his talk about imposter syndrome, Professor James Kendrick,” Priscilla said, leading the applause and nodding to James that it was his turn to speak.
Or, he thought, as he cleared his throat and leaned into the microphone, you can just give them the usual and see how much longer it takes for them to call you out on it. It’s worked for you so far.