From Iceland — The Beatle Manifesto

The Beatle Manifesto

Published September 8, 2006

Introduction in which the narrator reminds of his existence
A spectre is haunting the streets of the world, the spectre of the Beatles.
It’s as if the earth is preparing itself for a wild drum solo.
Huge flocks of kids appear, with nothing to lose but their virginity.
Parents and headmasters, vicars and barbers – in short, all those who fear for their lot – now consider a holy alliance.

It began something like that, the Beatle Manifesto, which was supposed to supplant all other manifestoes, the Communist Manifesto, the address to the nation, and of course the school rules.
The rules hung in a frame on the wall beside the blackboard in the classroom. They contained nothing worth knowing and I could never be bothered to read them.
The only advantage to them was that I could see Helga’s face reflected in the glass. From there I could extract her with a mental magnifying glass, although now I have no idea where she is.
It was I, Jóhann Pétursson, who wrote that manifesto – I introduce myself here at the very outset because I have previously featured on the pages of this author.
He does nothing more than write down what I say, but takes all the credit for it and collects the royalties that by rights should accrue solely to me.
But that’s the way the cookie crumbles.
We fictional characters have no rights. We play all kinds of silly pranks and then the authors appear in the papers and say even more stupid things about us. Maybe we should take legal action and sue them, the way everyone else in society does.
Then you would read in the papers: Fifteen fictional characters sue an author, and conferences would be held: Characters held a meeting at Hótel Saga. Where else should they meet?
I see Bjartur from Summerhouses arriving by taxi with two bald-headed men who both claim to have created him, but he completely disagrees, and Hamlet is a bag of nerves at the bar, totally confused by all the people he has been.
And so on and so forth.
I trust that you forgive me this presumptuousness, but I have had to suffer internment in a drawer for I don’t know how long. I was put there when the author could no longer be bothered listening to me. Yet I was far from having finished what I had to say.
I am well aware that it would look much cooler to come out of the closet, but I haven’t been in any closet, just in a drawer, the drawer of an old desk whence I rise like a spectre from the pyjamas of time, to tell you this tale.
Let’s spend the night together
I shall go over the story quickly and skip all the bullshit about the morning sun rising and the rain pounding on the roofs and all that boring bollocks in books.
Nor do I intend to trace genealogies or stir up a fuss about problems donkeys’ years ago.
I just say like the soldier in The Tinder-Box: Nothing happens here until I show up.
He said that because he was supposed to be hanged.
I can promise you that I shall not be hanged, because it is forbidden to hang people in Iceland. No public execution has been held since 1830, although of course many people have hanged themselves since then.
But that’s their problem and I don’t intend to delve into them.
I shall just dart straight inside the white school building and start in Stella the Strong’s classroom where everything is in chaos as often before.
Stella strides back and forth with her baton aloft. Her expression is fierce, her double chin determined. She looks on the verge of bursting or contracting measles.
I don’t know how much Stella weighs, because I have never weighed her, but she is big and fat. She is sometimes called Fat Stella, but since I do not want to encourage prejudice against fat people I call her Stella the Strong, which is quite natural because she used to put the shot in her youth.
At home she has a daughter who is also called Stella and is identical to her, like a photocopy taken at the maternity ward. I am told that they eat large quantities of liverwurst and sausage and devour curds with cream. I don’t know whether she has a husband, but if so he is just some sparrow or peewit.
Stella’s eyes give off sparks and everything falls completely silent. The problem is that someone has had the effrontery to slip a note into the register on the teacher’s desk. Probably during the break.
That is why Stella has gone ballistic. She is like a dragon newly emerged from the crater of a volcano. She wants an explanation for the note, which says: “Let’s spend the night together …” followed by the signature of the headmaster, Herbert.
It says: “The headmaster, Herbert”.
Turning over the note provides further instructions from Herbert, or more correctly, the details of his proposal.
It says: “Meet me in the broom cupboard at five o’clock.”
Stella wants an explanation for this note, and she wants it now. I don’t know how much Stella knows about the Rolling Stones, so I say that it’s the title of one of their songs, written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, while the other members of the group are Brian Jones, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts.
“Charlie plays drums, Bill plays bass …” I continue, but Stella does not want a lecture about the Rolling Stones, nor about the Beatles, the Who, the Small Faces, the Pretty Things, the Kinks, the Animals, the Spencer Davis Group or Them, who are Irish but very Icelandic in appearance.
Instead she screams, louder than even Janis Joplin could ever have dreamt of: “The point isn’t what idiots it came from, but who wrote it?”
Silence descends again, until I put up my hand and say: “I think Mick Jagger writes the lyrics.”
This information does not seem to soothe Stella either, because older people are not particularly fond of Mick Jagger, even though he would later be given a knighthood and could sleep with any woman he likes with one wave of his passport.
So I ask Stella: “What does it mean?”
The class erupts in laughter. My classmates love it when I say stupid things, which is why I always do, but this time Stella knows who the culprit is. She always knows who the culprit is, and I get on her nerves. I would get on mine too if I were her.
Although Stella knows nothing about Beatle music, she knows how obsessed with it I am. I often daydream from all the songs playing in my head. Sometimes I rest my forehead on the desk to keep my thoughts in rhythm. My head is a world where the stage is set for a gigantic concert.
Once Stella asked me the name of the capital of Finland and I was caught so badly off my guard that I said Ringo Starr, although of course I know it is called Helsinki and competes with Reykjavík for the world record in depression, since I subscribe to Children’s Monthly which devotes a lot of coverage to Scandinavia, mainly Norwegian skiers and Swedish groups such as the Sven Ingvars band.
The editors of Children’s Monthly are also very fond of the Soviet Union, but are strongly opposed to alcohol, which is strange considering how fond they are of the Soviet Union. Children’s Monthly is full of articles about Russian child prodigies. They are generally introverted kids who sit at pianos or play chess. They are like the depressive poets in the School Anthology of Poetry, only much younger.
Be that as it may, I cannot escape my fate, for Stella comes striding over to me and sprays me with the words: “Isn’t this your handwriting, Jóhann?”
“No,” I say, because these are just clumsy block capitals, although Stella may well recognise them.
She stands over me, terrifying as a mountain, and because she says nothing, I say: “I’d just ask Herbert.”
The class laughs again.
“Yes, maybe we should talk to him about it, Jóhann,” Stella says, and before I know it she grabs my black Beatle sweater by the polo neck. And then I’m on my way to see the headmaster, and not for the first time.

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