Beware the tapes

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The Independent Online
Forget the Prime Minister, the theme of the week isstrange venues. Time was when weddings were restricted to churches and register offices. Now you can get married in the boiler-room of the SS Great Britain, or the middle of an ancient stone circle half-way up a mountain. Prime ministers once gave press conferences in oak-panelled rooms in Westminster. Today, it is done a la Americain, with the great man planted on a lawn, like a rather dull, wintry shrub startled by the sunlight (an evergrey, perhaps?).

And until this week most of us associated school gymnasiums with plimsolls, bean-bags and squeaky floors. So it was a shock to discover that - like the toy cupboard in a Grimm fairy tale - the gym sometimes comes to life after the children have gone to bed. Except that instead of the jack-in- the-box frightening the tin soldier, in this story the naked teacher gets tied to the wall-bars by the head of the fifth form. Nor was the story revealed in a book, but in the appropriately modern form of a video tape, discovered by a group of 15-year-old pupils.

According to the Sun this week, the two teachers (let us, out of decency, call them Ken and Barbie) frolicked together after hours in the gymnasium. Ken's fantasy was to tie ladies up and Barbie agreed. Later the unclothed pedagogues took their courtship still further - on the horse. All this was captured on tape by a video camera in the possession of the pair. Somehow the tape found its way into a school cupboard, where it lay undisturbed for eight years - until last week.

K and B, now suspended, tell a different tale. They had gone to the gym not for a spot of Pennant-Reaism but to put equipment away after a school trip. True, they had been naked and yes, they were being intimate, but they had not had sex. As for the camera, there had been no intention to record their rather idiosyncratic notions of post-journey tidying. One had believed that the camera was not switched on, the other that there was no tape in it.

Call me naive, but I find the teachers' tale quite believable in all respects save one. It was probably a hot day. Two tired people, with bonds of solidarity forged by the act of accompanying 20 hormonal lads pot- holing or whatever, arrive in the gym. Sweaty from their work they strip off. Why not? Barbie is exhausted and wilting, so Ken gently lashes her upright to the vertical bars. She recovers and they start putting things away again. As they work they chat about their interests. He likes Ken Russell movies and describes the wrestling scene from Women in Love, where Alan Bates and Oliver Reed tussle nude in front of a roaring fire. Would she care to play Oliver Reed? She would. And that is all.

But what I can't explain is the video camera. Whereas you or I have terrible trouble setting the camera up to take remote pictures (leading to all those compositions entitled One Eye, Ashtray and Palm Tree) - these two managed it by pure accident. The machine followed their every move.

To see if this was feasible, I scanned some of the specialist publications catering for the keen camcorderer. Had other enthusiasts encountered this problem of autonomous cameras? There were duff luminance drive circuits, FM deviations, sticky source decks and stupid smart cables. Articles on holiday filming solemnly enjoined readers to avoid dropping cameras in the sea. But no one reported rogue auto-operation. It was not credible.

So why had they done it? Many journalists know that President Richard Nixon would have escaped the Watergate scandal had it not been for his habit of audio-taping all his conversations. Once the expletive deleted tapes were transcribed he was doomed. Ken and Barbie likewise were only rumbled by the commitment to posterity of activities in which, unfortunately, nothing was deleted. And it is hard to see in their downfall - as in Nixon's - anything other than a very human desire for permanence, for immortality. So the thought for the week is this: have fun in the gym, burgle your enemies, but for God's sake destroy the tapes.