The secret I’ve been keeping since high school

I loved high school; despite my red hair I had a great time. "So you weren't bullied, like at all?" new friends probe. My pleasurable high school experience is confounding to some. "So you were a nerd then?" they press further. "No, I was into sport mostly," I reply.

As we know it's one or the other, you're sporty or good at physics, a crossover is very rare.

"So were you naughty, always in trouble then?"
The questions keep coming, trying to pinpoint how I survived the high school ecosystem with red, curly hair and an unhealthy obsession with Peter Andre.

"I was naughty once, and once only," I reply.

I wagged the interhouse choral competition in 1999. What a weight off my chest - finally admitting that.

Each house had to prepare a hymn and a song of their choice to sing against the other houses. The song of choice had to be "appropriate" and also able to be played on the piano in the hall by someone from the music staff.

My house, Tennyson, prepared a hymn that I don't remember, and our contemporary song was The Lion Sleeps Tonight. We had worked on some basic choreography and really made the most of the "A-weema-weh's" by throwing our hands up in the air, teamed with a sidestep hoping for extra points from the judges.

Mel Buttle wagged her interhouse choral competition in 1999.
Mel Buttle wagged her interhouse choral competition in 1999.

Singing and dancing are not my strong points, and in my 17-year-old head I allowed myself to believe all eyes would be on me, and my shonky dance moves and off-key singing would be the topic of ridicule. The bell rang to end lunch and we were all due in the hall. I hung back while everyone filtered off, I was cooking a plan up, still not sure what I was going to do.

Eventually it was just me. I was about to wag for the first time. I hadn't thought this through and panic set in. It was too late to slip into the hall without being noticed, so I hid behind a door. Of course. From 12.50pm until the bell went at 3.20pm. Nothing to do, no phone, no book to read. I just stood there, terrified of being caught.

Now whenever I hear The Lion Sleeps Tonight, my heart races and my palms get sweaty, then they fly up in the air and I have an urge to sidestep.

Mel Buttle is a Brisbane comedian

Originally published as The secret I've been keeping since high school


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