Back, by popular demand – well, after a few threatening phone calls from Horace’s dear old, slightly bewildered mother – yet more reminiscences from Horace Wimp:
‘In those early weeks, 1S was beginning, slowly, to divide into natural groups: like with like. At the very front of the class, eagerly attaching themselves to every word the Devil Woman dared chant, sat the always perfect swats. Every pencil meticulously sharpened to a lethal point and perfectly parallel to the newest fountain pens, as yet untouched by human hand. Helen Hadley and Jane Pierce, braces visible when they smiled sycophantically, long mousy blond or dullish black hair pulled tight in ponytails, their acne on the verge of bursting. Helen, her ears sticking out to the sides and swivelling like satellite dishes, and poor Jane, puppy plump to be kind, staggering with a bowlegged gait, such a sight to behold in a white P.E. top and tight blue skirt. Both now vying for their favoured position in front of the blackboard, scrambling over the latest autographed picture of Stephen Hawking sitting astride his wheelchair. Both constantly batting away the soggy bits of paper spat at them from stripped down biros, while the evil one’s spiny back was turned.
“Miss! They’re spitting at us again, Miss. Miss!”
At the back, amongst the shadows, out of sight and out of mind, sat the class jokers, sharing that week’s edition of Shoot!. Well, we were only young and the pleasures of a glossy Playboy or Mayfair, had yet to be brought to our still innocent attention.
Matthew Crane hurriedly scrawled his undying love for Katherine Newman and The Specials across a desk lid with a chisel, while the rest of us read from Trevor Brooking’s personal file, all the while defacing school diaries with tiny Mod stickers and photos depicting the latest in-crowd. Frankie Crisp tired easily of football and amused himself by throwing Pierce’s bag out of the window, ignoring her pleas and watching its numerous contents bounce across the farm track. Jane screamed, and screamed, and we giggled as a box of something called Tampax lay crushed beneath the wheels of the school’s tractor, which promptly exploded again, the driver jumping clear and rolling in the grass to extinguish the flames licking his back. We looked at the scattered debris. What looked like white mice squashed under a large rear wheel. Very moving.
Joe Adams stopped copying my French homework for a brief moment and Frankie was sent to the Headmaster for the second time that day, protesting his innocence loudly and demanding instant justice for, “The Bradington One”. The dye was cast, and I was in the midst of it all, praying that nobody would notice.
Joe thankfully owned up to “cheating”, a bit too obvious really, considering he was caught red-handed copying my work of pure genius word for every wrongly translated word, including my full name. Somehow though, the teacher’s little pet, he still managed to obtain an impressive “B+” and a nice comment of “good work”, while I, the child protégé from that intellectual backwater called Tilshead, only managed a somewhat paltry “C”, and a detention for “not trying”. Oh the injustice.
“Cheats do not prosper,” I was reminded, one hundred times across one side of an A4 sheet of paper.
“But it was supposed to be our little secret,” I reminded Joe. An arrangement written in blood behind the bus shelter earlier that week. He was to do all the mathematical stuff, adding and subtracting et cetera, with a little multiplication thrown in if he could manage it, while I would do anything involving the written word and in any need of imagination or creativity. “It was working as well.” Until he had been caught.
We tried the sheepish look, like butter wouldn’t melt… Sturridge towering above us, a cheap child-sacrificing kit to hand, the razor sharp knives poised at our gulping jugulars, the dull corkscrews poking into the tops of our heads. Obviously the sheepish look had failed!
We tried throwing ourselves upon her tender mercy – a childish mistake – pleading on bended knee and begging not to be crucified to the doorframe, again. Surely the local education authorities now frowned upon that sort of behaviour? But that was not to work either. And there we were, thinking that she was a Christian.
“It may well have been good enough for poor Jesus, Miss, but it bloody hurts,” we pointed out. So much for setting an example… For turning the other cheek. What was I going to tell Mum?
This wasn’t the way of child protégés.
I started to hyperventilate. “I will never cheat again. Cross my heart and hope to die… I will never cheat again. Cross my heart and hope to die,” one hundred times, until my hand really hurt.
Quietly, as Mr Carmichael read his left-wing newspaper and watched the clock slowly tick away another hour that had seemingly dragged by mercilessly, I prayed that my face wouldn’t appear on the latest edition of Police 5, with the god-like Sean Taylor. Or was it Shaw Taylor? Bloody stupid name either way.
“And lastly tonight. Have you seen this young delinquent?”
Mum dropping the serving tray, crying out as my face flashed across the screen, my school photo coming back to haunt me. How I hated that bloody photo! Such a funny looking kid with those large rimmed glasses.
“He was last seen on the school bus home. If you have seen him, please get in touch, as the police would like to speak to him about a severe case of homework fraud, not to mention a little sideline in weekend scrumping. Remember, he is a funny looking kid so should not be approached under any circumstances. He is likely to whinge a great deal, before breaking down in tears and begging for mercy.” After delivering this damning piece to camera, Sean, or Shaw, would then tap his nose, smile and wink, reminding us all to, “keep ‘em peeled”. Smug git!
So that was it. The next step was Wormwood Scrubs, handcuffed to a “Screw”. Mum tearfully waving me farewell as the large gates slammed shut behind me.
The journey home was one full of dread. Of course I had swaggered down the school drive like any hardened rebel, but purely for appearances. For deep down, despite all the attention and the endless questions about “life on the inside”, I was bloody terrified. No matter how I looked at it, I was now a delinquent, a tearaway. I was, in the language of classic literature, a scoundrel and a bounder, “a cad” on the first slippery slope to the great abyss of hopelessness. And I was only twelve.
“You’re late tonight,” Mum said casually over her shoulder as I crept in from the cold, sending my briefcase sliding across the floor with a frustrated kick of angst. Bloody briefcase.
I had football practice. I had football practice.
The alibi, worked out carefully in advance, now racing through my head with little real conviction.
I had football practice. I had football practice. Certain that she’d see through it.
I had football practice. I had football practice.
“I’m so sorry Mum,” I screamed, falling at her feet. “I got a detention for cheating and I’ll understand if you can’t bring yourself to love me anymore because I have brought eternal shame on this family but it wasn’t me it was Joe honest.” It was always Joe. This sordid confession, falling out in one rambling sentence, with no punctuation marks. Had I learnt nothing? High-pitched words, merged through the sobs of hysteria.
Mum tutted and shook her head as she dished up the sausage, chips, eggs and beans, four times, shouting through the hatch that dinner was finally served.
“Oh, by the way, our son and heir is now a heinous criminal.” Did anybody want ketchup?’