My Last School Trip 4 – Darren in Hot Water

Doss in the Mill

The Cossington Outdoor Centre is in an old watermill, two miles from Llanfair. A skinflint farmer ripped out the wheels and stones in 1929 to use it as a barn. Gradually it crumbled to ruin till twenty years ago, when Jack Wickenden (of Wickenden’s Wicked Lemonade, our local millionaire) had it restored “for the benefit of the young folk of Cossington in perpetuity”. Where bullocks and sheep once sheltered from cold Welsh rain, there are dormitories and showers, heated these days, thank God. The old mill house holds the staff quarters and office; kitchens, classrooms, games rooms and stores are in the outbuildings on three sides of a courtyard. Even the newer buildings are clad in red sandstone, under a black slate roof, all to fit in with the national park. Beautiful. Quiet, till we got there.

The centre has its own staff, led by Bob Kipling, a cheery outdoor type, widely believed to have served in the SAS, a reputation he says nothing to dispel. I remember his last two years in school – they were my first two there. We had enough on each other for me not to let on that he’d only been a part-time sergeant in the West Kent Territorials. His assistants were local youngsters Ellis and Nerys, who could handle a rope on a cliff or a boat on a river, and eat any of our lot for breakfast. Bob and his wife Maggie live on the job, Nerys and Ellis come in daily.

I had allowed myself to be persuaded to drive one of the centre’s minibuses. You may feel this was against my principles, but I’d left my car behind – I hope they aren’t painting that green too – and thought I might need an escape from the Cockles or the students occasionally.

There was a welcoming committee in the courtyard when we arrived at the Centre. They had heard us at the top of the drive half a mile off. Bob soon had the boys lined up with their bags at their feet, while the girls stood in a bunch at the front of the bus, waiting for a word from Maggie and Mrs Cockle. I had the camera rolling.

 

Great Elms School Trip to Wales

Passage cut from Scene 6

Unloading the bus at the centre

Edited by Paul Thompson and Emily Miles

Camera: William Turnstone

 

Scene: main courtyard at Wickenden Mill. Present: GES staff and students, Wickenden Mill staff.

Enter Shep, a collie, sniffing the air.

Stacey bends down to pet him.

Shep ignores her, wanders over to the boys, tail held high, sniffs at Darren’s bag. Darren’s bag wriggles, nearly topples over, whimpers.

Mr Kipling, unable to pull his dog away: What’s in the bag, what’s-your-name?

Darren: Darren, Sir, Darren Hogben. Clothes, Sir. Boots, Sir. Towel, toothpaste, stuff like that… Er, Everything on the list, Sir.

Mr Kipling: Does ANYTHING on the list make a noise like that, Darren Hogben?

Darren: I don’t know, Sir. They are new boots, Sir. Mum said they might be squeaky, Sir.

Mr Kipling: Open the bag.

Darren opens the bag, to reveal the dog he had been seen with by the cliff.

Mr Kipling: I thought so. Well, Sir, your Mum can soon find out if your boots are squeaky, Sir, because you, Sir, are going straight back home in that bus. I will NOT have unauthorised, untrained, mongrel curs chasing round the place.

Darren: But, Sir!

Mr Kipling: If me no buts boy, there are no buts!

Stacey: It’s Scruffy, come here, boy!

Coach Driver: He’s not coming back on my coach. I was paid to bring you people here; not to take you back again. My company has done its risk assessments. I don’t carry no unaccompanied dogs, and I don’t carry no unaccompanied minors. As far as I’m concerned, he stays here till I comes to take you home at the end of the week. Meanwhile, I want to be back across the bridge before my break, so if some kind person will come along to open the gates, I’ll be seeing you on Friday.

Emily: I’ll go! Climbs into coach and leaves to open field gates for driver.

Mr Kipling: Right then, Darren Hogben, let me get this mob sorted, then it’s straight into Abergavenny and I’ll put you on the train home. Now, let that creature have half an hour on the lead while I make some arrangements. We should be able to have you back in Cossington for eleven o’clock tonight.

Darren: Did you say have Scruffy on the lead?

Mr Kipling: On the lead!

Darren: He doesn’t need no lead. He’s well trained. Scruffy! Sit! Lie down!

Scruffy: lies down.

Shep: goes to Scruffy, who rolls over while Shep licks him all over.

Mr Kipling: Shep, come here!

Shep: ignores him.

Mr Kipling: Shep! Heel! Come on boy. Shep! Here!

Shep:ignores him.

Mr Kipling: Stop them, can’t you?

Darren: I wouldn’t do that. It’s just Scruffy telling Shep he knows who’s boss, and Shep making friends. That’s dogs, Sir. It’s what happened with Scruffy and my Nan’s old dog. If you stop them now we could have them fighting all week.

Stacey: Your Nan! Oh help! Runs to Gemma and whispers excitedly.


Text Message sent by Stacey Oxenden,

Saturday afternoon

HI MUM. ARRVD OK. QIK. GET OLD MRS HOGBEN 2 CUM 2 T. NOW. V IMPRTNT. NOW. THIS MIN. LUV U. STACEY. NOW. X.

Second Text Message sent by Stacey Oxenden,

Saturday afternoon

HI JASON. B NICE 2 OLD MRS HOGBEN. KEEP HER TALKIN. PULL HER FONE WIRE OUT WEN U TAKE HER HOME. JUS DO IT OR ELSE. 4 ME + DAZ. STACE. LOOK AFTER RATS.

Text Message sent by Mrs Angela Oxenden,

Saturday afternoon

STACEY. R U IN TROUBLE? IS DARREN IN TROUBLE? WOT R U UP 2?

Third Text Message sent by Stacey Oxenden,

Saturday afternoon

DONT ASK QS MUM. JUST GET HER ROUND. NOW & KEEP HER. FEED HER, MEGA IMPORTNT. LUV U. S

Second Text Message sent by Mrs Angela Oxenden,

Saturday afternoon

STACEY. I DONT TRUST U. BUT NO HARM IN GIVIN HER A CUPPA. U SURE U NOT IN TROUBLE?


Darren on the Rocks.

Darren was in a mess and I was his ex-form tutor, in loco parentis.  I had to do something, but just what could I do? The first thing was to talk to the boy himself.

“Come on, Darren, let’s give Scruffy a run for his money. If you don’t mind a field full of Herefords, I’ll show you the way to the river. I hear these waters rolling from their mountain springs with a sweet inland murmur.”

We kept Scruffy on the lead across the centre grounds but as Darren said, he was well trained and trotted at heel once he was released, ignoring the big red-and-white cows and the bull in the midst of them. I had to congratulate Darren on Scruffy’s behaviour.

“Thanks, Sir, it’s been hard work, but he’s really obedient now. And very intelligent. I couldn’t leave him behind.”

“Wouldn’t your Mum look after him?”

“She’s gone on holiday with Aunty May, to Ibiza. They should be landing there at six o’clock.”

“So she let you bring Scruffy?”

“Not exactly. I was meant to take him round to Nan’s this morning. But she’s terrible; she feeds him sweets. He’ll put on weight and I’ll have to stop him begging all over again. So I gave him half one of Nan’s sleeping pills and put him in my bag.”

“Wasn’t that a bit dangerous? What if you’d overdosed him?”

“Well, Nan’s only little, so I thought a half would be OK. He looks OK now, doesn’t he, Sir?”

I had to admit he did. Scruffy had a great time chasing sticks in and out of the river, while I was glad to see the sand martins on the far bank and a buzzard circling high above us. Twenty minutes of breathing space, before we had to go back and face the music.

Another question I wanted cleared up before that, “What happened to Dean’s rat? He hasn’t brought that has he? Not after I specifically told him not to?”

“No. She’s gone off to get pregnant at Stacey’s. Her brother Jason lost his female and Dean said he could have half the babies if he had her for the week.”

“That should make life a bit easier, if no-one’s actually disobeyed orders. Still, if we were to send you home … I don’t think your Nan has a spare room in her flat, has she?’

“Er …”

“She hasn’t, has she?”

“No, not if you say so, Sir.”

”Whatever you say, Darren. At least there’s a bed for you here, and we are in loco parentis.”

“Yes, Sir, if you say so, Sir.”

“Have you been here before then, Sir?” asked Darren on the way back to the centre.

“Years ago, when it first opened. I cannot paint what then I was. Mr Kipling was in his fifth year at school. I was a new teacher. Your mother … well, a lot has changed since then. Reliable hot water in the showers for a start, and no doubt the cooking’s improved; this path down to the river and all the wheelchair access. We couldn’t have brought Ollie in those days. I expect Bob Kipling’s a bit more safety conscious as well.”

“Yes Sir. What do you mean Sir, more safety conscious?”

“Hmm, nothing, Darren. Let’s concentrate on the here and now. You’re in enough hot water even without taking an early shower. I take it you do want to stay?”

“Yes, Sir. But will he let me? I mean, even if he does, he’ll be on at me all the time won’t he?”

“I can pretty well promise you that he won’t. Be on at you I mean. Though of ample power to chasten and subdue he’ll have other things to worry about. And I can’t see you being chastened or subdued for too long. If Scruffy doesn’t disgrace himself, we should manage it. Now, here we are at the gate. Get him back on the lead.”

My Last School Trip 3 – On and Off the Road.

So here we are, all but ready to depart. Paul and Emily provided the transcript of what was said, at least what their microphone picked up.

Great Elms School Trip to Wales

Transcript of Scene 1

Loading the bus

Edited by Paul Thompson and Emily Miles

Camera: William Turnstone

Mr Cockle: Get a move on Darren. That bag will have to be put in the boot, it’s too big to go inside the bus.

Darren: Sir, it’s got my things in. I need it on the journey. And Dean’s sandwiches. I’ll shove it under the seat.

Mr Cockle: In the boot.

Darren: I need it, Sir. What if I get an asthma attack?

Mr Cockle: You don’t have asthma attacks. Your mother hasn’t put it on your consent form.

Mrs Cockle: For heaven’s Charlie! We should have been moving half an hour ago. Just let him put his bloody bag under the seat. You boy, get in, get your bag in, and shut up!

Darren: Yes Miss. Thank you Miss.

Note: We did ask Mr Turnstone if we ought to bleep Mrs Cockle’s “bloody” but he said why bleep that when we couldn’t take out the rest of her rudeness?So we have left it in. PT, EM.


We didn’t think you needed a propaganda clip of how well great Elms students and staff can behave in public. But all the same, we did stop at the Reading Motorway Services.

Great Elms School Trip to Wales

Passage cut from Scene 3

At the Motorway Services

Edited by Paul Thompson and Emily Miles

Camera: William Turnstone

Mrs Cockle: Did you really have to bring that bag in here?

Darren: It might have got nicked off the bus, Miss.

Mrs Cockle: Well, you should have put it in the boot then, Shouldn’t you?

Darren: Yes Miss, I mean, no Miss. 1’m not hurting anyone, am I?

Man in red shirt: falls over bag. Look what you’re doing you little ________ . I’ll Knock your block off.

Darren: You look where you’re going! I don’t want my things spoiled by an ugly lump of a United supporter!

Man in red shirt: Cut it out kid.

Mr Cockle: stands up, all six foot two of him. What was it you wanted?

Man in red shirt: Nothing, sir. Shuffles off with his burger and cola.

Darren: looks in bag. Whispers to Dean: He’s all right. To Mr Cockle:  Not you Sir, I mean, you are all right Sir, thank you Sir. Thanks, Sir. Thank you sir.  Moves tables. Hi Ollie! Hey, Mr Turnstone, what’s Tintern Abbey? Miss Jackson set us homework on some poem about it while we’re away. She said the trip would help.

Mr Turnstone: We might even see it. I can ask the driver to go past. It’s a ruined abbey by the River Wye. Remember Henry VIII? And there’s a famous poem by Wordsworth – remember the Daffodils man? Its a bit long, I’m afraid, not your cup of tea at all. Did she give you the words?

Darren: No sir. She said we could find them on the internet.

Mr Turnstone: Well you could look it up when we get to the Centre. But what has it got in its pocketses, nasty teacher? Pulls out a little book, ‘Selected Romantic Verse’ and starts to read the poem:

Five years have passed: five summers,

With the length of five long winters.

Mr Cockle: Pipe down Will! You’re not in class now!

Darren: Well there would be five winters if there’s five summers, Sir. What’s he on about?

Mr Turnstone: Oh, you know, PE teachers. They like the sound of their own voices, but not anyone else’s.

Darren: Not him Sir, Wordsworth, Sir.

Mr Turnstone: Wait and see, Darren, wait and see. Some of it will make sense, but even the university professors don’t agree what he’s talking about. And he does go on a bit. Look! Pages of it!

Darren. Thanks Sir. Help! All that’s just one poem! He does go on! I can’t read all that! It’s definitely not fair, Sir.

Mr Turnstone: Come on, time to go! I’ll carry your bag and you can push Ollie.

Darren. Let me zip it up first, Sir.

I should introduce Ollie. He insisted on coming to Wales. He doesn’t let being in a wheelchair stop him doing very much. How we would get him up mountains, into canoes or sailing boats and down ropes remained to be seen. But I can tell you now that he did it all. I have the video pictures to prove it – and Ollie had the bruises.


Tintern Abbey

I didn’t think the homework was fair either hut I couldn’t say that to Darren. Teachers have to stick together against the kids, PE staff included. (I mean included with the teachers, though they can be worse than the kids.) Still, Darren and Dean and Stacey and the rest of them knew I thought holidays should be a homework free zone.

The driver said he was planning to go by Tintern to avoid road works on the main road, so a couple of hours on from the services we crossed the original Severn Bridge. By then everyone had tired of pulling faces at the United supporters overtaking us on the motorway. United are the team our kids love to hate. Charlie tried to start a countdown as we crossed the border into Wales, which at least woke people up. He does like the sound of his own voice. The driver headed up the Wye Valley, following the brown signs for Tintern, a treat for Ms Jackson’s English group – who should have been mine, and who wouldn’t have had any homework if I’d been teaching them.

Charlie refused to stop and visit the Abbey because he hadn’t done a risk assessment and did not want “those Hogben idiots climbing the bloody walls.” So we drove past the ruins at 30 m.p.h. People didn’t seem impressed by what we saw from the road.

“Is that it, nothing much, is it?”

“You’d see better from up the hill, Stacey, then it looks all spread out. But we’d never get up there in this bus. Anyhow, the poem’s nothing to do with the actual Abbey, It’s called ‘Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey.”

“Lines, Sir. It feels like lines, Sir, poems on holiday.”

“Well you haven’t brought Your English rough book, have you?”

“No, Sir.”


Charlie eventually called a halt a few miles up the valley instead. Time to stretch our legs. Unexpectedly, Darren was last off. No-one saw what he was doing behind the seats. I was filming with my back to the bus.

The lay-by was an arc of gravel at the foot of a wall of rock, say 30 metres high, obviously an old quarry. Trees had sprung up all around, but it looked out across the Wye valley to meadows, cliffs, and far off, the towers of the Severn Bridge. Dean was three quarters of the way up our cliff before Charlie Cockle saw him and called him down.


Great Elms School Trip to Wales

Transcript of Scene 5

Dean on the rocks

Edited by Paul Thompson and Emily Miles

Camera: William Turnstone

Mr Cockle: Darren Hogben!

Paul: It’s not Darren, Sir, it’s Dean!

Mr Cockle: I don’t care which one it is! Dean Hogben! Come down. You’re not safe without ropes and a helmet. That rock-face has not been risk assessed.

Ollie: Sir, do you think he’s all right Sir?

Mr Cockle: Of course he’s not all right! Not if he falls. To Dean, louder and louder: If you don’t come down at once, if I have to get up there and rescue you, if you damn well fall, I am not responsible, do you hear me?

General editor’s note: Obviously Dean was too far away to hear Mr Cockle’s best come-on-you-slackers voice, for he just kept on climbing. I would have thought no-one would dare join him with Charlie in that state, though Dean was actually in very little danger, as the cliff was like a giant staircase, but suddenly, just to his right and a few metres higher, appeared two red faces, and Mr Cockle’s turned scarlet to match. 

Mr Cockle: Stacey Oxenden and Gemma Toop! What are you doing up there with that idiot?

Dean: Silly, high-pitched voice: Hi Girlies!

Stacey: We’re not with Dean, Sir. We were only going to the loo, Sir. We came up the footpath.

Mr Cockle: Well you can just come down the footpath! And so can you Darren!

Dean: Dean, Sir! Whatever  you say Sir!

 

That was when we heard the dog. A tragic, bewildered yowling.

Darren: It’s all right, he’s OK.

 

As everyone turned to look at Darren petting a little brown dog,  we heard singing. A snatch from an old Welsh song, appropriately enough, but not sung by a male voice choir, fit to set your hair on end; no, this was Dean, triumphant at the top of the cliff, his falsetto fit to set your teeth on edge:

Dean: Gemma went behind a bush,

She was in a dreadful rush.

She came out feeling better

But the bush was feeling wetter.

Did you ever see, Did you ever see,

Did you ever see such a funny thing before?

Gemma: Shut up Dean! Think you’re so funny, don’t you! Well you can just get lost, and you’re not coming down with us, thank you very much.

Dean: So, I’d better come down by the way I came.

Mr Cockle: No you don’t! Come back down the path like I said.

Turning to Darren, who was now standing on the bus steps.

What are you doing there,Dean? Don’t move! I don’t want you chasing up there after that cousin of yours.

Darren: Darren, Sir. I wasn’t going to, Sir. I might not have a head for heights.

Mr Cockle: Well you’ll need one before the week’s up, but there’s no call to be practising now! Stay down here!

Darren: Yes, Sir.

Mr Turnstone: (trying to defuse the situation): Listen, all of you. Since you have been given it for homework, let me read a passage from Wordsworth’s poem. He wrote it near here:

– Once again

      Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,

      That on a wild secluded scene impress

      Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect

      The landscape with the quiet of the sky.

      The day is come when I again repose

      Here, under this dark sycamore,

Dean: Was that a sycamore you was reposing under, Gemma?

Mr Turnstone: Listen, Dean, Gemma, Stacey, everybody: cool it! Let’s start this holiday in the right spirit:

. . .neither evil tongues,

      Rash judgements, nor the sneers of selfish men,

      Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all        

      The dreary intercourse of daily life,

      Shall e’er prevail against us, or disturb

      Our cheerful faith, that all which we behold

      Is full of blessings.

 

We’re away from daily life, so let’s be cheerful! Life is full of blessings, folks, even Dean could be a blessing to someone before the week is out! Just let’s forget all these greetings where no kindness is, let’s be nice to Mr Cockle, and get back on the bus.

Charlie didn’t quite get what my little speech was about, but he watched the students very quietly getting back on the bus. And off we went, deep into deepest Wales.

My last school trip – 2

Oh yes, Dean and Darren. Cousins, all-but twins, best of friends. We tried splitting them up in year 8; it was hell for everyone while it lasted: about a fortnight. Having them together is purgatory, but sometimes it’s magic.

I treasure these essay plans and have their permission to include them here. Just so you know what sort of lad they are.


 

English Assignment Plan

Name: Darren Hogben

Form: 8WT

Title: A day with my best friend

Characters: me, Dean, my mum, anty June

Where? When? Home, bus, shops.

What happened first? We went round Dean’s

Who did/said what? Anty June says we would miss the bus but we never. We got off at the bus station and went for lunch at Anselmi’s café. Dean got his rat out on his lap and fed it on chips.

Then what happened? Some stupid woman saw it and began to scream and then the waitress come over and started to shout and she got the manegeress and she got ratty and we got chucked out.

How did it end? Trouble. It weren’t my fault but anty June and my mam both blamed me. I got grounded agen.


 

English Assignment Plan

Name: Dean Hogben

Form: 8WT

Title:A day with my best friend

Characters: Darren, me, my mum, aunty june.

Where? When? Dazzie’s house, bus station, town

What happened first? We went round Aunty May’s because it was our birthdays and they was going to take us up town to get our new Rovers shirts and get a nice lunch.

Who did/said what? Mom said no rats allowed. Dazzie said okay we’ll be good. We had our lunch then the old girls got chatting to some old woman in the café so me and Darren legged it.

Then what happened? We nicked their butter because they was losing weyght and me and Darren plastred it on the handrail of the moving stares. The people got it on their hands and one old lady gets really cross about her white gloves that were not white any more and she called the maniger a blithering idiot because he was blithering at her like nothing. We got found out because the CCTV showed Darren doing it. Really it was Aunty May’s fault because she would not go home when we said.

How did it end? Trouble as usual. The security man and the manager went banananas. We both got grounded.


 

I had been Dean and Darren’s form tutor and English teacher since Year 7. You see how full my hands were! Their writing may lack polish, but I give them high marks for speaking and listening. Once I’d persuaded them to take notice in class they became adept at asking awkward or cheeky questions. I got used to it, but they always play up the student teachers that get wished onto me. They also have a great time when other pupils do their little prepared speeches about anything and nothing, but I have house-trained them enough to allow even shy-boots like Gemma to get through their recitals of poems or passages from Shakespeare.

Their class stayed with me until Christmas of year 9. Then the Deputy Head went on maternity leave and I took over her form and exam groups, and said goodbye to the Hogbens for six months.

Or so I thought.

Then came the cloud no larger than a man’s hand, the fly in the ointment, the stone in my shoe: Year 9 residential trips.

I avoid these like the plague, letting the young and fit, like Ms Trilby, (Deputy Head, Pastoral and inconveniently pregnant) go along to bond with the little blighters. I had done enough bonding with Dean and Darren, thank you very much, but then the call came from the head. My apologies for his rudeness.

“Ah, Will: your application for this new pay rise. Interesting! You must be in with a chance, but one in three to get it, the ministry says, just one in three. I’ll have to write my report to the governors, of course. Contribution to the ethos of the school, blether, blether, blether. By the way … Since Ms Trilby can’t go climbing mountains now, with her belly, I thought maybe you’d like to go to Wales with Mr Cockle.”

I thought, not with my belly, the result of careful attention to Belgian Abbey beers, but I hadn’t done any sort of school trip for years and I did want the next pay rise. One last effort to get out of it: “What about Miss Jackson? She’s young, single, and gets on well with year 8.”

“Gets on well with them?” Three times this week I’ve had those Hogben boys up here, working in my office, because she can’t handle them! She bores them stupid as well with that infantile Jacky Treacy book! What’s it called?  Calling All Cards? Why can’t the English Department lose it?

“Anyway, I can’t ask her to swing at the end of a rope with Dean and Darren at the top. The woman needs a rest before she gives me a nervous breakdown, never mind herself. To cap it all, she tells me she’s already booked into an English lit conference somewhere.”

First I’d heard of that, but Tracey Jackson always did keep herself to herself, off home before 4.30 every day, never lingering in the staff room, hardly the life and soul of the English Department.

Meanwhile I could look forward to a dry week in wet Wales. Not just with Dean and Darren, but Charlie Cockle as well –  failed footballer, fitness freak, diet freak; no smoking, no drinking, no fun; smell of sweat and aftershave – and no doubt his beefy spouse Cecilia,  sometime shotput champion of Salford under-16 girls, and still wearing the vest to prove it, or so my daughter tells me. Jenny goes to Almond Hall School, where Cecilia C is head of PE. Sorry. This was not meant to be a poetry book, so my apologies. It will keep on coming in. I can’t altogether control it.  We had enough trouble with controlling the dog.

But I was coming to that.

I’ll spare you the build-up to the trip. I’ll spare you the ill-concealed glee on my wife’s face at the prospect of getting our bedroom decorated in my absence. I’ll spare you the colour charts and swatches of hideous green cloth, the grins and giggles passing between her and Jenny. I’ll spare you the scene when Dean threw a wobbly because I said he’d have to leave his rat at home. I’ll pick you up at the school gate on Saturday morning, as the bus is being loaded. Dean and Darren rolled up at the last minute, after Charlie had taken his superfluous register. With Dean and Darren, everyone was here!

I forgot to tell you – Charlie C appointed me official video cameraman to the expedition, even if all the students, but not their English teacher, had video cameras in their phones. I guessed Charlie wouldn’t want his precious camera ruined by being dropped off the wrong end of a waterfall, so I could safely stay at the bottom and watch. I seized what looked like my best chance of staying on terra firma for the week even if it meant being best buddies with Paul and Emily from sixth form Media Studies and helping with their project. But they have helped me no end – where would the story be without them?

My Last Ever School Trip 1.

 

Dean and Darren stopped me in the playground this afternoon. ‘Sir, is it true you’re retiring soon? What about our book?’

What indeed? They said the other students would rather it came out on my blog than never appear in public at all, so I promised to go through the whole work and publish it chapter by chapter. It is their book, not mine, so I owe it to them to get it out before I leave what we call great Elms School. So to begin with, over to Emily.


Jackie Unmasked -

 A book written in self-defence

Foreword

Unless you’re totally sad, you probably skip the paragraph at the front of novels that claims, “No character in this book is intended to represent any person living or dead.” Well, don’t. There are “many recognitions dim and faint, / And somewhat of a sad perplexity” in here, because this whole book, not just one paragraph, was written in self-defence against a Certain Person. This person always prints these disclaimers while she makes money out of someone else’s experiences or even out of someone else’s (e.g. my) English homework. So this person’s name has been altered, as have all the others.  Some of us thought we should disguise this person’s dress sense but we finally voted against it. Whatever she may say, the general picture is fair and if she doesn’t like it, Mr Turnstone’s brother-in-law, the lawyer, says she’ll just have to lump it and we can say it’s not meant to be her anyway. So let me hand over to the great man himself, to get the story rolling.

Emily Miles

Year 12,

Great Elms School,

on behalf of all the students on the trip to Wales.


Introduction

– not written in self-defence

by William Turnstone

My daughter says that teachers write books to get out of teaching. I had no intention of writing one, not even a blagger’s guide to English SATs, because I have no intention of getting out of teaching till my pension comes along. I can’t face sitting with a laptop in the garden shed, watching the bird table and pretending my gleams of half-extinguished thought are original ideas. Original ideas belong to young people. You may find a few in this book, but they have not been stolen from their owners. Only their names have been altered. Go back and read Emma’s foreword now and you’ll know why, but I’m the editor-in-chief, and apart from my brother-in-law’s advice, I have the final decision on what goes into the book.

I do not need to defend myself, not from Year 9 nor anyone else in what we call Great Elms School, not even the head. I know too much. My brother-in-law banned some of our material but we won’t discuss that now. He seems to think PE teachers are a minority group who need protecting from incitement to hatred or ridicule. I maintain that they do quite enough inciting on their own, they don’t need me or anyone else to do it for them. So I’ll keep my opinions of PE teachers to myself, and I’ll start by introducing Dean and Darren, cousins who look like twins, act like twins, live almost next door to each other, and were in fact born within a week of each other. You may feel it’s as well that names have been altered when you read these pieces of work from last year. They might not like seeing them here, but  my lawyer passed them. Not all spellings have been corrected.

Children of the Sun

Saint Peter’s churchyard in Sandwich is on the South side,  a good spot to bask for a quarter of an hour’s worth of Saint Martin’s Summer sunshine, having paid my Armistice Day respects to the poppies by the North door, and to the men they represent.

Once seated on the bench, it did not take long to realise I was not alone. From the church roof, from the tower and from the tall hawthorn bush behind me, rose the whirrings and chucklings of a murmuration of starlings, and contented chacks from the resident jackdaws, never still for long.

i enjoyed my fifteen minutes in their company before the chimes reminded me to make a move.

If these birds were not out in the nearby fields, gleaning and foraging, they must already have been well fed, ready to enjoy life. I think they may have stripped the hawthorn already, since the bright red among its branches came from a  rose that was rambling all over it. Inspired planting! The rose should follow on nicely from the mayflower as summer gets going, and gives winter colour as well.

Golden Rod

Come September, come the golden rod, a Canadian invader, as beautiful in its way as the buddleia, taking up residence wherever a seed can find moisture and root room.

Golden Rod at least stays at ground level, but its creeping roots know how to expand its territory. I allow myself and Mrs Turnstone, an annual bouquet from the abandoned railway allotments, where it shines against the brambles and black-barked willow.

I gather it in part as a salutary reminder, since for all its beauty, I found this a depressing flower for many years, though not because it heralds Autumn and shorter, darker days. Rather I see it in my inward eye, dancing in the breeze across the prairies as the ‘Canadian’ train took me from my summer at the L’Arche community in Edmonton, Alberta, back to Toronto and so on to my half-completed college course in Hull, Yorkshire, a grey city under a grey sky, its feet in grey mud.

Unfair to Hull, I know, with all the trees along Princes Avenue and Pearson Park, but there would be no gophers to share my lunchtime sandwiches on Cottingham Road, while I had found the humans in Edmonton every bit as charming as the wildlife. Leaving them I was torn, knowing I had to finish my course, and unconsoled by horror stories of winter mornings with temperatures of 40O below.

Summer had been warm and happy despite the attentions of the carnivorous Albertan insect life, feasting on fresh blood. Hull would be grey and wet and smelling of smoked haddock. (One of my favourite fish, but on a plate, and not in the air all day.)

The golden rod waved me goodbye, from all the wild places, from across the prairies, from the shores of Lake Superior and even from the last miles into Toronto and the airport. Golden days; and now my heart can enjoy the memory and dance with the golden rod.