As soon as the bell went for lunch we were out of the gate and ran all the way to Southwick Library. We had come prepared with notebooks, pens and stern looks. We shuffled about for a few minutes before we found what we were looking for. For some reason, schoolchildren are always unfairly treated with suspicion. Admittedly we were planning to steal on this occasion, but it wasn’t really the point.
The caretaker at Southwick Library, Mr Wright, was notorious. The slightest bit of misbehaviour and he was onto you. A lifetime ban would be placed on you and your name put in the window.
As we approached Mr Wright, Michael Baker walked through the door. Baker was an unknown quantity; he was in Gilbert’s class at school and had a reputation for violence. On the other hand, whenever we had come across him he had been nothing but friendly. He didn’t look pleased to see us; perhaps he was up to something similar. He nodded at us as he went to the counter and we nodded back sheepishly, deciding it wasn’t wise to stare and turned away. We knew it was unwise to laugh when we heard the assistant say, “This is overdue, isn’t it? Don’t you think you’re a bit old for Noddy and Big Ears?” He told us later that he was returning it for his little brother. We chose to believe him.
Mr Wright was a tall, balding man in his early sixties. He wore one of those brown overalls, the type that only caretakers and woodwork teachers had access to. True to form he eyed us with suspicion. Then Bumper spoke.
“I wonder if you could help. We are doing a project on the decline of morals in the youth of today. We wondered if you had any views.”
We had hit the jackpot, he had views and boy did he want to share them.
“Do you ever get children misbehaving in here?” said Bumper.
“All the time, they’re all on glue these days. Those that aren’t on drugs.”
We were at a table in the annexe of the library where the educational books were. Mr Wright sat on one side of the table, the three of us on the other. One of the assistants popped her head around the door, but soon disappeared when she realised that Mr Wright was on one of his rants about how things were better in his day.
“That’s Wright, W, R, I, G, H, T. Are you sure you’re getting all this?”
“Every word,” said Bumper.
I moved over to the bookshelf.
“You’re telling us that while there are all these marvellous books here,” I picked up one of the books I was looking for and thumbed through its pages, “they don’t read them, they just misbehave?” I shook my head in disgust as I replaced the book on the shelf.
“Disgraceful it is.”
We all nodded.
“Do you have a list of the children who are banned that we could look at?”
I looked at Elvis and Bumper. Whilst they had been reluctant to get involved, they were both fully into it now. Mr Wright was eating out of their hands.
“Better than that, I’ve got them all up here,” he said pointing to his temple.
We had hoped he would disappear to get the list, giving me time to rifle the books I needed. It was a change to the plan, but we would see how it went.
“Thompson, Couzens…” he reeled off the names. It was the usual suspects. “…Kevin Davison, right little toe rag that one, he’s the ring leader.” This was our chance and Bumper dangled the line in front of him.
“Did you hear the story of how his dad died?”
“No, what happened?”
He took the bait and Bumper started to tell the whole Kevin Davison story. Mr Wright was all ears. While Bumper went through the tale, I took the books I needed and placed them inside a carefully constructed slit in the lining of my blazer. When I had got what I needed I returned to the table.
“We need to get back. Lunch time is nearly over.”
“You mean that you are doing this work in your own time?” said Mr Wright. “I wish there were more kids like you. I should contact the school and tell them what good lads you are.”
We looked a bit shocked.
“There’s no need for that,” Bumper said, “you don’t want to embarrass us and make us look like swots.”
Mr Wright waved us off from the entrance to the library, my blazer now sagging from the extra weight. He straightened his lapels and headed back indoors. We had got away with it.
“Don’t ever ask me to do anything like that again,” Elvis was annoyed. “I nearly did a Gilbert in there.”
After being on report for two weeks, the teacher’s attitudes began to change. I realised that whilst I was quite happy to delay my breaks as long as possible, they weren’t. They wanted to get off for a cup of coffee and a cigarette. The last thing they wanted was to waste time on someone like me who didn’t care what they thought.
They started putting standard phrases on my reports before they even checked my homework. They always said it was very good, so nobody questioned them. My mam soon stopped checking my homework, assuming the teachers were doing their job. Some teachers, Mr Bramble in particular, would sign it at the beginning of the lesson. I’m not sure he even knew who I was. I put this to the test. It wasn’t long before Mr Swinbank got bored with me. This had obviously been my mam’s idea and they were all sick of it. He decided that instead of waiting for him at the end of school I could just put the report in his pigeonhole at the end of the day. This led to an opportunity.
We had double English with Mr Bramble for the last two periods on a Thursday. I handed my report to Bumper and went home. It worked a treat. Bramble signed the form as usual, not even noticing the change in personnel and Bumper popped it into Mr Swinbank’s pigeonhole on his way home. I had an early finish and my mam was none the wiser. I wasn’t stupid enough to try it on in every lesson. I still went to the ones where I knew I would be missed, but I managed to whittle it down to half days for most of the week. It wasn’t long before Bumper and Elvis joined me again.
“Who’s got my report then, Bumper? You’re meant to be getting it signed for me.”
“It’s okay. Karen Walker said she would do it for you.”
“Karen Walker? Haven’t you noticed? She’s a girl for Christ’s sake.”
“They’ll never notice,” said Bumper.
“Never notice? She’s wearing a skirt.”
“That’s not what I meant. They never check the name on the report, they’ll just think it’s hers. Don’t worry, you know I’m right.”
He potted the black and went into a three-nil lead.
“Okay then. If you say so.”
I removed my tie as I racked the balls for another frame. He had been right, we got away with it. We were on easy street. We played plenty of snooker, nudging my highest break up to forty-five, Bumper’s was sixty. My tape collection was growing and Elvis and I, deciding that the games that he brought around were getting boring, started designing our own. We were good, even if I do say so myself and between us we became pretty proficient programmers. I was learning more by not being at school.
We were doing quite well at avoiding Kevin Davison. Most days we managed to escape to my house and with his new-found career as a football hooligan he had become less interested in us. That was, until I fell ill.
“I don’t feel well.”
“I don’t care. You’re going to school.”
After my past performance I could understand why my mam didn’t believe me, but I really was ill. I was sitting in the kitchen as my mam was making toast under the grill. My dad must have had bacon sandwiches before he went to work this morning as the smell of fat was overpowering. I’d managed to eat my sugar puffs but was struggling to keep them down. I belched and had to force the sick back. Sweat was now pouring out of my forehead and I felt faint. I wanted my mam to see how ill I was, but she was late for work as it was, she took no notice.
“Come on get a move on. Don’t think you can skive here all day either. I’m making sure Bernice up the road keeps an eye on the house. She has a spare key, so she’ll be coming in to check that you’re not here.” She put her coat on and headed for the door. “Get to school. The fresh air will do you good.”
It did for a while. When I walked out of the door the breeze hit me and it immediately cooled the sweat on my forehead. I swung my bag over my shoulder and stumbled up the street. I didn’t care about Bernice. I was going in for registration and I was coming straight home. I’d do well to get that far.
When I got to class, the usual Monday morning crowd had gathered around Kev’s desk. He was telling yet another of his now monotonous tales.
“He was on the platform at Seaburn Station. You could tell he was a cockney by the way he dressed, they have no style these southerners.” Everyone nodded in agreement as if they had a clue what he was talking about. “We had to be sure, so Tomma went and asked him the time. Class it was. Five thirty Guvnor he said. Fucking Guvnor. Cockney wanker. Tomma laid the head on him and we all steamed in. Took his watch, his gold chain and his wallet. Even took his jacket, cool as fuck it was.”
“I thought you said they had no style?” Claire spoke up.
“Cockneys. You said they had no style then you said you stole his jacket because it was cool. Which one was it?”
“Fuck off, Claire. What would you know about anything?” He was riled.
“How many of you were there, ten, eleven, on to one? You’re so hard, aren’t you?”
A few of the girls laughed.
“He was a cockney. He deserved it.”
Kev was going red. On a normal day I would have enjoyed this exchange, but I wasn’t feeling well. In fact, I wasn’t feeling very well at all. I didn’t think I would even make registration.
“I’m so proud of you. I’m sure he’ll have rushed home to London to tell all his friends just how hard you all are. You’re pathetic.”
Claire had won and went back to her desk. The crowd started to disperse. A couple of lads hung back to see if Kev had any more tales, but he didn’t seem to be in the mood anymore. I didn’t feel right and was trying to compose myself. It didn’t help when Sara Nesbitt ate a bag of Cheesy Puffs. She was an animal. Who eats Cheesy Puffs for breakfast? The stench of artificial cheese wafted over, and my stomach churned again. What happened next was out of my control. Kev, still pissed off at being shown up by Claire, reverted to form and came to hassle me. I really wasn’t in the mood.
“Get into any fights at the weekend, Wood?” he said.
“Please go away.” I kept my head down and stared at my desk.
“Not speaking? You’d have bottled it wouldn’t you, even if it was ten on to one? You’d have shat your pants and ran away, wouldn’t you?” He poked me in the side.
“Leave me alone.”
The smell was getting stronger.
“Who do you think you’re talking to?”
He pushed my head into the desk. Everything started to blur in front of my eyes. The stench of cheese stuck to my nostrils.
“Come and have a go if you want to. I’m ready.”
He shoved me again. He wasn’t ready for what I had in store. Streams of vomit shot out of my mouth and covered his trousers and Nike Trainers. It stank of sugar Puffs and everyone howled with laughter. He was going to murder me, but I started to smile. Just then Mr Burns walked into the room.
“What’s happening?” he said, “Davison, get back to your desk”
“I can’t sir. He’s been sick on me. He did it deliberately.”
“Wood. Go outside and get some fresh air. Barry go out with him and check he’s alright. As for you Davison, err, go and clean yourself up.”
“How can I clean myself up? It stinks.”
I headed out of the door and sat on the step outside. I had to admit that I felt a lot better for it. Both Bumper and I laughed. We were there for about five minutes when Mr Burns came out.
“You did that deliberately, didn’t you, Wood?”
“Good shot, wasn’t it sir?” said Bumper.
Mr Burns smiled but didn’t reply.
“Okay. You better get yourself off home to bed.”
“Can you phone my Mam and tell her? She’ll never believe me.”
“Off you go. I need to sort Davison out now.”
I went home and went straight to bed. Whilst I felt a lot better, I was still a little weak. I tried not to think about what Kev would do as I drifted off to sleep.
My head was thumping and there was a ringing in my ears. It was getting louder as I begun to wake. Then I realised it was the door. Somebody was banging on the door and ringing the bell. They weren’t giving in.
I went to the window to see who it was. I peeled back the curtains slightly, so they wouldn’t notice me looking. It was Kev. Mr Burns must have let him out to go home and get changed. As he couldn’t go home stinking of vomit, Mr Burns had loaned him the only spare pair of trousers in the school; a pair of cricket whites. He looked ridiculous and it appeared that he wanted to take it out on someone. It wasn’t going to be me. I went back to bed and pulled the pillow over my head. I would take my punishment at a later date thanks very much.
The banging and ringing eventually stopped, and he must have given up. Then I heard the lock turn.
“Christ, he’s breaking in.”
The phone was by the front door; there was no way I could reach it before he got in.
I searched frantically for something to protect myself with. I noticed the two-part snooker cue I had got for Christmas a couple of years ago. It was purple with black stripes, a weird combination in anyone’s eyes. I hadn’t used it much as it wasn’t any better than the one-piece cues that came with the table, that’s why it was still lying in the bedroom. I took the heavier bottom end and held it in my right hand. What were the instructions he had given me when he had the fight?
“Swing it and take out as many as you can.”
That was what I was going to do. I edged out of the bedroom door and stood on the landing at the top of the stairs. I peeked through the banister rails and saw his distinctive cricket whites at the bottom of the stairs. I backed into the doorway of my parent’s room and waited for him to climb the stairs. I would have more chance if I waited for him to get to the top. A voice called from the bottom of the stairs.
“Are you there, Pete?” It was Bernice, of course; she had let him in. Maybe he had forced her at knifepoint. I didn’t answer.
“One of your friends is here. He wants to know if he can borrow some trousers. He’s had an accident in his.”
I stifled a laugh.
“He must be asleep love,” she said to Kev, “best leave him if he’s not well. I don’t know what you’re worried about, those trousers look really smart.”
I heard her close the door behind her and I went back to bed. I knew I would suffer when I got back to school, but I was beginning to think it was worth it.
“Cockneys have no style? I bet even cockneys aren’t walking about wearing school blazers with a pair of cricket whites.”
It hadn’t helped that when Kev had been walking home, he bumped into Joe Ingham and his mates. Nobody had said anything, but as he was attempting to build his reputation as a football casual it was a humiliation he could have done without.
The next chapter will be released soon. If you can’t wait, Leg It is available on Kindle, Paperback and Hardback.