I was forced to sit in the chapel and work alone and I wasn’t allowed to have lunch or breaks with my friends. I had gained some notoriety amongst my peers, but now, as far as everyone was concerned, I didn’t exist.
Kevin Davison and his gang pretty much forgot about me and I got a chance to do some work and revise for my exams. Whilst Kev and his mates knew the truth about the drawing, he was careful about it not getting out when he realised how strong the punishment was. He wouldn’t be able to keep up his reputation if he didn’t have an audience.
Whilst I was grounded forever, Elvis still managed to get in to see me occasionally. After he had his lunch he slipped through the hall and then into the chapel. The teachers were too busy in the staff room to be bothered.
“How’s things on the outside?”
“Not good. Kev has given his gang a name, The St Pat’s Casuals.”
“What, like the football hooligans?” I said.
“Exactly. He’s getting right into that scene. I’ve started believing the stories he tells. They’ve even got their own calling cards. They leave them with their victims after they’ve encountered a beating.”
“You’re joking? Where did they get them done?”
Elvis pointed at himself. “Being the only person apart from you to have the slightest idea what to do with a computer, I was given the job of producing the cards. Couldn’t say no, could I?”
I shook my head in disbelief as he handed me one of the cards.
“I was also the first to receive one after I delivered them one day later than promised. My printer wasn’t working,” said Elvis.
“How’s everyone else? Gilbert and Bumper?”
“Gilbert is having a bad time of it. He’s got his own little collection of calling cards now, three in one day.”
He took a beating for no particular reason, typical Davison stuff. They threw one of the cards down and told him to read it to them. As you know, reading is not one of Gilbert’s strong points. They chased him and gave him another beating on the stairs outside the science block. One of the elderly dinner ladies arrived on the scene and found Gilbert on all fours, in tears. When she asked what was up with him, Nick Couzens said that Gilbert had lost his contact lenses. Satisfied with the explanation, she left him to his third beating of the day. Kev’s getting out of control, Pete. Somebody has to stop him before it really gets out of hand.”
I had to be in the chapel by 8.30 each morning, so that I didn’t come into contact with any of the pupils on my way to school. Mr Swinbank, the deputy head, was always in early and met me in the entrance hall. After he had left me in the chapel, I was pretty much left to my own devices until about eleven thirty when I went for lunch. I was then put back into the chapel for the rest of the day. Whilst I was given work to do, it took very little time and I filled my mornings by daydreaming.
I had a look around the chapel, more out of boredom than a general interest. There wasn’t much to see; an altar with a couple of candlesticks and behind red velvet curtains was the tabernacle. This contained the wine and bread that the priest used during mass. It was always locked. On the wall behind the altar was a large vent from the heating duct. I peered in through the grate, but there was very little to see as it was so dark. I considered my surroundings. Perhaps, after the outburst in Religious Studies, the school thought it would be appropriate for me to spend time contemplating the error of my ways in a chapel. Maybe they were being ironic.
The next day I waited until nine when I knew everybody would be in assembly. They had long since stopped using the hall and now congregated in the gym.
I took my pen knife from my inside pocket and unscrewed the vent. Switching on my torch I climbed inside. The heating duct, now partially illuminated by the torch light, extended for about ten yards then gave me the choice of going left or right. I shuffled along on my hands and knees careful not to bump my head and decided to go left. There was a flicker of light ahead and I wanted to see where it came from. I crawled along the tunnel, the metal giving slightly beneath my weight. The light came from the courtyard outside. I continued along the shaft and see where it led. It didn’t take long for me to get disorientated. My breathing got faster, and I could swear that the sound of my heart beating echoed from the aluminium walls.
I had been crawling for what seemed like hours before I found anything. There were voices and laughter somewhere in the distance, so I continued along my path hoping for a clue. As I reached the metal grate and glanced through, I recognised Elvis and the rest of my old class. A quick scan of the classroom identified it as Mr Burns’ Religious Studies class. He wasn’t there, but there were a number of bibles lying unopened on the desks. Tomma was at the black board.
I edged along, careful not to make too much noise, so that I got a better view of what he was doing. Much to the amusement of the whole class, he wrote ‘Burns is a puff’ in big letters across the board. He then rolled the board upward, so only a plain black surface was showing. He went back to his desk and I was tempted to wait and see Burns’ reaction when he moved the board.
I glanced at my watch. It was already 10.15. I had been crawling through the vent for more than an hour and I wasn’t sure how to get back. I pictured where Burns’ class was in relation to the chapel and edged a few yards up the tunnel to another cross section, so that I could turn around. I got back in just over twenty minutes and carefully replaced the grill. I spent the rest of the afternoon drawing a map.
That night I found it hard to sleep.
I was at the entrance hall by 8.20 the next morning and was eager to start exploring again.
The vent took me to a whole new world. I could see into every classroom on the ground floor. The real bonus had been when I discovered the staff room on Wednesday. I got a full view and got to listen to conversations that dispelled the notion that teachers were the adults in the school. They were just as bad as the pupils for skiving and petty squabbles.
Over the next few days I had drawn a detailed map and timetable of teachers’ whereabouts. I spent each day investigating, learning when certain classrooms were full and when they were empty. I had learnt that on Monday mornings, for example, for about two hours after first break, the staff room was completely empty. I’m not sure where the teachers who didn’t have lessons went, but I was quite happy to take advantage. I listened to boring lessons that now, somehow had a strange fascination. I sometimes just sat and watched Claire for a whole lesson. My map and timetable had now become a diary. Comments made by teachers in the staff room were recorded, timed and dated. Maybe I could use everything I heard to my advantage.
Then I had an idea.
It was 10.30 on Monday morning as I sat in the heating duct overlooking the staff room. As usual, it was full at break time. A lot of coffee was drunk and there were the normal dreary discussions about timetables and exams. Mr Riley, the permanently angry head of Maths approached Mr Burns.
“What do you call this?” He threw a folder on the table, very nearly spilling Miss Lynn’s tea all over her.
Mr Burns looked disinterested.
“These are the results for your third-year class and they are an absolute, bloody disgrace.”
“They are a waste of space,” said Burns, “none of them are interested.”
“It’s your job to make them interested.”
The rest of the room had now fallen silent; newspapers had been folded and placed back in briefcases. Mr Burns stared Riley in the eyes. “You’re not kidding anyone. You are here for exactly the same reasons as me. Long holidays and a decent pay cheque at the end of the month, anything else is irrelevant. It’s a long time since anybody has cared for the kids. They are a just a small irritation that we must put up with. If you want high achievers go and teach at Eton. Until then, accept that you are teaching a bunch of no-hopers in Southwick and get used to it.”
Burns was now face to face with Riley. I was recording as much of this as I could in my diary.
“Whilst I may not be at Eton,” said Riley, “I am still accountable for the results. If I get a rollicking, then by God you are getting one as well. This is an official warning. If your results don’t improve you are out of a job. So, get used to that.”
He emptied his coffee into the sink and rinsed out his cup. “Not much to say for yourself now, have you?”
Riley walked past the now seated Burns as he left the staff room missing the two raised fingers behind him.
One by one the teachers left for their lessons. Mr Burns was always the last to leave and today was no exception. He approached the door, but instead of leaving, he locked it and came back into the staff room.
He looked out of the window into the yard to where the fifth form were having a games lesson. The boy’s playing football on the field opposite and the girls playing netball in the yard below. He rubbed his crotch against the windowsill then went to sit in one of the armchairs. Removing his penis from his pants, he masturbated furiously and ejaculated into his handkerchief within seconds. If anybody found out what he was doing he would be in serious trouble, but how could I tell anyone? He did up his fly and walked over to the sink where the teacher’s coffee mugs were lying on the draining board. He picked up Mr Riley’s mug and rubbed the rim with his sperm covered handkerchief. I forced back the bile as I struggled not to throw up.
He tucked the handkerchief into his pocket, unlocked the door and left the staff room, locking the door behind him. I sat back against the metal wall, attempting to take in what I had seen. I almost forgot why I was there. I gave it a couple of minutes in case Mr Burns came back. When he didn’t, I went to work.
I removed the grill from the heating duct and lowered myself into the staff room. Wasting no time, I headed for the coat rack. As I suspected nearly all the teachers had left their wallets in their jackets. I removed them and put them in my bag, checking a couple to make sure that, as expected, teachers earned far more than they ever let on. A lot of the female teachers had also left their handbags lying around the room. I emptied them quickly and climbed back into the heating duct, replacing the grill.
I scurried along the heating duct until I came to Mr Burns’ form room; my old form room before I was excluded.
I had checked my timetable carefully and knew it would be empty. I crawled out of the vent and along the floor, being careful not to be spotted by the girls playing netball outside. I got to the desk and placed the bag inside. I had to get back before anybody noticed I was missing.
The whole operation had taken no more than an hour and I had been settled back into my chair a long while before Mr Swinbank, the deputy head, came into see me.
“Pete, I know you are excluded from lessons, but this is an emergency. Can you take this message to all the teachers and make sure they all act on it immediately?” He handed me a small piece of folded paper.
I headed across the hall and through the entrance hall. There was a police car outside and two policemen were talking to Mr Burns.
“Can you tell us again, Mr Burns, why you were late for your first lesson after break?”
I tried to keep in my smile, but still couldn’t help a little smirk.
I took the message to all the teachers and they told everyone to pack up and head for their form rooms. Everybody did so, happy to avoid lessons. My old class weren’t so happy as they were in the middle of football and netball games.
“What’s going on, Pete?” said Claire.
I couldn’t help noticing how nice she looked in her little netball skirt.
“I’ve no idea, but the police are in the entrance hall interviewing Mr Burns.”
“Maybe they’ve finally caught up with the dirty old pervert,” she said, “I always knew there was something dodgy about him.” She turned to her friends to let them know the news.
Mr Armstrong rounded up the footballers and those who had got out of games by producing forged notes. Davison, Tomma and Nick stubbed out their cigarettes as he came around to the bike shed. He had been happy for them to disappear for the lesson, as they were more trouble than they were worth.
“Quiet,” Mr Burns shouted above the rabble and when he got no response he ran his finger nails down the blackboard, the horrible screeching noise ensuring everybody’s attention. “You might be wondering why you have been brought back to your form rooms.”
“I’m surprised that the police have let you go.”
Everyone chuckled. Mr Burns ignored this and continued.
“There has been a very serious crime committed today. A number of items have been taken from the staff room and the police have asked us to complete a desk search to eliminate you all from their enquiries. Everyone open their desks please.”
He walked up the aisle looking into everybody’s desk. Burns knew exactly which one he wanted to look into. The somewhat carelessly misplaced St Pat’s casual’s calling card found in the staff room could only lead to one person.
Kevin Davison’s jaw dropped when he saw the bag inside his desk. The colour drained from his face when he looked inside.
I left school with four ‘o’ levels. Quite an achievement considering how little work I had done. With Kev out of the way I decided to come clean about the drawing in the maths book. Burnsy didn’t believe me at first but chose to accept my story after I was backed up by my art teacher. She explained that I was unable to draw even a basic stick man.
The exams came as a bit of an anti-climax after what had gone on the previous year. I sailed through the maths and Computer Studies was as easy as expected.
Tony Evans may have regretted not taking me up on my offer as he failed miserably. The major surprise was English Literature, despite not attending any of the lessons or reading any of the books I managed to get a ‘C’. Luckily, the parts of the passbooks I crammed into my head the night before the exam were exactly the ones that appeared on the exam paper.
The last day of exams should have been a celebration, but I found myself strangely deflated. Eggs and flour were thrown, and exercise books were ritually burnt on the school field, but I didn’t feel part of it. Missing the last few months of term had left me even more of an outsider than I had been before. The celebrations went on without me as I watched from a distance.
“Glad to be out of it all?”
It was Mr Burns, realising that he no longer had any power over me, he tried to be human.
“Any idea what you are doing next? You could go to college and get some more ‘o’ levels. You never know what you could achieve if you applied yourself a bit more.”
I already knew what I was going to do.
I took one last look at the crowd in the centre of the field, focusing on Claire knowing that this was the last time I would see her for some time.
“Got to go,” I said to Mr Burns.
“Make sure you use the gate and not the fence.”
This was his last attempt at authority. I headed for the fence, removed my tie and tied it around one of metal posts. I straddled the railings and looked back one last time. Not only was I leaving St Pat’s today, I was also leaving Sunderland. I didn’t know how my life would pan out, but during all the celebrations there was one fact I couldn’t ignore; Kevin Davison was not going to be in a young offender’s institution forever. He was going to come after me and I was tired of fighting, I had to get away.
The next chapter will be released soon. If you can’t wait, Leg It is available on Kindle, Paperback and Hardback.