I came off my bike and tore my school trousers
on the gears. My front tyre was deflated, the wheel
was buckled. Father would be furious. He always
complained about the money he forked out on my
worthless education. There was an ugly gash in
the palm of my hand, but little blood. I’d need to
visit the out-patients department and have it sewn
up. Mother was by my side. The pain began to
flare. A young doctor said there was a piece of
gravel lodged in the wound. I watched him pull in
out with a tweezer, and the stone ping into a metal
dish beside me. After which my hand was
bandaged, and the throbbing started. Mother
supported me kindly to the car, and we drove
Monday meant cross country. It was a gruelling
course, undertaken in all weathers. The track led
through a ghastly region named Happy Valley.
This was a tremendous misnomer. I always
suffered from an agonizing stitch in my side.
Other muddy runners panted breathlessly beside
me, their sweaty smell was overwhelming. Rain
trickled into my eyes and drowned my fringe. Mr
Wozniak, the Woodwork Master, presided over
things. Mercilessly, he spurred us on. He got a
sadistic thrill from our misery. I felt sure he
would have liked to tickle us with a thonged whip.
Richards was a brilliant runner. He always led the
field. I’d see him striding up ahead, indifferent to
pain. This was his forte. Back in the grubby shower
block, feeling began to return to my limbs. My
classmates chatted freely again. We’d survived.
Until next time.
On Sundays, Mother would always make macaroni
cheese for dinner. She salted it too heavily, but I
still adored the gooey concoction. Father shovelled
down his portion like a brute, but I took my time,
savouring the decadent food. Mother never ate
the same dish as us. She would boil a plate of
broccoli and douse it in black pepper. I would
sneeze as Mother pecked at her food. Later,
Mother would iron my school shirt until it was
crisp. While Father plonked himself down in front
of the TV and gargled obscenely at the absurd
game shows. In this way, Sunday was complete.
Once home, my parents ensconced themselves
in their favourite easy chairs. They slept. I was
appalled. Father’s mouth hung open and he
snored like a broken tractor. He had this revolting
fly swat beside his seat, which he swished in the
air occasionally. I always thought he might swallow
a fly while sleeping. Mother insisted the curtains
were drawn tightly, so the two of them snoozed in
a crepuscular world. Sometimes I poked my head
around the door. They looked like rigid showroom
dummies. This would last for two hours. Before
Mother rose, stretching her limbs like a satisfied
cat, and made tea.
On Sundays, after Father had balanced the books,
and shop-work was over, we’d always go out for
lunch. My parents favoured the same swanky hotel
each week. Father boasted that he knew the chef
personally, and he gave embarrassingly large tips.
For starters, we’d all have prawn cocktails, and
roasted duck for mains. Mother and I would take
a light sorbet for dessert, whilst Father glutted
on a slab of black forest gateau and cream.
Afterwards, Father inspected the bill carefully
and sucked up to the head waiter. I’d cringe in
shame. Whilst the lobby attendant fawned over
Mother’s coat, my face reddened, and I bolted
for the car. I think Mother understood the
embarrassment I felt. Father, however, was
always self-congratulatory, burping vulgarly
as we drove back home.
Don’t let me dwell on school. My favourite meal
was breakfast. I’d wake early. Mother was already
pottering about, clattering pans. She was a
hardened insomniac. Every morning, without fail,
Mother made me two glasses of chilled creamy
coffee. Father would never participate. He’d breeze
through the kitchen crunching a slice of dry toast,
and growl when he couldn’t find his keys. Mother
turned up the radio. The news broadcast blared
from tinny speakers. I slurped my sweet drink, as
Mother stirred scrambled eggs. We never said
much, but this time was profoundly companion-
able. When it was time to catch the bus, I pecked
Mother’s cheek and darted out the door. She’d
wave me a warm goodbye, bustling around with
the keys to the shop, ready to open up. I felt
immensely secure in her love. It was a shame
Father ever existed, to blight this beautiful
I should tell you about report card. Basically, after
each lesson, your Master would comment on your
performance for that period. Teachers would
scrawl a few hasty, pointed remarks. If you
accrued many negative assessments, it meant
the cane. The Headmaster relished flexing his
stick and laying into your backside. I felt deeply
concerned for Richards. Invariably he was silent
during lessons. A whacking was inevitable. I
watched him sheepishly unpack his pencils in
first period, and rest his elbows on his desk.
Even this small offence was considered mutinous.
The Classics Master particularly loathed such
slovenliness. Richards was on a course to
I completed my performance without a hitch.
Next up was Richards. His buck-teeth shone
above a helplessly inane smile. The whole class
giggled. Well, what are you waiting for, chided
the Headmaster. The first four lines were passable,
but spoken terribly softly. More volume Richards,
hollered the Head. Richards’ confidence crumbled
after this. His mind went blank. The words eluded
him. I desperately mouthed the next verse, but it
was too late. The class was in a riot of hysterics.
Silence, boomed our Headmaster. Not a breath
stirred. Richards was publicly chastized, and
placed on report card. This was the ultimate
shame. His parents would be informed.
Our English Master, Mr Lunn, was skiing in a
Swiss resort. The Headmaster took over his
teaching duties. He stood at the front of the
classroom, chanting a war poem, beating time
with his ruler. It was a grim story, full of death,
which he clearly relished. I wondered vaguely
if our Headmaster’s gammy leg was sustained
during the Great War. Suddenly he was outlining
a task. We were to memorize a bleeding chunk
of verse and recite it during the next day’s class.
I still remember the opening line about smothering
dreams. During break time, I paced the playground
with Richards, as we committed the troubling
words to memory. I knew Richards was struggling.
Public speaking horrified him. I tried to prop up his
courage, but I smelt disaster and humiliation.
Richards was a marked man.
The Headmaster took us for French. It was
chilling. He had garnered a reputation for cruelty.
His methods had even made it to the national
press. I saw the headlines. Our school was
nicknamed Wacko Academy. Our Headmaster’s
expert wielding of the cane was splashed across
the centre pages. When the Woodwork teacher,
Mr Wozniak, was proved to have bludgeoned a
junior with a length of timber, our school’s notoriety
was guaranteed. We were legendary. My Father
always supported the Headmaster’s methods.
Somehow I avoided serious trouble. My new friend
Richards, however, was not so fortunate.