It’s funny, isn’t it? How some ideas you can tell would develop independently wherever the conditions are right and others spread by a kind of osmosis or general word of mouth. Then there are those specific to an individual and maybe their immediate family.
As we leave our last class before lunch I need a dump. I tell Tony to go on ahead to the canteen and get through the queue and grab me a seat. I will catch up when I’m done.
When I get to the canteen I am surprised how noisy it is today. Much more than it usually is and that is loud enough. The queue has pretty much cleared and Cook has seen me coming. Her serving spoon is poised over the trays of today’s curry and rice. She knows me too well.
“It’s noisy in here today,” I say to Cook as she fills a plate for me. She laughs.
“I’m afraid I’m to blame for that,” she replies. “My suppliers have sent different peas. These are like mabs. If you look around you’ll see everyone’s playing table football!”
Peas like marbles? It has happened before so I don’t need to look round but I do so anyway. Yes, peas are being finger-flicked towards cutlery goal markers. Some kids have even managed to find drinking straws from somewhere and are playing blow football.
“What can you do with them when they are like that?” I ask when I turn back towards Cook.
“Let them play and then make sure they pick up any ‘lost balls’ at the end of lunch. Mr Sproat is going to blow his whistle and remind them to clean-up a few minutes before the bell goes.” Cook gives me a bit of side eye. “But you know that. You’ve seen it before.”
“Actually, I meant what can you do with the peas?”
Cook laughs again.
“Sorry, I forgot you’re more interested in food than most of my ‘customers’. You can boil them for longer and maybe add a pinch of bi-carb. But that tends to make the peas go mushy and destroy some of the nutrients in them. Of course you need to know of the problem in advance if you’re cooking to the clock, like I have to.”
“And, if you know in advance, you could do other things with them. Like crush them and make a dhal.” See, I have learnt something from my lessons with Mrs P at the corner shop.
I get another look from Cook.
“Is that a general suggestion or a specific request?”
“Just an idea. I wouldn’t presume to make a request,” I jest.
“Go and eat your meal.” Cook brandishes her serving spoon as if to chase me away.
Tony has kept a place for me. Thankfully it is at the other end of the table from the main football action and out of range of errant or even deliberate pea strikes. I can eat my curry in peace if not in quiet.
“This is one form of football Donny is good at,” Tony remarks pointing in Donny’s direction. “He has beaten all challengers so far.”
“He usually does,” I reply. “At least he has moved on from randomly flicking peas at people to annoy them.”
“I’ve noticed everyone has. I think that’s why the staff members supervising tolerate it. Although it might be noisier, almost any game is less bad tempered than a free-for-all.”
“They have to tolerate it.” Mel, next to me, has been listening to Tony’s comment. “They could never stop kids playing with these peas. By not making a fuss, the supervisors get the pupils co-operation with clean-up.”
Of course, when I have finished my meal, Donny insists it is my turn to face him. He is winning when Brussels blows his whistle.
“Clean up time, please, everybody,” the teacher announces. “Losers clear debris off your table and winners get a brush and sweep the floor round your table, please. I’ve put brushes out by the entrance door. Cook and I will do a quick inspection before you leave. Thank you.”
Donny and I are the last table Cook gets to. She looks at me as she dismisses us.
“Rice or naan?” she asks.
It takes me a second or two to realise what she is asking my opinion about.
“Naan, I would think. If that’s possible.”
I’m going to bring my jar of extra hot lime pickle to school tomorrow. Just in case.
As we were last out of the canteen we have to hurry to our next class which is in the computer lab. Donny is carrying a can of cola that he didn’t have time to finish in the break. He was too busy playing pea football.
We are two or three paces into the room when there is a shout just behind our ears, making us jump.
“No food or drink is allowed in the computer lab!”
It is the teacher who, we hadn’t realised, had been following us along the corridor. Donny is that surprised, he drops his can which spills on the floor.
“And that’s why!” the teacher points out. “Get it cleaned up!” He tells us there is a paper cleaning roll in one of the cupboards under the workbenches.
Donny fetches the roll and I decide to help him mop up. It isn’t difficult as the floor is laid with lino tiles, but it still takes some time. It’s surprising how much mess a nearly full tin makes. I mention it to Tony when I join him at our workstations; he guesses it would be about quarter of a litre or half a pint.
At the end of the lesson, the teacher pulls Donny and me to one side. Tony stays with us.
“Some of your drink must have seeped under the tiles and dissolved the glue holding them down. A couple of them have come loose,” the teacher says, pointing to the affected area. Two are missing.
“I’ve put the tiles in the cupboard and dried off where they were,” the teacher continues. “The janitor is off sick at the moment, so two you can repair them in detention tomorrow. Hopefully nobody will trip on the uneven surface in the meantime. Meet me after school today and we can check in the janitor’s store if he has any suitable glue; otherwise, I’ll have to get some.”
I ask why I have to do detention. After all it wasn’t my drink.
“You were with him and would have seen his can, but failed to remind him not to bring it in here. For that failure in supervision, you get to supervise him doing the repair tomorrow. I’m expecting you to know how it should be done. Now get off to your next class and I’ll see you both later.”
I should have saved my breath! Tony says he saw that coming when I moan about it to him on the way to our next lesson.
We meet the teacher by the janitor’s store after our last lesson. We don’t find anything the teacher thinks is suitable, although we can’t look in one of the cupboards as it is locked and the teacher doesn’t have the key.
“It’s probably in there,” the teacher says. “Never mind. Evo-stick should do the trick. I’ll have to pick some up from the d-i-y store on my way home. They won’t sell it to you; you’re not eighteen.”
“Why won’t they sell it to under-eighteens?” Donny asks when we have been dismissed.
“It’s probably solvent based,” says Tony. “It’ll be flammable and the fumes dangerous to health.”
“Stop people like you abusing it,” I add.
“Who me?” Donny does his fake injured innocence pout, before saying he’ll see us tomorrow and walking off towards his home.
Tony and I head towards my house to do our homework. I mention something that has been bothering me.
“I’m surprised Donny’s cola dissolved the glue under the tiles. Makes you wonder what’s in it. It was a leading brand too, not some knockoff.”
“A lot of soft drinks, especially colas, contain phosphoric acid, for taste and as a preservative.”
“It can’t be too strong though or it would rot your guts,” I comment.
“Maybe not, but excessive consumption can lead to health problems. Kidney damage and lower bone density, I think I read. Never mind obesity from all the sugars in the drinks.
How does he know this stuff?
“Would it dissolve the glue?”
“Might do. Especially if it’s crap glue. Which I think it is.”
“Because a lot have had to be re-glued already.”
Tony reminds me that the tiles are plain but with a darker quarter circle band on them. He explains that although they appear laid randomly at first glance, in fact they seem to have been originally laid making a pattern of three-quarter circles chasing diagonally across the room. The errors in the design must have crept in as odd ones have worked loose and been re-laid.
“… I’ve noticed that one seems to be lifting near our workstation. About as far from the far end of the room as Donny was from the door when he dropped his can. You could repair that as well while you’re at it.”
Thank you, Tony for finding me work. I make him work though — helping me understand my homework.
During our evening meal, I tell the ’rents about having detention after school the next day. Although they sympathise when I explain the circumstances and complain about being roped in with Donny, Dad still chuckles when I report why the teacher said I was complicit.
“Having met your friend Donny a couple of times, I think your teacher has a point. He does need supervising,” Dad says, “Still it shouldn’t take you long to stick a couple of tiles down. Do you know what to do?”
“I was going to ask you about that. The teacher said he was going the get some evo-stick. What’s that?”
“Evo-stick is actually a brand name. It’s an impact adhesive. Often used for bonding laminate sheet to ply or block-board. It bonds as soon as the items to being glued are brought in contact.
“What, like superglue?” I ask.
“Not really. With superglue you have to hold the pieces together for a bit until it sets. Impact grabs on contact.”
Dad is in full-on teaching mode. He even gives Mum a look as if to say she should also listen and learn.
“You need to makes sure the items being joined are dry, free of dust, grit, old glue — anything that will stop the surfaces mating properly. Also check they fit together and how. Only then do you spread a thin layer of glue evenly on both mating surfaces. Now leave for about five minutes until the glue looks dry. Then you can present the two pieces together and press down firmly all over to ensure good contact between the parts. Remember it grips immediately so get it right first time. You can’t pull the pieces apart and try again.
“The stuff is solvent based and stinks. It should only be used in a well-ventilated area. This is most important. Windows open in the classroom tomorrow when doing the repairs. And if you feel unwell — outside into fresh air immediately.”
Dad grins before continuing.
“Read the instructions on the tin, including the full health and safety advice before you start work!”
“Yes, Dad.” Mum and I both do an eye-roll.
“Never mind ‘yes, Dad’. Make sure you do!”
We go back to eating our meals except I soon realise Dad has stopped again. He has a pensive look on his face. I ask him what he is thinking about.
“I’m not sure Evo-stick is the right stuff for the job. What did you say the floor tiles were made of?”
“Some sort of lino, I think.”
“Mm. These days, they would probably be vinyl. Evo-stick will be all right for those as a repair, but for a bigger area an adhesive specifically designed for vinyl tiles would be better. But the school is old enough that the contractors putting the floor down might have pulled a fast one and used up their stock of real lino tiles. If they were really old stock they might even be hessian backed. You can’t use impact with them. They used to be stuck down with something like mastic. You won’t remember, but I had to lift the ones on your Aunt Doris’s kitchen floor. Right job it was too.”
“How do I tell the difference?”
“Other than the backing? Vinyl is made from petrochemical polymers. Lino is linseed oil based, with natural fillers. They feel different and lino is usually stiffer and more brittle. It may crack if flexed too much, especially if cold. If the tiles are lino, it might be worth sitting them on a central heating radiator for a bit to make them more malleable.”
“Okay. And, Dad, thanks for the guidance on doing the job.”
The weather today is crap. It’s cold and breezy and it has been raining all morning. Nobody went out of the buildings at break. Not when they had only just dried out from the rain on the way to school. On days like this we usually go to our next classroom and find things to do or improvise games to play.
It is still raining at lunch time. That means the canteen will be full. We are lucky to be early enough to get our usual table. It’s a bit cramped as Raj and Naveem are both here. Often one of them will go home to help in the family shop during the lunch break.
Cook has made a dhal out of those peas. I’m interested to see how it has turned out. Good job that I remembered to bring my jar of extra hot lime pickle! Cook has even managed to source some naan bread to go with the dhal.
I look around the table and am surprised to see that Raj and Nav both have the dhal. They don’t normally have Cook’s curries. Not when they get the authentic cuisine at home.
“We’ve not seen her do this before, so we thought we’d try it,” Raj says when I ask about it.
“And on a day like today we thought it might warm us up,” Nav adds. “It’s not bad either, and a nice touch to have naan and not rice as accompaniment.”
“Some chutney or pickle would have been nice, too, but I know Cook’s budget won’t stretch that far.”
Trust Raj to see the business angle. I ask the boys if they would like some lime pickle as I pull the jar out of my pocket.
“Yes, please,” Nav replies.
I slide the jar over to him. Raj is eyeing it with suspicion as Nav puts some on his plate. I don’t know why; I bought it from their shop.
“Do you want some?” Nav asks his brother.
“Er, no thanks.”
Nav slides the jar back to me then tries some pickle with a mouthful of dhal. He goes red beneath his natural skin colour. Raj bursts out laughing.
“Grief! What is that stuff?” Nav says when he has recovered the power of speech.
“The extra hot,” Raj replies. “Didn’t you notice the red label? We usually have the mild blend. It has a green label. Why do think I refused it?”
So that explains why Raj was being suspicious. I forgot that they had told me that they don’t normally have hot curries. Richly spiced, but not hot.
I have just finished my meal when the seating becomes more cramped. I am being manoeuvred out of the way as Virginia squeezes in between me and Donny. Mel’s sister is squeezing in on Donny’s other side. I get the impression the two prefects from year thirteen are not making a social call. Virginia has that sweet and innocent look on her face that we’ve come to know means she won’t be either. At least it looks as though Donny is the one to be ‘interviewed’.
“Hi, Donny. Do you know we have computer studies after break this morning?” Virginia’s question is a statement of fact. Tony reminds me later that her question is ‘rhetorical’ — not that I needed reminding.
The girls take it in turns to fill Donny’s ears.
“It’s raining so we spent the break in the computer room,” Mel’s sister adds before Donny can reply.
“We were going to contest a few ends of office curling, but we couldn’t. The floor has been damaged.”
“Apparently somebody spilt a drink that has lifted the tiles.”
“When they shouldn’t have had the drink in the computer room at all.”
“Any idea who that could be, Donny?”
The girls obviously know the answer already. Mel was in our class yesterday and will have told her sister. Either that or the school rumour mill has been working overtime.
“That would be me,” Donny mumbles, although his red face is answer enough.
“We understand that you have to repair the tiles in detention today. There is a tile at the other end of the room that is also working loose. Do that one as well,” Virginia instructs. Donny gulps nervously to acknowledge her comment.
“And do the job properly, or you will have us to answer to, not just the teacher. Virginia and I are winning the curling stakes in our year. We want to keep it that way.”
With an admonishment to Donny not to do it again, the girls stand to leave.
Of course Virginia can’t resist blowing a parting kiss to Tony, just to wind him up. She gets the expected reaction: he goes white. At least he doesn’t zone out this time. I don’t think he would survive being force fed my extra hot lime pickle.
“Those two were both gloating about beating Roger Presscock the other day,” Mel remarks when the seniors have left. “I suppose I should’ve guessed, but I didn’t know they had money on the curling”.
Office curling is one of those unofficial sports that gets passed down from year to year, either by catching others playing or being told by older siblings. The basic idea is to give a shove to a wheeled chair so that it rolls freely and stops as close as possible to a designated target. In our school there are two main variants: manned and unmanned. Unmanned is played with an empty chair. In the manned version, which is more popular, there is a rider sitting in the chair. A good rider can steer by moving their weight about on the chair.
Of course the authorities don’t really approve of curling. They know it goes on, but they have to catch us. Competing in the corridors is asking for trouble. But in a classroom, keeping the noise down and a lookout posted…
Not breaking anything is also a good idea!
The computer room is the most popular for curling. Not only does it have a good floor (when all the tiles are in place) but all the chairs are the wheeled typist type. Very few of the other classrooms have wheeled chairs, and then only the teacher’s chair.
There is another unofficial sport restricted to the senior years, twelve and thirteen. The trolley bob. The seniors enforce the restriction because they say it is more dangerous and us lesser mortals lack the necessary risk assessment skills. We think it’s because the opportunities to play are rarer as it requires liberating the janitor’s hand trolley from the store. It also requires the weather to be okay as takes place outside. On the path that goes down a gentle slope from the school towards the gate into the park. Like bobsleigh, the trolley is pushed in a starting area, the rider or riders jump on and the fastest to the finish line wins. Just to add to the fun, the path is not straight, and the trolley is a pillock to steer — it can only be done by the riders shifting their weight on the platform. Most runs end by crashing off the path, making it entertaining for the spectators.
The teacher is waiting for us in the computer lab when we go to do our detention. Tony has come along, too. He says it is to keep me company, but I think he wants to supervise me supervising Donny.
I do sometimes wonder if Tony is a bit jealous. He knows I quite fancy Paul, but then so does he. Not that we expect Paul to join our team. Donny is different. We both think he might be interested although neither of us believes he knows what he wants. Tony needn’t worry though: Donny doesn’t do it for me. He does have a certain level of cuteness but he is too Tiggerish. Tony would say impetuous. Amusing as a friend but not boyfriend material. Anyway, I’ve got Tony…
“Here you are,” the teacher says as he hands me a tin. Why me? “Do you know what you are doing with it?”
I look at the tin. Yes, it’s Evo-stick impact adhesive.
“I discussed it with my father last night,” I reply, thankful that we had. Then I realise we need some tools. “Have you got anything to spread it with? Also a dustpan and brush, and couple of scrapers to get the old adhesive off the tiles and floor please.”
“Ah, yes.” The teacher sounds as though he should have thought of that himself. “I’ll go and see if I can find something suitable in the janitor’s store.” He heads out into the corridor.
“That was smart of you. Referring to your dad as ‘father’,” Tony remarks. “Made you sound more responsible.”
I’ll take that as a compliment.
Of course I forget Dad’s instruction to read what’s on the tin before opening it. It’s a good job though, because, when I unscrew the lid, there is an inner steel cap that needs removing before the adhesive can be poured out. I send Donny after the teacher to ask for a pair of pliers to pull out the cap.
While I am waiting for Donny and the teacher, I read the instructions on the tin. Pretty much as Dad and I discussed.
Donny returns with the teacher and the requested tools.
“The loose tiles are in the cupboard over there,” the teacher says, pointing in the appropriate direction. “I think I can trust the three of you not to make a mess,” he continues. “But I’m going to have to leave you to it. I’m supposed to be on duty, supervising the detention of today’s other miscreants. You know where to find me if there are any problems or when you’ve finished.”
After the teacher leaves, I ask Donny to take one of scrapers and clean the old adhesive off the loose tiles and the floor where they are to be re-laid, then sweep the floor. While Donny is doing that, I send Tony to the other end of the room with the other scraper to carefully lift the tile that he and Virginia had noticed was beginning to come unstuck. Not that unstuck! He still has a bit of a fight to lift it while being careful not to break it. We decide the tiles must be vinyl. I think it would have cracked if they had been lino.
With the other two occupied, I wrestle with the pliers and remove the steel inner cap from the tin of adhesive. Dad was right — the stuff stinks. I go to open the windows but most are fixed closed and the few that do open only open a small amount. I guess this is to try and stop anybody breaking in and nicking the computers. I prop the door open hoping to get some air movement.
With only one tile to do, Tony finishes prepping his area first. I take the tin of adhesive to his end of the room and start spreading it on the bare piece of floor.
“That stuff smells strong,” Donny complains from the other end of the room. The fumes must have worked their way down there.
“I don’t think it’s too bad,” Tony remarks. “I quite like it.”
I look up at him to see if he is being serious. I think he is. But I notice he is also rubbing his shoulder where Merkin, the school cat, scratched him last Halloween.
I finish with the floor and stand up intending to spread the glue on the tile that Tony has left on the workbench except something makes me look at Tony again. He has gone a funny colour, as if he is about to be sick. I remember Dad’s other emphatic instruction.
“Tony! Outside into the yard! Now!” I command.
“But it’s raining,” he moans.
“Never mind that. You need the fresh air!”
“You do look a bit green,” adds Donny who has come down the room to see what we are arguing about. “Get yourself outside. We can finish here.”
Donny can do sensible when needs must. Who knew?
We push Tony into the corridor and give him a shove in the direction of the door into the school yard.
“Thanks for supporting me,” I say to Donny as we go back to our tasks.
“That’s okay. He did look ill.” Of course he has to spoil the moment. “I didn’t fancy having to clean up a load of his puke.”
While I am spreading glue on the tiles and the second area of floor, I talk to Donny about how the adhesive will grip immediately when we lay the tiles and we need to be sure they are in the right place first time.
“Now we leave the adhesive to dry off for five to ten minutes,” I say when I have finished spreading. “I’ll be back in a bit. I’m going to check on Tony. I shouldn’t be long. Then we can put the tiles down.”
It takes me a while to find Tony. He has gone round to where the building is providing some shelter from the wind and rain. Merkin is sitting on the nearby window ledge, scrutinising him. When she notices me approaching, she feigns no interest, sticks a leg out and starts washing herself.
“Are you feeling better?” I ask Tony.
“You looked as though you were about to throw up. Did you?”
“Yeah. I just made it to the loos.”
“Any idea what set it off?”
“No, unless it was the solvent in that glue.”
“But better now after some fresh air?”
“Yes, except my shoulder hurts for some reason.” Again he rubs the place where Merkin marked him last Halloween.
I look across to the cat. I swear she’s grinning.
“You were gone more than five minutes,” Donny says when we get back to the computer lab. “So I’ve stuck the tiles down. Went in no problem.”
Tony and I go and inspect.
Yes, they are in. Square and flush. All neat and tidy. Except they are not quite in the pattern they were before.
“I hope we don’t get another detention for that.” I say.
He’s rotated the tiles as he’s put them back so that there are now two complete circles in the pattern. One at each end of the room.
We gather up the tools and the tin of adhesive and take them to the teacher where he is overseeing detention.
“All done? Any problems?” he asks.
“No, Sir,” Donny and I reply.
“Then you may go.”
“We’ve left the windows open to get rid of the smell of solvent,” I tell the teacher before we leave the room.
We are collecting stuff from our lockers before going home when Donny finds himself cornered by Virginia and Mel’s sister again.
“Nice job,” Virginia says holding up a hand for a hi-five. “Proper targets at each end of the computer lab.”
“What’s he doing here?” I hiss at Tony as we walk through the gate at the start of the school day. I’ve spotted the Head lurking by the main door.
“I don’t know, but it must be something special for him to be out here at this time of the morning.”
The Head teaches some classes for years twelve and thirteen but normally the only time we lesser mortals see him is school assembly or for disciplinary matters.
We find out that we are the target of his ambush when we get close enough for him to identify us.
“You two are here at last,” the Head says. “Please come to my office.”
I’m sure the Head must be able to hear the cogs going round in my head. We’re not late, in spite of his comment, so I’m trying to think of what we might have done that deserves a summons. In person, too. Normally a prefect or one of the teachers would act as process server. The only thing I can think of is that he has heard about the tiles in the computer lab. But if it’s that, where’s Donny?
The Head leads us into his office. There is a kid about our age who we have never seen before already there. We know we’ve never seen him before because he has two distinctive features: he has ginger hair and is sitting in a wheelchair. One of those manual chairs that can be pushed or that the occupant can propel themself.
“You two can relax,” the Head says to us. “You’ve done nothing wrong — or at least that I know of.”
He chuckles at his own joke.
“I’d like you to meet Fergus McGregor”, the Head continues, introducing us to the kid in the chair. So the name fits with the hair!
“Fergus is joining us today. We have looked at the parts of the GCSE syllabus he has covered at his previous schools and have agreed that the best way forward for him is if he joins your classes. I’d like you two to show him around for a few days until he has got used to the school. If you’d do that for him please?” Is there such a thing as a rhetorical request? One that can’t be refused?
I see one potential problem immediately.
“How are we going to get Fergus up and down stairs?”
The Head waves his hand in a way that suggests Fergus should answer.
“I’ve been given a key to the goods lift,” Fergus states.
“Please remember it is not a passenger lift. You two, and nobody else, are only permitted to travel in the lift when you are pushing Fergus in his chair,” the Head stipulates. “I’m sure Fergus will answer any other questions you have. After all he knows his needs better than anyone else.”
The Head dismisses us just as the bell goes for the beginning of lessons. Tony and I explain the general layout of the school as we push Fergus to our first lesson. Since it is on the upper floor we have to use the lift, which is at the other end of the main corridor.
“Is the corridor always this empty?” Fergus asks.
“No, it’s because the bell has gone and classes started,” Tony replies. “Between lessons, the corridors are usually full of kids moving between classrooms. Upstairs isn’t so bad, but this main corridor is always a madhouse.”
Fergus asks about our timetable for the day and where the relevant classrooms are, so we don’t get the chance to find out more about him before we get to our lesson. Why is he joining mid-term, for instance?
Our second lesson is in the next door classroom, upstairs, so it is not until the morning break that we have to take Fergus back down and into the main corridor.
“You are about to become invisible,” Fergus says as he pushes the button once we are in the lift.
“What you mean?” I ask.
“You watch. People don’t look where they are going and will walk into me and the chair as you push me along. They get upset when they bark their shins on my footrests. We’ll get the blame, of course.”
Tony opens the door when the lift stops.
“Ready. Go,” Fergus calls and I push him out into the corridor.
We claim our first victim within two paces, and get an earful of abuse for our troubles.
“Impressive: twelve strikes,”says Fergus when we have finally made it out into the school yard. “Even more than I expected. It will probably drop off when people get used to me being around.”
I am about to ask how many he expected based on his experience at his last school, when Tony beats me to it with a different observation.
“Did you notice how all the smaller kids avoided you? It was only the taller ones you caught. They would be expecting the juniors to keep out of their way. You are below their eye line, and therefore ignored as if you were a junior.”
“What about me?” I ask. “They should have seen me.”
“You are behind the chair so you are further away. There is apparently dead space between you and them that would normally be sufficient to permit avoiding action. Except Fergus and the chair are in the way.”
“That sounds about right,” Fergus acknowledges. “And it would explain why I get an even better hit rate when I am on my own.”
“That reminds me,” Tony says. “The Head said something about you only needing us to push you for a few days. Is that right?”
“Yeah. Once I know where steps and other hazards are and how to get around them, I’ll come in my powered chair.” Fergus giggles. “People know about it, if I get ’em with that!” He pauses then starts a new subject. “I was impressed that your headmaster let me tell you about the lift. The last place I was at, the Head would have talked over me, as though I wasn’t there. I hate that.”
Tony asks where he was before and he names the school in one of the bigger neighbouring towns. The catchment areas do overlap. That school is known for being a bit rough. Is that why he has come here mid-term? I ask why he left.
“You know we were talking about being invisible? I was asked to leave. For some reason I was more invisible than usual so got a high score in ‘corridor skittles’. Some prat who thinks he is God’s Gift accused me of deliberate dangerous driving.”
“We’ve got one like that here but his girlfriend sorted him out,” Tony says. “Kneed him in the balls.”
“We were witnesses,” I add.
Fergus grins and looks as though he is going to say something, but the bell goes for the end of break.
As I push him back into the building, Tony tells him which class we are going to next. We hit a few more shins on the way.
“Now do you see why I call it ‘corridor skittles’?”
It’s a wet day again the next time we have computer lab after lunch. Donny’s alterations to the floor have made curling even more popular, so we scarf down our meals in order to get as many ends in as possible before class starts. Bruno and Cath post themselves in the corridor. Their PDA antics will be enough to distract any passing staff member.
Fergus is in his powered chair. Awesome bit of kit it is, too. The seat geometry can be altered however he wants from standing to lying flat. It can do about seven mph and can turn on a sixpence (as Dad would say). That last has caught a few who were standing too close: the controller sticks out a bit and is just at the right height to get you in the balls as he swings round! The foot rests will catch your shins as well.
Tony and I explain the rules, such as they are, to Fergus as we watch a couple of ends.
“Can I have a go?” he asks.
“How’s that going to work? You can cheat in your chair,” I reply.
“No problem. Look underneath my seat and you will see a red knob. If you pull that out it disconnects the drive train. I can’t even steer.”
Tony and I have to act as catchers when he realises he can’t brake either!
After a few attempts, the consensus is that pushing Fergus is as challenging as a rider on a normal chair. Although the wheel arrangement keeps it on line better, the extra weight makes it harder to judge the distance.
Although Fergus seems self-confident — to be honest, more than either Tony or me — and easily keeps up with the gossip of the day, he is surprisingly reticent to talk about himself. For example, he never discusses us how he came to be in the wheelchair. Donny, being Donny, has to ask and Fergus skilfully changes the subject. His right hand starts twitching though. Tony tells me later that he’s noticed the hand twitch whenever Fergus seems to be under some sort of stress.
When I mention his reticence to Dad, he says Fergus will tell us about himself when he feels we won’t abuse his trust.
“And, remember,” Dad adds, “both redheads and McGregors have a reputation, deserved or otherwise, for being short tempered so don’t push it!”
At least we discover why Tony and I were picked to show him round the school. He often asks us to go over the course work with him. He says the Head told him that if he needed any help, he should ask Tony as he is one of the best in our class. When he adds that Head mentioned Tony is experienced helping slower pupils and then looks at me and grins, I think Fergus is trying to wind me up. Cheeky sod!
During one of our study sessions, Fergus lets slip that he is not sure how long he will be at our school. His dad gets moved around the country for his work and expects another move soon. Fergus doesn’t say what his dad does though.
There are more revelations when there is a football match at home against his old school one Saturday morning. It is a match we usually lose. Bruno is in the under seventeens team, and Paul has also been selected — one of our usual squad is off sick.
Because Paul is playing, Tony and I will turn up to support the team. Any excuse to see him in shorts! Especially as he has begun a growth spurt. His legs seem longer (and sexier) every week.
When we mention the match the week before, Fergus gets involved. He tells the team everything he can about the opposition players and expected tactics — both legal and illegal. It turns out that Fergus, like other members of his school, was expected to watch all their home matches even though there was no chance of him ever playing. He is able to give some advice to our senior team as well.
The day of the match arrives. There is a good turnout of our supporters. Some are regulars, like Cath who won’t miss if Bruno is playing. Some, like Tony and me, are making a special effort. Virginia is a regular, but we can’t decide if she is there to support the team or gloat when Roger, her ex- boyfriend, gets stomped! Fergus is in the middle of our group.
When the opposition team arrives, they have brought some supporters with them. Fergus sees them and mutters a curse.
“What’s up,” I ask.
“See the guy in the skinny jeans and tan boots? He’s the bully that shopped me for dangerous driving. He must have been dropped from the team for some reason. He’s one of their best players and lets everyone know. That’s his girlfriend next to him. I don’t know what she sees in him, the arrogant bastard.”
Virginia has been listening. “I had a boyfriend like that. Took me a while to have my eyes opened,” she admits.
It is not long before Fergus is spotted by his persecutor and the insults begin.
“Look over there guys,” he says to the other visitors, “It’s Fergus the Faggot. Should have known he’d end up here with this bunch of pansies.”
I notice Fergus’ right hand starting to twitch.
It does make wonder if the Head knew Fergus had been getting homophobic insults at his last school, and that was another reason Tony and I were chosen to show him around. To indicate we don’t have that kind of crap in our school. Well, not to any serious extent.
The insults continue in the same vein, directed mostly at Fergus, but also at our whole group. That hand is getting more agitated by the minute, now swinging from his elbow on the armrest.
“I’d better go and sort him,” says Virginia putting on her prefect voice.
“Fuck that, I’ll get him,” Fergus growls, “I’ve done it before.”
Before anyone else can react, he is off at full throttle. With prefect precision Fergus steers his chair so that his tic driven fist smacks into the balls of his tormentor. In spinning the chair to come back to us, he also manages to scythe legs with the footrests. Man down and hopefully out.
Fergus has a big grin on his face when he gets back to us and his tic has calmed.
“There are some smiles over there,” says Virginia who has been watching out in case the visitors want to cause trouble. “I guess they think he got what he deserves.” She sighs. “I suppose we had better go over there and smooth any feathers that are ruffled.” She takes the other girls with her.
Fergus indicates that Tony and I should come closer.
“I wasn’t telling the whole story when I said I was asked to leave for dangerous driving. That twat and his mates were in the corridor and had been winding me up big time. I lost it and, like just now, I had a game of corridor billiards. The Head was pissed off because I felled most of his prize football team just before an afternoon match.”
I work it out just as the girls come back to report all is well — officially nothing happened.
Corridor Skittles + Pocket Billiards = Corridor Billiards!
And to make Fergus’ day complete, we win both the seniors and the U17s.
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