Gareth arrives late. He attends assembly and does detention
As soon as each surname was called, arms shot into the air like mechanical stabbing daggers. Miss Lemmings, the form teacher's hazel eyes hovered over a large opened registry booklet. Her dark brown hair hung over her shoulders as she leaned over and fixed her eyes on the opened pages. She placed a diagonal line through each of the boxes the corresponded with the names that were answered. She called a few more until she called Gareth’s name.
The silence was deafening.
“Jones? Has anyone seen Jones?” Miss lemmings rested her cream sleeve-covered arms on her desk as she waited for someone to answer.
“No miss," a chorus of voices responded. She sighed and looked towards Gareth’s empty plastic dark grey chair behind his desk and placed a cross instead of s tick in the empty box next to his name. She called out more names before the door burst open. Gareth hadn’t time to open it fully before he hovered in and breathlessly closed it. He stood in front of the closed entrance.
“What time do you call this?” Miss Lemmings demanded. “You know you’re supposed to be in your seat five minutes before the bell.”
“Sorry I’m late, miss.”
“Sorry isn’t good enough. Why were you late?”
“I left home later than usual. I couldn’t get away.” Gareth couldn't hide an expression that gave away the lie.
“More like he’s been knockin aboot in the playground,” a boy with a shock of red hair,corn blue eyes,a snub nose and freckles piped up towards the back of he class.
“That’ll do Chapman.” She turned towards Gareth. “This is the second time this week, isn't it? It’s unacceptable being late without a note from one of your parents. You’ll have to do a detention after school hours. Take your seat." She looked at him doubtfully. "It's really not good enough."
“Aw miss,” Gareth’s heart sank and muttered the protest under his breath and let it die almost regretting his spirit of disobedience and adventure had got the better of him has he went and sat down behind his desk.
Chapman tore off a thin strip of paper and placed it on his lap. He slowly folded it until it was reduced to a thick tight square object not much smaller than a square sweet. He placed it on his right thumb and held it down with his second finger. He was sitting in a row two desks behind Gareth. The space was just short enough to aim a decent shot. He eyed the back of Gareth’s head. Chapman slowly took aim and flicked the folded paper. It flicked from the top of Gareth’s neck and hit to the floor.
“Fuck off. Get stuffed.” Gareth angrily turned around and glowered at Chapman and rubbed the area where the paper had hit.Those sitting close by tittered and giggled. Gareth immediately got up, picked up the paper and flung it into Chapman's face.
“Temper, temper, Jonesy." Chapman taunted. He dropped his eyes onto his desk as soon as he saw Miss Lemmings looking down the aisle..
“What's going on down there? Chapman, is that you?”
“Well, what’s going on, then? I can hear raised voices." She got up from her chair and sauntered down the aisle and stood over where Chapman sat. “Stand up. Don’t let me catch you doing one of your pranks or you’ll be joining Jones on detention. Is that clear?”
She lingered for a few moments scrutinizing Chapman's vacant expression and wrinkled her nose at an odor of stale cigarette smoke that came from his blazer.
“Have you been smoking?”
She couldn’t help noticing his plaque-stained front teeth before she flitted her eyes in disgust.
“You have, haven’t you? Don't lie. I can smell it from your blazer and see it on your teeth.” Chapman said nothing. “Sit down. Oh, wait a minute, you're one of those whose been discovered in the school grounds doing the disgusting habit, aren't you? There's no need for me to take this any further."
Miss Lemmings walked up the aisle and returned to her desk before glancing at the clock on the back wall which said 8:50 and raised her voice.
“Right, it’s now time for assembly. I want the girls to leave in an orderly queue first then the boys. And I want no noise. Is that clear?”
"Yes, miss," the class chorused.
The room erupted into a commotion of clatter and the scraping of chairs as the pupils got up and made for the door. The girls left the room and stood in a line down the corridor, followed by the boys who stood at the opposite side from the door. There were a few coughs and one or two cleared their throats which echoed a few yards down the opening before Miss Lemmings walked to the front of the lines and signaled for the pupils to follow her down the stairs. There were a few whispers, an odd titter. Gareth was jostled near to the back of the boys’ queue. He thought it wasn’t his place to assert himself towards the front. He knew he’d only be affronted or scorned by the likes of Chapman or another boy, Wilkins, who had a competitive streak. The bullying was another matter. Gareth usually mustered the courage to defend himself against any taunts or threats that tended to arise. It was the best way to prevent them from getting out of hand.
There was a short bustle in the main foyer after the class had descended the main staircase before the pupils ambled into the main hall where they took their usual seats just behind the middle row in the central section. The interior was a place which lacked interest. Black drapes hung heavily at each side of several compartments of French windows. The floor, mahogany-polished, stopped at a theater-like platform which rose barely three-feet. In the middle stood a slim wooden stand on which extended a flat square board used for placing opened books. To the side of the stage stood a dull black piano.
Once the other forms bustled in and filled the remaining seating areas, three prominent dignitaries stiffly walked onto the stage. The first was a short slightly built woman with tight graying curls and black-rimmed spectacles. Her shoulders and back were covered with a dull black pleated gown that fell to her knees. Her small-sized shoes were short heeled patent leather types that were fitted with dull metal buckles over each bridge. She carried a hymn book and a large black leather-bound Bible in the crook of her right arm. She stood in the middle of the shiny wooden platform.
The next to appear was a tall willowy-framed woman with her gray hair tied in a bun. Her face, tan-shaded, looked gaunt. She was dressed in a white blouse and a tweed-shaded skirt that reached to her knees. These were mostly shrouded also in a dull black colored gown. She was Mrs. Kirbride, the headmistress of the upper school. Miss Redhead, the shorter woman, and the head of the lower school, took her place behind the balustrade. The other dignitary to stand on the stage was Mr Norman, the deputy head of the upper school. He was wearing brown-rimmed inch-thick glasses, a cream colored shirt, a large tie knot with a cream colored shirt with a beige colored jacket with wide lapels and thick corduroy pants.
A few coughs, then silence emanated from the pupils. Miss Redhead cleared her throat then spoke in a loud voice. “Everyone stand.” A few bustles, chairs scraped back on the wooden floor as the pupils stood. "We will now turn to hymn no thirty: ‘Onward Christian Soldiers'."
Gareth opened a clutched hymn book. He soon found the hymn and started singing: Onward Christian soldiers marching as to war...with the cross of Jeus going on before...
Miss Redhead carefully placed the hymnal on the wooden balustrade and opened her Bible. "I will now read Psalm one hundred and fifty." She cleared her throat and spoke out the final verse. Gareth didn't think much, if anything, about the changed tone of her voice as she solemnly emphasized the last line: "Praise Yyeee the Lord!" It was obviously intended to sound emphatic if not self-rightous. She took a back seat to let Miss Kirkbride move behind the balustrade> she read a verse from mathew 19 and decated: We shall now sing Hymn number 15 "the Battle Hymn pof the Republic." Gareth noiced a tyoing error as he snag the word "glory' which read 'gllry.'
Once the pupils resumed their seats on th featureless plastic chairs, Mr Norman took to the platform. "It is now time for the announcements." The delaration was barely out of his mouth when his eyes caught sight of a boy whose shirt collare was open with hs knotted tie pulled tightly several inches down. let ot a heavy yawn and hung his head then dozed. "Stevens?" Stevens?"
The boy jolted. "do you not get any sleep at home?"
"Then why are you nodding off?"
"Don't know, sir. Sorry sir."
"Sorry's not good enough. Go and stand outside my office for disrespect and insubodination. I'll get the bottom of this."
Stevens lazily got up from hei seat and slouched out of the hall with his hands in his pockets. He scowled at any he thoght might be grinning but all he could see were ignored blanketed faces.
Mr Norman cleared his throught and said: "Will those who have filled out their option forms to do next term's GCE exams hand them in at my office before 3 Pm this afternoon. Will the easter leavers go the notice board and decide when to book an appointment with a visitng careers officer." he paused for a few moments before announcing the fianl instructions. "And will the five smokers two from Form 4C and three from 5B who've had letters sent to their parents explaiing ther disgusting and filthy habit and hw the school janitor had to thnaklessly clear awy quite a few cigarette butts littering the turfed area which as now been abandoned from what was once 'Smoler's Corner' conveniently sutauted at the back of the P.E. building attend my office during the lunch break." Gareth had difficulty sfling a chuckle at this news. He would have dearly loved to shout Chapman's name in front of the entire school and embarrass him. He was one of the two boys in his form who'd been caight red-handed. "in a respectful orderly manner, you will be directed to your classrooms by your form teachers in readiness for yu first lesson, and don't loiter in the corridors."
As the puils got up, their seat supports scraped on the tiled floor as they created sufficient space to move out of the hall and back to their form rooms. Gareth caught a good deal of whispering mch if it titters from females about what punishment the smokers would be i for.
Miss lemmings left the room tow minutes before a man medium-height with thick dark permed hair strode in with several books and folders tucked under his right right arm. he placed them on the desk. Mr.Bryde had arrived to give a georgraphy lesson.
"Will everyone get out their tesxtbooks."
Once the command was issued, their was buslte and slamming of desk lids before the class hushed.
"You're going to look at the unit on France. Does anyone know what the French capital is?"
One girl sitting next to the room's window side sat up once her arm shot up.
"Exactly. And can you spell it?"
"Correct." Bryde qickly sketched an outline of thr country on hr boarsd, drw a large dot where the capital is situated and wrote the word underneath. "And does anyone know what France is famour sofr? I mean food and commodity produce?" He let the silence lengthen beofre saying "I thought so. Without a sufficient read-up beforehand, you won't know. Turn to page thirty-one where you will see tere's a paragraph on the subject. Spend fibe minutes reading it then I'll ask you to close your books and askf or smoe feedback."
Gareth lazily opened his book but paid no attention to the information which he whtught was altogether useless despite that he could easily be put on thr spot. hw was doodling in his notebook dreaming about strolling along the River Tyne skimming pebbles in the shallow currents between wylam and Ovingham listening to the wind ruslt the leaves on he trees that lined its banks.
"Right, closer your books." he went over the resigster and ran his finger down the namelist until it rested at Chapman's. "Chapman?"
"Can you enighten us about a piece of the iformstion you've just been reading?"
There was silence
"I'm waiting." he drummed his fingers on the desk.
"I can't, sir, I haven't read it."
"Yio haven't what?" What have ou been doing?" he stode down to his desk and stood Chapman's shoulder peering down at a cartoon characature of himself. "I see. What have we here? A rpoper little artist, indeed. Yiu'll have to enlighten me, milad. is this an art class?"
"Well what, then?"
"is it? Then whya re ypu drawing little pictures that serve neither purpose nor knowledge?"
"I'll tell you why? To appease your boed, empty and mischievous mind. Go and stand in the cprmer at rhe back of thr class until the end of the lesson." As Chpamn got up, Bryde noticed his jaws move and could smell peppermint on hod breath. "Before you do so, go to the waste bin and spit out that gum." he prodded Chalman's blazer lapel with his right forefinger. "And don't let me catch you doingt that filthy habt in any of my classes. Is that clear?"
As soon as Chapman stood in a corner with his back to the class, Mr bryde called on another pupil who answered that France was famous for wine, cheese and onions such as garlic. They resumed to discuss orther fsmous commodities such as perfume and names of some of its lanmass: Brittany, Normandy...Tuscany.
"right. I want you to paraphrase what you've learned and hand in a short composition including your impressions of the European country to hand in next week." The corridor bell peeled ouside. "Class dismissed."
Gareth's heart sank. Reading was one thing but he heated writing. He hated handing in written work that got back in which had that many corrections it was like looking at red blotches. They made him wonder which was the most work - those or his writing.
He scoffed his lunch: mashed potatoes, sausages, peas and gravy followed by jam rolly-polly and custard, and found Michael in the playground.
"Fancu a gane of pitcj n' toss?"
"Right," Michael replied. "It's your go."
Garth took aim. The large penny landed five imches short of the playgroudn kerb. Michael's penny clinked two inches behind Gather's.
"One to me.'
Gareth's next shot landed a further twoinches in front of the previous hurl. Michael's next shot, three inches ahead of the previous. Garther, pocketed his coin after a few more attemts, and ambked around the playground yard with his friend. As he glanced around and saw Chapman was missing, he felt glad he wouldn't be the subject of successive taunts.
"Rogers, the other hand."
Rogers hadn't time to grimace feom the sting from the cane as he held out his palm and waited for the other swipe from the twangy instrument. Aftre each of the five boys had received their punishment, they cleched both theor hnds behind their backs to make the pain go away more quickly.
Mr. Norman stood in front of the short line, cleared his throat and announced: 'Your art classes have been susoended for a month. You, Chapman, have been dropped from your class's football team and you will all be prohibited from attending the school outing to eaither Bamburgh or Scarborough when sign-up commences in three week's. That will be all." He watched each of the boys slouch out of the room with their painful hands in ther pockets and wondered if the punishments had been worth it. Would they sneak and smoke somewhere else such as in the toilets or cause furher trouble in another direction?
Gareth strolled along the corridoe on the floow immediately below and stopped at the classroom. He skirted past the desks that separated thiose sitting and chose one besides the wondow seberal rows from the front. He diverted his attention and gazed out of the windoe and looked longingky at rthe dispersing puils leave the front gate. Some walked away with their friends, others disapperaed by themselves; two girls left arm-in-arm. Another lazily fropped a chewing gum wrapper on stone-crystal flagstones after he'd popped the lozenge-sized confectionery into his mouth.
The door promptly opened and in walked Mr. Thompson a tall thin man with thin wavy heai which was graying at the sidea and had civered the sideburns. In front of his sallow skin over the bridge of his long nose rested a apir of blck-rimmed spectacles. As soon as he rested a pile of files on the desk he turned towards the blackboard, took a piece of chalk and wrote the sentence: 'punctuality is avirtue I must respect at all times.' He swiped up a sheaf of lined paper and handed out the sheets.
"You will copy the sentence on the board one hundred times.Each paper eil be meticulously checked. If anyone hasn't written the correct amount they will go back and redo the entire task. begin."
As soon as he's issued the demand that each pupil comply, he sat down. the room was silent as Mr. Thompson bent over to mark some papers. Gather, liek the ther, leaned ove rhos paper nd wrote down the lines. Fourty minutes later, he stretched his arms, got up and took his paper Mr Thompson and laid in on the desk. he made the careful tally and looked up. "Close the door quietly after you leave."
Gather leapt down the main straicase of the teaching building, footed rspidly across the playground and out of the schoo, gate and rsced up Denton Rd. he soon turned right into Whitehouse Road and paced to the corner store at the intersection of Woodstock Road directly opposite the Bobby Shafto. He ran into his house slamming the door behind him. kevin had arrived ten minutes earler.
"Mam," Gareth shouted putting the eggs carefully on the kitchen bench. "I'm home." He burst into the living room clutching the pop and crips.
"What time do you csll thids? You should hav ebeen homeover an hoir ago?"
Garth was about to answer before Kevin who was seated with his feet on the coffee tsble reading the evening edition of the Evening Chronicle ineterrupted. "He's been on detention again. Right runt-face?" Gareth knew it was sueless to answer back. "You don't want to make a habit of it or you'll they'll docj you're pay before you csn say jsck robin at Armstrong's." Garthe scowled at hos brother who returned burying gis face behind the paper's pages.i
"That'll do Kevin. Gareth'lad, this is the second time this week. Why can'y ou arrive on time?"
'Dunno, mam Just like knowcking abour with Michael in the playground."
"I know but you'be got the morningf and afternoon bfreaks to do thst as well as the lunch break." Gather looked crestfallen as he put the bottle of coke and salt and vinegra crips on the siting room tble. I'll just finish watching this and then I'll make your tea." She was sitting quietly in a fireside srmachair watching a tv programme on small black and white TV snugged in the corner of the room. She flicked the ash from a cigarette in an thick glass ashtray perched on on eof the armrests she inhaled while sitting with her arms folded as her eyes were fixed in the screen. She pressed the cigarette butt into the glass jesu before th programme ended and got up. "I can do you sauduage, egg and chips. is that Okay?"
It's fine, ma, I'm starving."
It wsn't long ebfore Mrs. Jones re-enterd the roo with a tray of th food and s mug oif hot tea and placed it in front of Gareth who sat at the dining table.
"Take it easy. Eat more slowly, lad," Mrs Jones admonished as she watched her son wolf down the food. "."You don't want to spend the rest of the evening with indigextion. Kevin said nothing as he remined buried behind the flapped open newspaper. "How was school today, luv, besides the detention?"
"A boring old geography lesson, but it was funny to hear five of the others gte sent down for smking. I heard they'll get expelled if heir caught with a fag in one of the the bogs."
"Well, as long as you stay awy from the habit. I don't want you picking ot up from your brother or me, do you hear me?"
"OKay, ma," Kevin said with his head bent over thr plate with his mouth full.
As soon as Mrs Jone cleared away the tray, Gather lespt aover to the settee and plonked himself on a vacant spce as an episode ofDr Who was about to strat. As soon as the credits were over' Kevin decided to spil his brother's enjoyment of the program.
"You don't want to watch that rubbish. Let's see if there'a anyhting else worth watching."
"leav it alone. What would you know?" Gareth protested.
"More than you, thst's for sure."
Kevin skirted the cofffee tsble abd and rewched over to switch off the box as Gather strained himself attempting to prevent his brother's designs.
Mrs Jones, jearing the noise, burst through the opened door. "What do you thin you're doimg Kevin? Leave him alone to watch the programme."
"YOu always tke his sie. Mummy's boy."
Kevin continued to ignore his mother's command by attempting to switch off the TV.
"I said, that's enough. You'resstill young enough to get a belt around the gearhole."
Kevin went back to the settee and picked up the ppaer. Gareth silently watched the remainder of the show. He decided it would be better not to kicj up a fuss by sayin g how his brother's itervention had almost spolied the show even though that was hos intent.
"Are you going uo to the Bobby later?" Kevin asked his mother.
"I'll be there soon after I've watched Coronation Street."
"I'm off there now." He folded the paper, got up, slipped on his Cromby, checked he had enough coins to pay for several pints of Newcastle Brown Ale. The Half-crowns, shillings and brass coins clinked back in his pocket. "See you, runt-face." He flicked the fingers of his right-hand over the front of his brother's hair. Gareth said nothing as he straightened it and ignored hearing the door slam.
As soon as Coronation Street was over, Mrs. Jones stubbed out a cigarette but, got up from the armchair and went to slip on her coat and and nudge her feet in to a pair of low-heeled shoes in the hallway. She fingered through her purse to check she had enough to py for a few drins, snapped the brass clasp of her pusree together, popper it into her handbag and made for the door. "Will you be okay, luv?"
"I'll be okay, ma."
"Promise you won't be uo when I het back? You'v egot to be up early tomorrow."
The room went silent. Gather went up to his room and rifled through a few magazines and came back down. He placed them on the settee and stared at the bottle of coke and salt-n-viengar crips he'd brough into the room and left o the tble.
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