In this section, Wayne Trebilock 2, the Welbeloved Brothers (jobbing builders renowned for their Weapons of Mass Seduction) arrive – to lay rubber on the bottom of the school’s moat – and Geraldine finally gets to meet Wayne!
The Archers, based upon members of the Craft Department at the school I taught in, relieve stress by firing arrows from the battlements of the castle/school!
CHAPTER TWENTY ONE
The builders moved in the next day, though the horse was a bit of a surprise, I have to say. It was break time and I was up on the battlements with Jasper and co when we spied a most peculiar entourage toiling its way up the steep hill to St Thelma’s. First was a Land Rover, crammed to the gunwales with men. Behind that there was a Volvo that was pulling a caravan and, bringing up the rear, though not apparently being towed by anything, was the horse.
Red started to whistle the theme tune from ‘Steptoe and Son’ and, as the caravanserai turned the corner, his reasoning became obvious: craning out of the far window of the Land Rover was a wisened little party with a pipe in its mouth and great blasts of smoke blowing back down the hill.
‘It’s Old Man Steptoe!’ Cap cried, having finally decoded Red’s somewhat tuneless dirge.
‘It’s bloody Grandad!’ Jasper muttered. ‘Sod gets everywhere!’
We watched, fascinated, as they rattled over the drawbridge before coming to a stop in the courtyard.
‘God, they’re not setting up camp down there, are they?’ said Jasper. ‘They’ll be mobbed by nubile fifth year girls, the jammy buggers!’
The builders had got into a huddle outside their vehicles while the horse, having evidently got rid of its last meal on and around the drawbridge, was now settling down to a nice soothing graze.
‘Maybe they’re not the builders,’ commented Red. ‘Look more like the Antique Gypsies to me!’
They looked far from antique to me, more like toned twenties, but I could see where Red was coming from: there was a certain, how shall I put it, shiftiness about them which suggested a life at variance with the strict letter of the law.
Red must have realised he’d confused me because he carried on, ’They come round to people’s houses, sniff out any valuables, rubbish the lot and then sneak back under cover of darkness and purloin anything which can be flogged at auction.’
He might have said more but, at that moment, the Head swept out to meet the men.
‘This should be fun,’ Red said.
The horse chose this moment to relieve itself at great length and with evident enjoyment. A better stale I’d rarely seen.
The Head leapt nimbly to one side just in time, otherwise he’d have been wearing it.
‘And you’d be?’ the Head said pompously.
One of the men stepped forward and put out a hand, which had clearly seen better days.
‘Fred Wellbeloved, brothers and Grandad,’ he announced. ‘Layers of rubber for the whole of Cornwall. No job too small. Satisfaction guaranteed. And the horse,’ he finished somewhat ambiguously.
‘Well, you can’t camp here,’ the Head said recovering some of his equilibrium. ‘Health and Safety rules are very strict about livestock near educational establishments.’
Fred laughed. ‘Sorry, squire,’ he said, ‘but Hengist here ain’t livestock; he’s part of the team being as you’d never get a steam roller down into that there moat. And we got special permission from the county council to set up camp right here on account of it’s protected and so forth. Don’t want us all freezing our gnadgers off, now do we?’
‘But…’ stammered the Head.
‘Don’t you worry, gov,’ said Fred. ‘You won’t hardly know we’re here. Quiet as mice, we are.’
The Head looked most put out: this clearly was not going the way he had envisaged.
‘But,’ he said,’ what about, er, latrine facilities vis à vis the horse?’
‘Don’t get yourself in a lather, mate. When nature calls, Hengist answers, if you get my meaning. Your missus grow roses? Brilliant for roses, is horse manure, brings them on a treat. People pay serious money for dung, you know, and you’d have loads of the stuff for free. Look on the bright side! Now, if you’ll excuse us; we got work to do. See you around, squire!’
‘Round one to the builders or whoever the hell they are!’ Red announced. ‘They should brighten things up no end. All the first year girls’ll want to pet the nag, while the fifth year ones will want to shag the blokes. Just as well they are rubber layers, eh?’
‘Oh God,’ said Cap, ‘believe it or not, I hadn’t even thought of that. Must be losing my touch! But if you think of it in those terms, they are about to put a giant prophylactic down a moat aided by a horse – sounds like a porn film, does it not?’
‘We’ve had the Dulux Dog,’ quipped Red. ‘Now we’ve got the Durex Men!’
We watched for a bit longer. The five men tethered the caravan and began to unload their equipment. Soon the courtyard began to resemble a builders’ yard. The horse appeared to be asleep – or dead; one can’t always tell with horses.
I had more pressing matters to occupy me, however: next lesson was to be my first meeting with Wayne Trebilcock. I just hoped that Clive had been singing my praises loud and clear. There are times when it is important to let a child make up its own mind – and this was definitely not one of them. I wanted him firmly and speedily on my side, to make up for the ones I’d already lost in that class. I had a little longer to wait than I’d initially thought, however. The little darlings had performed a preemptive strike and locked me out of my own room. Fortunately, there was a connecting door leading from Tom’s classroom. As I walked through, I could see that Giblet was nesting once more. Perhaps he thought he was a hibernating bear cub. Nothing about that boy would surprise me.
I felt quite angry by the time I got into my room, but decided not to play into their hands by admitting it. ‘We have a new boy starting in this class today,’ I said brightly.
‘We know,’ said Gary lugubriously. ‘That’s why we locked the door. ‘E’s a nutter, Miss.’
Pot. Kettle. Black. ‘Oh?’ I queried.
‘’E’s got ‘is own coffin!’ added Gary.
‘It’ll come to us all in the end,’ I replied. Perhaps Wayne believed in forward planning?
‘No,’ said Kevin, obviously feeling I’d missed the point. ‘Not for being dead in!’
Call me conventional, but I couldn’t offhand think of any other obvious use for a coffin. I mean you can’t cook in one or plant your begonias or have a bath.
‘’E sleeps in ‘is coffin,’ shrilled Gary, ’with the lid down and all.’
‘Does he wear a shroud?’ I asked sarcastically and, as it turned out, unwisely. I’d forgotten how easily a single word could, as it were, ignite a red herring with this crew.
‘What’s one of them, then?’ Kevin, inevitably, was caught on the revolving door of vocabulary, unable to come in or go out.
‘”S one of them sheet things what you wrap deaduns in,’ said Gary proudly. ‘Like the shroud of Tulip. I seen a telly programme on that.’
‘You don’t have to use a sheet,’ interrupted James. ‘My nan wore her best clothes. You look stupid in a sheet.’
‘In any case, ‘said Peter, who’d been mercifully quiet up to now, ‘It’s Turin not Tulip. Honestly, can’t you get your facts straight, Gary. It’s not exactly nuclear physics, is it?’
Fortunately Gary was too absorbed by the whole coffin/shroud dilemma to take offence at Peter’s words. ‘Ow does that Wayne breathe anyway?’ he asked the class at large.
‘Praps he’s one of them undeads,’ suggested Kevin. ‘Praps he’s all sewn together under his clothes, like that Frankincense monster. He’s prob’ly got someone’s else’s brain.’
‘Bit like you then, Pendoggett,’ muttered Peter. Despite himself, he was obviously as gripped by the macabre rumours as the next man. ‘I wonder if it’s silk-lined or just wood?’ he mused.
‘What? His brain?’ asked Gary. ‘Wood for brains! Wood for brains!’
‘No, his coffin, you spaz,’ Peter said viciously.’ Tight fit, I should imagine: snug. You couldn’t turn over in the night.’
At that moment, the door – which I’d unlocked – opened and in came the putative zombie, Wayne Trebilcock. The rest of them were instantly as silent as the grave. I have to say that, just for one brief moment, the desire to make the sign of the cross came upon me.
‘Oi gart larst,’ were Wayne’s first words in a Cornish accent so broad, you could have mangled a whole field of wurzels with it. ‘E told Oi to go roight dewn thart corridar to the cattycoomers, but there were a gurt brick wall…’
‘Never mind. You’re here now,’ I said. ‘Sit down.’ I gestured to the chair next to Kevin and Wayne sat down.
With the idea of catching their attention while they were stunned, I said, ‘OK, now Wayne’s here, I’d like you all to get out a pen and, Karen, give each person a sheet of paper please.’
We had made progress since September in this area, if no other: each pupil now had a pen, of sorts. The original owner of the Sherbet Fountain – who had turned out to be Peter, who else? – still brought a selection of sweets to every lesson, but even he lined a revolting looking pen up by the side of his tuck.
There was something horribly familiar about the shape of Wayne’s huge bag, now I came to look at it closely. I know a sarcophagus when I see one, and I was looking at one right now. Wayne unzipped the lid and took out a skeleton-shaped pencil case, from which he extracted a pen adorned with a skull motif: Very fetching.
I had decided to base this month’s work on a series of tasks based on the poem ‘Jabberwocky’ and had already written the poem up on the board, fortunately. Striding up and down, doing the actions where possible, I recited. I gyred and I gimbled; I paused in uffish thought; I even staggered manfully under the weight of an imaginary head on the end of my vorpal blade. There was a baffled pause at the end.
‘So ‘e died then, did ‘e?’ Kevin asked.
‘Who?’ I said.
‘The brillig,’ Kevin explained. ‘im what got his ‘ead chopped off in that machine.’
‘What machine, thicko,’ said James, ’there weren’t no machine.’
‘There was,’ insisted Kevin. ‘Didn’t you listen to miss? It’s like one of they combined hamster things what farmers use and its blades went snick snack snorum as it cut ‘im to pieces.’
‘OK,’ I said. ‘I’ll explain the storyline for all of you…’
‘Oi met one of they jabberwockies when oi was outside moi bardy the other day,’ said Wayne.
I couldn’t hope to compete with that, so I quickly dictated the story of the poem and then got them copying while I thought about my latest class member. Fortunately, they all liked copying because it meant they didn’t have to think. We’d also come to an agreement last term whereby they could use any colour of pen they wanted as long as the work got done. The standard of handwriting was execrable, Kevin’s being the one exception, but the colours were vibrant.
By lunchtime, when I went outside to snoop, the Durex Men seemed to have a very cosy little set up. The caravan, tight against one of the inner walls, now had a small flight of steps leading up to the door; long planks lay in piles all around and the boys, reclining on deckchairs, were drinking cups of tea and smoking. Of Hengist, slightly worryingly, there was no sign.
The battlements were calling, so up I went. The usual suspects had beaten me to it and were leaning over, as if indulging in a sponsored vomit. Jasper spoke first.
‘Fun though this is undoubtedly going to be, chaps, I can foresee a problem – viz, they’re going to restrict our practice times considerably. Tempted as I am to use that bloody horse or, even better, Grandad as a target, I can see that this would be frowned upon in certain quarters. Any suggestions?’
Red suggested moving the whole centre of operations down into the staff car park and aiming down the hill. ‘Can’t do that,’ Bilbo objected. ‘I’ve nothing against picking off a few of the more noisome of our teaching groups, but I think a hail of arrows meeting perfectly innocent visitors is slightly over the top.’
‘Or through the gizzard, as the case may be,’ said Cap. ‘No, I think we’re going to have to move to the opposite side of the battlements and use that space pointing out over the forbidden hill. I don’t see any other way round it. It’s got that socking great iron fence to stop the little buggers getting in. Bit of a challenge, I say.’
‘Bit of a bloody climb,’ Red said. ‘Looks as if it’s practically vertical. We’re none of us as young as we were, except Gerri, probably all keel over with heart attacks.’
The Trappist, who’d been communing with nature, suddenly reappeared.
‘Look!’ he said succinctly. ’Here comes the jail bait!’
Since we’d last looked down, things had moved on. Fred and brothers had gone, as had a fair few of the planks, which suggested that they were actually doing some work. Hengist remained conspicuous by his absence, but a loud and tuneless voice was bellowing snatches from ‘Have some Madeira, my dear!’ It seemed to be coming from the inner sanctum of the caravan. Suddenly a posse of fifth year girls, tarted up to the nines, came in from stages left and right. Flouting the strict rules on the use of make-up, they teetered in on high heels so precipitous that I would have kissed both ankles goodbye had I so much as tried them on. With their undulating buttocks and swaying hips, they resembled a platoon of fighting camels going into battle.
‘…it affects yer prowess!’ screamed the voice from the caravan.
The girls, not seeing the objects of their desire, had evidently decided to take the bull by the horns and were mincing up to the caravan.
‘Have some Madeira, my dear…’ warbled the voice getting into full chorus mode.
Lana, of the Himalayan appendages, knocked firmly on the door. The voice stopped in its tracks. There was a pause, during which the girls giggled and adjusted their skirts.
The door was thrown open with a suddenness that took the girls by surprise. They jumped back. With the inevitability of Greek Tragedy, there stood Grandad, in need of a good iron, wearing a gaily hued beach towel and nothing else.
It was a splendid moment. You could see from Grandad’s face that he thought his luck was in. He leered; he smirked; he wiggled his posterior suggestively. It was like the courtship dance of an elderly turkey. ‘Come in, my lovelies!’ he said in what was probably meant to be a seductive voice, but sounded more like a vulture choking on an awkwardly placed rib.
The girls lost their nerve almost immediately. They slunk off like a bunch of deflated meerkats. Had it not been so funny, I would almost have felt sorry for them.
‘Good lesson in reality,’ Jasper said heartlessly. ‘dream of fit young things and princes and what do you get? Grandad! Not so much a frog as a skunk. Bitten off more than they can chew there, methinks.’