Intended audience: Young teenage.
Daniel Garner is your typical year 7 pupil. Not so typical are his visions from the past. As he is a true lover of history he is very curious. Of course the curious often get more than they bargain for.
The room was dark. A fine shred of silver moonlight cut a sharp line on the wall facing the window. It was silent; absolutely silent. I was sitting up, arms wrapped around my knees and hands clasped together. I had no idea how long I’d been like that. There seemed to be no reason for it. Sleepless nights would usually be spent reading on the tablet or with earphones, listening to music. But this night was an exception. This night I was waiting. Something was going to happen. I had no idea what it was going to be. But it was keeping me awake. I started to scour the blackness of the room, imagining where everything was. I traced the outline of the large bulky wardrobe, with its ill fitting door and the sleeve of my school jacket sticking out of the gap.
In the corner by the door I pictured all the battered old toys and games stacked untidily up against the wall, where the paper was torn and the paint was peppered with little chips from my clumsy feet in their size seven boots. By the window I saw the silhouette of the curtains and thought of their jagged stark brightly coloured patterns and the rude way they greeted me every morning.
I rested my head on my knees. Now I was looking directly at the window. A light gust of cold air ruffled the back of my neck. Suddenly it felt cold. I looked round to see the back of a young girl’s head pass through the doorway. It was not sudden. It did not startle me. It just seemed natural-something that happened all the time. I was not even surprised that so much detail could be seen in such a dark room. In fact the biggest surprise was my lack of surprise! Instead, I simply laid back down and closed my eyes. Then it was morning.
It was not what I’d been expecting. I had been expecting two weeks of solid boredom. It was the Easter holidays and as usual, there was nothing to do. We never went away on holiday or anything like that. There was always some problem with money or crowds or airports or anything that could be seen as inconvenient. Father was constantly going on about his work being too important to waste time sitting on some overcrowded beach getting too hot. There had been the occasional long weekend in some cold windswept coastal town on the east coast, but they were nothing like a proper family holiday.
School had ended the in a flurry of bad tempers and confusion. It was the usual nonsense from the usual suspects:
“And so what else could he have done?” The question was aimed, or rather barked at Ryan Green. He offered no answer. Instead he stayed slumped at his desk, chin on hands, staring straight ahead. “Do we think we might actually make some sort of effort to answer?” Mister Porter had moved closer and was speaking directly down Ryan’s right ear. Ryan was unmoved. “Maybe pull some sort of face that shows you’re thinking?” The teacher’s own face was turning a rich beetroot. Still nothing! “Give us some sort of sign that you’re alive?” The voice was now a little more resigned as he stood up and turned to go back to the front of the classroom.
From behind Ryan, Craig Thomas unleashed his mega thick super strength elastic band. It caught him right on the bit of his neck he scratched when he was confused. (He was confused a lot!) Craig was a brilliant shot. The reaction was instant. Ryan was most definitely alive!
The short sharp scream woke everybody up. The whole class turned to the poor stricken boy.
“Craig did it Craig did it,” he cried brandishing the offending elastic at Mr Porter.
“Two more for the jug then,” sighed the teacher wearily, ignoring Craig’s great face of injustice. As he looked down to find his detention book, Ryan took the opportunity to throw a rather pathetic punch at his tormentor. But after an hour of total inactivity, he had failed to notice the delicate position of the chair in relation to his rear end. It wasn’t so much the dull thump of bottom on floor that amused the weary onlookers-it was the sight of Ryan’s bemused face, knowing that within half a second he would be flat on the floor with the bottom in question feeling rather sore and bruised. Craig made his evil thin lipped smile as he leaned over to retrieve the offending elastic band. He even managed to give the hapless boy one more flick on the cheek as he tried to sit back up. Ryan, knowing he was still the focus of everyone else of the class, squealed like a rat. While some children laughed, others looked to the heavens and sighed; it had been a long day. I felt embarrassed.
Mr Porter did not react. He quietly shook his head and continued his rough scribbling onto the detention slips he was preparing for the two trouble-makers.
“That’s a nice treat for you to look forward to after Easter.” The tone of voice was unmistakably teacher sarcastic-the sort you would only ever hear on a Friday afternoon. The sound of the bell was met with long sighs of genuine relief and little whispered shouts of “Hooray.”
I couldn’t really blame those two for acting like idiots. It had been a long stressful day and both boys had already been in some sort of trouble. Ryan Green was always having a run in with the same two girls from year nine. They were constantly mocking the size and shape of his nose. It was a rather fat stubby turned up type of nose, and together with his square chin and faint wispy hair, it made him look a bit like a tailor’s dummy.
Cries of “Cork nose” or “puppet face” would often follow him round the corridor or playground. I actually felt sorry for him. I think a lot of the teachers felt sorry for him too. Miss Brunswick, our form tutor certainly did. She had arranged for Ryan to see a “behaviour therapist” every two weeks. Sometimes I sat in with him when he wanted a “friend” to offer support. The fact was however, that he had no real friends-I was one of the few people in the class who wasn’t completely horrible to him. I was happy to be helpful.
So I did feel some sense of satisfaction when Ryan dolloped two great big handfuls of top quality school mud into one of their rucksacks as they crossed the playground to the dining hall. Then he decided to wipe his filthy sodden hands all over the other girl’s blazer. There was mud everywhere. The girls screamed. Ryan stood there laughing as a whole posse of children gathered round to inspect the damage. It was one of those priceless moments when law and order plunges into a total chaos of screams and waving arms.
Miss Connor, the duty teacher was certainly less than pleased. Ryan had to offer some form of apology to the two girls as they stood there, open mouthed, acting out their classic performance of outrage and disgust. I always thought Miss Connor had it in for us boys. She never punished any of the girls. When I tried to offer Ryan some support, she threatened me with a detention of my own. It seemed so unfair.
As for Craig-he was just a bully. Big but not bright, he could be handled quite easily-I did not feel sorry for him! He could never accept the blame for anything. It was always someone else’s fault. Craig spent most days screaming at anyone who dared to look at him:
“You’re winding me up. You want to get me into trouble.” His low booming voice would often echo around the walls of the lower school. If you can imagine a massive heavy duty chain saw droning on and on, you’d have a good idea of the sound.
Earlier that morning he had been in trouble for vandalising some of the bench sockets in the physics lab. As the teacher rattled on about the finer points of electro magnetic induction, Craig decided to adopt a more hands-on approach. With his trusty little screwdriver; usually reserved for drilling tiny holes into other people’s bags, or removing the blades off their pencil sharpeners, he systematically reduced three of these sockets to a mess of wire and plastic. This did not go down well with Mrs Jacobs. Of course he did not think it was his fault:
“Tommy told me to do it-he said he’d beat me up if I didn’t.” Tommy was a mild mannered midget of a boy who spent his whole life in fear of great oafs like Craig. In fact there were many pupils who were genuinely afraid of Craig, even though he never actually hit anyone. He was more inclined to shout and wail, or use the power of his trusty elastic band.
“Did you Tommy?” asked the teacher. Tommy remained silent.
“I thought not.” Mrs Jacobs tutted as she stood in front of Craig, dwarfed by his massive frame.
As a punishment he had to spend lunchtime outside the deputy head’s office trying to write a letter of apology. It never got written. He couldn’t write it because he had used his heavy duty elastic band to fire his pen at some passing pupils who dared to comment on his apparent stupidity.
It was a shame that the final lesson of the day had turned into such a farce. But the last day of term was always the same. Both teachers and pupils would be equally fed up. Even so, it was history with Mr Porter. And history is my thing. I have a genuine interest in the past and how different things shaped people’s lives. As far as Mr Porter’s question was concerned, I could have easily offered a full and comprehensive answer. The “he” was Henry the eighth and his dilemma concerned the divorce of his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. But I was not given the chance and left the classroom feeling frustrated. Now all I had to look forward to was two weeks of emptiness and silence, interrupted occasionally by sisterly sarcasm and motherly mistrust.
A year ago I had offered suggestions about where we could have gone as a family. There were plenty of places nearby to visit:
“Can we go to Hampton Court?” The question was met with a stony silence. “You know, Henry the Eighth’s palace.” Three pairs of eyes stared back in disbelief. “It’s got a maze and everything.” I continued in a sort of high pitched, desperately hopeful voice. Silence followed.
“You know Abi gets car sick,” Father eventually replied with his usual sourness. Abi is my elder sister. A short haired sharp edged sort of girl. She shuffled her bottom, looking back at me with an air of triumph:
“Who’d want to go to a boring old palace? It’s probably full of old ladies talking about silly little patterns on the wall,” she responded pointedly. Disheartened but not defeated, I continued:
“What about The Tower of London? That’s nearer. We could go on the tube.”
“That’s gross,” came the reply.
“Gross?” I looked back to my sister.
“Oh you’re so stupid,” she fired back.
“You know Abi doesn’t like all those stories about executions and people getting their heads chopped off.” This time it was Mother’s turn to offer a scathing reply. She was taking Abi’s side as usual. “You know how sensitive she is.” Once Abi went to see the Egyptian Mummies in the British Museum. For ages afterwards, she claimed severe sickness. After seeing all those bandaged corpses, she decided that she could not face any food whatsoever. It took weeks of persuasion and cajoling before Abi actually sat down for a family meal again. Mother spent the whole time running up and down the stairs with plates of peanut butter sandwiches.
“It’s the only thing she can tolerate,” Mum explained. It’s funny how she didn’t mention Abi’s enormous secret stash of chocolate. I’m sure that took a hit! Once more my sister’s chair creaked. (Another triumphant bottom shuffle.) I quickly became fed up of having my ideas ridiculed so since then I gave up making any more suggestions.
As I made my way home from school, I thought about what delights I had to look forward to. There was my Abi’s greed. She would find countless excuses to get her hands on every single type of chocolate egg; white chocolate, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, button eggs, bunny eggs, jelly eggs, mini eggs, giant eggs, eggs with chicks, eggs with salted caramel-the list was endless. Whether it was for giving her much needed energy, the added fruit or the other benefits of the chocolate itself, Abi would offer some logical reason for having it. If she did not get her way, she would effect a piercing high pitched screechy wail. My parents always gave in to her; Father did it for a quiet life whilst Mother did it because her dear little daughter was a princess, and could do no wrong.
Then, as if that wasn’t enough, after Easter she would insist on Mum getting even more when the prices had gone down.
“It’s too much of a bargain, You can’t let all that chocolate go to waste.” I could not believe how one person could put so much effort into buying chocolate. It was painful to watch.
There were other things too:
Gardening! Mum would always try to persuade me to go outside and work in the garden. It was her idea of keeping me in the house and occupied. But it was always the same; after hours of digging away, she would come outside, tell me I had done it all wrong and that I needed to do it again the next day. So the following day I would have another go, only to be told that it was better the first time.
Then there was homework! The Easter homework was the worst. It was that time of year when all teachers would say the same old things about exams coming up and how important our year was. We had to make sure all projects were on track, ready to be handed on in the first day of the new term, and so on and so forth. But I was never that keen on going over old stuff. I also found it quite hard to get things finished. I liked new stuff. I liked discovering new ideas and reading about new places and new things. I saw no real value in revision. I could usually remember a lot of what we’d been taught-the interesting bits anyway. Mum would make a point of asking me what work I had to do before checking my bag and homework book just in case I had “accidentally missed anything”.
Clothes shopping! Mum was a clothes shopping champion (with Abi coming a close second). When I wasn’t outside digging up the great garden, she would insist on taking Abi and me to the shops for a whole morning of “retail therapy”. Of course it meant an early start:
“Come on, up we get, we won’t be a la mode if we hang round here all day.” Like my sister, I think she just liked an audience. I must have spent hours in women’s shops, waiting awkwardly by the changing rooms as Abi and Mum fussed and argued about what worked and what looked ridiculous. They never asked me what I thought. (I thought most things looked ridiculous.) The debate would continue in the nearest coffee shop. In a flurry of cake and biscuit crumbs, they would wave their arms about, chatter and scream like monkeys in some form of senseless excitement.
Worst of all was the listening! Mum was always listening. She complained about any sort of noise in the house-especially when I put music on:
“How do you expect me to think with that racket blaring out all over the house?”
“It’s so rubbish!” Abi would comment. She never missed a chance to criticise my taste in music. Then Mum would object when I listened to anything on headphones:
“It’s just too anti-social. We may want to talk to you. How can you hear us with those things on your ears? You’ll make yourself deaf!” I felt completely trapped.
I even felt trapped outside. The walk from school took me along a variety of busy roads. There were barriers all the way along them. The only gaps were for bus stops or crossings. It would be left out of the gates, walk for two hundred meters, cross at the footbridge, left at the roundabout going through the subway before using the pedestrian crossing to get to the end of our road. It was like living in a rabbit run. I was being controlled at home, controlled at school and controlled out on the street. I really wanted to have some control of my own. I wanted to choose where I could go and what I could do. I wasn’t a rebel; I just wanted a bit more say about things.
“Life is just one long jail sentence,” I thought as the traffic roared past. “There they all are, whizzing along the roads, getting on with their lives, while I go from one prison cell to another!”
Little did I know however, that this holiday would bring something so incredible, so amazing and so unimaginable, that it defied all sense and reason. I was to learn so much-so much about the good and bad side of human nature. I was to discover new levels of greed and selfishness, and how people would use each other for their own advantage.