It’s the first Saturday of a term that’s just three days old. Five periods to teach up to lunch.
The Three Musketeers and Taff had met up the previous night at The Crown after duties and sunk several pints in a short time.
‘How are you coping?’ Taff had asked popping money into the juke box. ‘Do you like Queen, boyo?’
“…is this the real life, is this just fantasy…”
‘Sure. Good value this one. Um, it’s a bit of a blur to be fair,’ I’d replied. ‘Everything’s new. Strange. It’s like everyone talks in a foreign language.’
‘You should hear some of the older ones, boyo. I think they may even have “fags”; you know, like in Dickens novels. Running errands for them.’ He’d leant in. ‘You should have been at assembly this morning, boyo. The Master went off on one in chapel. Turned purple.’
‘God knows. Someone yawning or something.’ He’d slurped at his pint. ‘Think he might have a screw loose, boyo. Like he’s on a mission.’
‘I’m looking forward to sorting out a few of the older lads tomorrow on the pitch,’ Rugger Bugger had said draining his glass later. ‘Another pint?’
“…I’m just a poor boy needing no sympathy…”
Saturday school. Five periods of teaching stretch ahead with or without a fuzzy head. It just doesn’t seem right. Then there’s the little matter of having agreed to play rugby against the Upper School first fifteen this afternoon. Beer talking.
‘Don’t know what you’re getting so worked up about.’ Rugger Bugger’s holding court over coffee that morning break. ‘It’s men against boys.’
‘Have you seen the size of them?’
He’s hoping to play in the front row. ‘I’ll soon have them under control.’
Adonis flexes a muscle. ‘I’ve played quite a bit.’
We meet up with Taff after a lunch I’ve barely touched and walk down to the pitch together. I know Taff has represented Welsh Schools at full back. ‘It’ll be a piece of cake,’ he says, ‘though I hear this year’s side is the best they’ve had for a while.’
When we reach the pitch De Cock’s handing out shirts. Red and white hoops. Biggles wears number 9. Scrum Half. There’s already a crowd gathered. Young men and women dressed in casual clothes. Pupils.
Bollocks. There are a lot of them.
In the distance the first fifteen are limbering up. Green Giants.
‘You’re on the wing,’ De Cock says handing me the number 14 shirt. ‘You’ll need to keep track of your opposite number. He’s a slippery so and so. Put on some muscle over the holidays.’
‘Which one’s he?’
De Cock points.
Girls, laughing, surround a young green titan who wouldn’t have looked out of place in Nazi propaganda, with thighs like a tree. A Stormtrooper.
Bugger. Am I expected to tackle him?
I fidget as I take up my place. Wing? That’s on the end of the line isn’t it? Next to number thirteen.
‘Good luck everyone,’ says De Cock as we prepare for kick off.
I find myself nervously humming “Bohemian Rhapsody” as I line up alongside number thirteen. “Mama, just killed a man, put a gun against his head…”
It’s Chisel Face. He barely acknowledges me, tapping mud from his boots. Is Miss Dazzle watching? I scan the touchline for her familiar figure. Maybe I could score a try? Impress her?
“…Mama, ooh ooh, didn’t mean to make you cry…”
Then the whistle blows, the game kicks off and any thoughts of glory and Miss Dazzle disappear to be replaced by cold funk as I keep an eye on the Stormtrooper’s massive thighs, trying to ignore the grunts from melees elsewhere. Several battles take place without the ball coming my way. Biggles makes a break but is smothered. The Stormtrooper too is at least starved of ball. The game seems to revolve around skirmishes with bodies left strewn over the ground as I hover on the wing.
Eventually, after another one of these conflicts, the ball’s thrown to Biggles who sidesteps his opponent before slipping a pass to Adonis who breaks a tackle before passing to Chisel Face, the line beckoning. Even I can see that all Chisel Face has to do is draw the Stormtrooper and thread the ball to me and I’ll have a clear run. Yes! No more than ten yards to the try line. As long as I don’t drop the ball. Or get in front of it.
My big chance. I ready myself for the pass that must come my way and dream briefly of glory. Miss Dazzle watching me plunge over the try line. Enthralled. This is it.
“…my time has come, sends shivers down my spine…”
And there’s a great cheer from the crowd. Chisel Face has thrown an extravagant dummy to be immediately swallowed up by the Stormtrooper, the ball bouncing away.
You fucking greedy pillock.
Not so long after another skirmish, one of the schoolboys makes a break. Oh oh. ‘Pass it!’ The ball’s moved quickly along the line to the Stormtrooper until all that stands between him and a try is me.
“…thunderbolt and lightning, very very frightening…”
Me. There’s a palpable thud in my chest; a cry from the crowd. ‘Go on!’ Does someone else shout?
After that everything seems to be in slow motion. A Green Giant is heading my way, all pumping arms and legs, a steely glint in his eye. I realise he isn’t going to try and outpace me. Or be jolly.
‘Smash him!’ A clear shout.
He’s going to absolutely bulldoze me. Unless I flunk out. Run away.
“…Oh mama mia mama mia…”
I fleetingly consider Miss Dazzle watching. The hordes of pupils.
No way can I chicken out.
“…Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me…”
Ducking my head I feel my neck brace under the impact of the Stormtrooper at full speed. Take that! I sense him buckle and stagger as I topple awkwardly and uncontrollably backwards.
“… so you think you stone me and spit in my eye…”
‘Ah!’ Any sense of elation is immediately squashed as he crashes down on my left leg, shooting a dagger of intense pain through my buckled knee. ‘Fuck!’ I can barely crawl, groaning towards the touchline.
At least the Stormtrooper’s flat out too, the ball bouncing away.
‘That’s one way to tackle. You OK?’ It’s Biggles. I shake my head, crippled on the touchline. He throws a glance towards the field of play. ‘Bad luck.’ And disappears back to the game.
By half time my knee’s a balloon, my neck’s stiff, and there are more casualties. Rugger Bugger’s carrying his wrist. ‘Someone stamped on it in the last ruck.’
Taff, after scoring a fine individual try, has come off clutching his collarbone. ‘It’s annoying, boyo. It pops out every now and then.’ Only Adonis seems in one piece. ‘I’m enjoying it,’ he says. There’s not a mark on his shorts or shirt. ‘Have you seen all that crumpet on the touchline?’
The game’s finely balanced but De Cock’s resigned. ‘We’re down to twelve fit players. There’s no way we’ll be able to hold them. I’ll ask the ref to cut down the second half.’
By the end of the game Rugger Bugger’s practically a passenger, his hand hanging limp. Taff has retired and fashioned a sling to hold up his collarbone. I can just manage to hobble, rigid necked by the touchline among the spectators, my knee a swollen aubergine. I’ve lasted a few minutes, never touched the ball, and made one tackle. At least I’ve not flunked out of it.
‘I’ve organised the San sister to take you all down to the hospital,’ says De Cock. ‘Thanks for playing.’
I see Miss Dazzle with a camera taking a picture of Chisel Face holding a small silver trophy - “Man of the Match” – as I hobble past.
Fortunately, Accident and Emergency’s not too busy. ‘Masters versus Pupils was it?’ asks the doctor. ‘You’ll never learn. This happens every year.’ I’m given an icepack, crutches and strapping, Rugger Bugger has his wrist plastered, and Taff is wearing a sling after they’ve popped his collarbone back. We look like we’ve been in a war.
Adonis is waiting back at school. ‘Did you see all that totty on the touchline? Fancy a few pints?’
We deliberately avoid the town centre, trudging instead near the train station until coming across a pub, “The High Flyer.” My arms ache from the crutches. My neck’s an iron girder. The inside’s smoky, filled with pictures of racehorses. Tables are buzzing with folk. The smell of chips. Faces briefly turn our way. There’s some heavy metal playing. Deep Purple. “Smoke on the Water.”
‘All right, lads? What can I do you for?’ The landlord has purple cheeks and rheumy eyes.
We order beers and he returns with foaming glasses. ‘You’ve all been in the wars. Been in a fight?’
As soon as we admit to teaching at Fitzrovia he raises his eyebrows. ‘We don’t often see your kind in ‘ere.’ He leans over the bar and shouts. ‘‘Ere, Norma they’re from Fitzie’s.’ A lady with brassy hair and low cut top comes over with a large glass of something. Fag on.
‘Teachers,’ says the landlord and winks at her. Her chest wobbles.
‘You’re never old enough.’ Norma’s staring at Adonis. ‘Is this what them young ladies and gents ‘ave done to you?’
At closing time we find ourselves out on the street.
‘Gagging for it,’ says Adonis as Norma waves us off.
‘We should have got a carry out.’ I’m hobbling, hunched, the crutches unwieldy. ‘Let’s get a taxi. Sit down on that bench.’ Staggering across the station car park to the empty taxi rank I sit gingerly. Taff wanders, whistling tunelessly, stands swaying beneath a giant hoarding advertising some hair product. I watch him reach up with his one good arm and give it a wrench until there’s a ripping sound as the billboard poster comes away leaving a great tear. ‘I always hated that advert.’
Headlights sweep into the car park. There’s something familiar about the taxi driver’s voice. ‘You look as if you’ve had a good time.’ It’s the same guy who took me up to school that first day. ‘Oh hello.’ He leans across the front seat to talk to me. ‘Hasn’t taken you long has it? You wanna be careful of the beer round here. It’s strong. Where to?’
We cram in the car, laughing when Adonis bangs his head on the doorsill. ‘Fuck!’ The engine starts and off we go to Maynard Road.
‘Heard the news?’ says the taxi driver. ‘About Marc Bolan?’
‘What about him?’
‘Been killed in a road accident.’
I’d bought a copy of “Ride A White Swan.” Had borrowed a copy of his first album, the name of which I’ll never forget. “My People Were Fair And Had Sky In Their Hair But Now They’re Content To Wear Stars On Their Brows.”
‘Was he driving?’
‘Might have been his girlfriend,’ replies the driver. ‘Whatever; he’s a gonner.’
There are no lights on at Maynard Road. Stiffly, I fumble for my key. ‘I think my housemates are away. Shall we have a drink here? I’ve got some rum somewhere.’
We pay the taxi driver and stagger in. I hunt out glasses and the rum. When I hobble back with them, neck braced, Adonis is standing in front of the hall mirror, blood streaming from a gash on his forehead.
‘Must have been the door on the taxi. Got a towel anywhere?’
The rest of us sit on the floor, Led Zeppelin belting out “Ramble On” on my cassette player, until Adonis re-emerges. He wears a blood stained towel wrapped round his head and looks more like Bishen Bedi the Indian Sikh spin bowler than a Greek God. Between us we’ve more strapping and bandages than in a hospital drama. We roll and bay with laughter and I pour more slugs of rum.
Making the most of our circumstances.
Soundtrack - The Back Story!
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Bohemian Rhapsody - Queen
Famously, the first music video that captured the imagination recorded in 1975, and what a song! Written by Freddie Mercury, it’s six minutes of different vignettes forming a mini suite with more than a hint of opera… Well, it does come from their LP “A Night At The Opera.” It’s attracted accolades – greatest pop song; 9 weeks at the top of the UK charts; best vocal performance.
My memory of it is hearing it on the college jukebox – great value of course with its length. It seemed to be on endlessly…and last endlessly. There are few songs that command such universal approval. No apologies for including it on my list; THE sound of the 70’s??
Smoke On The Water - Deep Purple
Ah those opening chords! The riff – developed by guitarist Richie Blackmore – played on a Fender Stratocaster is one of the best known heavy rock intros of the era. The title refers to an incident that the guys from the band witnessed in Montreux at a Frank Zappa concert, when the whole place went up in flames after a member of the audience fired a flare into the rattan roof.
For me, the song means smoke-filled pubs in my sixth form days when I could sneak a pint of shandy or mild and bitter as an under-ager. Many a happy night spent playing bar billiards – remember that game? – and shoving sixpences into the juke box.
Ramble On - Led Zeppelin
Taken from Led Zep 2 the song contains references to “Lord of The Rings” (Mordor and Gollum) and was written by Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. I love the way Page achieves that violin-like sound from his guitar. The drumming apparently was performed by John Bonham on a guitar case with his hands! For anyone who thinks that Led Zep are just hard rockers, well, “Ramble On” should persuade then otherwise. And of course, there’s always “Stairway to Heaven”…is there a better song out there?
Ride A White Swan - T-Rex
The conversation with the taxi driver as described really did take place – as did the rugby match. I’d listened to Tyrannosaurus Rex, as they were originally known, in 1970, and had a copy of “Ride A White Swan” which featured the warbling of Marc Bolan pre his glam rock reincarnation. It eventually reached number two in the UK charts in 1971, held off from the number one spot by…Clive Dunn’s “Grandad.” Ouch! Still, what a cover for the album…
About the Author: Richard Parsons
I’ve been fascinated with writing since I was a youngster; creative writing in English lessons was my favourite part of school life along with swapping music with mates or playing sport.
When I decided to quit teaching after many happy years, I applied for and won a scholarship to do a Masters at Plymouth Uni in Creative Writing. Drama was really the main string to my bow, but I soon became hooked on the idea of crafting short stories, and, eventually, the longer form of narrative. After graduating with a distinction, I cut my teeth writing for women’s magazines, but this was never in my own “voice” and was always formulaic. “Given Circumstances” is the real me.
Hope you enjoy it!