by John White
...David studied the river of juveniles flowing past him. The only time he could remember moving faster than a snail’s pace between lessons was when his next period was PE or football. For the most part, academia had passed him by without a glance. A year after leaving school, realising that all the future held for him was one dead end job after another, he signed on at Night School. It was something he would look back on as a moment of inspiration. Algebra, calculus, punctuation and grammar became subjects he not only began to understand, but looked forward to tackling. After that he changed tack completely and joined the army.
David found himself standing in front of the Headmaster’s door. He knocked, perhaps a little too loudly and was left feeling like a nervous first year sent by his Form Master for some misdemeanour.
David entered and was met by a man he didn’t recognise.
“Can I help you?”
“My name is David Longdon and I’m supposed to see the Headmaster again before I take a class.”
“Take a class? Ah, you’re one of those are you? Yes, well it’s all been arranged. You’ll be in room 21b. Left out of here, fourth door on the right. My name’s Davis by the way, Barry Davis, Deputy Head. The Headmaster phoned in sick this morning, so I’m afraid you’ll be dealing with me.”
Afraid you’ll be dealing with me? What a strange thing to say, thought David. He felt challenged and met it head on.
“Is there a problem, Mr Davis?”
“Not as such Mr Longdon and certainly nothing you should be concerned with. These classes are the Headmaster’s idea. Personally I cannot see them serving any useful purpose. My objections are well known and a matter of record. I’m not laying any fault at your door, so please excuse my rather abrupt manner.” He paused before continuing. “What, if I may ask, will be the theme of your talk?”
“I haven’t exactly decided yet.” He could see from Barry Davis’ expression that this was not the answer he expected. “Let me explain. I’ve always been good at thinking on my feet as they say. I’ll have a pretty good idea of what to talk about when I know the mood of the class.”
Davis didn’t look convinced.
“What a novel approach. Well you’d better follow me, I’ll introduce you to Mrs Pearson and your… er, audience.”
“Who’s Mrs Pearson?”
“She’s a classroom assistant, Mr Longdon. You haven’t been certified to be alone and unsupervised with a class of children. Not like the rest of us poor devils.” Davis laughed loudly at his own joke. “Rules and regulations. I won’t go into details.”
The noise ceased immediately the deputy head opened the classroom door. David surveyed his so-called audience. There were perhaps forty boys sitting or slouching at their desks and of these a large majority could hardly be described as children. They were physically, if not mentally, young men. Mrs Pearson sat, unobtrusively, in a corner. After she and David had been introduced, Davis addressed the class.
“Good morning class. This is Mr Longdon. The Headmaster has asked him to come along today to give you a talk on his personal experiences. You will afford him the same respect as any other member of staff.” Without another word he turned and left the room.
David studied the sea of faces in front of him and made an immediate decision on his strategy. With a pronounced limp, he mounted the low platform and slumped down heavily on the seat behind the teacher’s desk.
“What’s the matter, Granddad, you got arthritis?”
David waited until the laughter had died down, then he tapped his left leg. There was a sound of knuckles on wood. He gave a sigh of resignation.
“No, it’s false. It got shot away forty odd years ago.” After thirty seconds of silence, during which time David stared back at them, the first voice of curiosity piped up.
“How did it happen?”
David smiled impishly.
“It didn’t.” He rolled up his trouser leg and displayed a perfectly normal, well muscled, flesh-and-blood leg. He tapped the leg with the knuckles of his left hand whilst tapping the table leg with his right. This time they noticed the deception and the laughter that followed was genuine. He waited until it subsided.
“That’s going to be my theme this morning. Don’t always accept things at first glance. That was the opening demonstration. I’ll give you a non-visual one at the end of the period.”
David took a few seconds to think before continuing. His first move had gone down well. Time to try an anecdote, he thought.
“Years ago, probably before some of your parents were even born, I was in the Army and serving in Kenya.” At this point he found himself looking at a sea of blank faces. “Is there a map anywhere in this room?”
A boy got up, walked behind him, grabbed a cord and pulled. A large, more or less up-to-date, map of the world appeared. David picked up a ruler and pointed to the spot. As he did so, he glanced over at Mrs Pearson. She appeared to be nodding off.
“There we are. This is East Africa and this is Kenya. By the way, the beaches here at Mombassa really are something. Anyway, getting back to my story. I was based at a camp not far outside the capital, Nairobi, and one day the powers that be decided to post me. That means move me, to another unit up country. Normally I would have had to wait until transport became available, but I saw a chance of making my own way in a truck carrying rations, which would be passing my destination. I got permission, loaded my kit in the back, and off we went. There were four of us on board. Two in the back guarding the load and me and this Scots lad who was driving, in the front. The road we were on was pretty good and it wasn’t long before we were travelling at a fair old speed, far faster than we should have been. After about thirty minutes our luck ran out and a Military Police vehicle overtook us. Now normally, these Redcaps, as they’re known, travel in pairs, but on this occasion the vehicle that flagged us down had only one occupant. After what seemed like an age, this lone MP Corporal got out and started walking towards us. He stopped a little way in front, wrote down our number in his notebook and then walked towards our driver’s side. He stood there for a moment looking in and then motioned for the window to be wound down. I remember the conversation to this day.”
“Show me your ID cards.”
We produced them, and after a glance at them and us, he handed them back.
“You know why you’ve been pulled over, don’t you?” he said to our driver.
“No,” said Jock.
That did it. This MP started shouting.
“What do you mean, no? You were speeding and not just a little bit.”
Jock was as calm as they come.
“Speeding, Corporal? Not me, Corporal.”
Well, things got really heated.
“Oh, playing that game are we. This is a thirty mile an hour area and I had to do nearly sixty to overtake you.”
Jock thought about it for a moment and then said.
“That would be about right then wouldn’t it, Corporal?”
“What are you talking about?” said the MP.
“Well, said Jock. “Your wheels are this big and ours are twice that size, so your wheels would have to go round twice as fast to overtake us.”
Then, whilst this MP Corporal stood staring into space thinking about it, Jock eased our truck into first gear and we pulled away.
David sat quietly, waiting for a reaction. A shaven-headed giant at the back of the class was first to react.
“You’re joking man. You’re having a laugh.”
“Ah, but am I?” David was beginning to enjoy himself. One period wouldn’t be enough for all the things he would like to say.
Five minutes before he was due to finish, David decided it was time to wind up his talk. The period had gone well.
“You remember what I said at the start, about not accepting things at first glance. Well here’s the second one I promised. Look at me and people like me, old people. We’ve heard you. Stupid old git, stupid old sod, and worse. Now let me run this politically incorrect observation past you. People aren’t stupid just because they’re old. If they are stupid, it’s probably because they’ve always been stupid. Goodbye and thank you for listening lads.”