Holy Trinity Primary School
by Paul Murgatroyd





Mr Stock, the headmaster, was in his usual state of rancid rage. He bared his yellow teeth as he thought again how much he loathed and detested his job and the great unwashed that it brought him into contact with – like the scrawny, smelly creature before him. He glared down at the small figure cowering in his deranged office, as the boy flapped and flexed the hands that had just been caned. His glare was like night.

After several smouldering seconds he returned the cane to the rack of six under the framed photograph of Lord Kitchener. He produced a piece of chalk from his pocket, held it in his large hand and started to shave it with his thumbnail, shooting out ferocious shards in the boy’s direction. Then he growled: ‘Stop blubbering, child. And wipe your nose.’

Bert Evans wiped it on the sleeve of his jumper, infuriating Stock even more. The headmaster roared: ‘You dirty little tyke! Use your hankie.’

            ‘Haven’t got one, sir.’

            ‘Haven’t got one, sir,’ echoed Stock in a mocking whine. ‘Well you should have one. Look at you. You look like a guttersnipe. Pull your socks up!’

The boy did so, revealing a hole at the ankle of the left sock. He rubbed a scuffed toecap on the back of the sock before the headmaster could see it.

            ‘Don’t slouch. Stand up straight, boy. Shoulders back, chest out. And what’s that brown stuff in your ears?’

            ‘Er, don’t know, sir. I sometimes get soggy ears. Me mam usually puts cotton wool in them, but she hasn’t got none now.’

            ‘Disgusting. Carry on like this and you’ll end up with no job, standing on a street corner in a pool of spit. From what Mr Cowie tells me, your reading is atrocious and you don’t know your times tables. I’ve seen for myself your appalling handwriting. Looks like a spider fell into an inkwell, clambered out and staggered across the page. And now you can’t even be bothered to get to school on time.’

As Bert reddened, Stock went on: ‘You’re never going to amount to anything, are you? Never…You’re all the same, you rabble. For your edification I urge you to listen to the Third Programme on the wireless, or at least the Home Service, but I’m wasting my breath, pearls before swine…Well, what have you got to say for yourself, miladdo? Something profound, no doubt.’

The boy looked down at the liver-coloured lino and said nothing. His stomach rumbled. He was hungry. There hadn’t been anything to eat for breakfast.

            ‘Cat got your tongue?’ asked Stock. Then he screamed: ‘Take your hands out of your pockets!’

As Bert flinched, and immediately obeyed, he demanded: ‘Didn’t you hear the whistle go, with all that filthy muck in your ears?’

            ‘Er, no, sir,’ mumbled Bert.

            ‘Oh? And where were you when it went?’

            ‘Don’t know, sir.’

            ‘Don’t know, sir,’ repeated Stock in a singsong. He snorted disgust, making his nose whistle. ‘How can you not know? Where were you? Speak up. Why have you been late every single day this week? I’m sick and tired of thrashing you… Well?’

            ‘Erm, I’ve got a paper round, sir.’

            Stock sneered. ‘Have you really? How fascinating. Please accept my heartiest congratulations. And then be so good as to tell me what that has to do with the price of eggs.’

            ‘It’s a very long one, sir, and the last house is blummin’ miles away. So I can’t get here on time.’

            ‘Oh ye loaves and little fishes. Imbecile! Just get up earlier and start your round earlier.’

            ‘I can’t start it till the man’s sorted out the papers for me, sir. I’ve asked him to do it a bit earlier, but he told me to – er, he told me to shut up, said he only give me the job as a favour to me mam ‘cause he feels sorry for her.’

            ‘Well, you’ll just have to give up the paper round. As simple as that.’

            ‘Please, sir, I can’t, sir,’ quavered Bert. ‘Me mam’ll kill us. She made me take it on, said we need the money, she’s got seven hungry mouths to feed and she can’t manage all on her own.’

The headmaster raised his eyes in exasperation and gazed out of the small, high window at the grey sky. Then he snapped: ‘What about your father? You do have a father, I suppose?’

Bert Evans swallowed. ‘He’s dead, sir…I don’t want to do the paper round, sir, really I don’t, the poshest house has a flippin’ big Alsatian that lies in wait for me and goes for me every day, I’m dead scared of it, but me mam makes me do it.’

            ‘That’s no excuse. Get another paper round. If you must worship Mammon.’

            ‘Erm, there isn’t another one down our way, sir. There’s nowt –‘

            ‘Very well. In that case you will start each day with six of the best. I will not have pupils coming in late. If I don’t punish you, that will be it, the thin end of the wedge, and discipline in the school will break down, irrevocably. And I’m not having that. I will have discipline, do you hear?’

With a miserable nod Bert said: ‘Yes, sir.’

Stock grunted. ‘Right. Get out of my sight, boy. And be sure to be on time tomorrow. Or else.’



a little line




Mr Miller, the headmaster, hurried back to the hall from unblocking one of the girls’ toilets, breathing deeply to clear his nose. He was relieved to see the breakfast club monitor’s thumbs-up to indicate that there had been no problems while he was gone. He murmured: ‘Thank you, Gabriela.’ Another girl had come in while he was away, and Gabriela gave him the girl’s pound coin.

He raised his hand to cover a haggard yawn as he scanned the room, to check that everything really was OK. All the cereal and milk had gone, and the yoghurt and orange juice; and the poor little sods had been so hungry that they’d even eaten nearly all of the wizened apples from his allotment. He must remember to bring in some more tomorrow. The latecomer was crouched over, inhaling toast and jam, but the rest were on to the activities. The Snakes and Ladders board was now in two parts (he’d have to Sellotape it back together later), and Mo was still looking for the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle. But the colouring books and crayons that Mrs Jones had donated were a big hit. Oprah was being quiet for once, and seemed to be making a hideous, malformed monster from playdough. Or maybe it was just an Education Minister. Meera was playing on her phone again.

He snapped his fingers and said: ‘Gabriela, sorry, could you keep an eye on them again for a bit?’ He bustled off to check on the classroom hired last night by "8 2 Much Slimmers". There he moved the desks back into place, and was intrigued to find several Mars Bar and Kit Kat wrappers in the wastepaper bin. There was a brown pool on the floor next to it. Was it just coffee, or had someone got a hell of a shock when they were weighed and saw how much weight they’d put on? He’d mop that up before the kids came into class.

When he got back to the hall, he saw that the latecomer had finished eating and was drawing something, while sucking the end of her cardie. That put his teeth on edge. He could see her face now and recognized her – Kylie Evans. He hadn’t taught her yet, but he did teach her brother Charlie. He sighed, feeling guilty. Charlie was a decent enough lad, but not all that bright and not interested in any of his lessons. Yesterday he’d sat at the back of the class just brushing an avalanche of dandruff from his scalp on to his exercise book. He hadn’t had time to spare on Charlie while trying to stop Jimmy Merrill and his Marauders from disrupting all the others. Charlie was a boy who needed one-on-one tuition, but they just didn’t have the resources for that. His parents didn’t seem to care, never came to parents’ evenings at least. So the poor sod would carry on doing badly and end up on zero hours contracts or universal credit. Unless when he got to the comprehensive…

He pursed his lips, and then started, at a thud at the far end of the hall. A ceiling tile had fallen down. Thank god none of the children were near it. When he went to pick it up, he saw a stain on it like a bloated rat, with whiskers and a tail. Then a drip hit him on the head. Christ, now the bloody ceiling was leaking. Oh great, that was all he needed on top of all the other shit. They didn’t have the money to fix that. What the hell was he supposed to do? He’d have to put together yet another appeal for help to the parents. He moved a wastepaper bin there to catch the drips and squashed the tile into it. The tile crumbled, leaving him worried that there might be asbestos in it.

He looked out of the window to see how heavy the rain was. It was a soaking drizzle from a dingy sky, and had already turned the wall around the schoolyard a darker grey. He ran a hand through his hair, hoping the rain wouldn’t get worse. Then he caught sight of Charlie Evans in his stained Messi shirt standing in the drizzle. The moisture had got a snail-trail of dirt oozing from his head down his neck.

At the second try Mr Miller managed to wrench the window open. He shouted: ‘Charlie, what are you doing out there in the rain? Why aren’t you in the breakfast club? There’s still some toast and apples left.’

Charlie frowned and looked down at the ground. Then he mumbled: ‘Oh no, you’re all right, Mr Miller… Er, me mam only had one pound, so I brought our Kylie here for the breakfast.’


a line


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