Plenty of old codgers before me have already bemoaned the lack of youngsters coming into the sport of fishing. I don’t know if video games, smartphones or obesity is to blame.
Kids still seem to like fishing on heavily stocked commercial fisheries. Perhaps they are merely the result of clever marketing men and are being brain-washed into thinking that fishing is all about sitting behind a few £thousands of gear and a few kilos of boilies waiting for a huge carp to come along. Or perhaps its because of the convenience offered by such venues. Or perhaps they tried river fishing and got fed up waiting for a bite that wasn’t from a gut-bucket carp.
Well, at least one club that is local to me is trying to do something. Twyford & District Fishing Club (TDFC) has some of the best river, lake and pond fishing in the south of England with waters concentrated mainly in the Twyford, Hurst, Woodley and Ruscombe area. They are now offering kids under the age of 16 the opportunity to fish for free, having scrapped the £15 cost of a junior season ticket. Simply got to http://www.tdfc.org.uk and ask for one. Kudos too to the Environment Agency for scrapping the rod licence fee for under 16s from April 1.
So, before stick floats, split shot and holding back go the way of silk line and dough-bobbins, please let your kids know that for once they really can get something for free.
Now available in paperback.
Of course it could be down to my limitations as a fisherman. But then again, I’ve been fishing rivers for nearly forty years and have had my fair share of success, even winning a few matches.
With every effort to resist the ‘things were much different when I was a kid’ cliché, I can’t get away from the fact that river fishing has got harder, harder and harder. I fish the Thames and a few of its tributaries in the Berkshire area, as well as several other rivers nearby, namely the Kennet and the Hampshire Avon. I’m a generalist – happy trotting a stick float for roach dace, or sitting/sleeping behind a pair of bite alarms all night for barbel.
I still enjoy a few successes – a run of four double barbel to 13lbs on three successive Friday night sessions being the latest. But it just seems harder. Those barbel were the only bites – that’s right, four bites in three night sessions. And I’ve just come back from a week on The Severn with two buddies which produced a total of four barbel and three chub between us. Alright, the river was pretty low, but we fished all day and all night for six days and seven bites.
The story is the same on many of the smaller rivers I fish – the river Loddon, the Kennet and St. Patrick’s Stream. There’s still a reasonably head of silver fish to be had on maggot and caster, but even fishing for them can be hit and miss despite seemingly OK conditions. And barbel anglers consistently report the occasional single fish, and often in the 10lb plus range.
So what has happened? Most of the anglers I speak to blame the usual suspects – the summer floods of 2007, cormorants and, increasingly, the introduction of otters. All these for sure are factors in what I perceive to be the downwardly spiralling quality of our rivers. And they complement long-time suspects such as water extraction and road/field run-off pollution.
But what else has changed? Have we, the anglers also become a part of the problem? Go back 15, 20 years and think about it. If you were to walk along the banks of your river and see 20 fishermen, how many of them would have been float fishing and using maggots and casters as bait along with hemp and caster? I’d venture to suggest at least 16 of them. The remainder would likely be legering, or using a swimfeeder. Again they’d likely be using maggot and caster, the more adventurous perhaps luncheon meat.
Now flip back to the modern day. Walk that same stretch of river and how many of those same 20 fishermen would be float fishing and using ‘natural’ baits? The ratio has probably flipped – 16 out 20 are likely fishing a ‘feeder or lead with pellets or boilies their weapon of choice.
At least this is the scenario on the rivers I fish.
So is it an issue with the way tactics have changed and the baits that we have introduced into our rivers as a result? Pellets and boilies have proven themselves to be great fish-catchers. But are they great for fishing? I’ll put my hands up right now and admit to using these modern baits. I have to if I want to stand a chance of catching a barbel. But increasingly I find myself using them a little guiltily, feeling that I am a part of the problem.
I am at least convinced that these modern baits make the fish lazy. Think about it, years ago fish would have to work pretty hard to get the sustenance they needed from when their diet was maggots, casters and hemp. They’d have to cruise around looking for food pretty much constantly. Part of an angler’s skill was to entice fish into his swim, get them feeding and keep them hanging around as long as possible.
Fast forward to today and let me ask you this question: How many boilies, pellets or any other high protein and bulky bait does it take to give a fish all the sustenance it need for a day? A dozen, 20?
I’m not going to contribute to the debate as to whether such baits are nutritionally good for fish or not, not least because I don’t have any insight into the topic. My argument is that we have turned the fish into our river onto an ‘all you can eat a single sitting buffet’ behaviour. No longer do they have to cruise up and down the river looking for their next meal.
Of course, if you happen to be the guy who lays out the buffet and your clientele are hungry, then happy days. But how many times have they passed by your table with a curt ‘No thanks. I’ve already eaten’?
And we continue to make it worse, contributing to our downfall by throwing in more bait, hoping to make our buffet table irresistible and not realising that our quarry have possibly already eaten as much as they need for the day. Then of course, what really makes my piss fizz are the anglers who routinely walk the banks of their target river, even on days they are not planning to actually fish, throwing in boilies and pellets in a selfish, and likely vain, attempt to try and condition fish to their bait or concentrate them into their favourite swims. Ever wondered why you’ve sat all day in a great looking swim with perfect conditions without a bite? Perhaps some kind soul has fed the fish for you.
Breaking the mould if of course difficult. We fishermen are almost as addicted to boilies and pellets as the fish. Our pushers are the angling magazines, the bait manufacturers and the sponsored celebrity fishermen who rave about the latest wonder bait. And we suck ‘em up just like we’d like to think the fish do. We have a habit and like any other habit, it’s going to be hard to break and even harder to police. We’re even in denial. Many of you will be reading this and thinking ’boilies and pellets don’t do any harm. You must just be a crap fisherman.’ Whatever. The genie is out of the bottle.
Mutiny on the Spitfire is written for children between the ages of about nine and 16, though many of the comments and reviews have said that it appeals to adults as well.
The story revolves around Davey Dobbs, a 10 year old boy who, when his mum dies, is forced to live with his father, who abandoned him when he was a baby, his step mother and his half brother and sister. His new family make it clear he is not wanted and life gets even worse when he starts senior school and is bullied.
A schoolyard scrap results in Davey being excluded. His father uses it as an excuse to pack Davey off to boarding school. But far from being a punishment, The Grey House is the best thing that has ever happened to Davey. He makes friends for the first time. His history teacher – Mr. ‘Spotty’ Watts – befriends Davey and reveals the school’s secret; The Grey House is a half way house for ghosts whose spirits cannot rest. Davey agrees to go back in time to 1803 where he will serve as a midshipman on The Spitfire, a British Navy brig of war, to try and help Peter, his ghost friend, put right whatever it is that prevents his spirit from moving on.
What follows is a tale of ghosts, pirates, treasure and adventure.
The first three paragraphs below will give you a taste for Davey Dobbs and Mutiny on The Spitfire. If you’d like to read on please take a look at: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Mutiny-Spitfire-pirates-mutineers-treasure-ebook/dp/B00DMY2OPU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1405511201&sr=8-1&keywords=mutiny+on+the+spitfire
But first, here’s what some of the people who have read the book have to say:
5*A rollicking good read
“This book is a great read for all age groups. I read it cover to cover (if you can do that on Kindle) and enjoyed every moment. The story is attractive and accessible to children of all ages but also appeals to adult readers, partly because it is a very good yarn and partly because of the attention to detail. The story develops rapidly as a story within a story, engaging because of the excellent characters and because it is packed with interesting details about a fascinating period of history. The book works on many levels and so will be of interest to those looking for a fascinating historical novel, to those who are engaged by the modern day contemporary characters and by those attracted to a mystery which is close to being a detective story as well. This work has great potential for a radio adaptation or film. I hope there is a sequel!”
5* Gripping story from the start
“Some books I find it takes a number of chapters before you really get into it. Not this book, from the start I was hooked. There was plenty to keep you captured and wondering what twists and turns would happen next. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I would recommend it to husbands and 11 years plus children. I would certainly be interested to read another adventure helping the next ghost classroom boy from another era.”
5* An adventure in time
“I am sucker for anything that involves time travel and Richard has produced a really well written story, which will appeal to readers of all ages. The clever plot leaves the door open for sequels. I felt as though I was familiar with the school and the teachers where Davey ends up. A very enjoyable read I would highly recommend it.”
Chapter 1 – Davey Dobbs, the unlucky boy
Davey Dobbs had never been what you’d call a lucky boy. He’d never seen his dad as his parents had divorced when he was a baby. However, he and his mum had rubbed along very nicely. There had been no big summer holidays or expensive gifts, not even at Christmas or on his birthday. But he’d always been a happy, content boy.
Then his mum died.
He’d come home from school earlier that day, opened the door and kicked off his shoes, shouting up the stairs that he was home and hungry – his usual greeting. There’d been no answer. Mum must have been asleep. So Davey made two cups of tea and carried them carefully upstairs. Although his mum was pretty much bed-bound she’d somehow know if he spilled any on the stairs.
He half turned to open the door with his back, knowing that his mum would wake up, beam a tired but huge smile and that they’d spend the next 15 or 20 minutes talking about 10 year old Davey’s day. It’s what they always did.
Some instinct told Davey that something was wrong as he turned around. His mum looked like she was asleep, but Davey knew she wasn’t. He put the tea on a chest of drawers and walked over to her. He kissed and hugged her and then went downstairs and to phone the nurse. He was still standing in the hallway holding the phone when she arrived and let herself in 20 minutes later.
Now, several hours later he sat on a hard plastic chair in the hospital’s ‘quiet’ room. His hands dangling limply by his sides and he stared at the floor. His tears made their way down his cheeks, before collecting briefly at the point of his chin then falling with fat plops to merge into a puddle on the tiled floor.
Over the last hour or so several people had come in and out of the quiet room. Now he was aware of someone else standing nearby. He wiped his face and looked up, expecting it to be one of the nurses coming to ask him once again if he was ok, whether he needed anything. But he was wrong. It was a tall, dark haired man wearing a suit and a severe expression that was so in contrast to the sympathetic half smiles he’d been used to over the last few hours that he gulped and thought that somehow he was in trouble, that his mum being dead was somehow his fault.
Davey opened his mouth to speak but the man beat him to it. Glaring down the gun barrel of his nose, he lifted his chin.
“Are you Davey?” he said.
Before he could answer ” another voice cut in. Davey hadn’t noticed the thin, blond woman wearing a fur coat and standing slightly behind and to the side of the man. She too looked down on him with a hostile look on her face that confused Davey.
“That’s him,” she said in a voice that matched the expression on her face. “Stop sniveling. Your mother’s dead. Get over it. I’m your new mummy.”
Still sat on his plastic chair, Davey was aware that his mouth was opening and closing without any sound coming out. “I ddddon’t understand,” he managed eventually.
The man bent down, his eyes level with Davey’s. “I’m your father. Now dry your eyes, wipe your nose and come with me.”
Chapter 2 – Enough is enough
WITHOUT even a chance to say goodbye to his mum, his real one that is, Davey found himself in the back of a big car driven very quickly by his dad. ‘Dad’ – Davey whispered the word and rolled it around in his mind, trying it for size. No matter how many times he said it, it just didn’t feel right. He supposed that to most boys of his age it was a just a word they used like any other. For Davey though it was a term he used rarely and often only to explain that he barely knew his dad, let alone where he lived. He recalled using the word in that context earlier that day in response to questions from the doctors and nurses.
Everything was moving too quickly. His mum had been poorly for nearly a year, though Davey struggled to remember a time when she wasn’t in her sick bed. A nurse visited twice a day, and recently more often than that..
Now, lying in his new bedroom, in his new house with his new family, Davey recalled the many conversations he’d had with his mum about when she would no longer be around. When she first brought up the subject, Davey refused to listen. He just let the words bounce off his ears. Later on he’d mull them over and the next time they spoke he was willing to let them sink in a little further. It was still a shock though. He was sad but, with a sense of guilt, somehow he felt he should be sadder. There were just too many things to take in, all of them happening one after another.
At last he fell into a deep, dreamless sleep. When he woke the next morning the new surroundings confused him. He was in a bedroom he didn’t recognise. He thrashed the bed clothes off and realised with some surprise that he was still in his school uniform. Then it all came crashing back in on him. Mum was dead and his dad and step mum had taken him in.
He could feel the tears welling, but before they could start spilling, the bedroom door was shoved open . “You’re up. Good. Come downstairs,” said the man who was his dad.
Davey did as he was told. The house was enormous and lavishly decorated. Thick gold-coloured carpet stretched endlessly on a long landing that had loads of doors leading off it and led to the top of some stairs which twisted and swirled to the floor below.
He followed his dad down them and found himself in a huge hallway that was bigger than the entire downstairs of his old house. Standing there right in the middle, was the thin, blonde lady who, he now understood, was his step-mother. Either side of her was a girl about his own age and a boy a bit younger.
Davey was introduced to Elizabeth, his step-sister, and William, his step-brother. He was conscious that he still wore his creased school uniform and that his hair must be sticking up in a hundred spikes.
“Alright,” said Davey, trying to straighten his shirt, pull his trousers up and flatten his hair all at the same time.
“What’s alright?” replied Elizabeth, sounding and acting like a miniature version of her snooty mum.
“Er, I just meant, um hello, that’s all,” said Davey quietly and looking down at his feet.
“Well why didn’t you say so,” sniffed Elizabeth, looking down her nose, which she somehow managed despite being a little shorter than Davey. “Come on William, let’s go for a ride. We’ve only got two ponies so you can’t come.”
This last comment was aimed at Davey and with it the pair turned on their heels and walked off. Davey stood with his mouth open. If he’d spoken to someone like that he knew his mum would have told him off for being so rude. As it was, his dad snorted a short laugh, and with his briefcase in hand, marched towards the huge double front doors calling over his shoulder “I’m late for work.”
Davey was left standing in the hall with his step-mum. She too looked down her nose, like a bigger version of Elizabeth, sniffed and walked away.
It would be nice to say that things got better for Davey, that he soon made friends with William and Elizabeth, that his dad turned out to be the best dad in the world and that his step-mum was the second best mum you could ever wish for.
The reality was that despite the great big house, the swimming pool, the tennis courts, the horses and the acres of woods and fields, Davey was just about as sad and unhappy as a 10 year old boy could be. His new family made it clear he wasn’t wanted and he missed his mum.
William and Elizabeth took every opportunity to make his life even more miserable, if that were possible. They’d tell him that he wasn’t a real brother, that dad wasn’t his real dad and that their mum only put up with him because she thought her friends would talk about her if she didn’t.
None of this really surprised Davey. Every job that needed doing seemed to go his way. The washing up, the hoovering, fetch this, fetch that. If he dared point out that William and Elizabeth never had to do any household chores he was told to shut up and be grateful that he had somewhere to live. He even had to wear William’s cast off clothes despite the fact they were too small for him.Things started off badly for Davey in his new home, and in the year that followed they got progressively worse. When he turned 11 he started at the local comprehensive school. William and Elizabeth both went to private schools. Each morning the chauffeur would drive them off in the Jaguar. Davey would have to walk 40 minutes, no matter what the weather, to The Sir Robin Piggott Comprehensive School – known as ‘The Pig Sty’ to its students.
Davey had enjoyed his old junior school. And if the prospect of going to ‘big school’ wasn’t terrifying enough, the fact that he wouldn’t know anyone made it doubly so.
Unsurprisingly, Davey’s miserable home life meant he found it hard to make friends. He withdrew into himself. Most of the time he sat at the back of the class, asked no questions and before long was ignored by the teachers. The only subject he showed any interest in was history. He liked to imagine he was living in another time in another place.
Unfortunately the other kids did not ignore him. One group – Sean Williams, the weasel like leader, Kevin Hind, who was big and stupid, and Philip Cochrane, who was just plain stupid (Davey had seen him spell his name ‘Fill’ on his maths book), made it their business to make Davey’s miserable life even more unbearable.
They’d trip him up whenever he walked past. They made up silly but cruel songs and chanted them at him. And perhaps worst of all they called him ‘Dumbo Dobbs’ because of his low marks in every subject, except history. Coming from ‘Fill’ that was almost too much to bear.
Then, as is often unfortunately the way, things progressed from name calling to physical bullying. At first they’d shove him when they walked past. Shoving turned to punching him on the arm, and punching on the arm turned into regular beatings which gradually increased in severity.
Davey knew it was pointless telling his dad and step-mum. They just didn’t care, even when he’d come home with a bloody nose or lip. All they ever did was punish him for his ripped and torn clothes and make him do more chores to pay for a new pair of trousers or a jumper, despite the fact that Elizabeth and William were always being given some sort of new and expensive treat. An Xbox here, a mobile phone there.
For a long time Davey just didn’t care. He took the beatings and the name calling, hoping that the three bullies would get bored. Unfortunately, instead of getting bored, the bullying became a way of life to Sean, Kevin and Fill. To make it worse, other kids, even those weedier and nerdier than Davey, joined in. Dumbo Dobbs was the butt of everyone’s joke.
But everyone has their breaking point, and though it took longer than most for Davey to get to his, get there he did, and in spectacular fashion.
It was break on a Tuesday morning. And for Davey it was shaping up to be one of his better days. He didn’t get pocket money of course, but gradually, by finding a penny or two, usually as he walked to school, head down all the way, he’d managed to save enough money to buy a packet of crisps. Then this morning, he’d found a pound coin. He couldn’t believe his luck and had resolved to blow his entire £1.32 on treats from the school tuck shop.
When the bell rang for break he raced round to the large shed at the back of the playground that served as the tuck shop. He was the first to arrive, but by the time the tuck shop opened up he’d been jostled well back in the queue. No matter though, he had £1.32 to spend and was tormenting himself by going through in his mind the sugary combinations he could treat himself to.
At last he was at the front of the queue. The year 12 boy behind the counter looked down. “Whadayou want Dumbo?” he sneered.
“A packet of cheese and onion, a packet of salt and vinegar, a mars bar and a packet of peanut M&Ms please,” Davey gabbled out in one big rush of words, hopping up and down slightly with excitement
Davey made his way back out of the tuck shop, his eyes, marveling at the wonder of what he had just bought. All he needed to do now was find somewhere nice and quiet to enjoy his little feast. He was still looking down at the goodies cradled in his arms when he saw three pairs of big, scuffed shoes in a line in front of him.
He looked up and into the cruel faces of Sean, Kevin and Fill, who unbeknown to Davey, had seen him enter the tuck shop earlier and so unusual was it for Davey to have any money to spend, they had followed him.
“What have we got here then,” said Sean, emphasizing the ‘we’. “How did you know these are our favourites?” he asked. Kevin and Fill looked at each other and sniggered.
“These are mine. I paid for th…”
Davey didn’t get a chance to finish because Kevin shoved him hard in the chest. Davey tripped and fell, his crisps and sweets flying into the air and quickly snatched up by Fill who handed them to Sean.
“Thanks Dumbo,” said Sean, “we’ll enjoy these. Come on boys.” With that the three of them turned around and started to head off.
Davey, who was still sitting on the ground, had endured worse bullying at the hands of Sean, Kevin and Fill but it seemed that all the misery and unhappiness of the last year since his mum had died, was being concentrated into that very moment.
His breathing got faster and his blood pounded in his temples. He started to shake with outrage. He was furious, not just at Sean, Kevin and Fill’s meanness, but at the world in general. He’d never asked his mum to die, to end up living with his dad only to find that he wasn’t really wanted, to have a step-mum who thought of him as an inconvenient charity case, and a half sister and brother who treated him like dirt. It was the final straw and something snapped.
“Oy. Come back here and give back my stuff,” he roared as he got back to his feet.
The playground went quiet and dozens of pairs of eyes turned on Davey, including those belonging to Sean, Kevin and Fill who grinned and walked back towards Davey rolling up their sleeves.
You’d have thought the sight of three huge bullies bearing down on Davey would have brought him back to his senses and made him run away. But if anything it made him even madder. He’d simply had enough and just didn’t care what was about to happen.
Perhaps Sean realised this because he stopped short of Davey and said, a little uncertainly: “What d’you say Dumbo?”
“You heard me. Give me back my stuff. You stupid turd.”
Davey had no idea where those last three words came from. They just seemed to leap out of his mouth on their own.
By now a ring of kids had gathered around, sensing a fight. And as everyone knows, there’s nothing more likely to attract attention than a playground punch up. Sean, Kevin and Fill were feeling a little unsure of themselves now. Like all bullies, they didn’t like it when their victims stood up to them. But things had gone too far and with everyone watching, their pride wouldn’t let them stand down.
In a blur they rushed Davey, knocking him to the ground. “Fight, fight, fight,” the chant went up from the ring of kids that appeared as if by magic. Kevin and Fill were holding Davey’s arms as Sean sat on his chest and started slapping him around the face. Davey squirmed and thrashed trying to get free.
“Say ‘I’m a big fat turd’,” said Sean in between slaps. “Go on, say it.”
Kevin and Fill grinned and, thinking the fight was all but over, relaxed their grip on Davey’s arms. As Sean sat back and smirked at the gathering crowd, Davey yanked his arm free and, as he flailed about trying to escape, accidentally walloped Sean across the face, knocking him off his chest. In a second he was up on his feet and facing the three bullies. Sean stood in the middle, a big, angry red blotch on one cheek.
The three of them charged at Davey again, Sean leading the way. Instinctively Davey shielded his face with his arms and kicked out his leg to fend them off. He caught Sean between the legs – right in the plums. All the air went out of the bully in one big ‘oooooosh’. His red face went even redder and his hands went to where Davey had accidently kicked him. With them still there, he toppled over face first into the dust at Davey’s feet.
The ‘fight, fight, fight’ chant died on everyone’s lips but Davey still had fire in his veins. Kevin and Fill were looking in shock at their fallen leader and were completely unprepared for Davey’s attack. What he lacked in strength and fighting technique he made up for in fury.
His skinny arms whirled and his bunched fists blurred. He caused little injury – Kevin and Fill were just too big to really feel anything – but before long they were crying for Davey to stop, but he was deaf to their pleading.
Just then a huge pair of arms grabbed Davey from behind in a bear hug. Thinking that Sean had recovered and was now fighting back, Davey struggled on.
“What’s going on here,” the voice belonging to the arms roared. It was Mr. Beddoe, the PE teacher. He took in the sight of Sean still rolling around the floor, sobbing and with his hands between his legs, and Kevin and Fill who were doing their best to look innocent and make whatever superficial injuries Davey had inflicted look worse.
“All of you, come with me,” snapped Mr. Beddoe, his eyes blazing. “Hind, Cochrane. Pick Williams up and bring him with you.” With that he dragged Davey by the arm and marched him to the headmaster’s office followed by the three dusty and disheveled former bullies.
Mr. Sanders had dealt with plenty of school ground fights in his many years as headmaster. In every case the culprits stood before him with their eyes downcast and were only too willing to accept the usual punishment of a week’s detention and an agreement to shake hands and make up.
As he looked at the four dirty students – three big ones, one of whom was looking at him a little cross-eyed, and one skinny one – he started on his usual method of interrogation.
“Who started it then?” he said in a stern voice.
“I did,” said Davey. “They asked for it.”
Mr. Sanders looked up in surprise. He’d thought that he was dealing with a case of two against two. “You mean you were fighting against these three boys? These three bigger boys?” he asked incredulously.
Davey just stared back. He was exhausted but the rage that had built up over the last year still simmered.
Mr. Sanders went through his standard line of questioning, trying to find out what the fight had been about. He didn’t get very far. Sean was still incapable of anything more than an occasional squeak, Kevin and Fill were still coming to grips with the fact that Dumbo Dobbs had humiliated them, and Davey just continued to stare down at his feet.
Giving up, Mr. Sanders said with a sigh: “Well then boys. You’ll each have a week’s after school detention. Now, shake hands like men and agree to be friends.”
Fill, Kevin and Sean turned towards Davey, their hands outstretched. Davey ignored them and instead looked Mr. Sanders square in the face.
“Are you finished? Can I go now?” he said. Without waiting for an answer, Davey turned, pushed past a stunned Mr. Beddoe and stomped out of the headmaster’s office, slamming the door behind him with all his might.
With the door still shaking in its frame, Davey started to run. He ran down the corridor and out of a door, across the playground and through the school gates. Twenty minutes later he was still running and then he stopped, realizing that he had no idea where to run to.
With mounting dread, he knew there was only one place he could go – back to his dad and step-mum’s, the very last place on earth he wanted to be.
An hour later he walked up the long driveway to the house, thinking about the telling off he would get for getting his school clothes dirty and torn.
“At least they won’t care that I was in a fight,” he thought to himself.
But he was about as wrong as he could be. As he opened the front door, his dad grabbed him by his hair and dragged him inside. It turned out that Mr. Sanders had phoned Davey’s dad in a rage, insinuating that Davey’s terrible behaviour was a reflection on him, and that as a result, he had no choice but to exclude Davey from Sir Robin Piggott Comprehensive.
Davey’s dad was incandescent with rage. As he shouted, his face went from red to purple and spit flew from his mouth and over Davey’s face. The shouting went on for half an hour, with Davey’s step-mum in the background glaring at him all the time.
His dad wasn’t really bothered that Davey had been in a fight, or had even been rude to the headmaster. What really concerned him was that he now had the hassle of finding another school for Davey, and the fact that he’d been made to feel small by Mr. Sanders. He was used to doing the shouting and didn’t like it when the tables were turned.
“Go upstairs,” roared Davey’s dad, “while I decide what to do with you.”
Davey trudged upstairs gratefully to his bedroom, the smallest room in the house. As he passed their playroom, Elizabeth and William sneered at him through the open doorway. Davey just walked past, opened his bedroom door and fell on the bed.
The next morning was a Saturday, a fact for which Davey was hugely thankful. Then he realised that even if had been Monday morning he wouldn’t be going back to The Pigsty as he’d been excluded. As he lay in bed wondering about what was going to happen next, the door opened and his step-mum stood in the doorway, looking as cold and haughty as usual.
“Your father wants to see you in the library. Now,” she said and shut the door again.
With a groan Davey got up and trudged downstairs and into the library. His father was sitting behind a big, wooden desk with a computer and lots of papers in front of him. Davey was expecting him to start shouting again, perhaps even to smack him. It wouldn’t be the first time.
He was completely taken by surprise when his father looked up and in an even voice said: “I know your mother’s death was a shock, but that’s no excuse for your behaviour. You haven’t fitted in and it was a mistake to bring you here.”
Davey wanted to shout back that the reason why he hadn’t ‘fitted in’ was because everyone, including his step-mum, half-brother and sister and, yes, even his dad, had been perfectly horrible to him from day one. The words formed on his lips, but he let them stay there. He just couldn’t be bothered.
His father carried on. “As you know you’ve been excluded from Sir Robin Piggott’s, so you’ll need to go to another school. I’ve enrolled you into The Grey House. It’s a boy’s boarding school so you’ll be living there from now on. Pack your things and be ready in an hour.” With that, Davey’s dad turned back to his computer screen. Davey realized that the conversation was over. He turned around and walked back out of the library.
A boarding school? Davey had heard of them before. The idea of living in a school sounded awful , until he realised the alternative was to carry on living with his dad, step-mum, William and Elizabeth. Without knowing exactly why, Davey started to feel a little better about his future.
He didn’t need an hour to pack his bag. Less than 20 minutes later, with his meager possessions crammed into an old sports bag he’d found in a cupboard, he was waiting alone outside the front of the house. Another 15 minutes later a taxi turned up. His step-mum appeared, walked past Davey without looking at him and spoke to the driver, giving him some money at the same time.
Then she turned to Davey. “Good riddance,” she hissed as she walked back towards the house.
As the taxi pulled off Davey put his head out of the window. He stuck two fingers up at his step-mum and shouted “I’ll miss you too.” Then he sat back and smiled for only the second or third time in more than a year.
Chapter 3 – The Grey House
SEVERAL hours later, Davey was jolted awake as the taxi stopped. It was late and he looked out the window and in the night sky he could just make out the imposing stone walls of his new school. The Grey House was aptly named, Davey thought as he opened thetaxi door and climbed out. It looked more like a castle made of huge grey stones and tall towers that reached up into the sky. It was enormous.
He was still gazing up when he heard the wheels of the taxi crunching on the gravel as it pulled away, leaving Davey and his tatty sports bag alone once again.
He was wondering whether there would be a doorbell or if he should knock. The colossal wooden doors were reinforced with iron strips and studs. It seemed to him that he could pound on them with a hammer and no one would ever hear him. He was just about to give it a go anyway when a tiny little door, like a sliding cat flap, opened just about his head.
A round, red face looked down at Davey. It belonged to a lady, who if her face was anything to go by, was very chubby.
“Ah, you must be Dobbs,” she said with a smile that beamed across her moon face. “Come on in, you must be exhausted. Hungry? Of course you are. Come in, come in. Oh, I’ll open the door.”
One of the enormous front doors swung open and Davey walked into his new school, in fact his new home. He stood in a cavernous square room, the walls of which were covered in wooden panels. He looked up at a ceiling far above his head that was covered in swirly patterns. The floor was made of gray stone slabs and was bumpy and uneven.
But it was the smell of the place that Davey noticed first. It was a strange smell and not altogether unpleasant, a combination of dust, old paper and polish.
“Come along,” said the woman who had opened the door “I’m Mrs. Merton, you can call me Matron.”
Indeed, Matron’s face told the truth about the rest of her. She was almost round. In fact, if it wasn’t for two short but sturdy legs sticking out from the bottom of a very stretched pink dressing gown, you wouldn’t have known which way up she was.
Following the mesmerizing sight of Matron’s enormous and very wobbly bottom, Davey found himself walking down endless dark corridors with walls covered by old paintings of very severe looking people. Every now and then he’d pass a glass cabinet full of trophies and cups of some kind. There were even a handful of suits of armour dotted around.
At last Matron stopped and Davey almost walked headfirst into her big bottom. “That was close,” he thought, “I’m not sure I would have come out again.”
Matron was holding open a door. “In you go Davey, let’s get you something to eat.”
Before long Davey was sat at a bench in another large, square and wood paneled room – Matron said it was called ‘The Buttery’ – munching on cheese sandwiches, crisps and a huge slice of sponge cake.
With a mug of tea in her hand, Matron gabbled away, but Davey wasn’t listening, just nodding and smiling every now and then as he looked around the room which seemed to keep her happy. As soon as the last piece of cake went in his mouth, Matron picked up his plate and, tucking Davey’s sports bag under her arm, led him up some wide and twisty stairs to his ‘dorm.’
Davey hoped that a dorm was another place where you could have something to eat. It turned out to be short for ‘dormitory’ – the bedroom he would share with four other boys for the next several years. There were five beds all in a row along one side of the room. On the floor was an assortment of clothes, footballs, cricket bats and other odds and ends.
The room reverberated to the sound of deep snores and a few other sounds which were very loud and made Davey snigger, though Matron rolled her eyes and pretended not to hear.
“Your bed is the last one on the end,” explained Matron in a whisper as she tiptoed across the room, which was quite a sight to behold. “Quietly now, you don’t want to wake the other boys.” With that she placed Davey’s bag at the end of his bed, wished him a goodnight and left the room.
Davey was just about to start digging around for his pyjamas when all the lights went on and he found himself surrounded by his four dorm mates who had all miraculously stopped snoring.
“Hello,” said a tall, skinny boy. “I’m Simon. This is Richard, Graeme and Harry,” he said pointing around the circle of boys.
The next hour was easily one of the best in Davey’s life, certainly the last year of it. The five boys chatted and laughed. They thought they were being quiet but couldn’t have been because twice Mr. Firebrace, who Davey discovered was the housemaster, burst into the room trying to catch the boys out of bed.
But they were too quick for ‘Old fuzzchops’ as the boys called him on account of his long and bushy beard, and were able to hop back into bed just in time and pretend they were asleep.
“We loosened a floor board just outside his bedroom to warn us when he’s coming,” explained Harry. “It squeaks when he treads on it but he’s too old and crusty to hear it.”
Eventually, in the early hours, the boys started to yawn and by unspoken agreement, drifted off to sleep. Davey lay in his bed and couldn’t wait for morning.
I mean, you’d have to be a top class genius detective to work out why the bloody things go wrong sometimes don’t you?
Take my most recent escapade, the Father’s Day Classic at Woburn Abbey. Stagatha had not moved in nearly two months as a result of weather and business travel commitments. In fact, I came back from working in the U.S. for two weeks the day before Father’s Day and only remembered that I had committed to the event when I discovered the ticket on my desk.
To be honest, full of jetlag, travelling 120 odd miles to sit in a field with a bunch of people who share my aversion to keeping our hard-earned for more than five minutes didn’t appeal. Still a commitment is a commitment and classic car shows wouldn’t exist if we all wimped out.
20 miles down the road with the top down and thoughts of jetlag were all but forgotten and I was glad I’d made the effort. The sun even came out and the car ran like a dream despite its near eight week slumber. An hour or so later I was parked up alongside a lovely chap in his 2+2 e-type jag trying not to feel like the poor relation.
It was a great day, lots of nice chatty people, good weather and a burger van that made decent tea within just a few yards.
By four o’clock I’d had enough, as had many of the other exhibitors, and I started plotting my escape route. 30 minutes later I was back on the road and heading home.
And then it all went wrong. No more than 15 minutes from home and the car cut out. An hour and half later the recovery truck turned up and took me home where, upon arrival, Stagatha decided she would start up and drive into the garage.
The next two days I had the car running for hours without the fault reoccurring. Since then I have gone through distributor, leads, coil, electronic ignition, fuel pump…you name it. Every single part of the ignition system has been examined and either passed inspection or failed an been replaced. I’ve put another couple of hundred miles on the car since without a problem. I still don’t know whether I have fixed the problem or if it is still lurking, ready to catch me out again.
So that’s where the TV detective comes in. I’ve done as much sleuthing as I possibly can and still haven’t turned up a suspect, let alone a culprit. The mystery remains and will likely stay in the unsolved crimes folder. Unless of course the villain strikes again.
Now I’m not one for getting all gushy. In fact quite the opposite; the closer I get to 50 the more I find myself having a good moan. I enjoy moaning. I moan about the fact that moaning is not listed as a pastime on all the forms I have to fill in. Moan at the weather, moan at the telly, moan about perfectly pleasant people I have never met and have done me no wrong. Moan, moan, moan.
And then, very rarely, something comes along to upset my comfortable, moany life. Something that, no matter how hard I try, I can’t find any fault, nothing to moan about.
The latest is Stag Classics (http://www.stagclassics.co.uk/) which, as the name suggests, is a garage devoted purely to the pursuit of restoring, servicing and repairing Triumph Stags. The chap who runs the place, Paul, is the definitive Stag expert. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, the man doesn’t know about Stags. He is professional, reasonably priced, dependable, friendly…I took my car there earlier this week for a service and MoT. We had a nice cup of coffee and then I started moaning about the fact that I had to catch a taxi to the local train station and then endure a 20 minute train journey followed by a 10 minute walk home.
At last I was back in my moaning comfort zone. Then Paul went and spoiled it.
“Don’t do that mate,” he said. “You can take my car home and bring it back when you collect your Stag.”
I was speechless. I couldn’t manage even the tiniest moan. And we’re not talking some old banger but a top of the range 3.0, v6 Mondeo ST220 – Paul’s pride and joy.
There are too few considerate, nice people out there. Even fewer who know also about Triumph Stags.
Before I write this next part I want to be clear that other than being a customer, I have no connection with Stag Classics. If you own a Triumph Stag, and you need some professional work done, you would be a gibbering idiot not to use Stag Classics.
Now then, what about this bloody weather eh? I don’t know, I can remember when I was a lad and the summers went on for months…