Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Wednesday, 16 October 2013
Here in the South West, it is one of those mornings which make you want to forget about work even more than you normally want to.
About twice a year when I was a young boy, I would open my eyes to a morning like this - dark, windy, cold and extremely wet - and just decide that I would not, under any circumstances, be going to school.
Only twice a year, because any more attempts than that at feigning a mild and undiagnosable illness would have been met with suspicion. In fact, I think that my mother did not believe that there was anything physically wrong with me - having asked where it hurt; how bilious; how strong the headache, etc. - and realised that I just couldn't face going out and turning up to a nasty place with 700 other miserable kids, half of whom were professional bullies.
"Could you manage some toast and honey with a cup of tea?" she would ask, and I would reply - in as weak a voice as could credibly be used - "I think so", and wait for it to be brought up to me on a tray. What a brat I must have been!
Then I would lie back and try to disguise my sheer elation at writing off the day in such an extravagant display of time-wasting.
There were other times when I would bunk off school for exactly the opposite reason.
Some days were just too bloody glorious to go waste by going to school, but too bloody glorious to waste by feigning illness and staying indoors also.
The opportunities to skip classes on days like this were quite rare, and usually involved sports periods.
My partner in crime was a boy called Cyril Rice, and our joint efforts in evading games were made easy by the fact that nobody wanted either of us on their teams. We just weren't team-players, and would usually be relegated to the side-lines in any case, so were hardly ever missed if we didn't show up at all - not even by the master.
On one such day we were walking toward a playing field about a mile away from school, when we both stopped and looked at the clear, blue sky, then simultaneously turned in the opposite direction and headed for the nearest chip-shop.
Twenty minutes later, we were both lying flat in a field peppered with wild flowers, looking up at puffy white clouds whilst eating chips and listening to skylarks twittering unseen in the heaven above. I can still remember the all-pervading sense of unfettered freedom, and I can still remember the heavenly scent of chip-fat and malt vinegar to this day.
One - and one only - other time that I actually played truant, it was with a different boy who lived quite near to me and who I would often meet to share the two mile walk to school. This day, we both hatched a hastily thought-out plot with no alibi, to simply not turn up. We would, we decided, cross that bridge when we came to it at around 4.0'clock. I blew it by turning up at home about ten minutes too early without any feasible reason, and just blurted to my mother that I and he had bunked off. The shit hit the fan.
What happened between 8.45 and 3.30 was so strange though, that we both decided that nobody would believe us anyway, so we never mentioned it to any adult - which was probably the reason why we both went home without alibis.
To this day, I really do not know if what we experienced was a type of joint hysteria, or if it really happened.
We found ourselves walking next to a small copse and decided to duck under a single strand of barbed-wire to explore it. About 100 yards in, I stepped on some dead leaves and noticed a hollow sound which was nothing like the sound that footfall on the surrounding area produced, so I scraped away the leaves to discover a small trapdoor made of wood.
We heaved the trapdoor open, and there was a dark, vertical passage about six feet deep which seemed to go off at a right-angle. My mate volunteered to go down to explore, and I gave him my hand to lower himself down.
There was a short pause whilst his eyes became used to the darkness, then I asked him what he could see. When he answered, his voice was breathless with excitement.
"Treasure! Lots of treasure!"
"What do you mean, 'treasure'?"
"Gold, silver, jewels! Lots of it!" he shouted back up.
He scrambled back up with my help, and I could see from the look in his eyes that he was - or thought he was - telling the truth. We snuck back to his house (his parents were both at work) and collected a torch and some rope to pull stuff up from the chamber, having covered the trapdoor over again and marked the exact spot with some crossed twigs.
When we had crawled under the wire and began making our way into the wood, there suddenly came the cross voice of the landowner who approached us and asked us what we were doing in his back garden. We felt no fear, because we knew he would be as excited as us about what lay in his land, and we asked him to follow us to the spot so we could show him.
When we got to the crossed twigs, we scraped away the leaves and mould - only to discover solid ground where there had once been the trapdoor.
He told us to stop making such silly excuses for trespass, go away and not come back, or he would call the police.
This is, as far as I know, a true story, but these days - just as then - no adult has ever believed me.