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Friday, 7 August 2009

The Play's the Thing : true story

None of the children had bothered to bring rain gear with them. And why should they have? The morning had been blazing hot again, no sign of the thunderous rain that was to descend without warning during the afternoon. No matter, morale was running high, had been for a week or two in L2, and to that high morale was now added the excitement of an afternoon taking its cue from some Handbook: Monsoons for the Production of.

Had you been there and asked the reason for the high morale and stratospheric excitement levels you might have been reminded that the summer holidays were fast approaching; or you might have been told that lessons were on hold; but more likely you would have been told that L2 was about to attempt something it had never attempted before, they were about to stage their own one act play as part of the school's annual Drama Fest. (I don't recall it having been called that back then, but that is what it was.) Of course they were excited, not only had they never staged their own play before, but not to put too fine a point on it, they had never really done anything before; had never been invited to, it never having occurred to anyone that they might be able to; they were a remedial class and nothing had been expected of them. They may have been a remedial class, but they had been only to willing to rise to that lack of expectation. Now, though, with a new head and a new teacher, they were on the same footing as every other class: they were expected to contribute. And they had risen to that expectation, too. Over the past few weeks they had evolved a play - a comedy - set in a Chinese Laundry.

They were fortunate in having a rather large classroom, which was just as well, for two large inroads had been made into it of recent weeks: in one corner an assortment of the most unlikely clothes imaginable, and in the centre, a monstrous cardboard washing machine. The high point of their play would be when Ho Wun (would that be allowed these days?) began to unload the washing machine and out would come an almost endless string of garments knotted together like sausages - hopefully enough to go all round the hall!

Ah well, for that they needed a few more, and tomorrow being the occasion of the dress rehearsal was also their last chance to prise a few more unwanted items from their ever-generous mums. Of this Mr Smith was just reminding them before they were dismissed. He would not, at that time have been able to miss the sadness on Pip's face. Pip was a likeable and popular lad, who tried hard to please teachers and peers alike, but much though he would have loved to, he had brought no clothes for their big show. Nor was he likely to. No one expected him to. He came from a very poor family, and wore the same clothes pretty much every day - which were though, miraculously (given the state of them when he went home each day!), always beautifully washed and ironed.

Mr Smith was rallying his troops for a final push. Never mind the quality, it's the quantity you have to concentrate on, was the gist of his message. Doesn't matter if they are as old and tatty as your granddad, as long as they are as clean as your grandma! (Would that be allowed these days?)

There was something else of which he had to remind them, though: to go straight home and not to hang about because of the horrendous storm. I left about an hour later. The playground was a lake, the rain still coming down in Biblical quantities. And there was Pip, in the middle of the largest lake of all, doing a handstand, happy as the rain was heavy.

The next morning on his way to school Pip had to pass a large, Georgian-style house with a double drive and double gates. Pip often managed to work it into his news, referring to it as The House with Two Paths. That particular morning he happened to notice on the doorstep of the house with two paths a bag of laundry awaiting collection. He wouldn't have thought much about it. He opened the first gate, walked up the drive, picked up the bag, walked on down the second drive, opened its gate and continued on his way to school. Simple. Problem solved.

Normally when he entered the classroom - late, as always - he would have walked into a tranquil scene of children sitting at their tables as Mr Smith called the register and quipped with each in the process. Not this morning. This morning they were dressing and getting ready their props to be the first into the hall for rehearsals. It was Bedlam. Pip pushed his way to the desk with his bag of washing and said something like Got some clothes for the play sir! It is doubtful if Mr Smith even turned his head, just replied (something like) Great! Stick it over there in the corner, lad - and don't forget to thank your mum.

They were just lining up to trail down to the hall when the police arrived in the shape of one burly constable and a cadet. The constable took Mr Smith outside the door to explain what it was that was being alleged. When he got to Pip the conversation went something like this:

C: Did you take a bag of laundry from the lady's doorstep?
P: Yes, the house with two paths.
C: Did you not know that was wrong?
P: Yes!
C: Then what made you take it and bring it here, to school?
P: My teacher asked me to.

The lady of the house with two paths, when she heard the story, withdrew the complaint and refused to prosecute Pip - or Mr Smith, for that matter! The police, though, were not to be denied: they persuaded the laundry to complain about the theft of the bag. To the best of my memory, Pip went to court and was given a suspended sentence.

22 comments:

sciencegirl said...

Great story, Dave!

Karen said...

True story, I assume from the details. I've had Pips in my classroom -- grew up nearly a Pip myself -- and my heart goes out to him. Wanting to fit in is a horrible hunger for a child.

Tabor said...

This story does remind me of those days of not fitting in and how certain groups in school were rewarded and others not.

steven said...

hi dave - this is a terrific story. i teach, and have met many "pips" myself. it takes extra work, money, and care but the teachers i know all work to make sure that there is as little discrepancy in the experience of their students regardless of their background, ablity, whatever, as is possible. that's something i know wasn't the case when you and i were children!! so thank goodness for your lovely story! thank goodness that times have changed in some respects as well!!! have a lovely day dave. steven

ladytruth said...

I just fell in love with Pip after reading this :) I already made up an imagine in my mind of how this little boy looks and it's very similar to Scout in "To Kill a Mockingbird" but in a boyish kind of way, of course!

Damn police, though! They never know when to turn a blind eye.

Jim Murdoch said...

You know when you started going on about the inclement weather I thought something bad was going to happen to one of the kids. I was actually quite glad to get to the end to find out that he'd just nicked some laundry. Petty of the cops not to let go of the thing.

Tommaso Gervasutti said...

Dear Dave, now I am going to read this latest post of yours.
But I am writing first to tell you that I have tried in the questions and answers of my blog to answer to your alluring question about positivity and negativity in losing control....

Tommaso Gervasutti said...

Strange and great Dave.

The Weaver of Grass said...

I think we have all had Pips in the class Dave - a lovely story. I wonder where Pip is now. My "Pip" who was very remedial now runs a string of market stalls and drives a very big new car.

Friko said...

A lovely story, pity you had to stay factual to the end!
I'd have somehow turned the two-paths-house lady into a fairy godmother for Pip; But I don't suppose your story happened "once upon a time", but in the kind and caring just-gone-present.

hope said...

You have to admire Pip's determination to finish an assignment...and after all, the laundry was just sitting there. :)

Two thumbs up for you, the lady of the manor with two paths and 2 thumbs down for the Cops who didn't have the common sense to let it go. Wouldn't it have been a better lesson if they'd escorted Pip back to the lady's home after the performance, with her property in hand?

As always, an excellent journey!

Linda said...

Thinking about Barry's blog yesterday on crime and it's causes, then reading your story today about Pip, I am realizing that some crimes begin in seemingly innocent ways. Children just trying to be part of their group do not even realize the point at which they have crossed a legal boundary. Pip had a broad definition of boundaries to begin with, understood by his doing handstands in the middle of a downpour. Most students would have run straight home in the rain. The police added to the misunderstanding by pressing charges. Is this sad story how a life of crime begins? Is there a means of changing the sequence of these events? In a society where people have little trust of their unknown neighbours, or the police who protect them, I think not. It all feels very sad.

John Hayes said...

Really enjoyed this story--well-told, & some "food for thought" as well. Thanks!

GYPSYWOMAN said...

another great story! it's such fun coming by and browsing your wordpictures!

Kilauea Poetry said...

Twice I came in here to read and had to leave? I will be back to finish and wanted to say thanks for stopping by..I hadn't heard from you in some time..Have a great evening-

Mariana Soffer said...

Very nice story dave, I really enjoy it, but I think computers should come with electronic paper to read from it, so they can be longer and one do not get tired eyes of reading
take care

Dave King said...

science girl
Much thanks

Karen
True story. This was the group that tempted me into special needs (as it is now), though the events described happened the year after I had them.

Tabor
It was a group largely composed of kids who didn't fit in for reasons that had little to do with them and a lot to do with surrounding attitudes.

steven
It occurred to me immediately after posting that I maybe should have included an indication of time. The story is not from my own school days, from my second year of teaching. I had this group the year before the year of the Chinese laundry, and at the end of that year the head (well over retiring age) and the old guard with him (I had been the first staff change in yonks) retired or were retired. But yes, you are quite right in your comments: one example of where change has been for the better, I believe.

ladytruth
Most people fell in love with Pip when they got to know him. I am surprised to learn that I gave you enough info' for that. Very perceptive!

Jim
Very petty of th cops. Didn't mean to worry you, though. That hadn't occurred to me.

Tommaso
Thanks for that, I'll wander over and have a read anon.
And thanks for the comment.

The Weaver of Grass
I can well believe it. I think my Pip may have climbed further up the ladder than his erstwhile teacher(s), too.

Friko
Indeed, I was sorely tempted not to stay factual. I thought of her at the time as a sort of fairy godmother., funnily enough. Somehwre between once-upon-a-time and the just-gone-present, alas. The best part of four decades. Frightening!

hope
I absolutely agree with you on every point. Thanks for the comment.

Linda
Some very profound points you raise there. And a somewhat depressing possibility rolled into them! I fear the answer to your question might well be yes - in general, though I insist on staying possitive in Pip's case and believeing that he - who was also always positive - managed to rise above it. But you are right: the generality probably is sad.

John
Thanks for that.

GYPSYWOMAN
Really good of you to say so. Thanks.

Kilauea Poetry
Good to be back - and to have you back! Thanks.

Mariana
Should send that suggestion to Microsoft, I think.

Derrick said...

Hi Dave,

We seem to be more enlightened nowadays - some of the time at least - and even the police would probably not pursue it, but maybe for different reasons!

Jeanne said...

Great story! Did they have enough clothing to go all round the hall?

Dave King said...

Derrick
Delicious mixture of optimism and cynicism, Derrick - but I agree on both counts!

Jeanne
Not quite, but as near as made no difference. (Had we been able to hang on to Pip's contribution we probably would have made it, but them darned police wanted it for evidence!)

Ruth said...

I laughed at the line about would the Asian have been allowed to be the launderer nowadays.

jinksy said...

I'm so glad your next post pointed me back to this one. Although I'd not have altered the story, I may have finished with the penultimate paragraph, and left the reader to decide the outcome. Would that be a lie by omission, I wonder?