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?
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.
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