Chronicles of Halden, I
- Auksford, 2004 -
Knocked for six
Copyright Robin Gordon, 2004
People say that you and your friend tried to rape Amanda Miller," said Minnie Hodges. "Do you know what that means?"
There was a silence.
"If you tell me what really happened," said Minnie, "I might be able to help you, but nobody can help you unless you speak out. Do you know what rape means?"
There was a sort of a sob, then a faint "N-no."
"Miss Hardacre says that she caught the two of you trying to undress Amanda," said Minnie. "Is that true?"
"Why ever did you want to do a thing like that. Was it some sort of game?"
Silence. Then: "She didn't play fair."
"What do you mean?"
A sort of whimper followed.
Minnie began speaking again. "Rape," she said, "is very serious, very serious indeed - and that's what Miss Hardacre says you were trying to do. Now, I don't think a boy like you would do such a thing, but you've got to tell me exactly what happened."
"We'll get into trouble," protested the child.
"You can't get into any more trouble than you're in already," said Minnie. "Some people think rape's almost as bad as murder, did you know that?"
"No," snivelled the child.
"Well, cheer up," said Minnie, "You didn't harm Amanda, did you? And I don't think you meant to do anything bad."
"We were going to f--- her," wailed the little boy, and began to sob again. A few moments passed before Minnie spoke.
"Are you sure?" she said,
A sort of affirmative "Mmmh" forced its way through the sobs. Mrs Lambert flashed a gleam of triumph at her allies in the ensuing pause. Then Minnie's voice came again: "Why were you going to 'f---' her?"
"Have you ever f---ed a girl before?"
"Noooo-o-o! D-don't tell Mam and D-dad. P-please d-don't te-ell."
"I'm not going to tell anybody anything that might harm you," said Minnie, "All I'm trying to do is find out how you two boys came to be caught with your pants down in the bushes with Amanda Miller."
"Why do we get in trouble and she doesn't?" wailed the boy. "It isn't fair. We always get blamed. If anybody does anything, the boys always get caned or whacked, but the girls don't. Why do they say we did rape, and not her?" And he fell once more to sniffling and sobbing.
"Well," said Minnie hesitantly, 'That's the way the cookie ... er ... it's just the way things are. Boys are stronger than girls ... and there were two of you and only one of her... and people tend to assume ... Look, if I'm going to be able to help you, you've got to pull yourself together and answer my questions. Now the first thing we've got to settle is this: did Amanda Miller go into the bushes with you of her own free will?"
"And did she know what you were going to do'?"
"Yes. She said she would show us what f---ing really was."
"So you didn't know?"
"So it was Amanda's idea to go into the bushes?"
"Well ... yes, I suppose so. She wanted to see."
"Nothing. Just see."
"Mmm. And what happened in the bushes?"
"No I don't. I only know what Miss Hardacre saw. But I don't know what really happened. If you tell me it might not turn out to be so bad as it looks."
"It will," groaned the child, "It's awful. I wish I could die. I probably will die if they send me away to Borstal"
"You're much to young for Borstal," said Minnie. "Now, you went into the bushes with Amanda. Then what happened?"
"Well," said the child,, taking a deep breathe "Manda said she'd found out all about... you know, and she would show us what it was like. So we said 'What?' and she said 'It's like kissing only better' and we said 'We don't want anybody to see us kissing soppy girls and anyway it can't be that 'cos we've seen lot's of people kissing, they're always doing it on telly and in films and sometimes in the street so we know that's not it 'cos f---ing's secret and it's something dirty and grown-ups won't even talk about it, but she said 'It's more than kissing and you've got to do it in secret places 'cos you've got to take your clothes off' and Peachy goes 'What all of 'em?' and Manda says 'Well it's best if you take them all off but it's alright if you only take some of them off' and we knew she was telling the truth 'cos Charlie Barnes once showed us a magazine that he'd pinched out of his brother's room, and there was pictures of people doing it in films only you couldn't see what they were doing but quite a lot of them didn't have any clothes on.
"So me and Peachy went into the bushes with Manda, and Peachy says 'You gonna do a strip-tease then?' but Manda only goes 'Don't be coarse! I'm not just a sex-object,' she says, 'I'm not just here to titivate you. If you're not going to take it seriously I don't see why 1 should waste my time on you.'
"So we both says we're sorry and she says 'First of all you've got to kiss me'. So Peachy kisses her, and then I kissed her, and it was all sort of soppy and wet. Peachy said it was good but I didn't see what was good about it. Manda tried to put her tongue in my mouth. She said that's what they do in France, but I said it wasn't hygienic. She said Peachy liked it and he said he didn't mind and when was she gonna take her clothes off, and she said we should all take our clothes off and I said 'Do we have to take all our clothes off or just our pullovers and maybe our shirts' and she said it didn't matter about them as long as we took off our trousers and our shoes and socks like in the pictures, and I said I didn't want to take my clothes off but Peachy was dead excited and he kept on saying, 'Aw come on man, we'll never get another chance like this. Don't you wanna find out what it's like?' and I says 'Course I do but why do we have to take our pants off?' and he says 'Well you know when Charlie Barnes was telling us about getting the pleasure' and I says 'Yes' and he says 'And you know where he said you get it?' and I says 'Yes' and he says 'Well it stands to reason you've gotta take your pants off, dunnit?', and Amanda says 'Listen, I haven't got all day to hang about here while you two talk about what you're going to do. If you want me to show you about f---ing get on and get your pants off, 'cos if you don't I've got other things to do,' and Peachy starts undoing his pants and going 'Come on man, geddem off!' and I says'What about her?' and she says 'I'm not getting undressed with you boys watching,' and Peachy didn't know what to say, and then she goes, 'You two get undressed over there and I'll go behind this bush and when we're ready we'll come back here.'
So she goes behind one bush and me and Peachy goes behind another, and he starts taking his pants off and I say 'But what if somebody comes?' and Peachy goes 'Yah, you're scared! You're yellow! Cowardy cowardy custard, your bones'll turn to mustard!'
"I said, 'I'm not scared,' but he just goes 'Cowardy, cowardy custard' and that, and he says 'Just wait till I tell Charlie Barnes,' so I say 'I am not scared' and I start taking off my shoes and socks, and Peachy just stands there grinning and he says 'I bet you don't dare,' so I took my pants off and he says 'And them' and I say 'She never said nothing about underpants,' and he calls to Manda and says 'Don't we have to take our underpants off too'?' and she giggles and says 'Yeah', so I took them off too and then we went back to Manda.
"Only, she didn't comeout from behind her bush for a bit, and we said, 'Are you ready yet?' and she kept on saying 'Not quite,' and I says to Peachy 'Pull your shirt down man, she's peeping at you from behind the bush,' and Peachy goes 'Aw, is he shy then?' and he grabs at my shirt, and Manda giggles, so we pull her out from behind the bush - and she still had all her clothes on!
"And she said, 'I fooled you! I fooled you! I've seen your things! I'm going to tell everybody I've seen them.'
"Only Peachy started pulling at her skirt and yelling 'Come on man, what are you standing there for'?' And she goes, 'If you touch me I'll scream. I'll shout and bring everybody here. They won't half laugh!' And Peachy yells 'Get her knickers down!' and then Miss Hardacre grabs us and starts yelling at us. And that's what happened."
The child's voice tailed off. There was an uncomfortable silence. The members of the Board of Governors looked at the table. Canon Tollgate made no move, and soon the voice of Minnie Hodges emerged once more from the recorder.
"What would you have done if Amanda had taken her clothes off?"
"Well... I... don't know ... I suppose we would have f---ed her."
"Yes, but what exactly would you have done."
"Well ... kissing and that."
"Kissing and what?"
"I don't know. Kissing and cuddling, like in the book Charlie Barnes had."
"And that's all?"
"Yes," replied the child in puzzled bewilderment. What could be worse than kissing and cuddling in the nude?
"Who told you about f---ing?" said Minnie.
"What do you want to know for?" the boy replied cautiously, "Will they get into a row?"
"No," said Minnie, "There won't be any row. Just tell me everything. You must have talked about sex with your friends."
"And Charlie Barnes had a book with pictures?"
"Well, it was his brother's book really. He only borrowed it to let us see."
"So you had talked about it with him before?"
"Yes. Well, we asked all the boys in our class and none of them knew what it was, and the girls might have known but they just giggled and laughed at us whenever we asked them, so we asked Charlie Barnes, only we had to pretend we knew what it was or he'd have laughed at us 'cos he's in the second form and he thinks he knows everything. Anyway, he yells, 'Hey you kids,' - that's real cheek that is, calling us kids when he's only a year older than we are, not even that, well he's more than a year older than Peachy, but he's only eight months older than me, and he still treats us like little uns. It was worse when we were still in Juniors and he was at the Big School - Anyway he says, 'Hey you kids, what ya doing?' and I said 'Just talking', only Peachy goes 'Ask him man. Ask him, why don't ya ask him?' and Charlie Barnes hears him and he says 'Ask me what?' and I says 'Nothing', but Peachy still goes 'Go on ask him. If you wanna know you better ask.' And Charlie goes 'To them that asketh it shall be given' or summat, that he must have got out of the Bible or somewhere. So I says 'Promise that you'll never tell nobody what it is,' and he crosses his heart and cuts his throat, so I says 'We were talking about what the big uns do in the cloakroom," and Charlie goes 'I bet you don't even know what they do,' and we says 'We do so, course we do', and he says 'Tell us then' and we say 'Naw, you're just trying to find out 'cos you don't know', and he says 'Don't be cheeky, kid, don't forget it's a second-former you're talking to', and I says 'So what? You think your good just cos you're older In us. Well we'll be second-formers next term.' And he says 'And I'll be in the third form, and I'll be wearing long pants, and I'll leave school before you lot!' and then Peachy says 'And you'll die before us an' all!', and Charlie Barnes says 'No I won't. I might not. You might die first, you might get the plague, you might get run over by a bus', and Peachy goes 'Somebody might drop summat on you from an aeroplane - ker-SPLATT!' and Charlie yells 'You've had it for that', only I say 'Leave him alone man Barno, and tell us about f---ing', and Charlie Barnes says 'You la'al kids know nowt about it. I'm gonna tell everybody you dunno what f---ing is', and he goes off, and every time he sees us after that he starts again 'You don't know what f---ing is,' just like that. But after a bit he tells us about it and he brings this book wi' pictures 'at he'd pinched from his brother's room, only we didn't gerra proper look 'cos he didn't want the big uns to see in case they took it off him 'cos he had to put it back before his brother found out or he'd have got done."
There was a pause
"Did the pictures show people er_ 'f---ing'?" said Minnie.
"Well, they were scenes out of the pictures, with film stars and that, women with no clothes on and that, and some with men and women with no clothes on kissing each other and that, only we couldn't see properly 'cos we were behind the bio-lab under the trees, and Charlie kept saying 'Hurry up man, before somebody comes', cos if the big uns had seen it they would have taken it away to look at themselves."
"But it wasn't Charlie Barnes who first told you about f---ing?"
"It might have been. Yes, it was. The first time we asked him what they were doing."
"What who were doing." asked Minnie.
"The big uns," replied the boy, astonished that anyone needed to ask.
"The big ones?" repeated Minnie, still puzzled.
"Yes. In the porch."
"Outside the cloakrooms. They were always in there - the big girls - Norah Blackburn and them. Sometimes they call out to some of the boys and invite them to come in, but nobody ever does - except Johnny Cowan and his gang. We thought they were just talking, or maybe smoking and that, but Miss Hardacre caught them in there, and she made a row about it, and the whole school could hear her shouting, and then afterwards when she came to our class for English she went on at us for ages, telling the girls not to go into lonely places with boys, and she said if we ever went into lonely places with girls she would get us punished for it. We didn't know what she was talking about, but she went on and on, and they all said she'd done the same in every class she took. And every day she went down to the porch to make sure there were no boys in there with the girls. And one day she saw two of the big uns, it was Parker of the Sixth Form and Angela Beere, walking along and holding hands in the school yard, and she went on and on at them about what a disgrace it was and how thay ought to be ashamed of themselves. They were nearly crying, both of them, even Parker, and he's in the school football team, and then she lectured all her classes again and said the girls should stick together and help each other cos the boys were just out to get them into trouble, but she didn't say what kind of trouble. She just kept on saying boys were dirty and nasty and that girls shouldn't go with them, and she kept on saying 'You know what I mean', but we didn't. We didn't know what she was talking about, Except it had something to do with the big uns in the porch. That's why we asked everybody, and Charlie Barnes said they were f---ing and showed us the pictures in his brother's book."
"Do you think they were f---ing in the porch'?" said Minnie.
There was a moment's silence before the child replied. 'N-no ... they can't have been, not if you haveve to take your clothes off, anyway. Somebody would've seen. Everybody would have known."
"But you thought they were'?"
"Well ... Miss Hardacre kept on.., and Charlie said ... that's what men and women do..." (the child was close to tears now) ... and he showed us the pictures ... but they can't have been ... and ... what will they do to us?" His final question ended in a long wail which was cut off in mid-stream. The tape hissed blankly, and Canon Tollgate switched off the machine.
"I think," he said," we can see clearly from this account just how the unfortunate episode came about. I propose, Mr Chairman, that the Board issue a statement to the effect that a childish game had been misinterpreted and has been magnified out of all proportion by ill-informed gossip, and I suggest that we now regard the matter as closed, leaving it to the Headmaster to take any further action he deems necessary."
"Hear, Hear!" said the Bishop. "And if I might suggest that perhaps some form of sex education might be considered ..."
"Yes indeed," murmured Mrs Lambert, "I second that."
"Hmm-hmm-hmm," began Dr Gibbon-Moneypenny, "It might appear, if, that is, I have grasped aright the tenor of our deliberations, that the general feeling of the meeting, following the revelation by Canon Tollgate of what we are, I think, compelled to regard as new evidence casting what I think might unequivocally be termed an entirely new light on the matter we are met here to discuss - and I think I my say without fear of contradiction that we are all of us deeply obliged to our esteemed colleague and to his, if I dare to use the term, fellow-conspirators - the general feeling, as I was saying, in which, I believe, we share with perhaps unusual unanimity, is that the Board of Governors should conclude, and indeed issue a statement somewhat to the effect, that it regards the matter as entirely one of internal discipline which can be safely left in the hands of the Headmaster - I _ er ... trust I am not misinterpreting the views of my colleagues on the Board? - and that neither the Governors nor the Education Committee need concern themselves further, subject to the rider that we perhaps hope that the Headmaster and his senior colleagues might consider whether or not some form of enlightenment, subject of course to the wishes of parents and the community at large, might be given to those tender souls cast adrift in. if I am not using to fanciful a metaphor, the frail barque of puberty."
A murmur of agreement greeted this briefly cogent summing up, and this so encouraged the Chairman that he proceeded to a vote.
"The motion is, if I am not mistaken, proposed by Canon Tollgate, with a rider put forward by the Bishop, and seconded by Mrs Lambert. Perhaps we might take a vote using the time-honoured method of a show of hands, if the Committee, or rather Board, would be so kind ..."
"Carried unanimously, Mr Chairman!" said councillor Bairstow, rising to his feet. "Can I give anybody a lift?"
Only the Chairman and the Headmaster remained. Mrs Lambert, the last of the committee to leave had flashed them a smile in which she managed to express congratulation to the one for his handling of the meeting and to the other for its outcome.
In the staff room Miss Hardacre listened to the exodus and waited. When it became apparent that there was no message for her, she too left.
Minnie Hodges returned, radiant, to plant a merry kiss upon the patient, balding head of supperless Andy, before spreading a celebratory feast before his hunger-sharpened appetite; Mouse, who supped that evening at the Rectory, found his peccadilloes forgotten and his sins treated with magnanimous neglect; and Winston Greatbatch pondered the bland official statement from the school governors and wondered what it concealed.
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