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Work in Progress for the Holiday

Here’s an unpolished section of my book as I near the first lap split, if writing it was a mile race on a 440 yard track. I’m sure you can do better, so grab a pen or keyboard and write something over the holiday break.

Happy solstice to one and all.

Friday moved as slowly as a Friday. The air filling King Offa’s school was more opaque and viscous than usual, probably because the De Genneville family were yet again threatening to sell the surrounding land in Edgbaston for development as a red brick amusement park. Duncan sat at the back of the science lab and contemplated his classmates. He concluded they were lazy ingrates. Doctor Honclebriff worked, as was his inclination, to elevate them to a higher plane, and yet they seemed unchanged. ~Teaching is a thankless task; I wonder if he finds any consolation in being told he has increased our potential. We don’t exhibit any outward signs of increased energy.~ He jotted some words of wisdom in his notebook concerning the raw materials from which ethanol could be made. ~Here he is: A professorial Sisyphus doomed to push a classroom of rocks up a hill–except this mass of stone stops moving whenever he stops pushing. They sit there barely able to hold themselves up against gravity. How can he measure the height of their achievement when it is so low?~

The dinner bell rang more slowly on a Friday, an entire two octaves lower than usual. He met Habib in the corridor beside room 72 and they took a long cut to the dining hall in preference to standing in the queue.

“Who did you have?” Habib asked, as they slid along the bottom corridor’s mahogany block floor like speed skaters.

“Pedro Honclebriff, he’s pretty good but he has a funny accent.”

“Honk-ul-brief? Where’s he from?”

“I dunno. Probably somewhere exotic like Scunthorpe or Leeds.”

They turned along the master’s corridor and passed the medical room. This nudged Habib’s memory:

“Sorry about missing Wednesday night. My mum took me to a neurologist. She was worried I might be developing metempsychosis. He assured her that it was probably a side effect of the medicine I was taking for my, you know, seizure thing.”

“Yes, but we’ve got to plan the Windmill Fair trip. It’s a great chance to ask a bird out, and I need as much time away from our house as I can get. Dad’s got the blues again. It happens every time he tries to give up whisky.” They took the steps to the Guild Hall two at a time.

“Are you sure about the blues thing?” Habib asked without sounding as if he cared. “I mean, he’s sort of a bit celtic for the blues.”

“The blue devils, the demented trembles, jimjams, DTs, snakes in the boots, the empty bottle shakes, he’s been seeing the screaming meanies. Alcohol and being celtic go together like elephants and being pink.”

There was a crowd at the sport’s notice board checking the team selections for the next day’s rugby fixtures. Duncan took the noisy interlude as an opportunity to decide which girls they might invite to the fair. ~Not that one he used to sail with. Her grandmother was killed was in a car crash. Hit an oak tree at fifty miles an hour. As drunk on beer as any of Hogarth’s gin drinking models. There you go,~ he thought, ~Habib was right to break-up with her.~

Out through the main door they went, in front of the porter’s lodge, and across the Sacred Sod without batting an eyelid at the cries of foul from some senior boys on their way to some not-so-secret rendezvous by the girl’s hockey field.

“What about that Sheila Langland? The one that says,” Duncan adopted a voice like a parrot, “‘My dad’s William, never Bill.’ Then she says it as one word, ‘Willyneverbill Langland.’ Can’t you call her?”

“She’s from way away, from the Malvern hills above the Vale of Lunt. You know, near Ledbury. If she’s in town for the fair, she’ll be draped across Mitt Healey’s shoulders like a feather boa.” The dinner queue had receded and they were within ten feet of the steaming steel vats of nameless meats and tasteless vegetables. Habib suggested, “What about Kath Linton? She’s getting to be a looker.”

“Her dad says he is going to buy her a riding crop in Liverpool during his next business visit.” Duncan grabbed a tray and drummed it on his knees. “You know what that means, and I don’t want to be involved. If he promises her gifts like that, he’s probably got a girlfriend and Kath’s half-brother in hiding up there.” He closed his eyes and tried to recall a girl, any girl, with whom there was the remotest chance of a conversation without being mocked for his efforts. The hall vibrated with indecipherable chatter and the clang of serving spoons in metal troughs. “Do you know Becky? I dreamt last night we were in Menabilly again, that Elizabethan house in Cornwall near where she lived before her dad moved to Birmingham. Funny how my dreams all have happy endings. I think I control them; That’s why I don’t have nightmares. We were chasing some thieves who had stolen an urn from the crematorium. They ran out of the house and through the woods but there was sudden cliff they didn’t see and they fell over it and the salt wind from the sea blew the ashes towards us.”

“Ah! You’ve gone back to using too many ands. We’re not thinking hard enough. I’m sure some stronger impulse vibrates here. As I keep whispering to you, my friend, to find a kindred heart you have to go abroad.”
Duncan nodded his disagreement slowly. “You’re mad. It’s a bad idea, this going to Rome to pick up women, and I suspect there is some risk in simply knowing you. Tell me, is this European flirting an Indian trait?”

The line shuffled grimly towards their gastronomic fate. “The only other Indian I know is my dad.”

“You don’t know anything about your father.”

Habib pursed his lips, caught on his own off-hand.