Yay! A week off school next week: it’s half term.
The bell goes for the end of lessons, but to avoid any of us getting killed in the rush to get out of school, Tony and I take a few minutes to chat with our friends before we all go our separate ways.
We are about to leave the building when we hear a shout from behind us.
“Boys, a word if I may, please?”
Of course we recognise the voice; it is Mr Sproat, the games master. Perhaps we should have risked the crush to make our escape. At least he doesn’t sound as though we are in trouble for something. We turn back to him.
“I’m glad I caught you. I thought everybody would have gone,” he says sounding relieved. “I’ve just been told the staff office in the gym is to be repainted next week. Do you think you could spare me half an hour to help me move the furniture out, please?”
Tony and I had been intending to go to my house to play a game or two. I was hoping it would be that sort of game if Mum had gone next door for a gossip. However, I really don’t want to share that with Brussels as an excuse for not helping him. That would be too embarrassing.
“Er, okay,” we both grunt in resignation.
Brussels leads us into the office and we look around assessing what needs to be moved. There is a big steel cupboard, two filing cabinets: one made of steel and one of wood. Tony says the wooden one must be old as it is made of solid wood and has an appropriate layer of grime — patina he calls it. There is a desk, some chairs, various baskets and bags containing balls and other sports equipment, stuff propped in corners and clutter on all horizontal surfaces. Brussels announces his verdict.
“The cabinet can stay in here if we move it to the middle of the room. We will probably need to empty it to do that. Everything else will have to be moved out into the gym.” He moves over to the wooden filing cabinet and tries to rock it. It doesn’t move. “These will need to be emptied to move them. I suggest we start with bags and baskets and clear the desk. We can then use the desk to hold the contents of the filing cabinets as we move them. Refill the files, then move the desk, and finally move the cupboard. Does that sound like a plan?”
I am not sure if he is actually asking for comments, but I am going put my two-pennyworth in anyway. The mess in the office reminds me of tidying our shed and garage a couple of months ago.
“Have you got any boxes we can use to move all the loose stuff?” I ask, indicating the clutter on the desk. “And have you got some bin bags for all the junk you are throwing away?”
Brussels looks as though I have caught him out.
“Er, I suppose it would make sense to have a purge as we go through the cabinets,” he admits. “If you start on the bags and baskets, I’ll go and see if I can find some bin bags in the janitor’s storeroom.”
When he comes back, he starts sorting through the clutter, moving the stuff to be kept to one end of the desk and putting the rubbish in bags. We finish dealing with the sports gear, then use more bin bags to carry the items he wants to keep through into the gym. By the time we have caught up, Brussels is ready to move on to the steel filing cabinet. He opens the top drawer and tries to lift it off the runners without success. He closes the top drawer and looks through the others one by one. In fact, there is not much in the drawers and nothing heavy, mostly assorted bits of sports clothing.
“If we tip it on its back, so the drawers don't fall open, and I take one end and you two the other, we should be able to carry it,” he says as he walks it away from the wall and starts to tip it over.
There might be two of us but our share is still heavy enough to be awkward, and we manage to be the ones moving backwards out of the office and into the gym.
We go back into the office, and Mr Sproat opens the top drawer of the other filing cabinet. This time he is able to lift the drawer out. It must be heavy though: I can see the strain on his face.
“If you take the other drawers out, you should be able to carry the carcass through,” he says as he dumps his drawer on the desk with a sigh of relief. He starts to look through the contents. “Be careful though. There is no interlock on the drawers on this one, and it can tip over if you have more than one open. Take them out from the top down, and work from the bottom when putting them back. Make sure the cabinet isn’t leaning forwards or the full drawers will open under gravity. Also don’t try to take the drawers out full; they’ll be too heavy for you. Take some of the files out first. ”
Following his instructions, we take the drawers out and put them with the other one on the desk for Brussels to look through. Then we struggle to carry the carcass into the gym. It’s heavy, even when empty, and somehow I’m the one who is moving backwards again. Funny, that.
As we are carrying it through, we notice a photograph in the bottom of the cabinet. It must have fallen over the back of one of the drawers. I retrieve it once we have stood the cabinet upright again. It is a picture of two boys in baggy shorts climbing ropes in a gym.
“Those shorts don’t hide much seen from that angle, do they?” I ask. Then we both start to giggle; we must have had the same thought.
“Bit like Paul and those shorts of his in the wrestling class,” Tony whispers. Yes: same thought.
We take the picture back into the office to show Mr Sproat.
“We found this,” I tell him. “It must belong in one of the drawers.”
“It doesn’t look like the gym here either,” Tony adds.
Brussels takes the picture to look at it. As I watch him study it, I see him start to smile, but he purses his lips as if trying to remain serious.
“I believe this school was built in the mid-eighties,” he says. “The photo is black and white, and from what the boys are wearing, I would say it is earlier than that. Fifties or sixties possibly. Perhaps it was taken in the old school that this one replaced. One of those drawers has files that look pretty old and might go back that far.” He points to a drawer on the far side of the desk but doesn’t move to put the photo in it. Instead, he hands it to me.
“It might be interesting to know more. Perhaps you could show it to your parents, one of them might recognise the building.” Brussels pauses. And his grin breaks free. “No doubt you will be seeing your friend Paul over half-term. Show it to him so he can see what we could see when he wore those baggy shorts for wrestling. Otherwise, I will have to show it in class and that would be embarrassing for him.”
Brussels then changes the subject. “I don’t want to keep you longer than necessary and it will take me some time to go through the drawers to see what’s in them and what can be thrown away. Let’s get them back in the cabinet, then we can quickly move the desk into the gym and move the cupboard away from the wall. Then you can go. I’ll have to come into school sometime and have a sort out.”
When we finish moving the furniture, we can see where the cupboard and filing cabinets were against the wall. It looks as though the last time the room was painted the furniture was painted around! There’s a coating of spiders’ webs as well. I decide to share with Mr Sproat something I have heard Dad moan about.
“I suggest you wash the walls down before the decorating contractors come; otherwise they will just try and paint over that lot.” I point at the muckiest area of wall.
“I guess you’re right. I’ll have to come in and do it,” Brussels sighs. “Living on my own, I suppose I’ve nothing better to do.”
Neither Tony nor I come up with a reply to that before Brussels dismisses us.
“Thank you for your help. You had better get home. Don’t forget to take the photo to show Paul,” he says and then pauses. He regains his smile before continuing. “And remind him to buy a jock if he hasn’t done so already!”
With staying behind to help Mr Sproat, we are later than usual. We are also tired and mucky. Tony decides he will go straight home instead of coming with me to my house. We do agree to meet up in the morning at our usual place in the shopping centre.
“Bring the picture with you. I’ll text Paul to meet us there. If you ask him he’ll probably think it’s a wind up, and not come,” Tony says as he turns towards home.
Thank you for that appraisal of the nature of my friendship with Paul.
When I get to my house, I find Dad is already home from work and sitting in his favourite chair.
“You’re late,” he says.
“And you’re early,” I reply as I dump down onto the settee. Dad chuckles.
“No, I just left on time for once! What’s your excuse?”
“Mr Sproat asked us to help him empty the staff office in the gym. It’s going to be painted over half term. You wouldn’t believe how much stuff there was to move. Almost as bad as our garage.” It doesn’t hurt to remind him.
“I can imagine. Bet the walls were covered in cobwebs behind the furniture, too?”
“Yup. I did suggest to Mr Sproat that he should wash them down or the contractors would just paint over the muck.”
“Good thinking, lad. Er… as long as you didn’t get volunteered to do it!”
“No, he said he would do it himself. He did give me a photo that we found and to ask anyone we know if they can tell us something about it. You went to school here, didn’t you?” I get the picture out of my school bag and hand it to him. “Does it ring any bells?”
“Good grief,” Dad says, before I have even let go of the photo. “We never had shorts like that. They must have been draughty.”
He takes a more considered look at the picture.
“I don’t recognise the gym. If it’s from round here, I’m guessing it’s the one in the old boys school. They closed the separate boys and girls schools when they opened the new school. I went to the school where you go now. It had only been open a couple of years when I joined. Apart from that, I can’t be much help, I’m afraid.”
“Do you think Mum would know anything?”
“Don’t show it her! We won’t get any supper ‘cos she’ll be droo…”
“Don’t show me what?”
Oops! It’s Mum. Dad looks sheepish, but I bet he’s glad he didn’t finish his sentence.
“That photograph?” Mum comes over and perches on the arm of Dad’s chair. She plucks the photo from his hand.
“Look at those legs!” Dad rolls his eyes at that. Mum nudges him. “You used to have nice legs. If you had had them on display like that, I might have noticed you sooner and not kept you waiting so long before I agreed to marry you.” I’m surprised Dad’s not seasick with all the eye rolling he’s doing.
“I tell you who might be able to help,” Dad says to try and get the conversation back on track. “That’s your grandad. He went to the old school.”
“But how does that help me? He and Grandma are up in Sheffield and we hardly ever visit.”
“You’re off school next week. Why don’t you get the train and go up and see them one day? Give you something to do, instead of moping round here all the time. I can go in to work a bit later that day. You can come with me and I’ll drop you at the station. Take Tony with you if you want.”
“I’m not sure Tony would want to spend all day with Grandma and Grandad. Not too sure myself.” There always seems to be some tension at their place that makes me feel uncomfortable.
“Which is why you want him to go,” Mum says. “He’s your excuse not to stay with them longer than necessary. Tell them he wants to look around the city or something.” Dad grunts his agreement.
“Look up the train times and research anything in the city that might interest you. Decide what day you want to go and I’ll ring my old man to let them know you’re coming.”
“How do I get to their flat? And how do I get back home?”
“The flat is only a ten minute walk from Sheffield station but you might not need to go there. If he is working that day, it might be easier to meet in the city centre. When you get back, walk out to my office, or if I have finished for the day, I’ll meet you at the station.”
When I get to the café the next morning, Tony and Paul are already there, nursing cups of coffee. As I walk towards their table, I am intercepted by our regular waiter, who is our age, cute, and is the son of the owner.
“Hi there. I thought you’d been replaced,” he says cheerily. “Usual?”
Cheeky bugger. Why can I never think of a snappy reply? All I can manage is to grunt please to confirm my order.
“Tony was saying you’ve got something to show me,” Paul says after I sit down. “Why do I suspect this going to be a wind-up-Paul day?”
“Hey, don’t blame me! Brussels asked us to show it to you, rather than him embarrass you by showing it to you in class.” I hand him the envelope I have brought with the picture in. “Here!”
He pulls the photo out of the envelope.
“Now do you understand what we can see when you wear those baggy shorts for wrestling?” Tony asks.
“Only there are times we can see even more,” I add, trying to be helpful. Paul’s blush contrasts nicely with his blond hair. “Brussels said to remind you to get a jock. Have you got one yet?”
The waiter arrives with my cappuccino, making a natural break in our conversation. I put the photo back in the envelope.
“Got any plans for the week?” I ask Paul. He pulls a face.
“Mum says we’ve got to go up to London. Dad has been summoned back to the UK to discuss the project he is working on. He is only going to be back in London for a couple of days so we’re going to meet him.”
“You don’t sound too keen,” Tony says.
“I’ll probably get dragged to a museum — see the Crown Jewels or something. Or he’ll want to buy me something fashionable. Okay in London but totally inappropriate for round here.”
“You see the crown jewels every morning in the mirror,” I joke then revert to serious before Paul can react. “Tell your dad you want a jock. You can’t get much more basic than that and it’s something you need.”
“That won’t work,” Paul groans. “We’ll have to go somewhere like Harrods to buy some fancy brand with a logo embroidered on the pouch. Can you imagine: some bloke on a horse trying to whack a stick at my balls?”
“Or a crocodile trying to eat your prick,” I suggest, before licking the foam from my cappuccino from my lips.
“Maybe a big laurel wreath framing your cluster. You know — first prize,” says Tony, waggling his eyebrows. That raises a smile from Paul.
“You are a pair of daft pillocks, but you cheer me up,” he says as he looks at his watch. He stands. “I’d better get home and pack. We’re supposed to be leaving early tomorrow.”
“Good luck! See you when you get back,” we chorus.
“What are we going to do next week?” Tony asks when Paul has gone.
I tell him about going to visit Grandad in Sheffield to ask him about the photo. He agrees it would be somewhere different, so we head back to his house to do the research Dad suggested.
We have just finished when Tony’s mum comes to tell us she has prepared some lunch for us. Things are a bit more formal at Tony’s house so we sit at a table with his parents for the meal. Tony takes the opportunity to ask permission for the Sheffield trip. They ask me a couple of questions then agree. To keep the conversation going they also ask if we know what any of our other friends are doing during the break.
“Paul and his mother are going to London to meet his father who is back in the UK for a few days,” Tony tells them.
“That should be nice for him,” says his mother.
From talking to him earlier in the day, I don’t think Paul would agree with that, but I think it best not to mention it in case it gets back to his mother. Instead, I push the conversation in a different direction by asking about something that has been annoying me since we were in the café.
“Why does Paul say ‘up to London’, when it is down south from here?” I ask, hoping I am not showing myself up again.
“By convention. I believe it is to do with status of the destination relative to the starting point,” explains Tony’s father. “So one is said to ‘go up’ to university because it is a higher level of learning than school. And one goes ‘up’ to Sheffield or Chesterfield, not just because they are north of here, but because they are bigger places. London is ‘up’ from everywhere else because it is the capital.”
“So not because everyone else thinks London is so far up itself,” I say. Okay, so I’ve definitely shown myself up now, but I do get a laugh out of Tony’s parents.
“I think ‘affectation’ might be the word you were looking for,” says Tony’s dad. “Saying ‘up to London’ is not just an affectation; there is some logic to the usage.”
“Thanks for the explanation. So what about up for north and down for south?”
“Presumably because north is at the top of the page on a map,” Tony argues.
“That is the current convention for most general purpose maps, although there is usually an indicator somewhere showing the direction of true north as the map may only be approximately aligned,” his father replies. “Specialist maps are aligned in whichever direction the cartographer thinks will be most convenient for the user, and some medieval maps such as the mappa mundi in Hereford cathedral, east is at the top and north on the left. There is a school of thought that says the word north derives from a term meaning left, north being to the left when facing the rising sun.”
Now I know where my boyfriend gets his smarts.
“So which convention came first? The map one or the hierarchical one?” asks Tony.
“I don’t really know,” admits his father. “They were probably both in common use by the end of the seventeenth century. If you insist that I guess, I would say the hierarchical one was possibly settled first.”
I think that will be the end of the discussion, but Tony’s dad digresses into a new sub-topic.
“You said you would be getting the train to Sheffield. If you remember, railways were a development of waggon-ways that linked mines to canals, rivers or coastal ports for onwards shipment.”
I nod my head in understanding.
“The mines were uphill from the quays,” Tony’s dad continues, “so the directions of travel became known as up: uphill towards the mine, and down: downhill towards the port. As the railway trunk routes came to be built a lot of railways still used the ‘up’ and ‘down’ nomenclature, only now ‘up’ was towards the major town, similar to the hierarchical model we talked about earlier. This was particularly true of the lines into London. ‘Up’ is always towards London. So if the train you catch is one that has come from London, you will effectively be travelling up to Sheffield on a ‘down’ train!” he chuckles. “Clear as mud, eh? And that’s the simplified version.”
It’s fair to say my brain hurts. Tony makes things worse.
“What if your train goes through London?”
“Well, it would be ‘up’ until you got to London, then become ‘down’ the other side. But you have to remember there were no through trains until comparatively recently. The railways were built by independent private companies and all had their own London terminus. The terminus was as far as it was possible to go. If you wanted to get to somewhere on the other side of London, you had to cross the city by cab or the Underground to a different terminal that served your destination.”
By the time we have finished lunch, I feel I have done a full day at school! And it’s supposed to be half term.
“Your grandad isn’t working today, so he will be at the flat. You’ve got your instructions how to get there from the station?” Dad asks me as we get in the car. “And your mobile?”
I mumble a yes then pull the notes and my phone out of my pocket to demonstrate I am not answering by rote. I also wave the envelope with the photo in it to show I haven’t forgotten the reason for the trip. Satisfied, Dad extracts a couple of twenties from his wallet and gives them to me.
“There should be enough there for the train tickets, lunch, and a bit extra in case you need it.”
I put the money in my own wallet and Dad drives round to collect Tony from his house before we drive to the town where Dad works.
“Give me a call when you get on the train to come back,” Dad says as he drops us at the station. “Enjoy your day and say hi to Mum and Dad for me.”
Tony and I buy our tickets. As there is some time to wait for our train, we explore the station. Although there have been cosmetic upgrades, like modern signage, there are still plenty of architectural details that show the history of the building. There is even an old stone, set in the wall, carved with the words ‘Up Trains’ and a hand pointing into the subway that leads to the other, southbound, platform. How quaint is that! At least I now know why it is there.
It might be only ten minutes from the station in Sheffield to the grands’ flat, but it is a serious work out. All uphill, and a steep hill, too! It does mean there is a good view across the city when we finally get there.
Of course there is a round of handshakes, hugs and a kiss from Grandma on arrival, and I pass on Dad’s greetings.
“Nice to be able to put a face to a name,” says Grandad when I introduce Tony. Aagh! What has Dad been telling his father about us?
For Tony’s benefit, Grandma gives us a tour of the flat that ends by the window overlooking the city. Grandad follows along, watching us.
“Good view, isn’t it?” Tony says.
“It is now,” Grandad replies. “We weren’t here then, but before the Clean Air Act and the subsequent closure of a lot of the old works,” he points into the valley, “you could see nowt down there for smoke and muck ’cept for first thing Tuesday after a Monday Bank Holiday. On a good day, wi’ luck, you could see across valley.” Grandad goes on to point out various features and explains that, like Rome, Sheffield is built on seven hills.
“That’s about where similarity ends,” he says. “It certainly ain’t centre of known world, although to hear some folk round here, you’d think it were.” He turns to me and lowers his voice. “Now then, lad. Yer dad tells me you’ve got summat to show me.”
“We were wondering if you could tell us anything about this. We think it might be in the old boys school at home.” As I hand Grandad the envelope, Tony nudges me and tips his head in Grandma’s direction. She is clearly intrigued by what might be inside.
Grandad suggests we all sit down and make ourselves comfortable, which we do except for Grandma who is hovering inquisitively near Grandad’s chair. I notice that he manages a quick glance at the picture while it is still in the envelope. His face becomes serious.
“Lass, why don’t you make yourself useful and go mash,” he says. “These lads must be gagging after their climb and I’m fair parched mi’sen.”
Grandma takes the hint and disappears into the kitchen to make the tea. Grandad beckons us towards him and lowers his voice once more.
“Keep an eye on her, she’ll be earwigging.”
This time he pulls out the photo out of the envelope, but only gives it a cursory glance.
“Your dad doesn't’ know this and I’ve certainly never told her.” Grandad hooks his thumb in the direction of the kitchen. “But when I were at school, I had a special friend.” He waves his hand between us. Is he trying to say ‘like you two’? “Expectations were different then, and, as I’m sure you realise, the expectation in our town was you got wed and had kids. So, we went our separate ways and got wed. There are plenty times when I wish I had done things differently, but you have to live with your choices. Then, if I had not succumbed to expectations, your dad wouldn’t be here, nor would you.”
I see a shadow moving near the kitchen doorway. Tony must have seen it too because he changes the subject.
“So, is it the old school?”
Grandad’s not daft; he catches on and glances at the photo again.
“Aye, it’s the old school right enough. Just how I remember it. But I can’t tell you much more than that.” As he is talking Grandad puts the photo back in the envelope and hands is back to me.
“Could you climb the ropes, Grandad?”
“Yes, it was fun once you got the hang of it. Haven’t you tried it?”
“They don’t have ropes in the gym anymore for some reason,” I reply.
“ ’elf ’n safety, probably. Can you imagine the stink these days if one of you fell off? There would be lawyers everywhere. We didn’t even have mats to land on in case we fell. Not that anybody did while I was there. At least not once they could get more than a length off the ground. Scary to think we used to move from rope to rope at full height, too.”
We can hear the sound of cups being rattled onto a tray. Tony gets up and goes into the kitchen to help Grandma bring in the tea. Grandad takes his opportunity.
“Don’t worry: your dad’s never said owt. What I’ve seen and said here today stays between us. Right?”
“Yes, Grandad. Definitely.”
Tea is handed round and Grandma asks the question all grandparents ask when they can think of nothing else to say.
“How are you getting on at school?”
At least I have some good news to share.
“Better since Tony and I started doing homework together.” I see Grandad is grinning and I can guess what he is thinking so I defend myself against the unspoken charge. “No, I am not copying Tony. He explains and helps me understand the concepts.”
“Sometimes it works the other way round,” Tony adds in my defence.
The conversation bumbles along as Grandma asks which subjects I like and if we like the teachers. At some point, I mention Miss Rutherford as being a good teacher and popular too.
“Miss Rutherford? Is she still teaching?” Grandad asks.
“She is one of the oldest teachers and must be getting close to retirement,” Tony replies.
“I hope she stays until we finish,” I say. “I nearly always understand what she is trying to teach us and she takes time to try and explain where she thinks we are going wrong. Firm but fair.”
“You know she taught your dad?” Figures. “She also taught me in my final year,” Grandad continues. “It was her first year at the school. I remember her as good then, in spite of her lack of experience. When you see her next, remember me to her.”
There is a pause as Grandad drinks his tea.
“You boys don’t want to be here talking to us old folks about school, when it’s half term,” he says after he has drained his cup. “Get yourselves off and do something more interesting. The city centre is the other side of the station, or if you want educational, there’s the museum that looks at the history of the steel industry in the city. That’s worth a visit. It’s about fifteen minutes from here — all downhill! But you’ve probably got summat planned.”
We thank my grandparents for their hospitality and they thank us for visiting. Grandad has the last word.
“Show that photo to Miss Rutherford. She will be able to tell you more.”
We don’t think of ourselves as nerds but, yes, the museum is on our list of possible things to do so we set off in that direction. As we walk down the hill we try to analyse what happened during our visit to my grandparents. However, we both agree that Grandad might have had more to say if Grandma hadn’t been there. We are still chewing things over when we get to the museum. As it is close to lunchtime, we go to the café first!
Tony insists we buy guide books. “Evidence,” he says, “for when we get interrogated about our day by the parents.” The museum is interesting and the guide will make a good souvenir and reference book.
After the museum, we walk back into the city centre for a look around, and then it is time for us to go to the station for our train home. I ring Dad as soon as the train leaves Sheffield and he meets us when arrive.
“Good day?” he asks once we are in the car.
“Yes, thanks,” we both reply.
“Could Dad tell you anything about the photograph?”
“Not much, other than to confirm that it was the old boys school. He did tell us that, not only was Miss Rutherford one of your teachers, but that she had taught him as well.”
“Did Dad have anything else to say? Or Mum?”
“Not really. Sent their love, of course.” Tony and I have agreed to respect Grandad’s request and not mention anything else he said to us.
“How long have your parents been in Sheffield?” Tony asks, cleverly diverting the conversation.
“Five or six years. Why do you ask?”
“He seems to have picked up a bit of the accent, but not your mother.”
“He works with the locals, Mum doesn’t get to mix as much. But that’s him all over. Take him to Liverpool and he will have picked up some Scouse before he gets to the end of the street.”
Rather than wait until term restarts, Tony and I arrange to meet Miss Rutherford in the café in the shopping centre. We make sure we are there early and not make her wait for us. We snag a table and our cute waiter arrives. He has half term as well. After a bit of banter he takes our order and is ready to leave except Miss Rutherford arrives.
“Good morning, Miss Rutherford, nice to see you,” our waiter says as he sidesteps to allow her to sit down. “Come to keep an eye on these two?”
“More likely keep an eye on you, young man!” she jests. “Earl Grey, please. Don’t bother with any milk. ”
While we wait for her tea and our coffees to arrive, I ask Miss Rutherford about the waiter.
“How does he know you? He doesn’t go to our school. We would have seen him around.”
“I know him through the youth group I work with. He goes to the Catholic school. Nice young man.”
I know the Catholic school is in the next town where Dad works. I’ve also heard that Catholics are supposed to be repressed. He doesn’t seem to be repressed at all! Quite the opposite.
“So what did you want to see me about?” Miss Rutherford asks once our order has arrived.
“We found this photo when helping Mr Sproat clear his office ready for the decorators,” I hand her the envelope. “He thought it was from the fifties or sixties, before the new school was built and asked us to see what we could find out about it by asking our parents.” As I am speaking Miss Rutherford pulls the picture from the envelope and starts to study it. “I asked my dad and he suggested I talk to his father, so Tony and I went up to Sheffield to see him. Grandad confirmed it was the old boys school but couldn’t tell us anything else. He said we should ask you and that you would be able to tell us more. Apparently you taught him for a year. He asked to be remembered to you.”
Miss Rutherford sips her tea before she replies.
“Wouldn’t tell you rather than couldn’t, I think. I remember your grandfather well. Although it was taken before I joined the school, I know who these two are.” She points at the photo. “Since he specifically said that I would tell you more, I take that as implied permission to do so. Although in black and white, the photo is much later than Mr Sproat’s suggestion and the boy on the left is your grandfather. He and the boy on the right were always together. At the time I suspected they were boyfriends. With the hindsight of experience, I am now sure. Remember this was not many years after the Wolfenden Act and social attitudes have moved a long way since then, especially in the years since you two were born. The pressure on these two to conform was such that they both found a girl and got married.”
“Grandad did tell us he had a special friend but that they both got married.”
“Your grandfather was the more determined character of the two and you know his current circumstances. As for the other boy, your grandfather may not know what happened to him, or know but the memory be too painful to tell you. He was killed in a car accident, about the time your father was born, I should think. The Coroner’s report said he lost control and hit a bridge abutment on the motorway. But the police report into the accident said the traffic was light at the time and weather and road conditions were good. However, there was no evidence of loss of control on the road surface approaching the accident site. Usually there would be indication that the driver had attempted to regain control. Such as skid marks from heavy braking.”
“Oh! That’s so sad. No wonder your grandad wouldn’t tell us.” Tony takes my hand under the table and gives it a squeeze.
While Tony and I take a moment to regain our composure, Miss Rutherford goes back to looking at the photograph and sipping her tea.
“I recognise the pediment of the old school that you can see through the window, but I was forbidden from going in the gym. I could never see why.”
She puts her empty cup in its saucer with a flourish of triumph.
“I can now though. Those shorts are positively indecent. You can see right up to London!”
Copyright © Pedro March 2021
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