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1983: Hand in Glove

Millmoor and Brigden shared a deep valley, a spinal cord

of road, railway and canal. School was situated in the no-man’s

land where the terrible twins collided in a tangle of

semis, derelict mills, bracken-fields and scrapyards, palaces

of rust. In lessons they taught you that the valley was

important, that it had changed the world. Maybe it had but,

apart from the new estates and the comp, the area had barely

changed in a hundred years.

Only thirty-years-old and still a ‘modern’, the school was

being carelessly dismantled; asbestos had been found behind

blackboards, in janitor’s cupboards and on school dinners,

and the site was now a cluster of concrete boxes, yellow

workmen’s huts, unlit braziers. The playing field out front

was half-swallowed by rubble and concrete mixers, and the

science block had defied physics and disappeared.

From where we were being taught, in some quarantined

annexe next to the lay-by, the main block looked set to

collapse in on itself: the upper floors were missing, windows

black and empty.

An empty caravan, a willing girl. Under the circumstances

I considered it a criminal waste of spirit to force thirty or forty

teenagers into a prefab and speak to them about facts no one

could agree on. Putting my head down, I stretched my legs

back under the rickety chair. My foot touched Julie’s and I

began to leak in my pants. Then she moved her legs away and

I flushed into my forearms as if rejected.

At the back, some of the nutters were playing paper space

invaders with pen and paper. I looked out of the window at

the fields and houses, the playing field tenderised by a million

studs, the sewage works beyond a fat sludge pie. Raindrops

wrote love songs on the plastic glass. Above the hill opposite,

a thundercloud descended like poison gas; a gaggle of

jet-lagged geese flew in star formation.

Even though the light was fading and rain spread across the

valley, I felt this overwhelming urge to run to the moors and

conduct lightning. Instead I sat very still, attempting to

balance on the back two legs of my chair.

“So,” said the teacher, Melville, middle-aged, thirty-something,

pasty-skinned, with receding hair and a tea-drenched

suit. “If we look in our exercise books at the two

pictures, what do we see?”

I saw two pictures, one a Western street scene, the other

China or Japan. The caption beneath said: ‘Look at these two

pictures. Do all the people in the top picture look alike? What

about all the people in the bottom picture?’

Melville’s breath was second-best bitter and he had a pipe

in his pocket that he occasionally pointed at his captives like

a myopic Eric Bristow. No one had the will to answer. On the

blackboard was an old column of four-digit numbers:





Mentally I chalked an extra line at the bottom. No, scrub

that – at the top. The year I was born. History bored me as

much as geography; why couldn’t they teach you the future?

History, geography, it was all the same – all maths, numbers


Woozy with fatigue I nodded, dreamed of Baba-Yaga...


*This is an extract of “Fire Horses” by M L Piggott.

“Fire Horses”: synopsis and quotes

“Fire Horses”: buy it here


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