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
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