Authors: Huw Davies
I Hel a’r plantos
It was the first day back after the summer holidays in Maesunig Comprehensive. The entire school was sat in the hall, waiting for the new headteacher. Nobody knew what to expect. There were rumours that he was a six-foot-eight monster, there were rumours he was a nasty four-foot-two hobbit. There were some who said she was a woman with yellow teeth and a stick, there were some who said he was an old man with a dog (and it was the dog who made all the decisions). What most people wanted was someone who would turn the school around and get it back on its feet, what with the old Head Mr Wiggins going a bit wonky at the end of last term.
Over the summer pupils’ imaginations had created their own personalised headteachers,
with steam coming out of their ears or battery acid spitting from their mouths when they shouted. Davidde hoped it would be someone who would let him get on with his drawing and reading; someone who would stop Lyndon Lyons and his gang from breaking his pencils and drawing phallic symbols in his school books. Davidde Nippers felt like he was the only one in the hall who wanted this newcomer to breathe fire, because realistically, he thought, things couldn’t get any worse than they were already. If everyone else felt a bit intimidated and scared most of the time, they’d be in the same boat as him. It would be nice to have some company.
Davidde sat there and waited. There was a buzz in the hall, all eyes excited, and behind the eyes a sense of fear. Teachers hushed the students who were still speaking, though they looked nervous as well.
Then he strode onto the stage.
He had a suit on, with a waistcoat and tie. The tie didn’t have any food on it, so he immediately had one up on Wiggy. He got to the lectern, put his hand on it, and surveyed the school with his other hand held behind his back. He held this
pose for a minute. He took his time. Davidde’s hopes rose. This was someone who wouldn’t take any messing. The tension became unbearable.
And then he spoke.
‘Hi, guys,’ he said. ‘It’s lovely to be here!’
Davidde put his head in his hands. He could feel Lyndon Lyons and his gang relax immediately, and could almost hear them thinking, ‘We’ll have a right laugh with this one.’ Davidde had hoped that his two GCSE years at school would pass quickly enough, but now they seemed like a life sentence.
The headteacher continued.
‘It’s a new start, folks, a fresh beginning for you and more importantly for me as well.’
‘Please allow me to introduce myself. The name’s Evans. Mostyn Evans. Mostyn Bumford Evans. You can call me Sir, or Headmaster, but I don’t really do formal myself – I’d prefer it if you called me Mostyn, or Moz, or even Evsie – though I’d prefer it if you didn’t called me Bummers like some of them did at my last place – and that was just the staff!’
The headmaster stopped to allow people to laugh. There was silence.
‘Tough crowd,’ he said. ‘Anyway, I want you all to forget what’s happened before, let’s start again. I’ve made a point of not finding out who the naughty ones are here, because no one’s a naughty one to me until they’ve done something naughty. And even then they’re not naughty, they are just someone who’s done something a bit naughty. Can you see what I mean, guys?’
Davidde could see exactly what it meant. It meant the time Lyndon had set fire to his trainers didn’t matter. It meant the time Dwayne Tight had spat in his cheese roll didn’t matter. It meant the slate had just been wiped clean, ready to be filled up again, with Dwayne Tight’s spit.
‘As I drove up this morning,’ continued the Head, ‘I remembered little Blodwen Sykes. She wasn’t the brightest tool in the box, if you see what I mean. In fact, she was what we used to call dull. Not very bright. And she’d admit that herself. But what she lacked in mental agility, she more than made up for with heart.
‘Now Blodwen loved her dog, Smwt. She and Smwt spent a lot of time together, probably because they had a lot in common. I’m not saying Blod had a wet nose, pointy ears and a floppy
tongue,’ he said as he did an impression of a dog, using his hands for ears and letting his fat tongue hang out of his mouth while he panted like a spaniel. He did this for a full minute. Some of the younger students laughed, everyone else, especially the staff, looked on in astonishment.
‘No, the things they had in common were that they both had huge hearts, and that the dog was also a bit dull. Dogs are known for making the right choices by instinct, for being in exactly the right place at the right time. But not Smwt. What he was doing on that spit of sand with the sea coming in so quickly, no one will ever know. I’ll tell you what we do know. We know that Blodwen wasn’t going to see him suffer by himself. She was going to get to him and wait by his side until they were rescued.’
He paused and looked up at the ceiling, picturing Smwt and his brave owner together as the waves surged in.
‘That’s what I want from us all. I want us all to be like Blodwen and Smwt. Helping each other out, sensing the danger, stepping in when one of us is up against it. It could be your friend that you help, it could be someone you don’t know, it could
be someone you don’t even like. It could be me, Mr Mantovani or Mrs Flegg. All I want to know is that we all do our best for each other. I know that I will do my best for you!’
He clenched his fists and screwed his eyes shut. It looked like he was going to cry.
‘I know what you’re all wondering, oh yes. What became of Blodwen and Smwt? How did they get out of that? Well, to cut a long story short, they didn’t. The emergency services couldn’t get close to them and they died, but the important thing is they died together, which I’m sure you’ll agree is a much better thing than dying alone, especially in such horrific circumstances: the long, drawn-out, agonising process of drowning in the open sea. Thank you. Now let’s lead out from the back with the older students…’
Art was first with Miss Pughes-Pervis. As usual she was dressed in black. She was excited about the new term and was waving her arms around like a great gothic windmill. The class waited for her to start. Dwayne Tight had found some clay and was making a demented hedgehog out of it.
The art room was a large rectangular space
with light coming in through the many windows that ran along one of the long walls. The large worktables had been painted black, because Miss Pughes-Pervis said that this allowed the students to work without any colour distractions. The walls had been painted black for the same reason. The floor was also black, because this made the room seem deeper, and the ceiling was black because it made it seem higher. The door was black, the chairs were black, and the shelves were black. Pencil sharpeners were black, pens were black and rubbers were black. Boxes of paints were black. There had been a campaign to have a whiteboard fitted in the room, but this was resisted because it wasn’t black. It was the last place in the school that had a blackboard, but any chalk that was used was housed in a special holder that was, obviously, black. Miss Pughes-Pervis had tried hard to source black clay, but this had proved impossible. Dwayne’s bright orange hedgehog stood out dramatically.
Miss Pughes-Pervis was now very still with her hands behind her back.
‘Welcome back. And thank you for choosing Art.’
She looked at the ceiling and collected her thoughts.
‘As I’m sure you know, we live in a violent world, but Art is the thing that can lift us out of it. There’s no need to insult someone when you can draw a picture of them and take your anger out that way. There’s no need to punch someone when you can make a sculpture and express your emotions safely. There’s no need to stab someone when…’
‘You can ram some paintbrushes up their nose!’ shouted Dwayne.
Davidde hated Dwayne. He couldn’t believe he’d taken Art. He’d probably want to make compositions out of his own snot and blood. In fact Davidde figured that Dwayne would probably prefer using Davidde’s snot and blood, or even Davidde’s internal organs if he could.
‘Dwayne. I’m so pleased you’ve chosen Art. You’ve got a lot of anger to channel.’
‘Aye, Miss. Watch this now!’ He proved her point by biting the head off his hedgehog, flicking his own head and letting go so the wet orange hedgehog head landed on Ceri Barlow’s new white shirt. (Her name was Ceri Barlow, but due to the fuss she made about the most trivial things
she was universally known as Ceri Fuss by staff and pupils.)
‘You’re disgusting!’ she shouted and ran out to get the clay off her shirt.
‘Dwayne, love, it was great when you made the sculpture, but it wasn’t so great when you spat it over Ceri. I’d like you to apologise while I speak to Davidde and Kaitlinn.’
Kaitlinn Trunk was the only person who did better than Davidde in their year in school. In some ways, they had a lot in common. They had both been brought up mostly by one parent, they were both usually the best in the class, and they’d both been given first names with eccentric spellings. Teachers had been stunned when the pair would spell onomatopoeia and diarrhoea faultlessly, when the parents clearly had more of a scattergun approach to spelling their children’s names. Maybe it was this that drove them on to do so well at school. Maybe. But the fact remained that they saw each other as rivals, and it was a battle that Kaitlinn would win; though in Art Davidde ran her very close. There were things Davidde could do with a pencil that Kaitlinn couldn’t dream of doing. One day Miss Pughes-Pervis
had run over a badger and killed it (she seemed to run over lots of animals when she was driving to school), and she went back for it to use as a still life exercise in class that day. She placed it artistically on a tablecloth and asked the class to look for the beauty in front of them. Somehow Davidde found it. He seemed to have a knack for drawing fresh roadkill that Kaitlinn couldn’t match.
‘I’m sooo delighted you’ve both taken Art. Art is the greatest thing. Good people take Art.’
‘Miss,’ Kaitlinn interrupted. ‘What about Hitler?’
Davidde tried not to roll his eyes. She was such a know-all.
‘What about him, Kaitlinn?’
‘Well, he was good at Art, Miss, I saw it on the telly, but he did a few bad things didn’t he?’
Miss Pughes-Pervis thought about this for a second.
‘Yes, I suppose he must have taken Art at some point in his education, that is correct.’ She frowned at the thought of someone being able to paint a decent picture and also being responsible for so much evil.
‘He did take Art, Kaitlinn, but he never took Art with me!
‘Now then you two, I’ve got some news. Seeing that you’ve both got so much talent, I’ve decided to try something different with you this year. It’s something I’ve never tried before, so you’re going to have to help me. I’ve decided that I want you to do the course in one year instead of two, because I don’t want you getting bored with the subject. There are three projects for you to do, and the first one needs to be completed before half-term in October. There will be a moderator coming in to look at your work, so it’s really important that it’s ready.’
‘But what will we do in the second year, Miss?’ demanded Kaitlinn.
‘We can do more advanced things – bolder ideas, bigger pictures, better roadkill!’ She seemed genuinely excited and left them to think about it, while she helped Dwayne get the clay out of his hair that Ceri Fuss had just put there.
‘Sounds like we’re being put under a bit of pressure,’ Davidde said.
‘Pressure? Pressure? You don’t know the first thing about pressure. Try being a woman on your
own in this valley like my mum. That’s pressure.’
‘I was only saying,’ said Davidde.
‘Don’t. You’re making yourself look pathetic. Pressure. I can cope with a little bit of pressure,’ she said. ‘I cope with it every day.’ She looked down her nose at him and then flounced off like an angry, red-haired horse.