The Well

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
1960's primary school. A little boy loses his dinner money, a dilemma ensues.

Submitted: March 31, 2017

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Submitted: March 31, 2017

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The Well by Paul Davey

 

Mum walked me down the hill and round the corner, as she did every day, and there it was St Mary’s Primary School in Lewisham. It seemed huge at the time but I drive by it now and then and it looks like one of the smallest schools on the planet. I wore a very smart school uniform and had my brown leather satchel slung casually over my shoulder. I was only six.

 

I don’t remember too much about my time at St Mary’s as our family moved to Ashford in Kent when I was eight, so I have about three or so years of memories most of which by now have dissipated into the ether.

 

I can remember spitting on the playground, god knows why, I probably saw someone else do it and thought “wow, that’s cool,” and copied. I don’t think I used the word cool but it was the sixties and I like to think that I did; no I definitely didn’t, I was only six at the time. I was dragged, sobbing to the headmistress by one of the teachers and got a severe telling off.

 

I can remember a friend, his name was Emmanuelle Skinner, a black boy, very energetic, nowadays I’m sure he’d be classed as hyperactive, and instead of saying elastic band he would say “ladder band”, why this has stuck with me I do not know.

 

I can remember singing ‘Yellow Submarine’ in scripture lessons, not sure what the connection between Ringo’s song writing effort and religion was but it happened, believe me. I can remember a very bold girl showing the boys her knickers under the dinner table, and lumps of sugar with polio vaccination, and whacking a cricket ball over the school wall. I won a drawing competition by sketching Tarzan fighting a crocodile. The prize was a book all about American Indians.

 

But, the one memory I can always recall with more detail than the others is this:

 

One sunny morning, while I was sitting at my desk and listening out for my name to be called from the register I was playing around with my dinner money on top of the desk lid. In 1965, pre decimalisation, the weekly dinner money cost was ‘Half Crown’, aka two and sixpence and more recently about twelve and a half pence. The ‘half a crown’ was in the form of a single coin.

 

The coin was spinning and motoring around the desk lid like a racing car. I was enjoying the distraction when all of a sudden this silver racing car drove along the pen-groove and into the empty inkwell. My enjoyment stopped right there. It didn‘t take me long to figure out that the diameter of both the ‘Half Crown’ and the inkwell were virtually identical and it didn’t take me long to figure out that I was in trouble, big and embarrassing trouble. I momentarily froze. 

 

A while ago, as a trivia fact, someone told me that children do not sweat but I’m sure that I was sopping wet with a cold-sweat as my stubby five year old fingers were panicking to prize the coin from the bottom of the inkwell. The lead on the end of my only pencil snapped as I used it as a makeshift lever, my plastic ruler was completely the wrong shape and then my attention returned to the teacher’s voice sternly calling out every name very clearly.

 

As each name was called so each child would walk up to the teacher’s desk and hand over their dinner money.

My name was called out…..

 

Mr Bell, to me at the time, was a huge man. He was tall and slight chubby with a freckly, ruddy complexion, which increased in ruddyness when he got angry. When he did get really angry he used to slobber and spray a little, he had those dribbly wet look lips that inevitably sprayed when riled. His hair was parted on one side and was combed and styled with Bryl-Cream, he looked a bit greasy. He wore the standard fudge brown tweedy jacket with teacher’s leather elbow patches. The look was completed with a beige shirt, a brown non-descript tie and beige crimplene trousers. I remember that he was from Canada, maybe that’s why my sketching prize was a book about American Indians.

 

….I didn’t answer.

 

I knew my name very well by the ripe old age of six but I didn’t have the maturity to confess to my little mishap, I could have said “I am awfully sorry Mr Bell I seemed to have accidentally dropped my dinner money into the inkwell and cannot retrieve it. Would you mind assisting me old chap?” But I was only six and not a very confident six year old at that.

 

My chosen response was silence but somehow Mr Bells’ ‘teachers’ radar knew it was me or maybe my silent sobbing spilt the beans, he probably remembered my name from previous days though. He looked up, stood up and strode towards my tiny desk with tiny me sitting at it. He was Sasquatch, a BFG, he’d just climbed down from the beanstalk and he was striding in slo-mo towards my desk, lips on the verge of dribbling. Faces of the rest of the class turned like a Mexican wave in my direction as Mr Bell came closer.

 

He arrived at my desk and glared down at me, he didn’t seem angry and his increasable ruddyness was under control. In fact I seem to remember his facial expression was between expressionless and ‘oh how tedious’. With a rumbling thespian McKellen-esque voice all he said was, “Paul Davey.” As I tearfully stared back up at his immense freckly face I pointed a quivering finger at the inkwell. I looked up again. Surely he couldn’t cook and eat such a cute six year old boy with big glistening brown eyes and blond hair. Could he? Mr Bell peered down into the blackness and saw the racing car crashed and steaming deep within the abyss, he saw the illusive ‘Half Crown’ glinting like buried treasure, he looked at me and then back at the inkwell once again.

 

How was he going to extract the trapped coin? Did he have a special magnet designed especially for lifting coins, was he going to place his wet lips around the circumference of the ink well and suck it out or would he just use his magical ‘Giant’ powers. I could see no obvious solution.

 

With Gulliver like hands he grasped hold of the desk, ensuring the lid stayed closed, and turned the complete thing over. The little silver racing car fell from the inverted inkwell followed by a small cloud of fluffy dust. He set the desk down, picked up the coin and headed back towards his own desk without so much as a look of sympathy or understanding in my direction. Just calm and collected, all in a days work.

 

He sat down and called out the next name.

 

I would imagine that Mr Bell has probably forgotten this incident by now but it sticks with me like fluffy dust in an ink well.

 

The End


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