Do you like short stories?
Here are a few for you to enjoy. They mostly involve young people – well, young people come into the stories but sometimes they are about how older people get it wrong … or right. They all contain a challenge (I can’t write without suggesting how we might change things – it’s a failing of mine) but are also meant to make you laugh (or at least smile!) and I hope you do – because life, if it is to be worth anything at all, must be FUN at least some of the time.
In this first story Izzy’s father becomes a school governor.
“And finally, before we go into the head’s report, may we welcome to our school governors meeting Mr Plumber who has recently been elected to be parent governor in place of Mrs Smith who resigned last term.”
Derek Plumber forced a smile and raised his hand, awkwardly. He felt completely overawed in the august membership of the school’s governing body, where most of the members seemed to have prefixes other than a simple Mr, Mrs or Miss. Even the teacher-governor to his left, a young woman who exuded perfumed confidence, had signed against the name Mx Samantha Crowther. Sir Joseph, the chair, then called upon the head to make his report.
“Governors,” Dr Trench began, “I won’t spend long on unnecessary details…” Ten minutes later he was concluding his report. Derek was struggling to follow it. “… So you see the unfortunate GFTs have affected our KANGA rating, and added to the HTC staff FDN, we are at risk of finding our ourselves under SSM from the LFA within the next six months. To counter this threat I am proposing that we apply for DGF that will remove us from the ambit of the LFA, thus avoiding the SSM. This is item 5a on your agenda.”
“Thank you, Dr Trench,” said Sir Joseph. “I propose that we come to that item immediately after the report from the chair of the finance committee, as this will undoubtedly have financial implications. Cllr Downs, I hand over to you to present your finance report.”
Cllr Downs circulated six A4 pages of double-sided columns of figures which made no sense at all to Derek. “Don’t worry,” whispered Mx Samantha, seeing Derek’s confusion, “they’ll become clearer in a year or two.” Derek nodded, thankful that he didn’t appear to be alone.
After about five minutes of explaining the GHYT income and the deficit on the DRT, where the DSA payments were to be allocated and the amounts owing to the LFA in respect of the claw-back, he told them that the five-figure minus number on page six was only a notional sum, and not to be alarmed at. The governors breathed a collective sigh of relief. “And,” he smiled, “if we are granted DGF then money comes with it, and we may not even have to refund the LFA… Any questions?”
“May I ask what is the LFA?” asked Derek. Stares from around the table bore into him.
“No doubt you will have seen the glossary in the governors’ handbook. New governors soon pick it up. It might be useful to have it open in front of you in the first few meetings… Page 67,” said Sir Joseph, condescendingly.
“Er, thanks,” said Derek hoping that the floor would open up beneath him – or that he would wake from this nightmare.
“Well,” asked Derek’s daughter, Izzy, when he got in. “Do they know what’s wrong with the school, then?”
“What do you mean, ‘What’s wrong?’”
“Oh. Don’t be dense, Dad. You know what. The place is totally failing and sinking into an educational and financial hole the size of China… only China’s richer.”
Despite himself, Derek couldn’t help being cheered up by this outragious daughter. She definitely introduced a little sunshine wherever she went; although, he had to admit he was prejudiced by his love for her. “Governors’ meetings are confidential, Izzy.”
“Yeah. But just tell me whether they know… they do know don’t they? If you ask me, they want more of the, like, ‘ities’ and less of the ‘shuns’.”
“What are you talking about? I don’t think I should need to have a glossary to understand my own daughter!”
“Oh, Dad. They have given you a rough time haven’t they?… The ‘ities’ are those words that end in ‘ity’. Like ‘generosity’, ‘jollity’, ‘vitality’, ‘authenticity’… The ‘shuns’ are words like ‘oppression’,‘obsession’, ‘depression’, ‘station’…”
“Yeah. As in: ‘Get to know your station, girl. Don’t get cocky.”
“I hope you don’t cheek your teachers, Izzy Plumber?”
“Only if they lack the ‘ities’. We like Mx Sam because she has ‘integrity’, but Tricky Trench oppresses everyone to profit his own ambition.” Izzy laughed, “I will grant you he has one ‘ity’ though – ‘pomposity’.”
“Izzy! That’s rude. I’m sure they teach some really good things there.”
“Yeah. Like Shakespeare. They made us read Macbeth. It’s quite cool. We have likened all the characters to one of the members of staff. Tricky Trench is Macbeth of course, and ‘his senior mistress’ as he puts it, Miss Arkwright, is Lady Macbeth. The three witches are—”
“OK. Spare me the details, Izzy. I get the picture.”
“So they do know, don’t they?”
The next day, Derek re-read his governor’s handbook, and then the minutes of the previous meeting. For all the big words, initials and acronyms, he was sure they did know. The school was in a bit of a financial and quality depression that Dr Trench was attempting to fudge. The poor man. Derek was struggling not to think of him as Macbeth – and the inevitable tragedy that would ensue. Things were not as bad as Izzy made out, of course – but there were challenges that Derek thought he could help the governors address. His daughter, who never hesitated to say what she thought, had given him the courage he needed. At the next meeting he was determined to promote some more ‘ities’ – especially ‘humility’, ‘integrity’ and ‘transparen … city’.
In the meantime, he was sure Izzy needed to be a little less critical of the members of the staff – whatever their Shakespearian character traits – and spend more time in less pressured activities involving Personal Learning And Young, Independent, Non-directed Growth (PLAYING). He would also recommend that she seek less personal attention and concentrate a little more on the opportunities the school provided.
Youth leaders are very special people – they are not like teachers and certainly not like parents! In this story we hear how Dave operates.
Evelyn sighed. This was just the thing she could do with out right now. Dave the youth leader had come up with a game that involved pinning a piece of paper to people’s backs, adding a paper clip and arming everyone with a felt-tip pen.
“OK,” said Dave. “What you do it find someone – anyone – and write on the bottom of the piece of paper on his or her back a quality you associate with them. Use no more than three words. Then fold it over so that no-one else can see it and secure it it with the paper clip. Then find someone else and do it again – rolling the piece of paper up again.” Dave showed them an example of one that he had done earlier. “Make sure you don’t write too big so as to leave plenty of room for everyone… oh, and you can only write on anyone once! There are twelve of you, so leave room for twelve lines… remember no more than three words.”
Evelyn was feeling down. She was a musician – a pretty good musician. So good that she had recently auditioned for a performing arts college – a place where she had always hoped to get into from being thirteen. Her parents were dead keen on it, too. But she had fluffy it – well, not exactly fluffed it. She was simply turned down. Turned down! The interviewer said that they were pleased with what they heard, but it was not quite what they wanted. She recommended that Evelyn applied the following year. Evelyn was gutted. That was two weeks ago and now this.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the room, Skye was also dreading the exercise. Unlike Evelyn, who she though was super-talented, she felt she had very little in the way of accomplishments. She couldn’t play an instrument – couldn’t even seem to sing in tune. Her father said she didn’t have any rhythm and had given up trying to teach her to dance. Her parents were ballroom dancing champions but Skye was in her father’s words, a ‘disappointment’. In fact Skye was not much good at most things – for English, Maths and Science she was in the bottom set. Some of the kids at the youth centre were cool – but Skye had long since given up on trying to impress anyone. She only went along to the club because she liked Dave, and because she also loved Jesus who sometimes seemed to be on the wrong side of people and whom she had been told was her friend. She had talked to Jesus for years – and, somehow, he felt close to her – so she persisted with the church club where the kids were definitely kinder to her than most of the others at school. But this game was stupid. Who would write anything her back?
The game began. She looked around and found someone that had a blank sheet on his back. Rog had been kind to her, so she wrote: “kind and gentle” on his back and was just pinning up his paper when she felt someone write something on her back. She couldn’t see who it was. Then in fron of her, she saw Evelyn. Her back was free. Skye liked Evelyn. Once when they were on a picnic she had waited for her while everyone else had finished and were up playing with a football. Evelyn had just talked while she chomped and Evelyn had thought that was nice. She wanted to write ‘patient’ but she could remember how to spell it. In the end she guessed and wrote, “payshunt”.
The game continued until everyone had written on everyone else’s back. Then Dave sat them all down in a circle and asked if they would like to see what people had written. They could just take them home if they didn’t want to look now.
“No time like the present,” said John, who was popular and couldn’t wait to see what nice things people had to say about him. Soon everyone was looking at their papers. Evelyn began to cry. Instinctively, Skye put her arm around her shoulders. “It’s alright Evelyn. What have they said? Is it all wrong?”
“No,” sobbed Evelyn, “it’s quite the opposite. I know what I’m going to do now… I’ll tell you after,” she whispered to Skye.
Skye looked at her paper. “Wow! She hadn’t realised how much people appreciated her. She read: “good listener”, “loves old people”, “never gives up”, “thinks of others”, “great smile”, “quiet and ace”. She knew who had written that. To John everything was either “ace” or “yuk”. She smiled at him. She had written, “cheers you up” on his back.
At the end of the session, Evelyn told Skye the game had settled her future.
“How’d you mean?” asked Skye.
“I thought I wanted to become a musician in some great orchestra – or even a soloist. But having read these things I know what I am going to do. I am not going to reapply for the perferming arts course, I am going to go to clearing to see if I can get into teaching.
“You would be a great teacher! You’re so patient,” exclaimed Skye immediately. She so wonderful with kids and you’re so patient. My dad told me I couldn’t sing, but you got me to learn that thing we all had to do last Sunday, and I did it.
“You can sing. All you have do is believe in yourself.”
“After that game, I think I know what I’m going to do,” smiled Skye. “I’m going to work in the old people’s home. The manager has already asked me, but I wasn’t sure I could so it.”
“Now you are. Great! So you are going to work with the old folk and I with the young. You know I was dreading that game.”
“So was I… That’s Dave’s gift isn’t it?”
“He knew we needed a boost. He’s so wise.”
“Yeah. And cool.”
How do you judge the worth of a friend? Read on.
“Now,” said the teacher firmly, “take out your library books and we’ll have twenty minutes of silent reading.”
Louise liked reading. She enjoyed this time of quiet – especially today when she had a really good book. It wasn’t too difficult to read, and she liked the people in it. But, Cindy, who sat opposite her on her table, did not like this silent reading. She didn’t like quiet, it was dull. Cindy liked to be entertained, and reading for herself was a chore she could do without. She decided to amuse herself by pushing Louise’s book with her pencil. Louise had rested her book on the table in front of her between her elbows – her face in her hands – and was deep into the story.
Louise looked up and gave Cindy a cross look. Cindy stuck her tongue out at her. She waited until Louise had started reading again and then pushed the book once more. Louise was mad at her.
“Stop it,” she whispered.
“I’m not doing nothing,” Cindy mouthed.
“You are, so stop it.”
Miss Brown came over to the their table, looked at Louise and said, “Louise, I said no talking.” Cindy looked down at her book and pretended to read.
As soon as Miss Bates had gone, Cindy put her foot on top of Louise’s under the table, and pressed down hard – all the while looking at her book.
“Cindy, just stop annoying me!” whispered Louise again.
It was too much for Miss Brown. Cindy had not said a word, or even looked at Louise, but Louise had spoken twice and the whole class was now disturbed.
“Out the front where I can see you!” ordered the teacher. “Bring your book… Stand there in the corner.”
Louise was forced to stand in the corner in full view of everyone and read for the next quarter of an hour. She felt her face burn. The whole class was looking at her. After the lesson Miss Brown ordered Louise to do detention.”
“After you have eaten your lunch, you will come back here and I will find some sums for you to do.” Louise was not so keen on sums as she was reading. She almost cried, and would have done if she hadn’t known that people were staring at her. Life was so unfair.
During lunch, Cindy was triumphant. The boring reading lesson had been such fun seeing Louise suffer. “Enjoy your sums,” she mocked.
Louise went back in to do her detention but her friend Mark went with her.
“Where are you going? I have to do detention.”
“I’m coming too.”
“I can. I spoke in the lesson, too.”
“No you didn’t.”
“I did. You couldn’t hear me, and neither could Miss Brown, because I said things in my head.”
“That’s not speaking.”
“Yes, it is. I said, ‘Miss Brown, that’s not fair. You didn’t see what Cindy did’.”
They had reached the classroom and Miss Brown was sitting at her desk.
“Good. I’m surprised at you Louise. I thought you liked reading?… What are you doing here, Mark?”
“I said things instead of reading too, Miss.”
“I didn’t ask you to come.”
“No, Miss. But it isn’t fair that Louise should be punished and not me.”
Miss Brown didn’t argue. “Well you had better both do the sums then. Page twenty-one – hundreds, tens and units.”
“These are hard, Miss,” said Mark who hated arithmetic even more than Louise. “Can we do them together?”
Miss Brown was strict but she knew Mark was trying to be kind. Her heart softened. “Alright,” she said, “but you are not allowed to talk about anything else.”
“No, Miss,” they both said in turn.
That afternoon, Cindy was looking forward to teasing Louise for being cross and upset. But, to her amazement, Louise was happy and chirpy and paid no attention to her at all – not even when Cindy did everything she could to distract her again. But Louise had found a true friend who had noticed her hurting, and was willing to give up his lunch break to do sums with her – even though it was probably harder for him than for her.
Louise was happy and had forgotten all about Cindy being nasty in the morning. Cindy had had some cheap fun, but people who are thoughtful make the deepest impression. People never forget that sort of kindness.
That afternoon it was Cindy, not Louise, who felt cross and upset… and stupid too.
These next two stories form a pair. It shows how important grandparents are, and how important it is that they should listen to the changing times in which their grandchildren are living. Children are not made for their parents and grandparents, rather their parents and grandparents are there for them.
By the way a “boîte à bijoux” is a jewelry box while a “poubelle” (you’ve guessed it) is a dustbin!
Debbie’s Letter to Mami
- O So there’s nothing, like, out of the ordinary about having to write to your grandmother. I know many kids have to do it. It’s, like, your grandmother (who is never interested in what you find cool about the world, and doesn’t care about the things that you care about) has this thing about you. I mean she has to be so personal – always on about the way you behave, what you wear, how well you perform at school, the emergence of ‘family values’ and stuff. So she gives you something for your birthday that she thinks you ought to have, rather than want.
Well, my grandmother is French. I mean she’s lived in the same village in Normandy all her life. My father somehow escaped to Paris where he met my mother (who comes from Bristol) and fell in love. Apparently Mami (that’s what I have to call her) went ballistic; but Dad embraced the opportunity of being free – not just from all things Lower Normandy, but all things French too. Mami was not amused. The English are in second place only to the Germans in terms of undesirable foreigners. Her hero is Napoleon – who she reckons history has totally misunderstood. And she keeps banging on about laicité – whatever that means.
Well Mami has never visited us in Bristol, but we have to go to her home twice a year – and it’s, well, frankly boring. Me and my sister just have to sit around, be good… and speak French to Mami, who is constantly sighing at the fact that however well we do… well, we’re just not French! Then we have to “aller jouer” most of the time – she doesn’t really want us around except as “petits enfants pour la succession ‘Dubois’”. And as far as I can work out, Dubois is not a line that’s on the brink of dying out – except, of course, in the village. In any case, being female, when I marry I’ll no longer be Dubois. It’s the best thing about getting married.
There are only two other children our age who live in the village – brothers. It was OK when we were small, but now I’m thirteen I don’t particularly want to “play” with spotty French petits garçons who are not petits these days. Actually I reckon Mami has a secret hope that me and my sister will somehow fall in love with these brothers, and abandon all the world to come and live back in the ancestral village. No chance! It’s not that the Dubois family (i.e. Mami) owns a château, just a small chaumière – that’s a smelly thatched cottage – on the point of falling down, Dad says. Anyway I’m not going to marry for yonks; I want to go places – places that some of my school friends get to go on their holidays, and beyond.
But, coming back to this letter. I have to write to Mami to thank her for the broach she sent me for my birthday. It’s an ugly bronze caste of Marianne and the words, Liberté, Égalité and Fraternité. Does Mami think I’m ever going to wear it?! Some hopes. The thing is, I have to write in French. I ask you? How many kids of thirteen outside France have to do this? I begin, as always, “Chère Mami. Je t’écris pour te remercier pour ton cadeau formidable. Il prendra la place d’honneur dans ma boîte à bijoux…” poubelle more like!
Louise’s Letter to Mami
My father is French. This is cool because it means me and my sister have got to speak French from being little. When I moved up to the secondary school, I didn’t have French lessons like the others in my class but was given French books to read that some of the students were studying for GCSE. The teacher didn’t expect me to write essays on them like the year elevens, but just enjoy them. He also used me to help the others in spoken French – cool.
Anyway my Dad’s mother lives in Normandy, and I’m just writing her a letter to say thank you for my birthday present. She lives on her own, and loves to come over and visit us in Bristol. She’s always here for Christmas because she says it isn’t fair that we should have to go to her when Santa Claus is bringing us our presents at home. But we do go to her for 6th January if we can, because in Normandy that is Le Fête des Rois when the three kings arrive at the crib. The village has a big party that always has a special apple pie with a bean in it. If you get the bean you get to be the king or queen of the feast. My Dad got the bean last year and they gave him a cardboard crown; then he chose me to be his queen and we sat on special chairs.
There are not many kids living in the village, but next door to Mami is a family living in a converted barn with two boys the same age as me and my sister. On Sundays at the church we sit with them, and go out with them to a Sunday school that’s kind of fun. But now we’re thirteen, the eldest invited me to go with him to a youth club in the town. I felt a bit awkward. Their French was kind of hard at first, but the leader made a fuss of me and I was given loads of French stuff to eat. The French know how to eat. Dad says, “En Grande-Bretagne on mange pour vivre, mais en France on vit à manger!”1 As far as I can make out, it’s almost true.
Mami is a great present buyer. You can get stuff in France you can’t in the UK. I look forward to the parcel coming every year. Sometimes there are fantastic chocolates, other years you can tell it’s toiletries before you open it because of the sweet smell. Last year, when I was twelve, I got a very small bottle of scent that made me feel really grown up. This year, though, Mami asked me what I would like, so, as I am into reading French a lot these days, I asked her to get me a bible in French – so I could, like, compare it to the English. And she sent me this wonderful book with wooden covers. It’s beautiful. So I am writing to her to say thank you for it.
“Mami. Quelle merveilleuse surprise. Tu m’as donné la plus mignonne bible dans le monde. Je l’adore, et je vais le lire tous les jours. Merci mille fois…”2
1.In Britain we eat to live but the French live to eat.
2.What a wonderful surprise. You’ve given me the cutest bible in the world. I love it and I’m going to read it everyday. Thanks a million.
Copyright © 2017 Trevor Stubbs