Wicked Uncle’s School Days

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School Fire

Wicked Uncle’s Schooldays
Dedicated to Freya and Esther who support us on Patreon.

Read by Richard.
Audio edited by Jana.
Story by Bertie.

And in case you are listening across the Pond, we should translate one word for you. If you put gasoline into your car, we call that Petrol.

Mum had to make 200 cucumber sandwiches before 3.pm. This wasn't a domestic duty. Of course, even the kids could not eat that many sandwiches after school. Her job was catering, and these were for an office party. She had just 19 to go when she noticed that her phone had three missed calls.
"Probably a nuisance caller," she said to herself as she returned to her cucumbers. Then her phone lit up again, and she realised that it was on silent. So this time she answered, "Hello," she said.
"It's the school office," said the voice on the phone. "The headteacher wants to see you about Jeremy at 4 pm."
"I'm sorry," said Mum, "I can't. I have a deadline for work."
"We expect parents to come into school when we ask them."
"It's not possible today. How about tomorrow?"
"I will ask the headteacher. She won't be pleased, though."
"Well, she ..." and Mum almost said something rude, which was highly unusual, but just in time, she steered the sentence in a different direction: "I will see her tomorrow. I'm busy right now. Goodbye."
As she returned to slicing the artisan loaf that she had baked herself, she muttered to herself, "Really, what a cheek! They treat the parents like children at that school."
Later that evening, when Mum returned with empty plates and 23 leftover sandwiches, she went up to Jeremy's room to ask what trouble he was in at school.
"Oh, it's so stupid," said Jeremy. "They are saying that I terrorised a boy because I made a joke about a ghost haunting the toilets. He's so traumatised that he can't go to the loo."
"Is there nothing more to it?"
"Yes, I promise, that's it. Of course, it was just a joke, but he took it seriously."
"Typical," said Mum. "The headteacher wanted me to miss a catering deadline to tell me this nonsense."
"Yes, typical," said Jeremy.

At the weekend, when Uncle Jeff and his girlfriend, Jessica, came round for lunch, the kids were complaining about how petty school was.
They listed some of the silliest rules, including:
Ties must be 30 cm long, and teachers measure them to make sure.
No sipping, even silently, from water bottles in lessons.
Blazers must be worn even on hot days.
And strangest of all, best friends are banned.

"Actually," said Jeremy, "I've just thought of an even stranger rule. You aren't allowed to make jokes about ghosts haunting the toilets."

"That is an unusual one," agreed Jessica.

"Uncle Jeff, was the school that you and Dad went to as weird as ours?" asked Jemima.

Uncle Jeff and Dad looked at each other, "Oh no," said Jeff. "And then they both said together, "It was far, far weirder."

"Really?" asked Jeremy and Jemima in disbelief.

"Yes, really," said Uncle Jeff gravely.

"So, what were your school rules back then?" asked Jemima.

"Well," said Jeff, "they weren't all quite as petty as yours. Nobody measured the length of your tie. And the rules weren't written down, so the teachers could make them up as they went along. But generally speaking, the rules were about big things like:

Don't leave any bombs under the school stage.
Don't burn the school down.
Don't smash up horse chestnuts.

"What was the point of those rules?" asked Jeremy. "Nobody would do any of those things anyway?"

"Well, Jeff was accused of all of them," said Dad.

"You were?" said Jeremy, deeply impressed.

"Do tell us more," pressed Jessica.

Mum looked uneasy. She hadn't allowed their dad to tell these school stories in case they made a wrong impression on the kids. But Jeff did not know about that house rule, and so he cleared his throat and revealed all.

"The incident with the bomb happened during the school nativity performance. I was playing the part of an Angel, believe it or not, and I had to appear on a lift that rose from under the stage. I had to wait under the stage all through the first part of the play, and I decided to look around. I removed some old dust covers and found what, at first glance, seemed to be a prop. Or was it? It certainly resembled a bomb of the sort that the German Luftwaffe dropped during WW2. In those days, there were still quite a few unexploded bombs being discovered. I had seen one on TV. I flicked it with my finger, and it rang out like solid metal. It was far too heavy to pick up. Even though I was only ten years old, I thought, "This is the genuine article," a phrase that our dad used to describe his discovery of rare stamps. So what could I do? I jumped on the lift and pressed the button to go up onto stage right in the middle of a sweet song about shepherds tending their flocks. "Clear Off, everyone," I shouted. "There's a bomb under the stage!"

I had to shout several times because nobody listened to me at first. Then, the headmaster, Mr Buff, pulled me off by the ear, and the audience applauded him.
"But there really is a bomb under the stage. I can show you," I insisted. Eventually, I persuaded Mr Buff to come and see what I was talking about. When I showed him the bomb, he was flabbergasted.
"Where did you get it from?" he demanded to know.
"Nowhere," I said, "I just found it."
He clearly did not believe me, but he had to evacuate the hall. Then, just as I had done, he went up in the stage lift and appeared as if by a miracle right in the middle of the innkeeper's scene.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he announced, "I'm afraid I must ask you all to leave and go home as swiftly as possible. And above all else, Remember the War Time Spirit and Don't panic!"

Our parents hadn't bothered to come to the school play, so we had to wait for them to pick us up. They were watching the final episode of a BBC drama called Tom Brown’s School Days, and they took their time. It was good for us because we were around to see an army bomb disposal team turn up and put a robot through its paces. It looked just like Dr Who's mechanical dog. They sent it in to make the bomb harmless. The army confirmed that I had discovered a WW2 Bomb that had fallen onto the school in 1940 or thereabouts. Some caretaker had covered it up and left it there all those years."

Here, Dad interrupted the story and said, "The teachers wanted to blame Jeff for the bomb, but they couldn't pin that one on him however hard they tried."

"They should have given you a medal," said Jessica.

"You would think they would have given me at least a house point or a gold sticker but instead, they put me in double detention for not reporting the bomb before the play began. They said my sudden announcement had brought the school into disrepute and spread undue alarm and dismay."

"Wow!" said Jeremy, nothing like that has happened at our school yet. What else did they punish you for?"

"Most often, for playing conkers," said Jeff.

"Conkers? What are those?"

"Horse Chestnuts - those shiny brown nuts you pick up in Autumn. We put them on strings, and we took turns swinging at each other's conkers. The conker that survived the longest was the winner. I had soaked one in vinegar all year, and it was so tough it was the school champion. It had smashed all-comers into smithereens! Mr Potter, the Maths teacher, tried to stamp on it, but even his famous boot couldn't flatten it, so he put me in detention."

"He liked stamping in general, as I recall," said Dad.

"Yes, he stamped on our feet as a punishment. At least once, he broke a boy's toe, but the school did nothing about it."

"How did he get away with it?" asked Jeremy.

"Those were the bad old days," said Jeff. "You moan about school now, but today's kids don't know what an easy peasy life they enjoy."

"And Jeff was given detention every time the school football team lost," said Dad.

"Poor old Jeff! How was that his fault?" asked Jessica.

"Because the sports teacher had made me captain of the First Eleven," said Jeff. "The headmaster was furious when he heard, and so every time we lost, he blamed me. He made long speeches in the school assembly denouncing the whole team and me as traitors and cowards. He went quite white with rage, and his lip trembled as he said,
"We went through the muck and filth of the war to make a better world for our children, and this… this is how you repay us? By losing three-nil against St Barny's Prep school? Is that the best you miserable lot can do?"

"I'm not surprised you were miserable," said Jessica.

"I wouldn't say we were," said Jeff. "All the suffering brought us together. We made good friendships."

"Didn't your parents complain?" asked Jessica. Dad replied, "The parents of other children complained all the time - even switched their little darlings to more humane schools, but ours weren't at all supportive. Our dad was mainly interested in his stamp collection, and our mother, your gran, was always unhelpfully ditsy. So when the teachers accused jeff of burning the school down, instead of saying that we were pony trekking in Wales at the time, she shook her head and said, "I always warn them not to play with matches, but boys will be boys."

"Burn the school down? How come?" asked Jeremy.

"It was a half-term holiday," said Jeff. "We were in Wales, and we used to joke how great it would be if the school burned down and we never had to go back. Well, as it happened, when we returned the following Monday, we found that half the school really had burned down. The Old Wing was just a pile of smoking timber and rubble. What's more, the police suspected arson."

"Arson?" asked Jeremy.

"Yes, that's when somebody deliberately sets light to a building," said Jeff.

"And of course, they wanted to blame your uncle," added Dad.

"Yes, the teachers immediately thought that yours truly, a ten-year-old boy, was the criminal with an oily rag and a box of matches. Of course, it was totally ridiculous, but they tried to pin it on me."

"What did they say?"

"Well, Mr Buff called me into the head teacher's study. He looked through the detention book and read out numerous crimes that I had been charged with in the past.

"Not reporting a WW2 bomb under the school stage soon enough, setting alight to a blade of grass with a magnifying glass, bringing matches to school - you seem to have a fatal attraction to fire - a proper young Prometheus in our midst."

"Excuse me, Sir, "I said, "I didn't bring matches to school, I found one on the ground and was about to put it in the bin when Mr Hobble caught me and put me in detention. Mr Hobble puffs on a pipe all day, and many of the teachers smoke like chimneys, so it was probably one of them who brought the match to school."

"How dare you accuse your elders and betters!" exclaimed Mr Buff. "That's exactly why you are under suspicion. You are insolent and rebellious through and through. We've given you countless chances to mend your ways, but I'm afraid we are flogging a dead horse by throwing pearls before swine. It's nine to the dozen that you are the culprit. I am putting your name forward as the prime suspect."

Shortly afterwards, one Detective Sergeant Blunt visited our home. Mum gave him tea and cake and said vague things like, "Jeff's always in trouble," and, "He's like a moth to the flame." and yes, the immortal line, "I always warn them not to play with matches but boys will be boys."

"So what happened next?" asked Jeremy.

"Well, they put up portacabins in the school playing field where we carried on with our lessons. They were always too cold or too hot, but kids were made of tougher stuff in those days. The teachers kept on dropping hints that I was to blame for the fire. It was getting under my skin, and I was finding it hard to sleep at night. So that's when your dad helped me out.

"How?" asked the kids.

"He suggested that we do some detective work. So, one day after school, we visited the local petrol station. We asked the owner if he recalled any school children filling up a petrol canister."

"No," he said, "I wouldn't sell petrol to youngsters. But I told the police that an old man with white hair filled up a caddy around the time of the fire."

"Did he say anything odd?" asked your dad - a natural-born Hercule Poirot.

"Yes," said our witness, "He muttered something about how he had gone through the war, and this generation was a bunch of softies."

"WoWzer!" we both exclaimed. "We know exactly who that is!"

Of course, nobody believed our story, but eventually, an absolute dream came true. Inspector Sergeant Blunt showed up at the school and put handcuffs on the headmaster. It turned out that Mr Bluff had burned down the Old Wing."

"Why did he do that?"

"The Old Wing was the original building of the school from 1876. It was historically interesting, and there was a preservation order on it. Mr Bluff had plans to modernise it with tasteful glass and concrete, but the local council refused. So he burned it down and claimed the insurance money. It was a stupid scam, and he got caught."

"What a day!" exclaimed Jessica. "I'm so proud of you, Jeff!"

"Well, I'm glad you are proud of me for not trying to blow up the school or burn it down," said Jeff. "I might be known as The Wicked Uncle, but I'm not quite that wicked."

And Mum sighed and said, "Thank goodness for small mercies."

"So kids," said Uncle Jeff, "Next time you feel like complaining about trifling school rules, remember that your generation has got it good."

"You sound a bit like your headmaster," said Jeremy.

And Uncle Jeff had to admit that every generation thinks that young people have it far easier than they did.

And that was ‘Wicked Uncle’s School Days’, read by me, Richard, for Storynory.com

And I’m delighted to dedicate this story to
Freya 5, and Esther, 3. Their mum, Amelia, writes, Freya is a massive fan of cats and Wicked Uncle (as am I). We are glad to be supporting you all.