Why getting hit with a dictionary isn't always a bad thing
I think this has been responsible for two things:
a) not growing any taller than 5 foot 2 inches since that date;
b) loving words and becoming an English teacher/writer/teacher/writer/teacher/writer/it all depends on how the day has gone as to which label I prefer.
He had reason, though. I'd just sent his wife two-dozen roses.
My friend Catherine and I had decided to bunk off school. We hid round the corner until the school bus had disappeared (sans us) and then raced back to her house. Her mum and dad had gone to work, so we made a stack of toast and jam which we ate with giant mugs of hot chocolate, and then we sat with our feet up on the coffee table, feeling brave and bad and excited about the exciting day ahead in which we'd do all kinds of exciting things and have exciting conversations and be excited.
And there we sat.
And we sat some more.
And we made more hot chocolate.
And more toast.
Then, Catherine said, 'What time is it?'
'Only nine-thirty,' I said.
'Oh,' she said, and yawned.
The truth was, we didn't like each other much, Catherine and I. That's what they say, isn't it, that you can choose your friends but you can't choose the kids who go to the school on the same bus as you. We still hadn't quite made it up since the day I'd gone to her house one Saturday evening as we were going to a disco together and, when I realised I'd forgotten to bring my deodorant, she refused to lend me hers, so I had to go without. All night, I backed away from anyone who came near me, just in case I smelled. And I danced as though I had rigormortis, so that I didn't sweat. That kind of thing is hard to forgive when you're fourteen and you have to keep backing away from David Riley, and even now I buy four deodorants at a time and keep them at the back of a drawer, just in case.
Anyway, licking our jammy fingers, Catherine and I started thinking about what we could do for the day. Then I had an idea.
'Why don't we ring up the local flower shop and order a big bunch of red roses for Mr Caine's wife?'
Mr Caine was our Geography teacher. We knew his address; he didn't live far from us. He was an okay guy, but anyone who gets excited about maps of the world coloured according to economic status or about contours on maps of Wales deserves to feel pain.
When I suggested the flower shop thing, Catherine tried hard to claim that she'd been thinking the exact same thing, but she wasn't convincing. I'd seen her eyes widen when I'd said it.
We rang the local florist and I put on my best grown-up voice, ordered two-dozen red roses to be delivered to Mr Caine's wife at home, with a little card to be written, saying something like, 'Darling, you're my favourite territory.' I told the shop assistant it was a private little joke of theirs, and I said Mrs Caine would pay for the flowers on delivery. (This was 1976. People trusted you then.)
Well, flower shop assistants did. But Headteachers didn't, especially if you'd proved yourself entirely untrustworthy already. Which we had. So we were found out pretty quick. Our combined absence, a phone call to the school from Mrs Caine and a phone call to the florist from the Headteacher, and our happy fossicking in toast and cocoa was over. Our parents were called, unbeknown to us, and Catherine's dad turned up from work to find us sitting amongst cold crusts and dirty mugs and copies of Jackie magazine, giggling to ourselves over our amazing idea.
It took Catherine and I a long time to pay back the price of the roses. It was a very grown-up sum and neither of us got much more than a few pence pocket money each week. That was a poor year for Sherbet Dips.
And the day after the flower incident, I went into school and met Mr Caine in the corridor. I was hoping not to catch his eye, so I tried to sneak past, but he turned round just as I thought I'd got away and WHAM! did he hit me hard with that dictionary! As I blinked in shock and held onto the wall for support, he just said something like, 'Stupid child' and moved on down the corridor.
Ask me to point out a hill in Wales on a map and I'm just as likely to point out a valley, or just a crease in the map.
But I'm addicted to dictionaries. And I have Mr Caine to thank for that.
Although I'm not so happy about the stunted growth thing.