Steve Mason and the Last Day of School (Part One of Two)
This is the fourth entry in the series of stories at: https://www.abctales.com/collection/steve-masons-school-days
Steve Mason and the Last Day of School (Part One of Two)
The teenager bent low, his back arched, eyes looking down the shaft of a pool cue. A little bit of check-side should pot the ball and line up the next shot nicely. His friends watched on from their stools, pint glasses now half full, beer mats on the shelf soaked where drink had been spilled. Rays of sunshine breached the thick glass window that was stained in a Banks’s Bitter advertising slogan on its lower half. Dust moats floated in the air, contrails of a kind in a saloon filled with happiness. That afternoon could have gone on forever. If only those moments could be frozen for posterity and relived over and over again. Of course, the reality is they can; if memory allows.
Steve “Stevo” Mason had enjoyed being away from school since taking his final exam in June. The world felt very different these days. He had decisions to make including whether to take up an offer from Liverpool Polytechnic for a degree in business studies should he achieve the required grades. Today would provide clarity, what with results being released. It meant a bus journey to Aston to pick up a sealed envelope at the school. A dreary journey was spent staring out of a window on the top deck of the number 998 noting again how elderly passengers avoided seats upstairs fearing young hooligans roaming the aisles. The back seat always seemed to be taken by troublemakers.
Steve made the walk from the bus stop at Five Ways now gliding along Frederick Road towards the buildings that made up King Edwards Grammar School for Boys. A sodium sun arced higher in a blue sky that featured only an occasional cloud as a summer morning drifted towards noon. Old Victorian terraced houses flanked both sides of the street, some with iron plaques still screwed on facia denoting date built; invariable the late 1800s. A young Indian woman wearing a purple sari locked her front door as she turned to leave, glancing at Steve as he strode past.
The closer he got, the more people he could see milling about on the pavement and in the road that separated parts of the school. On his left was a modern, square building that had rows of glass-paned windows like an office block whilst to his right was a traditional red-brick amalgam of classrooms. He joined the steady flow of visitors at the steps that led to the assembly room at the back and the adjacent dinner hall that he had queued at numerous times during school days. Christmas roast dinner was always everyone’s favourite even if the stuffing tasted like cardboard. Chocolate concrete covered in custard for pudding was always a life saver after a hard morning’s slog (or not) in lessons.
Prefects milled between a row of double-doors acknowledging arrivals and ushering them through and into the building. All were wearing black school blazers, scarlet and blue striped ties signalling conformity. They were first-year sixth formers; the chosen ones. Looking for friendly faces, Steve spotted little Michael “Micky” Nix standing to the side by the doors to the canteen. There was a small queue at the temporary tables that had boxes perched on them containing thin brown envelopes organised in alphabetical order. Overseeing proceedings was Mr Checker, the balding geography teacher and assistant head along with trendy Mr Cohen, the RE teacher and man in charge of the school discos.
An intermittent flow of boys approached taking their sealed documents like reluctant eagles swooping to steal eggs from nests. Most had a look of trepidation on their faces. Steve had feelings of apathy; it had been a tricky couple of years negotiating the Sixth form and everything that went with it. As much as today was a gateway to the rest of his life, one of the numerous revision books he had bought had included a philosophical statement that had resonated. It went something along the lines of:
“..should you fail an exam, it simply means taking a different path in life. As one door closes, another door opens.”
Not that he wanted to blow anything but it was a possibility; physics had been a bastard.
“Going up then, Micky?” Steve dispensed with a greeting and gave a nod and a faint smile as he encouraged his friend to take the pain and queue.
“You look confident, Stevo. In the bag is it?” Micky was short for his age. Fresh-faced with freckles, he was neatly turned out in a grey V-neck jumper and black trousers. This was in contrast to Steve’s t-shirt dedicated to The Jam and blue jeans. A boy with long, straggly hair wearing an ankle-length, fur-lined sheepskin coat shuffled past both of them. He had a blank look on his face as well as the start of a wispy beard and shrugged as he took his envelope.
Both teachers looked at each in a wordless stare. They knew that, this day of all days, would result in a gamut of emotions. Margaret “Maggie” Thatcher had just won the general election by a landslide bringing a Conservative government into power. She had been elected following a decisive victory in the Falklands in 1982 and was promising a focus on economic growth that would reduce unemployment from the current high number of three million. It was a daunting backdrop to start out in work even for the crème de la crème of King Edward’s.
“Alright Rob.” Steve offered as the boy-cum-hippy strode past, seemingly not hearing.
Waiting at the doors was a girl attired similarly except she didn’t wear a headband tied off at the side like her boyfriend. It was like watching a Jimmy Hendrix tribute duo. Steve and Micky moved to get a better view of the odd couple disappearing down the road. They were open-mouthed as Rob Applegate ripped open the envelope, glanced briefly at the contents then tore up the slip of paper, threw it over his shoulder and marched on with his arm around his partner’s waist and she with her arm folded around him. It was touching, moving and very rebellious, their respective fur-lined coats drawing curious expressions from those attending school and locals at the same time.
As the couple faded away around a corner and into Aston Park, two more boys skipped up the steps to join Steve and Micky. David “Fishy” Fish had short-cropped, black hair, round glasses and was wearing a white shirt and tight black jeans. Kevin “Kev” Adams was a natural ginger with flame-red hair, obligatory face full of freckles and an intellect that set him aside from his peers. His red and black, cotton chequered shirt made him look like he was trying to find a hoe down rather than pick up exam results.
“Come on lads, what time do you call this?” Steve grinned noting Micky’s wince at the jibe sparking thoughts about his long-time bud. He remembered how Michael preferred to avoid situations of conflict and how he had managed to negotiate senior school years by merging into the background. The little lad was rarely seen alone and offset his diminutive stature by surrounding himself with others. There was that time he had been picked on by a first year boy in the playground. The grunt was quite a bit younger but also quite a bit bigger than Micky who successfully talked himself out of a jam. That was the closest he ever got to a fight
“Have you been in yet?” David Fish spoke with a low mumble. He wasn’t always easy to understand.
“Nah….let’s all go in together.” Micky’s appeal was softly spoken and accepted by all. They formed a loose grouping and headed towards the tables. Steve trailed the rest, lost in a mild malaise. His arms swung carelessly at his sides as he loped in long strides. Other than cross-referencing names with envelopes there was little in the way of social exchanges between the boys and teachers on duty albeit the latter did make an attempt at pleasantry with a functional “good morning” and a flashing smile. It did little to defuse the tension of the occasion.
Image free to use at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Edward_VI_Aston_School#/media/File:KE...