A Life Less Scary
"The interesting and varied life of Scary Duck, Genius, French Cabaret Chantoose and small bets placed."
Wurzels: Feel my pain
Our junior school of the 1970s was incredibly forward thinking. We had our own school buses while other schools still had a man walking in front of a horse and cart with a red flag. We had a swimming pool while our nearest rivals were still jumping in puddles. We also had our own Outdoor Activity Centre, halfway up a mountain on the Welsh Borders years before they became fashionable.
All of this was down to the head teacher, the God-like David George, who loved his school, the kids and the village, and I was stunned to learn he’d died recently. Top, top, top fella.
As far as I can remember, Mr George had bought Oakdale - a clapped out old farm house - for the school around 1970 at some ridiculously low price, which may have included the bartering of some sheep and a pile of scrap metal. He’d done the place up, quite possibly out of his own pocket, in his own time and produced a homely little centre which could comfortably accomodate fourteen kids and a couple of teachers to do the kind of stuff you can’t get insurance for these days.
So, on any given Monday morning, a bunch of kids aged between eight and eleven asccompanied by a couple of teachers would pile themselves and their luggage into a converted ambulance and cart themselves off up the M4 to the Wye Valley.
Our parents tearfully waved us off at the school gate, before running off home for a “Thank God they’ve gone” party. The minibus had wooden bench seats, no seatbelts, and we all piled in on top of the bags, cases and junk. One lucky kid - judged the most likely to puke up - was allowed to sit up front, belt-less, with the teachers. It would be enough to give any solicitor a heart attack.
Mr Morgan - our Welsh wizard of a form teacher - slapped the school’s only music tape into the slot, and we would be treated to a “Now That’s What I Call Fucking Awful” musical compilation for the first of fifty-eight times that week. To this day, I still have nightmares about The Wurzels singing “I’ve got a Brand New Combine Harvester”, surely the work of Satan. And don’t get me started on JJ Barrie “singing” “No Charge”, the kind of saccharine-sweet bollocks that can only drive you to commit murder.
By Monday teatime, following an afternoon’s diversion at the SS Great Britain in Bristol we descended on the house. Seven to a room, be bagsied beds and settled in. Giggling could be heard and an eye appeared just above floor level.
The dreaded enemy! Girls! They’d found a hole in the wall of the boys dorm in the stairwell and were spying on us in the time-honoured fashion. And did we do anything to block it up? Of course not! Instead, Andy squatted down onto his haunches and let rip the most terrifying fart into the hole that only a farmboy like him could manage. It lasted for a good ten seconds and sounded like a motorbike going down the road outside.
There was a scream. “Miss! Miss! The boys are being dirty!”
Yeah, it was OK for them. They’d only been rumbled spying on the boy’s dorm, a stunt they repeated on a regular basis for the entire week. We had to live with the consequences of Andy’s pickled arse. And he didn’t stop. All week. Day or night. And the windows were stuck. In the end, he and his mate Simon were “allowed” to sleep in Mr George’s caravan out the back, much to our relief.
It was a week of doing dangerous stuff. Up mountains, through forests, down caves, over rivers, eating Miss Hilldrew’s cooking. We lived on the edge, and by and large, we escaped uninjured. Whatever the teachers were getting paid for their week of juvenile hell, it was nowhere near enough. We were wild, we were out of control, we were lucky to be alive. So, what did they do to keep us entertained of an evening? Our spartan accomodation didn’t have a TV. They took us down the pub. Corporate lawyer has heart attack...
With our teachers either cooking for the bunch of gannets nominally under their control, or just having a nervous breakdown somewhere private, we were allowed to wander the valley around the house virtually unsupervised. That was a Bad Thing. The sheep were worried, and so were the locals. They knew about us from previous visits, and we were frequently threatened with “I’ll make sure Mr George hears about this!” Did that stop us? What do you think?
Geoff led an assualt on the top of the valley to “see what’s on the other side”. Like adventurers, we followed him up and up through the bracken, heather and gorse, thrashing the undergrowth aside with sticks. Before long we reached the summit and took in the view. There was a telephone pole. And lots of trees.
“You git!” we complained. “We followed you all the way up here for this? It’s like... like... trees!”
He had to die.
It wasn’t Geoff’s fault, but he got a hail of “crow pecks” on his noggin for his pains. Steve, Steve and Simes had already started back to the house to see if there was anything worth smashing up down there. It was then that we found The Tyre.
It wasn’t huge, just something off the front wheel of a tractor. Not quite big enough for the old “stuff Geoff in the middle and roll him down the hill for knackering us out for nothing”, but it had possibilities. We were on top of a big, steep hill. It was round. We were young and open to temptation, and farmboy Andy was the first to get his hands on it.
With his shock of blond hair blowing in the wind, he hurled the thing down the valley. The first thing that happened was that it bowled Steve, Steve and Simes over like skittles, much to the amusement of me, Geoff, Andy and Mick.
It continued to pick up speed, ricocheting off rocks, trees and stumps, changing directions almost at will. Straight towards a farm house where a large, middle-aged woman in an apron stood in the garden taking in the day’s washing, surrounded by a brood chickens foraging for food round her feet.
Helpless, we knew what was going to happen. Fat Old Dear was going to wake up in some hospital in Chepstow with a tyreprint running up her front and down her back, and there was nothing we could do about it.
Vaguely aware of her impending doom, she looked up just in time to see black nemesis approaching with increasing speed, and her mouth took a vague “O” shape as if to scream, yet words failed her. The chickens, knowing that an appointment with the oven and a packet of sage and onion stuffing could be only seconds away, scattered. Like... err... chickens.
At the last moment, just as her doom - not to mention ours - looked sealed, the tyre hit a rock and bounced into the air. It sailed over the astonished Welsh housewife, tore the TV ariel off the roof and bounded on its merry way before landing with a resounding splash in the brook that ran the length of the valley bottom.
Caught like escaping airmen from Stalag Luft 17, we froze in the icy glare of Mrs Farmer. An old man, aged about 150, tottered out of the house on a walking stick.
“The damned TV’s broke”, he said, voice almost lost in the distance.
The lady said nothing. She just pointed up the hill. We scattered.
“I’ll tell Mr George about you, you see if I don’t” she bellowed with a voice that could flatten trees.
She did, too.
We confessed all, and put it down to a moment of collective madness.
A twinkle appeared in the old fella’s eye, and we knew we were off the hook.
“Such honesty cannot go unrewarded. Get out of my office before I change my mind.”
He even fixed the ariel out of his own pocket, too. See? Top, top school headmaster. You don’t find men like him every day.
While this story is based on actual events in the life of Scaryduck, certain identities and venues may have been changed to protect the innocent.