Get Your Laugh­ing Tackle Around this

The Victoria Standard - - Food / Calendar - GE­ORGE SMITH

There was a young chap in the same year as me at board­ing school who was a quiet in­tel­lec­tual type. When­ever I went to the li­brary to find some so­lace and es­cape the tor­ment of life, there he would be. I had taken up read­ing since ar­riv­ing at this school. Pre­vi­ously, any at­tempts to open a book and de­ci­pher the marks therein had re­sulted in frus­tra­tion and tears. Why was it that ev­ery teacher, when need­ing some­one to read aloud to the class, would call my name first?

“Smith, stand prop­erly, don’t slouch, now turn to page 52 and read from where we left off last time.”

How the hell did I know where we left off last time? The page looked like a blur to me. “Er –em…” “Top of the page, boy!” “Er- ‘The’ I mean ‘This’ er ‘is a p-pr-o-fo-u-n—‘”

“Oh sit down, Smith. Rad­cliff, con­tinue please.”

Of course at­tempts had been made to rec­tify my lack of read­ing abil­ity, but all had only re­sulted in in­creas­ing my con­fu­sion and tor­ment. At one school, I had got on rea­son­ably well with one of the teach­ers who I think felt sorry for me. A few years af­ter I left, he asked if I would like to re­turn to the school for a visit.

“Hello, young man. It is so nice to see you. How are you? And do tell me how are your mother and fa­ther. Well, I hope?”

As he fin­ished speak­ing, he leapt to his feet and, as if by magic, had in his hand a book, which he thrust un­der my nose. “Open it! Read from any­where.” I sat in shock, the fear ris­ing up from my stom­ach as I opened the book. It was an early read­ing book for five year olds. I was, I think, eight or nine at the time. The page was a blur, I wanted to run. I stum­bled over a cou­ple of sen­tences be­fore his hand took hold of the book and my fear started to sub­side.

So at the age of 12, here I was fi­nally read­ing of my own vo­li­tion. I nat­u­rally grav­i­tated to the Nat­u­ral His­tory sec­tion, and this hap­pened to be be­hind where Clegg was al­ways sit­ting. Ev­ery time I stretched to take a Ger­ald Dur­rell book or have an­other look at “The Book of Mon­sters”, he would shuf­fle his chair and mut­ter, “I came in here to get some peace”.

One day he wasn’t there, so I took a book and sat in the seat he would nor­mally sit in. At sup­per­time, I saw him. He looked up­set. In fact, due to the red puffi­ness round his eyes, I sus­pected he had been cry­ing. “What’s up?” I asked. “I’m not go­ing home for the hol­i­days.”

He then ex­plained how his fa­ther was away in some coun­try as a diplo­mat, and that his mother was there with him.

“Mother says that they will see me at the end of the school year,” he said and started to sob. I just said it. It just came out. “Why don’t you come home with me for Easter?”

He looked at me, and he held the last sob.

“I will have to ask my par­ents, but that should be OK.”

I was start­ing to won­der what I had just said and thought maybe mum would say no. I didn’t ac­tu­ally know Clegg at all. Bartholomew Clegg had been known as Barty, but due to an un­for­tu­nate sound dur­ing a quiet pe­riod in Chapel, the “B” was changed to an “F”. He, for the most part, ig­nored his new nick­name, and I, like the teach­ers, stuck to the orig­i­nal “B”.

I wrote to my mother that evening and awaited her re­ply. It ar­rived by first-class post two days later. “Dear Ge­orge, You have a friend! Of course you must bring him to stay with us over the Easter hol­i­days.”

The let­ter con­tin­ued in the usual vein re­quest­ing in­for­ma­tion about my daily life and telling me how my sis­ters and brother were such splen­did chil­dren and telling me all about their lat­est ad­ven­tures. I would al­ways fold the let­ter and place it back in the en­ve­lope, while feel­ing jeal­ous and ever so slightly an­noyed.

To be con­tin­ued…

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