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by Huw Jones

Chapter 15

The following morning Huw woke at 7am as usual. He lay in bed reviewing the previous day's events particularly the time he had spent with Gareth and later with Valerie. Valerie had been very concerned to hear about what had happened to Gareth and she told Huw how proud she was of him and what he did. What Huw didn't realise was that Valerie knew just how much Gareth had become a significant stabilising feature in Huw's life and how his removal would upset a very delicate equilibrium. She resolved to talk to Gwyn Evans about the situation, as he clearly understood Huw well.

The next day Huw did not want to go to school and so he told Valerie that he had a bad headache. She had half expected this to happen so she told him to take a couple of aspirin and go into school. Realising that she was a formidable adversary, he reluctantly got out of bed and began to get ready. While he was in the bathroom, she glanced at her watch. She could probably catch Gwyn at home and speak to him on the phone. Fortunately, she got through straightaway and brought Gwyn up to date with the situation.

"Thanks for that, Valerie," said Gwyn thoughtfully. "Would it be okay with you if I invite him around for a meal tonight and as it's Friday would you have any objection to him staying overnight?"

"Not at all, I think it would be good for him to be with you although I suspect he will want to go and see Gareth in hospital this evening. I think I'd better tell him we had this phone call and then he can put together his washing stuff and clothes for tomorrow."

Gwyn was very pleased with the suggestion. "That's an excellent idea and if he's happy, I think I'll come with him to the hospital. The weather forecast is good for tomorrow, so I think we'll try to go out with all the family and get him back to you about nine-ish." They ended the call with Valerie feeling considerably relieved that Huw had somebody he could talk to about these difficult issues.

When Huw came down to breakfast, Valerie told him about her concern and the fact she had spoken with Mr Evans. She explained that Gwyn had invited him for the evening and for the following day and asked him to take his clean clothes and washing stuff to school with him that day. Huw was a little annoyed that these things were going on behind his back, but secretly pleased that he would have the opportunity for a talk with Gwyn and a day with the family.

Huw timed his arrival so that he did not have to speak to anyone before school and he heard the bell ringing as he locked his bike. He shuffled into the assembly hall with all the other pupils, attracting curious glances from those who wondered what had happened to him after his outburst the previous day and his disappearance for the rest of the day.

Huw was the only pupil present not surprised that Dr Grey was not standing on the stage when the assembly began. The Deputy Head walked to the lectern and the brief religious service took place in the usual manner. He looked up to the boys in front of him and paused for several seconds before addressing them.

"The Governors of the school and I have been reviewing the serious incident that took place the day before yesterday in the changing rooms and following that investigation they have instructed the teaching staff to adopt a new policy. That policy is that bullying in any form whatsoever, physical or emotional, will not be tolerated at Bath Road School. For far too long there have been too many instances of bullying of pupils who were not in a position to defend themselves. I'm told that there has been physical bullying with instances of younger pupils being assaulted in the lavatories and having their heads pushed down toilets; there has been damage to pupils' property and pupils knocked over or books knocked out of their hands. There has been name-calling far beyond the teasing which we might accept as a normal part of life, cruel and hurtful name-calling which has caused deep and lasting hurt.

"On behalf of all the staff here, I want to apologise to all the victims of such bullying and I say to you that… from today we will not allow any sort of bullying, intimidation, threats, coercion, oppression or cruelty to take place on these premises. All prefects are instructed to report any such incidents to me or to any of the staff and you can be certain that they will be taken seriously. If any of you are subject to any of the practices I've described and you are feeling threatened, then we want you to come to a member of staff and tell us.

"Now I want to address those of you who think that you can get away with bullying. We now take this issue so seriously that if just one incident that is reported to us is confirmed to be true, then we will expel that pupil from the school permanently."

There was a hush in the hall as the gathered boys took in what the Deputy Head had said.

Suddenly, someone started to clap. Others quickly took up the applause until almost every pupil and all the staff in the room were applauding.

The Deputy Head continued when the applause died down, "My only other announcement is that Dr Grey has decided that as this is a major policy change, he would hand over to me to implement it. He has decided to take early-retirement with immediate effect. If you have any questions please address them to your form teacher at registration immediately after this assembly. That is all -- you may dismiss to your classes."

As the boys filed out of the hall, there was a hubbub of conversation as they discussed the bombshells that the Deputy Head had dropped. Nobody would miss the cold, aloof Dr Grey and as the Deputy Head was both well liked and approachable, the change was welcomed. For most people the bullying issue did not affect them. Those who had experienced bullying were metaphorically dancing and turning cartwheels and the small hard core of bullies were thoughtfully considering the implications of what had been said. Fortunately, most were bright enough to realise that they needed to change their ways and were philosophical about it.

Huw was amazed at how quickly and firmly this issue had been resolved and he returned to his classroom with far more of a spring in his step than he had earlier that morning. While the boys were entering the classroom he quickly went across and had a quiet word with Mr Evans. "Well, that was a lot more than I was expecting," he said grinning. "I thought that Dr Grey's retirement wouldn't be sorted out until next week."

"Things moved on last night," responded Mr Evans, "and Dr Grey decided not to fight. I'm very pleased it's worked out like this."

As the day wore on Huw was surprised how much the previous day's drama had transformed people's attitudes towards him. Although they didn't know how it had happened, they realised that he had been the catalyst for a fundamental change for good at the school. In fact, the whole atmosphere was changed. He couldn't pin it down but there seemed to be a new optimism.

There was no doubt that the heavy-handed repression of the former Headmaster had kept a lid on things. Huw also suspected that the security that sprang from the fact that teachers were looking out for pupils rather than ignoring them was definitely a key part. He also wondered just how many people had been worrying about being bullied but now felt safe.

At the end of the afternoon timetable, he rode to Gwyn and Janet's house and took his bike along the side of the house straight into the back garden. He was now so at home at Gwyn and Janet's house that he simply knocked on the back door and went straight in. As he entered he was almost knocked over by two five-year-old human cannonballs who flung themselves at him, delighted to have this bonus time with their favourite big brother as they were beginning to regard him.

Janet came in and gave him a peck on the cheek, "We're so glad you're going to be with us tonight and tomorrow, Huw," she said. "I'm afraid Haddie and Betsan are already trying to organise your day tomorrow but I'll do what I can to protect you."

"I don't mind doing anything my little sisters want me to do," said Huw as he played with the little girls.

Janet was very touched by Huw's calling Haddie and Betsan his little sisters. She began to realise just how important the girls were in his life. She passed Huw his usual cup of tea and slice of cake -- no need to ask any longer -- and they sat down together to chat.

"Gwyn has been keeping me up to speed about the events since the bullying incident. I'm so proud of you and the way you acted to protect Gareth and your bravery challenging the Headmaster on his bullying policy… or lack of it," she said with a smile.

Huw shrugged his shoulders. "But, the result is, the only friend I have in school is now leaving and going back to North Wales."

"Oh cariad , I'm so sorry for you. Life does keep treating you really badly," Janet said with compassion.

Huw looked up at her and said, "I have to believe that one day things are going to get better. They can't continue in the way they have for the last four years."

At that moment Gwyn came in through the front door and greeted everyone. Janet poured him a cup of tea and Gwyn settled back in his armchair savouring the welcome refreshment. "I'm quite certain there'll be a strong cup of tea awaiting me in heaven one day," he mused.

"My mam told me there was a tradition in the Valleys that old women were buried with their teapots. Maybe they were playing safe in case they weren't greeted by a cuppa when they arrived in heaven," teased Huw.

Gwyn turned towards him, "How about we go straight down to Battle Hospital to see Gareth for an hour and then we'll eat when we get back."

"Good idea Gwyn, it will be quieter now," he responded. When the two of them finished their drinks, they climbed into his blue Ford Cortina for the ten minute drive to the hospital.

Gareth was sitting up reading and his face lit up as he saw them arrive. "Hi Huw, hello Sir," he said brightly.

"I'm happy to be Gwyn as we're outside school," responded Gwyn in Welsh as he thought that would relax the boys. "How are you feeling today?"

"Much better thanks, although I ache a lot and my, er, testicles are still very painful. Huw, I'm so sorry that I've hurt you so much by our plans to move away," he said sadly.

"It's me who's sorry Gareth bach. I shouldn't have reacted like that yesterday. I really do understand why you have to go. I'm jealous of where you are going and I shall miss you so much." Huw hung his head in embarrassment.

Gwyn swiftly changed the subject and asked Gareth if he knew how long he'd have to stay in hospital. "Not long, Gwyn," responded Gareth, thankful that the sensitive subject had been dropped. "As soon as my balls are less swollen, I'll be able go home to rest and recover fully." He glanced at Huw, "We'll be moving in just over three weeks."

Conversation continued for a while but Gwyn sensed the boys wanted to talk alone. "We need to be leaving in quarter of an hour to be back for Janet's supper. I'll go down and wait in the car to give you lads some time to chat on your own." He said goodbye to Gareth and that he'd see Huw in 15 minutes.

After he left, Huw said to Gareth, "I didn't know he was going to do that, but I'm glad because I did need to talk to you about yesterday."

"It's alright," Gareth said quickly. "I shouldn't have said how I felt about you and caused you to be embarrassed. You'll forget about me in a couple of months anyway."

He took Gareth's hands in his. "No, Gareth, you have no idea. You are quite wrong. I've tried to work out what I feel about you and the huge empty space that you moving away is going to leave in me. I told you yesterday that I don't know what love is any more. I don't know if boys can love other boys but what I feel is as close as I've ever been to loving another boy and I don't know how I'm going to cope with you moving back to North Wales."

Gareth's eyes filled with tears. "We can write and we can talk on the phone and maybe you will feel ready to come up again to North Wales and spend time with me. That will give me something to cling on to at least."

Huw smiled and said, "I can do that. I can't think that far ahead but at the least we can agree that we'll keep in touch and then see how we both feel in a few months time." He paused for a few moments and continued, "I think I'm going to go now. I'm going to get tearful and I don't want that to happen. I'm staying tonight with Gwyn and Janet and spending the day with them tomorrow but I hope to get along to you in the early evening. If not, I'll give your parents a call to say I can't make it and I'll definitely be along on Sunday afternoon."

The boys took their leave of one another with a very careful hug to avoid Gareth's ribs and Huw left to join Gwyn in the car.

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