How did we get roped into this? It was another case of Miss Rutherford being on the warpath, looking for 'volunteers'. She must have been at her most persuasive. There are groups involved from every year from Year Nine upwards and she has Mrs O'Reilly, the art teacher co-ordinating the whole thing.
I am not sure that I actually agreed that we would appear in public dressed as we are. This is almost as bad as appearing in that awful play of Mr Sproat's in December when I had that embarrassing moment with those descending shorts. I could understand the costumes if were going on a charity fun run, but we are not. We are waiting to perform a sketch on the platform of the school assembly hall. The audience isn't even kids from our school. It is made up of teenagers from local youth organisations. Okay some go to our school. But it gets worse: there will be parents there. I am not sure some of the sketches we are doing are suitable for parents.
Oh well, we can always blame Mrs O'Reilly, she has seen and approved all the sketches. Mind you she is quite broad minded, as you might expect from an art teacher. Tony wonders if she has discussed it with Miss Rutherford since she appears to know the contacts for the youth organisations.
Just to rub it in, our Year Ten group has been chosen to go on last. Supposedly chosen by drawing names out of a hat, but we think it is because the staff are still out to get us for what we did to poor Brussels last December. I wanted to have a bet with Tony that Brussels is in the audience, but he wanted odds of at least fifty to one. I can't afford fifty quid if I lose.
"That is the remit we have been given. We have to make it interesting enough to keep our target audience engaged, and have enough messages in it to satisfy the parents. Any suggestions or questions?"
We, the victims of Miss Rutherford's press gang, are gathered in the art room during break on the last Friday of the first week of the summer term. We are being briefed by Mrs O'Reilly on a presentation we have to give to local youth groups in two weeks time. Merkin, the school's black cat is watching the proceedings from her usual place on top of the cupboard behind the teacher's podium. There are five groups one from each of the five years nine to thirteen. (That's ages 13-18)
"Do we all have to do paintings, Miss?" asks some bright spark from Year Nine.
"I'm not sure that's the idea," Mrs O'Reilly replies, "Do you think a performance, a play or something might by easier?"
The look on her face tells us she knows how bad most of us are at drawing and painting and this is not a good suggestion. Merkin's tail is swishing in agreement.
"We 'aven't got time to write a play, 'ave we Miss? What about sketches?" This more sensible suggestion comes from the Year Twelve part of the room.
"If we do comedy sketches that should keep everyone engaged, especially if we have lots of double entendres like pantomime." The voice is close to me. Tony is showing off again.
The meeting turns into multiple conversations until Mrs O'Reilly calls for order.
"Listening to you the consensus seems to be for comedy sketches linked by a common theme or style but each sketch having a different message," she says.
I am not sure I would agree that as the consensus.
"The bell is about to go," Mrs O'Reilly says, "Please would you think about that theme or style and we will reconvene at break on Monday to hear your suggestions."
"Can you give us a hand, please lad?" Dad asks me on Sunday morning.
Mum has been on at him to put some things away in the loft. Old papers we have to keep for tax purposes. The video and other stuff we don't use any more but Dad thinks is too good to throw away. Not that he ever throws anything away if he can help it.
The job sounds easy enough, but there is a snag. There is no room in the loft so we have to clear other stuff out and actually throw it away. Even then Dad will look at it with an eye to taking a space at a car boot sale - 'you never know someone might have a use for it'.
Of course that means going through the cases and boxes where Dad has forgotten what is in them.
We gather up all the stuff Dad, or rather Mum, wants to put away so that we can estimate how much space we have to clear.
"We had best change into something scruffy before we go up in the loft," Dad says. He doesn't need to say anything else. I can tell by the look on his face he is thinking I am something scruffy already.
We clear some space by taking a cupboard and couple of large rugs down. Dad will take them to the charity shop when he goes to work on Monday. We take different stuff up to fill the hole we have made. Then he starts looking in the boxes to see what can be thrown away. I can see an old green suitcase against the back wall. Judging by the thickness of the dust and cobwebs it must have been there since the parents moved into the house.
"What's that suitcase there, Dad," I ask. "It must have been there for years. Do you want me to open it?"
Dad looks at it.
"I had forgotten we had that one," he says. "That's the case your mother and I used when we had our honeymoon. Open it and see what is in it."
I dust it off and flick the locks and ease up the lid. It is an Aladdin's cave. Full of bits and pieces from about the time Mum and Dad got married or earlier.
"There's your wedding photo album here, Dad", I say as I flick through it.
"She hasn't missed it, but best not throw it away, eh lad?"
"You would be living dangerously if you did!" I put the album to one side.
Since I have to ask Dad about most of the things I look at, he comes over to join me. I don't think any of it is worth anything, but watching Dad it clearly has sentimental value.
"What's the story behind this then?" I ask as I hold up a giant wooden spoon, marked 'The World's Greatest Stirrer'.
"That belongs to your Aunt Doris. Your mother bought it for her as she was always telling tales about us when we were courting."
There is Dad's old running vest from when he was on the school team and a team photo. As far as he can remember he tells me who was who and what he knows of them now.
We lift something wrapped in tissue paper out of the case. Dad lifts a corner of the wrapping. It is mum's wedding dress.
"Don't tell her I said so, but there's no way she could get into it now," he says with a chuckle.
"I wouldn't dare," I pause then say, "but it might be worth it to see if you can still run as fast as you did last time you wore that vest." It's my turn to chuckle.
I see something that looks like a soft toy crushed in the corner of the case. I pull it out. It's a toy pig. I pull it back into some sort of shape. It has a zip in its belly.
"What's this, Dad?"
"It's my old pyjama case. I thought it was long gone. My grandma gave it to me when I was about six and I used it until I decided it was easier to fold my jammies up and put them under my pillow. I kept it as toy. I think it lived at the side of the bed, grinning at me, until I got married."
"Now you have Mum to grin at you!"
"And now who is living dangerously?"
"He is rather fun. Can I have him, please?" I ask, "Does he have a name?"
"I suppose you can have him if you want. I think his name was Porky. Not very original."
Dad sits on the floor, picks up the wedding album and starts looking though, muttering to himself the names of the people in the pictures. Intrigued I scoot over to sit next to him. He puts his arm around me and pulls me in to rest against him. I can sense he feels he won't get many more opportunities as I get older.
There is a kid in one of the photos who looks a bit like me and about the same age. I ask who it is.
"That was my cousin John. He was one of the page boys."
I feel Dad's hug on me tighten.
"Dead," he says in answer to my unspoken question, "Some bastard with a knife. Shortly before you were born. Just because he walked on the other side of the street like you and Tony."
I hear Dad sniff so I look up and see a tear on his cheek. He squeezes me again.
"I think things are better now," he says, "or at least I hope they are."
He takes a deep breath and turns the page. There is a group picture. He spends a few seconds looking at it.
"We were a good looking bunch," he says, "even your Aunt Doris."
We are interrupted by a rattling of the ladder. It's Mum
"Are you two going to be up there all day? Lunch will be on the table in ten minutes and in the dog in fifteen."
Dad and I look at each other and smile.
"But we haven't got a dog!" we whisper in unison.
We put everything, apart from the pig, back in the suitcase and I am about to close the lid when Dad stops me.
"I remember this. It might amuse you and your pals," he says as he reaches past me and pulls out a little brown school notebook that had caught in the lining of the lid, "it's some jokes and rhymes that I wrote down when I was in the third form. Year nine I think you call it now."
I close the suitcase and we go down the ladder to fetch the last of the stuff for storage. We put the ladder away and close the loft door. Then we both get cleaned up and changed so that we look presentable. We make the effort because Mum has made the effort to cook us lunch.
After lunch Dad and I are sitting on the settee. We are hunkered together like we were this morning. With that poignant moment in mind, I thought Dad could do with a little more me time and I could do with some more Dad time. Mum is sitting in her usual chair reading a magazine. She looks pleased that Dad and I are having a moment together.
I have Dad's little brown book. The cover has his name in the top right, and underneath 'Class 3B'. I am going to ask him why 'B', but then I decide it might spoil the moment and it doesn't matter. As far as I am concerned he turned out alright.
Across the bottom of the cover is printed the school name, and in the middle the hand written word 'Equations'. This has been crossed out and 'Jokes' written above it. I turn the book over to look at the back cover. He has written on that as well. Holding it so that it can be opened in the normal way, it has his name and class in the same place. The school name does not appear, and the title in the middle reads:
Nursery Ryhmes and Other Verse
The Adams Family and Al.
My first thought was 'Who's Al' and then I realise it is a play on the Latin expression et al. It is the sort of thing I would have done last year.
I decide to open the jokes side first, and start to read.
What's yellow and highly dangerous?
Shark infested custard
What's green and hairy and goes up and down?
A gooseberry in a lift
What's brown and hairy and goes up and down?
The same gooseberry three weeks later
Why do elephants paint the bottom of their feet green?
To hide upside down in a billiard table.
Have you ever seen an elephant upside down in a billiard table?
Shows you how effective it is.
There are pages and pages of them. They are so corny, I have to giggle at them, then I realise my shakes are not all of my own making. Dad is silently chuckling to himself, but it is making his belly wobble. He must be reading the jokes over my shoulder.
Because we both know we are trying not to laugh out loud and disturb Mum, our laughter feeds off itself. It's not long before we are a pair of giggling goons.
Mum gets up to go to another room. As she is muttering something about men never growing up, I hear Tony arrive.
"I doubt you will be able to make anything of those two idiots this afternoon," she says to him as they pass, "Good luck trying."
Tony comes into the room, and I was going to get up to greet him, but Dad keeps me pinned down with the arm he has around my shoulder.
"Come on Tony," Dad says," come and join us."
He lifts his other arm to indicate Tony should snuggle up on his other side.
"We're reading my old joke book we found in the loft."
It is not long before all three of us are in stitches.
Dad calls a halt on the jokes.
"Let's try the nursery rhymes," he says turning the book over.
"I'm still no good at spelling." He points to the mistake on the cover.
He opens the book.
Hickory Dickory Dock
The mouse ran up the clock
Clock struck one
And the mouse got mashed to death in the works
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
And all the king's horses and all the king's men
Had scrambled egg for breakfast again.
We read a few more like that, and then Dad says:
"I think there is another section of 'Mary had a Little Lamb' poems. Near the middle if I remember rightly."
He finds the place and we start reading.
Mary had a little lamb
Her father shot the shepherd.
Mary had a little Lamb
The doctor was surprised.
Mary had a little lamb
Its fleece was white as snow
She washed it in detergent
Now UV makes it glow.
Mary had a little lamb
The doctors were astounded
Everywhere that Mary went
Mary had a little Lamb
She also had a duck
She kept them on the mantelpiece
To see if they would…
…talk to each other?
There are pages of these as well.
Eventually Dad closes the book.
"Look at the time," he says as he gives us both a squeeze. "I had better put the kettle on for some tea before your mother comes in to see if we have dissolved into a bubbling mass of ectoplasm."
When Dad has gone into the kitchen Tony gives me a hug.
"That was rather touching, being with your Dad like that," he says.
I tell him about rummaging in the loft this morning, the old suitcase and the picture of Dad's cousin, John.
After tea we go to my room and Tony meets Porky.
Donny is the first member of our group that I see when I get to school on Monday so I lend him Dad's little book.
"I want it back," I say to him as I hand it over, "so what ever you do, don't read it in class and get it confiscated."
Merkin is in her usual position: watching us as we gather in Mrs O'Reilly art room at break. She always seems to be near Mrs O'Reilly. Donny thinks the cat is the art teacher's familiar. I thought familiars were supposed to be tom cats.
Mrs O'Reilly addresses her captive audience.
"Welcome everybody," she says, "I hope you all had a good weekend and have thought of plenty of good ideas for what we are going to do for our little show."
I hear a stifled giggle from near me so I look across towards the sound. It's Donny. He has dad's book open near the middle.
"So let's hear those ideas," Mrs O'Reilly continues, "Who wants to go first?"
There is silence.
"Have none of you any ideas?" she asks, "Good or otherwise?"
Again there is silence, except this time it is broken by a loud strangled guffaw. The inevitable has happened and Donny has been unable to keep control.
Merkin is staring straight at Donny as Mrs O'Reilly scans the room for the source of the interruption.
"Ah, Donny," she says when she spots his red face. "Perhaps you would be so kind as to share the joke with us."
I give Donny full marks for not trying to deny it and for style in complying with the teacher's request.
"Certainly Miss," he says as he stands up. Holding the book in front of him, he makes a token bow to the crowd to call for silence then declaims:
"Mary had a little lamb
It was so very small
It had to stand upon a brick
To piss against a wall."
He gestures for quiet again.
"The next one was the one that got me," he says
"Mary had a little lamb
It walked into a pylon
Ten thousand volts went up its arse
And turned its wool to nylon."
Mrs O'Reilly is trying hard not to laugh as she waits for everyone to calm down.
"Thank you for your idea, Donny," she says. "Since nobody else has come up with anything, never mind anything better, I suggest we base all the sketches on nursery rhymes. You can use them as written or they can be modified to suit the message you want to convey.
"Will you meet up in your year groups, pick a rhyme and decide what you think the sketch should be. Would a spokesperson for each year group please come and see me same time on Wednesday so that we can make sure you all have different rhymes and ideas and can agree how the pieces will be introduced. Thank you."
The crowd is starting to disperse when we hear Mrs O'Reilly again.
"Donny, will you please bring me that book. You can collect it from me at lunchtime."
"I think she has a free period next," our friend Paul whispers in my ear.
Merkin seems to be grinning in anticipation.
We commandeer one of the bigger tables at lunch. Most of our group of friends are there.
Sprouts are out of season, so I have to have peas and carrots to go with the shepherd's pie that is Cook's special offering. There is no curry today. Tony looks as though he wishes there was when Virginia sits next to him and blows him a kiss.
I look at my meal and I remember another rhyme from Dad's book which I share with the gang.
"Mary had a little lamb
But Mary was a glutton
So Mary sat, and tucked right in
To spuds and veg and mutton."
"Where did you get that from?" Virginia asks.
"From an old book of Dad's we found in the attic yesterday," I say, "It's the one Donny was reading from."
Donny has to walk around the table to get to a seat. He is late because he had to get the book back from Mrs O'Reilly. It is sticking out of his back pocket.
"I'll borrow that," Virginia says as she swipes it from Donny's pocket. "It might give me some ideas for this thing we have to do for the youth clubs."
"Mrs O'Reilly looked as though she had been in tears when I went to fetch it," Donny tells us once he has sat down. "She could hardly speak when she told me she had written a few down as ideas in case any of the groups was stuck. She said the other rhymes offered more scope than the 'Mary had a little lamb' ones."
"They are in the front on the other side," Donny says when he sees Virginia starting to look through the book.
She turns it over and starts reading again. She only reaches the third page when she closes the book and hands it back to me.
"I've found the one we're going to do for our sketch," she announces in a voice that tells us nobody else will get a say in the matter. "Roger can play the part opposite me. He will love the idea as long as nobody tells him what the punch line is. Don't let him see that book."
I wasn't planning on the book going out of my sight again after Donny nearly lost it permanently.
When the bell goes for the end of lunch we have still not decided on a nursery rhyme we want to use or the message we want to give in our Year Ten piece. Raj suggests we meet up again at his uncles' restaurant at seven thirty. It is Monday and the restaurant is usually quiet. Seven thirty will give us time to do most of our homework first.
After school Tony comes home with me. He usually does when we are going to be out together later. We get our homework done and we have a little time to enjoy each other's company, before we have to leave for the restaurant.
Tony is playing with my Porky as we snuggle together on my bed. Examining it would be a better term. He has the zip open and has his hand inside seeing how big it is in there.
"It's quite thick," he says, "and feels warm on my hand. Things will stay hot in there."
He uses his other hand to smooth something out.
"Have you tried washing it?
He pauses while he changes position so that he can look at me. As he does so he grips it outside with one hand so he can take his other hand out.
"No. I thought it was clean enough," I reply.
"There is quite a lot of room in there," he says, "and the material seems to be a good insulator. You could use him to keep things hot or cold if you wanted to. If you wrapped them up in something greaseproof you could hide some samosas in there and sneak them past your Mum. You know how she always wants one if you bring some from the Indian."
I had wondered what he was on about.
"Shall we try it tonight?" Tony asks. "Since we have to go there anyway."
Raj and Naveem have put a couple of tables together for us to sit at while we discuss what we are going to do for our sketch. We are in the corner near the kitchen so we do not disturb diners or people fetching take-away.
The Uncles spot Tony and me arriving and come out of the kitchen to say hello. I tell them we will want some samosas later to take home. I show Porky to them and explain Tony's idea.
"I don't know if it will work," says one of the Uncles, "But it will be the first time we have served pork!" We laugh at his joke.
Tony puts Porky on the table and when the rest of our group have arrived we start trying to think of a suitable nursery rhyme and how we want to interpret it in a sketch. Porky must have had an influence because we choose 'This Little Piggy went to Market' as our rhyme.
Our decision on what we want to do with it takes a bit longer, but in the end we agree a gay theme and the story to be told. I have a feeling that Tony had mapped the idea out beforehand and was able to steer us in that direction. He can be quietly persuasive sometimes, can Tony.
The next thing is to choose who will be the piggies and what other parts there will be. As it is a gay theme, Tony and I get no choice: we are to be in it. Because they are our closest friends Paul and Donny are also voted to be pigs. Bruno is selected as the fifth pig. Tony stops the discussion before we move on to allocate the other jobs.
"Are you three okay with this?" he says as he looks at Bruno, Donny and Paul in turn, "you might get people saying you are gay afterwards."
"Cath knows I am not and that is all that matters," Bruno says
Donny says he isn't worried and, soto voce, adds that if he was gay he could fancy Paul. He isn't quite soto voce enough and Paul blushes. I think I had better not mention to Donny that Tony and I are gay, and we do fancy Paul.
Paul is the one who looks the most uneasy at being selected.
"Some already say I'm gay," he grouches, "because I hang around with you two so much."
Bruno gives him a sideways hug of support and we move on.
Mel will play one of the adult roles we have in mind, but we could do with some guys who are physically bigger than us for a couple of the other parts.
"I am sure we can pinch some from the other groups," Mel says, "Virginia can probably get us a couple from Year Thirteen. She said they only needed three or four people for her sketch. I will ask he next time I see her."
How does Mel know what Virginia is getting her group to do?
"I volunteer to do a swap," Nav says, "if they need someone to make up their numbers."
"Anything to hang around Virginia. Eh, Nav?" Bruno hits the nail squarely on the head,
We spend the next twenty minutes or so deciding on what props we will need. The biggest problem is what are we going to do for pig costumes and where will we get five of them. Never mind how they are to be paid for.
Raj has been listening to the discussion in between serving customers. He comes over to join us.
"I might be able to help there," he says, "Uncle Advik has a novelty store in Birmingham. He might have something suitable. I will give him a ring tonight. Uncle Lalit and Uncle Sabhya here," he points towards the kitchen, "have said they would cover the cost if they had a mention for the restaurant on the programme, assuming there is a programme."
That's our pal, Raj: an uncle for every occasion.
Mel is to be our spokesperson at Mrs O'Reilly meeting on Wednesday and we all agree that we will grab a big table at lunch so that she can tell us what has been discussed.
I poke my nose into the kitchen and ask the Uncles to prepare our contraband load of samosas.
We must have looked guilty or something when we go back into my house because mum stops us and looks us over carefully.
"Alright," she says, "What have you got hidden in that pig? It looks fatter than it did when you when out."
Busted. We shift nervously in our shoes, but don't confirm or deny anything. She watches us closely as she tries to think what it is. We can see it in her face when she works it out.
"Your meeting was at the Indian wasn't it?" she says, "I'll bet it's samosas in there. Nice try boys. Hand over your dues. One for me and one for Dad."
That only leaves one each for Tony and me. I must remember to ask Dad, next time I see him, if he got his.
The concept was right: the samosas were lovely and hot, but the execution failed. You win some; you lose some as Dad would say.
As planned, we snag a big table at lunch on Wednesday, so that Mel can give us her report.
She tells us what she knows of each sketch, although she is strangely reticent about the one Year Thirteen are doing. Most of the groups have worked out what props they will need and will make them or know where to borrow them. We should ask Mr. Sproat if we need to borrow any props from the Drama department.
"The running order was selected by lot," Mel says, "although there will be an introductory piece by year nine and we will be on last. The sketches will be billed as case studies in Dr. Bristol's Clinic, and they will be linked by Dr. Bristol giving introductions and explanations as required. That makes it easier for us to be sure our message gets across properly. Any questions?"
"Are we going to be able to borrow a couple of seniors from Virginia?" Nav asks.
"Yes, Nav, but, before you ask, they don't need anyone as a replacement. They have something they do want. Has anyone got a very large spoon, the bigger the better?"
I tell Mel about the spoon in our loft.
"It sounds ideal, will you lend it to them?" she asks. I nod. "Anything else?"
"Who is going to be Dr. Bristol?" It's Nav again
"My sister," Mel grins as she tells us. Her announcement is greeted with laughter. Virginia might be prettier, but Mel's sister's attraction is that she is a very big girl. Nav has to wipe his brow at the thought. Tony and I like her, but are immune to those particular charms.
"Is that why they called the character Dr. Bristol?" Donny asks.
"Got it in one." is Mel's reply. She turns to Raj.
"This is the list of the clothes and things the other groups would like you to get for them." She hands him a piece of paper. "There is not a lot, but a couple might take some finding."
Raj takes the list and I see an eyebrow rise and fall as he reads it.
"We are going over to Birmingham on Saturday to see Dad's cousins and cousins' cousins," he says. "We should be able to get everything in Brum."
Nav is looking over his brother's shoulder.
"If we have to go chasing round Brum to find those things," he says, "it will keep us out of the way if Dad and Mum are in one of their matchmaking moods."
The following Monday we are gathered in the Uncles' restaurant again for what Tony called a status report. We have sorted out those props we had to make and written the script, including the summary we want Dr. Bristol to read out. Raj tells Mel he has the costumes for the other groups.
"That's the bag for Year Nine," he says as he hands her a bag, "two pairs of pyjamas from Uncle Veejay, knock down price- tartan is not popular at the moment. The other thing I thought we would have to go all over for but we found one in Uncle Advik's place. Goodness only knows why he had it. He did tell me not to say anything to Dad and definitely not to Mum or Aunty Meena, his wife. It's spring loaded so they should be able to get an extra laugh out of it."
There are some strange looks around the table as we all try to guess what it is. Mel takes the bag and makes sure nobody else gets to look in it.
Raj hands over a second bag. "There is Roger's costume. It is a little smaller than you asked for but Uncle Advik said it is the biggest one they do and it should stretch a bit."
"Virginia can tell him it is tight to show off his muscles," says Mel, "and if it squeezes his bits, so much the better."
"I've got the leather stuff for the other guy in Tony's scene," Raj is looking at Naveem who blushes.
"Nav was so embarrassed when I took him in the gay sex store to get it. I went there because I guessed they would have everything we wanted. We could have got some of it in a pet store but we would have had to go miles to find an equestrian shop for the whip and blinkers. They would probably have been more expensive too. Nav was even more embarrassed when he recognised the owner behind the counter. He brings his friend here sometimes for a meal and a chat with Uncle Lilat and Uncle Sabhya. They told me where the shop was. It turns out the owner is another one of Dad's cousins' cousins that nobody in the family talks about."
The glint on Raj's eye tells us there is more to come.
"The best bit was the way Nav jumped when, for fun, I stroked his bum on the way out of the shop. He only just missed hitting his head on the doorframe. The owner saw it and was in stitches by the time we left."
"I will get you for that," we hear Naveem promise as he passes with a load of plates he has collected from one of the tables. When he comes back out of the kitchen he is still grumbling:
"That bugger had better leave a big tip next time he is here."
"If you waggle your arse at him a bit more," Mel says, "maybe he will."
"He always leaves Nav more than he leaves me anyway," Raj says before he brings the subject back to the costumes.
"As for the pig costumes, Uncle Advik has sent these,"
Raj picks up another bag and tips out some fake pig's ears and noses that have elastic to hold them on.
"He hadn't got any full pig costumes," says Raj, "but when I told him about the sketch he said he thought these would be better as the audience would be able to see you were really boys, and the costume only a device to link your narrative to the nursery rhyme. When we thought about it, we both agreed. Didn't we Nav?"
"Yes," Nav says, "looking like boys will definitely fit the narrative better."
"There are five sets there" Raj continues, "Uncle Advik said we can have them. They came as samples with a consignment of other stuff. He said that, even though they are obviously fake, he still can't sell them."
It is his turns so Raj goes to attend to some new customers.
"We thought you should wear just the ears and noses and briefs," says Nav, as he picks up another bag, "So that you all look the same, Raj has got these from Uncle Veejay. White boxer briefs. On offer: Six pairs for the price of three. I'm afraid since they are personal items we will have to ask you to pay for them. Anybody want the spare pair?"
I could do with some new underwear and these look alright.
"Yes please," I say, "how much?" Nav tells me and I have to agree they are a bargain. Hardly worth washing them at that price.
"I'll pay for them all," I offer.
Tony gives me that cute smile of his. He has guessed what I am up to.
We know Donny prefers full briefs, so he will give his pair to me after the show is over. If Tony keeps his, I get the pleasure of knowing something of mine is intimately next to him all the time he has them on. Bruno is the only possible loss, but my guess is he is a standard boxer man, so I should get those. Paul is an each way bet. Same as Tony, if he keeps them. If I get them back, I can kid myself that I have finally got myself into Paul's pants. Overall I get at least three pairs that have cost me the equivalent of normal price. Any more are a bonus.
I go to find Raj in order to pay him, as Nav tells me he is in charge of the money. I settle up and then on my way back to the table I detour via the kitchen to say good night to the Uncles. I do it to acknowledge that they are always so pleased to see Tony and me.
During the week our group has a couple of quick rehearsals with Mrs O'Reilly, Mel's sister and the two seniors we are borrowing from Virginia's group. We find out the seniors are two of those who put Donny in his locker before Christmas. They apologise to him for getting a bit carried away. They turn out to be two of the nice guys.
Everything appears to be ready; we just hope it will be alright on the day.
It is Saturday Afternoon and all the groups are in costume waiting to do their sketches. We are in the passage next to the school's assembly hall which is filled with the youth of the town, waiting to have their heads filled with the lessons we hope to give them. Also in the hall and judging our efforts will be their parents.
I don't think we have much chance of pleasing both audiences.
We haven't seen any of the acts before, and only the spokesperson for each group has any real idea of what the others are doing and they have agreed not to reveal anything. Somebody passes round programme sheets for us to read:
"Who's Wee Willie Winkie?" someone asks.
"It's a gey guid Scots poem, yer great numpty," A bright treble voice rings out in reply.
It is Jock from Year Nine. Like me, he is the youngest in his year. Unlike me, he is also the smallest and a late developer as his voice would suggest. He still has his Scots accent although the family moved here four or five years ago.
"It's a guid tale about a wean that'll no go to bed at night," Jock explains, "I thought you Sassenachs wad find the name funny."
There is a call for silence. Things are about to get under way.
Through the door into the main hall we can see the platform where the sketches are to be performed.
Miss Rutherford makes a short welcome speech and then introduces Mel's sister as Dr. Bristol.
As she struts into view, we can see she is dressed in a white lab coat with the obligatory clip-board in her hand (it has the script on it) and stethoscope hanging round her neck. The coat is tight enough to emphasise her curves and her big assets are supported to maximum effect. Apart from the coat and whatever it is managing to conceal, she is wearing black stockings – not tights- and high heel shoes. There is a wolf-whistle from the back of the audience. It is enough to set the mood. The cat calls crescendo until she stops walking and lifts the board as if to read from it.
"Hello everyone," she says in the huskiest voice I have heard since I caught Dad watching Fenella Fielding in an old film.
"I'm Dr. Bristol," she pauses for a moment and shakes her boobs, "as you can see." There is another round of whistles. Her comic timing is spot on.
"Today, I want to share some case studies from my Sexual Health Clinic with you and see what we can learn from them.
"The first case is a young man called Wee Willie Winkie, although maybe Wee is not really the right word."
This is Jock's cue. He is out onto the platform running too and fro. He is dressed in a red tartan pyjama top and dark tartan bottoms. Out of his fly sticks a very large fake penis with a bright red glans.
He stops next to Dr. Bristol and recites his version of the poem.
"Wee Willie Winkie rins through the toon,
Up stairs an' doon stairs in his nicht-goon,
Tirlin' at the window, crying at the lock.
Di'ye ken what I can do wi' ma rampant cock?"
They both look down at it.
"Put it away Willie," says the Doctor. He stuffs it in away, but it springs back out.
After a couple of attempts Mel's sister swats it with the clip-board and this time it stays in hiding.
Addressing her remarks to Willie but facing the audience Dr. Bristol now gives the 'puberty' talk about changes to the human body, and incidental erections.
"Don't worry, Willie," she says as Jock starts to walk off at the end of the talk, "with a thing that size, it won't be long before your voice breaks."
Jock is five metres from the exit when his 'thing' breaks free again, to round of laughter and applause.
"The next case involves a friendly little cat," Dr. Bristol announces after the applause has died down.
Two more Year Nine kids walk out onto the platform. The boy is carrying a couple of chairs and the girl is carrying Merkin.
Friendly cat? Whenever I have tried to stroke her, she has tried to rake my hand to shreds with her claws.
The chairs are arranged so that the girl is sitting with Merkin in her lap and the boy is reaching over to fuss the cat. If he stops, she puts out a paw and pulls his hand back in and licks it.
The two have perfectly innocent expressions on their faces as the boy recites the unaltered nursery rhyme and fusses Merkin.
"I love little pussy
Her coat is so warm
And if I don't hurt her she'll do me no harm.
So I'll not pull her tail
Nor drive her away
But pussy and I very gently will play."
He may look innocent but there is no doubt from his voice that the pussy he is thinking of stroking is not Merkin.
While Dr. Bristol is making her remarks about treating one's partner with respect and kindness, the boy continues to make a fuss of Merkin.
"If you don't treat your partner with respect," the Doctor says as her closing remark, "someone could get hurt."
Right on cue, Merkin makes a vicious, snarling attack on the boy's hand, then jumps down and runs off. The two Year Nine kids walk off, leaving the chairs. The boy is inspecting his hand for damage.
As the audience applauds, I am wondering how they managed to get Merkin to behave as she did. Donny must have had the same thought because he whispers to me: "Mrs O'Reilly must have put a spell on her familiar."
While Mel's sister is introducing her next case study, two boys from Year Twelve bring on two stools, a mattress and a blanket, and with the chairs already there, set up a makeshift bed.
A girl walks on hand-in-hand with another Year Twelve boy. He is wearing a sheepskin coat, but it is inside out so the wool is outside.
As the couple get into the bed, one of the first two boys recites his poem. It is the first two lines of one from Dad's book.
"Mary had a little sheep
And with that sheep she went to sleep"
There is some rolling about under the blanket.
The other narrator speaks his lines.
"The sheep turned out to be a ram
And Mary had a little lamb."
The boy gets out of the bed and, as he walks away, what is meant to be a well filled ram's scrotum can now be seen hanging from the back of the coat! The girl is still in the bed, now nursing a doll baby.
Dr. Bristol's teaching points are on the dangers of casual sex and unwanted pregnancy.
"Some of you may know," says Mel's sister as introduction to the Year Eleven piece, "that the rhyme 'Ring a Ring o' Roses' is about the spread of the plague and that the 'ring of roses' is the rash that is a symptom of the plague. The third line, which should be 'Atishoo, atishoo' not the 'Ashes, ashes' that appears in some versions, represents the spread of the disease in its airborne, pneumonic form, which is why it was so virulent. Let's look at my case study."
While she has been making her introduction, Year Eleven have brought on a maypole and eight of them, four boys and four girls, are standing round it, each holding a ribbon.
They start the maypole dance, humming or singing the tune, but without the words. Then they repeat, singing the words of the first line and humming the rest.
The third time through becomes:
"Ring a Ring o' Roses
A Pocket full of Posies"
As they sing the second line all the boys put a hand in one of their pockets and pull out a handful of wrapped condoms and fling them into the air.
Next they sing:
"Ring a Ring o' Roses
A Pocket full of Posies
Without them, without them."
Accompanied by another shower of condoms
Then for the final time it is the whole verse:
"Ring a Ring o' Roses
A Pocket full of Posies (more condoms)
With out them, without them
We all fall down."
After they have sung the last line, they all fall on the floor, pulling on their ribbon as they do. As the ribbons pull out of the top of the maypole, they unfurl flags. Each one has the name of a STD written on it:
Life? Life as a Sexually Transmitted Disease, is that another from Dad's book?
Year Eleven start to clear away all the condoms as Dr. Bristol reminds the audience of the dangers of unprotected sex, and the symptoms and consequences of the diseases.
"Life is an STD?" she says as she gets to the end of the list, "I suppose on one level that is a rather depressing nihilistic thought. But it also reminds us that using protection should also reduce unwanted pregnancies."
The maypole is cleared away and we are at last going to find out what Virginia is going to do to her ex-boyfriend Roger 'Presscock' Prescott. It is Year Thirteen's turn. It is also short and sweet.
Two of Virginia's team bring on a short bench. (from the gym as agreed with Brussels)
Cover it with some fake grass. (greengrocer's matting from Raj & Naveem's family shop)
"Little Miss Muffett," a boy dressed as a herald proclaims slowly and deliberately.
Virginia is dressed for the part: bonnet, full length skirt, puffed sleeves, plenty of ribbons. She is carrying a large mixing bowl (borrowed from the Uncles) and Aunt Doris' wooden spoon. She tiptoes across to the bench.
"Sat on a tuffet," says the herald, who is facing across the audience. Virginia sits down.
"Eating her curds, and whey." Virginia works the spoon to mime eating from the bowl.
"Down came a spider," the herald announces.
Roger makes a surprisingly graceful leap onto the stage. He is dressed in a Spiderman costume. It is tight to the point of being revealing. He is a bigger boy than I thought he was.
"And sat down beside her." comes the slow voice of the herald.
Roger sits next to Virginia. As close as he can and lets his hands start wandering. The herald's impassive face changes to one of dismay.
Virginia carefully puts the bowl on the bench beside her - the other side from Roger – but keeps her hands on the spoon.
Roger's hands are still all over Virginia. She sits looking out at the audience, not moving. We can sense the audience getting restless at Roger's inappropriate behaviour.
Suddenly the herald turns to face the audience, puts a big grin on his face and in a gleeful voice declares:
"So she clubbed it to death with her spoon!"
Virginia uses a two handed grip to smack Roger with the spoon. And keeps smacking him.
Eventually Roger gets the message and flees, Virginia stands there looking triumphant.
Stirred up by the kids from our school who know about Roger and how Virginia kneed him in the balls at last years Fete, the audience are cheering.
As Dr. Bristol calms the last 'Good On Ya Girl' and starts to give her tutorial on inappropriate behaviour and domestic violence, Mrs O'Reilly comes over to us.
"Are you all ready?" she asks. We mumble that we are.
"I know you've had to wait," she says, "but we thought your group should be on last. All the other sketches have been directed at the kids, yours is really directed at the parents. Yours is also the longest. Good luck!"
I can see that Year Thirteen still have to get their props off stage. Our stagehands also have things to get ready on the platform. There should be enough time form me to ask Mrs O'Reilly about the cat.
"Excuse me," I say to her, "but do you know how Year Nine managed to get Merkin to perform for them. She usually goes for me if I try to get anywhere near her."
She laughs and then says: "It was quite simple really. Jane sprinkled a little catnip powder on her skirt where she wanted Merkin to sit and when Jamie was fussing her, he was feeding her little pieces of Bombay Duck."
"Do you mean the stuff you sometimes get in Indian restaurants?" I ask. "It's dried fish isn't it?"
"Yes, that's it. Raj gets it for me. Merkin loves it. Jamie was quite safe a long as he didn't stop feeding her. He just managed to make it last until her cue."
"Was Jamie injured?" I thought I should ask. That attack looked as vicious as Virginia's on Roger.
"No, of course not," Mrs O'Reilly says' "I told her to be a good girl and not hurt him."
Mrs O'Reilly moves off to talk to some else and we line up for a photograph before we go on.
We are all a bit apprehensive. We are to play little piggies who have been chucked out the family home for being gay. Our stories are going to be told in mime.
I think Paul is apprehensive about being cast as a gay boy, more than about his acting abilities. He is the piggy that gets none and has to die of starvation and be carried off by stretcher with a sheet over him. He hasn't filled out after his recent growth spurt, so he looks skinny enough for the part.
Bruno is more concerned about his acting abilities. He has the hardest acting role. He is the piggy that stays at home and has to go through aversion therapy and other so called cures. Zombified he eventually commits suicide and is carried off.
Tony, I suspect, is more concerned with the fate of his beloved camera. He asked Nav to take the photograph, and Tony is worried he might drop it. Tony is the piggy enticed by roast beef into the clutches of a nasty sadistic type, played by one of the seniors. This is the scene where we use the whips, blinkers and leather gear Raj bought in the gay shop in Birmingham. Tony has to die when the sadistic type gets bored with him. So he gets carried off.
Me? I'm on first so I shall be finished and able to relax first. I am the piggy that goes to market. I have a lamppost to lean against to advertise my bodily charms. My first couple of trades are to be okay, but the third, the other senior, beats me up and leaves me for dead. I get carried off as well.
Donny has the easiest role. He is the pig that squeals 'wee wee wee' all the way home into the welcoming arms of his mother, played by Mel.
Dr. Bristol, Mel's sister, will use her summary to question how parents could be so bigoted and devoid of love towards their children, the seed of their own loins, to kick them out of their home to face the kind of dangers we have illustrated.
When we have finished we are going to go over to the Indian for a celebratory snack.
We are going in costume. Uncle Lalit and Uncle Sabhya must be suffering from cabin fever cooped up in their kitchen all the time. I thought they might like a little eye candy.
© copyright Pedro April 2018, All Rights reserved
This story is part of the 2018 story challenge "Inspired by a Picture: Fine Young Animals". The other stories may be found at the challenge home page. Please read them, too. The voting period of 19 April to 10 May 2018 is when the voting is open. This story may be rated, below, against a set of criteria, and may be rated against other stories on the challenge home page.
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