Mr French sat in his study, looked out at the playground and sighed. People thought it was easy being the headmaster of a junior school but they couldn’t be more wrong. When you ran an establishment of the calibre of the Convery School for Young Sporting Gentlemen life could be very difficult indeed. There were days when it was like hell on Earth.

Take today for instance. He’d had to deal with two fights, countless squabbles and bullying. He looked down at the records in front of him and fetched another sigh from deep in his chest. Suddenly the thought of targets, parent governor meetings and even the dreaded Christmas fayre (why did the beard always itch so much?) seemed a welcome distraction of what had passed today.

It all started at morning break when young Silverthorn had been sent to Matron with a sore knee. Mr French had been in the staff room helping to divide up the confiscated sweets (at least Jamie Oliver was good for something at last) when Matron came looking for him. Silverthorn had a serious allegation against the Dagenais boy, said he had hit him in the knee deliberately. Matron had packed Silverthorn off to the infirmary with a promise of a cold compress and bread and dripping for tea.

French had gone back to his peanut cracknel and hadn’t given the event another thought, he had simply passed it off as boys being boys until his day came down around his ears at lunchtime. Even now, hours later, French winced at the thought of what had happened.

He had been taking his usual walk around the school grounds when the Matsos boy came running up to him from the sports courts. French cared little for sports leaving that to Mr. Carson and Mr Boniface the school’s physical education tutors.

“Sir, Sir” Matsos was shouting “Sir, sir, come quick there’s a fight, there’s a fight. That horrible Voth from 7B is attacking my friend for no reason”. “Oh great” thought Mr French another fight.

What was with the boys today? He’d already had to put that new boy Kozak (a real thug in French’s opinion but his fees were paid by the Strachan bursary so there was nothing he could do) in detention indefinitely for putting Levers Snr in the infirmary with a very nasty head wound during lacrosse. Events had got heated and Mr Carson had had no choice but to ask the charming Ndur boy to join Kozak. French supposed he would have to get to the bottom of that little fracas and deal out more punishment. Was there never any peace?

French supposed not as he reach the court. The unmistakable cluster of young, pre-pubescent boys surrounding a fight could be seen near one of the lacrosse goals. French tried to shout above the noise but there was little point from this distance. He could see the usual suspects – Voth Snr, Simms Jnr, Adams and, could it be? It was the Dagenais boy. At least that Sharp boy who had come from that awful school with the strange initials in Canada hadn’t got involved. Any school that put pugilism before learning life skills left a lot to be desired in Mr French’s opinion. If he had been involved things could have got very messy indeed.

Mr French’s heart sank when he saw that Simms Jnr was in the middle of things as usual. French sometimes wondered if he shouldn’t put him to work tending the vats of porridge in the kitchens given his talent for stirring.

When French reached the melee he drew in a deep breath and waded in to the fray, pulling boys hither and thither to get to those at the centre of the problem.

“What’s going on here then?” The response was almost as deafening as before as everyone tried to get their side of the story over at once.

“One at a time” he cried giving Simms Jnr what he thought was a very meaningful look. “One at a time. Now Dagenais, dry your eyes and tell me what happened”

“He attacked me sir”
“Attacked you?”

“Yes sir, he tried to hit me with a hockey stick sir, tried to hit me around the head with it and when that didn’t work he thumped me in the face and he’s given me a black eye. He said I’d hurt Silverthorn on purpose but I never did, I never, I’d never do anything like that. I did catch his knee but not on purpose, no, no not on purpose. My mum’s going to kill me” This last was barely audible as he burst into another gust of tears.

“Look, what’s he’s done to him look what he’s done.” Simms Jnr interjected. French gave him another look that said I’ll deal with you in a minute and turned to Voth. Before he could say anything Matsos was in his face again.

“See sir, I’m not the one to tell tales for no reason am I, look what he did, look at it, he’s ripped his blazer and everything and all for nothing, nothing at all”.

“Thank you, Matsos” My good God, he thought the boy is such a tell-tale. He spent all last year trying to get Voth in to trouble as well.

“Well?” he asked Voth. Voth just looked at him, staring mutely from beneath his fringe. Same as ever, French couldn’t work out if this was better or worse than Matsos and Deganais.

If Voth was happy to say nothing it turned out that young Adams had more than enough to say for both of them. “Sir, they are well lyin’ I ain’t ever ‘eard so much rubbish in my life. Brad was only defending ‘is own. Dagenais hit our Jase and Brad was just giving ‘m what he deserved. Innit. Protecting his brother you know what I mean. Ain’t nothing wrong with that” Brother? They weren’t even related. Another step downwards on the spiral of society. Nothing like this had ever happened in old Mr Toeman’s time.

Dagenais was crying again, French noticed. Would he never stop? Then the moment he had been really dreading came. He had noticed Simms Jnr plumping himself up like a robin full of his own self importance.

“Oi’ve a good mind to go to the papers about this. It’s flagrant, flagrant bullying, that’s what it is.” Oh, how the boy’s voice grated on him “I’m sure the press would love to hear about this. Have I ever told you that my parents are very friendly with lots of journalists? I’m sure I have” He had” and I’m sure that they’d love a story like this – ‘BLAMELESS BOY BATTERED BY THUG’ how’s that for a headline ‘SCHOOL DOES NOTHING AS BULLY STRIKES FOR SECOND YEAR RUNNING’ you’d be sacked in a week. My Dad could get you sacked tomorrow” Yes, thought French and we know who would replace me, you father’s toady Mr Carson. French almost wished it could happen.

French realised that Simms Jnr was still talking and would be doing so come the Michelmas holiday if he didn’t do something.

“SHUT UP! ALL OF YOU” French bellowed and immediately felt much better. I will see all of you outside my office at 4:15 this afternoon and I will be watching you very closely until then let me assure you.

“Pah, you’ll do nothing to stop this bullying that we are continually subjected to, not like Mr Carson, he’d have put a stop to this weeks ago. Voth would be nowhere near this school by now. Excluded like you know he should be.” Who else but Simms? Voth continued to stare silently into space.

“ENOUGH. Simms. Another word from you and I’ll remove you from the school radio station.” Simms quietened for the time being. “Look at Moran Snr over there”. French pointed to a rather forlorn older boy who sat alone on a bench “His friend ended up in the infirmary today with a very nasty head wound but is he carping away like you Simms?

Simms shrugged sullenly “Why should we be like him? His house never gets as many house points as ours do. He should be more like us.”

“That’s it” How French wanted to wiped the smirk of Simms’ face once and for all “all of you get back to your dormitories now and woe betide any of you if I hear another word from you before I see you in my office. Now GO!”

The four of them slunk off in opposite directions leaving French to dread a quarter past four later that day.

There was a knock at his study door. He looked up at the clock 4:15. Oh, well he thought as he crossed his study let’s get this over with. He was just about to open the door when Simms Jnr pushed it open, wheeling in a television and video recorder.

“Evidence!” He cried “you don’t think we’re going to let him get away with it do you?”

As told by Paul Balm

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