The Bluebottle Boys: Edgbaston: Monkeys on the Knees (Section 3 of 4)

The Bluebottle Boys: Edgbaston: Monkeys on the Knees (Section 3 of 4)

[The featured pic is of Carpenter Road, in Edgbaston, near its junction with Wellington Road — Ian’s neighbourhood. Photograph by Stephen McKay, used under license.]

Monkeys on the kneesStan and I were mildly concerned, though not particularly worried, when Ian failed to show up at school the next day. We figured that the cumulative stress of the last couple of days had taken its toll, and Ian was taking time off for some needed rest. But, we knew that something was amiss when the headmaster summoned us to his office near the end of the day.

It turned out Ian was refusing to go to school.

He’d felt humiliated and rejected by everyone but us and felt that Rufus, Drusilla and Tiny were simply the proverbial sting at the end of the tail. Mrs. Tippins had asked the headmaster to have us bring him his school assignments since we were the only kids he still liked and trusted.

The headmaster told us the bullying incident involving Quentin and Rufus was being investigated, and would we each make a statement, both in writing and, should need arise, at a disciplinary hearing. We did, amazed any action against two such well-connected students was actually going to occur; then I realized that we’d no idea of Ian’s background or what it might be – that he might well be as affluent and well-connected as they were.

This turned out, at least in part, to be the case: Mrs. Tippins sent a driver over in a Bentley to collect and deliver us to a palatial house off Carpenter Road. She was at the front door to greet us as we pulled up to the front of the house and guardedly, diffidently exited the car.

She was about Mum’s age, well-dressed in a way befitting the lady of such a house.

But, Stan and I got the feeling this was not about delivering schoolwork. Mrs. Tippins could have easily accomplished this – probably more efficiently – without involving us. Her face was fixed in what, under other circumstances, would have likely passed for a welcoming smile, but her eyes rapidly darted back and forth between Stan and me; I could almost hear the gears turning in her head in a way that I wouldn’t experience again until I moved to the States. She’d fully completed her appraisal by the time we’d reached, then crossed, the threshold, and she’d welcomed us inside.

Don’t ask me what I’d expected a lounge in a house of this order to look like – I’m not really sure myself – but I certainly didn’t expect to find anything quite so… normal, so ordinary. Don’t get me wrong, it was far more elegant and opulent than Stan’s and mine were, more spacious, with gold thread in the wallpaper and oak paneling, but not fundamentally… different.

Each of our lounges had a radiogram.

The one I had included a 17-inch television. Ian’s lounge had a radiogram and free-standing cabinet TV with a monumental 21-inch screen – the largest there was. Stan’s had a radiogram and the same, kind of portable 14-inch screen TV set Grammer had (all the TVs had black and white screens, of course).

Both Ian and I had a piano, but I had an upright, placed – nearly crammed – into a corner, whilst Ian had a full-sized concert grand (that he couldn’t play, which briefly left me slightly irritated and resentful), standing prominently before quite a substantial picture window, complete with a window seat.

Ian’s couches and comfy chairs were better appointed, his hard furniture antique, well-designed and well-crafted, his fireplace larger, and porcelain plastered. But, the lounge was hospitable, rather than intimidating. Mr. and Mrs. Tippins had clearly intended it to be a showplace, of course, but one primarily to be lived in, not simply admired from a distance.

Ian was there, waiting for us. He’d been sitting on a couch, but jumped to his feet the moment we’d entered, and ran over. He was out of uniform, but still dressed in “visiting clothes.” He nearly looked ready for a cricket match – same kind of white shirt and sweater – except that the trousers and shoes were black.

“You did come! You did! Thanks, Reggie! And, thanks Stan! Thanks for coming by.”

As if we’d a choice, but then again, we’d have come by voluntarily if we’d not been directed, so maybe thanks wasn’t entirely out of order. Stan approached him first, smiling, clasping him supportively on one shoulder.

“Glad to do it, Ian, y’know that, mate,” he said as he handed Ian his schoolwork, “and we’ll keep doin’ it, long s’you need us to, but you can’t stay away forever. Y’know we’ve got your back against Doof and Quasimodo; why don’t you come back with us tomorrow?”

“How’s Jenny?” Ian asked. He was either stalling or trying to change the subject, the momentary doubt on his face betraying his thoughts before he looked down.

“Bit ticked at Stan and me just now I think,” I replied. “Thinks we should’ve included her when we all went to the nurse, not leave her with the game pieces.”

“She’ll come around,” Stan added. “But when will you? You can’t let Doofus, Tiny and Silla hold you hostage.”

Ian shook his head, still looking morosely at the floor.

“It’s not them. Everyone knows they’re bullying gits. But yesterday half the school looked at me as if I was subhuman; of the half that didn’t, most just looked sorry for me – not sympathetic, y’know – the kind that people give someone when they think he’s a loser – a complete saddo. That’s what I can’t take. That’s why I’m not going back.”

© 2017, 2016, 2015 G. H. McCallum and Duvanian Press, all rights reserved.

It’s here! Here at last! The first edition of Volume 1 of “The Bluebottle Boys,” second novel of the Reggie Stone series, is now available from Amazon.

Yes, I’ll continue to serialise the novel (after all, we’ve just now started the “main story”). Not only will I serialise all the “promised” chapters, I’ll be expanding the serial to include at least a few more chapters — maybe more than a few (how many more to be determined) — just for letting Reggie and his friends into your life.

They thank you, and so do I.

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G. H. McCallum

G. H. McCallum is author of the Reggie Stone series, the first of which, Walking Backwards for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall, was released on 12 December 2014; look for the second, The Bluebottle Boys, in late spring of 2016. He blogs principally on the 1960s, Victoriana and magic realism.