The Bluebottle Boys: Edgbaston-Moonkeys on the Knees

The Bluebottle Boys — Chapter 7, Part 2 — Edgbaston, early March 1962: Moonkeys on the Knees (Section 1 of 4)

The incident with Ian happened nine days later, on 13 March 1962 – ironically etched in my mind as “Lucky13.” He, Stan, Jenny and I were well into the lunch hour, in the midst of a game of Scrabble. Ian hadn’t been playing up to par and, for a moment, we thought he was just reacting to the game – overreacting a bit, actually – when he let out a loud moan and fell to the floor.

We were about to tell him to get up and stop being a prat. Instead, we froze, speechless as his eyes rolled into his head, his legs twitched and flailed about like a marionette whose puppeteer’s hand was being jolted by electrodes. As the seizure spread, his entire body rolled and stretched, his face turned blue and his tongue hung out as he repeatedly made the same noise: a “short i” sound with some half-formed consonants we couldn’t make out.
At last, he began breathing again, but it sounded like a death rattle.

Back then, no on trained us on what to do if something like this happened, so all we could do was look on in horror. Ian was a singer, so I prayed to St. Cecilia to help, anxiously waiting for the seizure to stop. No more than three or four minutes elapsed from the time Ian fell to the floor to the end of the convulsions, but each minute felt like a day. Sadly, they were not to be the worst few minutes of my life, but they definitely secured a place in the all time top ten.

The seizure stopped. Ian came to, looking extremely disoriented, his trousers in a deplorable, embarrassing state.

A crowd had gathered. Some continued to look horrified, others looked on pityingly, but for each student from either camp, there was another who regarded Ian with revulsion. I thought it a dismal commentary that many intelligent kids could be bereft of any tolerance or understanding, much less sympathy or compassion.

“Cover ‘im an’ get ’im ert uff eya,” Stan whispered.

“Get ready t’stond,” I whispered to Ian. “Weel distract ‘em an’ get y’goone, quick s’we can.”

Jenny looked as if she wanted to come too. I let Stan take the lead, however, as he addressed our classmates, and I motioned to her to stay put.

“Stond back!” Stan called out to them as I whispered to Ian and slowly got him to his feet.

“Stond back! Mek way, mek way! Y’soy as this youth wuz haven a seizure? Not soo! ’At’ee wuz meken semi-audible gib’rish jus’ noo? Stooff an’ nonsense! Yow simply lack the requisite audio logical skills t’recognise wot wuz guin on. Accorden ter me perception, assessment an’ – well – me gen’rally sooperior bren, weev sin healen genius uff the fust magnitude. Ee, in fact, wuz actooally sayen ‘Thynne’ over an’ over agen, in rapid repetition.”

I knew where he was going now; we’d worked on stuff like this enough.

“An’ why wuzee sayen ‘Thynne’?” I chimed in. “Why t’rid ’imself uff an acute attack uff moonkeys on the knees.”

Stan gave a mock dramatic gasp. “NO! Surely not moonkeys on the knees!”

“Moonkeys on the knees,” I replied. “Didja not see his legs jus’noo? ’Un uff the wust attacks uff moonkeys on the knees I yav sin in’eass.”

I’d given Stan a cue to start a rapid-fire, machine gun burst of exchanges, as we formed a conga line of sorts: Stan in front, leading Ian by his hands, and I was in back with hands around his waist.

“Moonkeys on the knees?”

“Moonkeys on the knees.”

“Moonkeys on the knees?”

“Moonkeys on the knees.”

“Moonkeys on the knees?”

“Moonkeys on the knees.”

“Jus’ moonkeys on the knees?”

“No, a boistroos simian death rattle an’ moonkeys on the knees.”

“Not a simian death rattle.”

“A simian death rattle.”

“Am yer certain t’was a simian death rattle?”

“A simian death rattle.”

“But that should only be attempted by properly trained professional apes after catchen a disease froom a moonkey on the knees.”

“Catchen a disease?”

“Catchen a disease.”

“Froom a moonkey on the knees?”

“A moonkey on the knees.”

“Well, the’er y’yavit. All them moonkeys yad t’be eliminated.”

“An’ so they weer, by Ian’s expert use uff the weard ‘Thynne.’”

We joined in together:

“Foive lickle moonkeys joompen on th’knees
‘Un fell off and got a disease
Mum called the doctor and he said, ‘Please,
No more little monkeys jumping on the knees.’
Foive lickle moonkeys –
Thynne –
Fawer lickle moonkeys –
Thynne –
Three lickle moonkeys –
Thynne –
Tew lickle moonkeys –
Thynne –
’Un lickle moonkey –
Thynne –
No lickle moonkeys –

“Only tew an’ six a box,” I called out.

“An’ they am moild,” Stan answered, as we all vaulted out of the room and vanished from the sight of our classmates.

I couldn’t be sure if I’d heard applause in the distance, as Stan and I hustled Ian down the corridors to the school nurse as quickly as his semi-confused state allowed.

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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.