This is in response to the writing prompt given out at Janet Howson's book launch about something dramatic that happened at school.
By Dawn Knox
I suppose I could blame the many children’s books I’d read where there was always a hero who saved the day. Or perhaps it was my childish and naïve confidence that adults were always in control and therefore nothing could go wrong. There again, maybe I was an empty-headed child so caught up in the wonders and exuberance of childhood that I simply didn’t notice what was going on around me.
Now, as an adult who is reasonably disciplined and informed, it’s hard to judge why, as a child, I was so calm and unconcerned about the world around me. In those days, there was no suspicion of global warming, rising sea levels, deforestation or of the pandemics to come. It seemed to be a world where if you knew where to look, you could easily stumble across the Magic Faraway Tree of Enid Blyton’s story, or a Hobbit Hole of JRR Tolkien’s book.
Over the last few years, I’ve often puzzled over one particular day in the mid-1960s when I was at junior school. I was a carefree, daydreamer who would invariably forget to take her PE kit to school in the morning and wouldn’t remember to bring her coat home in the afternoon but on that particular day, unusually, I’d thought ahead and worked out that at mid-morning, my form would be taking part in another dreaded country dancing class. A special form of torture dreamt up by teachers to force shy girls to hold hands with grubby boys who didn’t know their left foot from their right foot. Or perhaps it was supposed to encourage teamwork as each couple had to work hard to avoid collapsing in an ungainly heap of arms and legs.
Girls and boys were paired up for the term in a seemingly random fashion although I later wondered whether our teacher simply had a quirky sense of humour. I was one of the smallest children in the class, so, to have paired me up with the rather large, bear-like Paul, was a curious choice. Resembling Baloo and Mowgli, we skipped, galloped and polkaed around the hall in our plimsolls; he squeezing all feeling out of my hand and trampling over my feet; and me, trying to match his giant strides as we Roger de Coverley’ed with the other children.
Once, for no particular reason, Paul told me he would wait for me at the gate after school… and then beat me up. That was one of the few afternoons when I didn’t dawdle after school. I was out of the building seconds after the bell rang, escaping through a gate out of which I wouldn’t normally leave school and then I took a circuitous route home.
The following day having thwarted his plans, I expected there to be some reprisals from Paul but there was none. In fact, he seemed quite friendly and after a while, I realised it had simply been an idle boast and that he probably hadn’t been at the gate waiting for me at all.
But the particular country dancing lesson in the mid-1960s which I remember so vividly, taught me an important lesson. And it had nothing to do with skipping, springing or side-stepping.
That morning over breakfast, I recall a slight feeling of triumph in reading an article in the newspaper which led me to believe that my country dancing lesson would have to be abandoned. There would be no more hand-crushing or toe-mashing from Paul. Sadly, it would also mean no opportunity to pair up with Stuart, the boy on whom I had a crush. I longed to dance with him, yet dreaded the prospect, knowing I’d be so shy, I wouldn’t be able to look him in the eyes.
But if the newspaper report was true–and why wouldn’t it be? Then the country dancing lesson should be disrupted shortly after it began. I must admit, to being slightly doubtful because neither of my parents seemed particularly perturbed–indeed, neither of them had mentioned that the day was expected to be anything other than ordinary. Both of them said goodbye to me with no greater fondness on that day than any other.
The time came for the lesson and we changed into our plimsolls and filed into the hall. As usual, I waited with bated breath to see if the teacher would change our partners around–wouldn’t it be ironic if, on this particular day, I was paired with Stuart? But, no. My partner was Paul. As usual, the music started and with the size-difference of Yogi and Boo Boo, we began to strut our stuff.
During the lesson, there wasn’t much opportunity to consider the newspaper article as Paul’s sweaty hand crushed mine and I fervently hoped he wouldn’t suddenly let go as he swung me around, sending me hurtling with centrifugal force into the climbing bars attached to the wall. It therefore came as quite a surprise when the end of the lesson arrived with the ringing of the bell and we changed back into our outdoor shoes then went to lunch.
I was baffled and slightly disappointed. It appeared the newspaper report had been wrong. The asteroid which had been hurtling through space hadn’t collided with earth at eleven o’clock on that day as the newspaper report had predicted.
Looking back on it now, I can only wonder at how calmly I ate my porridge at breakfast-time while reading about the imminent destruction of the world. Why hadn’t I asked my parents that morning? Why hadn’t I been frightened? From the perspective of adulthood, I can’t believe I hadn’t foreseen the likely consequences that would follow an asteroid strike.
I can only imagine I’d read so many amazing stories where heroes overcame all sorts of disasters that the idea of a real calamity happening didn’t seem possible. And surely my parents would have kept me off school if they’d believed the world was about to be devastated? It simply couldn’t be true. And yet, it had been in the newspaper…
And then again, perhaps my dislike of country dancing lessons added a dollop of wishful thinking, with no regard for the repercussions for the world, its inhabitants, my family or me.
However, I learned an important lesson that day. Nothing to do with dance steps or even the wisdom of keeping out of Paul’s way–no, I learned that the news media can be wrong and isn’t always to be trusted. A very important lesson indeed.
The following week and from then on, I was paired with Paul during country dancing and the lessons continued until I left junior school. And I never got to dance with Stuart once…
On the other hand, I lived to tell the tale…
About the auhtor
Dawn enjoys writing in different genres and has had romances, speculative fiction, sci-fi, humorous and women’s fiction published in magazines, anthologies and books. She’s also had two plays about World War One performed internationally. Her latest book was written with Colin Payn–a near-future romance called The Future Brokers.