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Poverty Gap

August 29, 2012 , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By Mike Scott Thomson

Public School Coat Of ArmsGood afternoon, Doctor.

Indeed, it has been a while! I ought to come more often for a dental checkup, but quite frankly there has been no need. Your father did such a good job on me when I was a thmall boy, my teeth are thtill in a thplendid condition. Well, up until this afternoon.

Should I lie down? Thank you. By all means, have a poke around in there!

Aaaaaaaaaar!

Ah-gugugugug.

Yeth, it ith a bit of a meth in there, ithn’t it? Yeth, it duth hurt rather. Thum painkillerth? That would be moth welcome, thank you thir.

What’s that, laughing gas? Yes, dear boy, strap it on and turn it up!

Oooooh, I say! What a delightful sensation. Five minutes to take effect, you say? Well then, I can regale you with my tale. Do excuse my occathional thtruggle with the odd utteranth while I try to explain.

Since I am a gentleman with an ethic of fair play, it is my belief that inthtilling a healthy competitive bulldog thpirit in our nation’s youth forms the bedrock of a tholid thothiety. No thport duth this better than Athothiathian Football, in my humble opinion. For this reason every Saturday afternoon I pull on my old black rugger top, thling my thilver whithle around my neck and undertake the role of referee, adjudicating between competing schools within our esteemed Five Counties League for under theventeens.

No, good heavens my good sir, never involving Blythe Hall – the Football Athothiathion would never allow it! I am, after all, that ethtablithment’s headmathter! But the teams involved, whilst from institutions of learning not as high a calibre as our own, are, on the whole, all-round good eggth.

Great Lucifer’s Trousers, that gas is doing me the world of good.

Haha. Anyhow. When the fikthture litht for the new season was distributed only a few days ago, I was somewhat concerned to discover that replacing the unfortunately relegated Saint Bernard’s Catholic School For Boys was a team promoted from League Division Two, namely South Grumpton Comprehensive.

How such indithiplined ruffians ever had the wherewithal to achieve the lofty heights of the County Premiership is beyond me! Yet as fate would have it, it was the desolate turf of South Grumpton itself I was obliged to attend, in order to referee their inaugural top-flight home game against the better-bred youngsters of Barrowford Manor.

I was not unfamiliar with the area. Backing onto the school’s football pitch is the eighteenth fairway of Pettifer’s Golf and Country Club, and it’s from here, after many thatithfactory rounds endeavouring to improve my ten handicap, that I frequently catch sight of its ill-manicured playing fields. A blathted heath indeed, my good sir. Hahaha!

And so it was that for the first time in my life, I drove my Jaguar not to the golf club, but rather to the grey, potted tarmac of the Comprehenthive. As I pulled up, it was to my conthternation I happened to catch sight of two thpethific fellows amidst the cluthter of players congregating on the fringes of the field. Why should I notice these two particularly, you may ask?

The younger of the two, you see, was a teenage whipperthnapper by the name of Kevin Crumpkin; his father, a greasy layabout called Keith. Of course the presence of such Neanderthals would never, in normal thircumthtantheth, trouble me whatsoever; yet I was familiar with them due to an extraordinary quirk of both fate and fortune within the Crumpkin clan.

Six numbers; one lottery ticket; one gigantic win. This family, having spent their entire ekthistence thponging off the thtate, were thuddenly rewarded for their wanton bone-idleness to the tune of nearly two million pounds. Soon afterwards came an application for young Kevin to attend the hallowed grounds of Blythe Hall; naturally, for this bunch, our fees of nine thousand pounds per term was now pin money. Before I knew what was happening, my admithions department had carelessly welcomed this unbecoming child into our establithment.

Needless to say, with his sickly pallor, cold dead eyes and thatch of perthithtently uncombed hair, he thtood out like a thore thumb. I waited, for one term then for two, for his first (and God willing his last!) thignificant indethcrethion; yet none was forthcoming. Even his grades were above average!

Hahahahahaha! Oh, do ekcuthe me Doctor. I theem to have forgotten how to thpeak. Where wath I?

Oh yeth. As it tranthpired, fate intervened for a second time. Clearly the ill-gotten gains by the Crumpkin family had taught them nary one thcrap of wisdom, for by the end of the Lent half, young Kevin was withdrawn. The money, apparently, had run out. Where had it gone? Fast carth, bad invethtmenth, ekthpenthive holidayth? Who knowth what decadenth made them live beyond their meanth? All that was apparent was that the Crumpkins found themselves back in the natural habitat of their old council flat, and Kevin made his less-than-triumphant return to South Grumpton Comprehenthive, an unholy prodigal son.

And now there he was, all ready to play in the thtarting eleven for his thoccer team. I curthed my mithfortune as I thtrode onto the pitch to commence proceedings.

It was evident from my first whithtle that both teamth were full of pith and vinegar. A crunching tackle from the Barrowford Manor number four on the Grumpton number eight I let go; one doesn’t want to tarnish a game too early by produthing a yellow card. Yet I maintain I had no choice to do just that when the centre-half for Grumpton, a burly oik whooth eyebrowth met in the middle of his forehead, roughly manhandled Mungo Jefferson-Tompkin by the far corner flag.

Oh, you know Mungo? He’th your brother-in-law’th cousin, you thay? Thmall world it is indeed good doctor, thmall world. Hahahahahaha!

Anyway, after cauthioning the uncouth lad for unthporting behaviour and thrugging away the howls of protest, the rest of the game, until the very end at least, continued without major incident. Both teams were toothleth in attack – and the only goal, a fortunate toe-poke on the thtroke of half-time from the wiry Grumpton thtriker Bruton, I had no choice but to disallow. He was, I insist, offthide. I told the most irate team, who crowded around me screaming oaths at ear-thplitting volume: two inches may only be two inches, but such distance is still offthide. No goal.

Now throughout all this time there was one player who, such was his straight-and-narrow work ethic on the left flank, could have been invithible. Indeed, Kevin Crumpkin was to my mind induthtrious yet oddly quiet. His tackles were perfectly timed and executed safely – his defenthive headers, robutht and athured. You thee, I give credit where credit is due. I never wunth found a reathon for booking him.

Until, that ith, the ninetieth minute. The thcores were thtuck at nil-nil – neither team had managed to breach the other’s defence – when it was my pleasure to award Barrowford Manor a rare but undeniable corner kick. There occurred one thkillfully-taken inthwinging croth into the box; and for wunth, Thouth Grumpton failed to clear. Like a thalmon rithing from the othean, there rose your man Mungo, and with a forceful nod of his head, powered the ball towardth the oppothition’th net.

Alath, a goal it was not; its path wath thtopped on the line by the thin, untidy frame of the young defender Crumpkin. I blew my whithtle. ‘Handball!’ I proclaimed, pointing to the faded twelve yard thpot. ‘Penalty kick!’

A gathp arose from the field, followed by a contemptuouth roar from the opposition and their thupporterth. Oh yeth, naturally they protethted; I would say just a little too much. Ten of their players thurrounded me in that penalty box: ‘That was never a handball!’ they yelled in unison. ‘Look at his thirt!’ they cried. ‘The mud ith on his chetht, not his thleeve!’ And hollow wordth to that effect.

‘Thorry,’ I retorted, affecting an air of thtoicithm – thtoweeethithm – fortitude, as I reached into my pocket. ‘Red card for the number three.’ I produthed the crimthon ticket of doom to Crumpkin, the thingle player not fighting hith own battle, ath he looked down at his muddy feet, hanging hith head.

From behind me came a tap on my shoulder. ‘Oi!’

I turned. It was Keith. The senior Crumpkin. Thquare chethted and muthcular, with ugly green tattoos covering both bithepth, he was every inch in body what his boy wath not.

‘You finally got your moment, didn’t you?’ he bellowed. ‘You were waitin’ and waitin’ to get at my family! And now you’ve done it! Well I hope you’re bloody happy!’ And he raised his fist, a huge meaty knot of thinew and bone, the letters H, A, T and E tattooed upon hith knuckelth.

I kept calm. ‘Thir,’ I said, without the lithp of courth, ‘pleath get off the pitch and let uth finith the game.’

He drew hith conthiderable arm back, ready to thtrike me in the mouth. ‘I’m gonna give you what-for,’ he growled.

I felt my entrailth twitht and plunge. I have never hit anyone in my life – not thince corporal punithment wath outlawed, at any rate – and needleth to say, pugilithm has never been my cup of tea. I frothe to the thpot, thtaring at this vulgar brute, prepared for that fateful blow.

Behind me came a thmall voice. ‘Dad, no.’

Crumpkin senior twitched and glanced over my shoulder; hesitantly, I turned. Kevin was staring anxiously at his beast of a father, his bottom lip trembling. ‘Don’t, Dad,’ he pleaded again. ‘Not here. It ain’t worth it.’

Keith Crumpkin’th fitht lowered a little; his fiery eyth thwitched back to me. ‘You’re right, my boy,’ said he, ‘Lord Muck here ain’t worth it.’ And he laughed. ‘Ha!’ he guffawed. ‘Not worth a monkey bollock!’ I would have flinched at thuch uncouth language, but the truth ith, I was merely relieved I had thumhow escaped a beating. ‘Come on, boy,’ continued Crumpkin thenior. And both of them, thug father and hith melancholy waif of a thon, trundled off the pitch together, the latter having been red-carded.

I turned back to the athembled playerth. ‘Now,’ I thaid, ‘where were we?’

‘Four!’ came a holler from the far corner of the field.

I turned around, wondering the meaning of thuch a curiouth heckle. Who wath it? Keith Crumpkin? A member of the crowd? I frowned.

‘FOUR!’ came the voith again, equally dithtant but louder. What had that to do with anything? The thcore was nil-nil. Thoon to be one-nil to Barrowford Manor.

I continued to frown. ‘Pardon?’ I retorted.

And that ith when the golf ball hit me in the mouth and knocked out my two front teeth.

Hohohohohohohohoho! Hehehehehehehe! Oh my thtars!

No doctor, it ith indeed no laughing matter.

Tho, am I now thuitably thedated for the operathion? I thay, that ith a big needle… I thould lie back and think of England, what? Hahahahahahahahahahahaha! Ow, that thmartth… that thmztztztz…

Zzzzzzzzzzzzz.

*

Urrggggghhhhhhhh.

Eeeerrrrrgh.

Oh hello, Doctor. All done already? How long was I out for?

Three hours? My word, that must have been quite a mess you had to fix.

Oh, heavens.

Ah-la-la-la-la-la.

Let me look!

Eeeeeeeeee! Aaaaaaarrrrr!

Oh my good sir, you’ve done a wonderful job. A truly excellent job! A splendid, super, sumptuous job!

‘Down the slippery slide they slid, sitting slightly sideways!’

Oh doctor, it’s better than I could have hoped.

Now, how much do I owe you?

I beg your pardon?

How much?

*

Mike Scott Thomson has been a writer for fifteen years. After dabbling in music journalism, blogging and travel writing, he has only recently turned to fiction. A resident of Mitcham, Surrey, he works for the BBC and is a member of three London writers’ groups. Ask him which ones on twitter @michaelsthomson, and check out his personal site, mikescottthomson.com.

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