Danny and the Dominoes



There were the usual announcements in Assembly to which no-one really listened.  There were just the usual words that you expected staff to emit.  "...out of bounds..."  ",  "...decorating...", "... mock exams ... don't forget ..."  Near the back, Trevor Cleaver found himself nodding off to Mrs. McClusky's soporific tones.  A nudge from Vince prevented him from sinking deeper into slumber.

"Danny's not here again," he whispered.

Trevor shrugged.  It wasn't an unusual thing for Danny Kendall to be late, or completely absent.

"He owes me a quid," whispered Vince.

"Might have the lurgy.  The flu bug thing that's going round," said Trevor.

From the side of the stage, Mr. Bronson gave Trevor a fierce look and put a vertical index finger to his lips.

The Head stopped speaking for a moment, and nodded to Miss Booth who sat on an adjacent seat.  "You can all go, except the Fourth Years," said Mrs. McClusky.  There was the sound of chair scraping against polished floor and the majority of the hall emptied.  The remaining pupils sat expectantly, wondering what the Art teacher wanted to say as  Miss Booth stood up and walked to the centre of the stage.

"As we head towards Christmas, our intention this year is to put on a show."

There was a buzz of interest among the restless audience.

"A performing arts show, no less..."

The excitement turned into a quiet groan.

"I know some of you aren't doing Art, but the show is open to all for this year - creativity is important for everybody.  The Fifth Years need to concentrate on their work, and the Sixth Formers have their own projects, so this is just for you.  I want you to start thinking about what artistic ventures you can do, and there's a real chance for you all to contribute in some way. We just want something quick and snappy - not anything long and drawn out.  If you don't want to perform, then I still want to see you building sets, or designing costumes, or painting scenery.  We have two weeks from Friday."

Miss Booth looked around for Danny Kendall, frowning when there was no sign of him, and continued:

"Some of you have considerable artistic talent, and I don't want it to go to waste.  Mrs. McClusky has agreed that you can work on your performance projects during lunch hours in your form rooms."

* * *

Afterwards, opinion was divided. 

"It'll be fun - a chance to dress up, or something," said Calley.

"It'll be a bore, if McClusky is behind the idea," said Vince.

"Behind what idea?" asked Danny, who had appeared from nowhere.

Calley explained.  Danny scowled.  "Not really my thing," he said.

"It might be a laugh.  What you reckon we should do though? I still don't really see what Performance Art is all about," asked Trevor.

Calley rolled her eyes up.  "Dancing, singing, juggling, mime, theatre...  Anything really with movement."

"That's not performance art," objected Danny.  "That's when you do something with your body that makes a work of art."

"Performing arts is what she said," said Calley.  "'ing' not 'ance'. Trevor got it wrong, as usual."

"We'll have to go some to make Trevor a work of art, and can you imagine him doing ballet or something?" laughed Georgina.

"Shut up Twinkle-toes...   I bet you're no Marge Fountain."

"Do you mean Margot Fonteyn?  And actually I did ballet lessons when I was a little girl," she retorted and made a pirouette.

"You might have trouble getting into the costume now though," pointed out Ronnie and Georgina pouted. 

"I don't really want to do ballet anyhow," she said.

"You could do something with me or Calley," said Ronnie.

Georgina nodded.  "I might have paired up with Helen, but she's still off sick.  I don't think I could do that rapping stuff though with you and Fi."

Gonch came over.

"Robbie's off with this flu thing too.  Can't think of anything for me to do.  Any ideas?" he asked.

Calley snorted.  "There's a hundred things to do, Gonch.  You'll have to put your brain into gear and try to think of something."

Gonch scratched his head.

"He's having difficulty because there's no money to be made," said Ronnie cynically.

"You have such a poor opinion of me at times, Veronica," he said.  "There's two weeks to go - plenty of time to come with some good ideas.  Trouble is, I've got other problems to think about."

"Poor Gonch, with all the problems of the world on your shoulders," said Calley, making a sad violinist gesture. 

* * *

At lunchtime, in one corner of the form room, and near to the front, Calley, Ronnie and Georgina were discussing what they thought they might do for the performing arts show.

"I'll talk to Fiona about doing a rap routine again with Fresh n Fly," said Ronnie.

"A cousin of my mother's used to do mime.  She doesn't live far away, and I reckon we could borrow some costumes and stuff," said Calley.

"Mime - that's when you make stupid movements with your hands as though you’re in a box," said Georgina.

"Don't put a damper on it already, it's not just that.  It's acting out a situation.  It might be fun, and no need to learn any lines like with theatre.   We could work out some routine."

Georgina shrugged. "Okay," she said.  "We can give it a go.   Jane's mother is a seamstress, perhaps we can rope her in to do some costumes."

Over at the back of the room, Gonch and Ziggy were intent on other matters...

Clack. Clack. Clack. Clack. 

"You can't play there.  That's a four and you've put down a five," complained Gonch.

"Oh it's a stupid game anyway.  It's a game for doddering old men," replied Ziggy, picking his domino back up.

"Are you playing for money?" asked Trevor Cleaver hovering nearby.

Gonch's eyes lit up.  "You most certainly could play for money.  Can I interest you in a set?  Look, they come in a nice presentation pack. Excellent presents for the family."

"Presentation pack?  That's just a plain cardboard box!  What they made of?"

"Faux Slate, it says on the pack," said Gonch pronouncing the first word as 'fawx'.

"How much?"

"A quid a box.  A bargain for a genuine faux slate set of dominoes."

"A quid, are you mad?  They look larger than normal too."

"Special deluxe size.  Solid craftsmanship."

"Genuine faux slate," muttered Calley, who knew what 'faux' meant,  shaking her head.

"75p then."

Trevor puffed out his cheeks.  "50p and you've got a deal," he said.  Gonch raised his eyes to heaven to indicate he was being robbed blind, but handed over a box of dominoes, and received the coin of the realm in return.  Trevor looked suspiciously at Gonch's bag.

"Just how many packs of those things have you got in there?"

"Never you mind.  Just spread the word though, if you would. Plenty for all and at a bargain price."

Trevor swivelled and put Vince in his sights.  "Savage - come here lad, and get your 20p ready."  Vince came over to the desk.

"How do you play?" he asked.

"Uncle Trev will show you.  Now show us the colour of your money."

Mr Bronson strode into the room.  "Money? Did someone say money?  I hope there isn't gambling taking place in here!"

"No sir," said Gonch.  "Just playing some strategy games."  At the side of the room, Danny Kendall tried to make himself invisible, but Mr. Bronson seemed in a good, almost jovial, mood.

"Dominoes!  That's just a game of luck, boy!  Hardly a worthwhile way of spending your lunch break.  You should be out in the fresh air or working on the performing arts show."

"Oh but it's raining, sir!" complained Gonch.

"Be that as it may...  Anyway, there's a new temporary addition to your year group, I'd like you to meet Klaus Becker.  He's staying here for a couple of weeks while his father's working in the city."

Gonch and Ziggy looked up with interest at the boy.  He was about their age, with very short hair and a solemn face.  He wore white braces which supported his black trousers, and a rather bright green jacket, and a red cravat around his neck above a normal white shirt.

"Hello," he said in an even voice.

"We're hoping that while he's here he can teach you some English," said Mr. Bronson.

"Don't you mean we can teach him some English?" asked Ziggy.

"I know what I mean," said Mr. Bronson dryly.  "Please take a seat Klaus, the next lesson is in fifteen minutes. Fünfzehn Minuten."

"Ja.  Thank you Herr Bronson," said Klaus, sitting near to Gonch and Ziggy.  Mr. Bronson left the room.

Gonch laughed.  "Did you hear that?  'Hair' Bronson - oh the irony!"

Klaus frowned.  Gonch raised and lowered his eyebrows to give an illusion of his hair moving.   He tugged at his ginger hair.  "Hair - see?" he said.

"Don't labour the point, lad, it wasn't that funny" said Ziggy.

"Just elaborating for the new bloke's benefit. Sorry I've forgotten your name already."

"Santa, wasn't it?" called out Trevor, smiling at his own wit.

"My name is Klaus.  And your name is, please?"

"I'm Gonch, and this is Ziggy.  The guy losing at dominoes is Trevor, and opposite him is Vince."

"Gonch, Ziggy.  These are very strange English names, no?"

"They aren't our real names," explained Ziggy.  "My real name is Eric, and Gonch is Luke.

"And Trevor is?"

"Not very bright I'm afraid..."

"Hey, watch what you're saying about me Gardner!"

"Just a joke.  Trevor is Trevor... we don't all have nicknames."

"Ah I see, pet names," said Klaus, continuing to speak slowly, and smiling slightly, showing a perfect set of clean white teeth. 

"Nicknames, you mean," said Gonch.  "Pet names are for animals."

"Ja. Yes.  Mine was ........"

"I think we should call you Boris," said Ziggy.

"Boris... ah the tennis player.  But I am not at tennis good.  I am gooder... no better you say, better at football. "

"Football, well that's more like it.  If you're useful with your feet, then it might come in handy at the next match against St. Joe's."

"Useful.. feet.  Is hard to understand when you speak so quickly."

Gonch helped out: "He means you might play for our football team.  Against another school."

Klaus nodded in agreement.  "Ja, ja.  It would be good - I would like. But I am two weeks only here.  My father is friend of Herr.... Mister Bronson."

"Poor sod," sympathised Ziggy.

There was silence for a while.  Then there was a commotion at Trevor and Vince's desk - they were sitting opposite each other.  Trevor spoke loudly in outrage:

"You're a cheating ratbag, Savage.  You knocked, and you had a six and a one.  You could have gone, and then I could have been out with my double one."

"No I never!  I just picked that one up now."

"Knock it on the head you two," said Gonch.  "Bronson'll hear and make us go out in the rain."

"Ah dominospiel," said Klaus.  "It is popular, here, ja?"

"I'm hoping so," said Gonch.  "I'm trying to sell the sets, but it's slow progress."

"You are playing a game - you and..... Ziggy?"

"You two play if you want, I'm not bothered," replied Ziggy.

"You probably play it differently in Germany, right?"

"Yes, play different.  Can I show you?"

"Help yourself," said Gonch gathering up the set.  Klaus took the dominoes and then said: "Are there any more?"

"As many as you need," replied Gonch, slightly taken aback.  He took out three more sets from his bag.  Klaus took them.  "They are good size," he said approvingly.

"Just how many boxes of the things have you got?" asked Ziggy incredulously.

"Oh.. quite a few.  There was a little mix-up at an auction I went to on Saturday.  Liquidated stock of a toy company.  I thought I was bidding for forty of them, but it turned out to be forty dozen. Not bad for a fiver. No-one else was interested."

"Forty dozen!  What do you want with four hundred and twenty domino sets?"

"Um, you mean four hundred and eighty.  I was hoping to sell a few here.  My dad said I couldn't keep them at home, so they're in Mr. Griffith's shed.  The auction house delivered them on Saturday morning."

"He'll go spare if he finds them!  Can't you just dump them?"

"Dump them - what kind of businessman dumps his stock?"

"The sort who doesn't bother to check what he's bidding for. That sort," retorted Ziggy.

"Griffiths doesn't go in that place now that Harriet's gone," said Gonch.

"You hope!" said Ziggy.

Gonch noticed that Klaus had taken all the dominos out of the packs, and was carefully putting them end-side up on the long bench at the front of the class.  His fingers worked with speed and dexterity.

"Hey what are you doing, Boris?" he asked the German lad.

"Not Boris, Klaus. This is what we do with das stein -  dominoes at our school."

"What line them up like soldiers?" said Ziggy incredulously.

"No, like dominoes."

Klaus had used up the 196 dominoes from the packs Gonch had given, and made a long line that curved at the ends to make three rows.

Trevor and Vince approached the bench.

"I don't get it," said Vince.

Klaus pushed the domino at one end.  The stack of dominoes went down in succession, turning the corners at the end, and making a lovely clacking noise until all of them had fallen.

"How childish," said Calley, unimpressed.

"She's got a point my old son," said Ziggy.  "It's not too thrilling."

Klaus's eyes lit up though with enthusiasm.

"Ah.  Nein, nein, at our school we did this with zehn tausen stein - ten thousand dominoes, and we paint them on one side.  When they fall, they knock down another five, and make this marvellous sound, and whoosh - you see pattern - a drawing from the other side."

At this, Danny Kendall stood up from the desk he had been sitting on.

"Aha.  That's brilliant!  So we could design an image on one side, and until the dominoes topple, you just see all black or white tiles."

Klaus nodded.  "There are competitions.  The world record is more than one million."

"One million dominoes!" exclaimed Gonch.

"Oh.. but ten thousand, that would take hours and hours," objected Gonch.  "And if you start painting my poor dominoes, I couldn't sell them afterwards."

"Oh stop thinking about your wallet," said Danny.  "You've already said that you only paid a fiver for them all."

"Hang on - are you saying we could do that here? A domino toppling show?" asked Ziggy.

"Yes," confirmed Danny with an edge of rare enthusiasm  in his voice.  "It's a piece of performance art.  How many dominoes have you got?"

"He said he's got 480",  said Trevor

"No, 480 packs.  49 in each pack."

"Anyone got a calculator," asked Vince.

"Not me," said Gonch.

"Nope, " said Trevor.

"You'll never get your Maths GCSE," said Calley.  "It's 23,520."

"You cheated, Donnington," complained Gonch, "You worked it out on your pad!"

Calley grinned.  She and Ronnie walked over to listen to the boys talk about the dominos idea.

"23,000.  That’s a hell of a lot of dominoes," said Ziggy.

"We don't have to do all of them: Klaus said he used 10,000," said Gonch and Klaus nodded in agreement.

"If there are many people doing, each can do part of the work," he said.

"But what do we get out of it," asked Gonch.  "Could we charge an admission fee."

Calley shook her head sadly and tut-tutted.

"It always has to be about money with you, doesn't it," said Ronnie.

"It has to be profitable.   We could get local businesses to pay, if the dominoes spelled out their...."

"No, that's too complicated," said Danny.  "It will be hard enough with just a simple design painted on the dominoes.  We could do four pictures, and make the dominoes knock one section at a time," said Danny.  "We need to find some coloured paint though.  Acrylics."

"How we going to get paint?" asked Ziggy.

Danny shrugged. "That's up to you lot, I can't do everything!"

No-one argued with Danny.  As a rule, no-one dared to...

* * *

Out by the old barn, where Harriet the donkey used to be kept, the caretaker had just discovered Gonch's stash of dominoes.   He shook his head at disbelief at the 20 cardboard boxes stacked up against the side wall.  He looked in the already-opened top-most box, and pulled out one of the domino sets, looking wonderingly at it.

"How the devil did these get here?" he said to himself.

From outside, he heard a boy's cough.

"Hello Mr. Griffiths," said Gonch brightly.

"Don't you hello Mr. Griffiths me, I bet it's you who've done this. "

"Me? Done what?"

"These here boxes.  Cluttering up my nice barn just when I was about to move a whole load of stuff in here.  I was going to put some shelves up here on the left, and look what I find - hundreds of cardboard boxes in the way filled with dominoes."

"Not hundreds, only twenty boxes of two dozen."

Mr. Griffiths narrowed his eyes.

"You're very quick at counting - two, four, six... yes there are twenty.  You've confirmed my suspicions Gardner, so you can just get them shifted out of here."

"Oh but it's for a good cause - they are needed for the Christmas Performance Show next week," protested Gonch.

"That can't be helped.  I've got a whole lot of paint to shift in here.  It was in the boiler room, but I've been told it's a fire risk. Health and Safety got new rules you see. So no if's and buts, get it moved."

"Paint? What kind of paint," asked Gonch.

"Gloss paint if it matters to you.  Different colours.  It's been there since Mr. Garfield was the caretaker so Mrs. McClusky said, and it's got to go."

"Why isn't the paint just thrown out?"

"What, waste good paint?  We might need it one day."

"It hasn't been used in half a millennium... but I think I can help you out there," said Gonch in his best business manner.

"Oh you do, do you?" said the caretaker sarcastically.

"Yes, and what's more these dominoes will be gone by next week too."

"Harumph. Well make sure they are..."

* * *

Miss Booth was not surprised to see Danny Kendall already at his desk when she arrived at the Art classroom at the start of break.   The idea for of doing painted designs for the dominos had taken hold on him.

"What do you think, Miss," he said without looking up from his design.  He had drawn the mushroom cloud of a nuclear explosion on a large sheet of paper, with a skull overlaid, and was ruling thin black lines at domino-sized widths.  "It's a bit corny, I know, but it's got to be quite simple."

"So is it going to be just this single image?"

"Oh no, this is just one of four images.  There are four lines of dominos that go round the outside, and flip the edge of each image set."

"It sounds very complicated, you aren't overreaching yourself here, Danny, especially when there's only a week to go," asked Miss Booth cautiously.

"No, it's easy.  We've done some tests with Klaus."

"Klaus? Oh the German boy. And what about the paint.  I don't think we'll have enough oils for painting thousands of dominoes.  You did think about the paint didn't you, Danny?"

" 'Course.  Gonch is sorting it out.  Klaus showed us how the dominoes need to be laid out.  It's a pain he went back to Germany so soon.  McClusky said we could cordon off an area of the hall near the stage next week."

"You mean Mrs. McClusky, Danny..."

"Yes.  That's who I said -  McClusky.  And there's five of us to help out, so we can set it up in lunchtimes and after school.  I'm going to start painting the dominoes tomorrow."

"Five of you - that's rather a lot for a single project.   Well I hope it all goes all right.  We must take some photos too."

"Bring a camera If you like," shrugged Danny.  "But that's the thing about performance art - it's all about the moment."

"True," agreed Miss Booth. 

Calley, Georgina  and Jane entered the classroom.

"And how are you three getting on with your mime project?"

"Okay Miss," said Calley.  "Look - I've brought in some of our gear for it." Calley was holding some white gloves, a top hat, and a striped shirt which she put down on the desk.   Georgina put on the gloves.  Jane carried some other clothes which Calley would wear.

"Hmm, they're a bit loose on me Cal," said Georgina.

"Doesn't matter," dismissed Calley.

"Your cousin must have enormous hands," complained Georgina.

"My mother's cousin."


The rest of the class streamed in and set to work on various projects for the arts show.  Fiona and Ronnie discussed a rap piece that Fresh N Fly were going to perform.   Laura and Louise were working on an explosive fragment of "A Taste of Honey".

Freddy Mainwaring approached Miss Booth.

"Not sure what to do, Miss," he said.

Miss Booth looked at Freddy, appraising his (as always) slick appearance and nodded.

"I know what you can do..." she said.

"I'm just going to get something from the Staff Room," said Miss Booth.  "I'll only be five minutes, don't make too much noise."  The art teacher left the room.

Gonch, Trevor and Vince headed for Danny's bench.  He didn't look up.

"I found some paint," said Gonch.

"What you mean, found?  I thought your dad was getting some from his work"

Gonch banished the memory of the conversation he'd had the night before where his father had suggested that even discounted paint cost money, and how about deducting a few weeks pocket money?

"Oh this will be as good, and save us the time of messing around collecting it. It's down in the boiler room.  A ton of it.  Griffiths says we can have it."

"We'd better check it works okay.  Got some different colours? Go and bring a tin," said Danny.

"What do you want us to do?" asked Trevor of Danny.

"We need to try painting some dominoes - see that the paint sticks properly.  We'll need quite a lot of paint."

"We'll get paint everywhere.  Hey, Calley, can we borrow your white gloves?"

Calley's response was unrepeatable.

"Hope you're not going to use that kind of language in your performance," said Ziggy.

"It's mime, you pillock," said Georgina.  "No words."

"Do we get subtitles," asked Trevor, but was ignored.

As Gonch went down to the boiler room, the others got to grip with Danny's design, and he explained how the images were to be cut up and the domino painted from the design.

* * *

The days flew by and the day of the performance arrived.  For days now, Danny, Ziggy, Trevor, Vince and Gonch had worked to put the dominos in their allotted space on the stage.  After a few early disasters, Danny had made sure that Trevor was left out of any kind of domino placing activity,  and now there were strategic gaps in the domino pattern so that any toppling would only have a minor impact - the final dominos would be placed at the last possible moment.  Danny's designs had been greatly simplified - he realised that his early designs were far too complicated to engineer in such a short space of time, and in any case the colours available had been limited.  There was a handshake between stylised black and white hands, Danny's own Grange Hill badge design, a spiral pattern and the image of a sunset.  In the end, some 7000 dominoes had been used, but to Gonch's annoyance, a good many had been used up in testing various ideas.  Still, at least he wouldn't have to worry about disposing so many. 

In the evening, an audience of parents and older students sat expectantly in the hall.  Mrs. McClusky stepped up onto the stage, and made an announcement.

"I hope you enjoy tonight's performance show.  I know everyone's been working very hard on their respective pieces.  Your compere for the night is... Fred Mainwaring".

Freddy appeared from the side of the stage, smart and debonair in a black tuxedo, hair slicked back.

"Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen.  First up tonight, we have Sarah and Michael  who are going to sing a duet for you."

And so the performance began.  From the side of the stage, Danny regarded the domino set nervously - there would be very little to actually do - all those involved would come on stage, and Danny would give a little push to the first domino.  Then each picture would be revealed as the outer lines of dominos travelled relentlessly around the four images, weaving to and fro.


Act followed act, Fresh N Fly gave their rap performance to resounding applause, and Laura and Louise started to perform their dramatic piece, jumping straight into the middle of the Shelagh Delaney play.

"Just imagine it, you're forty years old. I hope to be dead and buried before I reach that age. You've been living for forty years," said Laura, as the character Jo.

"Yes, it must be a biological phenomena," said Louise, playing the part of Helen.

"You don't look forty. You look a sort of well-preserved sixty, " continued Laura.

In the wings,  Georgina and Calley waited for their turn, with the boys standing behind them.  Georgina looked quite like Marcel Marceau, with her face blanched with powder and a stripey top with the white gloves.  Calley was dressed and made up like a movie heroine of the silent movie era, with a long white dress, and a curly-haired wig.

"You feeling all right - you're looking a bit pale," joked Gonch in a whisper

"Very funny," hissed Georgina back.

There was applause as the girls "A Taste of Honey" item came to an end, and Freddy was announcing the mime act.  Danny gave Calley and Georgina a thumbs-up.

Calley walked to the middle of the stage first, waving a letter, and miming unhappiness to the audience, while the sound system played silent movie style piano music.  She lay down, as though resigned to her fate, and the sound effect of an approaching railway sounded through the speakers and the piano music intensified.  Georgina walked on stage and was evidently remonstrating with Calley, silently of course, who shook her head violently from side to side as if denying help, and the sound of the train grew ever louder.  The audience fell completely silent, all rustling stopped as they watched the action.

It was then that disaster struck.  Georgina made an impassioned gesture for Calley to get up from the "railway tracks" , and moved her left arm suddenly to indicate the oncoming "train".  The glove, rather loose on Georgina, attained a large momentum from the movement, and flew off towards the side of the stage.  The glove struck the dominos smack in the centre, and instead of the ordered procession of tiles that had been intended at the right time, the dominoes fell outwards from the centre, loudly and quickly - CLACK CLACK CLACK CLACK CLACK.  As the train sound effect faded out,  a gasp arose from the audience, and Georgina bit her lip and went a bright shade of red, though filtered by her heavy mime makeup.  Within moments all the dominoes had fallen, and the designs were revealed, though some of the dominoes had fallen the wrong way making the art form a rather patchwork affair.  Bringing their act to an early end, Calley rose to her feet, and the two girls took a bow, glancing nervously at the side of the stage to where Klaus and Danny stood shocked, while Gonch was clutching his head in horror.

The applause rose to a crescendo at the unexpected event.  Calley motioned to the boys to come on stage to accept the applause too, and all seven of them took a bow for the unintended collaborative performance. 

* * *

Afterwards, Ziggy, Danny, Georgina and Calley walked past the shops.  The others had gone their separate ways home.  There was a fine mist of drizzle in the air, but it was mild for December.

"I'm really sorry," said Georgina.  "For ruining your show."

"Oh stop going on about it," said Danny.  "What's done is done."

They found themselves outside a pizza parlour.

"I've got some birthday money left," said Georgina.  "I'll treat you to a pizza if you like. To make up for wrecking your show."

"Sounds good to me," said Ziggy.  "I'm starving."

"Yes. But not here - anywhere but here," said Danny. The shop sign read "Domino's Pizza"

"I think I'll avoid from dominoes for a while.  Let's go to Pizza Express instead," he said.

© 2009 Geoff Phillips (c) BBC, Grange Hill characters.