Mr. Knowles In Control
Location: Mr. Knowles's Evening Class (Date: circa 2006)
I've taken the liberty of imagining Gonch grown up now, and married, and now a traffic warden obsessed with butterflies, with an unsympathetic wife: he's kind of incidental to this story, but the first part was fun, and short so I've put it here. There is a prequel to this too, which I might post. Gonch, now in his mid thirties has all but lost his nickname, he's just plain Luke. I've also taken the liberty of assigning Mr. Knowles a first name - I'm sure he had one, but I played all his episodes without hearing it said. I hope you find it funny.
Eileen Gardner stood back from the wall and admired her handiwork. Surely the subtle change to the back room would go unnoticed. Unless you were to actually count the frames, would you notice that there were now nine on display where there had once been ten?
"Who would have thought dead butterflies would be so fragile?" she said to herself, as she applied a dustpan to the last remains of a cream coloured specimen, with curious thin straight lines on its wings. Eileen glanced at the ancient grandfather clock - ten minutes to go.
"Horrid things!" She shuddered involuntarily. "Horrible creepy-crawly things. Better off without them." She walked into the kitchen, emptied the evidence of her crime into the swing-top bin, and then washed her hands meticulously, drying them on her rose-patterned apron. As she did so, she heard a key turn in the front door, and her husband’s voice.
"Hello angel, you wouldn't believe the last ticket I just issued. Tourist I expect - parked without a care in the world. As though Bylaw 42 section 33 did not even exist! As though the yellow lines were painted as an artistic attraction for overseas visitors!" Luke Gardner, once known as Gonch, strode into the house, and disassembled his Warden outfit mechanically: hat on the peg, jacket below it, radio removed and plugged in to be recharged. Thus divested of his official outfit, and his ritual completed, he smiled lovingly at his wife, and kissed her perfunctorily on the expectant cheek.
"You've got a letter - important looking, Society of Lap dancers, or something." Eileen hoped her husband wouldn't immediately go into the study. "On the table, go see what it is."
"Aha! S.O.L. - Society of Lepidoptera. From the Natural History Museum."
"Mmm, well anyway, fish and chips for tea. I already had mine ‘cos I’m going out. Dishing up in a moment, don't let it get cold, or it'll go to the cat, like last week."
"I couldn't help that, it was an emergency - Pete taken sick, no-one to watch the A635. Peak hour traffic!"
"World wouldn't stop for want of a traffic warden."
Luke frowned, annoyed at Eileen's lack of faith in his profession. He headed into the living room.
"Arterial road that is, gateway to Essex," he muttered.
Luke picked up the letter, and noticed the gold butterfly crest of the SOL. He smiled, sat down at the table and picked up the dinner knife.
"Hey, don't use those, you'll get 'em all blunt." Eileen took a letter opener from the mantelpiece and handed it over.
Luke grunted, and obeyed his better half. He removed the letter, and found a plastic holder inside, with a cream coloured butterfly inside. He read the letter silently. Eileen eyed the butterfly warily.
"Well, what does it say, ' Please find enclosed horrible moth. We are happy to see the back of it, as here at the museum, we can't stand the smelly things, and would be happy to send you all of our junk.'"
Luke replied slowly, re-reading the first part of the letter again, "No. It's from Argentina. Very rare - it's the missing one from my set of Lamino Oraperahis. See the shading on the back - those thin black stripes. George at the museum sent it – we did a swap." He rubbed his hands together in glee. "Annual meeting next month too, can't miss that."
Eileen shrugged disinterestedly. "Oh well, put it away, I'm dishing dinner up. You can stuff it away later. In a few weeks perhaps…" She turned, and went to the kitchen.
Luke wasn't really listening - he had a complete set! "Worth a fortune, this species," he thought, "I'll stick it in the frame with its four brothers in the study after tea. "
The world suddenly seemed a happier place, where there was insect order amongst the chaos of irrational humans.
Eileen arrived back with Luke’s tea, and plonked it down in front of him.
“Right that’s that done. You can wash up. I’m off to my evening class, can’t keep Shakespeare waiting, can I? ”
“He’s the teacher is he?” said Luke absently still imagining himself at the lepidoptera meeting, as the other members poured praise on him for his marvellous collection of rare specimens.
“Yes, that’s right Luke. When he’s not writing plays down in Stratford Upon Avon, he comes up to lecture a bunch of housewives to help pass the long autumn evenings.”
“Jolly good. Have a nice time.”
“Sorry I’m late, class, but some idiot traffic warden clamped my car earlier, and I spent all afternoon getting it released.”
Mr Knowles, a forty five year old teacher, with thick spectacles and a 1970’s blue suit, complete with ill-matching red jumper, put down a pile of books on his desk and studied the motley collection of evening class students. Nearly all present this week – even the little Russian man with the bald head. He was pretty sure he was not understanding a word of what was being said, but he was now on strict instructions not to put foreign students off – last term, four had left after the first week because he had found they didn’t speak a word of English. Someone is missing, he thought, but could not remember who it was.
“Right, who wants to kick off being Romeo this evening?” asked Mr. Knowles in his broad Birmingham accent.
Eileen put her hand up. Mr Knowles made tsk noises.
“You really don’t need to put your hand up Mrs Gardner, you aren’t at school now, you know.”
“Sorry sir.” Another tsk from Mr Knowles.
“Heavens. “Sir” indeed – call me Mr Knowles, or just plain Melvin. Some people call me Mel.” His class looked at him in disbelief – it seemed unlikely that anyone would.
“Sorry.. Melvin.” apologised Eileen smiling broadly at him.
“And in any case – I did say Romeo. I know there’s this odd thing in Shakespeare productions where the girls play the boys and the boys play the girls, but I think in this instance it would be better if the right sexes did the right parts. Anyone else wants to do Romeo?”
One of the younger girls nudged her friend and sniggered.
“Yes, thank you Maureen. Ten years old again are we? Thank you Jim, that’s Romeo sorted. Now how about Juliet?”
Eileen put her hand up again. Mr Knowles sighed. Eileen took her hand down.
“I’d like to Mr Knowles,” said Eileen.
“Well.. She was supposed to be a teenager, and you, well…. Anyone else want a stab at Juliet – you Monica, you’ve not done much reading this term… or ever, come to that.”
Monica shyly shook her head and blushed a vivid red.
“I’ll do Juliet if you like,” said Jim.
“You can’t do both Romeo and Juliet – be sensible. In any case you’d be a rather gruff Juliet – Shakespeare doesn’t say ‘Enter Juliet with a sore throat’. Sally? Good, thanks Sally.”
“Excuse me s… Melvin, where are we in the book?” asked Eileen.
“Where we left off last week. We had reached Act Three Scene Five – Capulet’s Orchard, and rather got stuck in the window. Yes, thank you Maureen, what I meant was stuck on the scene where they are at the window. If you remember, Juliet had hiccups, and Romeo had a fit of the giggles. I strongly suspect Juliet had been on the real ale down at the students bar beforehand, hadn’t she Sandra?” Sandra made a small snorting sound at this comment.
Mr. Knowles sighed, and turned the pages of his book. Sometimes, even teaching Fay and Annette at Grange Hill some twenty years earlier had been easier than this.
“Excuse me Melvin, I don’t have the book with me,” said Tony from the front row.
“That’s not the first time is it – I’m beginning to suspect you’ve sold your copy on eBay. You’ll have to share with, err with – I’m sorry I’ve forgotten your name,”
“With Simon, if he doesn’t mind.”
“I do actually.”
“I do mind sharing – it’s difficult enough reading this stuff without having to peer at the book from a funny angle.”
Mr Knowles sighed again. “Well go and sit next to Monica, she won’t mind I’m sure.”
Monica looked nervously around and seemed to recede into her seat. Tony stood up and walked over to Monica’s adjacent desk, and sat down noisily. Monica eyed him nervously and inched her seat further away, holding the book between them at maximum arm length.
“Sandra, you can be Lady Capulet this time. And we need a Nurse. Thank you Brian, no I’m not feeling ill – at least I wasn’t when I started the class. Mrs Gardner, will you be the nurse?”
“Oh yes please. And call me Eileen, Mr Knowles.”
“Well alright…. Eileen.”
“Does the nurse have a lot to do, Mr. Knowles?”
“Oh yes loads of lines.. Well the odd word here and there. And quite a speech towards the end (if we ever get that far)”, said Mr Knowles, adding the last part under his breath.
“Tony – you can be Capulet. OK Romeo – Jim – let’s go, from Romeo’s first speech near the beginning of the scene, please.”
Jim started reading out loud “Give me that matlock and the wenching iron. Hold, take this letter. Early in the morning…”
“Hold on, hold on,” interrupted Mr Knowles, and started turning the pages in his book. “Matlock? Where the devil are you?”
“It’s in Derbyshire isn’t it,” suggested Sandra, and sniggered.
“I’m at the start of the scene, Melvin,” said Jim. Mr Knowles came over to inspect his book.
“No, it’s Give me that mattock – not matlock. Wrenching not wenching. Anyway this is completely the wrong place – act five scene three – we’re on act three scene five.”
There was rustling of pages being turned, then Jim started reading again:
“It was the lark, the herald of the morn, No nightingale: look love what envious steaks. Do lace the severing clouds in yonder east: Night's candles are burnt out, “and…“ he paused, peering closely at the page.
“Not bad – a bit like you’re reading the shipping forecast though. Why did you stop?”
“It’s that next word, I’ve never heard of it – joke-und.”
“Jocund, means light hearted. And while we’ve stopped can I point out that it’s streaks not steaks. They aren’t holding a barbecue.” Mr. Knowles shook his head despairingly.
“Ah right. Sorry. Night's candles are burnt out, and jocund day. (pause) Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.”
“Yon light is not daylight… ”, said Sally brightly, as though she were a shopper complaining about an item to the manager.
“Hang on, Hang on. I’ve not finished yet,” complained Jim. “I must be gone and live, or stay and die. There now you can go.”
“Why thank you. If I can be allowed to continue. Yon-light-is-not-day-light-I-know-it I-it-is-some-meteor-that-the-sun-exhales-to-be-to-thee-this-night-a-torch-bearer-and-light-thee-on-thy-way-to-Mantua-therefore “
“Gracious me,” interrupted Mr Knowles. “Do take a breath from time to time, please Sally, otherwise we really shall be needing a nurse here. Those funny little dots and squiggles mean that you pause – they are called full stops and commas.”
“Sorry Mr. Knowles, I do know that, but I just get a little excited reading.”
“All right, Sally. Just take it nice and slow, and carry on from where you are. Yes Mrs Gard... I mean Eileen?”
“Sir, Mr. Knowles, err Melvin. Where actually is Mantua. We were planning to go to Italy next year and I wondered if we could go and visit…”
“I really don’t think this is within the scope of this course – perhaps you should have taken Geography.”
“It’s in Lombardy.” breathed a quiet voice.
“Who said.. oh it was you Monica. well thank you. That was a surprise. All right, back to the play. Jim – Romeo next. And put a bit more life into it please, you’re in love with Juliet, you aren’t selling her insurance.”
“Didn’t finish my bit yet,” said Sally grumpily.
“Well we’ve got to move forward with this scene, or Juliet will die of old age. Go on Jim.“ Mr. Knowles started walking down the aisle between the desks, his peculiar swinging gait causing a sudden, but hastily restrained, burst of female laughter. He turned round frowning, but couldn't work out the culprit.
“Let me be ta'en, let me be put to death”
“I am content, so thou wilt have it so.”
“'Tis but the pale reflex of Cynthia's brow;”
“The vaulty heaven so high above our heads:”
Jim paused, then looked up. “Who’s playing the part of this Cynthia then?”
Mr. Knowles raised his eyes to heaven.
“She’s not a character – she’s the goddess of the hunt and the moon in Greek mythology. And Jim, you missed some of the lines – is that the abbreviated version you have there? The compact Romeo and Juliet? The 30 minute express version?”
“Oh yeah, sorry. It’s me glasses, I can’t get used to them.”
“Well let’s have a change around. Miss Wells – Jane – you do Juliet, and Steve take the reins of Romeo. We’ll skip a bit until ‘More light and light’”
Steve started to read from his desk at the back. He leaned back in his chair.
“More light and light, more dark and dark, our woes.”
“Madam…” said Eileen in a strident voice.
“Nurse,” said Jane.
“Your lady,” Eileen continued, “Mother is coming to your chamber. The day is broken; be wary…”
“No! Your lady comma Mother, it’s not her mother, not the Nurse’s damn mother. And the day is broke, not broken, it’s not damaged, it’s beginning.” interrupted the teacher.
Eileen paused, recalling something that was broken – and put the memory to the back of her mind.”
“…be wary, look about.”
Eileen stood up and started walking to the door.
“Where are you going, Mrs Gardner? Call of nature?” asked Mr Knowles, perplexed.
“It says exit. So I am. Exiting.”
“Ah, no, not for reading. We’re not quite ready to perform this play yet. Please carry on – Juliet - that’s erm, Jane.?.
“Then, window, let day in, and let life out.” Jane read her line with a strong cockney accent, barely pronouncing the final t of ‘out’.
“Farewell, farewell. One kiss, an’ I'll descend.” said Steve, with an equivalent East of the Thames accent. He slouched down in his chair.
“What are you doing?”
“Goin’ down - that’s what it says.”
“Don’t worry about that for now, it means down the ladder, Shakespeare doesn’t say Romeo slouches.”
“Art thou gawn so? luv, lord, ay, ‘usband, fiend! – sorry that’s meant to be friend - I must ‘ear from thee every day in the ‘our” said Jane in the part of Juliet.
“Hang on a minute, don’t I get a kiss at this point?” complained Steve.
“Not from me you don’t!”
“All right, all right. Hang on, this is terrible. We seem to have degenerated into a sort of 16th century Eastenders. This is supposed to be Verona, and not Hackney.”
“I can’t help the way I speak,” flared Jane.
“All right, sorry Jane, I’m sure you’re doing your best. Perhaps we should switch to Pygmalion, you’d be an excellent Eliza Doolittle. ”
At this point the bell rang out, and the class started to put its books away. Mr. Knowles found he was sweating copiously.
“Before next week please read until the next act, and we’ll try to cover it as quickly as possible, we really should be making better progress than this.”
The class filed out. Monica was left, sitting at her desk. To his astonishment, Melvin found she had tears in her eyes, although she was completely silent. A tear dripped onto her book, putting a damp patch around the word “joy” in the middle of Lady Capulet’s lines.
“Monica? Monica, dear, whatever’s wrong?” Melvin wondered if he should put an arm round her or something. But then he remembered what had happened to old Mr. Jackson a few years ago, with the sexual harassment claim.
Monica didn’t speak straight away. Then she sniffed, and blinked away the tears. She brushed a hand against the side of her face, her neat brown hair pushed back so that one ear was exposed. She had flawless tanned skin, and big brown eyes.
“It’s such a sad play, Mr. Knowles, isn’t it. To die for love. To die because you can’t love who you want to love. It’s so sad.”
“Well. Yes, I suppose it is. But it’s just a play. You shouldn’t let it get to you. It’s just a story, Monica.” He looked at his watch, as if making a hint that it was time to go.
“But it’s such a waste – and not just of Juliet, but Romeo too. Just for the sake of stupid families and their stupid ideas.”
“Family loyalty was important – still is in many cultures. We really should be getting out of here – the caretaker will lock us both in, if we’re not careful and we don’t want that do we?”
Monica shook her head slowly and sniffed again.
“Well come on then – do you get the bus home – will you be okay?”
“I suppose.” said Monica, her lower lip quivering.
“Would you… would you like a lift – I live in North Crestwell, is that any use to you?”
Monica nodded. “Thank you, I live on the Hopkirk Estate. In the tower block... I appreciate it..” She managed a watery smile. He led her slowly to the car.
*** The End ***
(continued in "Mr. Knowles Not In Control")
(c) 2008 Geoff Phillips