The Field Trip
Note this is a story set in a Grange Hill of 1983, with some additional characters who did not show in the series around that time.
“Fay, why have the other girls started being so nasty to me this term?” asked Belinda Zowkowski as they entered the school gates.
“It’s just that new girl Debbie – she’s seen you get lifts home, and thinks you’re a spoilt little rich kid. You know how it is, all the others follow her around like sheep.”
But, there were several reasons why Belinda had become so unpopular on starting her second year at Grange Hill Comprehensive School. Firstly, she was the only girl wearing a brand new uniform that looked as though it had been tailor-made, rather than bought off the peg. In fact this appearance was due to her being exactly standard for age – every clothes shop’s ideal customer. Also, her strong Canadian accent set her apart from the others – Belinda’s family had moved to London the previous summer.
Fay and Belinda entered the form room with Annette following behind, and sat down near the front.
“Your parents must be stinking rich to be able to afford to buy you new clothes every few months,” sneered Janice from the desk behind, running her tie around her wrist like a tourniquet. Janice and her cronies, Madeleine and Debbie, all stretched the school uniform regulations to their limits, and often beyond. Their coats lacked badges, jewellery hung from their ears (often hidden by unkempt hair), and their faces daubed with excessive makeup.
“It’s not true,” Belinda protested. “I had to have a new uniform when our luggage was stolen in Luxembourg.”
“Ooh, do you hear that Janice?” squealed Debbie who stopped brushing the knots out of her hair long enough to turn around to face the rest of the class. “ Belinda spent her whole holiday in Luxembourg – her family are so poor that they could only go there for six weeks.”
Fay angrily joined in the argument. “You know she was only there because of winning the Music Contest. And she was only there two weeks. And anyway you’re jealous Debbie, because you can’t even play a tin whistle, let alone the clarinet. Miss Mooney says you sound like a tortured cat when you play the recorder.” Debbie flushed, especially when her mates laughed with the rest.
During the year, Belinda had been learning the clarinet, but after a number of incidents it had been lost. The insurance money eventually arrived, and a replacement bought, and ever since Belinda had spent most of her spare time practising - now she excelled at playing it.
Further debate was prevented by the arrival of Miss Mooney.
The class sat down attentively – not a normal state of affairs by any means, but yesterday Miss Mooney had promised them a field trip that would occupy the whole afternoon, and that meant no Maths!
“We’ll set of at 1.30 sharp, and don’t forget your exercise books. I hope you’ve all got sensible shoes today: some of the river path is going to be muddy.”
Registration took place, and as the bell sounded the pupils started to make their way to their first lesson. Belinda approached Miss Mooney who was closing her register and about to leave.
“Miss, Miss, I can’t go on the field trip this afternoon ‘cos I’ve a music lesson at 4.30.” said Belinda, who did not particularly want to spend an afternoon studying wildlife.
“Well the coach will be back by quarter-past four, Belinda, so you’ll be in time.”
“Yes but Miss, it takes me half an hour at least to get to Kensal Rise, for my lesson, and I have to go home to get my clarinet. And it’s really important if I’m to play in the County orchestra.”
Miss Mooney could see that Belinda was really upset that she might miss her lesson, but at the same time was annoyed at the number of times she had missed her classes because of some musical event. It was not as though she was the best pupil in the class.
“Look,” he compromised, “bring your clarinet and you can leave it on the coach when we get there, and we'll go through Kensal Rise on the way back, so I’ll get the driver to drop you off. How about that?” The teacher smiled brightly, and made towards the door. “Come on now, or you’ll be late for your lesson.”
Belinda could not see any flaw in that argument, and reluctantly nodded in agreement.
* * *
Miss Mooney looked at her watch and tut-tutted impatiently. “Deborah,” he called. “Do you know where Fay and Belinda are?”
“Don’t know Miss. I thought I heard them say they was going to bunk off home.” Debbie thought she might as well stir up some trouble, after all they were keeping everyone waiting.
At that moment the missing girls appeared from the end of the road, and ran up to the coach. “Sorry we’re late Miss, but I had to go home and get the clarinet. We ran most of the way,” panted Belinda. Miss Mooney gave Debbie a stern look, but the girl looked innocently back.
Everyone boarded the coach with the usual seating arrangements: Janice, Debbie, and Madeleine grabbing the back seats; Fay and Belinda sitting together in the middle, with Annette nearby. Miss Mooney closed the coach doors and took a seat near the front. She wedged Belinda’s clarinet case firmly in place beside her own seat so that she could keep an eye on it, and stop it from sliding about.
The driver pulled away from the school, and before long the houses of Northam were replaced by the flat countryside of South Hertfordshire. Half an hour later, the coach took a sharp turn into a narrow road that lead to the river and came to a halt.
“Get off the coach quietly and line up on the river bank,” called Miss Mooney, after the coach had pulled up at the side. The class exited the coach in the usual demonstration of pushing and shoving. “Quietly I said!” shouted Miss Mooney. The remainder of the coach’s occupants descended the steps, and the teacher followed suit.
“Hang on love,” called the coach driver. “You can’t leave that thing here.” He indicated the clarinet with his thumb.
“I’m sure it won’t get stolen here – I’ll hide it under the seat if you want.” Miss Mooney picked up the instrument.
“No, you don’t understand darlin' – I’ve got a job at Hatfield now. Another coach is coming back to pick you lot up when you’re finished.”
So Miss Mooney had to take the clarinet off the coach, grumbling under her breath. She handed it to Belinda and explained that she would have to carry it. “It’s alright Bel, “ said Fay, “I’ll take turns with you. And Annette will, won't you?”
"Yeah suppose so," moaned Annette with reluctance.
* * *
The teacher turned to address the class. “Now pay attention. The plan is to follow the river up to the weir, then cross the disused railway line, cross the bridge and wait there for the coach. It’s not a race, you’ve got till 3.30. Note down all the different flora and fauna you see, draw the shapes of leaves – and don’t leave any litter.”
After a while, the party split into the usual sections with the teacher leading the way along the river bank. At the back were Annette, Fay and Belinda, somewhat disadvantaged by the awkwardness and weight of her instrument in its case. Although the clarinet was an encumbrance, Belinda was used to lugging it almost half a mile to her class each week, so it was not an impossible burden, and she had her friends to help too.
Also trailing at the rear were Debbie and company; they would always fall to the back of any assembly. Once out of the teacher’s sight, they could lark around. Later, they would always bully someone into giving up some notes and findings.
Madeleine finished a large packet of crisps and threw the empty wrapper into the river. “Maddie!” exclaimed Janice in mock horror. “What would Miss Mooney say if she saw you throwing your litter in the river?” All three girls then convulsed into hysterical laughter.
Behind, Fay shook her head sadly. “When she grows up a bit, she’ll wonder why all the rivers are polluted, and wish there was still somewhere nice and clean to go to.”
The river took the wrapper away quickly – the water was quite high on the banks after several weeks of wet weather. “It looks very deep, “ said Annette thoughtfully. “Look how swiftly the current is moving.”
“Yes,” mocked Janice, who had overheard. “Look how swift the current is Deborah.”
“You’re asking for a swift kick, Janice,” warned Fay, switching hands on the clarinet case.
“Just ignore them, Fay,” said Belinda, and stopped to draw the shape of some wild flowers. It did not take long to get out of sight of the rest of the class; Fay nudged her friend, and pointed to her watch. “Come on, or we’ll be late again – It’s nearly 3.00.”
Walking at a brisk pace, they soon caught up with the three trouble-makers. They had reached a point in the river where a broad pipe crossed to the other bank. Debbie was in the centre of the pipe, and walking as if a tightrope walker, arms flapping at her side. “My uncle Billy was in the circus, “ she shouted walking to the edge of the pipe and scrambling up the incline to rejoin her friends.
“Yes, he was one of the trained Chimpanzees,” retorted Annette, and Fay and Belinda giggled.
“I see Belinda's been a good little girl and filled her book with lots of work,” said Debbie, and grabbed the exercise book before she could react. She ran off with it, waving it above her head like a flag. “Let’s do a scientific experiment and see if it floats,” said Debbie gleefully, prancing across the pipe, and letting go of the book halfway across.
“Oh dear, I accidentally dropped your notebook Belinda, and oh what a shame, it doesn’t float! Interesting experiment though, don't you think?”
“You stupid cow!” screamed Fay, and ran towards the pipe. At that moment, still imagining herself to be a famous high-wire walker, and forgetting that her shoes were barely suitable for a field trip, let alone precision balancing, Debbie tried to prance back to the bank, and overbalanced into the water. The current immediately began to pull her downstream – Debbie was not much of a swimmer, and it was as much as she could do to keep her head above water. Fay was the strongest swimmer, but the water was quite different from the placid warm swimming pool, and she didn't fancy her chances if she were to jump in. Debbie floated inexorably further downstream, and in the distance a weir could be seen, where the water cascaded violently down a sheer drop.
“Quick, run and get Miss Mooney,” shouted Fay, and after gawking for a few seconds at the stricken Debbie floundering in the river, Janice exercised her much underused limbs, and raced off along the bank.
“We’ve got to do something, “screamed Madeleine as Debbie went under again, her body swept along. The weir now looked frighteningly close. “Can’t we reach in and grab her?”
“Too far out,” shouted back Fay, running with Belinda along the riverbank. Debbie desperately struck out her arm, trying to stay afloat. Suddenly Belinda went into action and, without a moment’s hesitation, clicked open the clarinet’s case. She deftly screwed the parts together, then held out the instrument so it reached towards Debbie. At first, it was not close enough, and she had to run further downstream to make a second attempt. Then, by stretching out on her stomach (and almost falling in herself) Belinda managed to get the clarinet to make contact with Debbie’s hand.
Debbie grabbed the end and hung on while the clarinet's owner pulled back the instrument slowly back, hoping that the clarinet would hold together. Finally, the girl was close enough for Fay to clasp Debbie’s arm. As Debbie was pulled towards Fay, Annette grabbed the girl's other hand. Miss Mooney appeared on the scene just in time to witness Debbie being pulled onto dry land with the help of Fay and Annette. “Thank God you’re safe, what happened?”
Belinda looked at Debbie, who was in a very sorry state. She had learned her lesson – there was no need to make matters any worse, so she said to her teacher, “The wind blew my notes in the river and Debbie tried to use the metal pipe to get them back for me. She overbalanced and fell in.”
After that, Debbie lost much of her unpleasant character, even becoming something of a friend to Belinda, and Fay. The clarinet was not damaged by its ordeal, and although Miss Mooney suspected the girls’ account of the incident to be not entirely true, she decided to let well enough alone. At the end of the term, Debbie and her family moved away from the area.
(c) Geoff Phillips (c) Grange Hill Characters BBC