It was a week before the end of the long summer holiday. Tucker and Alan sat on the concrete steps below the flats where Tucker lived. Tucker scratched at the steps with his penknife.
"Don't do that, you'll blunt it," cautioned Alan.
"Don't nag, you're worse than my old mum," said Tucker, but stopped his scratching.
"It's boring here. We could go to the precinct," said Alan.
"Got no money to spend."
"We got our bus passes though, ready for school."
"Don't you know that's a four letter word," said Tucker.
"No it ain't, it's ... six letters. You're going to have to face up to it in a week, you know, the new school."
"Don't keep goin' on about it. Me ma's kept remindin' me all week and I've got to go with her to get the new uniform tomorrow."
"I got mine already," said Alan. "So's Tommy. At least we three are together, we can help each other out. I've heard it's a bit rough at Grange Hill."
Tucker snorted. "I can take care of myself, and you're not short of a bit of weight to throw around."
"You're havin' a go at me being fat again aren't you - I'll show you how I throw my weight around," Alan raised his voice, but it was an old routine, almost a double act.
Tucker cowered in mock fright, "Get off you bully, peace man, peace!"
Tucker's mother called from the balcony above. "Oi you too - keep the noise down. You know Mrs Collins from number 8 will complain again about you. If you've got nothing to do, you can do some errands for me."
"Quick, let's shift out of 'ere!" said Tucker, and ran with Alan out onto the main road.
Justin Bennett looked at his reflection in the mirror with distaste.
"It's a bit plain this uniform. Especially the tie - just black and white," he said.
"You look good - very smart. I didn't know you cared much about clothes," said his father.
"I don't care at all, but I'd rather wear something that won't get messed up."
"It'll only get messed up if you let it. Anyway, the school has a uniform policy, so there's no choice in the matter."
"I've heard there are bullies at Grange Hill."
"You've got to stand up for yourself in life, Justin. Anyway, are you ready? Mr. Starling said Two P.M."
"It's only a ten minute drive. And why do I need to come anyway dressed like this. School hasn't started yet."
Mr. Bennet sighed. "I've told you, the Headmaster at Grange Hill, is an old friend of mine - we were both in the RAF together. We used to call him Birdie. It might do you some good if the Headmaster knows who you are, and it shows willing if you wear their uniform."
"It'll make the others think I'm a crawler if I suck up to the Headmaster."
"Oh don't be such a baby, Justin - you'll probably never see him, but it might help your school reports, and that kind of thing. Come on let's go."
Tucker and Alan walked aimlessly along the street near the flats. In the distance, they could see a bus coming: it was held up in traffic.
"Hey Tucker, what you reckon to taking a trip to the new school. We can suss it out from the outside, look for holes in the perimeter fence. Weaknesses in the security. This is the bus we'll be getting."
Tucker made a face. "Better than nothing I suppose." They crossed to the bus stop. The bus arrived and they tore upstairs and sat down near the front. The bus was empty up there apart from a prim looking woman sitting with her daughter, a girl of about eleven with long brown hair and a permanent scowl on her face.
"Oh Mum, do I have to wear a uniform to this smelly school?"
"Yes Trisha, it's the rules. You'll look very smart I'm sure."
"Huh. Millicent Smith's school doesn't make them wear uniform. Why couldn't I go to her school?"
"I've told you a hundred times - it's too far to go, and I want you to go to the same place as Carol so she can take you there in the mornings."
"I might've known it'd be 'er fault."
"Don't blame your sister. You're going, it's all arranged and... God, Trisha that old jacket, I'm going to have to throw it out - it pongs something awful."
"It don't pong. I like this jacket, it's great."
"It's the fur in the collar - it's seen better days. No arguments - it will have to go. We'll get you a new coat when we get your uniform today. It's a good job I won the bingo last week. So, in for a penny..." The bus lurched then stopped, and the girl and her mother walked to the stairs. Tucker made a face and held his nose as she passed - she saw and put out her tongue in retaliation.
Tucker picked up the newspaper from the adjacent seat and started tearing it into bits.
"What the hell are you doing now?" asked Alan.
"Paper trail - in case we get lost," said Tucker in a slow, reasoned voice. He opened the window at the side of the bus and started dropping bits of paper out. They scattered onto the pavement. Pedestrians looked up in surprise at the sudden apparent snowfall.
"Oi, what's your game," said the conductor who stormed upstairs. "Don't you know it's an offence to litter."
"Sorry mate," said Tucker. "Keep your rag, it's just a bit of fun."
"Yeah well you can have your fun somewhere else, so you can get off at the next stop."
"Give them a uniform...", said Tucker quietly to Alan, but not quietly enough.
The conductor made a bell ring a special ding-ding-ding sound, and the bus came to an early halt. "Off, off, off!" he commanded, and turfed Tucker and Alan off the bus.
"That was a bright thing to do," said Alan. "We're nowhere near there yet." The bus raced past, the conductor standing on the footplate, smiling triumphantly.
"It's only a stop away. A bit of exercise will do your blubber some good," said Tucker indicating Alan's belly.
"Look I'm warning you Tucker!" Tucker sped off down the street, narrowly missing a woman with a pram. Alan followed, but there was some essential truth to Tucker's jibes and he broke off from his run and stood panting for a while. After a few moments, Alan caught up with Tucker who was dragging his heels.
"Want a chewing gum?" said Tucker holding out the packet.
"Sure," said Alan, and took one. He opened the wrapper and popped the gum into his mouth.
"Just down this path," said Tucker, and they could now see the new school through the trees of the park.
From the front of the school there wasn't a lot to see. There were some padlocked gates behind which they could see the school which was constituted of a hodgepodge of old and modern buildings. Next to the gate was an electric bell-push. On either side of the gate was a tall spiked fence which continued all across the front. They looked through the gate - they saw a tall man in a brown coat standing in front of a small outbuilding who stood watching them
"He's got his eye on you," said Alan.
"Must be the caretaker," said Tucker and pointed at the grey sign above the gate. "Mr. Garfield like it says here. "
A clock on the first floor showed the wrong time of nine o'clock and above there was a green tower. Tucker looked at the tower with interest.
"Wonder what's up that thing. Bet they imprison you in it when you do something wrong."
"You do talk some rubbish," said Alan.
"I'm going up it when I get a chance," said Tucker.
"Come on," said Alan impatiently.
Silently, they wandered around the side. The fence became a six foot brick wall which continued around the rear of the building, blocking any view of the premises. In the middle of the back wall was a wooden door. Here, they found themselves no longer alone: a small black boy with an afro hair style stood with his hands on his hips.
"All right?" said Tucker, conversationally. The smaller boy didn't reply, but stared fixedly ahead, scowling.
"We're doing a recce on the building. We're coming here next week, worst luck."
"Me too," said the boy. "They've got a good football pitch, though.."
Tucker shrugged. "So why you lookin' so down in the mouth?" he asked.
"'Cos my football's over the other side of this wall."
"What did you want to play near here for, anyway?" asked Alan.
"Don't mind him," said Tucker. "He's always grumpy. He's Alan, I'm Tucker."
"My name's Benny. My dad will kill me - I went on and on for him to buy a football, and now..." a glimmer of a tear was in Benny's eyes, making Tucker and Alan uncomfortable.
"Never say die: it's just a football," said Tucker. Benny seemed to pull himself back from the brink, and Tucker continued. "Here, have a chewing gum - don't say I never give you nothing."
Benny took Tucker's last stick of gum. "So.... you gonna help me get my ball back?"
"Did you try rattling the gates or knocking on the door?" said Tucker.
"Wouldn't be any good. You see I kicked my ball in there a few weeks ago. I only live round the corner, and we were playing in the street, me and a mate from my old school. Anyway, there's this old geezer who's caretaker in there. He made a terrible fuss about it, but my mate - he's very persuasive - talked about getting his big brother involved. Anyway, we got it back. This old caretaker - he made it clear - he'd give the ball back once, but once only."
"Hmmm," said Tucker looking up at the brick wall.
"It's hopeless - I'm dead, aren't I?" said Benny.
Tucker frowned. "None of that defeatist talk. Hey, Fat Man, what do you reckon to this wall, could you get over it?"
Alan shook his head. "No way you getting over that - and I told you to stop calling me that. I could give you a bunk up though. How would you get out again?"
"You might get caught," cautioned Benny. "That caretaker's got eyes in the back of his head, I reckon. I watched him, he keeps walking round the outside as if he owned the place. He takes his job very seriously."
"What's he going to do, get me expelled? What about that gate, do you reckon it's just bolted, or locked as well?"
"He'll get you for trespass. It's probably just bolted," suggested Alan. "What you got in mind?"
Tucker tapped his nose. "You'll see. Benny, this is what I want you to do. Go round the front, mate, and ring that doorbell. Use the chewing gum to stick the button in. Rattle the gates too, you'll see when the caretaker bloke is coming and when you've got his attention, scarper round the back here. Can you whistle?"
Benny put his fingers in his mouth and made a loud piercing whistle.
"Pretty good," admitted Tucker. "Well go on then."
Benny shot off around the corner. After a delay, there was the sound of the gates rattling.
"I can't hear the bell," said Alan.
"It'll be inside, I suppose."
There was some more gate rattling and then Benny's loud whistle sounded from the other side of the building.
"Come on then, give us a bunk up. We've not got long."
Alan put out his hands for his friend to step into, and Tucker hoisted himself up, grabbing the top of the wall, and heaved himself over. For a moment he straddled the top, checking the coast was clear, then slid down on the other side. He found himself in a good sized playground and looked around for where the football might be. He saw it had rolled close to the main building, and trotted over to it. Before he collected Benny's precious football, he took a glance inside. He saw a plain classroom with a world map on the back wall, and desks with chairs neatly stacked on top. What fun it would be to push the chairs from the back so they all came off, he thought. Then he raced back over to where there was a wooden door in the wall. He turned the knob, but the door did not budge.
"Come on Tucker," said Alan from the other side.
"Hells bells, it's locked," said Tucker.
"You'll have to find the key then, or something!" said Alan unhelpfully.
"Sorry to get you into trouble," said Benny.
"Don't worry," said Tucker. "Here's your football anyway." He lobbed the ball over the wall.
"Thanks, Tucker," said Benny. "I've got to get back. I'll see you next week."
Tucker scratched his head, and went back to the main building, and checking no-one was there, walked around the side of the building. Here, there was another entrance into the school, which Tucker found locked, and a number of parked cars. I'm stuffed if anyone appears now, he thought. He reached the front of the building and peered around the edge of the wall - quickly he ducked back when he saw the caretaker striding back to his cubby-hole, thankfully facing in the other direction. He looked around - behind him there was a distressing lack of cover. Tucker Jenkins scratched his head thoughtfully - I'm trapped, he thought, and all I can do is to own up to trespassing, or make some excuse about wanting to see inside my new school.
He looked at the cars - why were there three cars parked here - surely there was just the caretaker here in the holidays? He peered around the corner again, and immediately withdrew when he saw not the caretaker, but a man in a suit, tall and well-built, with greying hair, talking to a smaller man who had a jet black-haired boy next to him. He could hear one of the men talking loudly.
"Well thanks for coming Jim, and don't worry we'll look after your boy for you, I'm sure he'll do fine here."
Tucker returned to the cars and tried the door of one of them - locked. He tried the next - a large orange Rover, and found the rear nearside door could be opened. Hearing footsteps crunching across the gravel of the school forecourt, Tucker pulled open the car door, and secreted himself in the car's spacious rear, quietly pulling the door shut. There was a tartan blanket on the back seat and Tucker pulled it over himself, keeping his head low. To his mounting horror, they entered the Rover, sitting in the front seats.
"Well I'm glad that's over with," said the boy.
"Oh Justin, it wasn't that bad an ordeal was it? It was nice for you to see the place," said the man.
"He's not your headmaster! It was terribly embarrassing."
"Well it's over now. Once that caretaker fellow has opened the gate, we'll get you home."
"I'll just be happy to get out of these horrid clothes."
The man turned the key in the ignition and the car headed out of the building. As the car travelled through the streets of North London, Tucker wondered where he'd end up.
"How about I get us some fish and chips? And as a treat some ice cream from the Co-op next door - okay?"
"Alright Dad," said Justin.
Tucker heard the car pull over, and the driver stepped out. Tucker waited a few moments, and then raised his head to look out of the window. He could see the tall figure of Justin's father walk down the High Street.
"Hey, who are you?" said Justin loudly, evidently having noticed the rear seat passenger.
"Shh mate," said Tucker, putting the blanket to one side and opening the rear door with relief. "Just a stowaway - keep shtumm, eh? Just a fellow inmate. Thanks for the ride."
Tucker exited the vehicle while Justin just gaped in astonishment. He looked around, got his bearings and headed back to rendezvous with Alan.
© 2008 Geffers