A Piece of Plywood

The old red brick walls of the school felt warm while the tall windows set in frames of brown and cream flared in the bright afternoon sun high above the tarmac playground.  Around the corner of the building, worn smooth by a million fingers, stood a wooden cloakroom connected to the main block by an arched canopy.

Frank Ryman, the art teacher, stood by the entrance with his hands in his pockets glaring expectantly through his huge horn rimmed glasses. He always seemed untidy and chalky and never stopped pushing his specs back up his nose.

“Benson! Use your ruddy eyes lad!” he shouted as I collided with the dusty trouser legs. “Slow down boy!”

Restricted from further movement by a firm grip on my left ear I was instructed to go to the woodwork room and ask Mister Sutherland, Inky that is, for a piece of plywood.

“Tell him, about the size of an exercise book. An off cut will do. Oh yes,” he went on, releasing his vice like grip, “and try not to disable too many people on the way.”

Not a bad bloke old Ryman, dead sarcastic but always good for a laugh.  He often appeared to be grinning when he was ranting at you.

I walked fairly slowly past the new block. No need to rush I decided, after all I was on ‘Ryman business’.

All I could hear was the sound of Miss Toll’s squeaky voice coming from the half open windows, whining on about apostrophes and things, and it made me think how lucky I was, running into Ryman like that.

As I passed the bike shed I noticed Dizzy Lindel leaning against the fence, looking a bit whiter than he usually did.

“Hi Dizzy, why aren’t you in class then?”

“I was” he said in his mock dying voice “but I felt sick so Penfold said go outside and get some fresh air.”

“You don’t look too bad now,” I replied, trying to cheer him up a bit.

“I know, but its algebra, so I’m not rushing back.”

“Don’t blame you,” I said “that could make you sick all over again.”

“I’m going to Inky’s to get a piece of plywood for Frank Ryman,” I told him “so I’m not rushing either.”

Dizzy didn’t look very sick to me, a bit spotty perhaps, but then he always did look fairly gruesome. That was probably because he was in 4B, at least in 3C you didn’t have to pretend to know anything.

Dizzy was a good mate though, and we usually met up after school or went to the youth club together on Friday nights.

“What does Ryman want plywood for?” he said.

“Don’t ask me, probably wants to repair the hole in his head.”

“Wow! Whose is that flash bike in the shed?” I gasped, noticing the electric blue racer chained to one of the posts. “It looks brand new!”

Dizzy thought it must belong to Curly Reed in 4A. His dad owned the hardware shop on the high road and Curly got just about everything he asked for.

Dizzy said that Curly’s dad had promised him a new bike if he stayed in every night and studied.

“Crikey! Who wouldn’t if they were promised a bike like this?” I replied. “Look!  It’s got loads of gears, and light weight callipers.”

“Look how narrow the tyres are, and what about this?” said Dizzy, pointing to the combination lock securing the chain around the post, “Trust Curly to have one of them.”

Just for a giggle we took it in turns trying to find the right number, Dizzy thought that it would be something obvious like three ones or one two three.  I wondered if he might choose his dad’s car number, but after a while Dizzy said that it would take him too long to work it out mathematically so just spinning the numbers around was probably the best.

He soon got bored and decided that it was quite impossible to open the lock unless you knew the exact combination, when suddenly the chain fell apart and dropped onto the ground.

“Just as I thought” he shouted looking pretty pleased with himself “007! Cracked it! So much for Curly Read’s secret numbers.”

“Why don’t we have a quick go on it” I said, “while they’re all still in class?”

“Why not?” replied Dizzy. “There’s not much chance of Curly letting us have a go, he won’t even let you borrow a pencil.”

“What about going to the woodwork room on it?” said Dizzy “if you take the top path past the cookery room no one will see you, and it will only take about five minutes.”

“That sounds a good idea,” I said, “come on Dizzy, jump on the crossbar and you can change the gears.”

Changing the gears appealed to Dizzy and anyway, we would be back from Inky’s in no time and Curly Reed wouldn’t be any the wiser. It was all down hill to the end of the main block through an avenue of lime trees where it joined the top path, a nice smooth strip of tarmac past the back of the cookery room.  Dizzy shouted over his shoulder that we should easily get into top gear if I didn’t slow down too much on the gravely bit by the dustbins.

“Leave it to me” I replied though it was a bit difficult to go much faster without standing up because the saddle was a bit higher than I expected.

Dizzy was trying to force the lever into top gear and shouting “Faster, faster!” making sure that the two girls standing by the Stevenson screen could hear him.

“Wait till we get to the slope” I said. “It’s all down hill from there.”

Dizzy started punching the air and shrieking “give it some welly Beano!” as we roared down the slope by the flower beds and swung round the shallow bend in front of the canteen, when all of a sudden he went rigid, throwing his legs in the air as if he was trying to leap off.

“Stop! Stop Benson!” he shrieked in a blood curdling voice snatching violently at the front brake lever.

That’s when I heard the tremendous thud and the bike flew into the air hovering for what seemed ages before plunging to the bottom of an enormous pit.  It soon became clear that some clown had dug a massive hole right in the middle of the foot path, and sure enough there was a bloke with a spade standing at the edge of the hole with his mouth wide open as we dived into the wet mud followed by the brand new blue racer.

The freezing water appeared to send Dizzy into hysterics and he began shouting things like “It’s your entire stupid fault Benson! Curly’s dad’ll go ballistic when he finds out. And what about my new shirt!”

It was hardly my fault that his shirt had turned brown, but then so had his trousers and his face.      After what seemed forever I noticed somebody else glaring down through the spokes of the front wheel which seemed to have gone flat on one side.  Then more faces appeared, including Bossy Summers’ the caretaker.

Bossy just stood there leaning on his broom, grinning and pointing at the bent wheel but just then Frank Ryman’s bright red face appeared over the edge of the hole, his glasses swinging from his ears as he peered into the pit.  Strangely, he didn’t seem to notice Dizzy or me, appearing to be more interested in Curly Reed’s new bike. Bossy handed the broom to Ryman who carefully lifted the bike out using the head as a hook, leaving Dizzy and me to clamber out of the hole as best we could.

At last we stood by the hole with water dripping from our trouser legs. Watching Frank Ryman walking round in circles muttering to himself we patiently waited for him to form some sort of a sentence.

“Well well well,” he managed at last. “Thought you’d try a bit of aerobatics did you Benson?”

“No sir” I stammered “you see sir, it was a sort of an accident, that is sir, I mean, I didn’t know the hole was there.”

“I see, a sort of accident was it?” he repeated looking as if he was smiling, but I was fairly sure that he wasn’t.

“Yes sir,” I blurted glancing at Dizzy who was trying to pretend he wasn’t involved.

“A bit of low flying hey? Hey?” he went on sniggering nervously and violently ramming his horn rims back up his nose.

“Well boys, this time you’ve made a big mistake,” he went on, chuckling like some fellow in a horror film, “like imagining I’d take kindly to a pair of nitwits trying to break the land speed record on my new bike.”

“Your new bike sir?” gasped Dizzy

“Oh, and that plywood,” snapped Ryman sweeping his specs up his nose, “I hope you got some, you’ll find it very handy down the seat of your trousers.”

Bossy Summers grinned, and mumbled, “Quite right Mr Ryman.”

Then, as Ryman walked slowly away carrying the broken racing bike under his arm,  he snapped “The two of you, outside the Head’s door in five minutes! Sharp!”

Turning back and glancing at Bossy he whimpered,

“I only wanted a piece of plywood to make a notice saying ‘FOOTPATH CLOSED.’”