Tuesday, 20 February 2007

An explosive incident

The scorching and charring were in fact the legacy of an early November evening almost a year previously, prior to my arrival at the school. The tuck box room was a well-established haunt of smokers, situated as it was apart from the staff quarters. It also had the advantage of being distanced from the attentions of the boarding prefects who had their own studies within which to indulge their particular vices.

It transpired that one evening a bored and disaffected gasper had absent-mindedly applied a glowing cigarette end to a fragment of paper peeping innocently from the lid of GNP ’s box. It took less than thirty seconds to discover that this was in fact the business end of twenty pounds worth of assorted fireworks intended for the boarding house Guy Fawkes celebrations. That year’s display turned out to be an intensely private affair observed only by the two or three miscreants who happened to be having a fag at the time. They had emerged from the cacophony of screeches, bangs and explosive flashes accompanied by vast curling blankets of dense smoke. The smell of gunpowder and saltpetre lingered for some months afterwards. Marginally longer than the swollen ears and lips of the idiot who had deprived the whole school of their bonfire night celebrations that year.

I glared at my glossed grass-green box, noting the coarse cutout carrying handles. I could remember clearly how they had dug into my hands as mother and I had carried the box up the High Street from the bus stop. I can still feel how my ears and face burnt with shame as we approached the school where other pupils and their parents were busy disgorging new trunks and cases from shiny motor cars. I had then to endure the return journey to retrieve the cases we had not been able to manage on the first trip. I had been again painfully conscious of the curious looks of other parents and pupils as mother and I walked the gauntlet of their stares for the second time. It was not an auspicious beginning to boarding school life.

Cruddy, poxy box, its whole aura flashed ‘makeshift’ which hardly accorded with the look of triumph on the face of my father as he had emerged from the dusty, back storeroom, bearing this monstrously amateur fabrication. His reassurances of its solidity had fallen upon deaf ears, for even as the final licks of paint were being slopped on there was no disguising its provenance. The completely awkward physical presence of the thing screamed ‘I am the property of, can only belong to, a complete and utter turd.’ And each time it was used as the preferred stepping-stone to the swankier boxes arranged neatly on tiered shelves, the implication to me was quite clear;

You are your box.

How I loathed that box!

Monday, 19 February 2007

That box!

With a scuffed shoe, I gave the box a good kick, sending it sliding across the grey, stone floor. I hated that green wooden box as the Devil hates Holy Water! Its transformation from a worm chewn beer crate had been cursory. Partitions, cobwebs, dead insects and other detritus removed, the box had been augmented with a hinged lid knocked together from two pieces of mouldy plank. Hasped and stapled, a smearing of bright green gloss paint (no primer, no undercoat), had completed the reincarnation. This was my tuckbox.

It squatted forlornly surrounded by professionally manufactured trunks, complete with leather bindings, bright brass corner plates, rows of shining rivets and gleaming locks. Many incorporated carefully stencilled or hand-painted monograms, clues to the owner of each treasured casket. My grass-green glossed beer crate needed no such identification unlikely as it was to be confused with any other.

The box slid easily across the burnished stone floor like an old house brick hurled across an icy pond. It slid easily since, as usual, it was almost empty save for two choice items. A partly consumed packet of mouldy, crumbling Lincoln biscuits and a leaking glass bottle containing a cheap chemical confection known as Orange Squash. Usually diluted with water I had taken to drinking this neat in a Proustian effort to evoke the distant flavour of oranges that lingered in the deeper recesses of my memory. It never did.

My box thudded to a halt at the far corner of the room, arrested in its curling glide by a well crafted, wooden trunk. Upon the lid in gilded, gothic script had been lovingly inscribed the monogram GNP. The trunk was also conspicuous for being heavily scorched and charred around the lid as though the owner, having mislaid the key, had attempted to effect an entry with the assistance of one of those very large heat lances so beloved of television safebreakers. Perhaps even one of those science inspired laser guns that, in the hands of technologically au fait master criminals, were beginning to make such an impression upon impregnable vaults in the cinematic world. At any rate, the general effect was that some pyromaniac had had a jolly good go at GNP’s box for one reason or another. The truth however turned out to be rather more prosaic than my imaginative leaps of fancy, though no less explosive.