••• The International Writers Magazine - 21 Years on-line - Life Stories
The only time for a raid was a Sunday morning with the vicar in church with his family. The five of us, indistinguishable scruffy knights on rattletrap bicycles, descended on the vicarage garden.
Then we hid behind the old shed that bordered the lane at the back of the garden to count the shiny jewels we had gathered in the grass beneath ancient chestnuts with rusting leaves.
"This one’s best," Nick announced, holding up a fine conker.
"Not as big as this one," Rick replied, a huge specimen practically filling his palm.
"You know? You can eat them," Des said thoughtfully.
"Can, so. My granny roasts chestnuts."
"But they’re not the same."
"Bet you a million, billion quid you can eat them."
With odds like those, there was nothing for it but to light a small fire with the last of Nick’s precious matches, and the air was soon filled with the reek of scorching conkers.
"Ugh. Horrible," Des yelped.
"You wanted to eat them," Rick retorted, spitting out yellow chestnut. "Now you owe me a million, billon quid."
Unfortunately, all the precautions that good scouts should take had been ignored. Dry grass around the shed crackled with a life of its own and flames licked at the tarred boards of the shed.
The bet was forgotten. Pockets bulging with precious cargo, we spilled out into the lane where our bikes had been left, with whisps of smoke rising into the still morning.
"Ummm. We’re telling on you."
The worst thing that could have happened, worse than the vicar or the village bobby, worse than one of our Dads, was two girls from school stood over our bikes, staring at the thickening pall.
"Ummm. We seen you," Cath accused. Deb nodded vigorously.
Brushing past, the five of us leaped onto our steeds and made for the hills, or rather, the old air raid shelter in the park.
On Monday PC Headley addressed afternoon assembly, helmet under one arm, asking if anyone knew what happened down Vicarage Lane on Sunday, and hinting at a reward for information leading to the capture of the desperadoes responsible.
"You’re going to jail like your Dad," Deb hissed at Chris. "We’re telling Miss what you done."
Complex negotiations took place over the coming days, with fraught meetings in the playground where none of us had the heart to play the conkers we had gathered.
"You’re going to be our slaves," Cath announced, brutally cutting short a summit conference, ending a week of offers and counter-offers.
So we became unwilling slaves. Rick professed undying love for the Osmonds. Pocket money became a thing of the past. Chris had to fix Cath’s Barbie-pink bike and ride it round the village. The strain told on Marcus after he had to give up his army hat, succumbing to mumps that lasted past Christmas. Bursting with furious indignation, but unable to tell the world that Deb had made him do it for fear of the retribution that would fall on us all, Nick was slippered by Miss for letting the air out of her bike tyres.
Then the torture was cranked up to a whole new level.
"We want to see your bums and pee-pees," Cath said with awful finality. "You first," she ordered.
Des looked sideways at the rest of us, huddled behind the PE hut, before sheepishly unzipping.
"Ew. I thought they were bigger than that," Deb said, then the two of them dissolved into cackles that were repeated with each of us in turn. Marcus burst into tears and ran away, so the girls went to tell the nicotine-starved teacher on playground duty that some boys behind the hut were doing something disgusting. This time, it was the slipper for all of us.
It came to a sudden end as the 11-plus sent us on separate ways.
The five of us were spread across three different schools – grammar, secondary and Naval boarding – while Deb and Cath went to the ‘good’ girls’ school. Overnight they changed shape, bulging in new places and far too grown-up to acknowledge grubby village boys. There were no complaints from us, but we never could understand how they could go to a school for good girls.
© Quentin Bates November 2006
Quentin Bates is the author of several Icelandic Crime Fiction novels featuring Office Gunnhildur.
His Latest is Cold Malice published in 2020
More fiction in Dreamscapes