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This excerpt is from 'The Oracle Dai Bando', an unpublished novel. It is the first morning of term at a small Welsh agricultural college for Tiddles, the narrator, Steggy and The Oracle himself.

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Kelvin Mason

Eight-thirty; the new students assembled for a farm-walk conducted by a big bluff man, balding on top. He wore a pair of spectacles that he took off and polished with a big white hankie whenever he spoke.
‘I’m Mister Forrest, Tom Forrest, Deputy Principal and Farm Manager.’
‘I don’t believe it,’ I whispered. ‘Tom Forrest!’
‘Twilight Zone stuff,’ Steggy agreed.
We set off on the farm-walk, guided by the man from The Archers.
‘He sounds different off the radio,’ I said.
‘I saw Cliff Morgan once,’ Dai offered. ‘He was shorter.’
There were about fifty students on the farm-walk, mostly lads with bow legs and straw for hair.
‘Brain extensions,’ Dai decided, exhaling smoke at a Boskin who’d come too close.
We started our tour with the main farm buildings, then trekked around the whole estate through fields still sodden with dew. We entertained ourselves making stage-whispered comments every time Tom Forrest stopped to speak, polishing his specs. He was very informative.
‘Silage pit,’ he told us, ‘fermented grass, winter fodder.’
‘Friesians,’ he said, ‘dairy cattle, pedigree herd.’
‘Duw, thought they was Dalmatians, mun.’
‘Milking parlour,’ Tom offered, ‘rotary.’
‘Get away! Magic Roundabout I thought it was, see.’
‘"Boing!" said Zebedee’.
‘"Fuck off, Springdick," said Florence’.
‘I like Dylan the dog,’ Steggy said. ‘He’s definitely on drugs.’
The farm was set in the river valley. Most of the fields were flat and fertile. Given the climate, it was ideal land for dairy farming; the grass grew lush and green. Good for corn, too. In a field set aside for research the college experimented with new and unusual crops: sorghum, oil seed rape, and hemp. Steggy’s interest was captured for a moment till he learned it wasn’t the smoking variety. Still, worth a try when it had grown, he decided. There was a piggery, smelling disgusting; and a poultry unit with sad looking birds, four to a cage, their feathers rubbed off them.
Eventually, we returned to the farmyard and halted. Tom took off his glasses. He began to take us through the way the farm was managed and how the students fitted in. We were standing over the slurry pit. One of the manhole covers was off. Two boys hovered over the hole, looking into the murky depths. The taller of the two bent to look deeper, his hands in the pockets of his green Barbour jacket. When he spoke his voice was unmistakably English - that particular sort of English.
‘I say,’ he trilled, ‘take a whiff of this! Smells like a Welshman’s breath.’
And then he disappeared.
‘Mr Forrest,’ Dai said loudly, ‘do Englishmen swim in shit?’
‘What’re you on about, Griffiths?’
‘My friend’s in the slurry pit!’ the second boy yelled. ‘They pu – OW!’
‘Sorry, butty, was that your foot?’ Steggy said. ‘Best to keep it out of your mouth, like, or it’ll get bit.’
‘Good God!’ Forrest pushed his way through the students, putting his glasses on.
We all crowded around, peering down into the gloom. A white face was discernible - or at least the parts of it not covered in thick, dark green liquid.
‘Are you all right, boy?’ Forrest boomed down.
‘I... I... I swa-llowed some.’
‘Can’t have,’ Dai whispered in my ear, ‘he was already full of shit.’
‘Griffiths, get a rope,’ Forrest snapped.
‘We’re not going to hang him, sir?’ Dai yelped.
‘GO!’ Forrest exploded.
‘Right you are.’
We all watched as Dai started to jog towards the barn. Then he seemed to trip, didn’t quite fall, and continued very slowly, limping and holding the back of his knee.
‘Griffiths!’ Forrest shouted.
‘Sorry, sir, old rugby injury. Ouch! I’ll be as fast as I can.’
‘You,’ Forrest turned to me and wiped the grin from my face, ‘I know your father. Get a rope, double-quick.’
As I sprinted past Dai he thrust out a leg. I tripped and went sprawling on the yard, grazing my palms. I struggled to my feet, looking from Dai to Tom Forrest.
‘Don’t find one, Tiddles,’ Dai hissed.
‘Get on with it, Mills!’ Forrest shouted.
I was on the horns of a dilemma. And both of them were sharp. If I helped to rescue the Englishman, I knew Dai would exact a terrible vengeance. But then, Tom Forrest knew my father. I ran for the barn, searching desperately for a rope.
‘Sorry, Dai,’ I apologised, after the English boy had been hauled from the pit, stinking and dripping green, ‘but we couldn’t just leave him there.’
‘Why not?’ Steggy asked. ‘The English have kept us in the shit for years.’
‘The Russians?’ I queried, astounded.
‘Mam’s Welsh,’ Steggy retorted. ‘I’m a cross-breed.’
‘Hybrid vigour,’ Dai proclaimed.
‘Don’t call me vicar,’ Steggy said.
‘Dai,’ I pleaded, ‘are you speaking to me?’
‘Course I am,’ Dai said, smiling reassurance. ‘Traitor!’
They hosed the English boy down in the milking parlour. One of the girls shouted for him to strip off. He looked a sorry sight, sodden and blushing.
‘What happened?’ Forrest finally demanded, his hands locked on his hips, his gaze fastened on the boy’s friend who seemed to be trying to hide in the crowd.
‘He slipped, Mr Forrest,’ the boy said shrilly, panic in his English voice.
‘An accident?’ Forrest demanded. ‘He fell in the FYM by accident?’
‘FYM?’ I questioned.
‘Shit,’ supplied Dai, without looking at me. ‘Farm Yard Manure.’
‘Answer me!’ Forrest bawled at the English boy’s English friend.
‘Yes, sir,’ the boy piped. ‘An accident.’
Behind him Steggy smiled, releasing his hold on the boys crotch.
‘You’re sure?’ Forrest asked.
‘Well...’ the boy began in a baritone voice. Steggy got a grip.
‘Yes, sir!’ the boy squeaked. ‘Mr Forrest?’ Dai raised his hand like a school kid.
‘Mr Forrest, sir, shouldn’t those covers always be on? Isn’t it against the law to leave them open? Health and Safety, isn’t it? Couldn’t someone sue the college for that? That would be dreadful, wouldn’t it, sir?’
‘Indeed.’ Forrest’s eyes fell from their contact with Dai’s. He turned to the cowman who’d finished hosing down the English boy.
‘Take him back to the college. Put him in the showers and get him some hot soup or something from the canteen.’ ‘Not a bloody nursemaid,’ the cowman mumbled.
‘I’ll take him to first aid,’ the cowman said, throwing a hessian bag over the boy’s shoulders and leading him off.
Forrest turned back to Dai. ‘I remember you, Griffiths, from before. You’re trouble.’
‘I’ve changed, sir. Grown up. I’m a big boy now.’
Some of the girls laughed. Maybe it was to do with the way Dai moved his hand in his trouser pocket as he spoke.
‘We’ll see,’ Forrest said, ‘we’ll see.’ He took off his glasses and started to shine them on the handkerchief. He peered at Dai.
‘I’ve got my eye on you, Griffiths.’

Want to know more contact Kelvin - see above.

© Kelvin Mason 2001

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