Friday, 1 May 2020

Chapter Sixteen

I was making money writing my weekly page in our local newspaper. I wrote a couple of articles for magazines and was invited by Womans Own to write something about being the parent of a seriously ill child. The fee was generous but I had to follow a strict plan, a specific number of words to a sentence and a specific number of sentences to a paragraph. If I accepted the commission freedom of style was not an option, I turned down the commission. I had been writing stories since I was a teenager. In my English classes at Leon School I would write stories for my classes, read them and encourage students to write themselves. Could I write a book, find a publisher and make some money ?

I came up with an idea for a story Peter's Magic Fountain Pen and dedicated it to my son Peter for his 12th birthday. While Beck lay in her bed in Dickens Ward I trawled through the manuscript, checking and redrafting the text ahead of publication. Writing was fun, editing was and still is a chore. When this book Our Rebekah is published it will be number eighteen on my Amazon Library Shelf. Back then there was no such thing as Amazon, an author had to trawl his work round traditional publishing houses. Rejection letter after rejection letter until someone is found who is willing to take gamble. Peter's Magic Fountain Pen was published.

Out of print for years when I became an Amazon Author Peter's Magic Fountain Pen reappeared. It is now available in e-book form at:

From the thrill of writing Peter's Magic Fountain Pen I dashed off a short story The Wild Adventure Of Di Central Eating. I then turned adventure single into adventures plural with new chapters:
I dedicated the story to Rebekah. Here is the original typed document.

The first page says: Rebekah this is for you

Within all of my writing I consider The Wild Adventures Of Di Central Eating to be my second best work. I never did get my act together and publish the book in traditional form. Shortly before Rebekah left us on 9th March 2017 it was published as an e-book on Amazon. It is available here:

Once it was published I gave Beck a copy to read on her phone while she was in her hospital bed. She was not impressed ! I'll let you read the first chapter in a moment and let you decide what you think of my story.

I wrote the book for Rebekah who was ten years old but while it can be read by a child it really is an adults view of a child's life. Fiction throughout every adventure is based on something from my own childhood.

Since Rebekah's book was published on Amazon I have had an ambition for it. Roald Dahl is a highly successful author but I maintain his success could never have been achieved had it not been for Quentin Blake who illustrated his writing. I have dreamed that I could find my own Quentin Blake, I have tried and failed many times. So minus illustrations here is the first chapter of The Wild Adventures of Di Central Eating written for Rebekah in 1992.

Let me begin by quite clearly explaining that my family is not Welsh.
My mother always claimed that our ancestors originated in France and fled to England at the time of the revolution. That may or may not be true, I don't know. To be honest I have my doubts but of one thing I am certain and that is not a single drop of Celtic blood flows in our veins.
I was just two years old when Brother David came along. Two years old, toddling and full of infant chatter, mispronounced words in a language all of my own. Well I guess I understood what I was on about at least.  But my mother could not and try as she did was unable to teach me to say David. In the end she gave up and settled for DI. Even today within the close circle of the family David is still known as DI.
But what of Central Eating ?
Now, of course, you all know what Central HEATING is don't you ?  Lots of radiators all fed from one boiler keeping the entire house warm. Well something like that anyway.  When I was a kid only the very rich had central heating in their homes and we were not very rich, we weren't even ordinary rich. Every morning, before he went out to work, my father had to light the downstairs coal fire.  He would scrunch up the previous day's newspaper, pile a wigwam of kindling wood about it in the fire grate then encircle the construction with lumps of coal. A match gave the initial light which Dad would fan and coax into a roaring blaze. Not that it worked every time, aborted attempts were common and were followed by the entire process being repeated: the newspaper, the kindling wood and the carefully selected coals. Those fires kept our lounge lovely and warm, with a back boiler heating the kitchen but the rest of the house was as cold as the North Pole.  Di and I used to have a competition to see who could chip the biggest slithers of ice off the bedroom windows where the condensation froze overnight. That was central heating, or the lack of it, but Di was Central Eating.
The thing was when Di was about six years old his baby teeth started to fall out. Most children lose their baby, or milk teeth as a gradual process over a couple of years but Di lost four bottom teeth and thee upper teeth in a space of a few months. All he had left at the front of his mouth was one stubborn peg that refused to budge.  Poor old Di found it quite a handicap trying to eat. Munching at the sides of his mouth proved impossible so all he could do was to trap what ever it was with this single, central tooth against his bottom gum. Hence Central Eating. I do not know where this name originated but until well after his mouth filled again with adult teeth David Albon was known to all as Di Central Eating.
Di and I attended Banners Gate County Primary School which took all the children in the neighbourhood from the age of five years until they left at eleven to move on to secondary school. Those up to the age of eight were in the infant department while the older ones belonged in the juniors.  The infants had their classrooms on the left hand side of the school with the juniors on the right. That was if you stood with your back to the headmistresses office and faced the hall, if you turned round the infants were on the right and the juniors on the left.  I expect you understand. In the middle were all the important parts of the school like the headmistresses room, the secretary's office, the hall, the dining room and, of course, the dreaded kitchen.
Goodness how I hated school dinners and Di found eating anything a near impossibility.  Thank the lord we only had to stay for school dinner once a week. Like most middle class mums in those days, yes we were middle class even if we were not rich enough to have central heating, our mum did not go out to work and was always at home to cook a mid-day meal for us. But Thursdays were different. Thursday was Young Wives Club at the local church and Mum, being on the committee, had to get things ready for the afternoon meeting with no time to cook us lunch.
School dinners weren't exactly bad, they were diabolical consisting of the most fiendish menus. Tapioca pudding, boiled cabbage, sweeds, cheese pie and toad in the hole with real toads.  Of course the cooks were not working to feed the children, nobody thought that.  They were really preparing meals for the local pig farmer.
You see...... after we had eaten our fill, which usually wasn't very much, all the scraps had to be tipped into the pig bin. This was a large metal dustbin, well more than one bin on most days, on a bad day there could be three. At the end of the meal these were then wheeled out to await the pig man. He came, I think, every other day to take away the full bins and leave empty ones for the next two days. I expect he had contracts with all the ,local schools from which his pigs grew very fat on it all. Funny to think that when we eat bacon and eggs we are really eating recycled cabbage and tapioca pudding.  Makes you want to become Jewish doesn't it ?
It was on the day the pig man came that it happened, it must also have been a Thursday for I remember Di and I were to stop for school dinner.  I had just passed into the junior department moving to the right, or was it left, hand side of the school while brother Di stayed in the infants on the other side.  The juniors and infants had different morning and afternoon playtimes but during the lunch hour had to share the same playground. We older juniors would then try to take no notice of the infants and were very careful to keep away from them. It simply was not done to be seen playing with babies now that we were eight years old.
The pig man always came during the junior afternoon playtime. Some of us on that day stood and watched as he drove his small pick up truck across the playground to the back door of the kitchens and the waiting pig bins.  First of all he went and checked how many full bins there were. This he did by picking each bin up in turn and judge-weighing the contents. That day all six bins were full, a bumper collection. Very quickly the new clean bins were off loaded and the full ones humped onto the back of the pick up truck.  Then he was off and we returned to our game.
A sharp blast of the teacher's whistle spelt the end of playtime and we lined up waiting to return to our classrooms. But something was up.  Miss Evans, the headmistress, was at the front talking to the teacher on duty.  Someone was in for it !  Miss Evans had a habit of talking to teachers while in the presence of children by putting a hand in front of her face and talking out of the corner of her mouth. It made it quite impossible for us to hear what she was saying but it meant trouble. At lease one of us was in big trouble and every child present searched their memories for anything bad they had done over the last few weeks. What terrible discovery had Miss Evans made ?
"Richard Albon would you come with me please."
I looked round in panic. Richard Albon, that was me.  Had she said my name or had I heard it wrong ?  What had I done ?  Nothing, no nothing, she had not called my name at all. But she had.  Miss G M Evans, Headmistress and demi-god of Banners Gate County Primary School was soon marching through the lines of children to collect me.  My heart thumped and my legs turned to jelly.  I would soon be dead but what had I done ?
I had never before been inside Miss Evans' office.  Within an instant I took in every fine detail of the room.  In fear I guess I was searching for where she kept her cane.  As Miss Evans closed the door behind us I notices Mrs Lewis was in the room sitting in the corner. Why on earth was she there ?  She was Di's teacher.  I was soon to find out.
"Have you seen David,"  she asked shakily.
"We walked to school together this morning,"  I explained.  Perhaps it was Di who was in trouble and not me after all. I wondered what he had done and how, as his big brother, I could try to protect him.
"Have you seen him at all since then Richard ?"  Miss Evans asked slowly seating herself behind the big desk that dominated the room.
"No Miss Evans, what has he done ?"
"He's gone missing,"  Mrs Lewis blurted out. Miss Evans turned and scowled at her.  It was obvious the interruption was not appreciated.
"You didn't see him while you were out at playtime "
"No Miss Evans. He is still in the infants and I am in the juniors now."
"I know that Richard but when Mrs Lewis took her class back after the infant playtime David was not with the other children."
"Perhaps he went into the toilets," I ventured.
"We have searched the toilets and now I have prefects checking every classroom."
"His friends said they were playing hide and seek,"  Mrs Lewis spoke again, "and no one could find where he was hiding."
"Thank you Mrs Lewis,"  Miss Evans scowled again.  "I will handle this !  Do you think he may have gone home Richard ?"
"No, today is Thursday."
"Thursday ?"
"We stay to school dinner on Thursdays."
"But would that stop him from running off home ?"
I thought that school dinners gave the perfect excuse for anyone to run off anywhere but explained that Di could not possibly have gone home because he knew our mother would not be in.
"I think I will ask the secretary to telephone your home just in case,"  Miss Evans lifted the telephone receiver, placed a hand in front of her face and talked out of the corner of her mouth.  It must have been a permanent mannerism of hers for I could see no harm in hearing her ask the secretary to telephone my mum.
As soon as she had finished speaking there came a knock at the door. It was the prefects reporting back the result of their search. They had failed to locate Di. The secretary then came in to explain there was no reply on our home telephone.
"Do you know where your mother is ?"
I explained about the young wives club, the committee and Mum having to be there early to get things ready.
Miss Evans paused fearing something terrible must have happened.  She stood up placing her hands on the desk, fingers spread and leaning on them "I want one more thorough search of the school and then I am calling the police."
Of course the search, no matter how thorough, did not find my brother Di.
The police, sniffing the scent of a murder, or at the very least a kidnapping descended on the school in force. Mother was collected from the young wives club and joined a crisis meeting in Miss Evans' office.  I was still there and so was Mrs Lewis, now looking very pathetic and nervous. Mum came in having been briefed by the police along the way. When Miss Evans joined us again, having briefly stepped out, she had a big policeman with her.  He was clearly in charge. he sat himself down in Miss Evans' chair behind her desk and looked at each one of us in turn before speaking.
"My name is Detective Chief Inspector Benton and I will be heading the investigation."  He turned to my mother. "Let me assure your Mrs Albon that no effort will be spared to find your son and, God willing, when we do he will be safe and well."
I don't think that my mother started to cry but I do remember she did not speak as she reached out to take my hand.  It made me feel silly and just like a baby. When you are eight years old you do not want your mother to hold your hand do you ?
The policeman continued. "I have got twenty-five men searching outwards from the school and Miss Evans has given me all the essential facts for the moment. Now what I need is a recent photograph of David."
"We can help there,"  Miss Evans spoke. "We have just had school photographs taken and we have kept a copy of every child's picture for our records.  Mrs Lewis could you please go and find the copy of David Albon's photograph."
"Thank you Miss Evans. Now I have got three loudspeaker vans on their way over and when they get here they can start touring the streets.  The press have been informed and an appeal as to his whereabouts will be in the evening papers."
The phone rang and was quickly answered by Miss Evans. The police may have taken over everything else but it was still her office even if she could not sit at her desk. Up went the hand and any speaking she did was via the corner of her mouth. She spoke just a few words before addressing us all.
"That was David's father, he is on his way here from work."
I did not believe anything could possibly have happened to Di. Who would ever want to kidnap him ?  I was sure he must have done something stupid and would very soon turn up.  Newspapers, police, loudspeaker vans - there would be hell to pay when they did find him.  Such trouble and who was going to pay for it all ?
A special assembly was called for the whole school to help the police find out exactly who had seen him last. Stupid Brother Di, Di Central Eating with the single tooth, what was he up to ?
The remainder of the day came and went.  Miss Evans offered my mother something from the school kitchen, as if she was not suffering enough. Sensibly she refused but all of the police accepted and demolished huge piles of ginger stodge. When my father turned up he thought we should go home but mother refused. She wanted to stay at school and besides the police were watching the house just in case he did turn up there.
I think Mum was convinced he was dead, it was difficult to tell what Dad was thinking but I know the police thought the same as Mum.  But I knew different, I knew nothing was wrong. I could sense everything was perfectly alright. Di wasn't dead. It was all a big fuss about nothing. Far away in the offices of The Birmingham Evening Mail compositors were preparing headlines. What would the neighbours say ?
The secretary brought in a letter for Miss Evans to sign. She read it through before scrawling her name at the bottom. It had not been typed on ordinary paper but on one of those old fashioned Roneo stencils ready for duplicating.  It was a message to all parents explaining about Di, urging care of their own children, warning them not to talk to strangers while at the same time appealing for help to find the missing boy.
"I will see that every child has a copy to take home at the end of school," she said.
"Thank you."  Miss Evans' voice was starting to sound unsteady.
We then sat for a while in silence. It could not have been for more than a few minutes but it felt like an age. Mum looked at Dad and tried to force a smile. Detective Chief Inspector Benton studied the surface of Miss Evans' desk and doodled on her pink blotter.  Miss Evans wanted to tell him to stop but said nothing.  Mrs Lewis twisted her hands in her lap and I shuffled my feet on the carpet.
The quiet was shattered by a fierce knock on the door. It burst open without anyone inviting the caller to enter. It was the pig man. He stood there with his cap in his hands.
"Found him in one of the bins Missus. Must have been hiding in there and fallen asleep.  I'd no idea he was there until I tipped out the bins and he tumbled into the trough. Fair gave the old boar a fright I can tell you. 'Fraid he's in a bit of a mess but he seems to be OK otherwise.  Sorry about that Missus."
Bit of a mess ?  Bit of a mess ? He stank !  Covered from head to foot in the past two day's school dinners he stank like a decomposing compost heap.  Mum started to cry and hugged him to her getting filth all over her young wives club committee dress.
All my Dad could say was,  "Better get you home and into the bath."
Miss Evans managed a smile even though Di was dripping all kinds of horrible stuff on to her carpet.  The secretary had to go round and collect in all the letters she had given out to the children.  The police packed up and went away as quickly as they had come, sorry they did not have a kidnap or juicy murder to get their teeth into.
Talking of teeth, when the paperboy dropped The Evening Mail through our letter box there was Brother Di's toothless grin beaming out from the front page. What an idiot ! Hiding in a pig bin ! I swear the stink stayed with him for a week.  Above the picture ran the headline.
I guess with the space reserved by the editor for a report of a missing child they had to fill it with something. Mum cut out the article and David, to the best of my knowledge, still has it. The Wild Adventure of Di Central Eating.

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