It was a bitterly cold day shortly before Christmas and the class was restless. The room was packed as we prepared for English, which was always one of the most enjoyable classes. The teacher, Mr. Stores, or Dick as he was commonly known, was considered to be one of the best in the school and, although not a pushover, we could get on pretty well with him. This was important as most of the other teachers were much older than Dick and we had little or nothing in common with them. He was like an older brother, and we felt an affinity that was to our mutual benefit.
That was until one fateful day.
On that particularly sharp and windy morning Dick came into the class, took off his coat and cast his eyes about for a spare hook. When he could not find one he proceeded to remove coats from a hook near the lectern and let them fall to the floor. Then he placed his coat on the now free hook and, tapping its pockets to ensure that nothing was left in them, started the class by asking ‘Well, class, what do we think of Shakespeare’s use of irony?’
The class was distracted and barely paid attention to his question after this unbelievably, crass act. It was a bad moment, and to use one of his pet phrases ‘a Rubicon had been crossed’. Furtive glances were exchanged and heads were shaken in disbelief as thoughts of revenge silently grew. We soon focussed on the lesson, while conjuring up all sorts of cruel punishments for Dick’s despicable behaviour.
Over the next few days many suggestions were offered ranging from the diabolic to the downright inventive, all generating much mirth. It was no surprise that the most colourful suggestions were thought up by someone who has since become a leading politician. A talent for deception and the ability to laugh at another’s misfortune is an essential for such a career, and Kelly had it in spades. When I think about it now I’m sure that he was must have been emotionally damaged at an early age, or maybe he was just nasty git. The best suggestions came from those in the back row, always a source of nefarious thinking, and, appropriately, the winning idea came from one of the boys whose coat Dick had dropped onto the floor. And, like all great endeavours it was deceptively simple, but it needed careful preparation.
And above all, timing.
The plan called for a nice, shiny new hook to be made available to Dick at the start of our next English class. Unbeknownst to him we had removed the screws from a hook and substituted them with a large blob of wet, sticky chewing gum. This mouth-watering work of adhesive genius took five of us an entire lunch-hour to prepare and our jaws were sore from all the chewing. Mine were numb and I thought that I had had a rough time at the dentist. My face as red as a cardinals hat when I finished and offered my blob to one of the ‘engineers’. Murphy’s job was to join all the blobs and have a trial run. He did it with great commitment as coats were hung and the resistance factor calculated. After stringent testing he decided that more gum was needed and Connolly was sent to the local shop for supplies.
When the final solution was prepared and tested, under the watchful eyes of the entire class, the shiny hook was pressed into position and fingers were crossed in anticipation. ‘Well done, Murph,’ someone shouted and we all cheered. The engineer smiled, took a bow and slipped casually into his desk.
There had been many pranks played on teachers over the years and our magnum opus would definitely to be remembered. The story would go around the school like wildfire, and with everything in place we waited in scholarly silence for the coat tosser to get his comeuppance.
Shortly after the school bell rang we heard the sound of Dick’s steel-tipped shoes coming down the corridor, and the tension in the classroom rose a notch. ‘All things come to those who wait,’ whispered Doyle conspiratorially into my ear as he leaned over from the desk behind. I grinned and followed the other thirty pair of eyes as the door opened and the lamb walked easily to a silent, sticky slaughter.
Dick put his case down and, as usual, looked about for a spare hook. His eyes moved along the line of coats before landing on the shining beacon that almost cried out for his attention. ‘I’m free,’ it seemed to say and he grinned in surprise at his good fortune. He walked across the front of the class, took off his coat and, as the moment of truth was reached, carefully placed it on the hook. It held, thank God, and we collectively breathed a sigh of relief.
The class started with a discussion on the merits of the sonnet form but our attention was elsewhere. It was difficult not to keep an eye on Dick’s coat but nothing happened for the first ten minutes or so. As time passed without incident we begrudgingly cursed Murphy for his obvious brilliance as an engineer. Dick moved about the room, as was his style, asking questions and developing an argument that was informative and lively. I made a contribution and sat back, as the first movement of the Dick’s coat was spotted.
All eyes darted to and from the hook as its adhesive support began to stretch like only quality gum can. It moved slowly, like a river of pink lava against the wooden panelled wall. I looked at Dick and wondered about his possible reaction when he realised what had happened. ‘It might turn nasty,’ had been the general opinion, and we were about to find out.
Dick continued to walk about as his overcoat continued its inexorable, downward slide. It was a wonderful sight and it killed off all the idle chatter in the room. The quiet was bordering on the religious as the thick, pink line began to unravel and fray.
‘There she goes,’ Doyle sniggered under his breath.
Dick turned abruptly and asked. ‘Well, Doyle, have you got something to share with us?’ He raised his brow waiting for an answer, but none came.
There was total silence in the room as the gum, having performed beyond all expectations, its elasticity stretched to the maximum, finally and gloriously broke.
We all turned to see Dick’s coat lying on the floor below the thin strip of glistening, pink gum that was about three feet long.
Dick was furious, and he snatched his coat up and roughly brushed it before tossing it over the back of his chair. Breathing hard and staring at us with fire in his eyes we braced ourselves for the inevitable explosion. To our surprise, though, he put his hands up in a gesture of surrender and uttered just one word. ‘Sorry.’ It was a comment that earned him a round of applause and cemented our new, mutual understanding.