It was a glassy eyed stare that met the class on the first lesson every Monday. Mainly because the English teacher, “Killer” Rodley, had a glass eye. We were never sure which eye was glass and which was real, as Killer always seemed able to see equally well out of both eyes when there was mischief amongst the boys of Form 2B, which was most days. And on Monday mornings after a school holiday, whether six weeks in summer or a scant few days in freezing February, it would be the same.
‘Write at least two pages about, “What I did on my holidays”, you have forty minutes, and complete silence is required.’
The groan from the class on each of these occasions was necessarily silent. Mr Rodley’s nickname was well earned, and every term he looked for an opportunity to ensure his pupils knew why. Those who lifted their heads from their writing were met with Killer’s baleful glare, and nobody wanted to meet that look more than once.
We found this exercise almost impossible. The likelihood of any of us having been on holiday was less than slim. Time not at school was spent in the park or on the streets, and invariably involved football. A subject as distant from Mr Rodley’s interest as the beaches of the Mediterranean were from the northern council estate we called home. The fate of a boy who had written about football had become legend in the school, and none of our juvenile scribbling risked the subject.
Apart from football Mr Rodley did not care what we wrote about. Attempts to find family events significant enough quickly gave way to imagination. It became a playground competition to see who could spin the most outlandish stories.
I had completely forgotten Mr Rodley and his exercises until fifteen years later. I happened to be staying in Wells. I was mooching around town when I saw it, filling the window of Waterstones, “What I did on my Holidays – Vol 8, Book Signing Today”. I had to have a look. The book was a collection of short stories. I skimmed a couple then one caught my eye. It felt familiar, I knew what it was about. Names and locations had been changed and the writing was no longer that of a twelve-year-old, but it was my schoolboy story. I looked at the author’s name, “Rocky Kidler”, it was just too close.
There was a long queue to have copies signed but there he was at the desk, older, of course. I waited in line. At the desk he took my book and opened it to the title page.
‘Who should I dedicate it to?’ he said.
‘Make it out to Turner, Form 2B.’
He looked at me. ‘Ah yes, Turner, I recognise you. You were always one of the more imaginative ones.’ He signed the book and handed it back saying, ‘now you know what I did on my holidays.’