It was to be a lecture – on animal rights, and Mr Philips had, in his infinite wisdom, decided that a boy should do it. You understand, of course, that that was not his name, but it has been an eternal regret of mine not be taught by anyone named Mr Philips, and he fitted the name so nicely. I digress – Mr Philips wanted a boy for the lecture. ‘A boy, Mr Philips?’ I recall asking.
‘A boy indeed master Dendrite.’
‘Why a boy, Mr Philips?’ I recall asking.
‘Why ever not master Dendrite?’
‘Are you sure, Mr Philips?’ I recall asking.
‘Certainly master Dendrite.’
This manner of questioning continued for some time so I’ll skip the various subtleties of my strategy, to the very crux of my argument.
‘Is there something wrong, master Dendrite?’ I should point out now that my name is not Dendrite – I’ve never heard of anyone called Dendrite, but for some reason he thought it an appropriate name for me. In all honesty I rather agree.
‘Yes, master Dendrite, wrong.’
‘Well sir, don’t you think it might be a bit cruel sir?’
‘Cruel, master Dendrite?’
‘Why cruel master-’
‘Because, sir. The boy in question will undoubtedly be a- a lesser.’
The white, bushy eyebrows that Mr Philips so unashamedly wore on his visage, inclined themselves upwards. ‘A lesser, master Dendrite?’
‘Well sir, you see sir, on the social landscape we find betters, and we find lessers. You see the lessers-’
‘Don’t tell me master Dendrite, this is one of your ridiculous social theories you like to plague us with from time to time.’
‘Well sir, I’d hardly call it-’
‘A boy must be elected, the head has made that quite clear to me.’
‘Well sir, at least restrict it to the younger years. You know what mine can be like.’
He pondered this over, and I slightly thought I’d made some headway.
‘No master Dendrite, it will be for your year-’ he paused. ‘And your year only.’ What a fool, I thought to myself, what a fool. This was the worst of all possible options. A whole school is kept in check somehow – I don’t know why, I don’t suppose anyone does, but a year by themselves are most unruly. However, we Dendrites are feisty creatures, not a family to surrender. I would not dishonor the name. ‘Sir,’ I pressed, ‘don’t you think that this could all go… well, wrong?’
‘Wrong, master Dendrite?’
‘Yes sir, wrong.’
‘I don’t see what you mean, I’m afraid.’
‘Well sir, my year sir, they can be, well, a little unforgiving.’
‘Yes sir. They may mock the boy, sir.’
‘Well master Dendrite, I think we’ve arrived at the root of our little problem.’
‘Really sir? Good sir.’
‘You care too much for what people think.’
‘I do sir?’
‘Yes master Dendrite, indeed you do.’
‘I see, sir.’ What a stupid observation. Of course I care about what people think. Nothing else matters. The only reason people claim ‘not to care what people think of them,’ is so they’ll seem more likeable. However, I refrained from explaining this to Mr Philips. I could see that my little skirmish had been lost and anyway, he wouldn’t fully understand the concept. Such is the price of my intellect, that I have to smile and nod while others run around like mad, headed chickens. (You may have noticed my rather amusing simile there. You see I have always thought it quite acceptable for a headless chicken to behave in a manner that seemed less than intelligent. Indeed we humans, when separated from our cranium, merely drop down, the fact that a chicken can walk around should elicit the highest respect. No, it is the shame of a headed chicken, to stumble and wander arbitrarily.)
The following day I saw that my pearls of wisdom had gone unheeded. Mr Philips had sent an email round asking for volunteers to do a twenty minute lecture on animal rights. Well, there was nothing I could do at this point, except wait, and hope. It took about two hours for someone to step to the challenge. And my God he was foolish. After prep, I was sitting in my room and musing (I muse often – to classical music) when who should enter but poor old Jenkins. He was not – you understand, actually called Jenkins but it has forever been a regret of mine that all through Prep school, and all through Public school, I have never once encountered a character by the name of Jenkins. I had been grossly unprepared for such a situation. Consequently, as punishment for his foolishness, good old what’s-his-face has been re-christened poor old Jenkins. I think it suits him. He disagrees. That is one of the worrying things about poor old Jenkins – his temper. For a boy of five foot five as he was, such a temper was odd – or maybe to be expected; I’ve had similar discussions resulting in different conclusions. More than anything he is known for slapping people in arguments. A friend of mine, named Tom Brown (not called Tom Brown you understand) once said that he was mocking Jenkins for his fairly substantial frame. Poor old Jenkins missed the banter (terrible sin – to miss the banter) and waddled over Tom, quite a menacing waddle, I’m told. When being approached by poor old Jenkins the first thing that hits you is the smell. The second is his hand. Tom Brown got it right in the face a wet, greasy slap, not unlike, I’m told, being whacked with a salmon. Anyway, little old Jenkins waddled in to my room and plonked his puffy posterior on my pillow. He looked nervous, sweat flowing from his brow to his nose, giving the image not of a stream but, with his pocked, spotted face, the rapids of a river. ‘Erm, Dendrite?’ Why he called me Dendrite, I don’t know, and while it undoubtedly suited me I thought it somewhat presumptuous. ‘Yes, Jenkins.’ Although of course, at this time, I did not call him Jenkins but, artistic licence and all that. ‘Well Dendrite,I wondered if I might talk to you.’
‘Aren’t you doing that now?’ Just my little joke, you see.
‘Yes, I- I guess I am.’
‘Well there you go then.’
‘Could I continue talking to you, Dendrite?’
‘I don’t see why not.’
‘It’s about this lecture.’
‘Don’t tell me that you’re considering it.’
‘Well- I don’t know. What do you think?’
‘Definitely not. Obviously not. Clearly not. Indisputably-’
‘Are you joking? They’ll rip you to shreds.’
‘They, them, the audience. It’s hard enough for accepted members of our year to give a talk, let alone someone like you.’
‘Someone like me?’
‘Yes, a lesser. Look at you. You look awful. Dreadful, even. All the cosmetics in the world couldn’t-’ the wet fish of a hand connected with my jaw. He had missed the banter. Never miss the banter.
Anyway, as you can plainly see further warnings of mine had gone unheeded. This was going to happen. And to think that I let it.
This about brings up to the dreaded incident. The lecture had been made compulsory only for our R.S class. There were thirteen of us, as well as people like old Tompkinson (not, of course, his actual name but it would have been so nice if it was), who’d turned up to give his views on the topic. He was a bright fellow, but he didn’t half ramble on. The battle scene was set. Standing at the front, sweating like mad, his spots pulsating and his head bobbing from his notes to the audience was poor old Jenkins. Sitting next to the wall, together, were Daisy and Tulip (let’s just assume from now on, that I’ve made these names up for the purposes of enriching my time at school). Then there was poor old Mildred, who sat miserably, alone at the back of the class, her face eerily similar to a particularly aged apricot. I sat down next to Tom Brown and looked for the greatest threat of all – and there he was, sitting in the centre of the room – Jasper Cummings, as I live and breath. He sat, slumped, legs thrust apart beneath his desk, his face stubbled, his hair, gelled, his mouth hanging open. Next to him was young Tommy Wilson, a shrew-like creature if ever I saw one, and big Bobby Bloxom. Bobby Bloxom is an interesting character because he looks more like a manatee than anyone else I know – a great, fat, bald block of flesh. Rather frightening if you ask me. Mr Philips stood before us. ‘Welcome, gentleman, ladies, jolly good. Now, young master [Jenkins] is going to talk to you, today about animal rights.’ Young master Jenkins looked moderately close to cardiac arrest. ‘Please be civil and give him your full attention. Now then, ahem, a round of applause for young master [Jenkins]’. A light patter of clapping ensued. Bobby Bloxom smirked and turned Jasper, ‘This is going to be shit.’ Never one for astute observations was the human manatee.
Jenkins cleared his throat. Then he cleared it again – for good measure. There was a small titter. ‘I’d, um, today, um, er – like to… um, speak to you – er, about, about, something very close to my heart.’ This got a laugh from Cummings’s crew. Jenkins smiled. It seemed as if he was pretending that they were laughing with him. Jenkins then tried to speak again, but all that emerged from fat lips was a short, high-pitched squeal. This got a good laugh and set Daisy and Tulip into uncontrollable giggles. Mr Philips glared at the class. Again, Jenkins smiled, but now his round little head had gone a deep shade of purple, making him look oddly like a large plum. A bead of sweat dripped off his spectacles. Cummings lent back on his chair and shared a look with Daisy. This set her off into a second fit of giggles. Jenkins had spotted the look. And suddenly he changed from a normal plum to a panicked plum. And here he adopted the worst tactic possible. He looked from Daisy to Cummings and said, ‘Am I boring you?’
Cummings smirked and, quick as a flash, ‘Yes.’ This set the class off again, rolling around in hysterics. I confess that I did laugh, but I did not feel guilty; after all, I had done my utmost to prevent the ghastly affair. Poor old Jenkins could do nothing except stammer, ‘Well, actually, I think, I think that this is all very interesting so, so, if you don’t mind-’ This only fueled the laughter, causing Tulip to fall off her chair. It even elicited a giggle from lonely Mildred. Mr Philips stood up, ‘Now, ladies, gentlemen, if you don’t mind.’ The laughter continued. ‘SHUT UP’. That just about did the trick. Mr Philips sat down again, while Jenkins attempted to continue. From this point on it was very hard to watch. He stammered and stumbled, mispronounced, misspoke, gurgled and squealed and sweated; really, if Mr Philips was any kind of decent he would have put poor Jenkins out of his misery. A quarter of an hour he spoke for, the most painful quarter of an hour of my life. But finally, thankfully, mercifully he arrived at the end. Thank God, I thought and I meant it. But then dear old Mr Philips demonstrated once and for all, his supreme lack of tact. ‘Any questions for [Jenkins]?’ Only one hand went up, that of Tompkinson. Jenkins nodded at him. Tomkinson took a long, considered breath. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘it very much seems to me…’ a deep, sonorous groan cut him off. Mr Philips glared again, while Tompkinson resumed.
He was on flying form and, about a minute in, it was clear that he was in his element. I phased out and then in again at least twice, and Tompkinson was still speaking. What he’d filled the intervening time with, I’ll never know; there are only so many words in the english language. Eventually, just as Tompkinson had moved on to the issue of meta-ethics as read from a Utilitarian perspective, or some such nonsense, Mr Philips made a short, sharp, interjection. ‘Thank you very much, Leech.’ I don’t know why Mr Philips called Tomkinson Leech, all I’ve heard is that it’s the product on an unrectified misunderstanding. Mr Philips turned to Cummings who, at this point, had sunk deep into his chair, his legs spread widely, his mouth, hanging open. ‘Do you agree with Mr Leech, Cummings?’ Now really. I had been given to believe that Mr Philips was not entirely bereft of intellect. But that one really takes the proverbial biscuit. It is common knowledge, general understanding, that, as a teacher, one shouldn’t include the betters in class debate. It is a fruitless pursuit. And yet here was poor old Philips, supposedly a veteran master, including Cummings, the best of the betters. Cummings lolled his eyes from the human manatee, to his shrew-like companion. ‘Dunno sir. I agree, I guess.’ Daisy was off once more, in a fit of sheer hysterics. The class soon followed. I must admit, it was rather funny, but I couldn’t help feeling for poor old Philips and poor old Jenkins. Mr Philips suppressed a smile, ‘But what, Mr Cummings, did you think of the whole talk?’ Good heavens, I would have to have serious words with Philips, very serious words. Cummings blinked, ‘Dunno, sir. Is was kinda shit.’ This was momentous – monumental, historical. The class roared with laughter, poor old Jenkins smiled a bit, hung his head, and went an even deeper shade of purple, while Philips jumped up in anger, ‘MR CUMMINGS! TO THE HEAD’S OFFICE. NOW!’ Cummings groaned, sighed and, with great effort, lifted himself from his seat. He then lumbered, as a caveman to door, his knuckles practically knocking against the floor. But his mischief was not complete. Before he left, he grinned at Jenkins and then, suddenly, lurched towards him. It was a joke you see, he had no intention to hurt him. But hurt him he did, more grievously than he could possibly have fathomed.
A word, briefly, on farts. Of the species of fart, a drunken fart is the most foul, with the morning fart closely behind it so to speak. But the third worst, behind these two poisons, is the nervous fart. That variety perfectly correlates with what escaped poor old Jenkins’s podgy posterior in that moment. It was silent, of course, but it did not take long to spread. And this was the low point, marking it as a moment Jenkins would never forget. Mr Philips sniffed the air sharply before, ‘Jenkins? Have you just farted?’