“Who’s the bloke came with you to school this morning, Matty?”
“Er... he wanted to see the headmaster.”
“Damn, Jacko... questions, questions. Why?”
“No, I just freaked on the coat he was wearing... and hat. Totally eighties, dude. Rocker type. You agree, Scotty?”
“Yeah, man. Abs mod. And the mullet!”
“Okay guys find something else to talk about.”
“Mullets are, you know, so yesterday. And rock, man, it’s finished.”
An electronic bell proclaims the end of break, summoning those congregated in small pockets of peers to a more orderly, collective gathering within one larger space — commonly called a classroom. Two hours and three periods later, another bell declaims their dismissal from the day’s rigours and challenges.
Four hundred navy-blazered, grey-trousered torsos emerge — at first hesitantly, shiftingly, shoulders aslant before the rhythm of the herd kicks in and a steady tramping exodus ensues over the next fifteen minutes. Outside the gates cars await in a long shiny line. Those that don’t get picked up walk the 200 metres — over the hump and down the slope — to the station and take the train.
On reaching home, Matty dumps his schoolbag on the sofa, finds the remote turns on the TV (to sports) then hurls his body on the sofa which accepts him with a protesting creak.
“How many times have you been told not to fling yourself on the couch, Matty?” says his mother, emerging from an inside room. “Would you like something to drink? Cup of tea?”
“Nah, a Solo, mum. Come on, who drinks tea?”
“Eew! That reminds me, mum, can you ask dad to come to school separately next time.”
“Come on, mum, whose parents go with their kids to school? Kids that are nearly adults, I mean.”
“Your father was only able to get time off between those hours.”
“Yea but it’s kinda embarrassing. Had to tell the guys he was my uncle.”
“What? Oh, you idiot, Matty. How long do you think you can pull that off?”
This, said with accompanying laughter from mum.
“For as along as we are not seen together, I reckon. Which is like... forever.”
“What happened to the little boy that used to hold our hands and walk along the beach?”
“Eew, don’t remind me of that.”
“Why ever not? You’re our 14 year old boy. No, our handsome young man.”
“Yea, yea, enough already. And mum, like don’t ever mention that to any of my mates.”
“Which one? Being handsome?”
“Nah, the beach thing... and holding hands. Kids make mistakes, you know. But do my mates get that? No. You get a motherless ribbing if they find out.”
“Fine, and while you’re about it are there any other changes you’d like your parents to make so that your lordship can glide through the teenage years without hassles?”
“Er, yea. Ask dad to get a haircut. I mean, come on, mullets are so...last century. Old. Can he shave his head or something, get a tat or pierce his ears? Anything to look a bit cool. Do you know what my mates saw today when he walked in the school? Paul Weller... and they didn’t even know dad’s got a poster of Weller on his study wall. Imagine if one of them came here and saw that. I’d die.”
This entire conversation — voices and all — is enacted for me by my friend Barney. We are, as usual, sipping coffee.
A third person is present this day. He sits silent, smiling through it all. When the narrative runs out he leans forward, placing an affectionate arm around Barney.
“I have my defence, dad, but I’ll need to borrow from Mark Twain: ‘When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years’.”