A Writer of Sorts
After playing some Bach, which Spiggy dismissed as ‘music box rubbish’, we sat down for breakfast. Spig was his usual inscrutable self; Mook, again, had something on his mind. He asked if it would be possible to walk around the site and start the audit today. I didn’t have a problem with that. I was keen to get started with any improvements.
Spiggy was cool with doing the day to day stuff, so that was fine.
“Is there any chance we can open up the library?” he asked.
“I’d rather not unless it was absolutely necessary.”
“I could do with seeing the plans for the building,” he pushed, “It would make rationalising the place a lot easier.”
I thought for a moment.
Mook was about to protest and I put my hand up to stop him. “We’ll do the grounds and the rest of the unblocked buildings today. When Spiggy has finished daily chores and had lunch, if it’s okay with him, he can look at the barricades and security.”
“No probs,” he said, through a mouthful of toast.
“I just need you to look at them and try and work out how to dismantle and, crucially, reconstruct them quickly.”
“Okay. Shouldn’t be a problem, boss.” He gave a sloppy salute and grinned.
“We can open each section up individually, do what we need to do and secure it again. If it means one a day, then it’s one a day and it’ll take the best part of a week. But I’m not prepared to compromise the safety of the place by opening everything up at once.”
Mook agreed and with that, Spiggy picked up the plates and dropped them off in the kitchen. He whistled something tuneless as he tripped off to the and greenhouse.
I turned back to Mook who had got that look again. He said nothing and examined his coffee with an intense grimace.
Mook and I spent the morning walking around the grounds. I’d forgotten how large they were. The playing fields were colossal, still marked for events that would never happen. Mook idly wondered whether or not we could grow some sort of grain. I mentioned that we used to when there were more of us but I couldn’t really manage it on my own.
He looked at me and frowned, but refrained from saying what was obviously on his mind. We walked on towards rural studies and on entering he became interested in the machinery that had been left behind. Some of it was beyond repair, but there was dumper truck that he was convinced he could get working. He reckoned that between us, in the workshops, we could build some farm equipment, ploughs, tillers, and so on, that could make life a lot easier for growing grain. The greenhouse was fairly self sustaining, so that wasn’t really a problem, but moving up to grain production! That would be fantastic.
We looked in the animal pens and counted the goats and chickens. Mook asked how many we used to have. It’s always been five and seven. We looked at the orchard and logged the trees and what varieties we had. Then we went to the unused out buildings.
There was a cube shaped building that had been built a year or so after the main structure. It was still known as ‘The New Block’ despite several buildings having been added since. While I was there, the New Block had contained the Domestic Science teaching space. The ground floor was split into two sections; one half filled with kitchens, the other looking like a furniture showroom with rooms sets for young girls to learn how to cook and clean and sew. Boys were only allowed to do cooking in the first and second years. The joys of household chores were taught to the girls from the third year onwards in preparation for their inevitable marriage and career as mother and housewife. The sexism was stunning, even back then. The top floor was a gigantic common room for the fifth and sixth years. It had long been boarded up and I honestly can’t remember what was in there now. Next to that was the abandoned swimming pool. It had been impossible to maintain and was now just a dumping ground for junk, dead leaves and probably any number of dead animals.
He’s been doing that and making humming noises all morning. He’s been looking more and more concerned.
We stopped and sat down on the bench to the side of the netball courts. He was looking tired and gazing at the primary education block.
“All of that is wasted space, right?” he asked.
I told him at the moment yes it was and explained that it had been used when other people were here, mostly as private accommodation; bedrooms, family rooms and so on.
“And where are the labs?”
“Second floor. The windows on this side are to the offices and lab assistants stores. The labs are on the other side of the building.”
He nodded, mulling things over and getting a feel for the layout.
“The end rooms?”
“Oh, they were general teaching rooms. On the ground floor I had history in one of them and French in the other. Second floor I had music and french and the top floor, believe it or not, had a needlework room and a pottery!”
“Get out?” Mook was incredulous.
“Yeah, there was a kiln and potter’s wheels. A whole ceramics studio.”
“Unbelievable. Art and music were after school clubs when I was at school. We didn’t get taught it as part of the general curriculum.”
I thought myself lucky.
“The ones we used for French, on the ground floor, had those flip tables with drawing boards for Technical Drawing.”
That make his ears prick up!
“Yes. We moved them all out though . . .”
“ . . . some got used as firewood . . .”
“. . .but we kept half a dozen back and put them in the library.”
I shouldn’t have teased him really, but he’s been so stiff this morning. None of his usually relaxed attitude. Something is definitely wrong.
Mook was seriously flagging. The exertion had been too much for him and he couldn’t get up again. He was weak and in need of painkillers. I hadn’t expected this part of the audit to take so long and had completely overestimated Mooks strength.
For me, it was nothing. I ran round to the main living area in less than a minute, shouted for Spiggy, who was already putting together a cold lunch, and got him to pack some food up. I grabbed some milk, juice and painkillers and legged it back to Mook. He was tired and looked drawn. I gave him a drink and the painkillers. A few minutes later, Spiggy arrived with food.
An hour of relaxation, food and banter and Mook began to look better. We offered to carry him back or at least support him, but he said he needed to walk. There wasn’t much left to see. He’d already been given a rundown of what was in the woodwork and metalwork building and didn’t want to attempt the stairs. So we walked round the building, past the bike sheds and towards the main gate.
We walked through the gate and Mook stopped, looking round at the building. I pointed out the rooms that had been living quarters on the ground floor; the science labs on the first and the colossal art room on the top floor.
He turned around and saw the paddock. It wasn’t part of the school but was owned by a riding school that backed onto the land. It seemed a little incongruous back then. Working class school butted right up to posh kids at play. Naturally, there were scuffles and altercations and naturally, the rough kids always got the blame for starting fights, even though that was rarely the case.
“We used to use it for grain,” I said, “back when there was a lot of us. We used the bulk of the playing fields, too.”
Mook seemed confused. He looked at me, again as if he was about to ask a question but thought better of it.
“Grain . . .” he said, “interesting.”
“We could grow wheat or rye again now there is more than just me.”
I tried pushing the subject, but he had gone into Mook World and was obviously mulling something over. When he went into these moods, it was difficult to engage him in conversation. Usually when he came out of his head space, he had something interesting to say, so I stopped pushing.
We carried on along the front of the school and back to the main entrance. Tour over. He said nothing and walked to his room, closing the door behind him.
I put his mood down to overexertion and thought no more of it.
Spiggy reported back about the security of the barricades. He was cheerful and saw no problems in taking them down and rebuilding them in a day. Well, one a day. It would probably take about a week to do the whole school as we thought. Maybe less; we don’t have to do both ends of each section.
Mook was called to tea, but there was no response. Spiggy went to see if he was okay. Mook had locked the door and was still not responding. Spiggy didn’t seem too concerned.
“He does this sometimes,” he explained, “usually when he’s thinking or got a lot of new information.”
Well, that was something. Being a half empty sort of person, I’d assumed he’d seen the full horror of his new life and had gone into a reactive depression.
“No, he’ll be right. Give him until lunchtime tomorrow.”
The rest of the evening passed with me or Spig saying barely a word. It may be ‘Mook being Mook’, but something was troubling Spiggy. Even the cats were looking quizzical. I suggested we started on the barricades early in the morning. Do the library first; the plans and the chess set might cheer Mook up. Spig agreed.