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U3A Writing: Boxing Day

John Bayley tells as story for December 26 - St Stephen's Day.

Dene was a gawky lump whose only purpose in life to teachers and pupils, seemed to be the disruption of the GNVQ course at the Hugh Scanlon comprehensive school. In reality, his interests were, Garage, hanging out with his mates at the park, and spraying his graffiti tag on street furniture.

"Hanging out" began at dusk and the ritual commenced with the consumption of any alcoholic drink available, no matter what the source, including the stack of empties at the back of the Swivel Eyed Frog pub. As drinking progressed, in depth discussions on the charts, Man U, and the school babes would develop and if Beck's name was mentioned the weed phase was triggered. The weed was usually acquired from the proceeds of shoplifting expeditions on Saturdays and frequently the joints just consisted of recycled teabags and dog-ends, but whatever the contents, Dene and Co would leave the park with a sense of numbed satisfaction.

It was Boxing Day and Dene sat on a swing in the park, friendless, drinkless and jointless, experiencing the effects of a gluttony of permitted alcohol excess and MTV saturation. In a nutshell, he was suffering from the condition that sends a shudder of fear through every adult, "acute teenage boredom".

"Happy Christmas Dene,'' said the voice. Dene nearly fell off his swing, but eventually responded in his timeworn fashion to the disembodied utterance, after all he had experienced auditory hallucinations in the park before.

"What's it to you mate, wanna make something of it?''

"Help me make my day,'' said the voice.

"Oh, so you're Clint Eastwood then.?'' replied Dene sarcastically.

"No, actually my name is Steve,'' said the voice.

"OK then, give Wonder Roy,'' blurted Dene.

Suddenly Dene found himself gripping a large glass tankard of liquid that had the smell and appearance of flat draught Guinness and used engine oil. He had consumed many concoctions in the name of bravado but initially the thought of introducing this one to his Christmas satiated stomach made him retch. "Still it's free, so why not?'' he thought.

On raising the tankard to his mouth he became aware that black slug like bubbles were starting to ooze through the liquid' s surface, they began to form letters which then slowly spelled out, " HERD LOWT".

"You loud mouthed bender! If I could see you I d give you a good kicking. Nobody slags me off and gets away with it'' bellowed an almost uncontrollable Dene.

"Dene, to offend you is the furthest from my mind, please accept my most humble apologies, I thought you might enjoy a puzzle,'' said the voice. "It's an anagram, words with their letters mixed up to make other words.''

Dene thought about it for three seconds, "I'm not a dyslexic plank, but I still can't read that,'' he snapped in frustration.

"Sorry,'' said the voice resignedly, "I?ll show you.''

The letters wriggled into place. THE WORLD.

"But why?'' said Dene.

"Just drink then you'll find out,'' said the voice.

*

Dene, being the only child and male in the house was worshipped by his mother. After all she had known him for nearly eighteen years. But even she was beginning to get fed up with what others called anti-social behaviour and she called" boys being boys". The polite "Good morning Madam. Your breakfast is served,'' jarred her from a state of semi-consciousness into profound shock.

It just wasn't the announcement that caused her condition. It was what came with it: the tray, the toast, the boiled eggs, the pot of tea with teacup, and the newspaper. Her first thought was that she was the victim of a domesticated stalker. "Lets face it, it can't be Dene. He can't switch on a kettle, toaster or cooker and he doesn't speak before noon. He just grunts. He can't get himself up, he won't wash unless supervised and he couldn't distinguish between clean and dirty clothes. No, this isn't my helpless, useless and hopeless Dene.''

But she realised that it was.

"Oh Dene,'' she sad, amazed "this is lovely. It's the nicest thing you've ever done for me.''

"Thankyou mother. It's just a small way of showing my appreciation for all you do for me. When you've finished your breakfast, just call me and I will collect the tray. I'm sorry that I can't stay any longer. but I have some homework to complete that needs to handed in after the holidays.''

*

The impact of Dene?s transformation rippled throughout the community, the main casualties being the shell-shocked park gang, who had been subjected to such an unremitting campaign of righteousness by Dene. that they were considering employment as packers at the pasty factory At least it would be a sanctuary now that Dene had also become a vegetarian.

One other significant female in Dene's life affected by his metamorphosis was his subject tutor, Ms Jane Thrope. Jane was a handsome twenty eight-year-old with a high degree of perceived self-assurance. She had totally dedicated herself to her profession and did not take kindly to the whingeing of her colleagues over workloads and paperwork. This attitude did not engender a state of harmony in the staffroom where snidey anonymous messages to Ms Jane Thrope were frequently pinned to the notice board.

Over the previous three months, Jane had taken the brunt of Dene's antics and perversely enjoyed the compilation of an exclusion dossier, almost relishing each misdemeanor in anticipation. Following the initial incorrect disbelief of the authorship of his homework, she was now in Limbo; her commonsense and training told her that she must give praise where it was due. but weeks of simmering vengeance craved to he satisfied.

It was lunchtime and Jane was enjoyably engrossed in entering student performance data on her laptop, when she realised that Dene was speaking at the open staff room door.

"Miss Thrope, would it be convenient for you to discuss my education with me now?''

"Of course Dene,'' she replied, half-hoping she could add to the dossier. "Let?s go into Mr. Jone's room where we can have some privacy.''

She listened dutifully as he talked about his mother, friends, hobbies, likes and dislikes, and ambitions. Then he came to Boxing Day. "He must be on something.'' "He's cracking up.'' "He's made it up,'' were her first thoughts, but as the story unraveled she realised that something extraordinary had taken place.

"Well that's it. I know I said a lot a lot more than I intended, but what qualifications do you think I should he going for Miss?'' Dene asked calmly.

Jane's composure was collapsing as she drifted into automatic response mode. "Dene thankyou for being so open. I believe that you have great future and you certainly should be doing A levels? As to which ones, we need to discuss that further. However, I am totally mystified by what happened to you on Boxing Day and I'd love to throw more light on the matter.''

Then, without thinking, as he turned to leave the room, she casually placed her hand on his shoulder.

Dene spontaneously turned, grasped her in both arms and gave her the kiss of his life.

"That has been of great help to me Miss.'' he said, euphoric. "Thankyou.''

"Thankyou Dene,'' mumbled a confused Jane.

And now Dene knew. He knew he was smitten. He knew what was going to happen to him, and to Ms Jane Thorpe. He knew that Boxing Day is St Stephen's Day. And on St Stephen's Day, long ago, in the Midle Ages, the world turned upside down. On that day the Lord of Misrule reigned supreme.

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