Figgis did OK at English, but he wasn’t keen when it turned into Dramatic Art. His everyday life was full of Conflict and he saw no point in elevating it to an art-form. The prancing pantaloons were definitely not for him.
He wasn’t the only one. Mick and Dave didn’t fancy the stage business, nor did the other back-row lads – which caused a lot of hassle with Ms Bulstrode, aka the Bull, aka Hitler’s ugly sister.
Of course, girls were different. Well, obviously – even in Year 8, they were different. Some of them quite a lot … And one of the differences was fancying the drama – the preening and queening. They were at it all the time.
So, when the school announced a Pageant, there was a definite buzz in skirted circles. And the Bull said the class should do something for United Nations Woman’s Day, which happened to be the same week. She was dead keen on the UN, along with lettuce and yoga and biting the heads off vipers.
Figgis couldn’t help himself. ‘What about Man’s Day? Or, better still, Boy’s Day …’
The Bull’s face went a sarcastic lemon-shape. ‘Of course,’ she said, ‘but the UN are doing it in order of merit. So Boys will get their turn after the reptiles and gastropods. Watch out for International Slug Day and then put in a bid.’
Big giggles from the frilly folk; major frost from the back row brigade.
Anyhow, she had it worked out. The girls would each think of a famous woman and sort out ideas for a costume and a short speech. So they’d be doing history, technology, Drama and English – half the syllabus in one go … Ofsted would love it.
Figgis didn’t think there had ever been ten famous women, but didn’t fancy raising it with Ms. So he just griped about the male role. ‘So what do the boys do? Are we in on this?’
‘Of course,’ she said. ‘We wouldn’t want Ofsted thinking we’d locked you all away somewhere. And the parents will expect to see you taking an active part.’
Which was pushing it, because Figgis’s parents certainly didn’t want to see him doing anything active on stage. Not after the previous year’s fiasco with the sheep.
‘Oh, yes,’ she said, ‘you’ll definitely be in it. There’s fifteen of each – girls and boys. So every girl will get a supporting character – prince, or priest, or potboy – or whatever.’
Figgis could see trouble big-time, with everyone elbowing to support Booboo Baxter – local glam-queen supreme and all-round hot number. ‘Who decides?’ he said. ‘Who’s with who?’
‘That’s easy. We’ll draw names from hats.’
So that was how the names came out: Minnie and Joe. Tracey and Marcus. Then the biggie – Booboo and guess who? Dave Clegg! His face popped red and white at the prospect and his neck spots shone a princely purple.
Figgis had half an eye on Melissa – who was definitely better than average in a blondie, bubbly fashion. He watched from the back as she twiddled her hair. Definitely better than average.
Coming to the bottom of the list, Fate was smiling. Melissa was still unspoken for. Figgis polished his nails on his sleeves in a Brad Pitt sort of way.
‘Melissa Hardiman and Vince Underwood.’
Chill of chills. The Bull smiled her mirthless smile. ‘Lastly, we have Boswell Figgis and Elly van Oost.’
Elly van Oost!! Elly the jelly! The Dutch dumpling! … Popular with the girls – on account of her size in netball – but bigger than Figgis in all directions. She turned and her face was blank – round as a Gouda cheese, but twice as inscrutable. She didn’t seem any more pleased than Figgis.
The Bull clapped her hands. ‘Two weeks to go, girls. Remember, this is for Woman’s Day. Choose real heroines: women who made a difference. We will discuss on Monday, so think about your costume and speech … Oh, and think of something for your partner to do. Nothing too flashy.’
No problem there, thought Figgis. He would be completely out of sight behind Elly the Elephant.
At the end of the class, the girls giggled over the list of Queens and Saints and so on. But Elly was quickly away and Figgis had no chance to discuss matters further. He was lumbered.
Figgis wasn’t keen on horses. His ancestors had probably been cavalry-fodder at Naseby and Sedgemoor and suchlike. So it was absolutely typical that Elly should decide she needed a horse for the Pageant. Figgis would be appearing as a four-legged friend.
And which woman was Elly going for? Some saintly female – nursing her dying steed? The suffragette who got knocked down at the Derby? Perhaps Figgis would get in some manly acting after all.
No chance. There was only one answer. Only one person in the history of Womankind who really had to have a horse to ride about on. Who else but Mrs Leofric … aka Lady Godiva.
The back-row burst its banks. The frillies fell about and stuffed skirts in their mouths. The Bull had to leave the room, face working and weeping.
All very funny.
Not that Elly thought it was funny. She was serious. Even about the naked thing. If the good Lady Godiva could do it in the streets of Coventry, she – Elly van Oost – could do it on the school stage.
Figgis couldn’t have cared less about the naked thing. He was more worried about the weight thing. He wasn’t exactly Arnold Schwarzenegger – not even Brad Pitt, to be honest – and he simply wasn’t built to give major structural support.
Eventually, Elly was talked out of going completely starko and appeared at rehearsal in a peachy-creamy-bulgy two-piece. She levered Figgis into an all-fours position, got into side-saddle mode and lowered herself. ‘Aa-aa-ah …!’, she said in a lady-like tone.
Figgis wasn’t too hot on human anatomy. He didn’t know how many bones he had in his lower lumbar region. But it wasn’t nearly enough. He sagged under the van Oost mega-tonnage. And then she pushed her luck with a rap on the rump and a brisk ‘Giddy-hup.’
Total collapse. Figgis’s spinal system shrieked; his legs crumpled. A peachy-creamy avalanche crashed about him and he got a swipe of Gouda in the glottis. Then heads clashed and all went merciful black.
Figgis was impressed by his X-ray film. He hadn’t know about the sacro-iliac, but he could see that it was quite a nifty piece of work. Several other organs felt as though they were squashed for good, but the nurse said it was just bruising. He would be up and limping the next day.
His family came and left him pillow-deep in grapes and Lucozade. And Mick and Dave took a couple of games mags. And the Bull brought some poetry homework, whereupon he gave a fine performance of the glazed and gormless invalid.
Then Elly came in, with an armful of tulips. And she was soft-eyed and soothing and really quite … different. Still huge, but different. They sat and looked at his sacro-iliac film for quite a while and when she went home she was all smiley-dreamy.