A Really Good School
Seven-ply Yarns, 2001
£7.99 ISBN 0-9538797-1-2
This novel is very clever. The humour is off-beam and individual and I roared. David Gribble comes through mightily strongly all the way through. You can tell the subject is his obsession and he doesn’t give an inch. . . . This book is for everyone who hated school – I was expelled from three schools, and I know.
This highly original satire of controlled, frequently Swiftian savagery, is a completely gripping and logically impeccable story of mass murder which is often, you’ll be surprised to discover, very funny.
Jonathan Gathorne Hardy
Extract From A Really Good School. p. 30
The following morning Mr. Brandon, the Headmaster, addressed the school in chapel between the last hymn and the blessing. There was never any unnecessary noise in the chapel, but as he walked up to the pulpit there was a noticeably exceptional stillness. Many of the congregation had difficulty in holding back tears.
Mr. Brandon stood and surveyed his charges for so long that there was danger of grief erupting into giggles. He was an old rugby-player, a three-quarter with none of the excess weight of a retired forward, crisp in manner and in dress. He had a habit of tilting his head to one side as if he was listening for a message from some distant height, and he stood in that position now, with his hands grasping the sides of the pulpit, apparently about to wrench them from their supports and hurl them down the aisle. He allowed his eyes to roam over the pews in a way that, because of the peculiar angle of his head, appeared almost roguish, but when he spoke it was with a sudden sharpness that stifled both giggles and tears before they had even begun.
“Children!” He paused threateningly. “It has been brought to my attention that there has been a lot of gossip about Andrew Botting.”
First names were only used for boys on occasions of great seriousness, such as the awarding of school colours, or, it appeared, the announcement of death. If Botting were still alive after all, surely he would have been called Botting and not Andrew Botting.
“This gossip,” said Mr. Brandon, leaning forward and pressing on the sides of the pulpit as if to loosen them before a sudden snatch, “has to stop!”
He stood back a little and once again his eyes raked over the young faces before him.
“God,” he barked suddenly, “moves in mysterious ways. There has been an event. Something has occurred which I believe you all know about. But at this school – and I want you all to remember this, to write it in your hearts – at this school we do not acknowledge the existence of death. Death, if it happens at all, happens outside the school. It happens in books, it happens on television, but it does not happen here. I want you all to understand that it is utterly impossible for yesterday’s accident to have taken place within the school. You will all immediately and without anxiety wipe any such possibility from your minds.
“I want you to remember that what happened was an accident, and that it happened outside the school grounds, and that no one within the school was in any way responsible. Mr. Carter has told me that there has been some unrest among the boys in his house who fear that Botting was discriminated against, and that discrimination was in some way responsible for this unfortunate outcome. This is completely impossible – completely impossible – and even if it were the case the discrimination applied to Botting was, I am absolutely confident, entirely justified. Completely, absolutely, entirely justified.”
The sides of the pulpit creaked under the pressure as he emphasised each adverb.
“We all remember Botting as a cheerful, confident little lad,” said Mr. Brandon, who had no picture of Botting in his mind whatever. “He was always in a hurry, always ready for some new jape.” Mr. Brandon was unable to date slang expressions, and his attempts at colloquialism were nearly always anachronistic. His intention was to bring to life a picture of a child who could never under any circumstances have considered suicide, but the gave the impression that he was quoting from an early edition of The Boys’ Own Paper.
“I am told that there was a catchphrase in the house, ‘Stop scuttling, Botting.’” He smiled, hoping for laughter to relax the tension, but guilty horror gripped the hearts of all who knew the real origin of the phrase – by then almost every child in the school.
“It was Botting’s love of pranks and escapades,” went on Mr. Brandon, unaware of the shocked embarrassment that was compounding his pupils’ distress, “that led him to venture so fatally down by the river, and to climb into one of the willows that overhang the water. The accident was not Botting’s intention, of course, but it was undeniably Botting’s fault.
“As you know, you are not allowed down by the river until you are in the sixth form, and the foolish Botting broke that rule, and in doing so he has put the reputation of the school at risk.
“Children, I know Optimo is as important to you as anything else in your lives. For the sake of the school, no account of this accident must become public. Absolute discretion is the order of the day. I myself shall be writing to Botting’s parents, of course, because they are entitled to know what has happened, but as far as your own parents are concerned, this is not information to which they have any right, and I know I can rely on you not to betray a confidence.”
Mr. Botting stared at the congregation once more, gave the pulpit a final shake, and turned towards the altar.
“In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”
The organ struck up a cheerful tune.
Other books about democratic education by David Gribble