The pavilion was big enough to take two separate groups without them
bothering each otherin the summer, a third group could hang about out on the
veranda. But ideally you and your friends wanted the place just to yourselves,
so there was often jockeying and arguing. The guardians were always telling us
to be civilised about it, but in practice, you needed to have some strong
personalities in your group to stand a chance of getting the pavilion during a
break or free period. I wasn't exactly the wilting type myself, but I suppose it
was really because of Ruth we got in there as often as we did.
Usually we just spread ourselves around the chairs and benchesthere'd be
five of us, six if Jenny B. came alongand had a good gossip. There was a kind
of conversation that could only happen when you were hidden away in the
pavilion; we might discuss something that was worrying us, or we might end up
screaming with laughter, or in a furious row. Mostly, it was a way to unwind for
a while with your closest friends.
On the particular afternoon I'm now thinking of, we were standing up on
stools and benches, crowding around the high windows. That gave us a clear view
of the North Playing Field where about a dozen boys from our year and Senior 3
had gathered to play football. There was bright sunshine, but it must have been
raining earlier that day because I can remember how the sun was glinting on the
muddy surface of the grass.
Someone said we shouldn't be so obvious about watching, but we hardly moved
back at all. Then Ruth said: "He doesn't suspect a thing. Look at him. He really
doesn't suspect a thing."
When she said this, I looked at her and searched for signs of disapproval
about what the boys were going to do to Tommy. But the next second Ruth gave a
little laugh and said: "The idiot!"
And I realised that for Ruth and the others, whatever the boys chose to do
was pretty remote from us; whether we approved or not didn't come into it. We
were gathered around the windows at that moment not because we relished the
prospect of seeing Tommy get humiliated yet again, but just because we'd heard
about this latest plot and were vaguely curious to watch it unfold. In those
days, I don't think what the boys did amongst themselves went much deeper than
that. For Ruth, for the others, it was that detached, and the chances are that's
how it was for me too.
Or maybe I'm remembering it wrong. Maybe even then, when I saw Tommy rushing
about that field, undisguised delight on his face to be accepted back in the
fold again, about to play the game at which he so excelled, maybe I did feel a
little stab of pain. What I do remember is that I noticed Tommy was wearing the
light blue polo shirt he'd got in the Sales the previous monththe one he was so
proud of. I remember thinking: "He's really stupid, playing football in that.
It'll get ruined, then how's he going to feel?" Out loud, I said, to no one in
particular: "Tommy's got his shirt on. His favourite polo shirt."
I don't think anyone heard me, because they were all laughing at Laurathe
big clown in our groupmimicking one after the other the expressions that
appeared on Tommy's face as he ran, waved, called, tackled. The other boys were
all moving around the field in that deliberately languorous way they have when
they're warming up, but Tommy, in his excitement, seemed already to be going
full pelt. I said, louder this time: "He's going to be so sick if he ruins that
shirt." This time Ruth heard me, but she must have thought I'd meant it as some
kind of joke, because she laughed half-heartedly, then made some quip of her
Then the boys had stopped kicking the ball about, and were standing in a pack
in the mud, their chests gently rising and falling as they waited for the team
picking to start. The two captains who emerged were from Senior 3, though
everyone knew Tommy was a better player than any of that year. They tossed for
first pick, then the one who'd won stared at the group.
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...