The Cup Bearer
Thursday 12th January 1995
The café the pupils of Trentham High school used as a watering hole was a relic from the fifties, complete with its original jukebox full of golden oldies. Sandy and Gomez bought egg-burgers and coke, and grabbed the last available seats. Sandy took a bite of his burger then had to shout above the clamour to make himself heard. "You're crazy, you know that? On Monday, Gaskin knocked your pen on the floor and just 'appened to stand on it. Wasn't a cheap one either, was it?" All conversation at the table died as everyone listened. "On Tuesday, Ball got you in the ribs durin' PE, and yesterday Vetch tripped you up outside the school gates. If the Beak 'adn't been 'angin' about, I'd 'ave sat him on the railins', spikes or no spikes. Those three are out to make your life a misery, isn't it? You goin' to stand for it then?"
Gypsy shrugged his shoulders "I don't have to prove I'm a match for them." Gomez bit deep into his burger and relish dripped onto his chin. He lifted a finger wiped it up to his mouth in a delicate motion then took out a snow-white handkerchief to wipe his mouth and finger. The other four boys who shared their table gave each other knowing looks and started talking amongst themselves.
Sandy wondered if Gomez was a nancy after all. Gomez looked up suddenly and Sandy's colour rocketed. "You've got to show 'em you can't be pushed around, isn't it? What you need is a bit of the old Judo."
"You mean Kung Fu and all that stuff?"
"Why not? Sweetnam runs classes every Friday durin' the last two periods. We start again tomorrow. I'm only a Yonkyu, that's a fourth class. Gaskin and 'is mates are Nikyus, that's second class."
Gomez popped the last of his burger into his mouth, wiped his fingers with his handkerchief again, and stared thoughtfully at the tabletop. At last he shrugged his shoulders again. "I suppose I could check it out." Someone at the table snorted with laughter then yelped as someone else kicked him. Gomez didn't seem to notice.
Sandy beamed at him. "Well, thank The Lord for that!" He hadn't felt so pleased in weeks. To his school chums he was 'Lurch' the big Welsh clod, heavy footed except between the goalposts, and hiding his shyness with the ability to make people laugh at him. But in protecting himself, he fended off the girls as well. He had as many hormones racing round his body as the next guy but he'd never even held a girl's hand yet, let alone kissed one. His mates never let him forget it either. Some mates! He had nobody he could really call a friend, and being an only child, he knew about loneliness. Perhaps Gomez would be his chum. He was on his own too, so why not?
He raised his eyes to look at Gomez and found him staring rather coldly at him. "The other day, Gaskin mentioned your father was a preacher, or words to that effect. You're not a bible freak are you?"
Sandy grinned sheepishly. "I suppose so. Mam and Dad 'ave always gone to chapel, and Dad became an elder two years ago; I go mostly because I like playin' the organ."
"Well, just don't push your religion my way, okay? God never did anything for me when I needed him." Afraid that Gomez might walk out before their friendship developed into something concrete, Sandy changed the subject. Music; now that was something of mutual interest. He talked about his favourite instrument, the piano and Gomez let it slip that he played the flute as well as the guitar.
"Well then, why not come round tonight, and bring your flute."
"I might. What else do you do?"
"This." Sandy showed Gomez his latest camera, a tiny Minox GL "It's not State Of The Art but I like it. See this front panel? You open it and the lens slides out on its little bellows, like this. Neat eh? Turn the camera upside down and the front becomes a lens hood, right?"
Gomez nodded. "Yeah, neat." On their way back to school, Gomez frowned at Sandy. "Why are you called Sandy if you've got blonde hair?"
Sandy grinned. "It's short for Sanderson, my middle name, right?" Amused, Gomez shook his head.
When the new week began, the whole class buzzed with talk about Gaskin and Co. meeting with a mysterious roller wizard at the local skate and leisure park. Sandy couldn't wait to tell Gomez how Gaskin and his mates were up to their usual bullying tactics. They had almost cleared the roller track, when this stranger, clad in black safety leathers and full helmet, exploded among them and gave them a dose of their own medicine. Ball and Vetch ended up sprawled all over the track and Gaskin disappeared over the outer wall, much to the delight of the other skaters. The three had only just got back onto their feet when they were knocked flying a second time. After that their adversary gave them a one-finger salute and disappeared as quickly as he arrived. Gomez listened to the tale but made no comment. Sandy asked him round to his house again but Gomez declined the invitation, saying he had things to do. Sandy heard the talk around school. "Nobody ever sees Pretty Boy around, except in school."
"Maybe he's a home bird?"
"Nah! He's just a wimp."
Sandy burned with frustration, but Gomez ignored it all, and Sandy sensed he was planning something; Gaskin's downfall perhaps?
At close of school, Emilio received a summons from MacCaffrey. He entered the Beak's office and found the man seated behind his desk, deep in thought while clouds of smoke rose above his head from his beloved pipe. "Ah, Gomez! Nice to see you, lad, come and sit down. Now then, I've been thinking a lot about you these last few days. I suppose your friends have already told you, I like to have a head to head session with new pupils. I like to get to know them, and most of these sessions have been very rewarding, some more so than others. Some pupils like the chance to get to know me better." According to Sandy, some pupils hadn't liked the 'one to one' approach and Emilio felt he wouldn't like it either. He chose to remain coldly suspicious of the man, of any man for that matter, which was a pity because this man had the enthusiasm to help pupils to better themselves. He also encouraged an active PTA. Having little experience of teachers of any kind except his tutors, Emilio wished he could open up to him Perhaps I can use him for my own advancement. MacCaffrey leaned forward over the desk. "As head of this school, I make it my duty to oversee extra-curricular school activities on a personal level, and you might have noticed me watching 5B in the gym on several occasions. I want this school to be top of the Inter-school Sports League and I'm giving Mr Sweetnam all the help and support I can. You have good physique and agility; I wish I'd been like that at your age. I was all lanky bones and awkward joints. Mr Sweetnam informed me that you're spending most of your free time on weight training and workouts; any special reason for that?"
"Yes, sir. I'm a skater as well as a dancer and I need a certain amount of strength and stamina if I'm to move into pairs dance, I have to be fit or have my partner fall on her face."
MacCaffrey smiled his admiration. "How far would you like to go; the Winter Olympics?"
"Maybe, but my height is an obstacle at the moment. Most of the girls shorter than me are in the wrong age group."
"I see. Well, you're still going through your growth stage so I wouldn't give up on that idea just yet." MacCaffrey looked closely at him through a cloud of pipe smoke. "Perhaps I could help you; I'm a member of an exclusive health and gym club where we have all the latest facilities. We also have special membership status for children like you who need help to further their chosen sports careers whether it's tennis, gymnastics, or whatever. I could take you in as my guest and sponsor you for junior membership. How would that suit you?" Emilio was about to say he didn't like clubs when MacCaffrey's face clouded over and the room darkened for a few seconds but long enough for Emilio to recognise a premonition coming on. He didn't like it when they happened and he willed it away. His head cleared and he found the Beak frowning at him. "Are you all right, lad? You look a bit peaky."
"It's nothing, sir. I'm still not used to your school routine yet. I'm finding it a bit tiring."
"Well, there's no need for you to enter into all the school activities. Our mutual friend, Mz Achres, did mention you have a lot to do out of school hours. Just don't take on more than your body can cope with. You'll do more harm than good if you do"
Everyone thought it a great joke when they heard Emilio was going to sit in on the Judo class. He attended the preliminary Judo class where Gaskin and Co. showed off their skills with smug looks on their faces. Afterwards he stayed behind to have a private word with Sweetnam.
Friday 21 st January 1995
Gomez still hadn't changed into his Judog when Sandy and the other guys and girls gathered in the gym after changing from singlets and shorts into their Judo gear. During the first two thirds of the session, spent on warm ups and workouts, Gaskin and Co. sneered at Gomez's fumbled attempts at the various warm-up routines. That puzzled Sandy. As Gomez had already showed outstanding competence in normal PE periods, he wondered whether Gomez was regretting his decision to join the group and hoped he would be rejected. They lined up in their places of seniority in front of the mat, and Sweetnam didn't look too pleased. School kids or army recruits, it made no difference to this fifty-two year old ex-army P. E. instructor. Punctuality and hard graft were his most important rules and woe-betide the idiot who challenged his authority. He sported a spare, five foot eight frame, with hardly any padding to speak of, but what he had was all muscle and sinew. The hair in his handlebar moustache and busy eyebrows won over that on top, and his roar would grace any army barracks square. The pupils expected him to behave like a sergeant major and he often obliged by overplaying the role for their amusement, the only difference between joviality and genuine command being his eyes. They glinted with mischief or pierced their victim with a bayonet sharp stare. Sandy was rewarded with the latter when it was his turn for Sweetnam and him to trade formal bows.
"Right, lad, where's Gomez?"
"He's coming, sir." Sandy watched Sweetnam's moustache begin to twitch with impatience then glanced down the line at Gaskin and Co. They wore purple belts, with brown belts soon to be won. Sandy saw Gaskin staring wide-eyed at the changing room door. Sandy followed his shocked gaze and watched Gomez walk into the gym. His Judog was midnight blue with a red and white badge embroidered over the left breast indicating some Judo association. A black sweatband held his hair back, and of the wimp there was no sign. Jaws dropped as Gomez fixed his eyes on Gaskin and Co. They in turn stared at the colour of his belt.
Sweetnam glared at the class. "As you can see, Gomez is a black belt, both in Judo and Karate; which means he's one tough cookie. So let's have no more talk of nancy boys and limp wrists around the school. Gomez is a First Dan and he will be my assistant in these classes. He will also take classes in my absence. Right class; let's take another look at the Ouchi Gari throw."
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