Pontyrabad, according to the official holiday guide, was “a small peaceful Welsh coastal town, one of its main attractions being a 12th century Benedictine Abbey, the ruins of which grace a peaceful green common a short distance from the sea”.
At the moment. however, the common was anything but peaceful.
“Howzat?” bellowed four voices in unison. Titch turned quickly, bat in the air, to look with dismay at his middle stump now lying flat on the ground behind him. He turned and grinned good-naturedly at Gogs, the cause of his downfall.
“Well done Gogs! I must remember to do the same for you sometime.”
The other four boys converged on Titch who was still standing at the wicket.
“I vote we have tea now,” said Bunny, and to reinforce his idea he started to pull out the two remaining stumps. But no one disagreed with him. All five were hungry after their afternoon’s cricket and it was now well past their normal teatime. It was often their custom to have what they termed a ‘cricket picnic’ on Pontyrabad common. Having collected their gear together they sat down on the springy green turf to eat their meal.
They were halfway through an assortment of sandwiches, fruit, cakes and other tasty items when their banquet was suddenly interrupted by a man’s voice right behind them.
“I hope you young gentlemen don’t make yourselves sick.” Turning around they saw a middle-aged man with a large moustache making his way across the common. As the boys turned he gave them a smile and waved his walking stick.
“Evening sir!” chorused the boys suddenly realising who the speaker was.
“Coo!” exclaimed Miff in a half whisper to the other four. “It’s old ‘Fungus’ our new history teacher.”
“Whacko and bang on!” joked Titch twirling an imaginary moustache now that the teacher was at a safe distance and out of earshot.
“I wonder where he’s going,” mused Smudgie.
“Home of course,” replied Titch.
“Does he live around here then?” asked Gogs looking over his shoulder at the now distant figure.
“Yes,” replied Titch. “He lives in one of those flats in the big houses on Common Crescent.”
“Oh yes,” added Bunny. “I can see his car parked outside.”
“What I don’t understand,” drawled Gogs in a puzzled voice, “is why he came to our school when none of the other teachers have left.”
“Yes, I wondered about that too,” added Smudgie.
“I thought it strange myself,” agreed Titch, “until about a fortnight ago when I had to take some chemistry books to the staff room for old ‘Stinks’. ‘Fungus’ was chatting to him and said that he had come to relieve the staff shortage a bit. Apparently there’s a great shortage of men teachers all over the country and really we could still do with a few more at our school to balance the staff better.”
“A few more teachers!” eclaimed Miff. “Coo! I reckon we’ve got a few too many. I’m willing to part with a few of ours any day.”
“Me too!” agreed Gogs.
“Well, anyway, that’s why he’s come,” ended Titch.
“We could have done a lot worse,” stated Bunny. “He’s not a bad sort really. He’s jolly interesting, and that’s more than you can say for Miss Morrison’s history lessons.”
“You must be joking!” burst out Miff. “Hist’ry interestin? What’ll the boy say next?”
“No, I mean he’s not all dates and names of Kings and such like,” replied Bunny defending his opinion of the new teacher. “He tells you how people in olden days used to live, the things they used to eat, and the games the kids used to play and all that.”
“Of course there is one good thing he’s helped with,” said Gogs thoughtfully as he surveyed the grass and brushed his long dark hair away from his eyes. “He helps out a lot with the boys’ cricket.”
“Yeah, that’s true,” added Bunny. “With old Millie, all she wanted us to play was rounders. Huh! Rounders! We do get to play more cricket now.”
“I must say I was jolly surprised at all the things he knows about Pontyrabad,” said Titch, “considering he doesn’t come from round this way, I mean. I wonder where he does come from?”
“London,” replied Gogs simply. The others were amazed at hearing such a confident reply coming from him.
“And how on earth do you know that?” asked Miff.
“Well, I was outside the Head’s office the day he came. I was waitin’ for a telling off by the Head and I heard him tell the sec’try”
“Just imagine, Gogs,” teased Titch, “if you hadn’t been sent for a telling off we’d never have known where he came from.”
“I’m not a bit interested where he comes from,” protested Gogs. “I’d much rather not had the telling off I can tell you!”
“Cissy!” jeered Smudgie, at which Gogs flung his empty banana skin at him catching him full in the face. Smudgie launched his reprisal attack at once and fell upon Gogs trying to stuff a hastily gathered handful of grass down the back of his shirt, and in a few seconds the two boys were rolling over and over on the grass until they were interrupted by a shout from Titch.
“Come on you two nitwits, it’s time we were going.” Then he grabbed his bat and ran a few yards off.
“Just one last knock, Gogs, before we go. I’ll knock you for six this time.”
Gogs, who was always ready to fall in wih a challenging suggestion, rose to his feet. He grabbed the ball and, after brushing his hair from his left eye, flung the ball down hard at Titch. A smart piece of footwork enabled him to take the ball on the half-volley and it soared high into the air. Up and away it went followed by the admiring gaze of the other four, and eventually fell amongst the ruins of the old abbey where it bounced amongst the stones.
“Six it is!” yelled Bunny as he dramatically raised both arms above his head in true umpire’s style. “The only trouble is that now we’ve got to find my ball. Come on you lot, that’s my new ball. We can gather our kit together when we’ve found it.”
Though the grass on the common was fairly short, being regularly cut by council workmen, their search for the ball was considerably hampered by the stonework which was scattered about where the grass was much longer. The five boys made their way in amongst the old ruined cloisters, but, although they looked everywhere for it, the elusive ball could not be found.