Afghan War, Afghanistan, Antiwar, Bull, David Cameron, Death, Edinburgh, Education, Farmer, Field Trip, Headmaster, Highlander Scott McLaren, Horror, Improvised Explosive Device, Kabul, Opinion, Politics, Satire, School, Taliban, Teaching, War, War on Terror, Warfare
For the first two weeks of the summer, Sighthill Academy puts aside its daily troubles and the whole school embarks on a residency at Joppa Grange: an outdoor activity centre which hosts an itinerary of canoeing, abseiling, and orienteering. The state subsidises these courses, for it regards the teenagers at Sighthall as being the products of a morally retarded culture; and it believes that a stint of bungee-jumping at Joppa will shape their characters where ineffective or careless parents have failed.
Joppa Farm was an old ally of the Grange and it allowed the students to carry out their orienteering in its fallow pastures. Yet on the school’s first morning at the Grange, Farmer Bramble strolled over with some unwelcome tidings for the Head. He found the Head lifting weights in the gym.
“I’m sorry to report that Darky, my prize seed bull, has escaped,” the Farmer chuckled. “Some bugger left the gate wide open, and the result? He was gone before you could say snap, crackle and pop!”
The Head knew that he had to look very concerned and responsible, whilst he inwardly felt completely blank. “I suppose that he might attack the students,” the Head then grasped dimly and with a faint stir of interest.
“He’s extremely dangerous,” Farmer Bramble warned. “You cannot reason with such a creature. He’s also very angry because whenever he’s kept in the barn, students from the Grange often come down to throw stones at him and pull his tail.”
At this allusion to captivity, the Head laid down his weights, aghast. “And we will all have to be confined in the Grange?”
Farmer Bramble shook his head. “Our livestock are fitted with microchips and we can monitor where they are at all times using an agricultural satellite. The technology is very much on our side…”
The Head laughed. “So you just take a peep through your satellite and bingo! You’ve found him!”
But Farmer Bramble looked a little abashed. “My boys have scoured the surrounding fifty miles. The devil must be hiding in some sort of cave.”
At the breakfast assembly, the Head briefed the school about the bull situation and he warned all of them to remain vigilant. “The technology is very much on our side and so it will be a piece of cake to capture Darky,” he reassured everybody. In the spacious breakfast hall, wolfing down croissants with their pals, these teenagers found it pleasant to be frightened by the thought of Darky. They were soon joking about the bull until he became established amongst them as quite a character – a mad beast who was dementedly plotting to jump out from behind trees and toss them in the air!
Orienteering in the afternoon, the Head found a pupil lost by herself in the woods and, remembering that the bull might still be at large, he led her back across the meadows towards the Grange. Alone under the sky, they chatted about Darky. “Are you afraid, sir?,” Becky asked impishly. She was a very pretty girl and the Head again found himself wondering what it would be like to receive a blowjob from her when she was a little older and more shapely.
“No,” the Head replied. “I am not afraid.”
“Why not, sir?” Becky had taken the bait.
“Because I know that I can run faster than you. If the bull charges at us, he will catch you.”
This wiped the smile off Becky’s face and the Head was privately very satisfied.
They reached the Grange without incident, but only to be greeted by an unpleasant shock. Two of their boys had been found dead in the woods. The bull had tossed them with his horns, one had been disembowelled, and the other had been practically torn to pieces. Half an hour later, they had discovered a third boy twitching without his legs under a nearby hawthorn bush.
“Oh my God,” the Deputy whispered to herself. “They were so young.”
“It’s sad,” the Head agreed grimly. “We must tell the other pupils, of course, but remind them that the bull will be caught soon. The technology is very much on our side.”
The Deputy nodded dutifully.
“We must press ahead with the canoeing tomorrow,” the Head instructed. “Remind them of the importance of this. There are a lot of activities still to do and we must, as they say, finish the job.”
The next day, the Head paid tribute to the dead boys at the breakfast assembly. The canoeing proceeded as planned. Unfortunately, a party of boys who were dragging their canoe back from the river surprised Darky lurking around the outhouses, and the enraged bull killed one of them and gored three others.
“Pond dipping tomorrow!” the Head told the school brightly. “We must finish the job!”
“Darky will be caught soon. The technology is very much on our side,” the Deputy chimed in, vaguely wondering what on Earth she was talking about.
Less than a week into the course, and sixteen of the teenagers had been killed, countless others had been “injured” (a gentle term which tended to obscure a more horrific reality), and they were running out of places to discreetly store the bodies. Every day at the breakfast assembly, the Head would pay tribute to those freshly killed, and by now this was such a routine occurrence that the school struggled to look interested as the names were read out. The Head fought his own private battle to speak of his sense of loss with ever more determined sincerity.
Occasionally, Farmer Bramble would telephone to report his progress on recovering the bull, until he finally stopped calling and the school were informed that he had been sacked. It turned out that a younger farmhand, Farmer O’ Hara – a bonny Irish lad with a honey voice – had replaced Farmer Bramble. When the Head met Farmer O’ Hara, he observed that this new fellow looked rather bored when the conversation moved on to the latest news of the bull.
“Of course, we have technology…” Farmer O’ Hara shrugged. He would clearly be more content to harvest magnificent fields of golden wheat, rather than chase a tiresome bull around the wilderness.
After the twentieth teenager had been trampled by the bull, the Head received a delegation of bereaved parents who wanted the school to withdraw from the trip. “They are so young,” the father of one mangled boy pleaded, “and we cannot understand the sense of teaching them things like archery and orienteering, which seem to have no place in the modern world.”
The Head had never been very impressed by any of these parents, but he had to pretend to listen to their concerns. “This remains an important and valuable course of activities, and we must finish the job. We cannot simply withdraw and walk away. Imagine if everybody’s field trip was spoiled by a silly bull.”
Unfortunately the Head was spending more and more time in the Joppa Arms, slurping bitter over the school’s accounts. Questions of funding and resources proved a growing distraction for the poor man, and he would spend hours on end wrangling with the PTA and not attending to the organisation of the activities. When Darky charged upon a picnic in the meadow and tossed seven of the girls, the Head was widely blamed, and there were some snide remarks when he bungled their names at the next morning’s breakfast assembly. But nobody would seriously challenge the Head’s authority, and therein lies the explanation for the absence of any ending to this tale.