Childcare, Childhood, Children, Daesh, Democracy, Drugs, Education, Family, Freedom, Getting It Right For Every Child, Humor, Islamic State, Jihadism, Liberty, Named Person, Opinion, Politics, Satire, School, Scotland, SNP, Teacher, Teaching, Teenager, Terrorism, The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, The Named Person, Whisky
[It has just occurred to me that there has never been, in the entire history of detective fiction, a detective who is a Named Person. In order to rectify this oversight, and to fuel the evolution of the genre, Tychy is introducing the “Named Person Mysteries.” This instalment is a pilot, though there may be more in the future. Readers outside Scotland, who are as yet unclear about the role of the Named Person, can fill themselves in here and here.]
When Mr MacDonald, the headmaster of Gilmerton High, received the government information pack about the Named Person scheme, he felt as if immense quantities of snow were gushing down on top of him. On turning the pages, he whimpered uncontrollably. It seemed as if his teachers were being required to take legal responsibility for everything about all of the children in the school. None of them were ever going to volunteer to be a Named Person. The squabbling about who was eventually going to have to be one would be stupendous.
If only he could somehow foist Named Personship upon his staff without them becoming aware of it. Mr MacDonald was dreaming about pulling off such a coup when he was brought to a stop, his heart beating, in the middle of the main corridor. There were about two dozen teenaged girls in gym whites coming towards him and they were splattered liberally, from head to foot, in fresh blood. Some of them were sobbing and consoling each other; all of them were bleeding.
The PE teacher, Pablo, was padding along genially beside them. He was a Spanish man in his mid-thirties, a stopping figure, as dumpy as a bear, with a craggy face which was nonetheless confiding and expectant. In common with most Spanish men who have lived in Edinburgh for many years, he had scribbles of silver and white in his jet black hair.
“Hello sir.” Pablo greeted Mr MacDonald with his usual ironic courtliness. He had been originally hired from an agency as the school caretaker. He was now frequently called in to coordinate the sports lessons, in the gaps between the comings and goings of the bored young men who were characteristically PE teachers. He came from a village family of fascists and under his command, the playing fields at Gilmerton were possibly the last authentic outpost of Franco’s regime.
“Are they okay?” the head whispered, signalling with a dart of his eyes at the bleeding young women.
“Girls Pugilists,” Pablo explained, surveying them fondly. “I like the rugby cos that gets them sliding in the mud, but with the boxing you get the real action.”
“Excellent,” the head agreed uncertainly. “Listen Pablo, you’ve helped us an awful lot over the last few months. I’m afraid that there are some new responsibilities which have, so to speak, fallen from the table.”
The courtliness was switched off abruptly. “What’s the money?” Pablo asked. Behind him, one of the girls had staggered, fainting, and the rest tottered in a single movement, like red and white skittles as a ball swerves past them.
The head promised that his secretary would go over this side of things with Pablo. His secretary was a gimlet-eyed woman who was typically fierce when it came to haggling. The head didn’t know that Pablo routinely slept with her. When she pressed her eyes shut, this cynical slob vanished and all that remained was his stirring Latino voice, the voice of a thousand bespangled fantasy Cubans.
So Pablo was amply compensated, either for being the Named Person or the unnamed Hispanic.
He was sent off for the afternoon to a group training session in the car park of the local library. He returned as the Named Person for over six hundred children.
Let us see him in action. One morning, Mrs Duncan, the mother of Toby in S2, stamped into the school and demanded to speak to the Named Person. Pablo confronted a woman who was radiating a strenuous, furious cheerfulness. She beamed at him and her hands shook with rage.
“Are you the author of this letter?”
“I am Pablo Ramiro,” he smiled.
She flickered with irritation. “It’s signed only “the Named Person.” And it’s complaining that my son is overweight.” She quivered all over like a jelly. “I can tell you, Mr Ramiro, that my son is not overweight.”
“Oh, he is,” Pablo assured her, nodding his head earnestly.
“Mr Ramiro, I am a qualified expert in child nutrition. I have spoken at conferences all around the world about childhood obesity. I have a PhD. I have written a book about the subject which is widely regarded as…”
“But I am the Named Person,” Pablo interjected sweetly. “And your fat little son… ah, he reminds me of this.”
Pablo began to reflect upon the subject like a soliloquising Shakespearean villain. “My grandmother, she had a white cat… a huge white cat this… and they tried to cut down on the food, but then my grandmother learned that her cat each day went to all of her neighbour’s houses and all of her neighbours each gave it a dinner. So the cat had like twenty dinners each day. And your son, Toby, he just looks like this cat. He has the same face. He walks with the same walk.”
Mrs Duncan did not appear to appreciate the validity of this analysis. “Mr Ramiro, I am an expert in child nutrition. You, so far as I can gather, are the school caretaker. And I am telling you that my son is not overweight.”
Pablo smiled sweetly once more, but it next seemed as if he had noticed her for the first time. The unhooded gaze of a crocodile would have glittered with more human kindliness. “Mrs Duncan, when shall we organise the raid for?”
“I beg your pardon,” Mrs Duncan spluttered.
“The raid early in the morning on your house. Which day is the most convenient?”
The jelly gave a final, expiring wobble of indignation. “You will not get away with this,” she hissed. But in her heart she had already acknowledged his claim to supreme kingship as the Named Person. Sullenly she would go home and, almost without admitting to herself that she was doing so, she would halve the portions of chips and pasta which were subsequently placed in front of Toby.
The school day was at an end. Roaring crowds of schoolchildren were breaking up like Arctic ice outside the school gate. Tiny nimble cars were insinuating their way through the flowing bodies to snatch and bundle off children who looked like emblazered insects waving musical instrument cases. At this time, Pablo always fled to the peace of his tin shed, his honorary headquarters as the caretaker. And, as always, some of the more mature boys from S6 were his guests.
It was usually whisky but today Pablo had plumped a small sandwich bag of powder on the table in front of them. Some of the boys glanced rapidly at each other.
“It’s safe, perfectly normal,” Pablo promised them. “You just lick a small part of your finger and then you put it in the bag so you just have, what, three, four, crumbs stuck to it.”
The boys looked troubled. They would have sooner died than pull out, but they still looked troubled.
Pablo gave his most intimate smile and he then resumed flirtingly. “Hey listen, it’s normal for lots of people to feel this. Mr Drew, the history guy, he was the same as you…”
“Mr Drew!” The boys were scandalised.
“He was like, I don’t wanna any of that because the government has decided that this random thing is not allowed. But I took him to the Highlands in my car and then we stood on the shore of the loch and then we took some and then Mr Drew realised how beautiful it was. And he was standing on the shore of the loch weeping, crying like the baby.”
In reality, Mr Drew, the head of history, had never ingested anything stronger than a glass of sherry with his Christmas lunch. Over the next few weeks, the poor man would be bewildered by the new esteem in which all of his pupils held him. Perhaps, he tried to convince himself, his lessons about the Versailles treaty were particularly inspiring this year.
Pablo expertly led the boys through all of the stages of acceptance, until they had each agreed to sample a few specks of the powder. They now sat silently in a circle, gaunt and incredibly still, with eyes as unblinking as those of waxworks.
A little later, Pablo stirred with irritation. “That guy Amir, where is he today? I haven’t seen him for like, maybe for a week?”
Eventually, one of the boys had dredged up enough wherewithal to reply, in a voice that seemed to issue from another dimension. “He won’t come anymore. He doesn’t drink anymore.”
“He’s stopped drinking the alcohol?”
“Aye,” the ghostly voice finally replied.
None of the entranced boys reacted as Pablo rose heavily to his feet. “This sounds like a case for the Named Person,” he decided, deftly knocking the bag of powder into his jacket pocket without any of them noticing. “I am your Named Person and if any of you vomit in my shed when I am gone I will report your parents to the social workers. You don’t want the badness in the future. I know you can all hear me somewhere in there.”
Amir lived just down the road from the school. As his Named Person, Pablo could, of course, bring up Amir’s address, school reports, and medical records on his phone.
Pablo’s destination was a squat beige tenement in Tressilian Gardens. The building was girded by the same beech hedge which was wrapped around every other tenement in the neighbourhood in the same tyrannical pattern. Amir and his family lived on the ground floor. Pablo peered through the first available front window and into an empty sitting room. The layout was almost veiled in the stagnant light, but a lone stripe of pink and fuchsia flame ran across the back wall, just under the ceiling, reflecting the sunset behind Pablo. He followed a battered garden around the side of the tenement, and through a colony of dustbins, into the communal back garden. Through the first in a line of back windows, he spied Amir.
This skinny youth was sitting at a desktop, apparently engrossed in reading from the screen. Pablo registered the normal pizza topping of clothes and magazines which covers the floor of any teenager’s bedroom. He then began to read off the titles from the books which were arranged on the shelf over the bed. These were, he saw, by authors such as Naomi Klein, George Monbiot, and Noam Chomsky. There were many more books about the injustice of Palestine and disastrous US-led foreign interventions in the Middle East and Latin America.
Amir stood, turned away from the computer, and left the room. He had taken a random magazine from a pile without looking at it, which indicated that he was visiting the toilet.
Pablo had instantly poured himself through the window and he landed with a silent crash on the bedroom carpet. He rose to his knees in front of the desktop, scowling at the exertion. On accessing the web browsing history, he did not like what he saw. More injustice, more Palestine, mixed with moralistic articles about Western decadence from Daily Mail commentators such as Peter Hitchens and Melanie Phillips.
Pablo climbed back out of the window, complaining audibly about the effort that he was going to. He continued down the side of the tenement until he had arrived at a small window, which was lit up in the twilight. He had to stand on a recycling bin to see through. Inside, behind the glass, Amir was sitting on the toilet with his back to Pablo. Pablo had a clear view over Amir’s shoulder of the pages that he was reading. They were from a gaudy pamphlet, swathed in Arabic text, with melodramatic photographs of men posing in ninja uniforms. Moreover there was…
“Excuse me, but what are you doing?” A lady was frozen startled at the back door with a sack of rubbish in her hand. A floppy dog bounded ahead of her. She stared up accusingly at Pablo.
“Madam, I am the Named Person,” Pablo proclaimed magnificently. “I am conducting an investigation.”
“Oh goodness, I’m sorry to disturb you sir.” The lady ran and hastily squashed her rubbish into the bin and then retreated in a rush. Her dog bounded after her.
Inside, Amir had shot to his feet and he was standing, bare arsed, in horror. “Sit down and continue what you were doing,” Pablo commanded sternly.
Amir sat down again and Pablo resumed his study of the magazine over the lad’s shoulder.
A man was holding up a severed head as if it was a lantern. There was another photo of a head laid out on its former body’s chest.
Pablo had seen enough. He returned to the bedroom window and broke into the room for a second time. Was Amir likely to have any weapons or bomb making equipment? Pablo emptied rucksacks and rootled around in the wardrobe until he had uncovered a suitably ominous-looking device, a mesh of wires and circuitry.
Amir re-entered his bedroom and put back the gory pamphlet. He regarded Pablo with that lack of surprise with which teenagers typically respond to the vagaries of authority. “Hey Pablo, don’t touch that man. It’s dangerous.”
Pablo was yanking at wires. “I heard it beep.”
Amir’s voice scrambled up a tower of stairs, to a vociferous shrillness. “It’s meant to be a car bomb. Man, you’ve activated it!”
Pablo was running for his life. With an energy that he had never thought his lumbering body capable of, he crashed down the hallway, flung wide the front door, and threw the device with all of his might.
The street shuddered as if elephants had erupted into a stampede. For a second, fire flashed blindingly, as unbelievably piercing as if a flame had eaten through the back of a matte photograph of the street. Then, when Pablo looked again, he saw to his amazement that every pane of glass in the street, in every window and every door and every car window, was missing. There was a patch of smoke silhouetted against the sky overhead. Glass was strewn everywhere across the pavements and front gardens, like curls on a barber’s shop floor.
People were filing out of their houses and tenements, greeting the ruin around them with cries of astonishment. A man ran up to Pablo and wrenched him by the arm. “What have you done? Where’s the windscreen of my car?”
Pablo drew himself up to his full height. “Sir, I am the Named Person. This is Getting It Right For Every Child.””
For once, these magic words did not open any caves. “You’re a maniac!” the man screeched, flinging himself up and down on the spot. “And you!” He turned to Amir who had materialised beside Pablo with guilt written all too plainly across his face. “You’ve got something to do with this, I know, you little bugger!”
The citizens of Tresselian Gardens flooded forward excitedly, each with their mouthful of complaint and abuse. “Amir!” Pablo growled. “There are times when you can still talk and times when you have to run! This time we run!”
And so they ran. They were pursued only by a chorus of boos and a yelping, trailing dog.
A few minutes later they were crossing the playing fields in the last of the day’s light, on the return route to the caretaker’s shed. Pablo was interrogating Amir with a lack of delicacy that made the boy flinch. “So you’re a crazy? One of these Jihadi johns?”
Amir attempted to explain but Pablo’s involuntary exclamations of disgust and contempt had soon silenced him. The teenager looked tremendously embarrassed.
Pablo grew pompous. “Listen, as your Named Person, I am supposed to do something about this. I have the responsibility to Get It Right For Every Child. But you also know that there will be a lot of badness in the future if I report this. Police, raids on your house, your parents finding out, you might even go to the prison.”
Amir twitched again and Pablo placed a paw on his arm to steady him. “You will give me four hundred pounds,” Pablo instructed evenly. “And then this report does need never to be written.”
“I don’t have four hundred pounds,” Amir gibbered in dismay.
“I have money in a special account. My grandparents left it for me. It’s maybe three hundred.”
“Perfect. We phone the bank right now and they transfer everything for me.”
After this transaction had been successfully processed, Pablo went to the Sandy Bells to compliment his own resourcefulness with a whisky. After that, he further complimented himself at the Green Mantle, the Royal Oak, Whistle Binkies, the Jolly Judge, the Cuckoo’s Nest, the Cloisters, and the Wee Red Bar. That night, he slept the deep sleep of one whose conscience is as peaceful as a little lamb’s.
[There is currently a lot of confusion and misreporting in the media about the Named Person scheme. If you believe that any aspect of the role has been inaccurately represented during this story, then please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.]