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Protecting the Princess

by John Welford 10 months ago in Short Story
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A "six word story"

(This was a response to a challenge to write a piece that contains six words supplied by a random word generator, with each word being used exactly twice. The words are: coin, spark, planet, parish, flea, architect. Do you want to see if I succeeded?!)

Poole Grammar School moved in 1966 from its town site to one on the edge of Canford Heath, near Broadstone. I was one of the cohort of pupils that moved with the school, having already been there for three years.

The official opening took place in October, which was not long after we had started the new term. This was somewhat short notice, caused by the fact that Princess Margaret (the Queen's younger sister) was scheduled to open the new General Hospital, next to Longfleet Parish Church, and it seemed sensible to get her to do two jobs on the same day. She was therefore invited to perform the opening ceremony at PGS before the place was really ready for a royal visit.

There was nothing wrong with the new building as such, but work on the grounds was not yet complete and there were still workmen on site alongside all the pupils and staff.

I was in 4 Arts, our form master being Arthur Hicks, who was also the Senior History Master. Always known as “Tusker”, for reasons that I never found out, he was highly knowledgeable and was the man who was able to spark an interest in history that has never left me to this day. He did, however, have an unfortunate skin disease that led to him constantly scratching like a dog with a flea. You can imagine the response of a class full of schoolboys.

Our classroom was designated as the History room and was therefore on the Princess’s itinerary as she toured the school. Tusker had set up a small museum at the side of the room that contained a few items that had been found by members of the school’s Archaeology Society, such as a reconstructed medieval pot, a Roman coin and some pieces of ancient preserved timber.

We all stood to attention as the Headmaster, Mr Cleave, escorted Princess Margaret into the room and introduced her to Tusker Hicks. Fortunately he was able to ignore the flea for the duration of their conversation, but we could all see that it was a struggle. My mate Chris Dunton had been stationed alongside the museum display and did his best to interest HRH in what was on show. She was clearly bored beyond measure but made all the right noises, as did Chris.

A few words were had with one or two other boys, but fortunately not with me. She asked Steve Wilton what his career plans were, and he said that he might follow in his father’s footsteps and become an architect. I don’t think he did.

The visitors left for their next port of call and we all returned to Planet Earth.

We were, not unexpectedly, imprisoned in the History room until after the Princess had left the building and so had to rely on the evidence of others for what happened next. This included the unveiling of a plaque in the foyer next to the school’s main entrance. The school’s architect had decided that this was a good place to install a large picture window, although the view it gave was only of the short expanse across to the trees that lined the main road.

As mentioned earlier, there was still work being done on the school grounds, and a number of workmen’s huts were strung in a row in front of the trees. The headmaster was concerned that the Princess might glance through the window and be offended by the vision of nasty wooden huts that could have reminded her that the working class not only existed but was only a few yards away. Some days previously Mr Cleave had asked for ideas for solving the problem and some bright spark came up with the perfect solution of which the Head cordially approved.

On Canford Heath

The entire Third Form of the school was therefore supplied with the appropriate equipment and sent on to the nearby heath to dig up and cut down as many saplings and branches as they could manage to lug back to the school and place in front of the huts to hide their presence and not cause the royal eye to open wide with horror and shock.

As it happened, HRH had her back to the window the entire time and never once glanced in its direction. That afternoon the Third Form got to work again and replanted all the saplings for which this was possible.

Nobody had thought about maybe setting up a temporary curtain or screen in front of the window. That was clearly far too obvious an answer for Mr Cleave’s ingenious mind. To coin two phrases, one had to wonder what parish he thought he was in and what planet said ecclesiastical district was on?

Short Story

About the author

John Welford

I am a retired librarian, having spent most of my career in academic and industrial libraries.

I write on a number of subjects and also write stories as a member of the "Hinckley Scribblers".

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