There used to be this geography teacher in school. Trevor Pinky. No-one ever called him Mr. Jones or Mr. Thomas or Mr. Evans like the other teachers. I can’t even remember his surname now. Maybe he didn’t have one? It was always: ‘Oh, are you off to Pink’s class today, butt?” or “Are you off to Trev’s class today, butt?” He didn’t really come across as a sir and I don’t think anyone ever called him it. Not even the swots would.
Head like an October cabbage and a body like a piece of stumpy frozen lamb you can get from the reduced bit in Castell Howell. Breath of a lemon and honey menthol. Voice of a politician. Hands like raw beetroot.
Taking Geography as a GCSE was a bit of a cop-out but it was better than taking the other option, Leisure and Tourism. I mean, the Geography class had all the boys in and there were a few fit girls in the class, too. The window looked out over Pandy mountain. You could even see the sheep congregating by the swamp where a few fell in each month and would end up being found, bobbing on the water like they were made of plastic but you knew they weren’t because you could see all their bones and black insides. Ashley did a dare once. He had to jump into the swamp and drag a sheep out which had been bobbing like that for a fortnight. He did it, but couldn’t drag the dead thing out because it all came apart in his fingers like spaghetti bolognese. When he got out of the swamp he stunk of shit and old rubbish and he was sick all over Stinger’s new army boots. We didn’t dare anyone to go in there again. It was too horrible.
Taking Geography also meant that you did fuck all in last lesson Tuesdays and Fridays. I think that’s why most of us opted for it as even though Leisure and Tourism was full of the spaz’ and it was bound to be pretty easy, it was taught by Mr. Vulture whose facial tick was as intense as his teaching style. No one wants that in last lesson.
So, there we were. Thirty of us in Pinky’s class. A real mixed bunch. A few of the rugby and football boys, looking like themselves in ten years with their tracksuits on and already balding skulls, three or four of the musical kids (by musical, remember the term ‘emo’?), a gang of the girls who wore make-up as thick as their Valleys accents, a fistful of the normal kids who blended into whatever situation they were in, and then the rough as builders thumbs kids – from Clydach – whose fringes were glued to their foreheads with Woolworths’ wet-look gel and who were only in the class to discuss where they were getting their green from that night, who they were fighting, and whether one of them had actually got Sheila pregnant. Sheila is now a lesbian without a Facebook account.
Every lesson started the same. Pinky would be hunched over his desk, head between his folded arms, complaining about his bad back (which had been ongoing since my brother was in Year 7 – he’d left the school ten years before I started), smelling of sweet aftershave with a hint of lemon and honey sweeping his words out. His desk would be immaculate. Everything in its place. Not even a pen would manage to escape the clean confines and they’d be placed in blue, black, red, felt order with the precision of a diamond cutter. Pink never changed. His clothes, I mean. Always the same pale blue shirt and black trousers and shiny brogues. He must have changed his clothes, though, because he was never smelly. I’m guessing the education system instilled in him a sense of monotony and he bought loads of the same clothes from BHS or Ethel Austin or Peacocks or somewhere. Loads of teachers like that, ain’t there? Especially comp teachers. It must be headwork teaching the same lesson, day in, day out. And that’s how they end up the way they do.
We’d walk in, slump into our seats, our bellies gurgling from the dinner hour before where we’d chomped down on turkey twizzlers and burgers as thin as Flat Stanley, and listen to Pinky drone on for the first ten/twenty minutes about the map of Africa or life in the cocoon. By listen, I mean catch a few words here and there and try not to laugh that loud as Linford (Clydach boy) shot wet paper at Pinky through a straw. If you laughed out loud, you were really likely to puke your dinner up and then you’d get the wrath of mam as she put your bobbly school jumper through the wash. “What a waste of water and electric, boy,” she’d say. “You think money’s made on trees? When you find one, that’ll be my dying day.”
After those ten/twenty minutes were up (you could time it to the dot), Pinky would then talk to the music kids about a new band he’d heard on the radio. “Beautiiiiful sound,” he’d say. “But obviously not as good as the 70’s era,” he’d then list off all these obscure – and awful – bands from the 70’s who were actually really shit. The music kids would nod in agreement, either in awe, or because they couldn’t be arsed to speak about anything other than their fringes and Vans. He’d go on like this until there was five minutes left before that blessed, precious last bell would strum through the school, signalling the end of another day, and the start of another. Pinky would then fling some paper at us – homework, he’d say – and sit at his desk, combing his flat hair and winking at the girls who were already texting Cockerel and his mates, who were all 25 and had cars and were lucky not to be put on the sex register, thinking about it.
No-one ever did the homework and I remember, one day, in the summer that a few of the Clydach boys lit their papers on fire and threw them at Wayne Simmol just as he lumbered into his dad’s car. His jumper caught flame a bit but soon went out. His jumper had a little black mark on it, as if someone had thrown a piece of sheep shit at him and he started crying. His dad ran after the Clydach boys but he got tripped up by one of their younger brothers and skidded on his elbows down the hill until he was crying, too. Wayne didn’t come back to school after that and went to Porth County instead but I’ve still got him on Facebook and he ended up in Aber University, graduating in Robotics. He’s the bouncer now in the club on the pier and looks a bit like Scott Gibbs with a curly mop.
Pinky never called us up on the homework and none of us cared. Only two people in the class passed that GCSE. If we’d sat an exam on 70’s prog then we’d have all passed with A*’s but the exam was all about WWII and the only thing we knew about that war was that famous Churchill speech which was used on a really good drum and bass song, which is absolutely thumping and I necked my first girl to that in the disco down in Evolution down Cardiff Bay.
The thing is with Pinky, is that now, when I put myself in his shoes, he was probably a very lonely and lost man who ended up becoming tangled in a life he’d fabricated for too long. Too long to realise what was real, and good, and what was imaginary, and fucked up. That’s what went wrong with him, but still there’s no excuse for erroneousness in this world, and no excuse for playing a part in which you don’t fit.
Come the middle of year eleven, the rumours were stuck to the school corridors, walls, floors, and ceilings. Rumours were passed around in the thick mash you were given on dinner trays, the words were sunk into the top fields where our PE lessons were, the stairs whispered to you as you went to form class in the mornings and our ties unravelled with loose lips and wary stories. All in all, it was a pretty weird time because you heard different things which were somehow linked to one another. You wanted to believe because you wanted to unite with the revolution but something stuck. It wasn’t right. Your 16 year old brain asked you: would you do the same? But you neither had the knack, looks, attitude or balls. You were still spotty and had a Tom Cruise beard and were skinny and your mam still bought your pants with a V shape where your cock and balls are, instead of boxers in Pandy market. They itched and burned. I think maybe they were second hand and my mam bought them from someone who had a few raging STI’s. Not that I would know what they felt like.
The rumours were that Pinky was shagging girl sixth formers – and had been every year at the sixth form balls. I first heard it from Axl, one of the Clydach boys, who had a head like a boulder and who smelled like a damp shower curtain. He was with all the other faggys behind the smoking shed, which I was walking past on my way to third lesson at breaktime.
“Nah, it’s gorra be true mun. Stimpo told me and he dun lie, duz he? E sed Pinkz shagged Fran Loophole las year at the ball in the Oliday Inn down Cardiff. E’s shagged loads of em, like. Wen you get to sixth form, it’s all different apparently. Treat ew different, like.”
I bent over to tie my shoelace but couldn’t hear any more because all the faggys started to cough their cilia up.
Of course, when I got to third lesson then, everyone started talking about it and it went from there, really. All the way up to our GSCE exams and through the summer holidays and back into sixth form. I think that’s why loads of us took Geography as an A level. To see if he really was shagging sixth formers. Those of us who were placed in Pinky’s class, and not Beppe Frankie’s, were really pleased because we suddenly became more popular – even though we knew we would never pass Geography A Level. Everyone who was left in sixth form and hadn’t fucked off to work for their dad or were stealing cars and racing them up and down Penrhys Hill, would meet at the school gates at the end of the day. They were like ducks waiting for their feeder to throw them bread at lunch. They’d ask us (as our Geography lessons were always the last thing of the day) about what it was like (the lesson) and whether anybody had asked him (Pinky, sixth form sex). Every day, the answer was no. We just had to wait.
I’d heard that A Levels were much tougher than GCSEs but that really wasn’t true back then. For us lot, anyway. The lessons were much the same as back in Year 10 and Year 11, except we watched more films in black and white. Apart from a war film with Josh Hartnett in, which was decent. (Even though it was Geography, we watched films more suited to History lessons.) The room would be in darkness, apart from the screen, shooting its rays out. All the lights would be off and Pinky would sit next to his cupboard, where Bluebell sat. You only knew he was there because you’d notice him crossing and uncrossing his legs every so often. Thinking about it now, it makes a lot of sense as to why he sat in the darkest place and crossed and uncrossed his legs next to Bluebell. Other men tend to use their waistbands to hide it, but Pinky’s trousers were too tight to do that. If you try crossing and uncrossing, it does make the blood go down in it and saves embarrassing yourself.
Everyone said that he did it after the sixth form balls, after getting the girl drunk. He’d buy them drinks, as if he was their good chum giving them a good send-off, and throughout the night would slowly leech his way into their knickers or whatever they were wearing. Mind you, the girls he shagged were always the slaggy ones who were obviously less frigid. He never went for the virgins.
Year 12 flew by. People left, people stayed, teachers left, teachers stayed. The school dinners remained the same, the dinner-ladies remained the same, the sheep still fell into the swamp, Pinky shagged another girl in the year above us at her sixth form ball.
And the thing was, this time we knew it was true.
We all knew the girl. We knew that she wouldn’t bullshit and she told us about it in the summer, about a month after her sixth form ball, when we were drinking flagons of Frosty Jack and Spar lager up St George’s park, behind the kids playground. Frieda Norse, that’s her name. This was a direct source, like catching the fish for yourself and not having to remove all the wrapping and defrost it before bunging it into the oven. She was one of those girls who everyone liked, could mix with anyone, and imagining her lying about something would be like the valleys mountains not being set on fire every summer. It just didn’t happen. She even admitted when she wrote about Sheila being a slag in the girls’ toilets. Doesn’t get much more honest than that. She told us that after they’d all had their meals in the Holiday Inn – opposite the castle – most of the teachers went home but a few stayed, Bubble being one of them. They all then went to Lloyds Bar where the remaining teachers bought a few drinks for everyone and then they went to Revs, where, on the way, the other teachers either pretended to get lost (and go home) or pretended to wait for lifts (and go to other clubs) but Pinky stayed. On his own.
Once in Revs, the 18 year old ex-comprehensive students were obviously a bit fucked by then and they all floated into their friendship groups. Pinky saw his opportunity and made a beeline for Frieda Norse, squashing her against the bar for a good hour or two or three (she couldn’t remember), ploughing her with Apple Jacks and southern comfort and lemonades. The next thing she remembers is Pinky chugging back and forth behind her in the lane next to Queen Street Station. After that she remembers him putting her into the back of a taxi and, then, she woke up on her settee in the morning.
Have you told anyone, we asked her numerous times, in between slugging the cider and lager. But she said that because she’s 18, there’s legitimately no crime committed. She was off to Bangor uni to do law so we couldn’t argue with her, could we? Plus, back in those days we didn’t know doing that sort of thing was illegal. I did wonder why she hadn’t told her mam or dad but I didn’t ask because the cider was getting warm and I didn’t really like the lager.
Year 13, our final year in school, came around too quickly after a scorcher of a summer. The six weeks off had been good to us. We know looked like real people, instead of gangly school kids. Some of us could even get into pubs in Treforest without ID. The boys had their Kasabian haircuts. Some of us even had beards on the go, desperately shaving it every day so that it would grow quicker. The girls looked like, well, women. A few of them would show off their budding boobs by leaving their top button undone and making their ties even fatter. Gone were the orange foundation faces, replaced with contoured cheekbones and plank-straight hair.
It was true. Year 13 was well different to the other years in school. Like, really different. Before, if you were late for your reg class – especially if it was with your head of year – you’d get an absolute bollocking and have to stay in detention for lunch, or, even worse, much worse, the worstest, you’d lose your rag and answer Mr Lagan back and end up staying for detention after school. Try explaining that one to your parents on your term report when you told them you were late because you were revising Pythagoras Theorem.
Nah, in year 13, you could saunter up to the school basically any time you wanted because lessons were few and far between. There were even days off! I remember thinking that if this is what uni is like I’m definitely going. Should have thought about that more. Going from doing fuck all work to more work than I’d ever seen anyone do, ever, was unfair. It’s like trying to run a triathlon when you’re really fat and unfit. Horrible. I wouldn’t advise anyone to do it.
I’d get to the school just before lunchtime (all my lessons were in the afternoon) and have a laugh with everyone on our table in the hall (yes, there was a year 13 table where nobody else could sit at) and then go to my English and Geography lessons. Geography was always last lesson of the day. Some things are better off staying the same. Sometimes. Like the summer or the United Kingdom actually remaining united, rather than disjointed and incoherent.
But the one thing that did actually remain the same was ol’ Pinky.
He still leered at the girls and sneered about our music choices and blew honey and menthol over you as he leaned behind you, brushing his balloon belly on the nape of your neck. He still wore the same clothes and still taught us absolutely nothing of worth, apart from that Genesis and ELO were the best bands ever and Bob Dylan was a pretentious germ. He didn’t even teach us boys how to pull girls, which was obviously something he was good at and I think maybe that’s why we kept turning up for his lessons. Fuck Geography, sex was all we cared about.
At the end of Year 13, there was our sixth form ball. The year had gone really quickly, which wasn’t a surprise seeing as I only had 5 lessons a week. The longest bit of it had been the exam period. Sat in a massive old hall which smelled of old rubber and athlete’s foot with the sound of clicking pens, sighs, clearing throats and the tak-tak-tak of the lady exam invigilator’s high heels as she prowled through the rows of stressed school kids wasn’t the best. Those few hours spent in that hall felt as long as a sleepless night. After all, I just wanted to get home and play Pro Evo or CoD, not make my wrist hurt by scribbling answers down as fast as I could.
We all met in the car park of Brewsters in Pandy on the evening of the ball, around 6pm. Suited up with your mam’s words not to get it dirty because it was hired, shoes freshly gleamed, your dad’s aftershave burning your neck, and hair so meticulously crafted it looked like the wigs you see on the mannequins in H&M.
A few of us had ordered limos to take us to the Holiday Inn, where the ball was. Garish in colour and style, they were true monstrosities of consumerism. Inside smelt of strawberry jam and looked like something you’d see in a 90s hip-hop video. The champagne was shit and we all pretended to enjoy it, afraid of upsetting Tabatha who had made us all pay an extra fiver to have champagne in the limo. I remember her lips pursing and wobbling when she was drinking it, as if she was trying to keep a small monster in her mouth, her eyes desperately switching back and forth over us, lifted at the sides with a smile as fake as her extensions.
When we got to the Holiday Inn, there was no red carpet or bouncers or busboys or anything like that. There was just the staff and some people having a drink in the bar (though I still don’t know why – £8 a glass of red) and we were ushered into some sort of huge function room by our teachers, who were already there. Some of them had evidently been drinking before they got there, as the aromatic pong of lager and wine hugged onto their dresses and suits like a toddler too shy to head into nursery on their own.
The room wasn’t up to much. White painted walls with intermittent flecks of grey where the paint had been taken off by previous occupants. A deep red carpet with patterns of apples and some sort of hybrid bird. The carpet was stained with chewing-gum that hadn’t quite been scraped off and ingrained scuffs that looked like it had undergone a big kicking by the BNP. The bar was tiny and there was a big banquet-style table in the middle of the room, taking up most of the space and it must have been a pain in the arse to fit in. As soon as we took our seats, music came on from nowhere and we couldn’t hear anybody speaking so we all just sort of sat there and drank the table wine in silence, waiting for the rest of our year group to arrive.
Twenty minutes later and the room was full. Everyone had arrived after having a lift from their parents or (if they were really cool enough) catching a train down. It’s weird what twenty minutes on table wine can do for you because everyone was suddenly feeling much easier and didn’t care about the walls or carpet or tiny bar or banquet table. All of us were sat at the table while the teachers were stood at the tiny bar. You don’t think teachers go out and drink or even have a life of their own outside the school walls so to see them laughing and joking and talking to each other was a bit weird. Seeing them out of their day-to-day outfits they wore to school was even weirder. All the beige was gone and the room was full of colour. Especially when the disco lights were turned on.
The night progressed quickly and by 9:30 the majority of us were pissed. A few of the teachers had left, leaving four of them at the ball. Pinky was one of those who stayed. From around 7:45 various teachers had bought some of us drinks. Whisky seemed really popular with them (was it the cheapest?) and they’d buy us a shot of it. This meant that the girls, especially, were hammered as they were used to drinking WKD and Smirnoff Ice and whisky is a completely different animal to those. Nine teachers had come, which meant that some of us had had 9 shots of whisky. I can’t even do that now so I don’t understand how I managed to glug them down back then.
It was as if Pinky was stuck to the bar. He hadn’t moved from it all evening and he just stood there, throwing the drinks into his mouth and laughing so hard you could see that he didn’t have any tonsils. It was around 10pm, as the rest of the teachers were leaving for pastures new, that we saw the fabled beast of sex remove itself from its host.
He had started talking to Bluebell much more during Geography class, pinning her to her seat with his sticky lemon and honey menthol tongue. He would hover over her desk like an albatross flexing its wings, only he would flex and stretch and you would see the sweat patches decorating his underarms. He would talk to her about anything. It would be rubbish 90% of the time, the meagre 10% being something he’d say that she would pick up on. I suspect she did this to feign interest and to get him away from her face, or also to bump up her marks in assignments. I don’t know why Bluebell was the chosen one because, let’s face it, she wasn’t a girl with a lot of Facebook friends and was hardly in anyone’s top friends on MySpace or Bebo. She was one of those that used a cartoon character as her profile picture and commented ‘ok’, ‘y’, ‘ye’, ‘lol’ on statuses where that wasn’t called for, such as a call-out for the RIP of someone’s nan or cousin’s boyfriend’s brother. She also had a face like a ripped dap so she was an odd choice. Easy, though, I guess. It was difficult to imagine what Stimpo, her boyfriend, saw in her. He’d been expelled from school a few months prior for making a kid in year 7 pass out in the dinner hall. Stimpo choked him because he’d had the last turkey twizzler and the only things left were chips and beans and the beans were always cold. After he’d choked the kid, he’d sprayed deodorant down his throat and he’s really lucky he didn’t go to prison for attempted murder and just got expelled. Unless when Bluebell changed out of her uniform she was an absolute babe (which was highly unlikely) he probably had shit in his eyes or liked the fact she didn’t answer back.
So, yeah, Pinky had been talking to Bluebell consistently for months before the prom and he saw the evening as his chance. He caught Bluebell’s eye as she was biting into a soggy ham roll with lettuce plunging out of it. She got up from her chair, wobbled over to Pinky and offered him a bit of the roll. He took it and stared into her eyes as he ate it all, sucking up the last strand of lettuce that had flopped onto his chin like a sinkhole gurgling up spaghetti leftovers. Bluebell looked gutted. She must have been starving.
The two of them stayed at the bar until we all decided to move on to some club on St Mary Street, where it was £1.50 for a Jagerbomb. We got to the club at around 10.45, Bluebell and Pinky hanging at the back of the group. When we got inside, Pinky and Bluebell stayed at the bar, shots lined up in front of them, him talking as close as possible to her face. It looked like he was trying to eat her nose. She could barely stand by now and her head lolled backwards and forwards. She clutched onto the bar and didn’t seem to notice, or care, that there was lager pooling around her hand from a spilled pint. The queue of shots were finished and Pinky ordered more.
The rest of us were on the dancefloor and danced and swayed together as Darude, and then Gangsta’s Paradise pumped through the club. As I haven’t got any rhythm and was embarrassed that I was trying to dance, I looked for someone I knew who wasn’t dancing and I looked over to the bar and Pinky and Bluebell were no longer there. The place was heaving and heavy with sweat and tipped drinks and it was hard to force my way through the crowd.
I found Stimpo, who had caught the train down on his own because he wasn’t allowed to the prom because he was expelled, sipping a bottle of Bud and told him that they weren’t there. He asked me what I meant and I repeated myself.
“Wa dya mean ey’ve bin wiv each other all night?”
I asked him how he couldn’t have noticed it but before he could answer I realised that Stimpo wasn’t in the Holiday Inn with us (I’d had a few by then) and had only now turned up in the club.
I told him about Pinky not leaving Bluebell alone for the past few months and his face sucked into itself like a mouldy lemon. Stimpo was the hardest boy in our year (well, used to be) so I kept my distance and told him that I think I knew where Pinky would have taken her. The lane next to Queen Street station. Where he’d taken Frieda Norse. He didn’t ask any questions, just followed me out of the club and I felt completely masculine. The hardest boy in the year following me. Out of a club. To find his girlfriend.
We walked down St. Mary Street, then took a right onto Queen Street and then took a shortcut down Churchill Way until we got the station. We then walked past the homeless guys sleeping on the pavement outside the entrance, and made our way into the lane. There were no streetlights in the lane – there still isn’t – so it was hard to see anything. Torch apps on a phone weren’t a thing then so we had to rely on what nature had given us and use our ears. We wandered slowly down the lane but then stopped when he heard a noise as if someone was hitting a metal bin with a stick or something. Quietly, and slowly, we wandered on until the sound was really close. We could make out a silhouette as our eyes had become accustomed to the darkness, it was shaped like a horse with two heads at either end and it was moving back and forth really quickly. As well as the clanking bin noises, shallow breaths and groans could be heard. You could still smell lemon and honey menthol, even though he’d had a skinful.
It was Pinky.
Stimpo lost it. He launched himself at the noises and I just sort of stood back and tried to make out what was going on. I was probably a bit scared. Suddenly, there was a lot of swearing and frustrated, anguished screams. Pinky was telling Stimpo to fuck off you little shit but Stimpo was having none of it and he just kept on punching and punching and punching until there was no sound apart from Bluebell crying and Stimpo’s heavy-breathing.
I ran away just as the police car ploughed down the entrance of the lane.
Two weeks later and Pinky’s face appears on the front page of the Valleys Gazette. Bruised like a banana, his eyes sagged as if they were carrying prune juice. He had loads of stitches on his cheeks and I remember the headline being:
LOCAL GEOGRAPHY TEACHER FACES LIFE IN PRISON
People went nuts for it. The story goes that he had to be taken away by the police really quickly and ended up living in a cell even before he went down properly. His house was graffitied and burnt down as the full extent of his story came out. His ex wife was on the radio loads, apologising to the families and how he was always a family man. She didn’t know the half. He’d been at it for years, that was the truth.
However, he didn’t get life as my mam swears she saw him driving around Williamstown the other day in a van with ‘Trev’s Plumbing Services’ written on it. If that’s true, he won’t last long around here.
One thing I’ve always wanted to ask Bluebell – that baby, is it Pinky’s or Stimpo’s? If you’re reading this, let me know. Or message me on Facebook.
Rhys Milsom has a BA in Creative Writing from the University of South Wales and a MA in Creative Writing from the University of Wales: Trinity Saint David. His fiction and poetry has been widely published, including Wales Arts Review, Litro Magazine, The Lonely Crowd and The Lampeter Review, amongst others. His debut poetry collection, Amnesia, was published by Onion Custard Publishing. Rhys runs a quarterly literature and art night called Milieu. HE lives in Cardiff with his partner and daughter, Ivy. You can find him on Twitter at @rhys_milsom. You can read our short story interview with Rhys here.