I was a schoolboy at St Paul’s when the incident I’m about to relate occurred. I was one of a small number of boarders – my parents were ‘swingers’ (as we’d now call them). Not that I knew that at the time, of course. They just said they had ‘business to attend to,’ so I was packed off to St Pauls for months at a time.
Anyway, it was a quiet Saturday in May, and I’d gone down to the kitchens to fetch some milk for a pot of tea I’d just made. There was Sally, the kitchen maid, with her arms up to her plump elbows in a sink full of washing up. “Hello, Sally, what’s that smell?” I asked. There was an unpleasant odour, not unlike the dreaded boiled cabbage, cooked to death, served up four times a week.
“Oh, hello, Master Saul. Pardon me, I just let one off.”
“What d’you mean, you threw some food out that went bad?”
“No, silly! I mean I just farted.” She laughed, “I wasn’t expecting no one to come in, Master Saul. Anyways, what brings you to the kitchen?” She put the last plate onto the drainer, covered in suds, and wiped her red hands and arms on a towel.
“Oh, … I er, just wanted some milk … er, please.”
She smiled. She was a congenial soul. “Of course, and listen, Master Saul, there’s a fairground come to town, did you know?”
“Well, look, the masters is all away this afternoon. Why don’t you and me go? No one’ll know.”
Well, being young, I was as plucky as a piece of flint and threw caution to the wind. “Yes, please!”
So, I found myself being escorted around the stalls by Sally. Apart from being a bit overweight, she was a comely lass, and probably not all that many years older than me, truth be told. Many youngsters had their parents or guardians in tow (this was all many years ago), so I didn’t feel self-conscious.
Well, Sally had hidden talents. Taking three darts at a stall manned by a chap who looked like a Toby Jug, she hurled them all into the same sector to win a huge teddy bear. “Hold onto it, luv, we’ll come back for it later.”
I declined to try my hand at darts but had a go at the coconut shy. There were two marks, ten feet and seven feet, the latter for children. He gave me six small hard wooden balls for sixpence, and I threw them as hard as I could towards the coconut that seemed the nearest. My last ball just caught it on the edge, and it gave a semblance of a wobble.
“Here, let me have a go,” said Sally, handing over sixpence. In return, she got a mere five balls. “Six for kids, five for adults,” said the man, grinning, “but you can throw from the kiddie’s mark.”
Well, the smile was soon wiped off his face as Sally’s first ball slammed into the one I’d been aiming at with such force that it practically flew out of its stand, despite the fact it was likely glued in. The prize was a goldfish in a plastic bag, which Sally promptly handed to a little girl with pigtails, standing nearby with her beaming nanny and clapping and cheering Sally’s prowess.
Then it was onto the ghost train. I won’t say that Sally corrupted me, but she took my hand in the dark and put it somewhere it had never been before. I was in for the ride of my life!
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