Timothy Winters can't sleep. He has bad dreams. Why? Today is his First Day at Big School. He's dreading it. He sits on his balcony in Trellic Towers and gazes on the glow-worm lights of the Westway.
He's heard stories about Big School. Will he fit? Is he tough enough? He doesn't look it. He's small and shy and satirical and lives in libraries and plays chess and wears glasses and has hair like Nigel Molesworth. Do you get your head flushed down the toilet for this sort of thing? Will there be thugs waiting by the bike sheds? In the dark? In the park? Will his childhood end here?
Dawn breaks across the Grove. The September sun makes steel things glitter.
And those tests... is it all tests? Exams? He gets nervous. He fails them. A few fails and you're finished – for life, apparently.
He regards the school uniform on the chair. It cost a bomb. He puts it on – shirt, posh tie with gagging Windsor knot, a blazer, whose sleeves eat his hands and trousers, which curl like curtains round his new and squeaking black shoes. He goes down to breakfast. His family howl with mirth at his clothes.
"You look like you've been poured into them and forgotten to say when," says his unnecessary sister.
"You'll grow into them," says his mother.
"When I'm 21?"
"Good luck!" says a card from his dad, who left at dawn to drive a Tube.
Timothy skips breakfast and walks with his mum through the grotesque inequalities of West London. They nearly get demolished by a big fat Cherokee as it ferries pampered infants to the privileged ghetto of St Custard's.
His mum holds his hand as they pass through the Big School gates. "Mum... please... for chrissake."
The school looks like a giant glass palace, for the hot-housing of tots. The foyer looks like a Shopping Emporium. Signs say things like "We believe in Excellence". As opposed to what? "Success is better than the rest." He ponders this and giggles. Dossing? A bed? Failure?
They arrive in a playground. Shining Blake boys and girls are lined up under a spreading chestnut tree, busy disowning parents, carers, jailers, social workers, brothers and blubbing mums. Timothy's mother exits weeping.
His tutor, beaming and tanned, carts them off in a crocodile into a hall. A suit arrives and cancels a smile. It is Grimes, the demon head. It has a face like a peeled, hard-boiled egg. Vampiric. His henchman try to resemble Reservoir Dogs, and point their suits at the quaking tots, as Grimes issues edicts and diktats and welcomes them to their fates.
- Ian Whitwham is a former inner city London teacher.