Monday, 21 April 2014

Robert and the Summer Haircut

Mum still hadn’t given me permission to wear my long trousers to school and I was left wondering if the moths would get more use out of my longs than I ever would. 

It was a few weeks after my visit to the boys’ outfitters and I was due a haircut. Despite that fact that I was kept in short trousers, unlike any other fifteen year olds I was aware of, I was in other respects just like any fifteen year old in that I was inordinately vain about my hairstyle… what little hair there was left to be vain about after one of my regular trips to the barber’s shop. You see, that was another of mum’s little quirks in that she liked me to have what she called a ‘nice neat’ haircut. By this she did of course mean a standard schoolboy short-back-and-sides. 

Whereas most of the boys I knew were allowed to wear their hair down to and even touching their collars… and sometimes over their ears! Yours truly had to make do with fiddling with the little fringe left at the top of my forehead (mum would never allow the fringe to go any lower lest it ‘ruin my eyesight’). 

By the age of fifteen, as I’m sure you can imagine, I was itching to be allowed to let my hair grow a bit longer. For heaven’s sake a couple of boys in the Upper Sixth had hair so long it actually rested on their shoulders! And some boys even had centre-partings! 

I said that I was due a haircut, but what I didn’t add was that this was to be my ‘summer’ haircut. During the winter mum allowed me to have slightly longer hair, but even so it was never as long as the other boys at school. My summer cut was always much shorter. 

“Well, Robert,” mum would announce, “the weather’s warmer and the days are getting longer. I think it’s about time you had your summer haircut, don’t you?” 

To say anything other than to express my enthusiastic agreement would have been a grave mistake. I would have been accused of being ungrateful and to be ungrateful would have resulted in the loss of one of my many ‘privileges’ and in addition early bedtimes for a few days. So I could do nothing other than agree that, yes, it was time for me to visit the barber for my summer ‘trim’. 

“Now that you’re fifteen Robert, how would you like to go to see Mr Fenner [the barber] all by yourself?” 

“Yes please, mum,” I replied with as much eagerness as I could muster. Not to be enthusiastic at such a concession as being allowed to go to the barber on my own, would have been simply unforgivable, “I’d love to go…” 

“Are you sure, Robert?” 

“Yes, please mum… really, I’ll be okay. Thanks, mum…” 

And before I knew it a plan had started to evolve in my mind. If I was allowed to go to Mr Fenner on my own, maybe, just maybe, I could ask him to go a bit easy with the clippers… Hmm, yes, perhaps I could. 

One thing’s for sure; I must have been out of my mind! 

If I thought that mum wouldn’t notice I’d not had a proper ‘summer’ haircut, I’d need my head examined. But I was fifteen for heaven’s sake! I looked around at school and there didn’t seem to be any other boys like myself who was so much under his mum’s control. I felt compelled for the sake of my self-esteem to take a stand and telling Mr Fenner how I wanted my hair cut seemed a good enough place to start. 

I look back and wonder, had anyone known what was going through my mind at the time, how anyone could have taken me seriously. I mean I was still dressed permanently in short trousers; very short trousers. The longs which mum had bought for my fifteenth birthday still hung, unused, in my wardrobe and if I wasn’t wearing school shorts, I was dressed in my hideous short trouser suit. Yes, my embarrassingly long, smooth legs were kept continuously on display, making me the most shamefully self-conscious boy I knew. 

How can anyone expect to be a teenage rebel who is kept dressed like a little boy in short trousers? I mean really. How sad to think I could’ve deluded myself into thinking I was like other boys. Other boys who stayed up late; who wore demin jeans; who did all sorts of things without having their mums looking over their shoulders all the time; boys who weren’t bathed by their mums and buttoned up into their juvenile-patterned pyjamas by 8 o’clock at night! 

Oh, how I yearned to rebel! How I yearned to be a proper teenager! 

Yes! I would strike out and be independent; a free thinker; a rebel! 

I’d politely explain to Mr Fenner that I wouldn’t need him to cut my hair quite so short for my ‘summer’ cut this year. I was fifteen after all… 

“Thanks mum… I’ll go to Fenner’s straight after school tomorrow,” I told mum. 

“Remember to ask Mr Fenner for your ‘summer’ haircut, Robert.” 

“Yes mum.” 

That was it. Now I had nearly twenty-four nervous hours to wait until my appointment with the barber’s chair. I kept telling myself that I had to go through with my plan; that I’d be a wimp not to do want I wanted to do for once. But five minutes later I’d be shaking like a jelly, convinced that mum knew I was up to something. I just couldn’t stop thinking about what would happen at Mr Fenner’s; would he believe me when I asked for hair to be left longer. Perhaps he would ring mum to make sure I wasn’t telling him fibs. You see I was sure that grown-ups knew in an instant when I wasn’t telling the truth. Somehow I felt that my guilty sins (such as they were) were all indelibly printed on my forehead like some latter-day mark of Cain. All mum would have to do was to ask: “Are you sure, Robert?” and the truth would spill out of me as sure as night follows day. 

I was fifteen! And still this happened when mum suspected I’d not been telling the whole truth. Why could other boys get away with the things they did, but not me? One of mums adages, drummed into me from an early age, was that your sins would always find you out. I my case they didn’t need to come looking; I would confess even if I’d done nothing wrong just to be sure! What was it about me that made me blush whenever the teacher addressed the class to tell us of an unknown naughty boy who had done something wrong, as if I was the miscreant in question? Why did I shoulder this guilt? Why did I feel the need to be permanently on the alert in case it was found that, unknown to me, I had done something wrong? 

I’d get so annoyed with myself for having given in and confessed so easily to whatever infraction I had committed, that as soon as I could I’d go up to my bedroom. Then, try as I might not to, I would collapse onto my pillow and cry just like a little boy. 

“It’s not fair…” I’d say to myself as I felt the wet tears on my face, “It’s just not fair…” 

Why didn’t I have the self-confidence of other boys my age? Why did I give in so quickly? Why couldn’t I just stand up for myself? The most annoying part of it was that far from ticking off boys who were being, shall we say, economical with the truth, mum would likely as not just laugh off their wilder claims, leaving me gob-smacked because I knew that if it was me I’d as likely as not have a mouth-soaping for my trouble. However, mum considered bad manners and rudeness to be unpardonable sins and would always deal with the perpetrator of such behaviour no matter who it was. 

It wasn’t as if mum set out to show me up in front of my friends; she just didn’t seem to understand that how I was treated by her was the cause of my being teased and taunted so much. She didn’t see that connection at all. Didn’t she understand that no boy of my age wants his friends (or anyone for that matter!) to know how early he had to go to bed, or how he was dressed in old-fashioned boy’s pyjamas, or even how he was still bathed by his mum? Yet this information was freely given out by mum when she talked to her friends… I knew, because very often I’d be standing right next to her! Naturally this information would find its way to the ears of boys at school and they would delight in adding to my misery by making it quite clear what they thought. 

If mum heard me sobbing into my pillow she would come into my room and sit down next to me. “There now, Robert… you have a good cry… there’s no shame in having a good cry…” 

What did she mean?! Of course I was ashamed. A teenager, lying on his bed sobbing and being comforted by his mum… You bet I was ashamed! 

This then was the state of mind of the boy who was going to put himself through the ordeal of asking the barber to not give him such a short ‘summer’ haircut. Mole-hills, mountains, do I hear you say? Don’t be so sure. 

Needless to say I was a nervous wreck by the time I got off my bike at Mr Fenner’s. The barber’s shop looked more imposing than ever and my bare legs were positively shaking as I pushed the door open. The little bell tinkled and I stepped into the shop. Mr Fenner looked up and nodded. He was busy at his work and I took a seat and watched him as he turned back to carry on cutting a customer’s hair. I listened to the scissors clicking and watched Mr Fenner’s fingers as they pulled up the man’s hair, before snipping it a little shorter. Unconsciously I found myself brushing my hand over the top of my head and feeling my hair, soon to be even shorter than it already was. 

I picked up one of the old motoring magazines from a pile on the table beside my chair, but I couldn’t concentrate. I told myself that it wasn’t too late to change my mind; I didn’t have to ask Mr Fenner to not cut my hair as short as I knew I should. Mr Fenner put the scissors down and picked up a pair of electric clippers, flicked the switch and the familiar buzzing noise filled the air. 

There was no one else in the shop and my turn in the barber’s chair was getting closer by the minute. I had almost decided against my plan when a couple of Second Form boys from my school came in. They were both wearing long trousers and the fact I was three years older than either of them didn’t prevent one of the boys from pointing at me and laughing: 

“Look… it’s shorty short-shorts!” he said. 

The other boy piped up: “Have you come for a nice shorty haircut?” 

I sneered and mumbled, “Very funny…” but that decided me. I was going to ask Mr Fenner not to cut my hair so short. “No I haven’t!” I blurted out. 

Mr Fenner was absorbed in his work and, what with the noise of the clippers, didn’t hear this exchange and just nodded to the boys as he had done to me when I entered his shop. 

One of the boys leaned over to the other and, making sure I could hear, ‘whispered’ to his friend: “Mummy likes girly-legs like to have a nice shorty-haircut… bet you he asks for a special shorty-haircut…” 

I tried to ignore the two boys but I knew they could see the successful result of their teasing by the colour of my face which flushed redder by the second. 

Presently Mr Fenner finished his customer’s haircut. He brushed him down. The haircut was paid for and it was my turn in the barber’s chair. 

“What’s it to be today, Robert?” Mr Fenner asked cheerfully, “About time for your summer haircut isn’t it? I know your mum likes to see your hair kept nice and short for summer…” 

It was now or never. 

“Please, sir… err, Mr Fenner, just a light trim today please… not, err not a summer haircut, please,” then in an effort to justify my request I simply intensified my embarrassment by adding, “I’m fifteen now…” 

“Fifteen, eh?” Mr Fenner said with a smile, “Still in short trousers, though I see, Robert…” 

“Err, yes…” I admitted sheepishly. 

The two twelve year old Second Formers were enjoying my obvious discomfort immensely and giggled to themselves as I took my seat in the barber’s chair. 

“Now you’re fifteen, I imagine mum thinks you’re old enough to make your own mind up, eh Robert? Won’t be long before she buys you some proper long trousers I should think…” 

I was squirming with intense embarrassment, knowing that the two boys were listening to every word that was being said. Even so I had to make it worse for myself by telling Mr Fenner that mum had already bought me some longs for school. 

“Really?” he said, “When did mum buy them for you, Robert? I’m surprised you’re not wearing them…” 

“Umm… mum bought me a pair of longs for my fifteenth birthday,” I could hear how pathetic this sounded as I was saying it, but since I was daft enough to mention my so far unworn long trousers, I suppose I deserved the sneers from the two Second Form boys who I could now clearly see reflected in the mirror. 

“Your fifteenth birthday, eh… a present, eh Robert?” Mr Fenner continued and in the process making me more embarrassed by the second. “Then why aren’t you wearing your long trousers, Robert. If I were your age… if I was fifteen and my mum had just bought me some longs, I think I’d be wearing them all the time…” 

“Um, they’re for school… they’re school longs…” I interrupted, digging myself even deeper into a hole. From behind me I could hear the boys sniggering. 

“School longs, eh Robert…” Mr Fenner said as he reached for an apron. 

“Yes, sir… um, Mr Fenner…” 

At this I swear I saw Mr Fenner lean over his shoulder and wink at the two boys who hand their hands to their mouths and were now giggling while they listened to my interrogation. 

“So your mum doesn’t let you wear your new longs to school yet, Robert?” 

“No, Mr Fenner…” 

“I wonder why that is, Robert… especially when lots of other boys wear longs to school these days…” Mr Fenner said and I’m sure I saw him wink again in the direction of the seated boys. 

The giggling grew louder as Mr Fenner teased me. I knew he was only pulling my leg and that it was all good natured fun as far as the barber was concerned, but it was acutely embarrassing for me nonetheless. 

I tried to get my own back, or at least salvage some of my self-esteem. “I don’t mind really. And anyway, mum says it’s healthier for boys to wear short trousers…” I tried to sound unconcerned, “She says boys go into longs far too early…” 

“Well, I’m sure mum knows best…” Mr Fenner said and then turned to the two boys sat waiting behind me, “Isn’t that right boys?” In the mirror I saw him give another big wink at which the boys giggled uncontrollably. 

“Fifteen…” Mr Fenner repeated as he drew the apron over me. He pulled it tight around my neck and tucked it neatly into my shirt collar. My bare knees stuck out from under the apron. My heart was thumping. I was still looking at the reflection in the mirror of the two boys sat behind me. One of them caught my eye and poked out his tongue. I scowled. 

“Right then,” Mr Fenner said as he pulled a few stands of my hair to judge its length, “Just a light trim, is it?” 

My mouth was dry, but I managed to croak, “Yes, sir…Yes please…” 

I won’t go into details but it’s sufficient to say that even my ‘light trim’ left my hair shorter than either of the two boys who sat waiting their turns would ever have their own hair cut at Mr Fenner’s. 

However, mine was not the summer haircut mum had sent me to have. 

As I was about to leave another customer came into Mr Fenner’s shop. The man was in a hurry. He had a train to catch. He turned to the two Second Form boys; would they mind ever so if he jumped the queue? The boys were in no hurry. They had enjoyed my teasing and were in no rush to get home and start their homework. I thought nothing of this. All I was interested in was getting out of the barber’s shop. 

Nevertheless, even as I paid up; even as I left the shop; even as I swung myself onto my bike and pedalled home, I knew that I had made a dreadful mistake. 

When I arrived home it didn’t take me long to find out if I was right or not. 

Mum went spare. 

What did I think I was doing coming home without having my hair cut properly? Wasn’t I old enough to know how Mr Fenner was to cut my hair? Couldn’t I be trusted to even do something as simple as to go to the barber’s? Did I do it deliberately? Did I do it on purpose? 

It went on… and on… and on. My pathetic excuses and apologies cut no ice whatsoever. I even tried to plead that I was old enough to have my hair a little longer… That was a big mistake! 

“Old enough!” Mum exploded, “Old enough…!”
At this she stepped forward and before I realised what was happening mum had me by the ear and pulled me over to the hall mirror to look at myself; to confront my disobedience. I begged, pleaded and snivelled my apologies, telling mum that I’d never do it again. 

“Look at yourself, Robert… look at yourself. Is that the haircut you were to ask Mr Fenner for?” 

“No, mum…” 

“Did you think it was clever…?” 

“No, mum… Please, mum… I’m sorry, mum…” 

“If you think you’re old enough to disobey your mother…” 

“I’m sorry, mum… Please… I’m sorry…” 

“… I should think you are sorry…” 

By now my face was wet with the tears that were running down my face. I was quite shameless in begging my forgiveness. But mum wasn’t ready to forgive me just yet. Before I could be forgiven I had to prove that I could do as I was told. 

“Robert, you are to go back to Mr Fenner and apologise to him,” Mum ordered, “You are to politely ask Mr Fenner to give you your proper ‘summer’ haircut…” 

“… but, mum…” I sniffled. 

“Don’t interrupt, Robert… You are to go back to Mr Fenner and tell him that you have been very naughty and that you have been sent back to ask for a proper summer haircut. Tell him that mummy was very upset with you and she should have known better than to trust you to do as you were told. Do you understand, Robert?” 

There was no escape. “Yes, mum,” I replied meekly. 

“You will pay Mr Fenner out of your pocket-money…” 

“Yes, mum…” 

“… and you will explain to him that your behaviour has resulted in you having early bedtimes for the next week.” 

“Oh, but mum…” 

“Robert…” mum said in her ‘warning’ voice. 

“Yes, mum…” 

“Now upstairs and wash your face, then it’s straight back to Mr Fenner. I shall follow along shortly to make sure you behave yourself this time.” 

There was a gentler tone to mum’s voice that signalled her patience with me was restored. As I rushed upstairs to wash my tear-stained face I heard her as she said to herself, “Boys!” in that exasperated tone of voice that grown-ups use. I knew I had disappointed her and I was keen to make up for my behaviour. 

Back on my bike I pedalled like fury, not that I was keen to ask Mr Fenner to cut my hair again; I just wanted to get it over and done with and to get back into mum’s good books. I had lost track of time somewhat and as I got off my bike and looked into the barber’s I was horrified to see the two Second Formers still sat waiting! My knees almost gave way. I couldn’t go into the shop and ask Mr Fenner for another haircut… a proper summer haircut, with those two boys still there to witness my embarrassment. I knew what Second Formers were like. I knew these two would ensure the whole school knew of my humiliation. Clearly I hadn’t been as long as I thought. The man who had been in a hurry to catch his train was still in the barber’s chair. Mr Fenner was busily brushing the man’s neck as he removed the apron. The boys were next. 

What should I do? I couldn’t wait until the boys had their haircuts. Mum would be along well before they were finished with, so my simply disappearing for a while was out of the question. I couldn’t imagine what would happen if mum came to the shop and I wasn’t there. It was a nightmare. 

The bell tinkled as Mr Fenner’s customer pulled the door open. He saw me standing nervously outside and held the door open for me. The boys looked at me. Mr Fenner looked at me. The man was looking at me. 

“Oh, it is you again!” he said cheerfully, “I wasn’t sure, but when I saw your short trousers, I thought you must have been the boy I saw earlier.” He turned to Mr Fenner and added, “You don’t see many older boys wearing short trousers with their school uniform these days… not like in our day, eh Mr Fenner?” 

“True enough, Mr Thomas… true enough,” Mr Fenner answered.
Mr Thomas asked me how old I was. “Fifteen, sir…” I replied. 

“Fifteen… well I must say it’s nice to see an older boy who’s not afraid to wear short trousers to school. Good for you!” Mr Thomas said and his praise quite perked me up. I hadn’t thought that some people might actually like to see a fifteen year old boy in short trousers. 

I stepped into the shop and Mr Thomas left to catch his train. I could see the two Second Formers looking at me were on tenterhooks. Mr Fenner’s expression was one of puzzlement. 

There was nothing for it; I had to say something. “Please, sir… err, Mr Fenner… mum… err, mum…” 

The boys were sniggering fit to burst. Mr Fenner waited. 

“Mum says that I have to ask you to please give me my proper summer haircut…” 

The boys burst out laughing and rolled about on the bench. Mr Fenner ‘shushed’ them but they were hysterical, barely able to say to each other, “Told you so… told you so…” 

“Boys! Will you be quiet for a moment and let Robert speak?” 

“Mum says I’m to say ‘sorry’ and ask you to please cut my hair again…” 

I couldn’t believe I was doing this. I was fifteen. This was the most humiliating thing I had ever done. Wearing short trousers to school and hearing the taunts of younger boys who were already in longs was as nothing to the shame I felt standing in front of Mr Fenner and explaining why I had come back to his shop. And on top of that there were two witnesses, the Second Form boys to guarantee my disgrace would be common knowledge at school. 

“I’m not sure that I understand you, Robert…” Mr Fenner said, “I gave you the haircut you asked me to give you. I hope you don’t think…” 

I hung my head. “Please, Mr Fenner…” I knew what I had to say… what mum had told me to say. “Please, Mr Fenner… I’ve… I’ve been… naughty and I should have asked you to give me my summer haircut…” 

“… just as I said…” Mr Fenner said in a kindly voice, reminding me of our earlier conversation. 

“… just as you said, Mr Fenner. Mum says I’m to pay for my summer haircut out of my pocket-money…” 

“Hmm…” Mr Fenner said, “You have been and got yourself into a spot of trouble, haven’t you, Robert? Still no harm done…” 

That’s what he thinks, I thought as I contemplated news of my humiliation spreading like wild-fire around the school as I knew it would. I thought of the taunts and teasing when everyone learnt of my disgrace. But all I could say was, “Yes, Mr Fenner…” 

“Right then, Robert, we’d better get you sorted out. Strictly speaking it’s the turn of these two boys next, but if you’d get yourself back into the chair it won’t take me long to give you your proper summer haircut…” Mr Fenner turned to the boys who were still gloating at my misfortune, “What do you say boys? Will you let Robert go first? It’ll only take me a couple of minutes…” 

After a quick consultation the boys magnanimously agreed to let me go first. I knew it wasn’t any kindness on their part; they just wanted to have the added satisfaction of seeing me receive my ‘shorty’ summer haircut, the haircut they had teased me about when they first came into the shop and saw me waiting my turn in the barber’s chair. 

So, for the second time that day, I felt the apron being drawn around me as Mr Fenner tucked it tightly into the collar of my school shirt. I felt his big hand on my head as he positioned me for the start of my proper summer haircut. I stayed quiet and let him get on with his work. After shortening even further what little hair I had left after the first cut, Mr Fenner pushed my head forward until my chin was squashed onto my chest. It was time for the dreaded clippers. 

Even though I couldn’t see them I knew which clippers Mr Fenner had selected. With the words, “Now keep your head nice and still, Robert…” Mr Fenner flicked the switch and I heard the clippers buzz and felt its cold metal on the nape of my neck. When I had sat in the chair earlier Mr Fenner had used his standard clippers, but now for my summer haircut he was using the finest set. These clippers I knew from experience would leave me perfectly smooth as far up the back of my neck as Mr Fenner saw fit for a boy’s summer haircut. 

I could just about hear gasps of astonishments accompanied by titters of excitement from the two Second Formers as they watched me getting my haircut. Then I felt Mr Fenner’s hand on the crown of my head as he moved round and pushed my head to one side. Now I felt the clippers at the back of my ears. Mr Fenner brought them up and round my ear to complete one ‘side’ of my summer ‘short-back-and-sides’. 

Mr Fenner was quite right, it didn’t take him long to finish my summer haircut and before I knew it he was rubbing in a big dollop of hair-cream. Then my hair was combed and given a severe side-parting. Finally Mr Fenner gave my little fringe the juvenile cow-lick my summer haircut style demanded. In the mirror I saw myself reflected. With my bare knees poking out from the hem of the apron and my shorter-than-ever summer haircut I looked to be about eleven years old… younger than the two boys still waiting their turns in Mr Fenner’s chair. 

With a flourish Mr Fenner drew the apron off me: “There we are, Robert… I think your mum will be pleased with you now…” 

“Yes…” I said and leaned forward. I felt the back of my neck just as Mr Fenner held up a mirror behind me so that I could see the back of my head. I was shocked to see quite how thorough Mr Fenner had been; my summer haircut was by far the most severe he had ever given me. At that moment I swore to myself that I’d never again be so stupid as to think I could get away with anything as I’d tried to do with my summer haircut. 

I had just managed to blurt out, “Thank you, Mr Fenner…” when in walked mum. 

“That’s much better, Robert,” she said, “Much better…”

Mum turned to Mr Fenner and thanked him: “Robert was such a naughty boy. I’m so sorry for all the trouble he’s caused you Mr Fenner…” 

“Robert has apologised and told me he’s to pay for his second visit out of his pocket money…” 

“Yes, that’s right, Mr Fenner…” then mum turned to me and asked, “… and have you told Mr Fenner everything, Robert?” 

I knew what mum meant and my mouth fell open. Mr Fenner looked puzzled. The two Second Formers couldn’t contain themselves; they could see from my expression there was further fun to be had at my expense. 

“Please, mum…” 

“Robert… Have you told Mr Fenner what I said you were to tell him?” 

No, mum… I… not, not yet, mum…” 

“Then don’t you think you’d better do so now, Robert?” 

“Yes, mum…” 

“What do you have to tell Mr Fenner?” 

I glanced up at Mr Fenner who still looked puzzled, but I couldn’t look at him while I said what I had to say, so I fixed my gaze on the barber’s chair. Then I realised that was rude, so I looked back at him again. Even the boys were quiet now as they waited to hear what I had to say. 

“Please, Mr Fenner…” I started, “Because I was naughty and didn’t ask you to give me a summer haircut… I’ve…” I couldn’t go any further, I was so ashamed. 

“Come on, Robert,” Mr Fenner said in a kindly voice, “best get it over with and tell me what you have to say.” 

I was almost in tears for the second time that day as I finally managed to tell Mr Fenner what my punishment for my disobedience was to be. 

“Early bedtimes eh, Robert?” Mr Fenner said and shook his head. 

The two boys were beside themselves with laughter… until mum turned to face them and caught them with their tongues poking out at me. Mum’s lips were pursed and from experience I knew this meant trouble. The boys must have understood this too, because when they saw the look on her face they both fell silent. 

“You boys may think it’s funny that Robert has been disobedient, but I doubt very much if your mothers would find it very amusing if they were told you were being bad-mannered and rude while you were waiting for your haircuts… What do you think Mr Fenner?” 

“I would think their mums would be most upset if they were told their boys were up to mischief in my shop,” Mr Fenner said sternly, “Hadn’t you better apologise to Robert’s mum, boys?” 

The Second Formers were clearly shocked at the thought of their mums finding out they had been accused of being disruptive at Mr Fenner’s. Each of them in turn apologised and said they were sorry to mum. They were duly forgiven. 

As the first boy finally took his seat in the barber’s chair, I heard him say to Mr Fenner: “Please, sir… please, not as short… please, don’t cut my hair as short as Robert’s, sir…” 

Mr Fenner simply smiled and drew the apron over the boy, then said: “Perhaps not today, but if I were you I’d stay on the right side of Robert’s mum… You know what mum’s are like when they get together, she might well recommend an immediate ‘summer’ haircut for both you boys…” 

The boys were suitably shaken and looked over to see whether mum had heard Mr Fenner’s comments. It was difficult to tell, because at that moment she jerked the door open and said to me: 

“Come along, Robert, it’s time we got you home… and then it’s straight upstairs and into your pyjamas.” 

“Yes, mum…”

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Anthony and the Visit to a Speech Therapist


By way of introduction to this story about Anthony I would like to say that it was started a little while ago and follows on from Anthony and the Play-Shorts (posted November 2012). In writing it I was inspired by a story I’d read on Wincy’s excellent blog: called Philip’s Treatment. I would like to thank Wincy for encouraging me to post this story.

Aunt Gladys sat down with her sister, Anthony’s mother: “Hetty, I’m going to come straight to the point… that troublesome son of yours is going to be the death of you! Don’t misunderstand me… I wouldn’t want you to think I’m in any way criticising you… it’s certainly not your fault that Anthony is so wilful and badly behaved, but I think it’s high time you had some help…” 

Aunt Gladys continued, “… now I’ve been thinking about this for a while, so I don’t want you to think it had anything to do with Anthony’s gross behaviour last Sunday… fancy accusing Reverend Parks of behaving improperly towards him…! I’ve been thinking that it’s high time Edward and Sean were given chance to show how responsible they can be. As you know they are both well-behaved, dependable, conscientious and above all trustworthy. I consider them both admirably suited to help you in any way you see fit when it comes to looking after Anthony. I know Sean is only eleven, but if he’s given the proper authority, I don’t see that he would have any difficulty in managing a fourteen year old boy like Anthony…” 

Anthony’s mum put her cup down on the coffee table by the side of her chair and spoke: 

“Gladys, it is such a relief to hear you say that. I hardly know how to thank you… it really is music to my ears. Anthony has been so troublesome of late… all the fuss he makes about wearing short trousers and play-clothes… it’s enough to drive anyone to distraction. As I’ve said to him a thousand times, ‘Anthony the more fuss you make about your clothes, the longer it will be before you’re allowed to wear long trousers…’ He simply fails to understand that he won’t be allowed long trousers if he carries on behaving in such a childish manner. Just because he sees other boys in long trousers, he thinks he should have a pair too. Isn’t that just typical…? Such a self-centred little boy. Really, Gladys you’ve no idea what I have to put up with morning, noon and night…” 

Anthony’s mum paused and leant forwards toward her sister and continued: “You know, Gladys I can’t even leave Anthony alone in the house and he can be such a handful that I’m loathe to ask people to baby-sit him for me.” She paused again before looking straight into her sister’s eyes, “Gladys… tell me truthfully, are you sure Edward and Sean would be able to cope with Anthony? He needs a very firm hand… and your boys are both younger than Anthony…” 

Aunt Gladys reached out and patted her sister’s hand: “Don’t you worry about that, dear. I’m positive that if Edward and Sean are given full authority to do as they think fit, then I’m sure Anthony won’t present a problem. Look how Edward helped you on Sunday. He certainly picked up how to use that wooden school ruler quickly enough… You remember when Reverend Parks rubbed that special cream on Anthony’s penis after you smacked it with the ruler… That was so disgraceful of Anthony… fancy having an erection like that in front of everyone! Disgraceful, that’s what I call it… If he can’t control himself, then he deserves everything he…” 

At that moment Anthony entered the living-room. He looked nervously across to his Aunt Gladys. He had listened from the hall to what she was saying. The thought of being ‘baby-sat’ by his two cousins appalled him. Even though he’d long ago given up asking himself: ‘Why me? What have I done wrong?’ he still couldn’t understand why he was kept on such a short leash, when his cousins, Edward and Sean, seemed to be able to get away with anything! And now his mum and Aunty Gladys were planning on putting Edward and Sean in charge of him. It was so unfair! 

Anthony secretly blamed the vicar, Reverend Parks, for this new misfortune… no… all his misfortunes. It seemed that ever since his mum started dragging him off to church every Sunday Anthony’s life had got more and more miserable. Anthony lost track of the times he heard his mum saying: “Reverend Parks says that you ought to do this…” or “Reverend Parks thinks that you should do that…” 

They saw Reverend Parks more and more often. He would be invited to tea and often seemed to be there when Anthony arrived home from school. Increasingly Anthony would be subjected to lengthy homilies on subjects such as the virtues of purity and cleanliness during which Anthony would blush furiously, knowing precisely what the vicar meant. More often than not these lectures were accompanied by admonitions that would end in ‘suggestions’ as to Anthony’s clothing. 

“Clothes maketh the man,” he would say, “But boys need to be dressed as boys…” adding portentously, “Don’t they Anthony?” 

Anthony knew it would be foolish to disagree and would reply meekly: “Yes, sir.” 

But if that’s the case, Anthony would think, why doesn’t it apply to Edward and Sean as well? Sean is three years younger than me and he isn’t forced to wear embarrassing little-boy clothes. Sean wears long trousers and denims, just like his older brother… and Edward is younger than me as well! 

Yes, it was all so unfair… 

Anthony had soon learnt that his mum was more than happy to follow the vicar’s advice on how he should be kept dressed and so it was that stood facing his Aunty Gladys wearing the result of yet another humiliating trip to the children’s outfitters.  

“Oh, my…! What a delightful new outfit! Come over here Anthony and let aunty see your new clothes…” 

Aunt Gladys looked down towards Anthony’s feet. She loved to see what type of footwear her nephew had been forced to wear. Today she saw that Anthony was wearing red T-bar sandals with filly white ankle socks. This meant his long, smooth legs were bare all the way up to the hem of a very brief pair of pale pink bib shortalls with cross braces at the back. 

Anthony wore a yellow T-shirt and a somewhat sullen expression. To be fair, what fourteen year old boy wouldn’t look miserable wearing such clothes? 

“Cheer up Anthony!” his aunt said as she reached out to examine the shortalls more closely. “They’re a lovely fit, Hetty… oh and look, the legs are loose enough to roll up a tiny bit further… that is nice… turn around, Anthony…oh, I can see his little botty… how sweet!” she teased her red-faced nephew. 

Anthony was sensible enough to let Aunt Gladys do as she pleased. He knew that to struggle or pull away would land him in serious trouble. The events of the previous Sunday were still far too recent to risk upsetting anyone and possibly incur further punishment. So Anthony stood impassively as his aunt adjusted the already humiliatingly brief shortalls, tightening the straps until his bottom cheeks were almost half uncovered.  

However, unbeknownst to Anthony, Aunt Gladys had another reason for her visit… 

Aunt Gladys had arranged for Anthony to visit a speech therapist. There was nothing particularly wrong with Anthony’s speech and his mother hardly even noticed the mildly eccentric way her son spoke. But Aunt Gladys had convinced herself that if something wasn’t done, Anthony’s speech would be blighted for life. 

You might ask the cause of Aunt Gladys’ concern? Sometimes Anthony would speak only in whispers, sometimes he was prone to lisp and at other times he would say nothing, merely sucking in his lower lip before pushing it out into a childish pout. 

“… but, Hetty it can’t do any harm to take him to the therapist,” Aunt Gladys insisted. 

“Perhaps you’re right, Gladys. I’ve noticed that the Reverend Parks keeps having to tell Anthony to speak up. Perhaps it’s just nerves…” 

“Nerves or not, I’ve made Anthony an appointment to see Miss Berry at the clinic…” 


So at Aunt Gladys’ insistence Anthony was taken that very day to see a therapist who quickly diagnosed the onset of ‘lazy tongue’ and just as quickly formulated a course of action to prevent the further deterioration of the fourteen year old boy’s speech. The primary method of treatment involved Anthony wearing a special therapeutic device in his mouth. This, it was explained, was to be worn for prescribed periods during the day, normally for one hour three times a day. 

Anthony was been horrified when the device was shown to him and protested: “… but, but it’s a dummy!” 

The therapist, Miss Berry, laughed: “Of course it isn’t Anthony… it’s called a Progressive Speech Modifier. It’s really nothing like a dummy. Here let me show you how it works…” 

Miss Berry came and stood by Anthony’s side. She placed her left hand at the back of his head. She held the tubular Speech Modifier in her right hand, by her side. 

She talked to Anthony as if she was addressing a three year old: “Now tilt your head back for me, Anthony… that’s it… right the way back… now I want you to look at that pretty picture on the ceiling over there… Can you see the pretty picture, Anthony? No, don’t move your head, Anthony… Just tell me who’s in the pretty picture…” 

Before Anthony realised what was happening and before he could complete the word ‘Bo-beep’, Miss Berry had pressed the tip of the Speech Modifier firmly on his bottom lip. 

“Stay still, Anthony… now I’m going to slide the Modifier into your mouth and as I do so I want you to keep your lips closed and your tongue underneath it… good. Now as this is the first time you’ve worn the device I’ll insert it very slowly so that you can get used to how it feels in your mouth… Good boy, that’s right, you can help by sucking it in… excellent! Well done, Anthony!” 

To Anthony the Speech Modifier felt as if it was going to fill his mouth completely, but as Miss Berry explained to his mother, this was a Junior Modifier primarily designed for younger children. Anthony would be started off on this model to establish his suitability for further treatment. 

“Almost there, Anthony… Can you feel the bulb pressing on the back of your mouth?” 

“Hmmphff!” was all that Anthony could manage to say. His tongue was curled around the device and the effect of having his mouth filled with the plastic probe caused him to salivate. 

Miss Berry held Anthony’s head firmly. She was experienced at fitting the Speech Modifiers and she could see by the startled look in Anthony’s eyes that he would begin to gag as the tip of the device began to tickle his throat. Sure enough Anthony tried to cough and his eyes began to water. 

“There, there, Anthony… there, there,” she said and stroked the back of Anthony’s head, “You’ll soon get used to wearing it… keep your mouth closed… It helps if you suck the Modifier… yes, that’s it… suck and swallow the saliva… Good boy, Anthony, you’re learning quickly…” 

Miss Berry held the probe fully in Anthony’s mouth with the end-plate pressed against his lips. She turned to his mother: “Anthony’s being such a brave boy. He’s doing so well. I do think the Speech Modifier is going to help Anthony with his little problem.” 

She turned back to the youngster: “Can you feel the ridge just inside your mouth Anthony?” 

“Hmmphff!” came Anthony’s reply which Miss Berry took to mean “Yes”. 

“Good boy… now I want you to bite on the device so that your teeth are holding the ridge inside your mouth. That way I can let go and you can show me what a clever boy you are and that you can keep the Modifier in your mouth all by yourself… Can you do that, Anthony?” 


Miss Berry took her hand away. She kept hold of the back of Anthony’s head and turned to his mother and beamed: “Look at that! Anthony’s holding the Modifier in his mouth all by himself! What a clever little boy!” 

Anthony was crossing his eyes in an attempt to look at the Speech Modifier, or at least that part it that protruded from his mouth. He could just about make out the pink ring which was attached to a small flesh-coloured plate that pressed against his lips. His jaw was beginning to ache from having to bite on the device and he found that he had constantly to suck and swallow the endless amount of saliva he was producing. 

It wasn’t long before he felt a trickle of saliva on his chin as it oozed from between his lips. 

“That’s perfectly normal, Mrs Green. Boys always have the dribbles when they are fitted with the Speech Modifier,” Miss Berry explained. “I’m afraid boys do tend to get rather embarrassed about it…” she added, drawing attention to Anthony’s already beet-red face. 

His mother looked disapprovingly at Anthony, who couldn’t stop the drool as it ran down his chin. 

“The most effective answer to dribbling is a good old-fashioned bib…” Miss Berry announced in a matter-of-fact way, “I strongly advise that boys should always wear a bib whenever they have their Speech Modifiers in their mouths…” 

There was another “Hmmphff!” from Anthony and a long string of drool dripped from his chin. It splashed onto the front of his tee-shirt just as another bubble of drool began to foam from between his tightly closed lips. 

“See what I mean?” Miss Berry said as she pointed at the dribbling boy. “A bib is the only answer.” 

“Just one other thing, Mrs Green, before we finish… I should explain that there is one other unfortunate side-effect of the treatment…” 

“What, other than Anthony needing a bib when he starts to dribble?” 

“Yes, but as you can see that is easily dealt with… The other side-effect is just as easy to deal with,” she said brightly, “In some rare cases I’ve observed an increase in bed-wetting… I don’t know why this should happen as there appears to be no physical reason why a boy should suddenly start wetting his bed. Indeed the cases of this happening are so exceptional that I wonder if there is any connection at all. However, I would strongly advise that you buy some DryNites Pyjama Pants for Anthony and make sure he wears them for bed from now on…” 

At this news Anthony spluttered: “Hmmphff! Mmmph! Hmmphff!” He reached up, grabbed the ring and jerked the device out of his mouth. His face was screwed up into a picture of wounded pride: 

“But mummy… I don’t wet the bed! It’s not fair! I don’t!” 

Anthony looked a sight with his brow furrowed, his eyes wet and drool trickling from his lips: “I haven’t wet the bed in ages mummy…” 

Miss Berry smiled. She’d heard this all before. “Now Anthony, it’s just a precaution. No one is saying you wet your bed. I’m sure you haven’t wet your bed for a long time.” She smiled again, turned and winked at Anthony’s mum as if to say “Of course we understand… we won’t tell… if you say you don’t wet the bed…” in that annoying way that grown-ups do when they don’t believe a word of what they are being told. 

“… and besides, Anthony, DryNites Pyjama Pants come in a range of exciting patterns especially designed for older boys. I think one pair of Pyjama Pants even has space rockets on it! I’m sure once you see them you’ll want to try them on straightaway…”

Anthony was fuming. As far as he was concerned there was no problem with his speech. It was just that sometimes he got a bit nervous and bit his tongue, or his lip, or he just froze. Now he was going to have to put this stupid dummy-thing in his mouth that made him gag and drool so much that he had to wear a bib… and now he was told he'd have to wear Pyjama Pants because he might wet himself in bed! It was so unfair!! 

“Now, Anthony… did I say you could remove your Speech Modifier?” Miss Berry asked. 

Anthony hung his head and before he realised what he was doing had pouted, then sucked in his bottom lip. He shook his head, “No, miss…” 

“That’s just the sort of behaviour that gets little boys into trouble isn’t it, Anthony?” 

“Yes, miss…” 

Anthony’s mum interjected: “As if I don’t have enough things to do… How am I going to make sure Anthony doesn’t take his modifier out of his mouth the moment my back is turned?” 

Miss Berry smiled: “We do have things that can help to ensure naughty boys keep their Speech Modifiers in their mouths for the prescribed amount of time… but shall we see how he gets along with it first?” She patted Anthony gently on his bare thighs making the fourteen year old feel even more of a little boy. “Now pop it back in your mouth Anthony… that’s it… good boy… show me how you can do it all by yourself!” 

Anthony did as he was told. As he slid the plastic device between his lips until he felt its rubbery bulbous tip press against the back of his mouth, he wondered what the ‘things’ were that would make sure he kept the Speech Modifier in place. He bit down on the device and felt the mouth guard press against his lip. He didn’t like it at all… 

“Now Anthony, I want you to go and wait outside in Reception. I need to have a few words with mummy in private about your treatment,” Miss Berry said, which had the effect, no doubt intended, of making Anthony even more anxious than he already was and drool started to bubble from his mouth once more. 

“Oh dear me… It’s looks like we’re going to have to do something about your dribbling before you leave us, Anthony.” Miss Berry said and strode over to a side-cupboard from which she produced a Terry-towel bib. She turned towards Anthony who had a look of dismay on his face. “I’m afraid this is only clean bib I have left, but it will do for now…” 

“Hmmphff! Mmmph! Hmmphff!” Anthony’s eyes popped out as even more saliva dribbled down his chin from which a string of goo swung precariously close to the front of his pale pink shortalls. The bib that Miss Berry held up was clearly designed for a younger boy, a much younger boy, certainly not a boy of 14 like Anthony. Nevertheless, despite Anthony’s evident distress, the childish, brightly coloured ‘Care Bears’ bib was tied around his neck. Miss Berry then took him by the hand and led him from the consulting-room, out into the reception area. 

Anthony nearly spat out the Speech Modifier again when he saw who was sat in one of the chairs. 

“Hey, Anthony!” his cousin Sean said with a huge grin on his face, “Hey! Check out the Care Bear Boy! Sweet!” 

Poor Anthony couldn’t believe it. Of all the people to run into, it had to be Sean! He would never live this down. He knew that he might just as well have stood in the town square as be seen by his cousin Sean. Sean, he knew, had an eleven year old’s instinct for mischief and would seize any opportunity to humiliate an older boy like himself. Sean would make sure everyone, but everyone, knew that Anthony wore a little kiddie-bib and sucked on a dummy! 

But quite why Sean was sitting in the waiting room, Anthony had no idea. In the red-faced heat of the embarrassing moment, Sean's presence was something that it didn’t even occur to him to question. All Anthony was concerned about was the unbelievably acute sense of shame that he was experiencing having been caught drooling and dribbling onto a Care Bears bib in full view of his eleven year old cousin. 

Sean patted the seat next to him: “Come and sit down… and (snigger) tell me what’s occurring… what’s that? You can’t tell me? Why’s that… oh, yeah… I can see why. It’s because you’re sucking on your dummy isn’t it? That’s a shame (snigger)” 

Anthony was furious. It wasn’t just that he’s been caught sucking on the dingus in his mouth; that was bad enough. It wasn’t just that he’d been made to wear the humiliating Care Bears bib into the reception area. It was because it was all so unfair! He didn’t have a lazy tongue, or whatever they called it. He didn’t see why he had to put that horrible thing in his mouth that made him gag and dribble like a baby. Then, on top of everything, to be seen by his cousin Sean! Anthony knew he’d never live it down… Sean would take great delight in making sure of that! 



Upset as Anthony was at being caught by Sean, he would have been even more upset to learn that his cousin was to be his new babysitter. His Aunty Gladys had very kindly offered the services of her younger son when she found out what Anthony’s ‘therapy’ would be likely to entail. 

Initially Sean had been less than enthusiastic: “Aw, mum, do I have to…?” That attitude changed to one of curiosity when he was told his cousin would have to wear a special device in his mouth. 

“What sort of device?” he asked. 

“Well… it’s a bit like a dummy… only it's not called a dummy,” his mother explained, “It’s called a Speech Modifier, or something. Anyway, Anthony has to keep it in his mouth… and, well his mum is concerned that he’ll try and take it out before… Well, we think someone should keep an eye on him and as we don’t have the time, I thought you might like to help…” 

Sean’s eyes widened with every word his mum spoke: “You mean Anthony’s got to suck on a kid’s dummy?” 

“It’s not called a dummy, Sean. I think Anthony would be most upset if people thought he was sucking on a dummy. It will be bad enough for him to have to put the device... speech-thing, or whatever it's called... into his mouth when he’s told to without everyone thinking it’s a child’s dummy he’s sucking.” 

Sean’s eyes grow wide. The possibilities for humiliating his cousin which this news presented were endless. Sean imagined telling his friends about Anthony’s dummy… well it was a dummy, no matter what mum said… he imagined their faces and he imagined their sneers of derision as they mocked a fourteen year old forced to stand and suck his dummy in front of them. Oh, thought Sean, this is going to be priceless! 

All he said in reply to his mum though was: “Sure, mum. You want me to tell everyone that Anthony’s not sucking a kid’s dummy?” 

“Of course… that’s what I said, Sean,” his mum said. 

To Sean this was a licence to tell everyone about Anthony’s dummy, or rather to tell everyone that what Anthony was sucking on was not a kid’s dummy, “… but don’t take my word for it… see for yourself…” 

“… and when he has to wear a bib…” Sean’s mum continued. 

A bib!!” Sean exclaimed and his eyes grew even wider. 

“Yes, Sean. Anthony will have to wear a bib, because with the Speech Modifier-thing in his mouth all the time it means he will dribble a lot… it’s unfortunate, but there it is… you’ll have to help Anthony to change his bib when he needs to, you see it will be difficult for Anthony to do, because of his mittens…” 


“Yes, Sean, mittens. Anthony will have to wear special mittens to stop him from trying to remove his dum… I mean Speech Modifier. 

To Sean hearing his mum telling him all this, it was like a dream come true. The idea his 14 year old cousin would be forced (there was no other word for it, since what teenage boy would willingly place a dummy in his mouth to suck on and to dribble like a baby?), yes forced to wear a speech dummy thing, was… awesome! And he, Sean, was being asked to help! 

“Sure, mum… sure, I’ll help look after Anthony… Make sure he keeps that thing in his mouth…” Sean magnanimously told his mum. Then, after a few seconds thought added, “Will I get some more pocket-money for helping?” 

“Hmm, we’ll see,” his mum answered, “Maybe Anthony will want to make a contribution out of his own pocket-money; after all, it’s him you’ll be helping… Yes, I’ll speak to your Aunty Hetty about it and I'm sure she'll sort something out for you, Sean.” 


And so as Anthony stepped out of the consulting-room wearing a Care Bears bib and with the Speech Modifier in his mouth, he saw Sean sitting in one of the waiting-room chairs. 

Sean patted the seat next to him: “Come and sit down…” 

“Hmmphff! Mmmph! Hmmphff!” Anthony replied as he looked down, startled at the appearance of his 11 year old cousin. 

“I’m here to look after you…” Sean explained. 

Anthony spat the modifier out of his mouth in disgust: “What!! No way…!” He was about to tell his cousin what he thought when he realised Sean knew about his ‘treatment’ even before he did! How unfair was that! 

“Anthony!!” Miss Berry called from the doorway of her consulting-room, “Anthony! Did I say you could take the Speech Modifier out of your mouth?” 

Anthony looked back sheepishly: “No, Miss Berry…” 

“I can see we’re going to have to do something about this… I can’t have you taking the modifier out of your mouth every time you feel like it… the treatment will never work if you don’t keep the device firmly in your mouth where it belongs…” 

“No, Miss Berry. I’m sorry, Miss Berry…” Anthony was very contrite and felt humiliated, watched as he was by his young cousin. Sean, having already succeeded in getting his cousin into hot water, sat grinning from ear to ear as Anthony was berated by Miss Berry. 

“I think you had better come back into my room… you come with us as well Sean.” 

Anthony’s mouth fell open: “What’s Sean…?” 

Sean led the way and as he passed Anthony he grabbed him by the hand and pulled him towards Miss Berry’s consulting-room: “Come on…!” he said eagerly. 

Back in the room Sean was allowed to sit next to Anthony’s mum, while Anthony himself was left standing in his humiliatingly juvenile shortalls and with a Care Bears bib tied around his neck, he faced an angry looking Miss Berry. Anthony quickly pushed the Speech Modifier back into his mouth as far as it would go. Out of the corner of his eye he could see the smile on his cousin’s face and it dawned on him that it was Sean’s deliberate teasing that had got him into trouble. 

Anthony then found out the reason for his young cousin’s presence as Miss Berry explained to his mother: “In my professional opinion Anthony is going to need constant supervision if we are to make any progress at all… There are of course certain things that can be done to ensure he does make progress… We can train a boy out of lazy tongue…” and here she looked sternly at Anthony, “… even the most recalcitrant boys…” She turned back to face Anthony’s mum again and continued, “Boys with lazy tongue often don’t understand how important mouth training is for their future health…” 

Then came a bombshell. Anthony stood stock-still feeling the plastic device with its rubbery tip filling his mouth as Miss Berry continued calmly: “I understand that Sean is almost twelve years old now and has already shown a good deal more responsibility than I have so far observed in his older cousin…” 

“That’s correct.” It was his mum’s turn to add to Anthony’s growing sense of unease. “Yes, Sean is a very mature young boy… I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he wasn’t made a Junior Prefect very soon…” she added and proudly patted her nephew on the knee, although this knee was covered by smart chinos, unlike Anthony’s knees which were of course bare. 

Sean blushed at the effusive praise that was lavished upon him and swung his legs backwards and forwards as he listened. He knew what was coming and he also knew that Anthony did not. In fact, he knew that Anthony didn’t have a clue! 

“The reason Sean is here Anthony is to help us make sure that you behave during your treatment. I had reservations as to whether you would need such close supervision, but after your performance just now in the waiting-room, I can see that it was wrong of me to think you could be trusted to obey my simple instructions…” 

Anthony glared sideways at his cousin. Drool had again begun to dribble from his mouth and mucus, oozing from his nose, glistened on his top lip. He breathed heavily, feeling indignant that he was considered less mature than Sean, three years his junior! Without thinking he raised his hand up to wipe the snot from his nose. 

“Stop that at once!” Miss Berry shouted, “You are not to touch the Speech Modifier unless given express permission to do so!” 

Anthony swung his head back to look at Miss Berry. The injustice of it all! How could he explain that he was only going to wipe away the snot which was tickling his upper lip? 

“Hmmphff! Mmmph!” was all he could manage. “Hmmphff! Mmmph!” he tried to protest his innocence. 

“That is quite enough, Anthony!” Miss Berry continued. “I don’t need any more proof of your wilful behaviour to know that I was quite, quite wrong to think you wouldn’t need constant supervision…” 

“Come over here darling,” Anthony’s mother interrupted, “Your nose is running. Here let me wipe it for you. It’s as well you’re wearing a bib… just looking at all this dribble you’re making reminds me of when you were a little boy.” 

While his mum wiped his face and chin, Miss Berry walked across the room to a cupboard. What she took from it caused Sean’s eyes to light up; it was the mittens! And Sean could see that they weren’t just ordinary mittens. Ordinary mittens, Sean knew, had thumbs. Ordinary mittens weren’t made of that shiny plastic looking stuff. And ordinary mittens didn’t have cords, like boxing-gloves, to tie them in place so they couldn’t be taken off by the wearer! 

Yes, Sean was very excited indeed and thrilled to think he would soon see Anthony wearing his special mittens! 

“Hold out your hands, Anthony,” Miss Berry ordered and she slipped the tight, shinny mittens over Anthony’s hands.
It was an odd sensation for Anthony feeling the mittens being tied in place and he soon realised how utterly helpless he would be wearing them. There was nothing he could do for himself while the mittens were being worn. He would have to rely on someone else to take them off as that was clearly an impossible task for the wearer. 

Once more Anthony had the distinct impression that Sean knew far more than he did about his own treatment. Sean seemed to know all about the mittens and why he was told he needed to wear them. Sean knew all about the elastic cord that was threaded through the special lugs in the lip-plate of the Speech Modifier. Sean knew how once the cord was stretched over Anthony’s head it would be impossible for him to spit out the device from his mouth.  

Meanwhile Sean’s mind was working in overdrive. He could see endless possibilities for humiliating Anthony. Why, all he’d have to do was loosen a couple of buttons on those stupid little shortalls for instance and there’d be nothing Anthony could do to stop them falling down in front of everyone. He’d make Anthony do a shuffle with his silly shortalls around his ankles and tell him off for being so clumsy. Oh, yes, Sean thought, this is going to be so cool!