Once upon a time, or olim as our scholarly protagonist Jacob Really-Smug was prone to say, there was a young country boy living on one side of a large river. From his countryside home he could dimly see in the distance the Big School across the estuary.
Each day he’d walk to his small country school, only to be bullied by the bigger boys because he was a bright teacher’s pet and he wore glasses. He hated games the most. Fearful of getting his knees dirty and scared of being kicked below the belt, he detested football with a passion which far exceeded that with which his classmates supported Rovers or United or Hotspur, the teams on the other side of the river. Worst of all he had to take off his glasses to play, so he was even more disadvantaged in the game. He hated football.
It irked his contemporaries in the classroom that he was comfortable with Latin and loved mathematics. He could grasp those disciplines which had clear right and wrong answers. He knew the difference between the genitive, dative, and ablative cases. It wasn’t just his Latin words. He could differentiate and conversely integrate and his sums were infinitely correct, too. He knew the laws of algebra and geometry – a circle was always the same distance from a central point and the distance between parallel lines never varied. He got things right. Fifteen divided by three was five, not four or six, but five, and fifty-one percent was a majority.
In English, he developed the ability to speak up for himself. He started to polish and hone his debating skills and, slowly at first, he integrated in other ways.
In the latter years of his schooling, he developed the ability to placate those schoolboys who had originally bullied him. His beatings diminished as his school career progressed and some people even started to take notice of him.
School life took another turn for the better when he got to run the tuck shop. Quickly, he sensed what most of his customers wanted and his mathematical skills meant he understood gross margins, mark ups and discounts. He could even work in foreign currencies and he sourced some sweets from abroad. It was all so easy because mathematics was precise and ten percent of a hundred was always ten. His little enterprise prospered providing evidence he could run a business.
One day, while disdainfully serving Davies minor of the lower third form with a chocolate bar, he heard him mutter an aside, ‘He thinks he’s Lord Muck,’ to which his young companion Grayling minimus said, ‘King, more like it. King Really-Smug.’
King Really-Smug! Yes, he secretly like that epithet, but he could share that with no one.
With his advancing skills in argument, he joined the school debating group – a sect apart from the oiks – in which he learned to project his voice from his spindly frame like Queen Elizabeth I – a queen he admired. He might have a weak and feeble body but, like her, he had the heart and stomach of a king.
Other schoolboys and masters began to notice him more often in debates. He won arguments and was no longer physically beaten like in his early school days for his intellect. Some debaters – less able than him – even sided with him. He developed a small but erudite following.
However, the spring term meant the annual football match with Big School on the other side of the estuary. Little School always lost and no amount of reasoned argument could stop the gargantuan monster from trampling all over Little School and beating it into submission.
With his muddy knees and broken glasses, he, limped off the uneven field. He vowed he never do it again. Even the school bullies who had originally so attacked him got their comeuppance and they agreed with him enough was enough.
He devised a plan – no more football on an uneven pitch but a different game on a level playing field – cricket.
Little School agreed with his suggestion that they should play cricket against Big School from across the water.
When those Big School tyrants from across the estuary protested that no one knew what cricket was, he told them on the telephone, ‘Hard luck. We won’t play with you any more. We have bigger teams in Africa, Australia, India and America.’ He lied about America but it sounded good. He concluded by saying that they wouldn’t bother with the Big School any more and the annual match didn’t occur in the next year. The Big School said nothing.
Yet the boys of Little School didn’t really like cricket and after two more years alone with their new friends in far flung places, like Africa and Australia, they began to say that being beaten at football by the team just across the estuary wasn’t so bad after all!