This is a true tale from my school days. For all manner of reasons I have changed names, but the facts remain… largely factual, as it were, to the very best of my recollection – which, you may well know, is not entirely reliable. The spirit of the recollection is entirely correct, even if the specifics are not. It does not put any of us in a good light, but it was a salutary lesson. It started, as most things did at school, with an argument…
One boy, a fisherman, we’ll call him Jeremy, had brought in a tin of maggots with the intention of using them during an illicit fishing trip, scheduled to occur whilst the rest of us were finding all manner of other methods with which to avoid the cross country run. He flicked the lid open and we all looked in on the squirming technicolour mass within. There was a general feeling of slight nausea at the nature of Jeremy’s bait, that he was prepared to carry it in his pocket all day, and most of all, that he kept it ‘fresh’ in the fridge at home. None-the-less, interest was beginning to wane and the lid was, quite literally, being closed on the subject when Marvin piped up.
‘Why are they all different colours?’
‘They’re dyed. To make them more appetising to the fish.’
Marvin eyed them doubtfully. ‘Appetising?’ he said at last. ‘They’re bloody disgusting. How does dyeing them make them any more appetising?’
‘I could eat them…’
The voice from the back of the throng. Norman was the class ‘quiet kid’: not bright, not academic, definitely not in any way disruptive. Just quiet. We all liked Norman. The stunned silence that followed his atypical interjection was eventually broken by Marvin.
‘You wouldn’t eat one of those!’
‘I would!’ There was an unexpected defiance in Norman’s voice.
‘Bet you a quid.’
‘Make it ten,’ said the now assertive Norman.
‘Alright, but you’ve got to eat twenty – and proper chew ‘em mind. No swallowing whole.’
‘Deal.’ They shook hands. No turning back for either of them. Norman looked almost sanguine, confident in his gustatory ambitions; Marvin less so.
‘Have you got a tenner?’ I asked him.
‘I’ll get it.’
‘We’ll sell tickets,’ he said. ‘Fifty pence a go. We’ll easily sell twenty.’ I looked at him doubtfully.
‘I’ll have one,’ said Paul.
‘Me too,’ said Phil.
The process had begun…
The gladiatorial arena – boy versus larvae – was set: a small, seldom used classroom, as far away from staff intervention as possible; a single desk at its centre with all other furniture pushed back against the walls. Standing room only.
The rules were agreed:
- The maggots must be eaten, and swallowed, individually.
- Each maggot was to be chewed and evidence of this presented.
- Water was available for drinking, but not for swilling.
The crowd began to assemble. A total sell-out. Thirty quid! After a period of intense negotiation, it was agreed that, in view of the unforeseen demand, Norman’s share would be raised to fifteen pounds, the rest to be shared amongst the committee – set aside, if my memory serves me, for transmutation into Strongbow Cider and Park Drive filter-tipped.
Norman entered the room to muted applause – nobody wanted to attract adult attention – like a boxer, draped in his school blazer and a tea towel, just in case. He took his seat and, with minimal fanfare, set about his quest at once. The maggots were consumed one at a time, each demonstrably masticated, as per. The tension that accompanied his first tiny mouthful quickly dissipated and by the time he was about half way through, the audience had started to wander off, but Norman soldiered on. Eventually he popped the last wriggling morsel into his mouth and chomped his last chomp as Mrs Sextant, one of the less liberal of our teachers entered the room with all nostrils flaring. She looked around in disgust. She did not need to be appraised of the situation, we had been grassed up – presumably by some disaffected punter who had expected greater jeopardy for his cash. We were marched off to the headmaster’s office – with just a short pause for Norman to be sick – and chastised soundly with the threat of letters to parents.
And the salutary lesson? Well, the full thirty pounds was confiscated, to be donated, we were told, to some unspecified charity (Save the Embryonic Fly, perhaps) but its exact destination was never revealed to us – although the teachers did appear to be eating particularly luxurious biscuits on the day of our Saturday morning detention later that week…
Since writing down this little incident I have been wracking my brain to try and recall actual details: the real name of the maggot eater, I cannot with any clarity recall. The actual monetary amounts involved, ditto. The teacher who spoiled the day, ditto. The exact punishment for our misdemeanours, also ditto. Even my own specific role in proceedings remains unremembered. As for the bit with the teacher’s biscuits, I’m pretty sure I made that up – poetic licence if any of them are reading… Total fabrication, if they are just about to call a lawyer.
If you have been in any way affected by any of the events depicted in this short article, I’m terribly sorry, I don’t know what to do about it. I do not have a Helpline. The ‘boy’ suffered no long-term health effects. The maggots were less fortunate…