Somehow during my childhood, I acquired a copy of the Giles Annual of cartoons that appeared
in the Daily Express. Not the sort of thing an average ten-year-old would have in their possession. It may have been
unearthed at the wonderfully named "Swag Shop" which used to trade on Swan Street in Loughborough, a short-lived
bargain emporium of the times (its now Dunhelm Mill Shop for the real anoraks amongst you!). The foreword to Giles was
written by the magnificent Sir John Betjeman, who was poet laureate at the time the book was published. Following his death
in 1984, Ted Hughes succeeded him.
Amongst Hughes's work was a book called “The Iron Man” published in 1968
about a metal giant that devours anything and everything he comes across.
Having been forced to read the book, an enterprising teacher called Mr Mills launched a competition
where he wanted models of the Iron Man making and submitting for Friday morning.
Late on Thursday evening, I pestered my Dad into helping me construct an Iron Man out of tin-foil
and fag packets. After an hour or so toiling and plenty of sellotape, there he was, my very own Iron Man ready to take to
school and scoop the first prize. I honestly believed I would be the only entrant as most of the school had failed to stay
awake whilst reading the book!
However, I under estimated the apathy of my fellow pupils. On Friday morning, there were four-entrants
and much to my dismay, some smart-arse who’s Dad was obviously a dab-hand at welding and dare I say it was probably
under-employed in a garage or factory somewhere. They had constructed a real, bona-fide Iron Man made out of metal. It had
even been lovingly spray-painted in battleship grey.
It was brilliant and put
my own version, with a club foot as one of the fag packets had detached from the main leg, to shame. There was only one winner
and has much as I wanted to prize an arm or leg or eye (some nuts had been tacked onto the head for eyes) from it, I just
could not – I doubt Id have been able to because it was so-well made! Most of my mates agreed it was a ringer, an unfair
entry because how many ten-year-olds do you know what can spot-weld perfectly?
On Friday afternoon, Mr Mills announced the result. No surprise who the winner was! Mr Mills
was in a bit of a rush, so he said he would hand the prizes out after school on Monday leaving me a weekend of torment wondering
what I had won.
For a change, Monday morning could not come soon enough! However a pal of mine who was in
Mr Mills class had some grim news for me. “Don’t expect much of a prize” he told me after I had been telling
a gathered audience how I planned to lavish my five pounds book/record token in the shops of Loughborough. My snout then
informed me that Mr Mills had a reputation for giving away…….notebooks, that’s right, notebooks as prizes!
I was shocked. He looked decent enough. I know he had a moustache, wore those iffy specs which
darkened in the sunlight and supported Nottingham Forest, but I had no other reasons to doubt his integrity.
However, my suspicions were confirmed on Monday afternoon. I rolled up at his class, accompanied
by my mate and at first he seemed unsure why I had come to him. I then reminded him: “The Iron Man runners up prize”.
“Oh right!” he replied, walked over to his filing cabinet and unlocked it. From
the top-drawer he brandished a notebook, with a flowery cover, smiled and handed it over to me saying something like "Well
I nearly told him to stick it up his arse! I felt cheated! Gutted! I was tempted to chuck
it into the wastepaper basket, but Mr Rose the caretaker would have seen it and it would have been traced back to me and my
ungratitude would have replaced Paul Daniels as top-billing in Mr King's next assembly.
My mum did suggest recovering it with some wallpaper, but it was eventually dumped. Unwanted,
unloved and my participation in school competitions was over – until I was compulsorily entered into a handwriting competition
and came second – can’t remember what the prize was that time, probably another sodding notebook!
However, I was consoled by the fact that the winner probably only got a notebook too for his
efforts which were tenfold mine. As for Ted Hughes, I would never read another one of his books and as far as I am concerned
he only became Poet Laureate because Betjeman died and Phillip Larkin did not want the job!
"Betjeman and Larkin ruled over Hughes any day in my book or should
that be my notebook?"