Every year, the top juniors in Martin Bormann Academy went by coach to the local zoo. This year, it was our turn and we were very excited. Two teachers were to go with us: Miss Lovelace, who was very friendly and pretty, and Miss Battleaxe, who was not. Miss Battleaxe was strict and had a voice as loud as a foghorn. When she was angry, she had a cold stare that could stun a wasp, and she always carried a metal ruler to rap our knuckles if we ‘stepped out of line’.
As we waited to board the coach, Miss Battleaxe took us all aside while she explained what she called her ‘ground rules’ for the visit. There was to be no eating or drinking on the coach. While saying this, she stared at the rather large figure of Basil Burlap. Then, switching her gaze to Lily Lasagne, she said that we were not to mix with girls or boys from other schools that might be visiting the zoo. She said the word ‘boys’ very slowly and narrowed her eyes while doing so. Lily just stared back at her and smiled. To Greta Grunge and her tongue poking friends, she announced that there was to be no pulling faces at car drivers following the coach as it could lead to an accident.
To no one in particular, she said that our pack lunches were not to be fed to the animals, nor was anyone to climb into an empty cage. I was looking at Thomas Tarbrush at the time and a sort of gleam came into his eyes. Then, switching her gaze to Omar O’Shea and Petal Patel, she announced that she did not expect to see any of the signs around the zoo being changed. Omar and Petal had once stuck a sign on the head teacher’s door. It read ‘Visitors WC’ and caused quite a lot of bother as it was a parents’ evening.
We knew we had to be careful when Miss Battleaxe was around, because she had a knack of appearing from nowhere, just when we were having fun. She once said that all teachers were born with a special gift and that seeing through walls was her particular talent. Then, confiscating Fred Frisbee’s hidden supply of comics, she wished us all a happy day at the zoo and hoped that we would learn lots of new and interesting things about the animal kingdom. We then boarded the coach.
The journey to the zoo lasted about half an hour. Without any comics to read, Fred Frisbee got bored and joined Greta Grunge and her tongue poking friends on the back seat. While he kept a lookout for Miss Battleaxe, the girls entertained car drivers who were following the coach. After several minutes, the driver said that there was no traffic behind the coach, which was very unusual. Miss Battleaxe, however, was too busy getting us all to sing songs, to notice the sirens. We sang ‘Bobby Shaftoe’s gone to sea’ but us boys refused to sing all the lines, especially the one that goes ‘He’ll come back and marry me’. Yuk! Then, borrowing the driver’s microphone, she tried to teach us the chorus of a song that she liked as a girl.
‘Twankydillo, Twankydillo, Twanky Dillo Dillo Dillo Dillo.’
It was really bad. I got a glimpse of the driver in his mirror and he looked as if he was going to be sick. Suddenly, Miss Battleaxe appeared at the back of the coach checking to see if anyone was eating or drinking. I saw Basil Burlap trying to get rid of a large empty sweet packet before she reached his seat, but she found nothing so went back to bellow more verses of Twankydillo.
Upon our arrival at the zoo, we were given a map and told to stick together and keep to a certain route. Well, that was the general idea. In no time, Lily Lasagne met up with some boys from St Beckhams and they went off to look for dinosaurs. Then Miss Lovelace had to take Jasmine Juxtapose to the medical centre as she poked her fingers through a cage and got bitten by some lizard thing from South America. Spotting an empty cage, Thomas Tarbrush climbed inside and stood there making animal noises. As he was jumping up and down and grunting, Omar O’Shea snapped the lock on the cage door and Thomas was trapped. Then Petal Patel appeared with a sign that said ‘Do not feed this animal!’ We didn’t. We pinched Thomas’ pack lunch and gave it to the Vietnamese pot bellied pig that looked as if it had been fed on junk food for years. Returning from the medical centre, Miss Lovelace found Danny Dingbat mooning at a large gorilla. She went very pale and collapsed on a bench while Fred Frisbee fanned her with a newspaper. Greta Grunge and her tongue poking friends wandered off in the direction of the camels. The camels were very nosey and came up to the wire fence to inspect the girls. Staring up at the camels, Greta and her pals began to pull silly faces which they had practised on the coach. Before anyone could warn them, they were drenched in camel spit. Hearing their cries of distress, Miss Battleaxe appeared from nowhere and pointed out that if they had they read the sign on the fence, they would have discovered that camels don’t really spit but throw up.
Then, while Miss Battleaxe went back to the coach for her coat, Miss Lovelace rounded everyone up and led us to a lecture in the snake hall. This was one of the best parts of the visit. We discovered all kinds of interesting things about snakes. Did you know that they have no eyelids, are completely deaf, have over two hundred teeth, and that some can climb trees? Thomas Tarbrush would have enjoyed the lecture but was still jumping up and down in his cage and waiting to be set free.
After about an hour, Miss Battleaxe came back along the path, and seeing Thomas in his cage, got an attendant to unlock it. She was in a very bad mood and Thomas said that he was really sorry. Strangely enough, Miss Battleaxe just brushed it aside and said, ‘It doesn’t matter, Thomas, these things happen,’ but she still looked very angry. They both returned in time for the end of the snake lecture and we all voted for Thomas to have one wrapped around his neck. He was very proud of it and tried to take it home, but the keeper spotted him boarding the coach with his new friend.
On the journey back to school, we all had lots to talk about, but Miss Battleaxe remained very silent. Something bad must have happened when she went back to the coach for her coat. She didn’t even talk to Miss Lovelace, but sat there staring ahead and grinding her teeth. Danny Dingbat, who was sitting near her, said that he heard her mutter ‘I never met one that I didn’t want to kick’. We wondered if Danny had misheard her; he is the class dunce. Anyway, we all returned safely to the Martin Bormann Academy.
‘Take everything you brought with you on the coach and go back to your classrooms quietly,’ she ordered and we obeyed.
And that would have been the end of it, but a few days later, we discovered what had happened from one of the cleaners. School cleaners usually know more about what goes on in school than anyone else. Ours were called Dot and Carry and they knew even more than Mrs Whiplash, the head teacher. This is what Dot told us.
While returning from the coach with her coat, Miss Battleaxe was stopped by a small woman policeman and asked to pick up some litter that she had dropped. Miss Battleaxe looked at the small woman policeman in amazement. She would never drop litter anywhere, anytime. The small woman policeman pointed to an empty sweet bag which was lying on the path.
‘I saw you drop it as you walked along the path,’ she said.
‘I do not eat sweets nor do I encourage anyone else to do so,’ said Miss Battleaxe.
But the small woman policeman insisted that she had dropped it. Getting very annoyed, Miss Battleaxe told her that if any of her pupils had spoken to her like that, she would have taken them outside and given them a good smacking on their legs. She even suggested she might do it to the small woman policeman. At this point, the officer arrested her for breaking the law and took her to the police station where she was locked in a cell. Following several phone calls to the school, Miss Battleaxe was asked to pay a fine. As she knew she had to get back to us, she paid the fine, but was very unhappy about it. The small woman policeman even confiscated her metal ruler.
Winnie Wickers, who is the cleverest girl in the class and will probably marry a prince, listened carefully to the cleaner’s tale. When we were all back in the classroom, she asked Basil Burlap where he had hidden his empty sweet packet when Miss Battleaxe was prowling around the back of the coach. Basil thought about it for few moments and then said he had pushed it between the seats to Jasmine Juxtapose. Jasmine said she had passed it to Omar O’Shea, and he said that he had given it to Petal Patel. Petal thought she had passed it to Thomas Tarbrush, and he remembered handing it to Lily Lasagne. Lily had some difficulty remembering who had it next as she had been working out how to sneak away from the group when we reached the zoo. Then she recalled giving it to Danny Dingbat, the class dunce, who was sitting near the driver.
‘What did you do with the empty sweet packet, Danny?’ asked Winnie.
‘Well,’ said Danny, ‘There was no one else to pass it to, so as Miss Battleaxe was at the back of the coach, I pushed it into her coat pocket. The coat was lying on her seat and I didn’t think she would bother looking there.’
Tony Crowley (c) 2011