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Samuel Fish`s First Day at School

by mackernally 

Posted: 26 July 2015
Word Count: 2506
Summary: Copy to follow

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It's Sam's fifth birthday and he's been crying all morning.

"Ah, Sam, says his mother, as she cuddles him, 
"You have to go to school!"
"Who ever heard of a fish going to school? No one from our family ever went to school! You're a horrible Mummy. I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!"

How Sam wished his big, strong, Dad was there. Dad went out one morning and never came back. They didn't know that he was in a glass case, over the fireplace in The Angler's Rest. The brass plate read:
"Specimen trout, 8 pounds 12 ounces."

So, at precisely five minutes to nine, on that September morning, Sam and his Mum entered the classroom. Standing at the door was Mrs. Botty. Mrs. Botty, Sam's teacher. Her hair is in a bun and she has two big, red cheeks. She is a very kind person. 
All the boys and girls are painting and colouring or playing with blocks. They lool very happy. All the Mums and Dads are crying.

When the other children see Sam they begin to laugh. They laugh and laugh till they have pains in their stomachs and tears in their eyes.

Sam goes all red with shame and looks like his distant cousin, Seamus "Red" Snapper.

"Now, children," says Mrs. Botty, "you must not laugh at any pupil just because they look different". 
She makes them promise not to laugh at him any more. But as soon as Sam sits on the seat, he just slithers to the floor. He goes under the other children's legs and shoots like a bullet to the front of the class. He stops at Mrs. Botty's feet.
The children laugh louder than before. 
Poor Sam.
He feels he isn't like them and never can be. He is already hating school more than he hates anything in his life. He can't wait to leave them and  their silly laughter. It doesn't help matters when the teacher ties Sam to the desk to stop him from slipping.

When they have all settled down again, Mrs. Botty asks if they would like to learn a new poem.
She then begins reciting a poem about a cat sitting on a mat. Or was it a dog running in the bog? Or, maybe it was a fish making a wish. Anyway, Sam thinks it is a very silly poem

She then tells them the story about how Mary plays football and Bill loves his dollies - after all, this is the new politically correct school curriculum.

Things are now going kind of alright for Sam. At small break, he takes out his worm butter and dragon-fly jam sandwiches which his Mum made for him. That's when they begin laughing at him again. 
"Are you going to have fish fingers for big break?" says Petunia McIntyre.
"You should be called Ray, not Sam!" sneers Rodney McNicholas.
"You're only an old cod!" says Tom Ryan, who would grow up to be a bully because his Dad is one.

Mrs Botty tells Sam not to mind them but Daphne White says they're not letting him off the hook that easily.
"I'm going to batter you the first chance I get", said Cedric McDonald.
"You must come home and meet Tom, my cat; I'm sure he'd love you. Ha, Ha, Ha!" said Priscilla Jordan. She isn't normally unkind but her biggest fear is to be left out of the gang.

It all gets too much for poor Sam. Slithering out of his seat, he half skids, half runs, straight out the door. The tears sting his eyes so much that he doesn't see Sergeant O'Hare on his bike. 
The Sergeant avoids crashing into Sam by crashing into a hole left by the Council. For the tenth time that  year, they are digging up the same stretch of road. 
"Now look what you've done! You stupid, careless .... HADDOCK!" 

Now Sam could understand the Sergeant calling him stupid and careless, given the circumstances, but he would not put up with being called a haddock. 
"Brown Trout" he says, correcting the Sergeant. 
"I'll give you Brown Trout" says the Sergeant! 
"Just what do you mean by running down the middle of the main street during the busiest time of the day! You could have been killed. I could have been killed!!" 
Sam starts to tell him what happened at school but he begins to sob again.

"OK, OK, OK!" says the Sergeant.
"Here - blow your nose". 
There follows a huge honking sound, not unlike that made by the Canadian Snow Goose with a bad dose of the flu. Eventually Sam calms down and tells the Sergeant the whole, painful, story. The Sergeant listens and doesn't interrupt him once. 
"Well," says the Sergeant, "that's a terrible morning altogether. I'll tell you what, why don't you come down to the station with me for some nice beetle and ant sandwiches seeing as you didn't have your small break". 
So, the Sergeant puts Sam inside his jacket with only his tiny head and big eyes peeping out, and soon they arrive at the station.
"I'd like to go home now please, Sergeant", says Sam having eaten his sandwiches. 
"Alright, Sam, I'll give you a lift".
It's a bright, lovely, September morning as the two of them speed towards the bridge and the river. Two fields away, Charlie Rafter is in his big, red and yellow combine harvester. He is cutting the corn. Sam likes Charlie. One day when Charlie was fishing, he caught Sam but gently let him back in the river. 

The Sergeant is a clever man so instead of taking him directly to the brook, he decides that first he'll take Sam on a little tour of the town.
"Do you see that fella over there?" says the Sergeant, pointing to a paunchy greyhound, standing up on crossed hind legs, his back leaning against the bookmaker's window. With his front paws he holds the Racing Post. A cigarette dangles from his lips. 
"Morning, Gerry."
"Morning Sarge", said Gerry. 

"Spends all his time in the bookies", whispers the Sergeant. 
"He never bets on horses or dogs, though; he only bets on humans - running, that sort of thing. He says it wouldn't be right to exploit his fellow animals. He belongs to Ger Lynch who's had him since he was a pup. Ger would send him off to school in the morning but he wouldn't go. He'd go off with the other dogs chasing cattle on Darby's Hill or running after the deer in the Phoenix Park.

"He showed great promise as a pup and nearly won the Irish Derby at his first attempt. Then he began smoking and drinking. He does nothing now but go around all day, rooting in bins. 

"Some days he'll call into the butchers in Tesco asking for a bone for the cat! Sure everyone knows he doesn't own a cat; but the butcher is a kind man. He would never allow Gerry go hungry."

So, on they ride that lovely, warm, sunny morning. Soon, they pass Ryan's Garage. Then they turn left, down the Mill Road. 
"Theres someone else I'd like you to meet, Sam. She's over there", said the Sargeant, pointing towards a field. 

Sam can't see anyone. There's nothing but a big muddy pool. But on looking closer he can make out the shape of something lying down in the mud. The creature is all mud - mud on its back, mud on its ears, mud in its ears, mud on its nose, even the mud had mud. And there it lay, baking in the sun. 
"Morning, Henrietta", said the Sergeant.
Henrietta grunts in reply. 
"She gives herself a mud bath to keep the flies away. When the mud hardens the flies and insects can't bite her.
"Henrietta loved school and is a very intelligent pig. She wanted more out of life than ending up sharing a breakfast plate with a free range egg and two slices of toast.
"What she really wanted most, in all the world, was to be a ballet dancer. She loved dancing and had bought some beautiful tutus, which, after some slight alterations, fitted her perfectly. But when she told her friends about this, they all laughed. 
'The only dancing you'll ever do is on a frying pan,' they would tease her. 
'You'll be too busy frying to be dancing! Hahaha!'
"Others would tell her that she was going to end up like all her brothers and sisters - mild cure bacon or gold medal sausages or black and white pudding.

"Now, she didn't mind them at first. But, over the years, it gradually wore her down and she began to doubt if she really was good enough. 

"After all, no one from her family had ever been a ballerina, or a firewoman or a train driver or explored jungles in Africa or went down in submarines to see the Titanic or slept in a tent on the side of a mountain or walked inside a volcano or did a gig at the Albert Hall.

"So, gradually, she became discouraged. She quit school. She didn't see the point in it. She began to think that people were right when they told her she'd never be a ballet dancer."
"But why does she just lie there in the mud?", asked Sam.
"Because she cares too much about what people think of her," said the Sergeant.
"She thinks that if she does nothing, then no one can laugh at her or hurt her. So, she does nothing."
"Goodbye, Henrietta", says the Sergeant.
She grunts a muddy reply.
On they cycle on the dusty road for another mile. Soon they reach the green woods. Just before Manley's field they leave the road and start down a narrow, blackberry-lined, path.
"There's one last person I'd like you to meet, Sam." He leans the bike against a huge beech tree.
"Cyril! Hello Cyril! Are you home? Cyyyyyyriiiiiiiil!"
Gradually, the black head of Cyril Crowe peeps over the edge of a nest, fifty feet in the branches.
"That you, Sarge?"
"Yes Cyril, it's me, ok."
"You bring anything, Sarge?"
"I'm sending it up to you right now."
For the first time, Sam notices a bucket with a rope attached to it. The other end of the rope is slung over a branch and stopps about three feet from the ground.

The Sergeant opens a brown bag and takes out a hamburger, fries and a coke. He places them in the bucket and pulls the rope. The bucket rises up and up and doesn't stop 'til it reaches Cyril's nest.
"Sarge, ah Sarge, what would I do without you."
Probably starve, the Sergeant thinks, but he's too kind to say it.

"I haven't eaten for four days and I'm faintin' with the hunger. You're a great man for bringing it all the way out here. Blessins o' God on you."

Sam watches Cyril devouring the burger, gobbling the chips and slurping the coke. Every now and then, he lets out a big BURRRP.
"What a feed. What a feed!"
"While he's eating that, I'll tell you his story. Cyril, as you can see, is a crow. He does all the other things that other crows do. Except for one thing - he won't fly. He lies in that old nest all day. Only for me and his family he'd probably starve, or die of thirst. Or both. 

"But he wasn't always like that. When he was a young crow he went to flying school. He was a top gun. He could do things no other crow could do: he could fly as high as an eagle, as fast as a hawk and as far as a swallow; he was the only bird ever known who could fly on one wing. He could fly backwards and upside down while singing 'Ground Control to Major Tom'. For a crow, he had a very musical voice.

"Then it all changed. This particular day, he was showing off in front of this very beautiful girl crow - I think her name was Carrie Ann. He wanted to take her to the school tree dance.
"He was doing all his usual tricks like one wing flying, dive bombing, hang gliding and his favourite - moon walking. One of his best tricks was to fly straight up to a huge height, fold in his wings and drop feet first; then he'd begin the Riverdance dance and finish it just before he reached the ground.

"On this particular day he felt so good that he did an extra couple of taps. He couldn't stop in time. He landed on the ground with a terrible bang and nearly killed himself.

"Did you ever hear two hundred crows laughing? They could be heard miles away. Cyril was dazed. His wings and bum were very sore. Even Carrie Ann Crowe was laughing at him. Since that day, he hasn't left the tree."

"Good bye, Cyril, might see you tomorrow."
"Oh, right, Sarge, and thanks for the grub. Just one thing, Sarge - if you come tomorrow, can you bring us a Double Whopper with cheese and chips, and a Sprite Zero just for a change. Oh, and don't forget the ketchup."

"I'll see what I can do, Cyril", says the Sergeant over his shoulder as he and Sam cycle the narrow path back to the main road.

"Well, Sam, I'll let you off here, beside the river and you can swim home.

But at that moment Sam has made up his mind.
"Take me back to school, Sergeant, will you?"
"Why, Sam?"
"Because not going to school seems a lot worse than going. And not all the children are naughty."

He remembers Lolita Brennan who gave him her last Rolo; then there's Nellie White who shared her chips; and especially Josephine Tyrrell who put her arms around him and gave him a big hug when he was crying and she told the others not to be making fun of him.

When Sam's Mum comes to collect him that afternoon, she finds him in the classroom surrounded by all the other children. Sam is telling them about the time he was nearly eaten by a giant water rat and how he had to hide in the rushes.

Then he tells them about the time he was practising his back stroke and crashes into Winnie Waterhen's nest and cracks one of her eggs. The egg is taken on an egg stretcher to the egg ambulance which takes it to the eggpital.
"But that's another story," says Sam. "If you don't mind, I'll tell it another time."
Sam walks across the school yard holding his Mum's fin.

"You know what Mum? I don't really, really, really, hate you. I really, really, really, love you. And I can't wait to go to school tomorrow."

His Mum laughs and says, "well, that makes two of us, Sam; that makes two of us!"

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Comments by other Members

steveceaton at 12:16 on 29 July 2015  Report this post
I really liked this!  Very funny with the betting greyhound and ballerina pig!  My only question is where would something like this be published?  Would you have a collection of them and publish a book of short stories?  Or would you continue the same story with more chapters?

Great work though :)

andinadia at 09:02 on 30 July 2015  Report this post
Hi Sean
Is this a rewrite? (The previous version has disappeared.) I think my views are the same as last time. I love the wacky humour and the dialogue. The central scene with the pig has enormous pathos and I would love to see this kind of thing developed. It's almost an upside down version of an Aesop fable.
But ... it's hard to see, in any novelistic sense, why there's an anthropomorphic fish, pig and crow among this world of humans. Nor do I think the framestory of the fish's first day at school works (and it being his birthday too, which doesn't come up again after the first mention).
I'd really love to see a different story but with the same kind of sparkle. 
If you were (which you probably aren't) looking for publishers, they would remove the humour and references that are aimed at adults only.


I meant to ask ... you wrote "Copy to follow" in the summary box. Did you mean to note that it was a rewrite?


The more I think about it, a comic and very contemporary set of animal fables could be really good!

mackernally at 15:54 on 30 July 2015  Report this post
Hi Steve and thank you for your kind comments.

I have already published it on FeedARead.com as a small 24pp book. I have published a 'proper' book (254pp) called 'Paddy on the Côte d'Azur' which is kind of self-explanatory. The reason I mention this is purely commercial - the prices are €8.99 for Paddy and €4.95 for Sam. So, I'm wondering would I be better off publishing the short stories individually? I suppose sales will tell me all I need to know.

The problem with FeedARead is that they only pay royalties twice a year - April and October so I won't know for a couple of months. Having said that, FeedARead are excellent to work with and I have no hesitation in recommending them for anyone thinking about self-publishing.

Sam is number one in a series of what I call "Moral Tales". I have to say, though, it would be a more attractive package for the reader if they were all in one book. 
I look forward to reading your work this weekend and penning a couple of thoughts.

steveceaton at 16:07 on 30 July 2015  Report this post
Hi Sean, Yes I would think a full book of short stories would be better than multiple short books. I would imagine kids would find it hilarious. I'm not sure if they would get the 'adult' humour like the betting greyound, but I would think they'd still find the image funny. And it has something for the grownups too. Would publishers really remove these references? It would be a shame if they did!

mackernally at 16:32 on 30 July 2015  Report this post
Hi Andy,

It's a rewrite of sorts in that I rewrote it in the present tense to see how it would work. And I'd love to find a publisher or an agent instead of self-publishing. I have no problem with any of the characters being changed or removed. I decided to publish 'Sam' as a way of burying him. Not the least of the considerations is that I had it illustrated some years ago and he had become like that piece of sellotape that keeps sticking to your finger and you just can't get rid of.

But now that I'm free of him, I have been working on another story called 'The Great Pheasant Escape' - about 3 to 4,000 words done. And funnily enough, I do think that it's "a different story but with the same kind of sparkle" as you so kindly put it. And it's also a sort of fable with a moral. Also, I'm not sure where exactly it's going as it's beginning to become a bit dark but without sacrificing the humour, I hope.

Your suggestion about a contemporary set of animal fables got me really going and I am  taking up your suggestion.

As for the anthropomorphism, do you not think children can cope with it, that they expect that sort of thing, that they find talking animals perfectly reasonable? Many kiddies will be in school for the first time this September and these were my target audience - or their parents.

I imagine these children will encounter different children from different backgrounds. I exaggerated the difference by making Sam a fish instead of a child from a different race or religion, or country; I tried to make him neutral, while at the same time addressing the question of discrimination, and the bullying it leads to, by urging the children to accept those who are different from themselves. Whether the intended message came across or not, I don't yet know.

By the way, If you thought Sam was anthropomorphic, wait til you get a load of Phil Pheasant and his buddies!

 Thanks, once more, Andy, for taking the time.

andinadia at 16:48 on 30 July 2015  Report this post
Hi Sean

I like the sellotape image!

Barbara/Issy and I have been having a similar conversation about creating worlds where animals and humans co-exist - you can track back and see it after her latest posting. I don't think there's any problem in having them in the same story, and certainly no problem with talking animals smiley ... my only worry is how a writer can carry it off through a whole novel. I was asking members of the group if they knew of examples where it works, but still waiting for any ideas in reply!

The present tense seems to work OK.

The legendary Arnold Lobel did a take on animal fables in the 80s, but they were pretty traditional in fact. I think you could liven the genre up nicely. An "edge of darkness" in a humourous telling would be great.

Oh, and I really only meant that publishers would want to take out the smoking... though they might question whether your target age group would get the reference to 'politically correct'.

mackernally at 17:59 on 30 July 2015  Report this post
Funny you should mention your conversation with Barbara/Issy, Andy, and creating worlds where animals and humans co-exist because the excerpt I've just posted is an example of how they don't and that's the edge of darkness we were talking about. It's only a first draft, a mere pup, that can be altered or bent to our will and I would be extremely grateful for any feedback.

Yes, Andy, the 'politically correct' reference is a piece of self-indulgence and has to be deleted.

And you're right - it would be quite an undertaking sustaining talking animals through an entire novel.
Perhaps that's why I prefer the short story genre.

Finally I didn't mean to imply that a man of your undoubted talent would have any problem with a talking animal - or, indeed, any other kind. I think my previous remarks need a rewrite!

Once again, Andy,  thanks for taking the time.


juliadave at 15:13 on 17 October 2015  Report this post
I am very happy to read this. This is the kind of manual that needs to be given and not the random misinformation that's at the other blogs. Appreciate your sharing this best posting

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