The cyberdog ate my e-homework

This was cut from a novel I am working on, because it was too much of a tangent. However, I feel far too precious about it to just do nothing with it, so consider it a teaser. Except it won’t be in the novel. Whoops.

The 6th form, too, had been excellent. It was headed by your classic stern but fair hard bastard veteran teacher, Mr Turnbull. He was damn good at teaching literature and film, the kind of person that changes the way you read or watch or think. But, to be a hard bastard, you must first be a bastard. Athletic in his youth, he navigated middle age with an increased bulk bought about by a combination of diabetes and knee problems. To see him bearing down a corridor at you was intimidating, he sailed through crowds of students the way only six feet and a considerable mass, or an automatic weapon, will let you.

Turnbull also had a considerable talent for brinkmanship. Perturbed upon discovering that one of the other students in David’s English class, Robert, had not bought with him a completed coursework assignment, he began an interrogation. David had made sure to complete his early, half owing to respect and half to fear.

“Why have you not completed the assignment, as your classmates have done, having been warned months in advance, and constantly reminded, of the deadline that falls on today. The twen-tee-ith of may in the year of our lord, two thousand and six?”

It was a compelling opener. You got the feeling he had practised this. He knew how to work people.

“I have completed it. Sir”, said Robert, his voice already faltering.

Not quite so compelling.

“Then why can you not present me with this piece of work, which I might also remind you is a necessary component of the grade for this subject.”

Turnbull, certainly, did not feel compelled.

“It’s on my computer sir. My printer is broken.”

Turnbull had heard it before. My printer is broken. My computer is caput. My file got deleted. Fair enough, he thought. Sometimes technology breaks. This accounts for the long deadlines he gave. Fair. All these years of technological progress, just for “the dog ate my homework” 2.0? He wasn’t having it.

“Shall we call your mother up? She can email it to me and I can print it here, that sounds reasonable doesn’t it?”

It didn’t really. David was sat at the front during all this, and was starting to feel a little uneasy.

“It’s… it’s not on my mum’s computer. It’s on my nan’s.”

“That’s fine, that’s fine. With this new electronic register system I have access to all your pertinent details. Your grandmother is listed as your second emergency contact I believe?”


A few key strokes and a smile later.

“Yes, here she is. Mrs Smith. Peterborough area code. Maybe we can call her and ask?”

“No, please, don’t.”

Ever decreasing circles.

“Don’t worry, I’m sure she’ll be perfectly happy to help with her dear grandson’s scholastic efforts. I have a free period next. We can call her and then mosey over and get it emailed, can’t we? It’s right there, on her computer, yes?”

Turnbull pulled out his mobile. After glancing at the screen, he started to dial. Slowly. Just before he was about to press call, he glanced over to Robert. Turnbull knew Robert hadn’t done the work. Robert didn’t know that he knew, though. And none of the other people in the class knew, either way. Their attention was fixed at the front of the class. This performance, and it was a performance, was more interesting than the historiosocioeconomic background of Swift’s A Modest Proposal.

“Please, do-”

“Hello, Mrs Smith! This is Mr Turnbull, your Grandson’s English Literature teacher. Oh Don’t worry, he’s fine, sitting in front of me right now. No he’s not in trouble, not yet anyway. All we need is your assistance to clear up a little technical difficulty. He’s been doing coursework on your computer, yes? You think so? Well, we need to use your computer briefly to email the work over so that we can print it. Is that ok? It’d be a big help. Yes. Thank you. We’ll be over once I conclude this lesson. Thanks again. Bye.”

Robert did not look happy. Turnbull did. Amused detachment was on everyone else’s faces. You learned to not incur his attention. You did this by handing in your work on time. He was fine, if you did that. Mostly.

“Well, Robert, we’ll be having a little sojourn soon. Get that work handed in. Sound good?”

“Sir, I…”


“I haven’t done the work, sir.”

Turnbull had figured as much.

David learned, a few months later, that Turnbull hadn’t put the call through.


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