The well-intentioned arsonist

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Things might not have turned out the way they did had it not been for the arrival of the new science teacher, Mr Wilde. Keen to engage his Year 8 class at the start of the new term, he had set up a series of elaborate experiments which had resulted in some rather dramatic indoor fireworks. At least no-one had been hurt.

Jimmy was definitely engaged. He was even moved to pursue his interest outside the classroom. Guided by some useful websites he created some modest but interesting explosions in the kitchen until his mother got fed up of cleaning up the resultant debris. He even produced a miniature volcano, much to the delight of Miss Johnson, the young geography teacher; even though it did erupt all over her desk and make a disgusting smell which lingered in her classroom for days.

A few days later during morning break, Jimmy had been searching the school grounds for discarded plastic bottles for his latest experiment. As he scoured the side of lane between the school and the rugby club, he overheard two of the teachers discussing the future of the school while enjoying a surreptitious cigarette.

‘If the club sells to the local authority, we’ll be able extend the school on the site here. If not, the school will close and then who knows what will happen.’ Jimmy recognised the voice of the Deputy Head, Mr Staines.

‘But surely they’ll sell. It’s only a pitch and a tatty old pavilion. How much are they offering?’ The second voice belonged to Mr Davis, his History teacher.

‘It’s not a question of the money. Apparently the rugby captain’s great grandfather founded the club here and his ashes were scattered over the foundations of the new pavilion when it was built in 1956.’

‘So our school has to close, just because of some old rugger bugger’s ashes?’

‘I know, still, one good storm and there won’t be a pavilion for the rugby captain to be sentimental about.’ Jimmy heard Mr Staines reply. He ducked back into the hedge as the Deputy Head stalked past him back towards the school building.

Mr Davidson lit another cigarette and stared glumly at the offending pavilion. ‘Well,’ he muttered to himself, ‘climate change might solve the problem.’

Jimmy found what he’d heard very disturbing. He liked his school. He liked the kids in his class and he even liked most of the teachers. He had never been fond of rugby.

That afternoon during double Maths, Jimmy had an idea. The more he pondered on it, the better it became. It was just a matter of getting hold of the right stuff from Mr Wilde’s chemicals cupboard.

On his way to school on the morning of Tuesday’s science class, he dropped into Mr Khalid’s shop. Proffering a crisp £5 note from his savings, he grasped a large handful of his friend Mattie’s preferred chocolate bars.

Matthew Albright was the class clown. Plump and good-natured, if sometimes a little slow on the uptake, he was quite happy to rise to the challenge when Jimmy suggested he should test out his acting skills in Chemistry in return for favourite chocolates.

Mr Wilde was starting to explain the procedure for setting up an experiment to grow copper sulphate crystals when suddenly Mattie clutched his ample stomach and let out a loud groan. Pulling a series of dreadful grimaces, he slid off his chair onto the floor, where he proceeded to writhe and moan. As Mr Wilde raced to Mattie’s side, Jimmy stole across the room to the teacher’s desk and extracted the key to the chemicals cupboard. While the rest of the class gathered round to watch Mattie’s performance, Jimmy quietly slipped the key into the lock, and let himself into the cupboard. He swiftly grabbed what he needed. Within a moments Jimmy was safely back in his seat, the key was back in the drawer and Mattie had made a miraculous recovery.

Acquiring the step ladder from Stan the Caretaker had been easy. As it happened Jimmy didn’t even need to create a diversion.  He had been hanging around by his workshop when Stan had been summoned to go to the boys’ toilets on the first floor to deal with a flood. Stan stomped off muttering about paper towels and where he’d like to stick them, leaving the workshop door ajar. The step ladder crucial to Jimmy’s plan was swiftly liberated and stashed out of sight in the bushes behind the bike shed.

On a moonless November evening, Jimmy started to make his way towards the old wooden pavilion. He was carrying a torch and a small step ladder, and his duffle bag was slung over his shoulder. Propping the ladder against the side of the building, he climbed onto the flat roof of the shower block. He carefully dragged the ladder up beside him and crept across the roof. Jimmy prised open the skylight, gently manoeuvred the step ladder through the opening and lowered himself after it as it clattered to the floor. Jimmy took a deep breath. He opened the shower block door and stepped purposefully into the main part of the building.

Jimmy surveyed the interior by the light of his torch. Apart from some old plastic chairs stacked in the far corner and a few cardboard boxes piled up near the door there was nothing much inside. Jimmy dragged one of the larger boxes into the middle of the room. It had some writing on the side which looked like French; not one of his favourite subjects. He reached into his duffle bag and took out two containers. He shook out the contents of the first, making a small pile of reddish-brown powder on the top of the box. Then he carefully opened the second and gently added a white crystalline powder to the pile.

Next he took a large ball of thick twine to which he had tied a 1kg weight, taken from his mother’s kitchen. Using the step ladder, he reached up and hooked the twine over one of the beams which supported the asbestos sheet roof. Lowering the weight gently, he placed it on the floor. Returning to the shower block he positioned the step ladder under the roof light. Back in the main room he hoisted the weight up as high as he could, positioning it directly over the box. Grasping the ball of twine tightly he carefully paid out the thread as he climbed back up onto the roof. The twine was just long enough to allow him to reach the ground behind the wall of the shower block.

Jimmy paused, according to what he’d read, the two chemicals would be ignited by the percussive action of the falling weight. The resulting explosion should be sufficient to blow off part of the roof, a bit like a storm might. The sort of damage his teachers had been talking about.

He took a deep breath and released the twine. For a moment nothing happened, then there was a loud pop. Jimmy ran. Behind him there was a series of explosions. From the cover of the bushes, Jimmy saw the roof of the pavilion shatter and a succession of rockets explode into the night sky.

Had Jimmy been as keen at French as he was at Chemistry, he might have understood that the words on the box: ‘feux d’artifice’ meant fireworks.