The Canal Bank

A few weeks after our amazing adventure (the one in which we had captured the Russian spies and returned the diamond necklace to Her Royal Highness), Barney and I were strolling along the canal bank at Litherland. It was always quiet there, except for the occasional cyclist or someone taking their dog for a walk. Occasionally, a narrowboat painted scarlet or emerald green would come chugging along. How we envied the boatman gliding through the countryside and getting paid for it.

All afternoon Barney and I walked and talked and laughed and argued. We ate our butties and drank our pop. Kept an eye out for water rats and tried to put a name to all the birds we spotted ("Jimmy", "Kevin", "Maureen", "Christine"). It was early evening when we turned to retrace our steps home, and we'd just rounded a bend in the canal when suddenly, towering in front of us like a stink-bomb factory blocking out the sun, was Puggy Lewin.

Even though we outnumbered him by two to one, or a hundred per cent, it wasn't enough, and besides, he was hopeless at maths. We could turn tail of course, and leg it back down the towpath, but that would have been cowardly (sensible, but cowardly). So there he was, barring our way, piggy eyes dull and unblinking in a big, fat suet pudding. "Hello Piggy" I said brightly, then regretted it immediately. "I mean Puggy." Luckily for my nose he had disappeared behind some bushes to reemerge with a heavy sack. Instinctively, Barney and I knew that it wasn't filled with presents for the poor children of the neighbourhood. Whatever it was filled with, it filled us with dread.

"You're just in time," grunted Puggy, "to witness the great disappearing act."

A bird swooped low across the surface of the water and disappeared into the trees beyond. I wished that I could follow it. "Did you see that chaffinch?" I said in the vain hope that a conversation about bird classification would follow during which Puggy would forget why he'd come to the canal. "Shut it," he said and swung at me with the sack. It caught me on the shoulder, and had it not been for my superb balancing skills and magical powers I would have toppled into the slimy blackness.

"Not a word to anybody about this, d'ye hear?" We both nodded. "Now stand back while I give this the heave." We did just that as Puggy swung the weighted sack around his head a few times before letting it go. It swung in an arc over the setting sun before smacking the face of the water. There were a few outraged bubbles followed by a sullen silence. We watched the ripples unravel for a moment until Barney broke the spell. "What's in it?" "Mind yer own business," threatened Puggy, "And don't forget what I told yiz. Breathe a word about this to anybody and you're dead."

As if to underline the threat, he grabbed Barney's nose between thumb and forefinger and squeezed and squeezed until the poor lad's eyes watered. Using my superb skill and magical powers I quickly backed away.

"We won't tell anyone" I promised, "not even the CID or the NSPCC or the RSPCA." Confused by the jumble of letters, Puggy frowned. "Just don't." And, wiping his moist fingers down the front of my shirt, swaggered off down the towpath.

Barney and I watched him go, before dawdling home, feeling suddenly very tired. On the way we saw a "Swimming prohibited" sign floating face down in the water and wondered what the fish made of it.

Roger McGough is a popular poet from Liverpool who writes for children and adults. Among his books for children are Bad, Bad Cats (Viking) and the anthologies Strictly Private (Puffin) and 100 Best Poems for Children (Viking)

THINGS TO DO

After hearing the piece read aloud, read it to yourself a few times and discuss it with others.

Discussion points

* Mystery Does this story leave you wondering?

* Structure Notice how the story is set, conveying an enjoyable afternoon, with the sudden meeting creating the turning point.

* The voice We can easily imagine ourselves in the author's shoes in this story. How is this achieved?

* Vivid language Notice the effective metaphors, for example, "Ibefore smacking the face of the water. There were a few outraged bubbles followed by a sullen silence." Pick out your favourite words and phrases and discuss why they are effective.

* Irony It is amusing to compare the author's fantasy life:"Iwe had captured the Russian spies" with his meek avoidance of trouble in real life. Look for other references to his fantasy persona - how do these add to the impact of the story?Could you weave such thoughts into a story of your own telling?

Writing Suggestions

* Perhaps a situation where you have felt threatened comes to mind, or an incident which left some questions unanswered.

* Take it in turns to tell your story, first to a partner, then to at least two more people. Retelling a story several times helps you develop detail and makes your language more vivid.

Teaching suggestions by Lorraine Dawes, English and Literacy Co-ordinator, London Borough of Redbridge Recommended reading for teachers: First Person Reading and Writing in the Primary Years by Margaret Mallet, from NATE (tel. 0114 255 5419)

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