Luke Brownlow is in trouble with his parents for not working at school. In escaping from his family he makes friends with Ned Kelly, the man next door, but their relationship gets complicated when Luke is sent to a new school ... where Ned is the headmaster.
"And what the bloody hell d'you call this?"
Luke Brownlow shut the front door behind him and felt his start-of-the-summer-holidays happiness seeping away. He turned to see what his father was shouting about and recognised the object he was waving as his school report. The happiness was replaced by a rising feeling of gloom as he prepared himself for another argument.
In the living room, the unwelcome greeting had brought forth frightened wails from Luke's toddler sisters. He watched his mother rush out from the kitchen to soothe the girls, with a stressed and reproachful expression on her face. Luke decided that avoidance was the best response to his father's question and made for the stairs. His dad could move remarkably quickly for a big man and he intercepted Luke at the foot of the staircase. "Oh no, you don't. In there." He pointed at the kitchen and Luke slouched inside.
"Well?" Dad asked, looking furious. He usually seemed to look furious when he was talking to Luke these days.
"It's my school report," replied Luke, sulkily, choosing to answer the original question literally. His father didn't appreciate this.
"It's appalling," he snarled. "I don't believe you've done a single day's work at that school in the two years you've been there."
As this was almost true, Luke did not bother to reply. His mother, having calmed down the twins, came back into the room, still looking worried and upset.
"Hi, Mum," Luke ventured, trying to introduce a bit of friendliness into the conversation.
But Dad turned out to have Luke's mother playing on his team. "Your mother and I are very concerned about your lack of progress."
Mum nodded and added, "I can't understand it, Luke, when you used to do so well at the village school."
Luke knew he wasn't going to be able to explain the differences between the two schools to them. He might have tried if it was just his mother, but he wasn't going to attempt it with Dad there. His father seemed to be on at him about something or other all the time.
"Is the work so much harder, Luke?" his mother asked, her forehead creased with concern.
"Of course it isn't," Dad snorted. "He's just bone idle, that's all. Uncool to work hard is it?"
This was uncomfortably close to the truth, but Luke wasn't going to give his father the satisfaction of knowing that. He stared at the floor in silence.
"Dumb insolence, as usual," his dad decided. "Well, I warned you that there would be consequences if you didn't get your act together. For starters you're not going to be spending any time this summer with your so-called friends."
"What?" said Luke, startled into speech. "You can't stop me seeing them!"
"I'm also looking into finding you a different school to go to in September," added Dad. "It seems to us that a clean break is the only thing that's going to work, now."
Luke was horrified at this prospect. "You're ******* joking!"
He hadn't meant to swear and instantly regretted it as his father lost his temper completely and dealt him a heavy, open-handed blow to the side of his face. Luke cried out in pain and staggered sideways, pressing his hand to his cheek. The three of them stared at one other, all equally shocked by what had just happened. Luke had never sworn at his parents like that and his father had never struck him before.