Second Chances Series 1 Episode 2: "Back to School"

Submitted into Contest #54 in response to: Write a story about someone going back to school as a mature student.... view prompt



Halley’s Comet passes the Earth and is visible to the naked eye only once every seventy-five to seventy-six years. This gives the average person just once chance to see it, but some are granted an extra opportunity. A second chance.

On the nineteenth of May 1910, Halley’s Comet passed especially close to Earth, giving the people at the time an extraordinary view for six majestic hours.

Margaret Kelly was five years old when the comet passed. Her mother and father had been astronomers, and were very excited about this once in a lifetime event. Their enthusiasm was so palpable that little Margaret became excited about seeing the comet to the point that she couldn’t think of anything else.

Unfortunately, Margaret became very ill with flu and spent most of the time sleeping or using the bathroom. She missed the comet altogether.

However, on the eighth of March 1986, Margaret Kelly was afforded her second chance.

She was ill again, but she was wrapped up in a warm blanket, sat on the porch of her little house with a hot cup of tea, and she had the perfect view of Halley’s Comet as it zoomed over her head. It wasn’t as spectacular as the one she missed in 1910, but Margaret was thrilled nonetheless. She had waited an entire lifetime for this moment, and now she had finally made it up to herself. She had seen Halley’s Comet.

Margaret passed away the very next day. But the second chance she was awarded had meant that she had left this world fulfilled, and had given some comfort to her family.

Given a second chance is an extraordinarily valuable thing. For some of us, we receive many chances. For others, not even a single chance. Second Chances, beginning on television next year, will explore a wide range of everyday people being granted their very own second chance. It was created in memory of Margaret by her grandson, Ryan Kelly. If you think you should be awarded a second chance at something, apply to be on the show today. Don’t miss out, you may not get another chance!


‘What subject do you think you’ll do the best at?’

The interviewer asked Joe this question with a bright smile. She had introduced herself as Jenny, and Joe thought she was very friendly. He had sat down on the interview chair and was answering questions as cheerfully as a dog in a sausage factory when this one had particularly enthused him.

‘Oh, Geography,’ he said with a slight scoff as though everyone should have already known that he was a Geography master. ‘I know all the capital cities in every country in the world. Go on, name one.’

‘Oh,’ Jenny said, startled. ‘I don’t think we can…’

‘It’s okay,’ Louise, the producer of the show said to Jenny’s side. ‘Just go with it.’

‘Okay,’ Jenny said. ‘Um… Argentina.’

‘Buenos Aries,’ Joe answered instantly. ‘Easy. Gimmie a hard one.’

‘Umm,’ Jenny thought. ‘Afghanistan?’

‘Kabul!’ Joe said with a grin. ‘Come on! I said hard!’

‘Right, okay… Err, Mongolia?’

‘Ooohh,’ Joe mused. ‘Good one, good one. See, a lot of people would stumble on that one. Loads of people wouldn’t have a clue. But see me? I’m a Geography whizz. The capital of Mongolia is Ulaanbaatar. That’s Ulaan, U, L, double A, Baatar, B double A, T, A, R. Population of one-point-three million people. I tell you, I’ll probably be asked to teach the geography class. I love it.’

‘Alright,’ Louise said. ‘Thanks Joe, let’s wrap it up there. See you tomorrow for your first day back at school!’

Joe Fraser had applied to appear on the television show Second Chances. He had read an article a few months ago about the programme and decided it might be an idea to have a second go at school. He’d failed most of his exams as a child but decided he’d matured much in the years later, and now at the age of fifty-six, he was sure he could go back and ace his exams.

Four months of being back in a proper school, among the proper pupils, as long as the TV crew were allowed to film. The best thing was, the Scottish Qualifications Authority had even agreed that Joe could sit the real exams at the end, and gain real qualifications. It was an unprecedented move, but many thought that the organisation were trying to get back in the public’s good books after the exam results debacle of 2020.

He would be taking five classes; Maths and English were a must, but Joe was allowed to freely choose the other three. Geography was top of his list, and he also enthusiastically picked Music. Then he was torn between Biology and Physics, before deciding that he wasn’t actually all that interested in science anyway and went with French.

The producer, Louise, had eagerly tried to persuade him to choose PE, thinking the scenes of him trying to keep up with the kids would make for excellent television, but Joe explained rationally that a man in his mid-fifties would have little need for a new qualification in sport (but that if he’d done this ten years ago he’d have wiped the floor with the other students).

So his five subjects chosen, Joe walked back into school with determination and glee.


Subject 1: English.

Joe was a well-read sort of individual. He’d managed in his fifty-six years of life to accumulate a library of read material which was larger perhaps than the combined total of his classmates. The problem was, most of what Joe liked to read was true crime.

‘The thing is,’ Joe had explained to the class on his first day. ‘You can smuggle things into jail but they usually do it up the...’

‘All right!’ Miss Johnson had interrupted, but there was no point. The kids in the class were already howling with laughter. ‘Joe Fraser, will you keep your stories to yourself, please.’

‘Sorry miss,’ Joe had said deliberately sheepishly. They’d gone on to discuss tautograms. To Joe’s pleasure, most of the class didn’t know what they were, so he stood up and confidently recited one.

‘Tautograms truly transcend terrible travesties triumphantly.’

The class had a fit of giggles again.

‘Mister Fraser, please sit down,’ the teacher demanded.

‘Wibble wobble washboard waywords, whitened wary walking wet. I made that one up just there.’

‘Sit down, Joe!!’ Miss Johnson yelled.

Joe tutted. ‘All right!’ Then as he sat down with a wry smile at the giggling classmates, playfully added: ‘Sufferin’ succotash.’

The room erupted into laughter once more.

‘All right, Joe!’ Miss Johnson yelled again. ‘Punishment exercise! Twenty lines copied out and handed to me first thing tomorrow please. “Punishments predict pandemonium, preferably predetermined”!’

‘Very good miss!’ Joe enthused. ‘Did you make that up on the spot?’


Subject 2: French.

‘It’s just fancy English, isn’t it?’ Joe quipped.

Monsieur Bell, the French teacher gave Joe an irritated look. ‘No.’

‘Ah, don’t you mean non, Monsieur?’ Joe’s classmates chuckled at this. ‘What’s French for television again?’

‘Never mind, Joe,’ Monsieur Bell said.

‘No, no,’ Joe grinned. ‘Honestly, what is it again? I forgot.’

Monsieur Bell sighed and rolled his eyes. ‘Télévision.’

The class, to Joe’s delight, lit up in laughter.

‘That’s enough!’ Monsieur Bell demanded.

‘Oh no,’ Joe said softy to the pupil sitting next to him, a young boy of sixteen who looked somewhere in between enjoying the hilarity of having Joe in his class and feeling a little awkward about it. ‘That’ll be my next punishment exercise. Fifty lines in French - “I will non make le funny jokes in Mister Bell’s class any more”.’

‘It’s Monsieur,’ Monsieur Bell, who had obviously overheard Joe said.

‘Why?’ Joe asked.

‘Excuse me?’ Monsieur Bell said.

‘Why’s it Monsieur?’ Joe pronounced the last word in an over the top French accent.

‘Because this is French class,’ Monsieur Bell said mater-of-factly.

‘But the other teacher just gets called Mister,’ Joe pointed out. ‘Are you actually French? Where are you from?’

‘Paisley,’ Monsieur Bell said.

‘Oh!’ Joe said with expressed interest. ‘Do they speak French in Paisley?’

Monsieur Bell chose to ignore this. ‘Alright now settle down everyone. Let’s listen to the next example, and write down your answer.'

Joe looked at the multiple choice question on the paper in front of him.

Listen to the following excerpt and identify which sport Pierre likes to play.

A: Rugby

B: Football

C: Cricket

D: Basketball

Monsieur Bell played the audio file on his computer.

Bonjour! Je m’appelle Pierre. J’aime les cours de gym à l’école. J’aime faire du sport...

J’aime le football.’

Joe stifled his laughter before asking the teacher if he could hear it again because he wasn’t sure whether it was cricket or rugby.

‘Next question,’ Monsieur Bell said, ignoring Joe. Joe read the question.

Listen to the following excerpt and identify which school subject Arielle enjoys.

A: Maths

B: Science

C: History

D: Music

Monsieur Bell played the next file.

Salut! Je m’appelle Arielle. J’aime aller à l’école. Mon sujet préféré est la musique. J’adore la musique.’

‘Musique…’ Joe mumbled. ‘Musique… What’s that again, maths?’

Monsieur Bell made Joe stand outside the classroom for the rest of the lesson.


Subject 3: Geography

‘Did you know there’s only one US state that begins with A and doesn’t end with A?’ Joe enthusiastically asked Mrs Smith, the Geography teacher.

‘Yes, it’s...’ she began.

‘Arkansas!’ Joe interrupted. ‘And I know what you’re thinking too, you’re thinking it ends with a W.’

‘No,’ Mrs Smith started.

‘It doesn’t!’ Joe said. ‘It ends with an S! S for silly, like whoever named the place, eh?’

‘Well, regardless...’ Mrs Smith tried to continue.

‘But that’s the easy bit of Geography,’ Joe said. ‘I can name you any capital city from any country in the world. It’s all up here you know, in my head. Go on, test me!’

Mrs Smith stalled for a moment before giving off a look of determination. A look which suggested she knew she probably shouldn’t engage with this, but that she wanted to, and she wanted to win.

‘Sudan?’ Mrs Smith asked.

‘Khartoum,’ Joe replied confidently. ‘And Juba is the capital of South Sudan, which gained independence from the Republic of Sudan in 2011, making it the newest country in the world.’

Mrs Smith looked slightly irritated by Joe’s confident (and correct) response. ‘Swaziland?’

‘Swaziland?’ Joe asked with a confused look. ‘Oh! Mrs Smith, you mean Eswatini? You know it changed its name in 2018, don’t you? You’ll need to update your maps. Anyway, its capital is Mbabane. Well, that’s its executive capital anyway. It’s legislative capital is Lobamba. Funny thing is, neither of those cities are even the biggest. The largest one is Manzini, population of over one hundred thousand.’

The pupils of Mrs Smith’s Geography class looked both impressed and humoured as Joe spoke. Mrs Smith, in an apparent attempt to not be embarrassed, asked one more.

‘Very good, Joe. Top of the class for capital cities. Last one. What’s the capital of Guam?’

Joe looked puzzled. He scratched his head. ‘Guam? That’s an... island, isn’t it?’

‘Yep,’ Mrs Smith said with a smug grin on her face and her arms neatly folded.

‘Islands can’t have capitals, can they?’

‘Some do. Guam is one of them,’ Mrs Smith said.

‘Well,’ Joe sighed. ‘You’ve stumped me on this one, sorry. You win, I suppose.’

Mrs Smith smiled in victory. She opened her mouth to speak.

Joe interrupted her before she could make a sound.

‘Only kidding, it’s Hagåtña. There’s a little circle above the first A and a wavy line above the N. It’s only a village, but it’s the official capital.’

The class laughed once more as Mrs Smith’s smile disappeared.

‘Population of about a thousand I think.’ Joe said with his signature grin.

‘There’s more to Geography than capital cities,’ was Mrs Smith’s only reply.


Subject 4: Maths

‘What!?’ Joe exclaimed. ‘You get to use a calculator in the exam!?’

‘You’ll have two papers,’ Mr Bale repeated. ‘A calculator and a non-calculator one.’

Joe’s mouth hung open in disbelief before his face turned into a disbelieving smirk. ‘Nah, you’re pulling my leg, aren’t you? Wouldn’t have happened in my days at school. We did all our thinking in our heads.’

‘Yes, I remember,’ Mr Bale said. ‘I would have went to school around the same time as you Joe. But times have changed, and there’s now a paper in which you’re allowed a calculator. But you obviously have to know what to do with it.’

‘Woah, woah, woah!’ Joe sounded. ‘You would have went to school about the same time as me? You don’t look the same age as me. You’re in your forties, surely?’

‘Well, that’s flattering Joe, but sadly no.’

Fifties then?’ Joe asked, aghast.

‘Yes, fifties Joe, now, trigonometry...’

‘Fifty what?’ Joe asked.

‘Fifty-six,’ Mr Bale answered, apparently trying to just move on.

‘Fifty-six!’ Joe exclaimed. ‘Same as me! What school did you go to?’

‘Hillside Academy,’ Mr Bale said.

‘That was my school!’

Joe’s classmates were interested in this. ‘Do you two not know each other then?’ one of them asked.

‘Bale...’ Joe mused. ‘Was there a Bale in my class?’

Mr Bale eyed Joe, and a sudden look of realisation came upon his face.

‘Richard!’ Joe said, excitedly. ‘Your name’s Richard Bale! We used to call you Ritchie! Can’t believe I didn’t recognise you! Ritchie! How are you doing!?’

Mr Bale’s face had gone slightly scarlet.

‘Remember that time you asked that girl out in class?’ Joe asked. ‘What was her name? Amy! What a time you picked, right in front of everyone else. And we all laughed at you when she said no!’

Joe’s classmates enjoyed this thoroughly.


Mr Bale got rejected!

Right in the middle of a class!

‘It wasn’t the worst thing though, was it?’ Joe said. ‘There was Lisa as well. She slapped you in the face in the middle of assembly because she saw you kissing Mary.’

Mr Bale had to exit the classroom for a few moments to regain his composure, during which time Joe enthusiastically told his classmates more.


Subject 5: Music

‘Put the guitar down, Joe!’ Mr Laidlaw instructed. Joe apologised and did as he was told. He had just been showing off the chords he knew on guitar and treated the class a rendition of a self-composed song:

Well I love my music and I love my songs,

I love this gee-tar and I ain’t wrong,

But the one thing I can’t have enough of,

No matter how much luck,

Is a kiss from my woman and a really good…’

This was where Mr Laidlaw had stopped Joe.

‘If you had let me finish,’ Joe said. ‘You would have discovered a hidden love of mine. Monster trucks.’

Mr Laidlaw moved the lesson on, despite the uproar from the class.

‘Now,’ he said when the class had settled down. ‘Who can tell me what accelerando means?’

‘That sounds Italian,’ Joe said, puzzled.

‘Yes, it is,’ Mr Laidlaw confirmed.

‘Oh,’ Joe said, surprised. ‘Sorry, I must be in the wrong class. I thought this was music.’

‘It is,’ Mr Laidlaw said. ‘Sit down, Joe.’

‘What do we need to know Italian for?’ Joe asked.

‘It’s a musical term,’ Mr Laidlaw said.

‘Why’s it in Italian?’ Joe enquired.

‘Because a lot of musical terms come from Italian,’ Mr Laidlaw said. ‘You’ll find them in musical notation everywhere. It used to be very difficult for the publishers to have to translate all of them into different languages.’

‘Used to?’ said Joe. ‘But we can now, can’t we? Why don’t they just put it in English for us now?’

‘Well, because...’ Mr Laidlaw started. He looked slightly confused. ‘Because they just don’t. It’s part of the exam, you’ll have to know all of this. Now what does accelerando mean?’

‘I don’t know,’ Joe answered. ‘But I think I know somebody who will know.’

‘Who’s that?’ Mr Bale asked.

‘Miss Johnson,’ Joe said. ‘My English teacher.’

‘Why?’ Mr Bale asked.

‘She’s an English teacher,’ Joe said. ‘She must have read that Harry Potter book. Sounds like one of his spells.’


In terms of success, the second episode of the first series of Second Chances was the most popular. But for Joe, he received a mixed bag of exam results. He surprised himself when he found that his best result was for maths, much to the despair of Mr Bale, who had been interviewed on the show and had indicated how upset we was about Joe’s mockery of him in front of his students.

He had pretty good results for music and English too, although he did write “Ask JK Rowling” for his answer to one of the music questions. The examiner would no doubt get a laugh out of that, Joe had thought.

He scraped a pass in French. For every answer he wasn’t sure of he just wrote the English word and either added some accents or the occasional “eu” or “aux” at the end (such as “schooleu” or “pencilaux”). As it happened, he got around 30% of these guesses correct.

Unfortunately he failed Geography. Capital cities, as it turned out, weren’t part of the exam.

August 14, 2020 17:37

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Rambling Beth
11:57 Aug 17, 2020

This was honestly hilarious. Joe was so annoying, but in a funny way, and I couldn't stop smiling throughout the whole thing. Also, that last line made the whole story even better! He was so confident. I loved this. :)


Chris Morris
17:09 Aug 18, 2020

Thanks very much for reading and commenting, really glad you enjoyed it.


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