The cool Boffin


Author & Title
The book "The Cool Boffin" was published 1994 in the Mammoth series. The author, Pete Johnson, wrote also a great number of other books for young people. For example: "The Dead Hour", "We, the Haunted", "I'd Rather Be Famous" and the "Friends Forever" series. Unfortunately Pete Johnson's biography is not mentioned in this book.

Richard Hodgson tells us in this book his own true story. He's been a boffin for the first fifteen years in his life. Being a boffin means to try to be a good boy always and everywhere and to suppose that school is the only meaning of life. So the Boffin (so is Richard called) has only a few friends and is rather unpopular. Then one day as Richard waits at the bus - stop he decides suddenly not to go to school and stumbles towards the common. So he is skiving the first time. He thinks about all the humiliation he has to take at school and dreams about a life, in which he is cool and accepted by everyone.
When the skive is over, he finally goes to school. There he is told that his bus has had a terrible accident. Because Richard hasn't been at school all the morning everyone at school thinks that he was the dead passenger, who wasn't able to be identified. When they see that the Boffin's all right he has to tell every gory detail to his mates Steve, Danny, Tim, Anna and Ashley. Of course he doesn't mention that he has been skiving, but instead he makes up horror stories and enjoys his sudden popularity. For Richard is this bus accident a sign to change his boffin - life: he decides to cut his hair, wear new clothes - and go to Ashley's party on Friday.
The first problem for Richard is to get money for new clothes. He touches his savings, although he knows exactly that his mother would be strictly against. Next day he buys clothes in a posh shop, but doesn't notice that he has bought a faked T - shirt. Richard hides his new stuff in his locker in school. Just at that moment Tim Grant throws a water bomb on him. Richard gets angry and according to his new image he shouts at Tim and throws the bomb back on Tim. But Richard knows that Tim will take revenge. Richard's only real friend is Mouse (he's a boffin too). He doesn't want Richard to go on Ashley's party. Nor Mouse likes his new image, too. He tells Richard that he will regret going to this party.
Friday is party - day. Richard wears his new clothes (his mother still doesn't know about them, but is really shocked about his short haircut), and is pleased that nearly everybody likes his new outfit. When Tim Grant is entering, Richard wants to be cool and asks if Tim's hair was stuck on. Tim threatens to beat him up. But then the lads beat a boy, wearing a basketball jacket (which is absolutely out) up. Ashley invites Richard to have a drink. She tells him about her relationship with Steve (who is a kind of protector of Richard) and that Steve has broken up with her and wants now to go with Anna.
Richard seems to enjoy himself, until Tim Grant tells him that everyone is laughing because the Boffin's T - shirt is a fake, a rip - off. Richard is deeply depressed and hates himself, even more than Tim Grant and leaves the party at once with his old clothes.
Next day in the library he's talking with Mouse about the party, when Steve appears and asks Richard to come with him. Steve leads him onto the school - field, where all the mates (also Tim Grant) are already waiting. Steve forces Tim to apologise and make peace with Richard. They return too late to a lesson and after Richard has had (according to his new image) a big talk, he and Steve are sent to Mr. Widdle's office.
Steve invites Ricky (so is Richard's new name) to buy trendy clothes and asks him to come tonight to the Fleur pub. He also tells Ricky to drink alcohol and even to try a cigarette. Ricky has a really good time in the pub. He's talkative and funny and makes new contacts, especially with Ashley. Suddenly a rumour spreads that police is coming. But Ricky and the mates succeeds in leaving the pub through the toilets under the leadership of Steve. Steve, Anna and Danny decide to go to a different local, so Ricky lefts - with Ashley.
Ricky walks on air. He talks with Ashley about nothing and everything. When they come to Ashley's home, she invites him to have a coffee in the shad, which she has fit out. She tells him more about her love to Steve. She seems desperate, but Ricky comforts her by quoting poems. He assures Ashley that Steve will break up with Anna and will come back to Ashley. And Ashley really believes every word, which is coming out of Ricky's mouth. Finally Ashley's father gets into the shed and tells them that it's time to go. For Ricky this has been nearly a perfect night and accordingly happy the ex - boffin is.
At the weekend Ricky's sister Kay and her husband Justin come for a visit. Ricky hasn't got much friendly feelings towards his sister any more, so he doesn't care. While they 're all in the lounge talking, the doorbell rings - it's Ashley. She pretends to ask Ricky for his geography notes, but then begs him to ring up Steve, to ask if he's with Anna. He immediately does and therefor gets a hug and a kiss.
A month later Ricky thinks he has found his real me. After Ricky has written a totally missed classwork, his for teacher wants to talk with him - and hands him out his report card. Since the bus crash Ricky's behaviour in school has changed completely. He has became a real trouble - maker. Ricky and his mates play a trick on their English teacher, Mrs. Punchin, and break into her room. But they get caught and given a lecture by their Art teacher, who is a really unfair person. Just as he is about to dismiss the lads, he gets angry by a joke of Ricky and punishes him by taking him to the dreaded Headmaster. First Ricky has had to wait, before he is told to enter Slap - Head's office. It seems as if Slap - Head was only going to moralise, but when Ricky replies the way, he's not expected to, Slap - Head threatens to suspense him. The Headmaster is just about to ring up Ricky's mother, when he starts to plead not to do that. So Ricky promises to change and work harder. For him it's a load off his heart, when he's dismissed without any punishment.
After he as gone through this Ricky's is preparing for the party, he is going to give that weekend, when his parents are out of house. Steve and Danny help Ricky with the preparation for his party. He has already bought masses of food - and of course alcohol. After Ashley has come first, hugging Ricky, a lot of guests come. And after an hour he doesn't even know the half of all the people that are singing, dancing and drinking in his house. When Anna arrives, Steve wants to talk to her just for a minute, but then he leaves Ashley (with whom he had been first) and spends the whole evening with Anna.
Something is running wrong, the party is out of Ricky's control. After Mouse lefts shocked the party, Ricky is really down. He looks out for Ashley. She's sitting pathetically in the garden and is saying no single word. She even doesn't answer when Anna tries to explain and apologise. Ricky does his best to comfort her - but without any success. Ashley only wants to talk to Steve. But he thinks she's mad and stays inside the house. Ashley leaves the party and Ricky feels ashamed about the way Steve dreads her. Then the party comes to a sudden end. The police is called by a neighbour and ends the event immediately. Some of the mates stay and help Ricky cleaning up the house, but there is still a horrible mess when they're leaving and Ricky goes to bed.
When Ricky awakes a few hours later, there's smoke everywhere in his room. He desperately tries to get out and to put out the curtains, that have caught fire. Just in the moment he 's extinguished the fire, his parents come back. First they are scared to death, but relieved, seeing their son all right. When they notice the mess, Ricky confesses everything. He tells about the part, that was out of control, the savings he has spent, and apologised. He offers to work as long as it would be necessary.
Ricky thinks that this fire was a sign again - and changes his name into Rich. He tries to contact Ashley, but she's never at home and she's also not in school the whole week. At the weekend Rich and Steve go to the fair. There he gets to know that Ashley was going to leave to London every minute. He is really puzzled, breaks his friendship with Steve, who forces him to stay, and runs towards to central bus station, from where he expects Ashley to leave. He catches Ashley in the very last minute. He doesn't not succeed in persuading her to stay. She tells Rich that she has written him a eleven - pages letter. They give each other a long hug and promise to remain in contact and to be friends forever. Then Ashley leaves. That is the end of the story. The author ends it with the following words, which are directed towards the reader: "Anyhow it's over to you. Your story. Perhaps you'll tell me your story one day - until then here's to you and wishing you the best, always."


Richard Hodgson:
He's the hero of this story. Richard is a boffin, who dreams of changing his image and of a life in coolness as Ricky. The turning point of his life is the bus crash. He starts his new existence under the protection of Steve. He tries to copy his big idol and starts to talk and act the same way like Steve. Ricky is a weak - willed individual, but when he's with Ashley the first time the real character - development starts. There's the main conflict, Ashley's love towards Steve and Ricky's (other kind of) love towards Ashley on the one hand, and Ricky's dependence on Steve on the other hand, that makes it difficult for Ricky to find the real me. In the end of the story he thinks he has found that real me. But it is not the Boffin, neither is it Ricky. The changing of Richard's names is also symbolic for his way of searching. To the Richard Hodgson, as he is described in the end, belongs more than to be sensible and clever (Boffin) and cool and daring (Ricky). He has learnt that the real important things in life are to be able to make real friends (Ashley) and to recognise these as the only true ones. He also doesn't refuse his parents, like he had done when Steve told him to. In the end Richard is a mature person, who has learnt a little bit about life. The end is open, but the author makes sure that Richard will go his (right) way.

Mother & Father
Richard's mother is an anxious person, who cares a lot about her son. She doesn't know much of Richard's changing into Ricky. She also knows nothing about her son's life, when he was a boffin. She and her husband expect Richard to be the hard - working pupil, that spends his Saturday evenings in the living - room - drinking a cup of tea with his parents. They also speak in a strange way about their son, when they're alone (they call him "Nip"). But when Richard's parents come home, after the party - night, they are really understanding, the author calls them a "strong team". In conclusion they are not as bad as Richard thinks they are - especially in his Ricky - phase.

Steve Almond
Steve is the big idol and protector of Richard. He introduces him into the society of the "Lads". Richard tries to copy everything, that Steve likes or does. Steve selects his clothes and makes Ricky smoking and drinking. Steve is a trouble - maker in school, but some teachers forgive him, by telling that they were as dashing and courageous when they had been young. He is the born leader, seems to be smart and clever, but does everything that is for his own benefit. Steve has once been in love with Ashley, but now he goes with Anna.

Ashley Saltmarsh
Ashley still loves Steve, although he doesn't want her any more. She likes it when Ricky comforts her, and assures her that she will get Steve back. Ashley is an attractive girl and likes to change the colour of her hair. Ashley's parents live in divorce, she and her sister stay at her dad's. Ashley becomes a real friend to Richard, but doesn't love him. After Ricky's party and Steve's unkind behaviour she is deeply depressed and seems to hate Anna, who has been her best friend for quite a long time. Ashley's friendship towards Ricky finds it's high point when Ashley is going to leave with the bus - this makes the story coming to a happy end.

Anna Davies
Anna is the best looking girl at school. Normally she uses to have boy - friends, that are about twenty years old. Steve was the first boy - friend who was as old as she. For Anna it's most important to enjoy herself. She does not show a depth character and seems to represent a special type of girls, which the author doesn't like very much.

Tim Grant & Danny
Tim and Danny are Steve's mates. They are a lot like Steve, and also lack a depth of character. Tim is a bully and even less clever than Danny. These two persons don't play that important role like Richard, Steve or Ashley.

Mouse was Richard's only boffin. He doesn't care about being mocked and isolated. His real friends are "books and his brain". He is sorry to lose Richard, but is absolutely unwilled to change his image too. For Mouse school, education and science are the most important things. Steve and the lads does he call fools, whose IQ is even lower than their shoe size.

Meaning & Comment
"The Cool Boffin" shows the development and re - development of a personality. The searching of Richard for his real me is sometimes described in a funny way. His clumsy trying to be cool, a full member of society invites the reader to smile. But the main conflict, the relationship between Steve, Richard and Ashley, seems to be unsolveable for a long time. Richard has to break with Steve to become a real friend to Ashley. But although, Ashley leaves to London. So has Richard lost her, too? You could interpret this story as a story of a boy, who has no friends in the beginning, has some, when he submits to his mates - and loses them again, when he discovers his real personality and character. But when you take into account the way of narrating this story, you should see it more positively. "The Cool Boffin" is a book about the problems of a teenager, it tells the reader about life - without moralising. Finally Richard has found out a lot of important things, and the reader only has to hope that he and Ashley will remain friends. In this sense: DONEC ERIS FELIX, MULTOS NUMERABIS AMICOS; TEMPORA SI FUERINT NUBILA, SOLUS ERIS.

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