Danny Applewhite was developing into a rather arrogant young man. He was among the top five achievers at his school, but would he be smart enough to avoid being a fool on April 1st?  

Story: April Fool's Day


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April Fool's day

by Pete Humphreys

Danny Applewhite was developing into a rather arrogant young man. True, he was among the top five achievers at his school, but he was the only one of them who would regularly remind the other 150 students at St. Cuthbert’s of this fact. Yes, he was a keen mountaineer, probably the best for his age in the county, but he sometimes forgot to thank those people who guided, supported or dragged him up towards his latest peak. Danny’s artwork was proudly displayed along school corridors but the minute anyone stopped him to say ‘well done’ he would tell the viewer not to get too close to his designs, in case they damaged them somehow.

It was late March and Danny was studying the flowers on the route between his parents’ house and school. Rollo lived next door and because their parents were friends Danny was forced to walk in with him. Rollo was not like Danny at all. That morning Danny had been forced to wait while his classmate found the correct books, clothes and sportswear from those littering the messy bedroom floor. In comparison, Danny always packed his briefcase the night before, carefully arranging his pocket computer, homework and the sandwiches made by his mum to strict organic specifications.

‘What are these ones Danny?’ asked Rollo, pointing to some tall plants with yellow, shell-like heads.
‘Ah,’ said Danny, pausing, as if extracting the name from a locked box deep inside his brain, ‘they’re Vanillius Seasidicus.’
‘Really,’ said Rollo, impressed, as usual, by his friend.

Danny swung his briefcase happily, deflecting some Spring sunshine into Rollo’s wide eyes, and thought how easy it was to fool people who didn’t read books. Poor Rollo, perhaps one day he would catch up. Until he did Danny would make sure his parents always told Rollo he was out if he called for Danny in the evening.

When they arrived at the sandstone wall that marked the edge of the school grounds, Rollo adjusted his glasses in that nervous way of his, and Danny, anticipating the question, had time to prepare his excuse.
‘Meet you for lunch?’
‘I can’t Rollo,’ and while speaking Danny touched his nose to suggest some kind of mystery, ‘things to do. I’m booked into the technology lab.’

They parted at the elaborate school gates. Made of iron, the ornamental spikes that topped the gates had already punctured some unfortunate footballs that now sat there like cartoon heads. Danny shook his own, baffled by the silly games his schoolmates played. Maybe some serious lab work was exactly what he needed to stimulate that busy brain of his.

The day was drawing to a close at St. Cuthbert’s and in his small office Mr Samson was squinting at the year eleven course-work he had to grade by the start of next month. Even when he shielded his eyes from the late afternoon sun, a confused look often remained on his face. His students certainly had a strange idea of History. When the deputy-headmaster saw Applewhite at his door, smiling in that slightly superior way of his, he was more than willing to be distracted.
‘Yes, Applewhite, can I help?’
Danny took a deep breath.
‘It’s something of immediate importance, Mr Samson, that will affect the whole school for the next few days.’
‘You better tell me what’s happening.’

Danny went on to explain the results of his lunchtime research. He had received advanced warning, the bewildered Samson was told, that the internet was to be shut down from midnight on the 31st of March until midday on the 1st of April. Why? Because of essential cleaning work. Apparently all those emails he had been sending concerning school discipline, all those catch-ups with relatives in Australia, had in some small way contributed to a global cyberspace that was now completely full up with invisible junk.
‘But who’ll do this job?’ asked the deeply confused, heavily bearded teacher, ‘You, Applewhite?’
Danny gave a brief laugh.
‘No sir, not me. An international team of scientists has developed five very special, highly efficient internet robots. They’ll be smuggled onto the net inside special data packages.’
Sometimes Mr Samson would like to have been smuggled back into the past, a place he knew and taught so well. He often imagined living as a medieval knight or simple farmer somewhere. Now was such an occasion. He thought for a moment then said:
‘I better send an email to warn –‘
But Danny interrupted.
‘Best not to sir, more for the robots to clean up. You leave it to me, I’ll tell everyone to shut down the school computers straight away.’

When Danny and Rollo walked to school two days later only one of them was smiling.
‘It’s not fair,’ said Rollo, ‘Without computers I can’t play Drag Racer on-line anymore. I miss my racing friends in China. The boys all make me play football now and my glasses have been broken three times.’
Rollo pointed to the tape that secured the muddy lenses of his glasses in place.
‘Why don’t you do something useful, Rollo – read a book. I’ve read six since the computers were off.’

April the first, how Danny loved this date. This time last year he had spread a rumour around the school that it was a non-uniform day at St Cuthbert’s. All his foolish schoolmates had been punished for their appearance. And some of the fashions! Rollo had dressed in a ripped black T-shirt and worn an earring! Why couldn’t they all accept that the best way to dress was in a well-ironed shirt and tie, like him?

Danny’s first surprise of the day came at the school gates when Lucy Lang, captain of the girls’ football team, deflected a ball towards them.
‘Hey, kick it back then. We’ve got a game to finish here,’ she yelled.
Despite his damaged glasses and the innocent expression on Lucy’s face, Rollo sensed that something wasn’t right. Turning to his friend he quickly warned him not to touch the ball.
‘Don’t be daft, Rollo, it’s a stupid game but I still know how to play it. Watch this – I’m aiming for the roof of the arts block.’

Although Danny’s technique matched his ambition and his shoelaces struck the ball dead centre, what happened next is rarely seen in the professional game. As foot met leather an explosion occurred that left Danny’s entire right side covered in a sticky yellow substance – a thick and gloopy custard fresh (but not very) from the school’s infamous canteen.
‘April fool!’ shouted Lucy at the top of her voice.

Danny didn’t mind the custard but he’d never been called a fool before. Somehow he had also lost his watch. It was only a cheap one but it wasn’t like him to lose things so easily. He glared up at the school clock – 9am. Three hours to go. Danny regained his cool. After all, he would have the last laugh minutes before the midday deadline when, according to the rules, any person still fooling others became the fool.

By the 11 o’clock break Danny was feeling much better. Mr Samson was walking towards him across the yard, and he suspected he was about to learn his excellent History grade.
‘Dreadful work, Applewhite, really amateurish, I’m going to have to give you extra assignments.’
Like Lucy’s, these were words Danny had not heard before and he was surprised to find his cheeks were burning red.
‘But sir,’ he protested.
Mr Samson winked at Danny as he turned away.
‘April fool's' – you make sure you’re as sharp in person as you are on the page,’ he advised.
In seconds Danny proved his sharpness – quickly seeing that Samson was walking directly towards an open drainage hole in the yard. The juniors had been fishing again.
‘Mr Samson! Look out!’
The teacher smiled.
‘You can’t fool me that easily Applewhyyyyyyyyyyy!‘
And he was gone. When Samson opened his eyes he found he was in an underground tunnel, dark and damp. Surprisingly, he felt remarkably content. It would be a simpler life down here, he thought, watching a rat watching him, compared to dealing with those strange creatures up above.

Danny asked Rollo for the time. There were ten minutes before midday – it was time for his cunning trick to be revealed. A famous writer was speaking to the entire population of St Cuthbert’s today and everyone was moving into the main hall to hear him read.  Knowing a quick route backstage, Danny positioned himself behind a thick velvet curtain and peeped out at the rows of uniformed children. The writer looked nervous and Danny sympathized – this crowd could turn nasty at any time. Just as the middle-aged man was getting ready to read, Danny jumped out on stage.
‘Ladies and gentleman!’ he announced. ‘More bad news I’m afraid!’
Some of the younger kids looked scared. At the back the teachers raised their eyebrows. Danny continued:
‘Due to a terrible robot malfunction the internet is closed for another week!’

Danny was laughing so much to himself that he struggled to hear a thin voice addressing him from the third row.
‘No, it isn’t Danny. You’re making it up.’
It was Rollo.
‘What?’ Danny turned to the writer, hoping that he might share his exasperated expression.
‘I got a text from my friend Yang in China. They’ve been on the web all week. You’re a liar.’
‘Rollo, my old friend –‘
‘And another thing,’ Rollo was holding something up. It was Danny’s watch.
‘It’s ten past twelve and you are the fool!’
‘Rubbish,’ said Danny, determined to win, ‘what about the school clock? It says five to twelve.’
Mr Samson stood up, still wiping away mud from his trip below ground.
‘That was my work Applewhite, I’m afraid – I arranged for the clock to be running 20 minutes slow. Sorry old potato, all part of the fun.’

The whole school was now laughing at Danny. The students who knew about the trick beforehand laughed as long and hard as those who had just found out about it from their friends. Even the famous writer was laughing with the horrible kids and old, bald teachers. Danny decided that when he became an incredibly wealthy businessman he would buy the internet and close it down. But then, looking at Rollo’s infectious smile, he thought he might like to get to know his neighbours, far and wide, first of all.


Task 1

Decide if the statements about the story are true or false.


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Task 2

Put the events from the story in the correct order.


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I have some questions, please:

1. It's written in the last but one paragraph in the script above: "I’m afraid – I arranged for the clock to be running 20 minutes slow".
I've listened several times to the audio, and every time I've heard "20 minutes fast" at the end of the senctence.
Is it a mistake, or I head\r badly?

2. The next sentence is "Sorry old potato, all part of the fun.".
What does this "old potato" means? I've tried to find it on the internet, but I haven't succeed.
And what does this entire sentence mean? I guess, that the meaning is something like "Sorry, my friend, it's the last nail in your coffin". But it's only a guess and I'm not sure. In particular, because I can't find here a subject and a predicate.

Hello Yshc,

You are quite right about the error in the transcript. It should indeed say 'fast' and not 'slow'. Thank you for spotting this and pointing it out. I have edited the text accordingly.

The phrase 'old potato' is a term of endearment rather like 'old friend'. It's very old-fashioned and I think the author uses it to show that Mr Samson is a rather old-fashioned man (and probably a rather old man). It's not something you would be likely to hear in modern English.



The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter,
Thank you fo answer.

But I'm still confused about "fast" and "slow".
I always thought that:
- if a clock runs fast it shows later time than it really is.
- if a clock runs slow it shows earlier time than it really is.

From the story:
The time showed by the shool clock was five to twelve while the real time was ten past twelve.
So, the school clock ran slow, not fast.

Am I wrong?

Hello Yshc,

I think what Peter meant was that the audio does indeed say 'fast', and so this is why he changed the transcript from 'slow' to 'fast', i.e. so that it is in sync with the audio.

But you are right -- really, the correct word here is 'slow'. Unfortunately, we can't change the audio recording. Since the text on the page can be changed, this is probably why it said 'slow' before Peter changed it. I'm going to change it back. In this way, at least the text on the page is correct.

Sorry about all the confusion and thank you for taking time to bring this to our attention.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Many years ago, when I was at school, my friend and I decided to fool his girlfriend.
I'll give you just one comment for better understanding of the joke: in my country, when police wants someone to visit it for any reason (usually – not pleasant:), it sends special letter (some kind of invitation; I'm not sure, but the nearest english term I've found is "summons"). Of course, nobody likes to receive such letters!
So, we decided to fool my friend's girlfriend.
We wrote her a letter, as from the police, inviting her to visit the police office because of some crime case. Also we said that the case was very heavy and avoiding visiting police would be seen as an offence and would be prosecuted by law.
Than we signed the letter (with a fictional name) and stamped it.
One of the funniest thing was the "stamp". We made it from the small round box of fish hooks, which cap was round, was embossed with the title "fish hooks" and some extra numbers, and looked very similar to the real stamp. We smeared it with a felt-tip pen and stamped the letter.
The letter looked perfect!:) Only very attentive and observing person could notice that the stamp was fake!:)
We put it into an envelope and sent to our prey.
Several days ago she called to my friend being very annoyed. She didn't know, what to do. She was scared! She even was afraid to admit her parents, that she had received such letter!
In the first place our plan was to let her go to the police – it would have been so funny if she really had come to the police with these "fish hooks":)
But.. in fact we decided to stop the joke, because she was extremely scared and, to be fair, it wasn't so funny anymore.

Oh! Now it's clear!

I did not know it's possible to avoid of writing "which were". That's why i cound't understand!

Thank you Peter!

i guess the teaching in this brief tale it's to not getting too much self-confidence, if not it could brings to a self-centred nature which, as a result, makes we erroneus at taking choices according to the environment's true aspects.
When we are too much self-confident we tend to not listening to others for aiming to a real comprhention either of what they really are or of what they are saying. By this kind of egocentricity it occurs that we risk to develop into a slight autistic person which can't anderstand others and, of course, her/himself- as others are the mirror in which we can reflect ourselves!

it is an interesting story, and i have to thank you for guaranteeing the opportunintis to improve english to those who are in their own countries! Further it is nice to hear the right english pronunciation while listening to enjoyable and not too high-level recordings.

yet i ahve two questions to ask you: What does" littering the messy" mean? And then...what does the verb "to strict" mean?

For the former question, i have found "littering" it's an adjective which means "disorganized" or even "messy". Is it the meaning right, if we contextualized it in that frase? Nevertheless, if it really is an adjective, and an adjective with that meaning, i would struggle with understanding what is the use of that "the" beetwing messy and littering.
As for the second question, i have just found it only as ad adjective which means "rigid" or "stern".

Thank you British Council's staff!

Hello Wolves,

The phrase 'to strict' is not a verb in an infinitive form but part of a larger structure. The core phrase is 'made to certain specifications', and this is how it is used in the text:

Danny always packed his briefcase the night before, carefully arranging his pocket computer, homework and the sandwiches made by his mum to strict organic specifications.

The word 'strict' here is an adjective and describes the organic specifications.

Your second question also requires us to look at the phrase in context. The full context is:

That morning Danny had been forced to wait while his classmate found the correct books, clothes and sportswear from those littering the messy bedroom floor

The word 'littering' here is a verb form. It is a participle and it forms part of a participle phrase which describes the word 'those'. You can think of it as a reduced relative clause:

That morning Danny had been forced to wait while his classmate found the correct books, clothes and sportswear from those (which were) littering the messy bedroom floor

It's important to look at phrases in their full context and to identify their role in the sentence.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

I have a question, please. As for the second question of Task 2, I don't think it correct. In the second paragraph, it says "Rollo was not like Danny at all." But the statement goes as "Rollo liked Danny more than Danny liked Rollo." How to explain it?
Thank you!

Hello DoctorHiStreet,

'Rollo is like Danny' and 'Rollo liked Danny' have different meanings. The first  ('be like') describes similarity and the second (like as a verb) describes friendliness towards someone.

The key sentence in the transcript is '...because their parents were friends Danny was forced to walk in with him'. If Danny liked Rollo then it would not be necessary to force him to walk with Rollo.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team