A Kestrel for a Knave

Life is tough and cheerless for Billy Casper, a troubled teenager growing up in the small Yorkshire mining town of Barnsley. Treated as a failure at school, and unhappy at home, Billy discovers a new passion in life when he finds Kes, a kestrel hawk.

A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines
A Kestrel for a Knave was written by Barry Hines; a writer who originates from a South Yorkshire mining village. It is based upon the stories and events that Hines came across through his childhood in the 1950s and 60s. 
Billy Caspar is a lad in his last year at the local Secondary Modern that serves the rough estate he lives on. Hines uses flashback from a particularly rough day to show us how Billy has taken and trained the kestrel. 

At home Billy is constantly challenged by his half brother Jud who has left school and works down the local pit. He spends his money on drinking in the local pub and clubs, and the betting shop. 

Billy’s mother is unwilling to deal emotionally with Billy. She is portrayed as picking up the local men in the bar where she goes at the weekend, and it becomes clear that she has a string of failed relationships behind her. 

At school, Billy is beset by vengeful teachers who fail to understand and, in most cases, care about his predicaments. What is particularly jarring nowadays is how the Teachers speak to the kids. I remember it well, but had forgotten how harsh it was. He is picked out by schoolboy bullies, though he does not accept the victim’s label. He fights back and also acts the clown for the benefit of his peers. 

The evocation of the school and the characterisation of the teachers brings my own education back to me. It was not so far from this, and I was there in the assembly hall when Billy is picked out for sleeping. I saw similar things hundreds of times, and I well remember the ritual coughing at the beginning of assembly, and the very real chance that you could be randomly...