After an eventful first term the end is in view and the days are ticked off. The prospect of seeing friends, family and the comforts of home are delicious beyond the imagining of those who have not been to war, done time or been to a British boarding school. Really, it’s hard to exaggerate the anticipation.
Day rooms are cleared, lockers emptied and suitcases brought out of storage. The house is lined up for report reading by the Housemaster. Forms are distributed for mothers to sign along with a whole raft of other institutional procedures, the stuff of institutions, each adding to the fevered sense of event that is The End of Term.
It’s the last night at school: luggage is labelled and lined up in the dayroom ready for an early start. We are assigned in groups, each under a master who will escort us in to one of London’s great railway terminals according to each child’s home destination.
But that’s tomorrow; first to bed, to sleep perchance to dream. Fat chance! sleep does not come easily and the school’s clock rings out the small hours before I drop off, only to be roused by the same bell ringing the wake up. Never have boys sprung out of winter beds so lively. A wash, dress and breakfast pass in a fever of excitement and soon we are lined up. It is still dark and quickly the school drains as we wind off in our crocodiles towards Bushey and Oxhey station. Heads are counted and soon we are on the Bakerloo line and heading for Paddington.
It’s 1961 and steam is still the order of the day. The station’s glorious vaulted ceiling fills with the belching smoke of a dozen steam engines and the thundering tumult and grind of these magnificent iron beasts heightens the sensual pleasure of the moment. “Davies. Platform 4 Exeter, leaves at 10.00 and try not to be an imbecile and forget to get out at Bristol Temple Meads.” “No, Sir. What’s an imbecile, Sir.” “You are, Davies. Now get off or you’ll miss it!”
Into a carriage, luggage on the rack and we are off. Steaming out of London, past the grimy “Cathy Come Home” tenements and towards the fresh air of the West Country, the pleasures of home, the prospect of Christmas and the embrace of parent and siblings.
Amidst the euphoria was there the faintest of shadow cast over this most sunny of uplands? A whispered voice “Gone for now but back soon!” If there was it was quickly squashed. Here, now, nothing mattered but that the ordeal was over.