January 1962 and I am back for my second term at the Masonic Junior School. JSton as we called it (I don’t know! Stop asking irritating questions). My attempt to run away had ended in ignominious failure and my rebellious refusal to return after Christmas had been skilfully bought off by my mother. The bitter pill had to be swallowed. I was there for life, which was pretty much how a nine stretch looked at age ten. A pill all the bitterer because my younger brother still lazed in the comforts of home – but that’s another story altogether.
When you are a child you accept the world around you without question. The adults who populate your world, for instance, are as you take all adults to be. It is only as you grow up that you start to realise that your world was not necessarily the same as that of others. For us boys, I am sure, the masters who dominated our daily reality we took as representative of all adults: their behaviour and attitudes those of adults everywhere.
As we grow up we reassess and what a strange bunch they now appear in retrospect: Bertie Breckons, with his range of Bertie tortures as I described in an earlier post, Kingie, a dark character, who always made boys drop their underwear before beating them and took a grim delight in the terror he inspired, the Rev Stowe who told me on a Sunday Walk that he stripped his wife naked every night and inspected her to ensure cleanliness (still surprised I don’t go to church?), Jay, an English teacher who even ten year old boys realised was drunk most of the time, Girp (sorry no idea either) Haig who had a metal leg and horrible facial deformities due to First World War injuries, a hopelessly ineffectual teacher whom we treated shamefully badly, Fergus Ferguson, a strangely hairless teacher of Geography, whom we were all convinced had lost his testicles in an accident which accounted for his acerbic temper. Of the rest, half-remembered as they are, only one, Bruno Junior (there was an older Mr Brown laying claim to Bruno Senior), stands out as a warm and fully paid up member of the human race. He taught English and took real pleasure in the essays we wrote and brought enthusiasm and humour to the subject.
The world was very different then and children weren’t listened too as they might be now. In addition, as unpopular governments all over the Middle East are finding out, it is much more difficult to keep control in a world of cell phones and the Internet. All our letters were checked and we were not able to talk to our mothers for six weeks at a time.
Boarding schools of the time must have provided a tempting home for the inadequate unmarried male. We weren’t paying customers either, as in regular public schools. Potentially a toxic mix and perhaps I should count myself lucky that no serious abuse came my way or any of my peers.
I am almost tempted to say “Boarding school? Never did me any harm!”