The Rhythm of Term

Hammering rain and grey scudding cloud make a less than inspiring backdrop to our departure from the auld country. Budget airlines compound the misery and relieve us of a further £60 for our additional 10kg of baggage – that’s in addition to the £350 or so already paid for additional baggage booked online.

This return to our chosen land is a far cry from that distant yet all too vivid memory of the termly return to Ston. In later life on the rare times when I ever talked about anything meaningful with my old mum (requiescat in pace), she would never have it that I was reluctant to return to school. “Oh Christopher! You ran off, happy as a sandboy, as soon as you set eyes on your friends!”

Ah Memory! What a temperamental and fickle mistress you are! One of the keys to happiness is a bad memory (Rita Mae Brown). Such start of term dramas as I described in an earlier post, registered not in the maternal cerebrum.

In fact as a young child I hated and dreaded the beginning of term (didn’t all boarding school boys in the 1960s) at least until my later teens when boarding school became a chafing constraint rather than a  misery. Although, as in most things, there was a hierarchy. Winter terms were the worst: the end of the long summer holidays, the evenings closing in and the long winter term in prospect combined in a perfect storm of melancholy. The start of the summer term was, by contrast, far more bearable with the prospect of cricket every day and school fixtures on a Wednesday and Saturday if you were lucky. Swimming too and the outdoor pool (of course it was not heated! Have you learned nothing?) would be cleaned and the lapping green water turn sparkling blue.

I remember too that I learned how to dive in the Easter holidays of my eleventh year. I was so pleased with myself that I was actively looking forward to showing off to my friends when I did return to school (NB this is not the same as actively looking forward to returning to school). The reason this somewhat random event is fixed in my recall is because it was juxtaposed in my memory with another more dramatic event. I was sitting in the sitting room at home with the television on, idly dreaming of diving from the springboard to the adulation of my masonic peers when my mother came into the room and blocked my view of the screen.

Because, I am sure, I understood the word to mean the same as “basket” and to convey a rhetorical force that was no greater, I requested that she “Move out of the way you bastard!”. The result was electric and way beyond that required or expected. “Don’t you ever dare use that word to me again. If I ever… etc.”. My lame explanations did not completely extricate me. My Partner in Life had a similar fate when, aged nine, she asked, at tea with family at the Bath residence of her ferocious Granma “What lies on its back with its prick in the air? A drawing pin! Hee hee.”

A steely silence was followed by something close to Collapse of Stout Party and her – genuine – defence of not understanding what the joke meant, just that it sounded funny, failed miserably to clear the air.

Meantime I am glad that this return in 2011 is to the blue skies, warm seas and warmer welcome of Mediterranean Turkey rather than the cold comfort and grey porridge of The Masonic School Bushey in the 1960s.


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13 Responses to The Rhythm of Term

  1. Fred says:

    Hi. Great to read your ramblings. I too spent all my childhood years from 1964 in E House followed by Devon at “ston.” With two lads of my own, it is only recently that I have started to reflect on my school years, and I came across your blog by chance. What is interesting is to read of some of the characters you refer to at the “jston” – no, I have no idea either!

    My recollection of Tony King was of a firm but fair man as far as house matters were concerned. Indeed, on one unfortunate occasion when playing baseball which was considered a good idea as an alternative to hockey, I stood to close to the batsman (Nigel Harding I think it was) and ended up in hospital with my nose round by my ear. He showed great compassion and ensured that I was given plastic surgery, and then spoilt it all by punishing poor old Nigel for something that was never his fault. I have felt eternally guilty about this miscarriage of justice. Interestingly, my mother died recently and I found a letter sent by Col Dark informing her that I had received a light injury the previous week but not to worry!

    Things were a lot worse at senior school where I fell foul early on with Glover, the house master from hell with his bullying side kick, Nosher Giles. Between them, they made my life so damn miserable that in the end I was spent my entire time trying to buck the system. Glover took great delight in beating me at every opportunity, often for the most spurious of reasons, and when his wife was out of the way, insisted that it was done on a bare backside which ne always managed to handle as he took aim! Today, he would be locked up!

    Thankfully, other teachers were much better and in particular I remember the Metal Work Teacher, Art Teacher, Gym Teacher and English Teacher as all being inspirational at “ston” but cannot remember their names.

  2. Dave Davies says:

    The art teacher was indeed Renoir, christian name Ben. Somehow I feel Renoir could not have been his original surname. He was a good teacher though, in between eulogising the benefits of vacations in Venice.

  3. Fred says:

    Thanks to Mark and Dave for jogging my memory.

    Interesting that my eldest son has recently been involved in preparing for his Design and Technology GCSE. We called it Metalwork in my day! The attitude of the teaching staff is very different to what I remember of Mr Walker. He was an excellent teacher who would have inspired my son, unlike the couldn’t care less jobs-worth that James has contend with.

  4. Keith Kerslake says:

    Hi, I thought I would add some comments about Ben Renoir. He never taught me but as he was one of the Derby house staff I did come into regular contact with him. He used to walk through the dorm dressed in tight slacks and a pink shirt with a transistor radio tuned to Radio Caroline. In those repressed days this seemed more than a little subversive.
    He took a group of us to the Tate Gallery and paid for everything, including a very good lunch. I believe his mother was a well known author as I seem to recall him showing us a book by her.
    In 1990 the strangest thing happened. I was watching a documentary on the 50th anniversary of The Battle of Britain, and they were interviewing spitfire pilots. One of them was called Renoir, and if it wasn’t our Ben then it was his twin brother!
    I never did know whether Renoir was his real name, but he was a real character.
    Derby house was run in a pretty benign way by Ian Higgins, with Ben as well as Percy Thompson, who had been the previous housemaster. Richard Fawkes was head of house when I arrived in 1962, I believe he is now an author, not to be confused with Sebastian Faulks. I don’t recall much in the way of bullying going on there, and it was all fairly relaxed. Higgins was crazy about cross country and we won that every year.
    Talking about masters who were crazy about a particular sport, I think Bruno Junior at Jston always had the best house cricket team because he spent hours coaching them.
    Bob Stuart had a ferocious golf swing, I was only a few yards from him when he used it to great effect on Brian Stowe, blood everywhere. Stowe used to tell us about his wonderful sex life, it reminds me of that scene in The Meaning of Life where John Cleese gives a sex demo.
    Any way don’t want to bore you all,

    Your blog is so well written it should be the basis for a book, I love the humour, as well as the memories.

  5. Keith Kerslake says:

    PS Ben was Renoir ‘s nickname, he was really called Tony, the name Tony Renoir made me sit up and take notice when I was watching the Battle of Britain programme.

    • David Sandbrook says:

      I seem to remember that his full initials were L.A.L D.R.

    • Andy Cade says:

      I kept in contact with Ben Ren over the decades -exchanged Christmas cards and met up several time within the last decade, in the in London, with his Class of ’68 – Rowley Brookman, David Jolly and Bob Tetlow. I visited him at his flat in Goring by Sea the year before he died. Did not hear of his demise until long after the event and would have gone to his funeral had we known. He was a good man who, in Dave Jolly’s words, introduced us to many cultural experiences we would not otherwise have had.

  6. Trevor Bond says:

    One of the few masters I remember, I seem to remember his name was Louis Anthony Lawrence Dalton Renoir. I recall also that he was a very good teacher. His nickname was Oozy Ben. I have only recently come across this site , so apologise for this late comment.

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