A Prepubescent Sexual Awakening

Relax I am not going to talk about boarding school and homosexuality.

Although If I carry on with this blog at some stage I shall have to, unless you are spared it by my early demise. Steve Jobs and Bert Jansch (the acoustic Jimi Hendrix – not a bad epitaph) died yesterday, confirming that I have reached that age when names I have grown up with crash and burn around me. To quote the words read in a friend’s early draft of his first novel “You cannot really live each day as if it were your last, although one day it surely will be”.

No, my theme for today is maids, Royal Masonic School housemaids that is. Maids with green uniforms, white aprons, little hats and, of course, stockings and suspenders. I am sure of this last accessory because I still recall Lathom House’s maid, Noreen, bending over to make a bed at the end of the dormitory and revealing a flash of white thigh that scorched a permamark on the erotically charged psyche of this 15 year old boy. My sexual development was probably arrested by this Brief Encounter and I am trapped in a lingerie time warp, skewered on a filigree of cotton garter.

But I am ahead of myself. I try to maintain some sense of chronology in this schoolboy side of my blog and we are still at the Junior School in the early 60’s. Let us wind back from that dormitory moment.

It was at mealtimes that I remember the maids. They waited at the top of each refectory table, presiding over the gently steaming tea urn and tray of Welsh Rarebit (l’horreur) and congealed, rubbery toast. What crushes we had on these young girls; fair skinned and fresh of face from Irish villages in County Cork and wherever. Drafted over with goodness knows what back stories to live under careful supervision in the Maid’s Block at Bushey. Ah Noreen, Colleen, Kitty! How you had us daft-brained, doting and wound around your fingers. For you were Forbidden Fruit and there is no fruit to match that which is illicit.

For we were, of course, forbidden to talk or communicate with maids in any circumstances. But, aged 13 and in hock to our hormones, we wrote letters; letters professing torrid love and we received by return equally passionate billets doux; pink envelopes furtively passed from maid to boy under cover of some routine transaction; refilling of the margarine dish or whatever device cunning intelligence could invent. To get the nod and take secret delivery of a letter was excitement of a rare intensity. More blissful yet to open it in some quiet corner, reading and re-reading its contents to saturation point. My lovelorn delight at the delicious (but with hindsight touchingly innocent) sentiments matched only by my shock – if I am honest – at the appalling grammar and spelling.

But forbidden fruit has a price .

One evening, standing at tea table prior to the saying of Grace (Benedic Domine, nos et haec dona tua .. I can hear it now), I was in the act of surreptiously asking the duty maid if she had a letter for me from Kitty, the lucky one to whom my heart was pledged. The reply was drowned out by an appalling bellow,

“Davies! Get out!”

The Duty Master had entered the Dining Hall to take Grace and had seen my maladroit whisperings from across the hall. It was Ferguson. He of no facial hair, rumoured to have lost his balls in a road accident, and with a temperament to match; as vicious as a ferret in a sack when the mood took him.  And the mood had taken him.

Oh bollocks! if you will forgive the unintended irony.

Despatched to wait outside his study, I spent an increasingly desperate hour trying to think of a convincing reason for talking to a maid prior to service. As tough a challenge as it was, my natural creativity did not fail me. After turning over and rejecting every conceivable gambit, I was eventually inspired

“Sir, I was asking the maid to change my boiled egg which was cracked”

Brilliant! (Genius you say?) but my cunningly contrived justification failed to convince. With due theatre and a heavy sense of anticipation the sawn off cricket bat (the most feared weapon in the armoury) was withdrawn from the map tube and, unconvincingly indeed laughably, the glib “This is going to hurt me more than it will hurt you, Davies” proceeded the laying on of four enthusiastic strokes. This in turn topped off by the sanctimonious handshake and, in the circumstances, tasteless but expected “Thank you, Sir”. Gritted teeth and resolutely stiffened upper lip just stifling the hint of a waver.

An early lesson in the price of True Love.

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17 Responses to A Prepubescent Sexual Awakening

  1. margaret laird says:

    Wonderful – so funny – so emotive of adolescence – those longings (thanks for reminding me of that young Latin master of yesteryear).

  2. Neil Johnson says:

    Excellent! (Ex Bushey boy myself!) Will certainly make my OMA friends aware of these blogs!

  3. Patrick McGrath says:

    Hi, Enthusiastically reading your article about J.Ston when i came to “Davies, get Out” at that point i decided it was Fergy! HOW THE HELL THIS INDIVIDUAL WAS NEVER HEAD-BUTTED I WILL NEVER KNOW!



  4. Tony (Jake) Johnson says:

    Ah the delectable Noreen ! I was in D house in 64 where Noreen first caught my eye then later she moved (for me ?) to the senior school and Lathom house ah bliss ! Big nostrils were one of her features I remember – but a fab figure and very friendly . . . One time I chanced to spy her coming out of the cleaning closet and without any thought- pushed her back in and closing the door swiftly behind us kissed her passionately she giggled a lot but didn’t object – a rare moment of bliss – thank you Noreen for being so sweet x

  5. David Sandbrook says:

    I too was a Bushey boy, both Junior and Senior, and can understand and empathise totally with the expressed feelings and emotions. I can honestly state that I have very few memories at all of my time there (1960-1966). Now, that may be because I did not enjoy my time; it could be that I focused on hating and I really mean loathing,certain ‘masters’.
    Especially in the Junior School. In particular, Latin and Maths teachers. I believe that the Latin teacher was Bobby Dole, who had a habit of belittling public put downs and had brought minor torture to a finesse. Sometimes I was unlucky enough to suffer both within one lesson. Then the Maths teacher. I can’t remember his name but he had a favourite method of beating. Not just the stick on the hand but a cricket bat across the arse. This will only be believed by others who also suffered. His method was to have the recipient kneel with arse in the air on his fireside chair and he would take a run up from the other side of his study (room). Six on the arse at 11 years of age for not understanding algebra in my first week. I didn’t even know what algebra was, never having encountered it before. The same goes for Latin. Being pulled to your feet by the short hairs behind your ears by Dole is just one of the memories I don’t think I will ever forget. I do have a number of happy memories of the ‘maids’, Eileen o’Riley (who we knew as ‘Oily moiley’; Angela Black who was from Wexford (Wolfe Tone Villas if I remember correctly) and many others.

  6. David Sandbrook says:

    I did go to Watford for a football match two years ago and looked to place up, from a distance. I felt very little in the way of feelings. It certainly didn’t stir anything.

  7. Keith Kerslake says:


    Bobby Dole was a Physics teacher at Ston. He joined the staff in about 1922, retiring in the mid sixties. The Latin masters at Ston in the mid sixties were Ron Wards and Geoff (?) Hunter. The Nasty-ish Latin Master at J Ston was Dickie Hamlyn, notorious for his Saturday ‘tea parties’. At least I left knowing all my verbs in every conceivable tense and mood, but it wasn’t too pleasant.

    Keith Kerslake.

  8. Hi,

    There were a few teachers at jSton that used sawn off cricket bats, Bugs Woolley and Bob Stewart springing to mind. Also Perkis, who left at the end of 1960 I think. Crick Crane used a broken archery bow, it stung a lot, especially as he used it on us when we were in pajamas.

  9. David Sandbrook says:

    Keith , thanks for that info. I said in my previous post that my memories of those years were pretty obscure. I reckon I have just blanked it all out. On reflection, I survived it, not sure if it affected me in any way as I think I am normal (of course!). I believe that it is possible that others may well have gone under in one way or another since. In the Senior School I was in A House – Keyser, which was disbanded in 1965 to allow the builders in. I transferred to Latham. I do remember David Davies as Head Boy B House – Headmasters I believe. He went on to do very well for himself, BBC, FA and so on. Good on him.

  10. I do remember a Kerslake in an Assembly, or some similar gathering, where names were read out….Kerr, Kerslake, Kercamp…….would that be you Keith?

  11. Hi David,

    I was pretty much a contemporary of yours, I started in Jan 1960 and left in July 1967.

    From memory I think I was the only boy with anything like Ker at the beginning of my name so it could well have been my name that you heard being read out.

    I have to say that most of my memories of Ston are pretty positive. I was in Derby, which was quite a relaxed environment with very little in the way of bullying. There was less emphasis on corporal punishment and establishment-inflicted violence at the senior school, unlike the junior school where it was fairly rampant.
    As prior to going to jSton I was at a private prep school where one particular teacher would beat you just for existing, I found the stonic regime surprisingly restrained in comparison.
    I was, however, beaten within two weeks of arrival at JSton with a sawn-off cricket bat (for what I still do not know) by Perkis. I was taken from the dormitory along with another kid called Mathers, both in our pajamas. He went in first, and standing outside the study I heard a number of loud thwacks and a wailing which rose in intensity until I felt more than a little sense of alarm and foreboding. I therefore determined that under no circumstances would I give the bastard Perkis the satisfaction of hearing me let out the slightest peep, although the horror of seeing the sawn off bat was rather unnerving.

    So I gritted my teeth and took it in silence. The most ironic thing was that the poor kid Mathers was later expelled for indulging in ‘perverted sexual practices’. Yes friends, you could beat the crap out of kids with any number of wooden implements and continue to be a well respected member of the establishment, but woe betide the poor boy who got too curious about other boys’ anatomies.

    I remember David Davies well, as we shared a desk in Latin A level, being taught by the somewhat eccentric and aged Ron Wards and the young counter-tenor Geoff Hunter.
    I think he went to Sheffield University and started in BBC radio there.

    Well I seem to have gone on for a bit so I will now bale out.

  12. I’m more than happy for you to go on for as long as you want to and feel you could. The more I read the more stirrings there are of memory. I cannot remember the name of the bastard who beat me with a cricket bat but I certainly remember the event. Before my father died and I was sent off to the schools I went to a Technical High School in Cardiff. I guess that teachers and discipline were under greater scrutiny in the public sector. A couple of strokes on the hand was the worst punishment, or if Dai the Dap caught you smoking it was likely to be across the arse with a size twelve plimsole. But a cricket bat? I look forward to hearing from you again, or any one else who reckons they were a contemporary of mine. I have five or six years to catch up on.

  13. My first week at both schools involved classes with masters who then for contrasting reasons were unable to teach us again.

    During my first week at JSton (Jan 1960) we had French with a master called Heyward. We never saw him again, he being replaced by Blackie Blackwood. I later heard a rumour that he was in the habit of inviting boys to share a lie-in with him on Sunday mornings. In the one lessen we had he brandished a leather-clad stick. It seemed weird to me at the time, and it seems even weirder now.

    I arrived at Ston in September 1962. In our first few days we had scripture with the Rev Fred Pyke. A morning or two later I awoke and looked out of the dorm window to see his lifeless body, wearing pajamas and dressing gown, stretched out on the path between the back of Derby and Devon. It was the first dead body I had ever seen, and I was really expecting him to leap up and continue on his way to the infirmary, which he was probably attempting to reach.

    As a new member of the choir, I was most impressed by the speed with which we learned a whole funeral service complete with a rendition of Purcell’s marvellous brass ensemble music written in 1694 (or thereabouts) for a royal funeral. This was the first instalment of an amazingly varied musical diet provided by the indefatigable Graham Garton, whose energy remains still undiminished even at the age of 86. Quite a contrast to the unadventurous fare dished out by Ticker Clotworthy at JSton. (He acquired the nickname ‘Ticker’ because it was erroneously thought that his name was Clockworthy.)

    It was through Graham Garton that I developed my love of, and aptitude for, music in most of its forms.

  14. I must have been reading Alice in Wonderland…….I spelt ‘lesson’ as ‘lessen’.

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