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.