One of the few real highlights of the Masonic week (along with the morning bun and Sunday evening Penguin bar) was the letter from home.
My mother may have had her shortcomings as a parent but she observed routines to a religious extent. She laid the table for breakfast every night before retiring to bed without fail. She would no sooner have switched out the lights with the table unlaid than smoked a pipe or sworn in public. Unthinkable!
She was therefore a completely reliable correspondent and wrote four sides of news from home in the weekly Sunday letter and two sides in the mid-week Wednesday one. In my early years at school these letters, with news of home, were tremendously important and if one failed to arrive on the appointed day (which it did no more than twice in four years and then it came the next day), it was an enormous blow. They were in a very real sense a lifeline.
By way of return boys were required to send a weekly letter home and this was done as a house activity. The house sat down under the eye of the duty master and we wrote each our letter after lunch on Sunday. The letters were taken unsealed to said master, who would check them through before sealing and posting them.
The absent parent was thus kept reassured by a steady stream of letters telling of House Victories on the sporting pitch, progress in lessons, stories of japes with friends, requests for news of pets and any other banalties that could be scraped together. Truth was the first casualty of our letter writing.
However, a few weeks in to our first term, a moment of madness must have seized my good friend Courtenay Hall because he told how it was, bang on.
He was a sensitive boy and went on to study violin at the Royal Academy. Last time I saw him in the mid 70’s he was a Francisican Monk.
Anyway revenant a nos moutons (you don’t know that one? You disappoint me online definition) Hall went up with his letter and handed it in. Minutes later as we stood lined up to leave the House the master returned with a face like thunder and told Hall to step forward. He was then lambasted and told to read his disgusting letter. I don’t recall it word for word but he basically did the dirt on how unhappy he was, how much he missed home, the beastly masters, the awful food, totus porcus (come on I am not going to tell you everything) and finally he ended with the words as I write this I am crying and my tears have made the ink run.
Well after we had heard the wretched Hall stumble through this sad little letter, our awestruck silence echoing around him, the master took back the letter, ripped it up and in tones of icy contempt told him he was a pathetic boy and to go and write a proper letter.
We didn’t get to hear that one but I leave it to your imagination (Dear Mumsie, Very exciting week we beat C House at footer and good old Royston scored three goals!…
The world is not better for children in every way today. By no means! Many babies have gone out with the bathwater. But at least adults can’t lock you up and throw away the key for three months at a time anymore.
Have a nice day.