About Harry and the Boarding School Bully

He knew that a master would be down to supervise the boys within a few minutes and he knew that on Tuesdays it was Mr. Hinchcliffe.

He was one of the teachers at school that Stephen really liked. Hinchey was kind to everyone.
Mr. Hinchcliffe was kind hearted, knowledgeable and humorous, just as all English teachers should be. In fact Stephen liked all the teachers at the school, they were friendly and encouraging, but he was especially fond of ‘Hinchey’.

“Where did you spring from?” he would say, “A leak?” Then, he would smile.
Everyone was allowed a second chance and they were allowed to try again. He encouraged all the children to read out loud and he interpreted the writings of Tolkien and Lewis, those old friends as if they were friends of his own.

The ‘Third Form’ studied ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe’. That was in fact the eight-year-olds, boys who were in Stephen’s year.

Then, in ‘Form Five’, the ten-year-old boys read ‘The Hobbit’.

The literature and French department were the most rigorous any parent could hope for. He was also the most senior English teacher and he had introduced them all to Clive Staples Lewis and the world of Narnia.’ Hinchey’ encouraged the children to read the best literature and to enjoy the activities planned around the books.  All the children enjoyed English, whether it was a lesson with ‘Hinchey’ or with Mike Thomas.

That did not stop him giving exercises in both, to different years, and also setting tasks that involved the other favourite; the Form Four reader, The Eagle of the Ninth.

Mr. Mike Thomas provided poetry from Flannan Isle to Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas.
“Chop, chop!” said the master.

The voice came from the stairwell, it was Hinchcliffe; he might have heard the shower running so Stephen released the chain handle.

Nobody ever heard that master’s approach; he wore desert boots with a crepe sole; all the other masters wore leather shoes that squeaked on the floor boards outside the dormitory, warning the talking boys that there was someone about. When Hinchcliffe was on duty, there was very little talking after lights-out.

Stephen waited and listened.

He knew the master would stand outside the changing room to wait for the boys; he tiptoed back across the tiles and retrieved his towel, wrapping it round himself. Then, he stood waiting, feeling the water drip off his body and pool on the floor.

“Sir,” cried Simon Treanor, “Can you help me with my boots?”

“Well done, Treanor, good work; you’ve changed quickly; meet me in the boot room; and I’ll see what I can do. The rest of you hurry up; you don’t want to keep Mr. Thomas waiting.”

Stephen was starting to get cold again; he would have to make a dash for the stairs, and he had to change into warm clothes before he really did catch a bad cold.

He could hear Hinchcliffe talking to Treanor in the boot room beyond the changing rooms. His heart was pounding and he could feel goose pimples forming on his arms.

He held his breath and listened intently for any sounds of movement. It was just like being a fugitive practising escape and evasion techniques in a foreign occupied territory.

Two boys walked across the stone flagged floor, in their games socks, mercifully moving away from him towards the boot room. Stephen leant out of the shower doorway as they moved along the corridor.

They had their backs to him and they were deep in conversation about some match. He made a dash for the steps, a mere three strides. He was on the first step when he heard an exclamation, which made his heart stop.

“Hey, you; stop,” demanded a voice. It was the voice he knew too well; it was the voice of one of his tormentors, Arthur Bray. Stephen turned around slowly.

Bray was looking the other way, talking to the two boys ahead of him, in a fraction of a second they would turn around. Stephen leapt up the first two steps and pressed his back to the wall, listening to hear whether they had spotted him.

“What?” said the boy on the right; he recognised the voice of Barnaby Burton-Shaw.

“You left your trousers on the floor; you’ll get it from the changing room monitor if you don’t watch out,” said Bray gloating. Only he could sound so obsequious when pretending to be helpful.

“Okay, I just forgot, actually, thanks,” acknowledged Burton-Shaw gratefully but suspicious, too. “They must have slipped off my peg.” “Well, do something about it, now, boy or they’ll be trouble!” ordered Bray, using a brusque voice, trying to sound like a master, “come on, ‘chop, chop’, as Hinchey would say!”

Burten Shaw realised he had been helpful only so he could do an impression of Hinchcliffe.

“Yes, sir,” replied Burten-Shaw playfully, going along with the role-play.

They were progressing down the corridor, further away from Stephen.

“Chop, chop!” repeated Bray, thinking he was being hysterically funny.
“Chop, chop!” cried Hinchcliffe in the boot room.

“Chop, chop,” the boys cried from inside the changing rooms.

“Yes sir!” replied several voices.

There was the sound of scurrying boys that could be heard all along the corridor. Stephen did not wait to hear what happened next, he sprinted up the stairs, pushed open the door at the top of the stairwell, and checked the corridor left and right. There was no one there. He made a dash across the corridor to the servants’ stairs. Then, he ran up the next three flights of stairs to his dormitory. At each landing, he paused to listen for approaching footsteps. 

The first landing was matron’s floor, Father Brendan’s room was down one corridor. Stephen’s dormitory was located at the top of the school, on the third floor. He ran up the stone steps in his bare feet, reaching the landing in record time, he counted the eighty- four stone-steps forty two seconds, a half-second for each step, he reckoned. It was a personal record. Stone-steps turned to stained wooden floorboards as he opened the fire door to the dormitory corridor.


To his left, was the bathroom with its ten sinks and seven baths, beyond it, an older boys’ dormitory. On that floor was grey linoleum, which dipped in various places where the floorboards had slipped and the plasterboard on which the linoleum sat had sagged into a dip. It was not dangerous just disconcerting when people stepped on the floor without looking where they trod. Their leg would not make contact where their brain expected solidity. Instead of solid floor, there was nothingness, the idea that a completely flat floor should have its surface curved slightly downwards would not compute; that dip in the floor, often, wrong-footed new boys and new masters and the forgetful.

Some boys waited deliberately to see if anyone would stumble, most boys warned people to watch their step. Above the sink was a shelf and mirror, under the shelf was a hook for a face flannel and sponge bag containing soap and a scrubbing brush. On top of the shelf there was a row of plastic mugs, in orange and blue, labelled with boys’ names, which contained individuals’ toothbrushes and toothpastes. Some boys kept their combs in their tooth-mug but Stephen had a proper sponge bag. Most boys kept their flannels, combs, nail-clippers and soap dishes in a waterproof nylon sack with drawstrings, which they hung from a cup-hook that was attached to the bottom of the shelf above the sink where they kept their tooth-mugs.

Stephen had a real leather, grown up, man’s toiletry bag. It was black leather on the outside; a zip ran down the middle, on the top. His father’s monogram was etched on the surface of each side. It hung from a loop attached to the pull ring of the zip. It was too large to hang in the bathroom, so he was allowed to keep it in his room, through special dispensation form the Head Matron, Mrs. Holyland. She would only allow rules to be broken or slightly curved in exceptional circumstances; she could not afford to show favouritism.

Stephen took a right at the bathroom and straight ahead was his dormitory; his bed was the second on the right.

He had left his sponge bag in the chest of drawers just inside the door and he pulled open his draw and unzipped the bag. He rummaged around for his comb, the one his mother had especially bought him for school. She had made a great fuss over how difficult it had been to procure and reminded him that the comb had been manufactured by a company that had obtained a ‘Royal Warrant’ from the Queen of England. When he had protested that it must be very expensive, she had said nothing was too much for ‘her prince’.

He did not feel much like a prince as he wrapped himself in the dressing gown and sat on the edge of the bed, midway between the pillow and end, rhythmically combing his hair as his mother had done so many weeks before. It soothed him but it made his heart feel heavy, making him think of home.

His mother had washed his hair and combed it on his last night, the night before he left. He had been unable to sleep that night, the night before he left for school. Even so, he thought of leaving his family and the members of the household was very hard. He knew that he would miss the kindly cook, Sorfina, and their friendly driver, Aymen; he would even miss his father although Inchcape, the company that he worked for, seemed to send him away so often that he hardly saw him.

Worse than all this, was the thought of being separated from the only person he had never been parted from; the one he loved most of all, as most children do; he would miss his mother desperately.

Stephen had been educated mainly at home by her, attending a small, fledgling, pre-school in the mornings but only for three days a week. They were inseparable, constant companions, constancy in devotion more than constant in time. Then, he had been wrenched away from her for his education. He had vivid memories of their days: learning chess, eating lunch, looking at different types of books, reading and riding.

He remembered going to the airport the day he left her side, that fateful morning and the tearful good bye.
His father had been there, but it was his mother who hugged him so tightly and who he clasped as close to him as he could. That embrace that was so short, yet it left such a long and deep impression in his mind. Be strong she had said, but he had no strength left, be brave she had whispered as her lips brushed his cheeks, already wet with his burning tears

“You’ll be home soon,” she had promised.

Unfortunately, her ‘soon’ had turned into an eternity. He had seen his mother cry, she had tried not to, and his father had looked at her coldly. Stephen felt that his father was unfairly chiding her for showing her emotion. He had shaken his hand formally and wished him a safe trip. He was trying to set an example for Stephen to follow, stiff-upper-lip, keep your chin up; put your best foot forward, that sort of thing. They had all promised to write but words could not replace being together. He started to cry at the memory of his mother, upset and tearful, blobs of tears splattered on to his dressing gown, he felt his nose running and he wiped it with the woollen sleeve.

“Be strong, be brave, you’ll be home soon” Stephen repeated moving his lips noiselessly; he chanted continuously as he combed his hair, it was almost a meditation.

Hollow words muttered to a hollowed-out heart. He sat on his bed for a full ten minutes, waiting for the tears to stop coming, feeling them stream down his checks in a strangely comforting way. That was how he had left his mother, with the same feelings, the same unstoppable, uncontrollable tears, and the same inconsolable misery. The return to that state of mind seemed to connect him with his distant mother, the last memory of her bringing her closer to him.

“Are you okay?” a woman’s voice asked kindly

Stephen looked up at the person standing opposite him. It was Sally Vanstone, the young matron.
“How did you know I was here?” Stephen asked puzzled, snivelling slightly but trying to hide the fact.
He had to be strong in front of Sally Vanstone; he did not want her to think he was ‘wet’.

“Mrs. Watts, of course, she telephoned from Clock House,” she explained simply. Her voice was soft and warm.
Stephen was very fond of her despite only knowing her a short time. It helped that she was young and approachable. She seemed concerned about everyone.

As well as being friendly, and warm-hearted, she was very pretty too, like an elder sister who would comfort you when you felt sad. Stephen looked up into her eyes and saw kindness there.

“The telephone,” he repeated absently.

“Yes, Mrs. Watts rang to make sure you had made it safely back to your dormitory and Mr. Hinchcliffe rang me to tell me you were in the shower,” she further explained gently. Stephen liked listening to her mellifluous voice.
She smiled warmly.

He smiled back, a brief flash across his face, before he returned to the sad look; the expression that he had worn when he was crying. The telephone, he repeated in his head.

The telephone, that was it, of course, that was how they knew. It was the instrument that once a fortnight transported his parent’s voice from the Middle East to mid-Shropshire.

The telephone was a link that bridged continents and brought the familiar closer. The phone that had announced his escape attempt and that had betrayed his inability to be brave and to be strong as his voice cracked as he spoke to his mother. At that time, as he cradled the receiver on his shoulder, and twisted the phone cord in his fingers, the tears had rolled down his cheeks and on to his neck as he stood in the servery, an annexe next to the dining room where they kept the ovens. Food was usually a comfort to him, but, at times, he felt he could just not eat because of his misery

Stephen had tried to sound normal when talking on the phone; he did not want his mother or father to hear his voice cracking with emotion

The hotplates, next to him, that kept the plates warm, gave off heat as his warm tears came cascading from his eyes, blurring his vision and his voice tried to fight the sobs that threatened to choke him.

On the wall to the right side, above the ovens, hung the telephone with its wall mounted, grey metal base with a dialling circle on the left and money slots on the right and a cradle at the top on which to rest the receiver. It was meant to be streamlined design but it looked like a truncated moneybox with a receiver on top, which it proved to be, as the Post Office rarely emptied the telephone.

The receiver rested on its cradle above the phone, above the round clear plastic dial with holes that revealed numbers and letters, the first with ‘1’ and ‘ABC’, which was repeated until ‘0’ and ‘VWX’ and above the rectangular grey, moneybox where two pence, or ten pence, could be added to one of the two slots to keep the call going.

The phone had been converted from shillings, the size of a five pence piece and two shillings, the size of a ten pence piece. The caller lifted the receiver, dialled the number, waited for an answer and then there would be rapid beeps in the earpiece, which would only cease when a tuppence or ten pence were rammed into the slot.

A short call would involve using up a handful of coppers; a long distance call meant an equally rapid use of silver.

A long distance call was expensive and even a ten pence piece would only last a minute or two, and, then, the beeping would start again and the caller had to quickly press a coin into the slot. The Middle East was too expensive to call from England and so his parents rang at eight-thirty on a Friday evening every fortnight.

Parents were often discouraged by friends and by the school to call more often. If his father happened to be away on business, his mother would call. She had not missed one conversation in the four weeks that he had been at school and Stephen knew she would never let him down; it was their only tangible link over thousands of miles..

Holyland won’t allow anyone to miss sport even if it is raining.”

“I think I’ve caught a chill, matron.”

“I think you’d have to have a lot more sniffles than that to avoid getting some fresh air.”

“Really, you think so?” Stephen was stunned, genuinely surprised, he did not realise you had to be at death’s door to avoid sport.

“Wash your face, put on some fresh clothes and I’ll give you a note to Mr. Hinchcliffe to explain why you’re late to change for games.”

“Thank you Matron,” Stephen whispered unhappily, wandering over to his chest of drawers to slide open the top draw and take out his rugby kit.

“You’ll be fine once you get some fresh air and have a run around with all your friends,” Sally assured him; her voice betraying that her hope was greater than her belief. What she meant was that he would be fine once he found and made some friends.

Once changed into his games kit, Stephen reluctantly rose from his bed and traipsed over to the chest of drawers again, his feet heavier than before although he wore no shoes.

Sally shut the door behind her; they both knew there was no escape.

Written by Michael Fitzalan

Michael Fitzalan’s first novel gained cult status and here are some others: Waterwitch was a hit with those who have ever sailed; two brothers battle storms and Spanish support for the Malvinas in an attempt to meet up with their girlfriends in Ibiza. They have to get from The Algarve to Ibiza, all very straightforward until engine failure and storms threaten to sink all their plans. The Taint Gallery tells the story of a modern Romeo and Juliet; the story is set in Cheslea and Fulham, not Verona, nevertheless, it is a doomed relationship. The book was shunned by big publishers for its highly charged and graphic sexual content and the small publisher who produced the book folded, copies are rare. A reprint is planned for its twentieth anniversary next year; it is still as pertinent and shocking today as it was back in 1996. Switch is an amazing mixture of Franz Kafka realism yet it reads like a Raymond Chandler thriller. Joe Ederer falls for a French girl but he is recovering from being dumped by his English girlfriend. A fish out of water in London, he chases her home only to be rejected. He hooks up with a suffocating drug addict and that is when his nightmares begin. Major Bruton’s Safari is the story of innocents abroad; a family invited to celebrate the coronation of the Kabaka of Buganda become indoctrinated into the ways of Africa. With an acerbic observer on hand, the family experience the warmth and ways of Uganda that help them to understand themselves a little better. IPG – Innocent Proven Guilty is about a teacher, Philip Hayward whose brother sold their shared flat and ran off to America with the proceeds. Philip bumps into his brother’s ex-girlfriend and she tells him his brother is back. Racing to the address she gave him, he arrives to find his brother with a knife in his back. As he leaves, his shoes leave bloody footprints and the police come looking for him. Carom – Finn McHugh and his team take on a swindler and smuggler, Didier, who is depraved in so many ways. They know he is smuggling art and drugs; he must be stopped before others take him out. The Cubans, want him dead, Finn wants to break the smuggling ring. Who will win? Remember the Fifth November – Guy Fawkes was innocent, Catesby was a broken man who brought his children up in the Anglican faith, yet Robert Cecil arranged for them to be portrayed as terrible villains. With a spy service second to none and with moles everywhere how could someone hatch a plot like this and fail to be discovered? The answer, they could not. Read the truth! One – Bullying does not go on anymore in schools. I would not bet on it. Weep as you read the terrible story of a school bully and the misery he dispenses to all the boys. Then, cheer as one of his victims takes revenge. Take a trip to a prep school in a time when kids built tree houses, danced and swung on Tarzan ropes!

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