Boarding School  featured in ‘Harry’ by Michael Fitzalan

No 7 Harry a feel good story set in my old school

Chapter One – The Escape
Boom, the thunder rent the silence, a stunning onomatopoeia of such violence that Stephen’s chest-cavity shook. Clouds scudded across the sky, grey stratus sheets, layer upon layer of oppressive pressure; it was a truly horrible depression. The frozen rain fell as an autumnal downpour, unusual for spring. Harry
It was not the best day to escape from school, in a foreign land. He wore a navy, nylon windcheater, zipped to his chin, the hood over his head. Drops of rain collected on the rim of the hood and trickled down to his neck and inside his jumper, cold water dripped onto his face. Stephen screwed up his eyes to stop the stinging of the sleet. Shivering with cold, his feet picked up a rhythm as the road dipped and curved around to the left. He was making progress, making good his escape. The ostinato of rubber soles thumping on tarmac reassured Stephen; each step just like the sound of his mother’s heartbeat when she hugged him close. On his right side were the woods, which he had planned to cross before the rain came. To his left was the vast field that formed the perimeter of the front drive of the school. Harry
The slippery, round, iron rods of the three bar fencing were surmountable but behind that there was an electric fence to cross over as well, a long wire that carried a painful belt of electricity if touched, and then there were the masses of cow pats to avoid. It was a strange feeling, he wore a vest, a school shirt, his jumper and the jacket, his body was hot from walking so quickly and yet his extremities felt cold. His face and hands were red raw. The chilled sleet stung and that surprised him. Harry
Stephen could not remember experiencing such foul weather, ever. Even his school shoes were soaked, his socks were squelching in the sodden leather and he hoped that his feet would warm up once he walked further along the road. The hard tarmac road was the easiest course to take and he ignored the rain lashing against his bare knees. As long as he could keep moving, he realised, then, he would remain relatively warm. Once he stopped to rest, there was every chance that he would freeze. Harry
In his pocket, he carried a sandwich that he had hurriedly made in the morning at breakfast; two pieces of cold toast, smeared with Seville marmalade, thick cut, his favourite, a treat for the escape. The rest of the jar was in his tuck box, how he wished he could have brought more with him. In the other pocket of his shorts, he had a penknife and a five-pound note, taken that morning, during break, from his tuck box. The money was meant for the tuck shop account, he should have deposited it with the bursar at the beginning of term, but he had instead buried it between a jar of ‘Lemon Curd’ and a bottle of ‘Robinson’s Lemon Barley Water’. Harry
Up ahead he saw the fork in the road, the right fork led to the gate house at the bottom of the hill and to the left, the straight path led to the high walls of the back drive. There was no gate there; he could cross the road that ran past, skirt the pond and be into the forest within minutes, disappearing into the coniferous maze where he would be safe. The forestry Commission land covered hundreds of acres and he would be impossible to find.
It was then that he heard barking and his heart stopped. All feelings of cold, all confidence in making his getaway were crushed in that one sound. He stopped, stock-still, looking anxiously around and listening intently for the next bark. The sound was coming from up ahead, near to the fork, he could see now, and he felt the familiar feeling of frustration well up in his heart. An enormous figure was making its way towards him; a big black dog ran ahead, heading straight for him. The black Labrador seemed to view him with undisguised hunger. Harry
Stephen wondered when the dog had last eaten. The figure stood out from the laurel bushes due to a conspicuous colour; it was beige, almost white against the verdant background. He glanced at the wood, there was no way out that way, looking left, he saw no escape either, the electric wire too much of a hazard. His escape would be curtailed for sure if he could not avoid meeting this monochrome duo, black dog, he shuddered, remembering Treasure Island, his father had read to him and white clad owner. As they approached, he was literally petrified, turned to stone, stuck to the spot, the black spot of tarmac. Harry
Desperately, he searched for a way to avoid being caught but there was no time to find a good hiding place. Harry
Stephen thought of walking back and starting again later but it was too late, he had been spotted. The dog had spotted him first, but the striding figure was equally suspicious of the child in the wrong place and at the wrong time. There was no cover, it was too late, he felt exposed; he searched desperately for an excuse for being on the front drive instead of the sports field during games time. Harry
Ursula Watts walked up to the boy; she was a statuesque woman of
Nordic descent and she towered above the nine year old Stephen. She was the Headmaster’s wife. She wore a raincoat made by ‘Aquascutum’, beige, turned tan by the rain, pristine, not a trace of dirt on it. On her feet, were a pair of stout black ‘Dunlop’ wellingtons, which looked like they were brand new, there was not a speck of mud on them. Harry
Her brown curly hair was protected by a transparent, plastic scarf, which she had knotted precisely about the chin. She looked a fearsome sight as she stopped in front of the boy; looming over him so that Stephen had to lift his head directly into the frozen rain to see her properly; and the rain drove into his face, the sleet stung his eyes. Harry
“Sit!” Mrs. Watts commanded brusquely. Harry
Stephen wondered whether she was addressing him and almost sat down on the driveway but he was too terrified to move. Harry
The black Labrador immediately sat down at her mistress’s side, her tongue drooping from her mouth as she panted. Harry
Her ears twitching, she awaited her next command. Dinah wagged her tail softly, the obedient and patient gundog. Harry
Stephen disliked dogs ever since he had very nearly been bitten, in Bahrain, by a wild, street dog that he had approached in order to stroke its head. All dogs were unpredictable and all of them had sharp teeth; that was all he knew. The term, ‘all dogs’, included the one sitting only a few steps from him even if she was an affectionate, ‘sloppy, black Lab’.
“What are you doing here?” barked Mrs. Watts. Her voice was deep but, like her dog, her bark was far worse than her bite. Harry
“I’m, I’m going for a walk,” replied Stephen feebly. Even he felt the response was pathetic. He had never been good at lying and he had always been told to tell the truth.
“Shouldn’t you be reading; have you no games this afternoon?” she asked gruffly, playing with Dinah’s lead, threading the metal chain links through her hands.
The whole school spent an hour, after lunch, reading, in their classroom, or the library, or the Headmaster’s study, and then changed for games. Rugby or football practice took place five days a week even if it was snowing. Only hailstones the size of peas had ever stopped games. A sleet storm hardly qualified as bad weather. Harry
Her interrogation was too much for him. Harry
“I’m running away!” he blurted out truthfully before he could stop himself.
It was just not possible for him to think of a decent lie to tell. He knew lying was wrong and even if he had been prepared to lie, he could not think of a good enough fib to tell. He cursed his carelessness. He should have had an excuse waiting for any adult who challenged him. The raindrops stung his eyes as he looked defiantly up at the Headmaster’s wife. She in turn returned his gaze, seemingly oblivious to the sleet striking her cheeks. Harry
She looked deep into his blue eyes, seeing the hurt and anger behind them. He returned her gaze and saw the gentleness that lay beneath. Harry
“Are you?” Ursula sounded deeply surprised, shocked even. Harry
“Yes I am,” Stephen announced defiantly. Harry
“Not in your school shoes, you’re not; not in this weather, go back and change into a proper pair of wellingtons and get yourself a woollen hat while you’re at it,” she ordered, not moving from the spot, willing him to obey, forcing him to comply by her intransigence.
“Yes Mrs. Watts.” Harry
“Do you have a school scarf and a pair of regulation gloves?” she demanded impatiently. Her eyes bored into him like lasers from a Thunderbird episode. Harry
“Yes, Mrs. Watts.”
“Well, why aren’t you wearing them?” Harry
“I forgot.”
“Forgot? In this weather, that’s very remiss of you, isn’t it?” Harry
“Yes, it was, Mrs. Watts, I’m sorry.”
“Well, don’t forget in future, do you want to catch pneumonia?”
“No, Mrs. Watts.”
“Well, jump to it, go and change.”
“Yes, Mrs. Watts.”
“Back to school you go, then!”
Stunned by her practical advice,
Stephen slowly turned around and traipsed back along the road, up the incline that curved round to the main building. He briefly glanced backwards; Mrs. Watts and her dog were still standing there, on the same spot, refusing to move like statues; and both sets of eyes were watching his progress.
Stephen could feel their eyes boring into the back of his neck. It was as if they were willing him to walk up the hill. He knew resistance was useless. He looked up into the face of Ursula Watts; her eyes still bored into him in a concentrated stare as if she were trying to penetrate his deepest thoughts. Then, he noticed something even more disturbing, a small, insignificant, barely noticeable smile played at the edge of her mouth.
Was she smiling at him he wondered? Perhaps she was laughing at him like everyone else. Stephen decided that she was definitely smiling at him, she was always kind to the boys and he knew she liked him by the kind way that she normally spoke to him. She had been cross but, then, she was entitled to be angry, the school would have got into trouble and her husband, a co-founder and co-owner, would have been held responsible. Her gruff manner was understandable under the circumstances, Stephen reasoned, sensible chap that he was.
As he trudged back to school, cold, sodden and defeated, Stephen had to admit to himself that his attempt to escape had not been properly planned. Time would have to be spent in ensuring he got the details right next time. There were two books popular amongst the older boys; ‘Escape from Colditz’ and ‘The White Rabbit’, both were excellent books on planning evasion from capture in enemy territory. They would make a perfect template for any escape plan.
The rain fell still. The enemy’s Prisoner of War Camp, codenamed, The School, lay a few yards up ahead. It was like a Prisoner of War camp in the fact that it was miles from nowhere and those escaping would be recognised immediately. There was simply no easy way to escape even though there were no high fences or guards in Watchtowers.
In fact, the boarders enjoyed far more freedom than children their own age elsewhere let alone prisoners of war. The small independent school was a progressive preparatory school for eight to thirteen-year-old boys. Two teachers, Mr. Hugh Watts and Mr. Derek Henderson, had established it in the 1963 and their wives Ursula Watts and Anne Henderson assisted them. As well as a rigorous curriculum, to prepare the children for Common Entrance into the top schools in the country, there were an amazing amount of activities on offer such as: art clubs, air-rifle clubs, an assault course, archery, basketball, bicycles, calligraphy cricket, chess, carpentry, an orienteering club, a photography club, a pottery room, complete with kiln, a model club, a full scale train set with four engines and an array of other distractions. The school was not even ten-years-old but it was thriving.
Already, it had suffered from the deteriorating relationship between the Conservative government and the miners, which had resulted in power-cuts and blackouts at the school. Stephen had missed these, arriving after the Michaelmas term. He had missed the misery of the blackouts but he had also missed the opportunity such hardship provided in forming friendships. It was difficult to arrive at a school a term late for any child, even worse for an only child, especially at just eight-years-old. All he knew was that ‘Labour Party’ had lost the election in 1970; the ‘Tories’, under Edward Heath, were going to take England into Europe, by joining the Common Market and, during February, the implementation of decimalisation was going to occur throughout the United Kingdom, getting rid of pounds, shillings and pence and replacing them with pounds and New Pence.
The building itself was a Queen Anne Mansion; situated in the Shropshire hills, near the town of Ludlow, in what was called the Welsh Marches. Belonging to an old family, the Salweys; it was an eighty-room house; surrounded by 85 acres of parkland; and built in 1720. New wings and building were added later. It was possibly the most beautiful building Stephen had ever seen. He marvelled at the redbrick house that rose high into the sky, he was amazed by the amount of windows and roof tiles. His imagination was stirred by the bell tower; the tales of ‘priest holes’; the bats that swooped down at night from the belfry in the bell tower; the panelled halls with their hiding holes; and the strange outbuildings and discoveries that could be made in the grounds, his favourite was Clock House, which was the old stable-yard. The front of the house faced east and it was to the front door that Stephen headed towards the great pile of bricks, soaked to the skin, dejected and defeated.
All that he had needed to do was to cross over the B4361 into the Forestry Commission land and he would have been free, free from persecution, free from being an outsider, free from all the horrible boys in the school. The storm raged on.
He felt like a robot, putting one foot in front of the other, a cold and frustrated automaton, walking mechanically. Just before he reached the low-slung perimeter wall of the car park, he veered off down a path to the back yard.
The tarmac was wet and black and, as he passed the new squash court, he could hear the thwack of the small rubber ball. The sleet still stung his legs and hands. Two classrooms were located at the end of the yard and he walked in through the white painted wooden door that lay between them; checking through the glass panes to see if anyone was on the other side before pushing open the door. It was difficult to see through it, the condensation on the inside of the windows had misted the glass. In his frame of mind, he decided that he could not care who he hit with the door, even if it was, Mr. Watts or Mr. Henderson, the joint Headmasters.
Even if he were given ‘six of the best’ for running away, he would not mind. Nothing mattered but escape.
He was not afraid of being beaten, not physically at least, not by the Head, that was all over in a few painful minutes. A quick beating was infinitely preferable to the tormenting that lasted days and weeks and continued even when you thought it had to end. That was the thing that he despised. What made his heart heavy, was the constant ruthless taunting, the relentless, spiteful teasing. It was not only that. There was also the feeling that he had not a single friend in the world. Cold, shivering badly, now, he walked into the corridor and up the steps, it was good to be out of the rain and to be facing the prospect of getting dry and warm again. To his left was a corridor that led to the games room, where the boys played table-tennis, a bathroom and the pitch and putt beyond that.
It was the area that the children congregated in during their free time, after prep and before it was time to go to bed. He hesitated, thinking about what he should do. He unzipped his jacket, shrugged it off, took off his shoes, and slithered over the cold tiled floor to the staircase; his sodden socks making wet wipe marks on the stone floor.
Shuffling down the steps, he made his way into the changing room opposite the showers.
Stephen hooked his jacket on an empty peg, slid his wet shoes into the wire cage underneath the bench, where his football boots should have gone but they were drying in the boot-room next door.
The school was situated in a damp county and wintertime was a constant battle to keep dry and warm involving, protective layers, drying clothes and changing. Undressing quickly, socks first, he unclipped the elastic garters that held up his socks and slipped off his socks, shuffling across the cold stone floor to put them in the linen basket. He plodded back and took his towel from the peg.
His thoughts of failure were starting to flood in. Stephen could not dismiss the thoughts that it had been unfortunate in running into Ursula Watts. He had been so close to escape; so near to freedom; how unjust being caught had proved; it was so unfair. Stephen bundled his clothes up and tossed them into the laundry basket on top of the socks.
He was cold and his thoughts turned to food, afternoon tea was next, at four o’clock, another two and half hours to wait. At home, Stephen did not have afternoon tea and he really enjoyed the sandwiches and cake between lunch and supper. Walking slowly to the showers, he hung his towel on one of the pegs on the wall just inside the doorway but out of sight and tiptoed over the cold, orange, non-slip, square tiles His feet could not have felt much colder, the end of his toes felt numb.

There were fifteen showers to choose from, with huge round showerheads on the end of slim steel rods, which craned into the room. The walls were covered in bright white tiles, which seemed so bright on a dull day; they promised cleanliness in their bright gleam and spotless colour.
Every day, except Sunday, all the mud that the school brought in was washed down the plugholes and sprayed onto the walls, dropping off onto the shower floor and sluiced down the drains. The amount of mud must have been significant with150 boys from the age of eight to thirteen, smeared in mud, spread over their legs and over their hands, filthy, traipsed in every day, and yet the stainless steel pipes, the white tiled walls, the orange tiled floor always seemed clean the next day. Not just clean but spotless, tiles gleamed, stainless steel shone and stone looked swabbed and scrubbed, like new. He wondered who cleaned the showers and how often they were done.
Amongst all the boys, he was one of only a few who considered this. Stephen was used to servants at their house in Bahrain and he had been told by his mother that in England many people did not have servant. It was a foreign land and they did things differently there. He had to get used to the English at home and their strange ways. He was English, but he did not live like the English, he had been born here but his home was the Middle East. No wonder the boys in his school could not understand him, he lived in a different environment with a lavish lifestyle. Were they jealous? They had all read the ‘Arabian Nights’, they all knew about desert climates. Were they jealous of his exotic existence? Why else did they hate him? Why was he so sure that they did? What had he ever done to them?
He chose a shower in the far corner and headed for that. A cascade of hot water tumbled from the large showerhead, and the water was blissfully boiling-hot. Stephen felt his head begin to return to a normal temperature as the hot water pummelled his head, taking the chill from his skull. The water eased the ache in his shoulders, warmed his frozen limbs, and even the floor started to feel warmer.
He was startled when the bell went, a brief, sharp, loud electric ring, like a forestalled fire alarm. They would all be down soon, tramping down the stairs and roistering about by the door-way of the changing rooms, chatting noisily as they changed until told to be silent by the master who supervised their changing for games.
He would wait under the shower until they had gone and his strength had been restored and the water had rinsed all the misery and hopelessness from him. A soap bar sat in a dish attached to the wall. He would wash away all his worries, his doubts and fears and, then, renewed, clean and refreshed, he would escape again, and this time he would be successful. He would not fail; he would prevail.
Stephen ignored the trample of their footsteps and their chattering as he allowed the water to warm his chilled body, if only ignoring what they said and what they did could be such a simple matter. He knew that he would have to deal with the problem on his own; he had not made enough friends, as yet, to stop Hollister.
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. The older boys, at school, had been enchanted by ‘The Hobbit’. 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; it was too easy to be caught.

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. He just had to make sure he was not spotted by one of the boys as they left the changing room. 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. It was imperative he was not seen by anyone, least of all members of staff who would send him to games.
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. 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.
“You had better get ready for games,” insisted Sally kindly, “Mrs.
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.












Chapter Two – Night-time
Thinking about his escape attempt over supper that night, Stephen had to concede that it had been very poorly planned and the execution of his plan had been amateurish in the extreme. He had five hours walk to the nearest station.
It took the coach an hour and half from Worcester.
On foot you could not hope to do the journey in less than a day, taking into account stops for meals and rests. He had decided to head to London, it was his only hope. The chaperone, Helen, who had accompanied him from the plane to the station, at Paddington railway station, had told him how simple it was.
Stephen had enjoyed the journey to England; it had been the first time that he had really clearly remembered travelling on an aircraft, a Lockheed L-1011 TriStar. His parents had taken him on many different flights from birth but he could not remember one single journey despite his mother returning to her family in Aldeburgh every two years.
The plane trip had been exciting at first and his chaperone had read to him, he had drawn on his sketch pad but the journey had got longer, and longer, and he had become bored, he was excited about eating lunch but after his meal he slept.
Stephen must have been asleep for an hour when he woke wanting his mother. He fretted about his mother though he could not show it to the chaperone who was reading her book. She did not seem to want to talk, which was fine by him. He had to be a “brave soldier”, his mother had said. He pretended to read his illustrated book, “The Arabian Nights”. There were colour pictures on every fifth page, which Stephen stared at as he tried to stop the tears welling up in his eyes.
He had landed on the British Caledonian flight from Bahrain that, in those days, arrived twice a week at Gatwick. The journey by air, from Abu Dhabi to Bahrain, the family had taken many times.
Normally Stephen went back to Abu Dhabi with his mother and father; it took an hour and a half at most. The flight he was on to London was the first time he had gone beyond the Gulf. The flight from Bahrain to London was eight hours far longer than he was used to normally.
On arrival in England, he had been met by another airline chaperone at Gate 33. She wore the company uniform, navy with a smart tartan trim, and she was pretty with brunette hair tied back and brown eyes.
She had introduced herself as Miriam and taken him through passport control. She also helped him to pick out his small overnight bag from the other luggage, on the carousel, in the baggage collection hall and escorted him through customs. He had never seen a moving conveyor belt and was fascinated by the carousel but tried not to gawp in case
Miriam thought he was mesmerised by machinery. He noticed all the people waiting to meet other people as they moved through the arrivals hall. Miriam recognised another girl, dressed in a knee length, charcoal-grey skirt and wearing a cream blouse and burgundy red cardigan. She was very tall and slim and had long blonde hair, kept in place by an Alice band.
She smiled at them both and shook hands with Stephen.
Stephen remembered his father’s instructions: “Look the person in the eye and smile; give them a good firm handshake; and say, how do you do?”
He followed the instructions and was rewarded with a smile and the same greeting. She had an equally firm handshake. Miriam handed him, his overnight bag and his passport, over to other chaperone, Susan who was to take him to the train. Miriam kissed Stephen on the cheek before he left, she thought he was sweet, if a little precocious, and he looked bewildered so could probably do with a bit of affection, poor lamb. Stephen had not been bewildered until a stranger had kissed him on the cheek; he wondered why she had done so.
“How long will it take to get to London?” he had asked Susan.
“There’s a train leaving the railway station in fifteen minutes,” Susan told him patiently. “There’s a coach too, provided by Bee Cal. It leaves on the hour but I think we’ll get to Victoria before it does. The train is much better it’s more direct and there’s no traffic to hold us up. It takes between thirty and forty minutes.”
“Is that all?”
“Is Bee Cal short for British Caledonian Airways?”
“What happens at Victoria?” asked Stephen, he was surprised that the over-ground train did not go direct to Worcester Station.
“We change from British Rail to London Transport.”
“Then what?” he asked.

Stephen did not know that Victoria was a railway terminus, which served the south of England and that it would be necessary to take the underground train from Victoria to Paddington and from, that west London terminus, Paddington, he would get the school train to Worcester.
“From Victoria we have a choice: either we’ll take a bus around Hyde
Park to Paddington or perhaps we’ll take the tube if you don’t mind the ‘Underground’,” she suggested casually.
“Then, what happens?” Stephen pressed her further.
“You’ll join the school train there. I think you’ll find a few teachers and lots of boys in a reserved carriage. When you get to Worcester you’ll pick up the school coach.”
“I see.”
“It will take several hours, in all, the train leaves Paddington and stops at a lot of station on the way,” she warned.
“The tube would be exciting,” Stephen had replied, seemingly oblivious to the information about the journey to Worcester Station.
“Great, I like it, too, it’s very fast and direct, no traffic to hold you up.”
“So it will be much quicker,” Stephen said brightly, he had heard about traffic from his father.
“We can take the Circle Line, westbound, from Victoria,” she continued. Susan obviously did not like awkward silences. “It will take about twenty minutes.
“I’d like that,” acquiesced Stephen.
“How was your journey?” she asked.
“Very pleasant, thank you,” Stephen answered, trying his best to sound grown up.
He was unsuccessfully hiding the fact that, overall, it had been one of the most exciting journeys of his life, particularly the take-off and landing. He had especially liked the hot flannels that were brought around, just prior to landing, to put on your face, to revive you after the long journey.
“It seemed a lot quicker than I expected, actually,” he declared; he had been overwhelmed at how quickly his journey had taken; by the time that he had eaten, napped, coloured and read; it was time to land. He was used to being bored on long car journeys to the nearby wadi or trying train trips or boat rides that seemed to last forever and a day.
“That’s good; you weren’t too bored, then. I’ve never been to ‘The
Middle East’, what’s it like?” asked Susan. “I’ve been to Greece but that was just to pick up a passenger. He was about your age, too.”
Stephen explained about the heat and unrelenting sunshine but he had already partly switched off. Susan was quite happy to talk and he was quite happy to half-listen to what she said and to nod encouragingly as she gabbled on.
He had listened to enough to know that if he took the train from Worcester to Paddington, all he had to do was get across to Victoria on the tube, take a train to Gatwick Airport, and somehow get on the plane home.
They had walked to the London bound platform at the airport train station chatting away, or rather Susan talking while Stephen encouraged her. They stood on the platform and Susan fell silent. They waited in complete silence while Stephen fulminated and formulated a plan to get back to his family in Bahrain. All he needed to do was to get back to the airport, like Theseus and the Labyrinth.
It seemed simple enough. He just had to remember the details of the journey and perform the stages in reverse.
In truth, even the thought of escaping school was enough to make him feel happier on his journey across London, but that had been before he had even got to school. It was before he had met the boys who bullied him for being different and before he had met his oppressors, Bray and Hollister. It was before the taunts were made about his elephant pyjama case, which he kept under his pillow during the day and snuggled at night.
Since his arrival at school, he had just wanted to be free. Stephen just wanted to be away from his oppressors; he longed for escape. He had no idea what he had done to become the butt of jokes and the object of teasing. It might have been that he was the only boy in the dormitory with a cuddly animal but he had not known that it was not acceptable to have soft toys. It was considered wet.
They teased him about the stuffed elephant that lay on top of his bed and which he snuggled up to at night. Surely, that was all right? He had arrived a term later, friendships had been established but that did not mean they should pick on him, did it?
Breaking out from school would be like escaping from prison when you had been sentenced to jail for a crime you had not committed; it would be like being an allied airman escaping from a German prisoner of war camp.
There was macaroni cheese on the plate in front of him but he merely shovelled it onto the fork and moved it around the plate, deep in thought. Someone sat down heavily on the bench next to him but
Stephen was annoyed by the intrusion; he needed time to think.
“Don’t let anyone see you leaning on your elbow like that,” warned the voice of the new-arrival, its tone was friendly. The voice was warm and familiar. “You’ve got to sit up straight, use your knife and fork properly and talk quietly to your neighbour. That’s me!”
“Hello Pip,” said Stephen cheerfully, smiling for the first time that entire day.
He liked Pip Fitzherbert, everyone did.
“And a very good evening to you, my friend. I must say that queue for supper gets longer and longer, eat up or your food will get cold.”
Pip talked as though he was a very important person, giving advice to a naughty child but it was all in jest. The others all realised, Pip was playing the authoritative expert talking down to a buffoon, and Stephen was in on the joke and understood, so Pip continued in a similar vein.
“I’m starving, I can’t cope with smelling all that delicious food and being made to stand around for half an hour. The queues for supper get ever longer, really they do; it’s terrible.”
“I can’t eat anything,” complained Stephen gloomily.
“Don’t you want your macaroni; I’ll have it if you don’t want it?” Pip offered readily, his eyes widening at the thought of more food on offer. He was as skinny as a rake but his face revealed his desire to devour all the food he could.
“I’m not hungry tonight,” Stephen confessed sheepishly.
“I could eat a horse, perhaps even a stable full of them. What have you been up to today?”
“I ran away from school.”
“Well, judging by the fact I can see you here, I’ll take it that you had very limited success, just like our rugby team last term. You are here and not in Ludlow, aren’t you?”
“I did run away, I just got caught.”
“Don’t muck about.”
“I ran away. I’m being serious,” hissed Stephen. Stephen was beginning to get angry, but Pip could not take him seriously despite Stephen’s red ears and flushed face.
“As I said before, if you weren’t listening closely, you were not very successful were you, judging by your appearance at supper tonight?”
Stephen smiled despite himself. He could not argue with Pip’s logic, nor could he resist his sunny smile.
“You’re right; I got caught by Mrs. Watts. Next time, I’ll get away, I won’t get caught; I will succeed. I won’t come back,” Stephen insisted. His voice sounded determined and serious.
Pip looked at Stephen with a new curiosity. Everyone talked about running away or escaping but it was just a bit of fun for the majority.
In reality, the majority of the boys enjoyed the activities that the school offered and, in the main, the boys appreciated the amount of freedom they were afforded throughout the day.
They had to make sure they were at morning assembly but the dormitory prefects ensured that. They had to be on time for evening assembly just before supper. They had to take responsibility for being there not matter what. They were restricted by lessons or preps during the mornings, including Saturdays, and most late afternoons, but they also had sport followed and their afternoon prep was at allocated times and there were set times for meals too, but otherwise they were free.

This freedom was exploited fully by the boys who explored the grounds, built tree-houses, ran down to the assault course to walk above the trees and swing across the streams. In poor weather, the boys could read in the library, make pottery or do carpentry.
“Why would you want to run away? The grub isn’t that bad, it’s not
Fortnum’s or Harrod’s, I grant you, but it’s relatively fresh and filling.”
“I suppose, you’re right,” Stephen admitted despite himself.
“We’ve got sponge cake and custard tonight, delicious. School food, I love it, treacle tart and custard for ‘Pud’ tomorrow, my favourite! I checked with cook and she said it was a certainty.”
“I like treacle,” Stephen said.
“There you go; no need to be down in the dumps when that’s on offer.”
“You’re right, thanks.”
“Come on eat up, you need your strength for your studies, waste not want not, there’s lots of starving children in the world, you’re lucky to have anything,” Pip added encouragingly.
“You’re very sensible, Pip.”
“Sensible equals boring and you don’t need to be a mathematician to work that one out!”

“Seriously you are very grown up.”
“Two elder brothers and an elder sister, I just regurgitate what they say! It makes me seem intelligent and authoritative.”
“I see.”
“I see, said the blind man, but he didn’t really see.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s another one of my brother’s expressions, which mean nothing at all. He just repeats sayings if you mention a key word. Francis comes up with some real gems occasionally, but obviously not that one!”
Stephen smiled again.
He did not have older brothers or sisters to entertain him.
“I wish I had elder brothers and sisters to make me laugh and to teach me things,” said Stephen enviously.
“They’re all right, I suppose, but they can be a bit boring too, actually,” decided Pip after a pause to think things through.
“Still, they must prove good company.”
“Yes you’re right. I suppose they can be quite fun, actually, though they are just as annoying as they are fun. I’m not sure the good outweighs the bad. Do you have any brothers and sisters?”
“None, I’m an only child.”
“No pets?”
“Not even tropical fish.”
“What’s that like?”
“I don’t know any other way, so it’s fine, actually.”
Pip had no further questions and slipped into thinking what it would, really, be like to have no siblings and the idea of not having to share or fight with his brothers rather appealed to him. Stephen looked around the dining hall, it was a vast room; perhaps it had been a ballroom when the house had first been built. It had panelled walls in a dark mahogany stain that was such a deep chocolate brown that it was almost black. Stephen had been told that this panelling was called wainscoting.
Arranged around the dining rooms were old-fashioned sideboards with intricately carved draws, brass handles, decorated cupboard doors, mirrors and shelving. It looked like he inside of a stately home. There were wooden floorboards on the floor, which had flexibility and spring in them, ideal for dancing, he imagined; this might have been the ballroom.
It was also the perfect size to accommodate and feed a hundred hungry boys; twelve long tables with oak wooden benches on either side had been put into the room. Across the room, there was a set of double doors, which led to the next-door dining room. That was for the fifty older boys. There was a third over-spill dining room reached through a wide, high door under the marble stairs, as well. Sometimes they had afternoon tea in there.
He had chosen to sit on a table in the far corner of room, sitting at the far corner of an unoccupied table. He could not be further away from anyone else; the teachers were too busy supervising the serving queue; or the scraping of plates for the ‘pig-bin’, to notice him sitting on his own, away from everyone else, otherwise they would have moved him to an occupied table.
Trust Pip to find him and check how he was doing.
All the children were trusted to eat sensibly and the other children, in the dining room, were talking so animatedly and intensely that they did not notice Stephen sitting all alone. That was until Pip pitched up and settled himself opposite. His friendly nature and his enthusiastic personality were difficult to resist. He cheered Stephen up. Ollie Comyn joined them.
“Are you coming for a midnight swim?” asked Ollie excitedly.
“What?” asked Stephen, “What do you mean, it’s freezing at night; I’ll catch a cold.”
“It’s all right, we go down in our dressing gowns,” said Pip encouragingly. “We just slip down the drainpipe outside dormitory thirteen and run across the lawn.”
“That’s the only difficult part; we’re in danger of being seen by the light, cast from the corridors, but if we keep close to the wall we should be safe,” Ollie added before inserting a fork-full of food chewing politely.
“I might come when the weather’s better,” suggested Stephen.
“You should have been here last term,” said Pip. “That was cold, it’s mild now!”
“The weather today was the worst that I’ve seen,” Stephen replied tetchily. “I’ve never played sport in a hail-storm!”
“You’ve spent too much time in the tropics. The whole point is not about keeping warm, the pool’s freezing, it’s about the dare,” Pip explained patiently.
“I don’t do dares,” announced Stephen firmly.
“I see,” said Pip looking disappointed.
“Tell me about it though,” insisted Stephen.
“You won’t sneak?” asked Ollie, concern in his voice.
“I promise, I won’t tell a soul,” breathed Stephen sincerely; he crossed his heart with his hands.
“Okay,” Pip agreed, but he looked quickly around the room before he started, just in case a master was coming to encourage them to finish their food.
“Swear on the Holy Bible?” Ollie insisted, he was eating but he was also fully aware of the dangers of masters discovering their dares and that was more important than food.
“Swear,” promised Stephen suitably solemnly.
“It’s simple really, we have a ‘look-out’ to keep watch,” Pip revealed conspiratorially, subconsciously he looked over his shoulder.
“We check that Mr. Stone’s light is out, he sometimes comes back late from the common room but he generally goes to bed about eleven,” continued Ollie. We have been building up quite a large ‘secret dossier’ on his movements.”
“Once the coast is clear,” Pip interrupted, it was Ollie’s turn to look about for an approaching teachers. “We can mount the operation, but we need to take care.”
“Carry on, I’ll say ‘caevi’ if I see a master approaching,” offered Ollie helpfully.
“Thanks! It takes great preparation, we stuff our pillows and some clothes under the blankets to make it look like we’re still in the bed, creep out of the dorm, and wait for ‘the okay’ from the ‘look-out’ in the corridor.”

Pip paused to shovel more food into his mouth; he had not forgotten his meal. Stephen waited patiently for Pip to finish his mouthful. He was under his spell and dared not say anything to interrupt the thrilling tale. He was bursting with questions and full of admiration for their old-fashioned ‘daring’.
“If a master is about, he pretends to be going to the loo and shouts a loud ‘good evening.’ to warn us,” Pip continued. “If the coast is clear and we’re safe. We get ‘a thumbs-up,’ signal and, then, the three of us take it in turns to shinny down the drainpipe.”
“We hug the wall until we get to the ‘pitch and putt’ lawns and, then, slip behind the hedges,” Ollie interjected while Pip fed another forkful into his mouth. “The squadron-leader keeps a sharp look out and the tail-gunner, he keeps his eyes open too, glancing back for the danger signal given by the ‘look-out’ in the window.”
“What’s that?” asked Stephen excitedly. The whole adventure sounded terribly daring and he could not fathom how the boys could get away with it without being caught.
“The second look-out signals with a torch from the loo window,” explained Pip, not at all pleased by being interrupted.
“It’s very well planned,” said Stephen admiringly.
“It has to be or we’d get caught,” Ollie explained, he loved to relive old adventures.
“Where was I? Oh yes, the ‘pitch and putt’,” Pip remembered. “We can use the cover there. There are the box hedges all the way.”
“The hedges there must provide good cover,” interjected Stephen.
Pip, nodded enthusiastically but he was not going to be interrupted yet again, no matter what Stephen and Ollie did and no matter how cold his food got, Pip would tell his tale from beginning to end.
“The cover gets us to the edge of the walled garden. Once there, we have to check that the coast is clear. We pass by the basketball court, turn left at the kitchen garden entrance; we check no one is coming up that way from Clock House before going through. We slip along, by the cypress trees, and dash across the lawn to the pool, simple. Normally, we just stick one foot in to show we’ve done it and then we scoot back using all the cover we can and up there the look-out checks it’s all clear and we shiny up the drainpipe.”
“What about being caught by the Head; Mr. Watts lives right next door to the swimming pool?” whispered Stephen, determined to show that he had considered every eventuality. He hardly believed it was possible to get away with such a plan. It involved such audacity, such bravery and such tenacity.
It was hardly credible, in fact, it was incredible. The adventure was fraught with opportunities to be caught, but despite that, Pip and the others had got away with it before, it must be possible. Pip had decided to use each interruption as an opportunity to move food from his plate into his mouth, he was used to animated conversations, over mealtimes, in a large family and was able to eat and speak almost at the same time. Miraculously, he managed this without once speaking with his mouth full of food. He was relieved to be chomping on his food, as he was still hungry, he seemed to be constantly hungry when he was at school.

“What?” Pip had not heard.
“What about the Head, aren’t you worried about being caught by him?” Stephen asked in a whisper worried someone might hear.
“What about him?” responded Pip, quite testily; he did not appreciate the interruptions on that particular occasion.
“Aren’t you worried about being caught?” Stephen asked incredulous, his eyes widening in wonder, his food remained untouched.
“Just listen, please,” he insisted petulantly. Pip was becoming increasingly fed-up with the constant questions and interruptions. “This would be a very short explanation if everyone would just let me tell it how it is!”
“We’re all ears,” Ollie added, his remark was as encouraging as it was provocative.
This was a highly secret operation and Pip wanted to tell all the details before the two duty masters finished overseeing the dishing out of food and were able to move freely about the room when they might hear the boys plotting as they patrolled the dining area.
“Sorry, carry on,” Stephen replied. Pip responded by smiling indulgently, feeling he had been a little harsh perhaps.
“Mr. and Mrs. Watts live in Clock House, right next to the pool. Surely they can hear you when you’re splashing about in the water,”
Stephen argued reasonably.
“There’s a wall in between and it must be five yards to his front door.
As you say it’s not hot enough for him to have his windows fully open,” Pip explained, his voice betraying his exasperation.

“Really?” Stephen asked unable to help himself and unwilling to
Disguise his surprise.
“We’ve checked it out,” Pip sighed, impatiently. “If he has any windows open, they’re at the back of the house and the dogs sleep in the kitchen, well away from the pool. Besides we’re like commandoes, we use stealth and guile to limit the noise, otherwise we would get caught.”
“It’s sounds fun,” Stephen decided. “I can’t believe you can get so far without being caught by anyone and shinning down the drainpipes.”
“It is. Why don’t you come?”
“No thanks.”
Pip looked over his shoulder again before continuing.
“Tonight, we’re taking towels and bathers and going for a proper swim. The older boys normally leave that to the summer, they reckon that this toe dipping and running back barefoot is a bore. If we take our towels with us, then, we can have a swim. Then, we provide the evidence that we’ve been in the water, with our wet hair and the smell of chlorine on it.”
Ollie thought it was safe to talk, now, without provoking Pip, “We’ll make sure we get our bodies properly dry before heading back. We don’t want to catch a cold.”
“It sounds like a well planned military operation,” Stephen noted in awe.
“It’s a clandestine operation,” elucidated Ollie, he was a keen reader and enjoyed rolling his tongue around complicated and sophisticated words. Craning his neck, yet again, to look out for approaching masters, he spotted someone he knew. “There’s Fitzwilliam-Lay, he owes me some money, he managed to purloin some from me at the tuck-shop this afternoon to buy some ‘Fruit Salads’, he said he’d have it tonight, see you two later on, hopefully.”
“We’ve planned it properly that’s the key,” explained Pip, proudly, satisfied that he had explained the operation fully and pleased that
Stephen could no longer interrupt the flow of his discourse. Perhaps, thought Stephen, he should put Pip in charge of his escape from the school.
Mr. Northcote-Green came into the dining room, asking the boys to clear away their plates and get their pudding. Stephen found his appetite had returned and he realised he was, in fact, very hungry. He shovelled the cold tubes of pasta into his mouth.
Pip had finished his meal and placed his knife and fork together.
“Have you finished your meal?” asked the master.
“Yes, Sir,” he replied respectfully.
“Go and get your pudding, Pip.”
“Yes Sir.”
“Hurry along, I’ll look after Stephen.”
“Yes, Sir!”
“You haven’t finished yet, Stephen, are you all right?”
“Yes, Sir,” he replied, knowing his voice lacked conviction.
“Are you sure you’ve nothing on your mind. I’ve never seen a boy take so long over his supper, anything bothering you?”
“No, Sir.”
“Sure?” It was clear that Simon Northcote-Green did not believe a word of it, but he was powerless to press further. He had offered a sympathetic ear. If Stephen was unwilling to talk, he could not force him. He had heard about what had happened from both Ursula Watts and Sally Vanstone but all he could do was offer Stephen a chance to unburden himself; to talk about what drove him to run away.
“Sure, absolutely sure, Sir,” insisted Stephen
“Hurry up, then, or all the custard will be cold.”
Stephen ate in silence and watched the other boys clearing away or coming back with a bowl of pudding. He rhythmically chomped his way through his meal, shovel, open mouth, chew, swallow, shovel, open mouth, chew, and swallow. The food tasted bland and was cold but his hunger overrode any complaints he might have; he needed to eat his meal to build up his strength for his escape.
Pip sat down again and dug his spoon into the sponge and custard and ate as slowly as he could, relishing the flavour. He lived to eat, rather than, Stephen, who ate to live. After he had finished the pudding, he seemed satisfied and prepared to talk again.
“That was delicious,” announced Pip with deep satisfaction. “I might go up for seconds but I’m a bit full.”
“I’m full already,” said Stephen.
“Don’t you want pudding?”
“Not really.”
“I’ll have yours!”
“Of course you can.”
“Great, then ‘Noggers’ won’t think that I’m greedy.”
“That’s Mr. Northcote Green to you, Master Philip Fitzherbert,” said the master, standing behind him. “If you want more pudding, you’re out of luck the older boys have just polished it off, if you want something else, there’s fruit. Have an apple if you’re still hungry, that will fill you up and do you some good.”
“An apple, sir?” Pip asked incredulously
“Yes it’s a green fruit that hangs off trees, you might be more familiar with its sweeter cousin, the stewed apple, contained in the apple pie and crumble that you so enjoy. This fruit is full of goodness and is crunchy and filling, good roughage. Try one.”
“An apple on its own sir, no thanks, I’m not that hungry!”
“Please yourself, you know well enough ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away. I don’t want you complaining in your Sunday letter to your parents that there isn’t enough food to keep you healthy.
They’ll spot it as ruse to get your tuck-box refilled, it just won’t work; you know that.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it, sir!” Pip protested.
“Just like you wouldn’t dream of giving a master a strange nickname,
I’m sure,” said the master before turning away and dealing with the next table.
“That was close,” Pip breathed, feeling relieved.
“If you wanted to run away, how would you do it, Pip?” asked Stephen suddenly. Pip looked askance; it was a strange question coming from Stephen despite what he had said earlier on. Pip had not yet decided to take him seriously.
“Now would not be the best time, I suppose.”
“Of course!”
“Right, now?” asked Stephen wondering what he should go and get from upstairs that would help him to escape straight away, he had a torch in his tuck-box.
“After supper, yes; we’ve just had evening assembly, but it will be dark outside soon and then the masters check the dormitory at lights out, so I’d only have an hour or so head start before someone rang the police. Maybe that’s not the best plan.”
“Okay,” Stephen said, feeling disappointed, it did not sound practical, especially since it involved travelling at night but Pip was not yet finished.
“Also, another good time,” Pip continued, “Would be after morning assembly, actually. It would give you until evening assembly to get as far away as possible, but then we have lessons and the masters always notice if someone is missing. I think matron produces a list of sick children and pins it up in the staffroom.”
Pip had not judged Stephen to be the adventurous type, quite the opposite. However, he did read the ‘Arabian Knights’ and Pip felt that there was no reason why Stephen could not benefit from his knowledge.
Pip reflected and ruminated for a few minutes before he continued. He had definitely not decided to take Stephen seriously as yet, so there was no harm in talking about escaping; it was a bit of fun.
“So actually, that’s no good. After lunch is possible but, then, we have sport and they’d notice we weren’t in our team. After tea would be a good possibility but we have prep so they’d want to know where we were.”

“So, it’s impossible isn’t it? There’s no way to escape,” sighed Stephen looking like a mourner at a funeral.
“The best bet would be when we go for a walk on Sunday, up in the
Forestry Commission lands, plenty of cover. I could hide in the bracken and wait until everyone had gone.”
“Go on!”
“When they realised I was missing, they’d have a twenty minute walk back to the nearest telephone, that’s when I could break cover and make as much ground as possible,” Pip Fitzherbert continued casually as if discussing a shopping trip. “I’d need to have a destination and somewhere to lie low for a few days; they would not keep searching forever.”
“I’m still listening,” said Stephen, encouragingly.
“The problem is a lone boy around these parts would be suspicious, so, I’d have to be careful not to be spotted. I’m not sure where I would go? If I went home, my parents would drive me back from Stafford. I’d get Mr. Judd in trouble, too, and walks in the woods would be banned. The Orienteering Club would have to close. We’ve all thought about running away.”
“Have you?” interrupted Stephen, his eyes were like saucers; it was genuinely shocking. Pip seemed so happy at school and yet he wanted to run away, too. Stephen could not disguise his surprise.
“Some of us have planned it, as a dare, but it’s hopeless, every time somebody has a plan; the other boys shoot it down. Either it’s the wrong time of day or there’s too much ground to cover, we even thought of escape when riding but we would get the driver into trouble plus the stables are even further away from the station than we are now. If you are going to make a break you want to be on the train before the authorities are alerted and cover the stations. Either that or you want enough food and a good place to shelter, in order to lie low for a few days. The woods beyond the drive would be your best bet.”
“That’s good advice, thanks,” said Stephen cheered by the extra information he was being given.
“No one has yet come up with a feasible plan. It would be especially difficult for you, you’d have to get your passport, and return ticket from the Bursar’s Office and persuade the check-in people to change the date of your ticket. We discussed the possibility with Dickie Sainz last term; he wanted to get back to Spain.”
After supper, the boys were free. Some played table tennis inside, while others watched, sitting on the radiators to keep warm. Some went into the main hall and played chess, draughts or other board games like Snakes and Ladders. Others dressed up warmly and walked out into the floodlit playground to play tag or wander around in groups.
The previous term it had been conker season and the proliferation of horse chestnut trees in the school grounds meant that the whole of November had become a conker tournament. The children had gathered the conkers, hoarding them like squirrels hoard nuts, throughout the whole of October. Extra shoelaces were ordered from home, through the letter all boys had to write home on Sunday.
Some boys, advised by knowing fathers, pickled their conkers in vinegar, packed in the tuck box specifically for the autumn term and the conker season.
Playground games necessitated simplicity with fifty or so boys in one space. ‘Cocky-Olly’ and tag always gave way to a game of ‘British Bulldog’ as the playground numbers swelled throughout the evening. Stephen thought the game ‘Cocky-Olly’ had been named after Tim Comyn; Ollie was a little cheeky after all.
The bats soared above the boys as if they were encouraging them to play. Stephen was not sure where the bats lived and although the bell tower was small, he reckoned that they lived there and the chanting of so many children disturbed them and that was why groups of them swooped and flew above the boys’ heads in the darkening twilight sky.
When night fell, they played above the spotlights that illuminated the playground.
The bats were at least ten feet above them in the air so they offered no threat to the children but they looked quite spectacular performing aerobatics in the skies above their heads. It was the school’s aeronautical display team, just like the Red Arrows. They hardly ever screeched and saw the air above the playground as their own. Below, the children either watched in awe as the bats dodged each other or continued their games oblivious to the air show above their heads. The longer they were there, the more the boys ignored the bats; new boys gawped open mouthed at these tiny creatures flittering by in the sky.
‘Bulldog’ was a very simple game but it involved everyone’s co-operation.
First, the playground was cleared and all the boys lined up by the classrooms at the end of the playground where the back door of the house was situated.
Secondly, one volunteer would step out to be the ‘Bulldog’, generally, it was the last caught from the last game played. His job was to catch as many people as he could as they ran by.
Those caught would become ‘Bulldogs’, too, and they would catch more and more people. The winner and ‘Bulldog’, for the next game was the boy who was caught last.
Thirdly, the ‘Bulldog’ would shout, “Bulldog.”
This was the signal that the boys would have to leave the safety of the wall and the game had begun, they had to get to the wall on the other side of the playground without being tagged. A touch was all it took and then, that person would join the ‘Bulldogs’.
There was no cheating, if you were touched you were no longer a fugitive, you were one of the hunters. Stephen joined the swarm of boys running from the classrooms to the far wall of the backyard. Two of his classmates were snatched, and he narrowly escaped being caught himself, as he sidestepped and sprinted across the playground like a speed skater.
He would only be able to catch his breath once he had touched the opposite wall, and was safe from capture. He sidestepped smartly, sped past the squash courts, to his right, and then he heard fast footsteps of, he suspected, a ‘Bulldog’.
He dashed ‘pell mell’ to the left heading straight across the path of the boys heading to the far wall. Miraculously, they all dodged each other and Stephen seemed to have shaken off his pursuer.
Stephen could see ‘Bulldogs, to his left, rounding up boys outside the covered-walkway, alongside the kitchen, and science laboratory.
Stephen thought the whole block should have been called the laboratory wing since the concoctions that cook made, with added ash, could well be termed experiments.
He turned right and ran like the wind towards the wall and touched it with his hand, he was home, and he was safe. He watched and waited as others gained the safety of the wall and by touching the stone became magically immune to the clutches of the ‘Bulldogs’.
He was breathless and scanned the floodlit playground to see how many ‘Bulldogs’ had been created in that last charge and how many of his classmates or boys from his dormitory had been caught. Others were not so fortunate; he saw Danny Fearn go; Dunphy was nabbed; Fitzwilliam-Lay and Comyn caught; all from his dormitory. The honour of his dormitory was at stake; he was the last free member that he could see.
For the boys, it was like being in a fighter squadron, during the Second World War, helplessly watching to see those who made it back, trying desperately to survive against all odds, regretting the loss of those that did not make it.
The playground was the English Channel, the boys the fighters and the ‘Bulldogs’, were the deadly Messerschmitt 109s of the German Luftwaffe. Luckily, this was a game and all would be well at the end of it.

The ‘Bulldogs’ numbered eight, their quarry maybe forty.

This was where the game got interesting, who would survive, who would make it past, and who would be caught? Tension mounted in both camps, the ‘Bulldogs’ could sense victory, the ‘runners’ felt only desperation.
This charge was where the critical mass was changed. If each of the eight caught more than one person, the ‘Bulldogs’ would outnumber the runners. It would be impossible to get through the enlarged ‘Bulldog’ line. If the bulldogs only caught one person each, the game might last a little longer but not much.
Everyone wanted to be the last caught, becoming the winner and the first bulldog of the next game.
The boys played the game at every available opportunity during the winter terms in the dark, it added to the atmosphere. Running under the arc-lights that lit up the playground, made them feel as if they were prisoners escaping. The walls helped with that deceit.
He heard the familiar chant, “One, two, three; go!”
All the runners on the wall shouted as bravely as they could, but they knew that they might be caught. Then, they were off, several of the boys dashed past Stephen and sidestepped past the ‘Bulldogs’; one to the left, and one to the right. They were both flight of foot and flew past, fooling the ‘Bulldogs’ over the direction they were going to take. Two or three others, cautiously moved forward and then returned to the wall, stretching out their hands to make contact and seal their safety. You could only do this in the first ten seconds of the game.
Stephen ran, then, stopped. Somebody hurtled past the ‘Bulldog’ in front of him and the ‘Bulldog’ turned and expertly tagged the boy who had tried to run past him. There would be no discussion over whether he had been caught or not. The boys looked at each other, the ‘Bulldog’ smiled with satisfaction, the other boy sighed with frustration.
Quickly, they joined the others, ‘Bulldogs’ together. It was just a momentary feeling of rivalry, swiftly replaced by the knowledge that they were, from then, part of the team. Stephen took advantage of the momentary distraction and slipped around the other side, narrowly missing colliding with another ‘Bulldog’. Stephen could hear heavy footsteps behind him, so he sped up, to increase the distance between him and his pursuer.
He ended up zigzagging past, first one and, then, a second bulldog, one to the left and one to the right. He slalomed past them both and still he sensed the footsteps crashing ever closer towards him, heard the thump of rubber on tarmac getting nearer. The footsteps neared.
“Out of the way you shrimp,” hissed Hollister angrily from behind him.
Stephen almost felt his breath on the back of his neck.
It was definitely Hollister’s footsteps. Stephen recognised the sound of him running; it was a lolloping gait, thunderous due to his weight.
The only thing blocking Stephen from the classroom wall at the other end of the playground was an uncertain ‘Bulldog’.
That last ‘Bulldog’ stood stationary, feet firmly planted, knees bent legs apart, like a goalie defending a penalty or a farmer frozen at his tractor wheel. He was intent on being able to move either way and block any boy who dared to try and get past him. It would be easy for Stephen to veer off and he reckoned few ‘Bulldogs’ would get in Hollister’s way, he would make it after all; everything would be all right.
Suddenly, he felt a violent shove in the middle of his back, which made him lose his balance.
The next thing he knew, he was hurtling forward.
Unable to save himself, Stephen fell so that he landed at the feet of the stationary ‘Bulldog’.
Hollister had deliberately pushed him over, in front of the ‘Bulldog’, so that he could get away. Stephen put his hands out in front of him and managed to break his fall, landing heavily on his knees, all the same, and getting scratched hands from scraping them on the tarmac.
The ‘Bulldog’ picked him up and he recognised him as ‘Soupy’ Campbell-Lamerton. There was a soup brand, Campbell’s so anyone with a long complicated name was destined to be called ‘Soupy Campbell-Lamerton’, or Soupy for short.
“Are you all right Inglis?” asked Ian Campbell-Lamerton, concern in his voice. He took a firm hold of Stephen’s arm and lifted him off the floor.
“I think so, thanks, Soupy,” he replied rubbing his knees and looking around for any sign of Hollister, but like a spectre he had disappeared from sight. It was typical of Hollister, he had been invisible throughout the game and never got caught; he sacrificed others to escape capture.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” asked Soupy kindly, taking Stephen away from his search of the playground.
“As far as I can tell, I think someone pushed me over on purpose!” he complained indignantly.
“Really,” Soupy looked askance, he could not credit it but then he did not understand the bully and his methods. He was a decent chap and expected everyone else to be and he was generally right.
Stephen’s hands were grazed, but only superficially. There was no blood, just white where the skin had been scrapped off. His hands were a different matter, blood had broken through, and there were bits of grit in the palms.
“You’d better wash those hands of yours or they might get infected.”
“I’ll be all right.”
“Didn’t you hear what happened to Fitzpatrick last year? He cut his hand in the playground and it got infected. The whole arm blew up, it was like he had an inflated washing up glove for a hand. They had to drain his whole arm before the infection got to the rest of his body.
Ask him about it.”
“I’ll go and wash,” Stephen reluctantly agreed. Around him, boys still careered around and he glanced at Hollister.
He had heard the story of Fitzpatrick and the Swiss Army knife. The
Children had been playing ‘Harry Houdini’ after watching the film with Tony Curtis acting the part of the famous escapologist.
The boys had decided they would be escapologists too and had found some string and rope to tie each other up with. They had all managed to escape by either tensing their hands while they were tied up or by moving their hands. Subsequent games became harder as the escapologists found their hands bound tighter.
Fitzpatrick had brought in a Swiss Army knife, a souvenir from a ski-ing holiday and had secreted it his shorts pocket.
To get out of his bonds before the others returned, he tried to saw the rope with the blade. Being bound meant he very quickly cut himself. He ignored the cut and it reopened on several occasions before becoming infected. The whole arm had become swollen and that infection threatened to spread throughout his body and ended up having to be syringed. Stephen was far too sensible to let time lapse without receiving treatment.
As Stephen reached the back door, all the boys who were going to make it home, reached the wall. Hollister glanced over from the middle of the group and smiled at Stephen. Stephen could see the hatred in that gesture and pushed the door open, walking into the warmth of the building. There was a small flight of steps to negotiate, which took him to the landing where the corridor started. Instead of turning right and climbing the stone steps, he turned left and walked along the long corridor, past the table tennis room and along to the new classes where the pitch and putt lawn started. To the left, just before the ‘Tuck-Box Room’, was the one of the bathrooms; it contained china sinks, urinals and lavatory cubicles.
Stephen walked through the door and closed it behind him. To his left, there were four sinks and four sinks on the opposite side of the room, on the far wall, attached halfway up that wall, between the two set of sinks was a roller towel for drying your hands. To the right, down a step and in another room were the urinals and toilet stalls.
Gently, he took a bar of soap off the side of the basin, ran the hot tap and soaped his scraped hands, sliding the bar over the grazes before tossing the bar over and over in his grip to produce a thick lather. He left the tap running, shuddering due to the pain, as he rinsed off the soap under the piping hot water.
Stephen knew about closing the pores, so he turned off the hot tap and ran his hands under the cold. The pipes were quite close together so the water ran warm long enough for him to rinse his hands. His mother had been a nurse for a short while before she married and she had told him that he should run his fingers under cold water for a full minute to reduce the swelling and help with the pain.
Dutifully, he ran the tap even longer until freezing water came from the spout. He let the ice-cold water run over his damaged finger to cleanse it and to numb it. After the allotted time, he shook his hands vigorously before drying them both, on the cotton roller towel that hung from a bracket attached to the wall between the basins. It was Wednesday and his bath night.
Some boys had their bath nights on a Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday; he was in the Monday, Wednesday, and Friday group. He looked forward to his bath night. It was a chance to wash his hair and feel really clean. The boys showered every day after sport and the bath was an indulgence, warm water and kind words from Mrs. Holyland, the seventy-year-old matron. Stephen decided to go up early and have his bath. After drying his hands, he left the washroom, passing the noise in the table-tennis room; he slowly climbed the stairs up to his dormitory. He felt alone, there was nothing he could do to stand up to Hollister; he was just not strong enough.
Hollister was twice his size, he had twice as many friends, and he was nasty with it. You did not want to cross Hollister; he would make you suffer more than before. There was no way anyone would ever help him to take on Hollister; it would be considered suicide. Hollister was feared and no one wanted to take him on. He would make any of Stephen’s allies’ lives as miserable as he could; it was not worth it. Stephen was small for his age; and thin, his mother had been petite and he had inherited her frame. Later, he might fill-out and sprout-up but, at present, he had to admit, he looked a little weedy. He could not help being ‘wet’.
It was not his fault that he was not built for rugby or soccer; he just did not have the beefiness of a forward and he lacked the long legs and agility of a back. He had only played tennis at home, not exactly a team-sport. Riding along the sand dunes had been fun but hardly prepared him for team sports.
Holding onto the metal hand rail, he shuffled up the stairs, his hands and knees were no longer sore but he did not feel like bounding up the stairs as everyone else normally did, he preferred to ascend the stairs, miserably, making every step an obstacle that must be conquered, the focus soothed his misery.
He would let the other boys charge happily up to bed, he was enjoying mopping and feeling sorry for himself far too much to care if they did. On the first floor landing, there were the older boys’ dormitories, arranged in an L-shape, the right angle of which formed the stairwell Stephen was in.
If he turned left from the landing and walked down the corridor, there were two more dormitories to the right and straight down the corridor, directly ahead of him, at the end, was Mr. Stone’s room, and beyond his room was another dormitory. In those three dormitories, boys were chatting before bedtime.
If he wanted to, Stephen could go and see Mr. Stone but someone might see him and might sneak to Hollister. He could leave a note perhaps, but he had no paper and pencil, he would have to go back downstairs and cadge some off one of the children playing cards or chess, in the classroom, next to the table tennis room. He did not fancy going back downstairs again. He could turn right, along the corridor, instead and then right again because that corridor had four dormitories and the laundry room.
Sally Vanstone, the Junior Matron, might be there, ironing socks and shirts. He had seen her in there once when another boy had gone to fetch her for a duty. She might listen to him, she was pretty and approachable, Sally always asked the boys how they were getting on and she had a wonderfully warm smile. Stephen could talk to her but he did not think she could offer anything more than a sympathetic ear and perhaps a hug, which would be nice, but would not solve anything.
Further along the corridor, on the left, was the door that opened outwards and behind it was the stone spiral staircase that led up to the Bell tower. There was still a bell rope attached that was clipped to the stone staircase by metal clips. He could investigate whether the bats really did come from there but he did not want to go anywhere without someone else. Everyone was downstairs, either outside still playing ‘Bulldog’ or in the table-tennis room.
The final alternative was to turn right, and then left, then turn right again, and walk through the fire door, which led to the stone staircase with the marble staircase. Ahead of him would be the Bursar’s Office and below him the marble floor outside the refectory. The children’s refectory was below him. The master’s refectory was under Hugh Watts’s study.
By following the stone balusters along to where they switched to the left outside the Bursar’s Office, he could continue along the gallery above that marble staircase, running his hand over the top of the smooth stone balustrades, following that leg, reaching the bend and moving along the vertical until he came to the landing. By turning right, he would find himself in wooden wainscoted corridor, which was the centre of the staff accommodation. There were wooden floors and wooden panelled walls, only the ceiling was
plaster, painted white, but in the dim light of the corridor, it looked grey. From there, he had a choice, the staff room straight ahead; at the head of the stone steps was one option. He could march straight in and talk to a master-on-duty.
Yet another option would be to walk forward towards the staff room but turn left, which would take him deeper down the dim corridor that led to Derek Henderson’s quarters. If he wanted to talk, he could have knocked on the first door to his left. That was Mr. Watts’s study but it was more than likely that he was down at Clock House having his supper with his family.

A third option presented itself to Stephen. Further along the corridor was the medical room or sanatorium and up a flight of stairs was Mr. Henderson’s private accommodation, a sitting room where a fire always roared in winter and beyond that was the library on the right and further along the corridor, still, there were several staff bedrooms used by those masters on night duty.
Like many in the house, it was a very long corridor. He could go and talk to Mr. Henderson and tell him about Hollister teasing him and pushing him over in the backyard playground. Alternatively, he could go to the library, opposite Mr. Henderson’s drawing room, switch on the light and select a book, from one of the dozens of shelves, to take back to his room.
He had finished and reread all the stories in ‘The Arabian Nights’ so he needed a new book to read before ‘lights-out’. There was access to the library at any time before lights-out. He had often gone in and seen scholarship boys pouring over newspapers or history books. He could start ‘Moonfleet’ or ‘Swallows and Amazons’ or ‘The Children of the New Forest’ that Crossthwaite-Eyre liked.
In the end, Stephen chose to carry on up the stairs to his dormitory and to tell no one what had happened. Sometimes doing absolutely nothing was the best course of action.
Silence was better than talking on that particular occasion, it would allow him to reflect and gather his thoughts. He felt despondent and that made him feel weary; he was too tired to fight and too tired to talk. Stephen was tired, tired and fed-up. At the top of the stairs, he heard happy voices.
He walked along the corridor to the bathroom on his left. Bright light flooded into the corridor like sunshine. Conversations and laughter emanated from inside. Stephen felt his spirits lift. He peered in to see boys chatting and Mrs. Holyland fussing around them, in between drawing baths, pulling plugs, and drying hair; she was always surrounded by a constant flurry of activity. She was a sweet-tempered lady and she showed all the boys affection, talking to them as if they were all grown-ups.
Mrs. Holyland, suddenly, spun on her heal to face him, whether she was motivated by a sixth sense or alerted by the sudden shift of a boy’s eyes in Stephen direction, it was difficult to tell. What was true was that she was hawk-eyed and she had developed a sixth sense with all her charges. She knew what the children were thinking before they even thought it.
“Hello, Stephen,” she said kindly, neatly folding a boy’s towel and holding it out for him to take with a whispered ‘thank you’ and smiling at both boys. “It’s your bath night, tonight, fetch your towel and I’ll wash your hair for you, if you like.”
“Oh, yes, please, Matron, thank you,” he replied.
It was a real treat to have your hair washed by matron; she was normally too busy, though she always ensured your hair was dry before you changed into your pyjamas. Stephen turned around and walked down towards his dormitory at the end of the corridor, suppressing the urge to skip. For the first time that day, he felt happy, truly happy.

All his clothes were in the laundry basket in no time, the dormitory was deserted. The room seemed so silent and strange compared to the vibrant activity of the bathroom only a few yards away. It was eerily quiet and only lit by the table-lamp on the chest of drawers where they kept their clothes.
There was only one other light, in the middle of the ceiling but that was only put on while everyone changed for bed, the rest of the dormitory would not be up for half-an-hour. He wrapped a towel around his waist and then pulled his dressing gown on, tying the rope belt around his torso and knotting it securely before slipping on his slippers and, shuffling off excitedly; he made his way swiftly down the corridor.
Ahead of him, the light of the bathroom was like the light of a sunny beach and he skidded along the bare dark floorboards of the dimly lit corridor moving towards the glow. A drawn bath was waiting for him and Mrs. Holyland indicated that he should take the one in the middle. The bath was not deep but it was warm. He quickly plunged his head under the water to get his hair wet, ready for washing.
Stephen was thinking about his mother washing his hair and drying it when he returned home at the start of the Easter holidays. That would be bliss; he could imagine it even now, as he prepared for Mrs. Holyland’s ‘Indian Head Massage Treatment’. Mrs. Holyland came over with a large plastic bottle of shampoo. She rubbed the shampoo into his scalp with the tips of her fingers just like a professional hairdresser or barber would do.

Stephen knew about having a professional hair wash because his father had taken him to the barbers every time he needed a haircut and on occasions when his father wanted to be spoilt by a shave. Stephen had watched the ritual imagining that he, too, would be having a similar experience when he was older. It started with a hair wash and a vigorous head massage just like the one he was being given by Mrs. Holyland.
He wanted to make sure that he remembered the details of his father’s haircuts so that he would know exactly how to behave. He would be a generous tipper like his father, he enjoyed that moment best, when the barber looked at the large coin in his hand and smiled happily, thanking his father profusely. Stephen had been having his haircut by the barber from the age of six and both his father and he always had their hair washed despite having washed it in the shower the same morning.
It was a ritual and Mrs. Holyland’s special hair wash was a ritual too, a comfortable routine, which, at the same time, connected Stephen to home. He had enjoyed the hair wash from Mrs. Holyland but all too soon, it was time to rinse his hair, wash and pull the plug out of the plug hole.
Standing on the bath mat, as he dried himself, he noticed the scratches on his knees and the grazes on his hands. He had forgotten about Hollister pushing him over until as he dried himself but it no longer seemed to matter to him. Nothing Hollister did could dispel that thought. He could have run down the bell tower steps, the spiral staircase was a designated fire escape, so he could have burst out into the night and away from the school and from the relentless weight of Hollister’s spitefulness, but then he would have missed Mrs. Holyland’s affectionate care.
Once Stephen was dry and had his dressing gown wrapped around him, he queued up with the other boys in front of the stool on which
Mrs. Holyland sat. Mrs. Holyland had a nifty trick for getting the boys’ hair dry, which the boys enjoyed. Stephen did not have long to wait; there were only two boys ahead of him.
Mrs. Holyland dispatched them quickly, rubbing their hair, while singing her song. Next, it was Stephen’s turn and he stood patiently in front of her, handing over his towel. She shook the towel and then taking both ends, she draped it over Stephen’s head.
Then, she took a deep breath took up the ends of the towel again, and with one smooth rhythmic action, she pulled the towel backwards and forwards over Stephen’s head, her hands moving like the seat of a see saw, up and down.
While this was going on, she sang a song:
“I know where, I’m going,
And who’s going with me,
And I know where I’m going,
And who’s going with me,
And I know who I love,
And it’s Stephen Herbert Inglis.”
She repeated the refrain as she seesawed the towel back and forward, her hands hovering over his shoulders, gripping the towel near his head. Whipping off the towel, exposing his dry hair and his hot head; she planted a kiss on Stephen’s lips; Stephen felt the contact and the brush of her grey moustache. All the other boys giggled and Mrs. Holyland pulled Stephen towards her and hugged him to show that it was all in fun. Despite himself, Stephen giggled too. She always included the boys’ middle names much to their embarrassment even when some of them were a mouthful.
“Off you go, young man,” she said gently handing back the towel, which he folded neatly to impress her, “next.”
With the handing back of the towel, and the knowledge that you were merely one in a line, the magic was broken but the moment was not ruined. Stephen would snuggle up for sleep subconsciously grateful for the affection she had shown him. It was not a hug from his mother but it would do very nicely as a substitute.
Stephen returned to the room and slipped on his pyjama bottoms, slipped off his dressing gown, putting it on the bed and then grabbed his pyjama top from under the pillow, put it on and buttoned it up. He hung up his dressing gown on the hook next to his bed and fetched The Arabian Knights from his clothes drawer. Before the others arrived, he had ten glorious minutes fully immersed in the story of Aladdin and his lamp, his favourite.
The rest of the dormitory trickled into the room, ignoring Stephen not out of rudeness but knowing he was such an avid reader. Some chatted in whispers, others changed in silence.
They all went to brush their teeth and just before the dormitory prefect came to turn out the lights, Pip warned him and Stephen went to brush his teeth. After lights-out, Hollister continued to tease Stephen and the others told him to leave Stephen alone.

Hollister ignored their pleas and entreaties. Again, he called Stephen ‘wet’ and accused the people who dared to stand-up to him of being ‘wets as well’. The others kept silent in the hope that if he was not provoked he might run out of steam.
Fortunately, Mr. Watts was on duty and before the boys could hear his brown brogues creak on the floorboards, he snapped on the light.
“What’s going on here?” he asked. His enquiry was met with silence.
He peered over his bifocals at each and every bed; his mouth was set in an accusatory pout, asking each boy whether they were guilty by way, not of words, but with facial expression, looking at each one in turn as they rubbed their eyes and waited for their eyesight to become adjusted to the light.
“Hush, hush, whisper who dares; Christopher Robins is saying his prayers,” Mr. Watts sang in his usual poetic manner, he emphasised every word and took his time to enunciate every syllable like a gourmet chewing over a particularly delicious piece of prime Scottish steak. He savoured the recitation.
No one dared, to speak, Hollister and Dickie Sainz pretended to be asleep. There was an uncomfortable silence, which lasted for a whole minute, it seemed like an eternity.
“I was talking,” Fitzpatrick admitted.
“Right,” the master announced, “Fitzpatrick always owns up, but it takes two to talk, so I want to see everyone, except Fitzpatrick, in my study tomorrow morning.”
“I was talking too,” admitted Crossthwaite-Eyre bravely, he was the most courageous in the dormitory, and always asked Hollister to leave Stephen alone when the others had kept quiet or even joined in on some occasions.
Crossthwaite-Eyre was the best friend anyone could have, courageous, fair-minded, and totally loyal. Only those who met his criteria became his friends and you could not wish for a better one. He had high standards but once you had proven yourself worthy, he became the best friend in the world.
Crossthwaite-Eyre was kind and generous, not with tuck from his tuck box, he had none, but with his time and the enthusiasm he had for any activity. He would try anything once and he always saw the funny side of things. He also had tenacity and courage.
He had completed the school cross-country race in pouring sleet, the previous term, despite a stitch, which made him stop and resulted in him coming in last. He had fought the pain and finished the course, gaining the respect of all the boys. He was tenacious and never gave up, great qualities, admired by all his friends.
“Right, I’ll see you two, although I am sure I heard a great deal more voices than these two but at least they had the courage to own up, unlike some people who cannot take responsibility for their actions. I am encouraged by the former and disappointed in the latter.”
“Sir, may I speak?” asked Crossthwaite-Eyre so humbly and politely that although Mr. Watts wanted to turn off the light and leave, he had to let plucky Pip have his say.

“Of course, Crossthwaite-Eyre,” Mr. Watts said kindly. He was fond of Pip Crossthwaite-Eyre and his honest approach to life. “Tell me what’s on your mind but keep it short, you all need your sleep.”
“Fitzpatrick and I were only asking Hollister to leave Stephen alone, he was teasing him.”
“Hollister is asleep.”
“I think he’s faking sir, he was just teasing Stephen.”
“Is this true Stephen?”
“Yes, sir,” stammered Stephen nervously.
He realised that his words had condemned him to further torment but he could not lie to a teacher or ignore Crossthwaite-Eyre’s valour in speaking up.
“Right,” decided Mr. Watts, “I will see Hollister and Stephen too, so we can discuss this bullying. I want the four of you waiting outside my study in the morning. I am teaching ‘Three Bee’ Latin, so I may be delayed, but you will wait for me in the corridor. Is that clear?”
Stephen mumbled, “Yes Sir, thank you, Sir.”
“Thank you Stephen, did you others understand?”
“Yes, sir,” Fitzpatrick piped up more loudly.
“Yes, sir,” growled Hollister through gritted teeth.
Mr. Watts ignored the tone thinking it was frustration not anger. The dormitory knew that it was not petulance but real ire. The boys all knew people would pay for their honesty and for speaking out. Hollister was peeved and everyone else would suffer, maybe not now, but eventually.
Like the Mounties; the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; Hollister ‘always got his man’; always got his revenge; always ensured everyone was paid back in some fiendish way. That was his skill. He was a consummate bully, practised and efficient; he had perfected his ability to bully until it was almost an art from.
“Right goodnight to you all, no more talking after lights-out or I will have quite a queue of boys waiting to be beaten outside my study.”
No one dared speak, Mr. Watts’ beatings were legendary, and everyone spoke of the pain they inflicted. Stephen, Hollister, Crossthwaite-Eyre, and Fitzpatrick had a fitful sleep that night and no one said another word once Mr. Watts had switched off the light and closed the door.









Chapter Three – Lessons

After mathematics, Stephen was looking forward to studying some geography. He found the work they were doing in mathematics, extremely easy because he knew his tables off by heart and his mother had taught him mental arithmetic, including number matches, which he had learnt off by heart too.

Stephen knew all the combinations of numbers that made a number and had learnt them up to fifty. He knew number combinations like 8 and 5, 7 and 6, 9 and 4, made 13. He knew these number facts off-by-heart. Therefore 13 minus 7, was 6. Consequently, he could do his sums quickly in his head and not on his fingers, so he was top of the class.

In geography, the class was reading from a textbook about fishing.
They had learnt about the fishing area, ‘Dogger Bank’. During the
17th century, English fishermen developed the Dogger, an early type of sailing trawler, commonly operated in the North Sea.

The teacher told the boys that ‘The Dogger’ took its name from the Dutch word ‘dogger’, meaning a fishing vessel which tows a trawl. Dutch trawling boats were common in the North Sea, the English fishermen adopted and copied the design and the word ‘dogger’ was later given to the area where they often fished with those types of vessels. The area became known as the Dogger Bank.

The boys had also marked fishing ports on the east coast of England, pinpointing towns like Berwick-on-Tyne, Great Yarmouth, Grimsby, Hartlepool, Hull, Lowestoft, Scarborough, Skegness, Tynemouth and Whitby. They had drawn pictures of cod, catfish, skate, rays, plaice and haddock. Stephen imagined being on the deck that was illustrated by a colour print, fishermen dressed in yellow oilskins and hats on a clear sunny day hauling a huge catch into the back of the boat. No mention was made of the terrible storms fishermen endured. It all seemed rather jolly work; the fishermen on the cover of the textbook smiled and the skies were blue and clear of cloud.
The teacher explained the different methods of fishing, including the use of drift nets and different types of trawling. The class wrote some notes about the different methods of fishing and then illustrated them with diagrams. The main teaching was the teacher talk at the beginning of the lesson; the children were like sponges, soaking up stories and fascinating facts.

That was why Stephen liked the subject. Write a paragraph or two and then draw a picture and label it with boxes and lines drawn with a ruler. What could be simpler?

The drift net was easy to do, two triangles with a square on top to represent the hull and cabin of the two boats sailing towards the viewer. Between them, he drew three rectangles, the three nets that were traditionally strung between the two boats, which were punctuated by floats. Stephen went on to draw a series of lines, with a ruler, at 45 degrees to the left and at 135 degrees to the right, which interlocked to from the netting. Three labels were needed, boat, float, and net, simple. A neat pen script was used for the annotation, a sharp pencil for the diagram.

Added to the joy of drawing and pride in his draftsmanship, he enjoyed annotating the diagrams with his neat handwriting and he relished the precision needed when interpreting the information. He was always given permission by the teacher to colour the boats on the understanding that they would be coloured using pencils, felt tip use was strictly forbidden because they bled on to the previous or following page.

Stephen loved using his ‘Caran d’Ache’ colour pencils. His mother had ensured he had the biggest set in the class, forty-eight pencils with an amazing array of shades. It was only a shame that the fishing boats were not more colourful. His mother had also told him about the fact that ‘karandash’ was Russian for pencil. Stephen dared not tell his classmates and compatriots in case they thought he was showing off. It would have been more humiliation than he could have mentally borne to be called ‘a clever clogs’, or worse ‘a know-it-all’, or worst of all ‘a boffin’. To Stephen this information was an interesting fact but what was knowledge compared to popularity, particularly for Stephen such an obvious outsider.
His father had once said to his mother, “Ignorance is bliss!”

For the first time Stephen realised what his father meant. Being liked was blissful and if that meant hiding your intelligence, then he could be as ignorant as they wanted him to be. In this kingdom, he would follow the customs and the rules. He would reflect their behaviour in his. Imitation was the sincerest form of flattery and he would flatter them, copy them and mirror them and try to be them, so that they would recognise him as one of them.

Hinchcliffe used to read them Rosemary Sutcliffe as a treat on a
Friday and the novel he had chosen was ‘Outcast’. It was about a child, Beric, who was thrown out of his village after a bad harvest was linked to his presence and the village Druid exiled him from his tribe.
He was taken and sold as a slave. Harry

It was not a happy tale and seemed to dwell too much on Beric’s struggle for acceptance. It was too close to Stephen’s experience to make comfortable reading. Beric went from crisis to crisis, he was a total outcast. Stephen did not want to be one of those, an outsider, ostracised and unable to find acceptance anywhere, friendless and alone.

He had preferred the ‘Eagle of the Ninth’ for its simplicity and its focus on the Roman legions and the Centurions and Standard Bearers. Harry
That was exciting. ‘Outcast’ had made him feel decidedly uncomfortable, he did not want to be the outcast member of the group; he just wanted to be left alone, get an education, and then, sooner rather than later, get home to his mother and father. Harry

His mother was so clever, knowing that karandash was Russian and knowing about the White Russians who had gone to Paris and who were in a hurry, shouting ‘bistra’ to the waiters, Russian for ‘hurry-up’ because they were going to the theatre. The waiters mimicked the Russians and that was how the word ‘Bistro’ came about for a restaurant where you could have a quick meal. He longed to share his knowledge but although his friends were obsessed with Russians, it was their ‘T-64’ tanks and their ‘MiG-27’ fighter jets or the ‘Tupolev Tu-95, Bear, spy planes’ that interested them or the Chieftain battle-tanks and Lightning strike-jets that protected the realm.
Next, he drew the trawler, a bit more complicated with its sloping back, a succession of triangles, rectangles and more triangles with the net trailing behind the boat, with the floats and boards and steel wire to keep the sack of the net open. The diagram offered the opportunity to use lots of colours, steel grey or perhaps charcoal for the steel, definitely a rich dark brown for the two boards and a bright red or orange for the floats that kept the net’s mouth open. Harry

Stephen chose to draw a side view of the boat, its triangular bow, its rectangular hull, its slanting stern, another triangle but this time the hypotenuse would be facing backwards and upwards at the stern, as opposed to the right angle triangle at the front where the hypotenuse faced forward and downwards to the line that was the sea. How he loved the pencil and ruler and its exact precision, how it conjured up the spectacle of a fishing boat, or a house, or whatever he wanted. If only he could conjure up friends so easily.

At the end of the lesson, the bell rang an electronic buzz from a box located above their heads. It was time for the miscreants to go and see Mr. Watts.

They could not have their milk and biscuits before going to see him, but they followed everyone to the marble hall where the wooden tables outside the refectory were laid with half-gallon steel jugs full of fresh milk supplied by the local dairy. When that ran out, under the table, there were full crates of milk in pint bottles, which the boys were allowed to open themselves. Harry

They had very little supervision at break and it was a testament to their maturity and independence that there were few spillages or accidents involving people bumping into each other. The children were also very adult in their sharing of the plates of digestive biscuits. Everyone took only their fair share of two biscuits.

Three hundred biscuits were put out for one hundred and fifty boys and there was never a case of shortage. Sometimes there were left overs, which would be taken to the master’s common room for them to eat with their cheese after their evening meal, but no one was ever short-changed. It was not in the boys’ nature to cheat by taking more than two, they had a high regard for fairness. Harry
The three friends walked slowly up the marble staircase three abreast, Hollister behind. No one spoke at all. At the top of the stairs each boy glanced into the staff room, which lay straight ahead, but Mr. Watts was not there. They turned left into the panelled corridor that led to Mr. Henderson’s apartment and in the panelling on the left was the door to Mr. Watts’s study, the only thing that distinguished it from the dark stained panels was the door knob protruding from one of the horizontal cross beam of the wainscoting.

Stephen was ushered to the front of the line and the other boys made sure Hollister was separated from him by their own bodies. Hollister was too angry to speak. Stephen reckoned that he was thinking of excuses to give so that he would not be beaten. Stephen wondered how much he should tell. He had been victimised for most of the time that he had been at school. It was not the terrible words; it was the relentlessness of the teasing, day after day, night after night. He was deep in thought when Mr. Watts passed by, walking along the corridor before opening his door. One of the boys was hoping that he had forgotten and had not noticed them standing there. Harry

When he had seen Watts walk by, he had hoped he would continue to the Henderson wing to chat to the other Headmaster. Unfortunately, at the last minute he turned and swung the door into his room so that light flooded into the dimly lit area. He turned around at the doorway to address the four boys.

“Come in, please, Stephen, the rest of you wait outside for a moment,” Mr. Watts said softly; he was almost whispering. Harry

Stephen walked into the room. It was large room; the size of his longue in Dubai and that was big. There were two windows overlooking the back of the house affording views of a fountain. Harry
If you stood close to the window you could see the tennis courts, where Sally Vanstone and Simon Northcote Green would play tennis while the whole school watched in the summer.

Beyond that there was a cricket pitch that ran down to fields that disappeared into the horizon where Hugh Watts would try and spread some of his magic to the talented boys and those with butter fingers, too. Harry
Between the two windows, there was a desk, on which sat a grey, manual, typewriter, the sort a secretary or clerk would use in an office. The desk itself was a classic Victorian wooden bureau and had four drawers on either side, and these supported the middle drawers and the desktop that was covered in leather. The green leather had a gold border around it, which made it look very expensive and the leather shone from years of polish and tender buffing with a cloth. It was an exquisite piece of Victorian furniture. The carpet was a light grey but a colourful, red rug, with Persian patterning, lay in front of the fireplace, to his right. In front of the window, there was an armchair and opposite the fireplace was a sofa both of these were covered in floral print covers.

Stephen was offered a seat on the sofa as Mr. Watts settled down in the armchair underneath the window. Stephen could not resist the temptation to turn around for a quick glance over his shoulder at the famous cricket bat. The bat seemed to take up most of the wall and was hung diagonally, its handle and body at thirty degrees to the ground. It was hung from thick string wound around the two picture hooks attached to the picture rail that ran around the room. One piece held the cane handle, the other, looped like a hangman’s noose, held the blade and reverse. Harry

Stephen was not sure if it was made of white willow like normal bats as it was so huge and so dark and he was not sure that linseed oil alone would turn willow wood that dark. Stephen’s bat was a size Number One and was the colour of cream; the wall-hung bat was the colour of dark runny honey, and on it, were the signatures of the Somerset Cricket team from 1952. The Headmaster had been captain of the team and had been well known as a left-handed, middle-order, batsman and leg-break bowler who scored an impressive amount of runs. Hugh Watts had played first-class cricket for Somerset as an amateur player before and after the Second World War. He had also played for Cambridge University in 1947, winning a blue by playing in the annual Varsity match. Stephen’s father followed cricket, too, so he knew a little about the game and his father had told him all about Mr. Watts’s illustrious cricket career. Harry

Stephen was understandably nervous in front of his headmaster and such an accomplished sportsman, but Mr. Watts put him at ease.
Before long Stephen had told him everything and he was feeling a lot better for it. Mr. Watts listened attentively, only nodding and asking pertinent questions where necessary. Stephen noticed that Mr. Watts’s face was flushing with subdued anger.

Stephen knew that that anger was directed at what Hollister had done and what had been done to him. Bullying in any form was not tolerated at the school. No society, especially theirs, could condone or accept others taking advantage of the weakest. Like any community, there was an implicit understanding that everyone would accept one another and tolerate each other no matter what their circumstances or background. He was dismissed, then, Crossthwaite-Eyre and Fitzpatrick were summoned. They, too, were offered the sofa and interrogated by the Head. Finally, they were dismissed and with five minutes until the end of break, Hollister was summoned into the study.

“I think I want to teach you a lesson,” said Mr. Watts as they boys closed the door behind them.

The boys hurried down the stairs to grab a glass of milk and a biscuit before the bell went and to tell Stephen. Both of them were relieved to escape a beating and keen to tell Stephen that Hollister was in deep trouble. Meanwhile, Hollister stood with the door behind him. The study was silent except for the ticking of a mantle clock. He looked at the desk sitting between the two windows and his eyes focused on the top-right hand drawer; he was not a stranger to being beaten by the bat. Hollister was not offered a seat on the sofa. Harry

Mr. Watts spoke to him, asking him, quietly, what he had done and why he had done it, gently encouraging Hollister to reflect on his actions. After that, he patiently pointed out the reason for the beating and the behaviour expected afterwards. Once the lecture was over, Mr. Watts walked over to the desk and opened the top right-hand drawer. The drawer was empty save for a nine-inch cricket bat. It had a thin handle of two inches, which allowed it to be gripped easily; black cotton had been wound about it, to make a grip, so that it would not slip out of the hand. On the front of the bat was a silver shield with ‘M.C.C.’ engraved in the middle. The bat was a gift from the ‘Marylebone Cricket Club’, the policing body of cricket. They set the rules and kept the game going at Lord’s cricket ground. Harry
None of that was going to help Hollister in his current predicament.

He was going to face the full force of the blade. He could remember the pain from his last beating. That had been for talking after lights out in his first term. It had been the first and last time he was punished for talking after lights-out. After the pain of the first beating, he had been determined not to suffer the humiliation and misery again.

“Can you walk to the window, pull your trousers down, and put your hands on your knees?” Mr. Watts requested in his calm quite tone. He sounded like a doctor who was asking a patient to cough while she examined his chest. Hollister was not expected to reply; he was expected, simply, to comply. It had been a rhetorical question and Hollister knew that no amount of rhetoric would save him from the punishment that deep down he knew he truly deserved. Harry

Without saying a word, Hollister stood in front of the armchair, undid the snake belt that held up his trousers, popped the buttons that kept up his shorts and let them slide over his legs to the ground. He placed his hands on his knees and this action made him bend over slightly. Harry

Hollister heard the movement of leather soles over floorboards only partially protected by the thick rug and thin carpet; the sound was only slightly muffled as the old wood creaked with every movement. He heard the master turn the handle and the click as the mortise and lock joined. Harry

The door was firmly shut and Hollister could sense the master standing by the door. He listened for the sound of breathing; it was silent. Normally, the room was full of music of some sort, classical concertos or piano music, Bach, Beethoven, Holst, Mozart, and Straus.

On that morning, while Watts stood at the door, Hollister could not even hear a floorboard creak. There was again that ominous and unsettling silence broken only by the mantle clock on the shelf above the fire ticking noisily. Then, the charge started. He could feel the floorboards bounce as the master bounded across the room in three leaps. The boards groaned as Watts sped towards him. It was the most awful sound that he could hear; it was a harbinger of agony, the alarm bell before the fire. Harry
Hollister felt the pain of the flat blade on his backside only seconds after he heard the thwack of willow against cotton underpants. This bat was definitely made of willow, being very tough and shock-resistant, which was not the case as far as Hollister’ bottom was concerned. Harry

There was no contest, between unyielding wood and soft ‘gluteus maximus’ or fleshy buttocks. The pain was indescribable, like the heat of an iron burning into flesh. He felt the nerves explode with pain and felt the fire, the sensation of burning agony spread down his legs and up his torso. He felt like crying out but bit his lip. Such an outburst would not be tolerated. Crying was strictly forbidden. If he proved to be lucky, the beating would entail only four strokes, if he cried out or ‘blubbed’, he could expect another two, to make ‘six of the best’. Harry

If he wanted a discount on his punishment, he had to keep the tears from his eyes and a silence in his throat. It was as simple as that. Harry
Again, he heard the footsteps walking back right to the uncarpeted part of the study, right at the door and the brief noise of leather sole on bare wood as Watts reached the perimeter of the room where the carpet did not quite reach. It seemed to take an eternity, Mr. Watts might as well have been walking to the boundary of a cricket pitch, but as he waited the pain subsided. Harry

This was punishment from a cricketer of huge ability. Mr. Watts’s bowling was nearly as good as his batting, all the children knew that from watching him and it was well documented in scoring books in numerous county fixtures. Harry

Many boys received the cane at school, a whipping, but this was a proper beating by a cricket bat, it was far more painful that the swish and swipe of a cane, this was a blunt instrument, reminiscent of the Victorian paddle. Its brutality was designed to provide the discipline that unruly boys required.

Hollister noticed that he could hear nothing, the footsteps had stopped; he sensed the Headmaster taking a practice swing with the bat as he stood by the door but such an outlandish idea was soon dismissed as being far too cruel. As every sportsman knows the more practice the better, the more rehearsals the better the shot. Hugh had plenty of practice handling a bat and his belief in tough discipline helped, too. Harry
Mr. Watts was taking a bowling run up but instead of delivering a ball, he was delivering a strike from a left hand that had regularly scored a century when coupled with the right hand in matches. Hollister heard the gallop across the floor. The second blow was always the worst of all, the heat from the first blow was just dissipating and the body was tensed, knowing what to expect, the muscles contracted and it was these that bore the brunt of the second, third and fourth blow.

With every strike, the pain increased, the heat and the soreness increased until Hollister thought his underpants much catch fire. By the fourth strike, all Hollister wanted to do was hop up and down, holding his bottom, and dance around the room shouting, “Blooming hell that, hurt, oh my, did that hurt? That hurt like hell, wow; that hurt so much, my bottom is really on fire.” Harry

Instead, he pulled up his shorts, buttoned the fly and the top button, slipped the snake belt head into the holding ring, pulled down his jersey, turned around and walked to the door. At the door, he turned to see Mr. Watts returning the bat to the drawer.

“Thank you, sir,” he said loudly, despite his pain. It was the only expected response and although the pain he felt inside his shorts was almost indescribably bad, he managed to say the words in a voice that did not tremble with tears or waver with waves of pain.

Hollister, then, opened the door, waited to see if Mr. Watts was going to say anything else, which was unlikely but not impossible. He took one last look at the room and the back of Mr. Watts’s head and walked out into the empty corridor. He turned right and walked past the master’s common room, the door was open, it was empty; all the teachers were in class. He turned left at the top of the stairs and passed the Bursar’s Office, the door was open and he could hear the keys of an adding machine being tapped rapidly. He turned right at the corner there, walked sedately past the stained windows that provided light for the staircase and along to the start of the dormitory corridors. Once through the fire door, he felt able to relax. Harry

There he felt safe enough to clutch his buttocks and hop with pain.
He was just enjoying the immense relief of being able to dance around when he felt a presence. Harry
An intangible perception led him to believe that there was another presence along the corridor, a school ghost? It could have been the priest who lived down the corridor opposite the laundry room but no one had ever seen him leave his room, ever. He was either there or in the chapel, it was a mystery how he reached one from the other. Sometimes the room was deserted. This was very seldom, mostly at break times, the boys were free to enter, the gas fire was off but there were comics to read. Harry

Once or twice a term, he might remain there, sitting on his bed, reading while boys sat on the floor engrossed in The Dandy or The Beano. As infrequently as that was, Dom Brendan, the resident priest, had never, ever, been spotted wandering around the building by anyone, at any time whatsoever, ever. Harry

He was known for moving mysteriously around the school. Rumour had it that he was rendered invisible as he wandered down and up the spiral staircase to and from the chapel. That he was old was without question, he was a retired monk in his seventies, but if he had mystic powers beyond performing the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ was open to conjecture. The mystery remained, not one single boy in the whole school, in all of its ten-year-history, had seen him in the corridors. Hollister stopped hopping and turned around to see Sally Vanstone. Harry

“Shouldn’t you be in lessons?” she asked with a wry smile on her face, despite herself.

“Yes matron, sorry matron, I’m just on my way!” he replied, rubbing his backside to try to take the heat away from it and soothe away the pain. Harry

‘Rub it better’ really worked particularly on bottoms that tingled unpleasantly with pain. The stroking action sent good messages to the brain, mitigating the messages from the pain receptors. Matron disappeared and, slowly, he made his way down the stairs and along the corridor to the backyard. He limped, painfully, through the deserted playground. He was walking with difficult for some strange reason but the pain was subsiding slightly. Perhaps all the nerves in his legs had been sent jangling. Harry Harry

There was another classroom, outside beyond the back yard. Hollister walked almost normally down the back drive. The classroom had been built into the wall of the walled kitchen garden and must have been a shed of some sort before being converted into a Year Three classroom. It had three windows two at the front facing the driveway, the third, at the back overlooked the cabbages, figs and rhubarb growing in the kitchen garden and in the greenhouse. Harry

When the house was a home for a wealthy family, the form room had most probably been the potting shed, where all plants, shrubs and trees were cut and re-grafted or replanted or put into pots. The entrance was to the left of the two windows, and it led directly into the form room; Hollister leant on the door handle and pushed it open to the left was a bare brick wall, like the exterior wall of a farmer’s cottage. Opposite, at the far end was a blackboard and teacher’s desk, no windows were in that wall either but it was at least plastered. Harry

There were four banks of double fluorescent strip lights attached to the ceiling. Also, anchored to the ceiling there were two, one filament, electric strip, heaters that were suspended by two chains and hung only slightly closer to the floor. These were extra long bar heaters that looked like strip lighting but had a single, long, glowing orange filament where the fluorescent should be and that was protected by a metal cage. These provided the heat for the room and they were surprisingly effective. Harry

The oldest boys used the room as a games room, at night, when the youngest had their lights out. They had discovered that by standing on a desk, the heaters toasted bread, illicitly smuggled from the refectory, extremely effectively, too. The silver packets of Intervention butter melted perfectly over the hot bread. The butter could be spread using a wooden twelve-inch ruler or a plastic thirty-centimetre ruler. Some of the elder boys were so organised that they had a knife in their tuck boxes and would bring along lemon curd, marmalade or ‘Marmite’. Harry
Ceiling mounted heaters were counterintuitive because hot air rises. Yet, as the heat at the top of the room, drew up the colder air, the warm air circulated freely inside the room, the hot air moving around the heater was spread throughout the small building. The boys thought it was brilliant and it was one of the warmest rooms in the whole school. Lack of windows to allow draughts of cold air helped, too. Harry
As a result, the science teacher compared these electric heaters with the radiators in the main building, the convection heaters in the ‘Portakabin’ classrooms, the gas heater in the priest’s room and the fireplace in the hall, which was lit at weekends. These provided early examples of conduction, convection and radiation, which the children studied later on in their school career in physics in much more depth. Harry

Hollister joined the rest of the class who were taking it in turns to read an extract from ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe’ by reaching his desk. Stealthily, he crept across the classroom, he sat down gingerly on his sore bottom, opened the lid of his desk, took out his copy of the book, and his English book, both of which he laid on his lap as he closed the lid as quietly as was possible. The wooden lid gave a small groan when it married with the rest of the desk. Harry

Once he had spread the novel on the table and laid his comprehension exercise book next to it, he leaned over to the boy next to him who pointed to the place they had reached in the text. He opened the book on the correct page and absorbed himself in the written words and the sound of the boys’ voices as they took it in turn to read a page each. Harry

It was his turn, soon enough, and he read as expressively and as clearly as the others. Smaug, the dragon, was setting fire to the village on the lake and it was exciting. Harry

Hollister read the page and was praised, by Hynchcliffe, for his enthusiastic and lively reading. No mention of the beating was made by the teacher or by the class. That was how the Prep 3A children played it. There were two forms, sixteen boys in 3A, and, fourteen boys in 3B. When they had first joined, in September, as eight-years-old, in what was called the third form, they would ask the person beaten what it was like.

“Did it hurt?”Harry

“How many did you get?” Harry

“Did he take a run up?” Harry

“Does it still hurt?”
That day there was no need for sympathy, no need for questions, no need to discuss the circumstances or the deed, just a silent empathy was required. By now they had all been beaten, except for Stephen.
He did not really want to find out what a beating was like and he certainly did not want to engage in a conversation with Hollister who even now was blaming Stephen for the beating he had received. Harry

As far as Hollister was concerned, it was Stephen who had sneaked on him.

As Hollister pretended not to notice he was being ostracised, he was becoming slowly aware that his popularity was diminishing due to his persistent teasing of Stephen. The whole class, now, started to avoid him. He had been publicly punished and that censure encouraged the others to avoid him. He was ‘being sent to Coventry’; no one knew where the expression came from, perhaps it came from the Second World War after that city had been so brutally destroyed, but it meant no one would speak to that person and it would be as if the person was inaudible or invisible. Harry

Naturally, this was impossible in such a small school but Hollister picked up the less warm atmosphere. Despite it being such a small school, not everything was common knowledge.

There were enough boys who were unaware of Stephen’s agony. They were not one of the eight in their dormitory and did not know that it was Hollister who was the main culprit. They would have spoken to Hollister anyway for fear of reprisals if they did not talk to him and he was shrewd enough to know that. Harry

Like all bullies, he understood the psychology of friends and foes. Harry

Hollister made sure that, when they left the classroom, those boys entered into a conversation with him. There were several boys from a different dormitory, in that class, and Hollister gravitated towards them. Pip, Fitzy and Dunphy, provided a protective ring around Stephen. They knew Hollister might try and bully Stephen and they were determined that Hollister would not be able to get near Stephen on their way back along the back drive moving towards the science laboratory for their next lesson. Harry

“Shall we all ride the bikes this afternoon after games?” Pip suggested eagerly.

“Yeah,” agreed Fitzy enthusiastically. “I can show you my skid.”

“I bagsy the American bike,” cried Dunphy.

“I’ve got that one, actually” complained Pip.

“Veins, too late,” Dunphy crowed. Harry

“I don’t care which bike I have, actually” Fitzy declared brightly.

“What’s so good about the American bike?” asked Stephen, puzzled. Harry

Pip explained, “The American bike doesn’t have brakes on the handle bars, you have to pedal backwards to brake. Ollie Comyn brought it to school, it’s much better for skidding, you pedal like mad then back pedal, putting on the brakes by doing that and the back just slides out; it’s great, actually.” Harry

“You should see the gravel spray and the dust it stirs up,” added Dunphy with relish.

“You will come and ride with us won’t you?” asked Fitzy. Harry

“Of course,” agreed Stephen immediately, he could not have refused them. Harry

These three had consistently offered him the hand of friendship and they were also offering him protection. How could he refuse it? By the time they finished their conversation, they were in the playground, lining up outside the science laboratory as Mr. Slevin approached.

No one dared to mess with Slevin, all the boys became silent and lined up even though silence was not insisted upon when lining up outside the classrooms, but outside his classroom, the science room, with Slevin, it was not insisted upon, it was expected.


A well respected author

Michael Fitzalan was born in Clapham, South London where his mother had established a doctor’s surgery in a house which she filled with children.

With three sisters, two brothers and a library full of books, a love of literature was imbued in him from an early age.

Michael Fitzalan comes from Irish parents were doctors and they settled on the West Side of Clapham Common and had six children in quick succession.

A story 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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