I was sent to the shops the other day to buy some more bananas. On returning with some beautifully looking pieces of fruit, no blemishes on the skin, slightly yellow green in colour, I was disappointed to find, when I unzipped one, that it was discoloured and going rotten inside. Isn’t this just like life sometimes. You look forward to the pleasure of something only to find the reality somewhat distasteful and unpleasant. Conversely it can work the other way around. Your banana may look black and discoloured and you are expecting a most unsatisfactory experience but inside all is perfection and you are left scratching your head and wondering what all that was about. However, after the pleasure, or otherwise, of the fruit there is the skin. Regardless it has a tendency to trip you up.
We left Wells at the end of one term and at the beginning of the next arrived at Milton Lodge in Haresfield, Gloucestershire. The building was an old vicarage that I think had not been used for some time. Certainly when I had cause to go into the cellar no human had been in there for some years. There were the largest spiders I have ever seen hiding down there. Huge red bodies just waiting to leap out and frighten the hell out of a ten year old boy.
There were also the usual fears of beatings from Sever. My memory jumbles up timelines a little but I am fairly sure that it was at Haresfield that the Digby incident occurred. I have related this incident before but, for completeness, there is no harm in telling the story again.
Digby was younger than me and fairly new to the school. He was unused to the violence and the beatings and lived in fear most of the time whereas, by that time, I was a hard arse - excuse the pun. I remember one day I was waiting outside the headmaster's office with Digby , I can't remember what either of us had done but we were both there for some retribution to be dealt out. Poor little Digby had not previously been through this ordeal and was terrified and, as a veteran albeit a little apprehensive, I tried to calm him down to no avail. When Sever finally turned up after making us wait and suffer for about half an hour he called Digby in to his office first. The poor chap was petrified and started to cry and plead not to be beaten. He got no sympathy from Sever who just told him to bend over and touch his toes. Digby just howled and did nothing. He was promptly grabbed by the scruff of his neck and thrashed. Digby screamed and screamed. After about six lashes I realised that Sever was not going to stop so I rushed in to the office shouting at Sever to stop. Digby was duly tossed to one side and he started on me. Yes I was thoroughly beaten but the bastard never made me cry and I never regretted doing what I did for whatever reason. At the time there wasn't one. I felt good because, in my small way, I had stood up to the bully.
Generally, life continued to be pretty grim but as young boys we learned to adapt and get on with life until one day we were all introduced to a Mr Enna. He had purchased the school and was the new headmaster. In fact, what with the clear lack of pupils, he was the only master. Initially, he appeared to be a kindly person and certainly not as sadistic as Sever. We started to get many more freedoms including being allowed to go out to the local village and the surrounding area.
Enna obviously had some contacts as we soon had some extra pupils arrive. Three of which I remember very distinctly. They had all been expelled from other public schools. American readers - public schools are in fact private schools in the UK. Don't ask! Whatever, these lads were damn good fun. What with the extra freedom and the fun loving reprobates, the banana may have looked disgusting on the outside but boy did it taste good. And I never received another caning in that school even though I got up to much much more. Not least of all sneaking out of school after lights out to do... God knows what, I can't remember.
By this time I think I was back to being the youngest in the school as the likes of Digby had been moved on to somewhere a little more conventional. I was about eleven at the time and I was changing. My voice was starting to break as well as the arrival of spots. Most importantly I had become very aware of the opposite sex. I fell in love with a beautiful twelve year old in the village who was extraordinarily well developed for her age. Unfortunately the feelings were not reciprocated but I never stopped trying even when she mocked me for the sudden changes in octave as I spoke. Really, I didn't have much going for me but I was nothing if not tenacious. I was to remain being frustrated for many years to come.
Enna, although a much more gentle person than Sever, showed his true colours after a while. He was caught buggering one of the pupils, a good friend of mine who was the son of a tea planter in Ceylon, as it was known then. Nothing happened as a result of this incident which goes to illustrate the difference between then and now. My friend came to stay at my house during a couple of holidays but it was never mentioned. I know for a fact that it did happen and I know the person who walked in on them. It was just brushed under the carpet.
My final memory of that school was when Enna was trying to generate some socialist views into the curriculum. We were discussing a persons right to strike or withdraw their labour. As a group we then decided we would give this a try and all the pupils went on strike complaining about the food. We were told that as a result of this we would not receive any food until we continued with our lessons. We remained on strike throughout the day but gradually as they became hungry, one by one all the boys returned to normal duties. Finally I was the only one left and the headmaster came down to see me suggesting I should cease this stupidity. I refused and held my ground. He left me for an hour or so and then returned threatening me with the cane if I didn't stop. No way José! I stood my ground as hungry as I was.
It was well into the evening when he came again and said that if I accepted a caning the whole incident would be forgotten and if I did not then I would be expelled. I chose the latter. I was certainly not afraid of the caning. Tougher men than him had tried to break me. It was the principal!
It was on the way to the station, I was to be sent to London to my father, that he backed down. We both agreed to forget the incident and the caning and go back to normal. We shook hands on the arrangement. It was a cold night on the way to the station and I was wearing gloves and when we shook hands he pointed out that it was bad manners to do so with gloves on. Another couple of important lessons of life learnt. I remember them well.
It wasn't long after that the school closed down and I had a whole new bunch of bananas to contend with.