Chapter 13 New Boy, New Beginnings
Stand up. Sit down. Run to ‘Freshers’ and back. Why? Because I told you. Talk tommyrot. That’s the way it is. Sing adsum after banco at vespas. Duck in the dark cloistered ivy; wrap a towel round your hair before the bats get you. Do up your three brass buttons even though it pulls your blazer out of shape, pockets bulging with lists to be remembered. Scan the noticeboards for newly set traps for the unwary, rosters to be obeyed without question. Penalty for failure, forty whacks with Lizzie Borden’s axe! Wooden lockers, a cubic foot to contain all your belongings, locks gaping open or missing altogether. Scullery tables, benches, engrained with polished dirt; tradition engraved initials, woe betide he who is caught in flagrante delicto.
Survive, survive! Hang on another week. Read it again, it will make sense in time. The language has changed. The accent is even more obscure to me than to the others, but I am gaining practice at interpreting the random chaos. It is not malevolent. Be thankful for small mercies. Hold on to my secret inner space; I excel the others here, find sanctuary in the gloomy library, the deserted painting studio, the wet woods. Write a letter home; it’s three weeks now, it’s allowed. Grab the familiar, write of cats, cricket, birthdays, pocket money.
Yes, I got accepted by Charterhouse School.
“Dear Mummy and Daddy,
Thank you for your letter. I’m glad Grandpa is better again. I’ve put my money in the school bank, I can take out up to five shillings every Monday. Some boys have more money than me - one boy, Hollings, has a millionaire father, he has put seven whole pounds in his account - but most are about the same.
I am in Gownboys, that is the oldest in the school. All the scholarship boys are here. I have a ‘father’ for three weeks - he has to teach me everything I need to know here at Charterhouse. If I do anything wrong, he gets into trouble as well.
I don’t like the food much, it’s not as nice as at home. We have to eat everything, or go without completely. We aren’t allowed to leave anything on our plates. There is one specially awful meal we get for supper every week. It is called ‘Stovies’. It is mashed potato and vegetables all mixed up together with lots of bits of onion that get in your teeth, it’s horrible. I can still taste it at bedtime.
I’m in form IIIc with some of the brainiest new boys, so I shall have a job to come top here but I’ll try hard. My form-master is Mr Wreford-Brown, he is very nice and friendly. He talks to you as though you are grown-up. I’m not in the football team, but I practise a lot of cross-country running. There is a five mile race in November. Everyone in the House is meant to enter it.
I can get permission to meet you at the station on Saturday week. I’d prefer that, no-one else comes to the school by bus.