Time was marching on. I was almost five years old and going to a kindergarten in the neighbouring village of Bearsted. Mrs Jackson, the school mistress, was a nice old lady with grey hair tied up in braids across the top of her head. She was “no-nonsense” but kindly and managed to teach me to read, write and count with seemingly little effort. I liked school and unless someone is going to pop out of my past to tell me differently, I have to say that I cannot ever remember being in any serious trouble at this place. Surprising but true!
In class, there was a little blonde girl with the most delicate silvery curls. I had often seen her in school but I had not really “noticed” her. Then I had a dream. I dreamed that she was sick – literally: I mean that she was vomiting: and in my dream I felt so sorry for her that I wept and I went to her and gave her a “kiss and a cuddle”. Something unselfish had awoken in me. I had fallen in love for the first time and for a while this subtly beautiful little creature became my all consuming obsession.
At this stage of my development, my sexual senses were still sleeping and I was still oblivious of what was in store for me; but not for much longer. Soon, I began to experience the usual childhood stirrings in what my grandmother so amusingly referred to as “The Midlands”. I became captivated by the bodies of the younger farm workers. Lads in their teens and early twenties – stripped to waist – muscles rippling - fascinating bulges in their pants. I was as inquisitive as hell and I am pretty sure at least some of them realised it. I once spied on one of the younger ones having a lunchtime wank behind the old stables. Of course, I didn’t really understand what I was looking at the time – but it was an awesome revelation nevertheless – instinct told me not to ask any questions about what I had seen – I intuitively knew “The Midlands” was a prohibited zone.
It wasn’t long before I had my older sister’s knickers down in a series of evermore adventurous games of “doctors and nurses”. This clandestine mischief usually took place in a large airing cupboard on the landing. On one occasion, when I asked my mother if I could go out and play with my friend, Gary, the son of a neighbour, she retorted,’ No! You most certainly may not. His mother tells me that the last time you played together, you stuck your finger up his bottom. She doesn’t want you near him anymore and nor do I!’’.
When I was six, I was sent to Eylesden Court in Bearsted – a local preparatory school for boys. Eylesden was where the sons of the Kent upper-crust were educated. Amongst the most prominent people to have gone to Eylesden was spitfire ace Douglas Bader although his biography doesn't mention it. Nevertheless, the headmaster, Mr Fortescue Thomas was very sure he had taught him. (Anyone out there know anything??)
My contemporaries included the sons of Godfrey Evans, (England wicket keeper) and Phillip Harrison, son and heir to big-time seed merchants and hop growers. Phillip was very blond and very lovely and I developed a strong friendship with him – well a crush, actually, which faded as quickly as it had come.
I started as a dayboy in the junior school before becoming a boarder a year later. Classes started at 9 am. I was usually taken the three mile journey by my mother. She had a little Austin convertible which was very badly behaved about starting in the mornings. Whilst Norny was giving me my breakfast and getting me ready for school, I would often hear her exasperated attempts to start “the damn thing” as battery went flatter and flatter! Eventually, with the use the crank handle, it would usually get going. On these “bad car days” my mother was very stressy and I knew I had to tread ultra carefully!
Surprising as it seems by today’s practices, I was not collected at the school gates by one of my parents. Instead, I took a standard bus which dropped me outside Leeds Abbey. There I would watch TV with my grandmother until one of my parents collected me and took me home for supper. I gather I was often quite a handful on the bus, which in those days always had a conductor.
When I was seven, I became a boarder at Eylesden whilst my mother and father sought a way to get free from my grandfather. I do not know the ins and outs of it but the break came suddenly and without much planning. - The next thing I knew, Mum and Dad were living in a flat above the shop in Westgate-On-Sea, running a dairy business with “Uncle Joe” Smethurst.
After a couple of years and a lot of bad luck, that relationship came to a parting of the ways. My parents were somehow able to buy a 400 acre farm at a place known as Trosley, tucked in below the downs near West Malling. I don’t know to this day how it was managed. - My mother always changed the subject whenever I tried and find out. I suspect my naughty Grandfather had something to do with it.
THE BOYS BOARDING SCHOOLTRADITION
My schooldays are a whole book in themselves and I will therefore leave you with the flavour but not the detail.
If my recollection of these institutions seems a little unbelievable, it is because enormous changes to the British way of life have taken place since I was a boy. It is true that they were harsh by today’s values. Furthermore, they served a completely different purpose to modern schooling.
Preparatory schools, as they were called, were there to prepare the sons of the ruling classes for entry into the public school system and from there to service in The Empire; Military, Civil or Political. It is also the case that both my parent’s generation and the one before that had been thrust into world wars. At the end of WW2, it was firmly believed there would soon be yet another war in Europe, this time with The Soviet Union. Our parents wanted us to survive. These schools were designed to toughen us up - to make men out of us. Discipline backed up by corporal punishment was paramount. There was lots of rugby and cricket – cross country running – boxing and the gym. All academic subjects were compulsory including spoken as well as written Latin.
And there was a darker, abusive side to the boarding schools of the 1950’s. Whilst bullying was not tolerated openly, it was sometimes unofficially encouraged against certain boys who were regarded as weak or sensitive. Furthermore, the quality of the masters was not all it had been in the pre war years. In the post war years, school governors had to take what they could get. Just as now, schools were a magnet for men who had a sexual interest in boys.
Considering how my life had gone thus far, it is not surprising that my schooling was a calamity. Having been previously expelled from a couple of apparently top notch (expensive?) establishments, I was fast becoming a nightmare for both my parents and now the third rate little boarding school where I had ended up, Merion House in Sedlescombe, East Sussex.
In 1958 I contracted rheumatic fever. In those days, this was a serious life threatening condition. I was hospitalised for nearly four months in St Helens, near Hastings in East Sussex. Whilst I was in hospital, the woman I loved most in the world, my darling “Missus” died. She was the elderly wife of the headmaster and she had befriended me – although firm, she gave me the steadfast unwavering love my own mother was never able to manage and I became very attached to her. The terrible news was kept from me until I had recovered and was out of hospital. Sadly, my mother was unable to hide her jealously as my grief ran its lonely course. I never really got over her death – I still dream of her and I wonder if perhaps one day, we will meet again.