September 1964 to July 1965
1. In a previous story I wrote:
There’s no doubt that I was a bright boy, for… I was in the fast stream, in the class that would go on to take its GCE O-levels a year before all the others. But in some respects I was a most unpleasant boy.… All my learning and education wasn’t stopping me from turning out to be a petty vandal and a bully.In that story, I dealt with the terrifying encounter with E. M. Hall the Deputy Headmaster, which scared the bullying tendency out of me. That was a year ago. The vandalism hadn’t started yet. Locker doorknobs
2. During my fourth year, at least once, Hall — taking the stage at the end of Assembly after the headmaster and other teachers had departed — expressed his grave concern that some member of the “runatic fwlinge” had been taking the doorknobs of the lockers on the south corridor and depositing them in the toilet bowls of the boys’ toilets. Presumably I didn’t unscrew the knob of my own locker there, outside the 5X form room. For (as you may already have guessed!) it was I who was guilty of this misdemeanour. I didn’t own up to it, though, and the crisis passed. A toilet graffito — May 1966
3. In January 1965 I experienced a profound spiritual conversion which sensitised my conscience to such a degree that following another act of vandalism over a year afterwards, I wrote a letter to the headmaster confessing the deed. In the paint of one of the stalls in the boys’ toilet, which were made of tongue-and-groove wood planks, I had scratched a small graffito. It wasn’t even a smart or witty graffito, or entertainingly salacious; it was simply intended to read: “For males, not for females.” I had used the symbols for male and female, ♂ and ♀ — but I’d got them the wrong way round — “For ♀, not for ♂” — so the message was, if anybody had bothered to interpret it: “For females, not for males.” The deed I’d done weighed on my mind, but I managed for days or weeks to live with the burden of it, for that was more bearable than summoning the courage to confess it. But when I went to the Assemblies of God Conference in Clacton in May 1966, I felt that it was blocking the blessing of God and the moving of his Spirit, so I posted a letter from there to the headmaster confessing what I’d done. A fire extinguisher knob
4. Going back to early 1965: it was distressing to my conscience when in enraged tones Hall denounced the “runatic fwlinge” for another act of vandalism — a major one — one that, he said, was not just a nuisance but which actually endangered people’s lives. He threatened with expulsion the one who had done it. He demanded that the perpetrator come forward and return the thing that had been taken; in fact, he may in the end have conceded that it could be returned anonymously. This went on for a day or two — the perpetrator had yet not come forward — or three days: he had still not come forward, nor had the item been returned.
The crime was the removal of the knob at the top of the fire extinguisher situated next to, or near to, the Form 5X lockers. It was a type which was set off by depressing a plunger, the shaft of which poked out at the top and terminated in a brass knob. The instructions on the side of the fire extinguisher “IN THE EVENT OF FIRE” made me chuckle: it instructed the user to “Strike knob firmly” — “knob” being inter alia a slang word for one’s penis!
(It was not, in fact, as grave a misdeed as Hall made out, for if there’d been a fire the shaft could still have been depressed by dashing it against a wall or stamping on it with a booted heel.)
5. I am not entirely sure whether I WAS the guilty party. To be sure, I had unscrewed the knob a few turns on a number of occasions, then screwed it back again. The question is: Did I ever unscrew it completely and take it away?
I have the very clear memory of being in the boys’ playground, finding something hard and round in my pocket, and throwing it right across the playground over into the wooded area beyond the boundary fence. This was weeks or months, though, before the extinguisher’s lack of a knob was noticed, perhaps by the caretaker and reported by him. Was the object, which I threw, the fire-extinguisher knob, or was it one of the locker doorknobs that I hadn’t disposed of in the toilet? If it was the fire-extinguisher knob, there was no possibility of my ever being able to find it again among the trees in the scrub and grass and brambles.
6. When Hall had his rant, I must have been convinced that it was the brass knob I’d thrown, because I expressed my very deep worry to Peter Gooding and Brian Collinge. Collinge came to my rescue: “Don’t you remember?” he said. He went on to assure me that he saw me unscrewing the knob, said to me, “Don’t be stupid!”, and I put it back. I suspect with hindsight that he was telling me a “comforting lie”. Whether or not he was, his words set my mind at rest.
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