Summer Term 1965
Manor House was a very traditional English boarding prep school. The teachers were unqualified but enthusiastic. Winco taught us maths, he had been in the RAF and Squeaky Norman history. He had been a POW in Thailand hence his voice. All the masters smoked, the trainee matrons were objects of our growing hormonal desires and matron herself, cuddled us as we dried our hair over an electric funnel.
The summer terms that I remember were always warm and very sunny.
But the winter ones on the other hand seemed so cold and we rested our chilblain bottoms onto cast-iron radiators while trying to remember our Latin prep. We were about eighty young boys, all lost and wondering what we had done so wrong that our parents had sent us away from the age of seven. Like many of my school friends my family lived overseas so boarding was the only option as opposed to a tin-roofed school in rural Nigeria. That could have been fun though.
From June the early morning ritual of the school swim occurred every Saturday. This was the day when we were permitted to sleep in by a few more minutes. The weather worn country house was silent and awaited a hand bell to be rung by matron to start the process. In the still dank dormitories boys on iron beds boys were swaddled in thin grey blankets and were willing their sleep never to end. But as the sunlight broke through the gloom along the polished corridors the clang started and brought us blinking, up and getting busy. Our pajamas, body damp in most cases were dropped and striped towels were pulled tight around our thin frames.
We waited for the head boy to blow a whistle and on that cue we started to run in bare feet down slippery stairs to the dew sodden playing field. We shrieked and chattered like monkeys and our feet left indentations to show the way in the uncut grass as we approached the pool that was surrounded by a changing shed that consisted of a wall with numbered hooks. Towels were hung like monks and we formed up rows along the deep end of the pool. We were all naked now, looking at each others parts with a combination of envy and interest. We had to move to keep warm, our knees punching up and down as we anticipated the call to jump in. The water was dark, un-chlorinated and looked choppy cold. At the shallow end sitting on a bench was the headmaster and his sixteen year old daughter. Her eyes were bright and inquisitive. He bit his pipe puffing small clouds of sweet smoke to the still air.
Another whistle went and all leapt into the pool, bashing each other, pushing water into faces, laughing and never realising the cold. Eventually on thrashing to the other side the pool the floor raised us up and heaving ourselves out and scraping elbows on the concrete to gain height we stood and shouted ‘good morning sir’ to our headmaster and to his daughter we just nodded. We then ran around to get our towels. She must have been very disappointed as the cold water had shrunk whatever she had hoped to see.
It was now a race to get back to the school, bustle into a hot shower and pile into breakfast. It was always a special breakfast on Saturday. Sardines on toast and the summer weekend of cricket and Latin lay ahead