Manor House 1967
‘There are three thieves in this room’ boomed the headmaster, picking his words deliberately and emphasizing the word thieves. He looked over his half-moon spectacles, sweeping his gaze around the room as he stared us down. He knew who was the subject of his anger.
All the boys were assembled in what was called ‘the long hall’. The refectory tables had been put in the center allowing hard chairs to be placed around the sides of the room. Each house to which we belonged had the roll called, been checked for attendance and so we of The Reds, Blues or Whites sat with our thin knees clenched trying not to shiver. Facing us was the ‘Beak’ as he was known, flanked by his dull masters in gowns that they probably did not earn. However we were all terrified, silent, dressed in our creased grey shorts and white shirts, green striped ties and polished shoes.
I knew that our band of robbers had been caught. A few weeks earlier having found the key to the tuck room we had started to creep out of the dormitory through the silent polished house almost skating in thick socks as we passed matron’s room. A thin white light under her door indicated that she was watching an ancient television alone, her lips sweetened with sherry, eyes heavy and closing.
At first the tuck room was like Tutankamun’s tomb, and we were little Lord Carnarvons. It was full of ‘wondrous things’. We dragged our fingers over wooden rulers, Quink Royal Blue bottles, fine exercise books, Mars Bars, tin tacks, sherbert fountains and clean nibs. We dipped our small fists into glass jars with hard round sweets that swirled with purple and green colours like unripe apples. Stuffing some Milky Bars into our dressing gown pockets we slid back to our beds, teeth chattering with cold. And so it continued though we only took chocolate. In the 40s, another boy at the school was expelled for stealing toothpaste and drinking ink; his name was Donald Campbell.
And so it was always on the cards that our activities would be found out. One night as we unlocked the door, and jostled into our secret cave, the lights suddenly came on and there in the glare was Mr.Tenby, he of the dreaded Latin preps, dismal winter evenings football and long country runs. He did not smile but told us that tomorrow it would all be over, our parents telegraphed as was the case for Tom Barton and I, and Maderios who came from Brazil did not seem to care.
‘I want the thieves to get up on the table, and face their house mates, ones you should not call friends’ the Beak ordered, ‘now, now get up your three!’
We clambered up, helping each other, tears streaming, but still trying to be defiant. We looked like deserters on the Western Front in 1916, shaken, tired and defeated and awaited our fate, a public six of the best. We held hands knowing we would not cry at that and felt stronger.