When it was time for secondary school, Marky and I were enrolled in the fee-paying Thornhill School. It had an authoritarian regime. The pupils were worked hard. We had three pieces of homework a night and four at weekends. The school was small with usually one class, but sometimes two per year. It amounted to about four hundred pupils in total. The main school building was Edwardian and two stories tall, with wooden flooring, high ceilings and musty air. Mainly traditional subjects were taught. Art and History were my favourites from early on.
I was still quiet and some boys in my class picked on me. There are always a few bullies who aren’t happy unless they inflict a bit of misery, so I had to endure sustained badgering and name-calling during my time there. It was restricted to nasty put-downs and so could have been worse. But the insults ensured I retreated into my shell a little bit further. Some days, I just couldn’t face the daily taunts so I got up early and put my forehead on the burning hot radiator in my room for as long as I could bear. When checked, I had a raging temperature. I earned several days off pulling that trick time and again.
Thornhill was in close proximity to Brinkbarn School and the pupils were kept apart. During one sports lesson in the winter, however, our football field drew a crowd of Brinkbarn boys. I was with a couple of friends and watched our sports teachers huddle up to talk. They bolted toward the school. After a stunned silence, we ran as well and were followed by the other Thornhill students. Brinkbarn shouted and charged after us. Once inside our school grounds, the metal gate was bolted shut. A snowball fight began, which soon turned into stones inside snowballs and then half-bricks within a thin covering of snow. A volley of stones and bricks rained down. Casualties mounted. The headmaster gave us all a severe talking-to after the action.
A delegation of six Brinkbarn boys walked up to the man Thornhill school building the next day. They were met by the headmaster and a crowd of our lot gathered. I made it near the front and heard a complaint about abuse constantly being shouted at them. My friend next to me knelt down, as if to tie his shoelaces, and shouted “Abuse!!!” I burst out laughing as a semi-riot kicked off and the Brinkbarn boys retreated away. Hostilities between the schools continued, but so did aggravation and sporadic fights between Thornhill pupils. This became more serious when our class split into two sides and the morning violence kicked off under the noses of the teachers.
Discipline amongst my friends soon collapsed. I was in the art classroom one lunchtime and we filled a tray of water with powder paint. After a quick mix, one boy threw it out of the first floor window into the street below. We ran downstairs and hit the playground just in time to see an angry lady storm toward the main building. She wore a multi-coloured coat and her hair was wet. We were ordered to the headmaster again. After the inevitable lecture, we were lined up and caned on the backsides.
At the back of the gym, my close group of friends rummaged through some dated equipment piled in a storeroom. Amongst the dankness, we found some old portable wooden stocks with a metal clasp. We put the arms and head of one boy into the stocks and locked it. Outside, we waited for the parade of teachers to come out of the refectory. As they walked toward the staff room, the boy-in-stocks leapt into action and ran past the astonished teachers. They looked toward where he came from and spotted us. We scattered to shouts from the teachers.