by Rafael Henry
The Faulkner Hotel, Sidmouth.
'What are you having Simon?'
'Dunno….the fish I think.'
'Hmm. I'm going to go for the duck leg.'
'Ok. Are you ready to order?'
'One more G and T? I was rather enjoying our conversation.'
'Really? Come on David, it was quite a while ago now. It embarrasses me slightly.'
'Are, that's because you didn't know I knew did you.'
'Do we keep having to mention that ?'
'Why not? It's funny…..and very sweet. Anyway. It was the beginning as far as I was concerned…….a significant moment. I can't forget it……it was a lovely moment.'
'Umm. I didn't think it was that obvious actually.'
'You're kidding? You had a bloody good look. That's all I remember. Mind you, I was in an interesting condition as you might say.'
'Yes, you certainly were. As I remember, you rather presented yourself to me….or did I misunderstand the situation?'
'No I don't think you did. Come on Simon, I'm only teasing you. Lighten up.'
A pause. Simon is thinking back to the incident.
'Well……did you approve then?'
'Oh yes. But tell me one thing…….it was deliberate wasn't it?'
'Of course it was Simon. I couldn't resist it. I knew you were due to get us all up that morning because A was elsewhere, so I decided I wouldn't take my usual morning pleasure and save it for you instead. Did you like what you saw?'
'Uhuh…….it was a very pretty sight I must say. I'd wondered what you had in your locker so to speak. You answered the question very nicely. I was most impressed.'
'I thought you were. So when did it occur to you…..the wanting to know a bit more about me then?'
'About half way into my first day in the place. I saw you waiting for your PE lesson, all lined up outside the gym. Do you remember?'
'Yes I do. A was showing you round wasn't he. You both stopped near the gym door.'
'Umm. You did rather stand out from the crowd.'
'Must have been the shorts then?'
'Yes, that and…….well, all of you really.'
'Those were the days eh? They don't make them like that anymore do they?'
'No…they don't, but they did then.'
'It wasn't just me you know Simon. I knew of at least two other who fancied you something rotten. I guess I was the lucky one eh?'
I'm quite small for a PE teacher, according to how most people imagine a PE teacher to be I suppose, but I do have a natural presence amongst people, especially young people, which compensates for what I lack in physical stature. To be precise, I'm not actually a PE teacher yet, but I hope to be in just over three years' time when I have completed my teacher training at Loughborough University successfully. So here I am with all the attributes needed to fulfil the role I have chosen for myself, including most of the skills that I will teach. I left my secondary school almost one year ago, with three good 'A' levels and past membership of the first teams in hockey, cricket and football, as well as being an above average athlete, and a not at all bad gymnast. So what am I doing now?
Right. Somehow I got this idea that I wanted a year's work experience in a school before I started my course……just to make sure I was going down the right track……that teaching was what I really wanted to do. I think I was expressing doubts, nothing major, just the odd comment about it really, so one day my mother said that it was a possibility that I could defer my place at Loughborough for a year if I wasn't sure, and why didn't I look for some sort of job 'in the field' as it were. I found that idea instantly exciting, and the process of achieving it quite simple. Think of it…..a whole year out of education, at least not on the receiving end of it.
My educational background isn't really relevant to this tale, so I'll keep it brief……just to say I attended my local primary school and passed the test for a small private institution just down the road from where we lived in the cathedral city of Exeter in Devon, England. My father was, or rather still is, a senior partner in a firm of solicitors, and being an only one, he decided that they could afford my school fees.
I was a day student throughout, although my day was a long one mainly because of my interest in all kinds of sports and games. It sounds slightly arrogant, but I never struggled academically, so I could afford the time to devote to sport, but in a relatively small school a boy, or girl for that matter, needs to join clubs outside school if they are to get any advanced and sustained coaching. This idea suits schools because the child brings his or her enhanced skills back to the school teams. In a large boarding school, it would be different as all the coaching would be 'in house'.
So in the autumn it was soccer and swimming, hockey in the spring term, and in the summer it was cricket and athletics. My mother always says that I inherited my love of sport from my father who was a Cambridge 'blue' at rugby and cricket. I'm sure she is right about that. He helped me a lot too, by devoting many hours to 'garden cricket' when he would give me 'throw downs' for hours on end, always resulting in the occasional broken window.
In terms of friends, I had enough good ones to develop my social skills and learn to be patient, reasonably considerate, and caring I hope. I was never bullied as far as I can remember, although once I tripped up another boy for no reason and got a justified severe telling off that I have not forgotten! In soccer I played as a midfield defender, and played hard but fairly. My hero was a Leeds player who had a reputation at the time for being quite brutal on the field, but kind and considerate off it. His name was Norman Hunter. I never had, or have for that matter, any girl friends really. Having said that, there were several that wanted to be friends, but I was never really that interested in being friends with them . My 'boy' friends, if I can put it that way, were not all sporty types. My parents are cultured people and they encouraged me to mix in non-sport circles and my best friend was a talented musician whose skills I admired greatly. He sang in the school chapel choir and played the piano wonderfully and then later the organ.
He got taken up by the organist at Westminster Cathedral for special training and eventually found himself organ scholar at S. Pauls, and subsequently at a cathedral as sub-organist. He was of Dutch extraction and his name was Kees…….Kees Van der Reydon. We had a very special relationship based mainly I think, on our mutual admiration for what we achieved in our very different areas of interest. Kees was also a fantastic swimmer, and I mean very very good……..Devon County freestyle champion for years on end through the age groups and not that far off a national champion. He was that good. If we had known about sex at that age, and had dared, something might have happened between us in that way, but it didn't. I'm sure that we both thought about it subconsciously, but never let it surface enough to be become a reality. He would 'sleep over' and even share the same bed sometimes. I remember taking ages to get to sleep in my state of high excitement, my heart beating fit to bust. I know I thought about touching him, but I could never risk destroying our friendship like that…….at a stroke so to speak. I had absolutely no evidence that any such attention would have been welcomed by Kees. Maybe it would have been……..maybe he hadn't dared either? I will never know.
I know what you must be thinking by now, but it is not the case I can assure you. Young boys can develop, I think, quite a passion for another boy for all sorts of reasons, and it doesn't mean anything sinister, if that's the right word…….probably not. In our case it meant a lasting friendship that I valued immensely. I could tell you much more about him but there seems little point really as he is not the focus of this tale I want to tell. Suffice it to say that he features large in my 'album'……..that book of images that is in only in my memory.
So back to reality. I thought about what my mother had said about taking a year off. She suggested looking in the local paper……you never know……..or even 'phoning all the local schools to see if anything is available……or going to the library and finding a directory of schools in the area?
Berrington Hall, Crediton, described itself as 'a great school where not just knowledge is acquired.' It sounded quite nice…….on the edge of the town, and with a good sports tradition, taking kids up to the age of thirteen. I 'phoned up that afternoon and got the secretary and gave her some brief details. She told me to wait while she 'had a word'. Two minutes later……..
'Mr Berry……….the Headmaster would like a word…….'
It wasn't a formal interview as such. The Head was quite a short man, and full of enthusiasm for just about everything. I think he quite took to me, and I had got the distinct impression that he was going to try hard to find something for me. I had taken the precaution of asking my Headmaster for a letter of recommendation which I took with me, plus other certificates……both sporting and academic. The letter was sealed, but when Mr Alison had read it, by his body language, I knew it was a nice one.
'Hmm……..that's a very nice letter. Would you like to read it? I think you should.'
He asked me tons of questions, mostly about my background and interests, which I rather enjoyed answering. I felt a curious excitement. Then there was stuff about money……they couldn't pay much, but there was free accommodation, which was a massive plus as far as I was concerned as it meant I wouldn't have to travel from home every day and it would give me my first taste of freedom, not that I wasn't perfectly happy at home.
'If you are still interested Simon, I can show you around the place, and where you might live, should you decide to join us. Yes…..no?
'Yes please Sir.'
I had obviously committed to my year off as I had to arrange my course deferral in March, and this was not far from the end of the summer holiday, so there were no kids around…..just three or four cars in the car park belonging to staff who lived in. While we walked round the relatively small campus, although quite spread out, he explained how he saw my potential role for the year.
'Simon, this is just a possible outline ok…….nothing set in stone as yet. I will need to discuss it all with our Director of Studies, ok?'
He said I didn't have to make a decision there and then, and when I got the letter outlining my duties, I showed it to my parents. My father nodded in his usual cautious solicitor type way and handed it to my mother.
'Perfect darling…….it'll be a fantastic experience for you.'
And so it was. There were a few nerves to start with of course, but after a week or so my confidence grew, and as I became more familiar with the rhythm of the timetable I knew that I could contribute something. I was slightly taken aback at first by the fact that there were no girls in the place……a question that I had never asked, and a fact that had never been mentioned. Apparently, there is a huge extra cost to provide the necessary facilities [and staffing] for girls, and as there was a 'sister' school just down the road, there was little point in going into competition with them. About one third of the boys were resident, and the rest came from the surrounding area each day, with the option of joining the boarders for extras after school, usually sport of some kind but academic activity as well for those that needed it. The staff were welcoming and very helpful, mainly quite young men and I think three women. Ken Holman was Head of Games and PE. He was essentially my line manager, as he called it, and my 'job' was to shadow him for two weeks, and then take games on my own on scheduled games afternoons, and then coach boys after school, usually the first team members. I also volunteered to supervise a cross country club, which turned out every other day before school started. My 'timetable' was a light one during the normal school day, which acknowledged my after school contribution, but having said that, I was 'used' whenever there was a staff absence to cover that member of staff's lessons.
Within a month I knew to some extent, every boy in the school. I was never referred to as Simon because that would have been seen to be too familiar. No, I was always referred to as 'Sir', or Mr Berry, despite being a mere seventeen years old. My birthday is August the 25 th , so I was very young for my year, and my time here at Berrington will be over before my eighteenth birthday.
Christmas came and went, but the end of that term was huge fun. Basically the school, some one hundred and seventy boys whose ages ranged from eight to thirteen, was run by Mr Alison and his deputy Mr Bird known privately as Dickie, presumably after the cricket umpire of that name. Neither man was married. It was at the Christmas party held for the resident boys that I learned of the name that I had acquired after much deliberation by the youngsters……that of 'logan', after the berry of course. They had rejected all the other sorts as unsuitable, like 'black' and 'blue', and then one bright spark had suggested 'logan' and it was formally agreed upon…..so there I had it……thereafter I was always 'Logan' Berry, but never to my face. I always enjoyed the fact that they had found a name for me which was something reserved for masters they liked.
At the beginning of the Spring term Mr Alison summoned me to his study and suggested that I had a bit more to do with the boarding side of things. There was no suggestion that I relocate to the main building where the boys' rooms were. Mr Alison and Dickie saw to their welfare night and day, but it was considered that a bit of my pastoral input might be a welcome change for the boys. I had always kept clear of late evening commitments preferring to keep my own company, or the occasional visit to the rooms of one of the younger colleagues for an hours chat who also 'lived in'. I didn't exactly 'live in'.
My accommodation was a lovely wooden building with one bedroom and reasonably mod cons about five minutes' walk from the main building past a couple of games pitches, and with a copse of mature trees behind it and a rather nice lawned area to the front. I loved it there, as indeed I loved my 'job', and when I say 'job' it didn't feel like a job, not that I really had one before.
The behaviour and general demeanour of the boys was extremely good on the whole. Mr A [Alison] clearly had dedicated his life, or at least this part of it, to his school. When I say 'his' school, it was. He owned it….he was the 'proprietor' as they say. He told me recently on the touchline that it had been an ambition of his to run a school the way he wanted to, and to fill it with Charity and Knowledge. The word charity really means 'love', and I have absolutely no doubt that he loved every aspect of his job, including the end product……the boys themselves and what he could make of them…..or rather what he could encourage them to make of themselves.
His attitude to them was infectious, and every member of staff knew why they personally were there….not for themselves but for their pupils. Consequently there was a definite air of ambition about the place……whatever we did, we were going to do as well as we could according to our talents. He called it 'expectations', or to put it another way….
'If the boys know what we expect from them, we are far more likely to get it.' When I shouted from the touchline in a soccer match…John….that's your ball…….John would more likely than not go in to the tackle and come out with the ball at his feet. That's how we are.
On the same occasion 'A' said……
'Have you ever wondered why I employed you Simon?'
I didn't really know why he had, but I had to say something…..
'Oh yes….…now and again.'
'Because I thought you have something to offer, and I knew the boys would recognize that, and want to learn from you. We are all very glad you are here Simon……..and I mean all of us.'
I found his remark very moving. I am very glad I am here.
[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. If the email address pastes with %40 in the middle, replace that with an @ sign.]