by Rafael Henry
A new Ariel?
Yes, Eric Gill. I wasn't so much impressed by Gill's two figures above the main entrance to the BBC building in London, Prospero and Ariel, as the idea of sculpting the human figure. I couldn't think about anything else all morning, least of all doing my bit for the House in Sports Day that afternoon. It wasn't going to be much of a contribution anyway…….running the second leg in two of the relays.
David sat opposite me at breakfast as usual trying not to catch my eye…..something we had talked about as part of our drive not to have our 'relationship' noticed by prying eyes.
Yes, we still have our relationship thank goodness.
He asked me how half term went of course, just as I wanted to know how things went on his trip to Majorca. I told him about spending time with Cosmo knowing that he wouldn't mind at all, and also knowing that he would enjoy a blow by blow account of events. David knows me quite well now, just as I know him and how his mind works. It's a testimony to our friendship that we can tell each other our thoughts and deeds without fear of upsetting the other. I think boys are like that with each other, at least boys like us. I realise that as boys go, David and I are not very typical. If David meets someone on holiday, then good for him. If they both decide that it would be fun to play games of a very personal nature, that's fine too, just as it is for me, and it's huge fun to share the details just between friends afterwards. As it happens, he did meet someone……..a local boy roughly his own age who wanted to be friends on the pretext of improving his English. They got on rather well which soon led to spending their day time together on the beach, swimming and sunning themselves with the occasional strolls to the secluded extremities of the beach and out of sight of David's parents.
Say no more. Despite exchanging home addresses, they both knew they wouldn't write to the other and what had transpired between them was just a bit of fun……well……quite a lot of fun actually.
It was a bit different in my case I suppose. Cosmo needed company that week, and I was very happy to provide it. Getting physical was his doing, not mine…….well, I suppose that's not quite true is it? Ok, I could have stopped him. Anyway, I'm going to watch out for him around the place in the future because he's a good kid and I like him, but that's it now and he knows and accepts that fact. That's the way it is between boys our age it seems, usually. You have it possibly quite by chance, maybe two or three times more, and then it's gone. That's the way it is…..all a bit superficial really but that's the reality. With David and I, it's more than that…..a much deeper thing. I hope he thinks so too.
David and I 'managed' it last night which is why he had that look on his face this morning at the breakfast table. I knew exactly what he was thinking which made it all the more difficult for me to avoid catching his eye. It had been a while since the last time and it was very very nice….…lovely in fact. He came back from Majorca looking great……a bit darker than when he went although he's naturally quite olive skinned and Mediterranean looking with his dark eyes and almost black hair……and cute little willy, bless him. As you know, he's making a little bit of sticky these days, which interests me somewhat. It would make no difference to me if he didn't of course because he is what he is and I love him. I'm more advanced than David in the spermatozoa stakes which he also seems to find interesting, but everything is kept is kept neat and tidy…….all we need is ourselves, and the right place and time. Long may it last.
Back to Prospero and Ariel. The play was quite good really, although a bit hammy at times. I was expecting a dishy Ariel and I wasn't disappointed. They'd picked one of those puckish types from the fourth form…one of those cheeky kids who try to annoy sixth formers to get a reaction, and then accuse them of getting fresh with them when they try to get their own back on the annoying little toad and rough them up a bit……the sort of thing I would like to have done but never had the courage. I just had to rely on my sultry good looks, be all mysterious and hope for the best.
Yes, Ariel had me going a bit as he hopped about being interesting in what looked like one of those ghastly cycling one-piece lycra things with obviously nothing underneath. I say obviously, because you could see his little winkle pressing through the shiny material in a rather fetching way. Had he worn something underneath, that might have been more obvious depending on what it was. The wardrobe people probably made the right decision in my view. Anyway, the boy done good as they say.
You know how it is with the internet…..you look something up and before you know it, you've gone sideways into something else. So it was with Eric Gill. Seeing the BBC sculpture, I wondered how it was made. That got me into a site that went on about clay modelling from a live model. From that point on, I had made a decision. I'll give you two guesses.
David was not averse to the idea of being my model. I broached the subject whilst walking down to the Field for Sports Day. There was the large marquee in the corner which is always there at this time of the year to house the various functions…….Old Boys lunches……Junior School Prize Days and so on…..and today, the tea tent for parents and all the other less than interested parties.
I always like Sports Day provided I don't have to do excessive exercise, or at least not too much of it. I usually get picked to do something, but you wouldn't find me up on the podium receiving the cup for the half mile. No, a decent average is about my level. I like the dressing up bit…..nice white shorts properly ironed with creases, white socks and pristine white tee shirt [with creases] with my paper House colour [green] safety pinned onto it. Then I can walk amongst the little gods of the track and field feeling part of everything. After all, I might be one of the stars mightn't I? The fact that I'm patently not doesn't bother me in the slightest. I might even effect the slightest of limps and show it off to very junior boys…….my injury gallantly sustained in the heat of battle, and all for them . No, it's a very nice afternoon with plenty to look at if you know what I mean…..lots of calf and thigh, and delicate forearms, all lightly tanned from summer's gift, and lots of neat little bottoms in brief white cotton shorts that surely couldn't possibly be worn another term? No, definitely not. I fantasise now…….
'What about them Sir?'
'Don't you think they're…….how shall I put it Jones….perhaps a little too revealing?'
'Are they Sir? Sorry.'
The boy suppresses a smile because he knows exactly what the Classics master is referring to……..
'Oh, no need to be sorry Jones. Oh, and Jones, I really do think that some underwear would have been a good idea.'
'But I am wearing some Sir…..look.'
With rather an exaggerated effort, the boy pulls down the waistband of his pristine shorts just to show the master that he's telling the truth.
'Oh dear, so you are. Now run along Jones or you'll be late for your next event.'
'Thank you Sir.'
Jones smiles sweetly, turns, notices one lace is not quite tied properly, and bends double to retie it. It's all so obvious.
Etcetera etcetera. Sorry about that.
Talking of which, I had a chat with the Doc on the Field. He seemed in a contemplative mood. I imagine he was savouring his last days at the school……..I count eleven more in fact, counting the weekend. It's a particular joy reserved for those of us who have to suffer a boarding education……an imminent long summer holiday. Apart from one or two things, I know of nothing else more pleasurable to muse upon during the tedious dying embers of the long summer term. And what have I got to look forward when we finally stagger over the line at the end of next week? Evert. He's been at home now for a week but I've no idea what he'll be like, but you never know. All I do know is what Mother has told me on the phone.
'What's he like then?'
'Oh quite nice really……quite shy I think…….and clean.'
'Yes……he washes properly…..at night too.'
'Oh….that's encouraging.' I said with just a little too much emphasis on the 'that's. Uncalled for.
'Yes, I thought so. How are you darling?'
'Fine thanks. It was Sports Day today.'
'Oh lovely darling. Was the weather nice?'
…….not 'did I win anything'…..or 'did I hurt myself'……but 'was the weather nice?'
I didn't risk asking exactly what Evert was like…….you know…….looks wise. I shall just have to wait I suppose, but I shall be pissed off if he's some sort of nerd that reads books all the time and occasionally looks at you over the top of the damn thing through thick glasses. No, I'm hoping for a sensitive, good looking active boy, reasonably fun loving, who is not averse to a close encounter with his boy host. Yes, that's about it, but I accept that I might well be disappointed.
The Doc said he'd give me his card in case I wanted to email any piece of creative writing I thought worthy of his attention in the future. I felt quite chuffed about it actually and I'll do that. I told him about discovering Gill and that I wanted to sculpt a figure in clay. He said he was aware of Gill's work and liked the idea of me doing one. I've never been taught by the guy, but there's a part time art teacher called…….no, I can't remember his name……big tall bloke. The Doc said he was an expert at all that sculptural stuff. He said he'd mention me to him. You never know. Anyway, when I told David about wanting to do it, he said he wanted it to be of him , which is what I wanted him to say. If it ever happens, I can't imagine a better subject than David. Rather appropriate don't you think? Michelangelo and all that?
I didn't particularly like the Gill sculpture of the boy, apart from the fact that he's nude. Apparently there was this huge row when it was first seen by the BBC people before it was put up because they said he'd made the boy's bits too big, so Gill had to make them smaller. It's carved from stone so it's a good job it wasn't the other way round! The boy has quite nice bits…..no excess skinny bit. I wonder if there are any sculptures of boys with……..no……..there won't be will there? I'd love to do David like that…….now that would be fun wouldn't it? I can imagine the question…..
'Now David, can you stand like that for the next two hours please?'
Knowing him he probably could. I think he has the hardest little pecker I've ever felt, excluding mine. There's no excess fat on him so when he's in the mood it's sort of obvious if you know what I mean. Next term, he'll be in long trousers, and although he's not a tall boy, not before time frankly.
I phoned home again early this morning……about seven thirty. I wanted more info on Evert. I'd woken up a stiff as a board…..no not that thing……my legs actually. Thinking about it, I tell a lie, that was on the firm side as well, but everything else hurting prevented further action sadly. It was all that running about yesterday. Our House came second overall which was quite good, and I did my bit reasonably well…not dropping the relay baton thank goodness. Still, all I really have to do today is go to church. Cosmo had a word at the Sports yesterday. He saw me with David and came over. David saw him walking towards us……
'Jon……is that him by any chance?'
'Over there….the kid walking towards us.'
I turned to my left and saw Cosmo, resplendent in his gym kit.
'Yes…..yes it is as a matter of fact. I wonder what he wants.'
'You tell me Jon.'
I could tell David liked him. It's not as if he'd not seen him before because we all eat meals together everyday day of our lives whilst at school, but you get a new dimension on the familiar when one has a proper conversation. Despite our very pleasant and harmless antics on Doc's boat, I wouldn't say Cosmo and I had any particularly deep conversations, although he'd talked a bit about his musical life at the Cathedral. He came over to tell me that the last evensong service of the academic year would be next Thursday, and did I want to come?
It's not a thing that's usually top of my 'to do' list…..go to church. My mother is a Christian and drags me off to church at home on a Sunday morning, but I don't mind going really, although I'm not 'born again' much to her great regret. She often refers to me as 'a little heathen'. Maybe one day I'll see the Light as it were. I can see a chink somewhere in the far distance, so perhaps I'm not a completely hopeless case. Going to church at home does have its compensations as I can keep an eye on the Philips boy. He can let his light shine upon me any time he likes…..and not just the light that emanates from his wondrous visage in the choir stalls. Evert is no doubt a Catholic, being French. I was slightly non-committal in answer to Cosmo's invitation……
'Oh thanks Cosmo. Can I think about that?'
Cosmo's face falls. I noticed his obvious disappointment. I think he must have expected me to receive his invitation with a bit more enthusiasm, so……
'On second thoughts, yes I would like to come……and so will David. You would like to go wouldn't you David?'
'Yes you would.' I said with a degree of firmness.
Blessed be the pure in heart for they shall inherit the earth. Good old David…loyal as ever. Anyway it will be good for him, although he doesn't know it yet, poor lad. It might even be good for me too, you never know.
There's one more event worthy of mention this term……Swimming Sports. This is the activity I'm best at….so good in fact that I actually won my event……the one hundred metre breast stroke…….just. There's another boy called Gordon who does more or less the same times as me. Swimming races are weird because you're vaguely aware of crowd noise but because you spend a good part of the race with your ears under water, you're not really aware of anything else going on. There's a sort of eerie silence when you're under water…..a kind of detachment from the rest of the world which ends abruptly the moment you break the surface…….and then you are back in reality. David wished me good luck an hour before my event and I thought of him throughout. They were always close races between Gordon and me, but this time I beat him by a head apparently. You don't see the opposition near the finish because the rules forbid the turning of your head to look at the opposition so I wasn't sure where he was as I touched with both hands….. both hands simultaneously……that's another rule, oft forgotten at the competitor's cost. It's when you lift your head clear of the froth of chlorinated water that you really become aware of what's happened…….they are all cheering for someone, but is it for me, or for him? On this occasion it was for me.
I won a small silver cup, presented to me by the Headmaster no less, when all the other competitors who had won their event waited around at one end of the City Baths pool in a vague line to go up and get their cups, and all in their neat speedo swimming pants…..plain navy with no embellishments. That's what every boy wears. It's another rule, and a very good one in my view.
After the prize distribution, we all shower and get changed back into uniform. It's a communal shower, and packed with boys of all ages, shapes and sizes….skin shiny with the descending warmth of the shower water, residual shower gel bubbles around necks, backs, balls and bottoms……some glowing not from the warm water, but from the sweet inner warmth of having done one's duty for others, and naturally, done to the best of one's ability. You may well mock, but it's true.
I think it's something that does get to you in these places. There is a feeling of belonging….of looking out for the other person. We are all in the same boat…..in our little vessel of adversity, and in all weathers.
Take Cosmo for example. Poor little blighter, stuck at school in holiday time just because his people 'can't have him', and because he's devoting a chunk of his young life to musical service at the Cathedral. I'll never forget his face when we delivered him back to his Dyers House on the Friday afternoon after our boat trip with the Doc and Bryn……abandoned to his fate.
In a odd way, I'm rather looking forward to seeing Cosmo perform tomorrow. David went off at Sports to get a bottle of water for us……free to competitors, and vital to our well-being in this ridiculously hot weather. Today it's over thirty degrees believe it or not. This part of the country can get very hot and dry on occasions. We call it in this country a 'heat wave', and that's what it feels like.
Lessons are literally a joke now and we all loll about moaning to the teachers about how hot we feel, and themselves all feeling as annoyed as we are that they're not sitting in the shade of an oak tree, or a palm tree, somewhere a good deal more interesting. At least we all know what options we are doing next term. Mine are Art and History, plus all the other usual subjects of course. Art does not run in the family and I've no idea where that gene came from, but History does. Uncle wasn't keen on the idea of my studying Art. He gave me the distinct impression that he thought it a bloody waste of time. Anyway, it's my life and that's what I'm doing.
By the time David got back with the bottle of water from the tent, Cosmo had waxed lyrical about what he called the 'valedickery' evensong service tomorrow. I took that to be 'valedictory' but I just smiled and enjoyed a moment of his charming naivety. That sounds condescending, but I don't mean it like that at all. He said the service was for the choristers who were leaving the choir, and it was a bit sad for them and last year one of them had to use the back of his hand to brush away some acutely embarrassing tears. They have to hand over their badges of office to the boys who are taking their place the following September, and they sing special music too, and the 'Presenter' says nice things about each boy who is leaving. I don't know why, but I happen to know the 'Presenter' is actually called the Precentor. I'm not sure what he does exactly, but he's in charge of the music and the welfare of the boys. That much I do know. Anyway, the service sounded quite interesting.
I'm often moved by boys who become overwhelmed by emotion. One sees it often amongst our number. Sometimes things get too much for us and we have to let go in some way or other, usually in floods of tears in some private place, unseen by unsympathetic peers, more often than not in the loos. It's a shame it has to be there….far better to be in the arms of an understanding friend in a quiet corner of a dormitory. David has seen my tears and I've seen his often enough. I would be bitterly upset if he didn't share any sadness with me. Harden not your hearts……that phrase always struck me as odd, but it's very relevant to our lives here, at least I think so.
'So…..that will be you one day then Cosmo……you know, when it's your time to leave the choir?'
He didn't say anything….just nodded.
Oh dear. I worked out that that day will come for Cosmo in three years' time, all things being equal, and if I'm still here I'll be in my first year of the Sixth Form. Tomorrow I'll get an idea of what to expect.
My dear Mama wanted to know what train I was getting on Friday afternoon when we all pack up and go home. Basically, I don't know. I can't think that far ahead right now. She told me more about Evert. He was having some problems.
' It sounds like he's homesick Ma. Hasn't he made any friends?'
'Yes, I think so but….'
'He's not eating very well, and he wants to be with me in the evenings. I'm a bit worried about him. Do you think I should phone the language school?'
'No, wait until I'm home. He probably just wants someone his own age to talk to. He'll be ok.'
'Do you think so?'
'Well I don't know for certain, but yes, he'll probably be fine. He might not have been away from home before.'
'Well are you sure?'
'No I'm not sure! Look……I'll sort it when I get home Ma.'
……and so on. I'm sorry, but I can find my mother extremely irritating. I should be more patient I suppose, but it's not easy. She's never sure about anything….ever.
David and I were shown to seats behind the choir stalls by a smiling lady in a long robe and a medallion thing around her neck. My guess is that they like boys from the school attending services when they don't actually have to, consequently you get a particularly welcoming and rather motherly smile when you do show up. We had our ties on, blue and red diagonal stripes, but no blazers. It's slightly hotter today than yesterday, but quite a nice temperature in the cathedral. I checked my watch…..three twenty five and five minutes to go. I wondered if they would start on time. They did.
As the organ sound faded away and the single bell finished its bidding to the godly and ungodly alike, the troops marched in……a cross born by Adams [I recognized him] followed by sixteen boys ranging dramatically in height from far too tall to be prepubescent, to far too short to be even let in the place without their mummies. So sweet. The smallest lacked the cache of the white thing that covered the purple thing. I imagined, correctly, that they were there on sufferance……trainees…….aspirants……not the real deal yet, all taking three steps to their elders two. The train of purple and white ended with three men in black and white looking solemn and unsettlingly learned, with ten or so men in purple and white between them and the boys.
I won't describe it all…the ritualistic chanting of words I was quite familiar with in parts, the hymns sung with a clipped efficiency and loudly, the melodic chanting of three psalms, and of course the words addressed to the individual boys whose singing careers were ending at this very moment, probably for ever, aged thirteen or so.
The old guard and the new stood in a row either side of the 'Presenter' towards the High Altar facing back towards the rest of the choir and clergy. I looked at the faces of the boys, heads turned towards their younger colleagues, who one day would be confronted by the very same ordeal, for ordeal it obviously was. It doesn't take much imagination on my part to empathize with them, and I was moved mightily I have to say. I now realize what a mammoth commitment that job is, and I have an inkling of the trust and support that each and every one of those boys has in each other. I am truly envious.
That chink of Light I referred to earlier from the slightly open door is just a little brighter now. Whether I will ever have to courage to knock on that door and see that Light more fully I don't know. Perhaps Cosmo has already seen it, or perhaps he will see it one day as maybe I will. What I do know is that their commitment to their cause will not be forgotten by any of them.
I have no idea what music the organist played as the boys and men left their places in the same order that they entered, but it was long, very noisy at the end, and intensely joyful. David and I sat for a while in our uncomfortable 'spaces', enclosed by the heavily carved arms of the stalls once occupied by monks , that seem to envelop us. I turned to David……
'What did you think of all that David?'
He'd been quiet, and now he kept looking in front of him over to the now deserted choir stalls opposite. After a few moments he said…..
'Good…..it was good.'
I had to agree. A few moments later I asked him….
'Do you think you'll ever want to go again?'
He turned to me, looked me full in the face with those perfect brown eyes of his and said……
'Yes…..I think I do. What about you?'
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