I Never Said I Loved You

by Rafael Henry

Chapter 2

June 2000.

A few words about my current employment if I may. I took a taxi out to Byrom House School, a small eighteenth century ex-country seat not far from the village of Ideford. The house is surrounded by moorland apart from the Estate it sits on, which includes playing fields, various outbuildings for supplementary class rooms, art and crafts, a purpose built gymnasium, formal gardens, a few acres of woodland, sheds for animal husbandry, tennis courts, riding stables and the Millennium Pool, a large lake [to provide running water in times gone by] big enough to sail a dingy on, and various other assets that need care and attention fifty two weeks of the year. In all, it's a very pleasant environment for the eighty five boys and twenty one girls that get a liberal education under the watchful eye of the Principal, Robin Goodlove, aided by his wife Sarah, and the less watchful children, eleven year-old Robyn, and Asa, an eight-year old boy. Robin [with an 'i] is in my view a 'Good Man', more than likely wealthy, who is on a mission to provide an educational environment where his pupils will be happy and fulfilled, learn something academic if possible [but not the top priority], and feel free to develop their individuality via the creative opportunities that his school provides. The boys and girls are aged from eight to thirteen. From here they will progress to a secondary school of their choice, most going to 'out-of-the-way private schools' as Robin once put it, where 'being themselves' is tolerated, and again, the requirement of academic ability runs a poor second to their people's ability to pay the fees.

My chat with Robin [as he insists we call him] lasted all day, but I enjoyed every minute of it. From the first five minutes in his elegant pink chintz splattered sitting room, I could see myself in this place. Robin was looking for someone young, creative and adaptable, with the imagination to create roles for him or herself, a good organizer, and an essential empathy for his mission. My first paid probationary month was spent assessing the place, it's people and what contribution I thought I could make to progress the project further. At the end of that probationary month Robin would have a good idea if I would suit the place. One bright morning, with nervy tummy, I responded to his summons. Hurrah. I have a permanent job!

'As Pastoral and Estates Coordinator, I want you to be my eyes and ears Rufus. I can't know everything here. You will oversee all the Estate by knowing what all the workers do and how well they do it. Similarly, the catering and all the workings of the Houses…..the laundry, kitchen and so on. You will be well-known to the boys and girls who will be encouraged to enhance their own inter-personal skills in conversation with you as School Counsellor, given your previous experience, and have the opportunity to share any concerns they may have, academic or personal, with you at any convenient time. You are theoretically on duty twenty-four hours a day. Remember, this is a mission, not a job. How does that sound to you Rufus?'

We both laughed heartily.

'I'll give it a go Sir.' I replied.

And so I did, and two years later, I still love it. The variety suits me, as does the fact that I can never be pinned down to any time or place.

I have nothing to do with the academic curriculum, or how it's taught, although on my constant travels around the buildings and grounds, I know exactly which leaders have good discipline and those that don't, and which children regularly get sent out of the room to stand outside the door. All that side of things is down to the Academic Coordinator, Paul, with whom I share an office. He's a gay man, and as you've probably guessed by now, so am I. Of the twenty-two teachers, I happen to know that getting on for half are young gay men and women. Being queer here is being normal. Being straight here is being normal. Make of that what you will. But the jewel in the crown at this place is the Outside Activity. These go on all year round in some form or other, and there is no discrimination between male and female, adult or child. Rounders [summer] is played by boys and girls together, swimming is also a unisex activity, as is cross-country running [winter], and everything else. Performing Arts are an essential part of what Robin calls Emotional and Expressive Development, which can of course include the beginnings of Sexual Behaviour. By the age of thirteen, boys and particularly the girls, have probably had this topic in mind for a while. I don't know what you were doing aged eleven, but I know what distracted my thoughts at that tender age.

All the pupils board. I never knew that kind of life, but my friend John at Exeter did, so I knew something of how that system works from him. Here at Byrom, the boys and girls are separated for sleeping purposes, and all double up in a room. Large rooms are divided into 'cells'. Very rarely a boy will share with a girl. Relationships between sharing 'couples' will be monitored by myself mainly, based on reporting from House Leaders, or reported on by others who may have a concern. It's recognized that the boys and girls will need forms of sexual expression, and is fully accepted as part of their growing up. Problems inevitably occur…..a boy may 'give in' to his room-mate with a stronger personality and may be reticent to express his objection, if he has one. Two boys may be consenting, and that's fine, but we still need to know. Another boy may be experiencing some other sort of sexual difficulty and ask for help. Occasionally two boys [or girls] will come to me wanting more privacy for their perceived needs. There will be of course be the normal questions on the subject, many of which will be dealt with individually. Sex has become part of their lives by this age and cannot be ignored, just as a parent at home should not ignore it.

The teachers, known as Leaders, all live 24/7 at Byrom, and are human too, and need to interact in all the usual ways. Only two of our Leaders are over forty, and all are socially 'active' with the others here. I remember at a Leader's meeting a while back, Robin reminded us all that the vast majority of us need to be sexually active, and we should not be afraid of it being known, and to just let it happen and not keep relationships a secret. Robin also reminded us that boys and girls aged thirteen and under cannot consent by law, therefore if you must admire a lovely body, then fine, look if you want to, but not for too long because they will notice, and remember the golden rule; don't touch. Understood everyone? Yes Sir. Fully understood.

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