For fun, I've written up the anecdote that started off this thread in a more literary style.
Hope some people enjoy it.
BUSTER MEETS THE BOGEYMAN
Michaelmas term, many moons ago....and Autumn, uncaring of dull distinctions as to Junior and Senior ends, had long since democratically scattered the debris from the trees lining the length of the Avenue over still-green lawns. Down in the engine room of Leigh Hunt B, the toil of study resumed, our wistful Charlie Brown was basking in the glow of 'Bomber' Nicholson's 3A English and History set. A compelling master with a quirky eccentricity - crÃ¨me de la crÃ¨me, old boy, crÃ¨me de la crÃ¨me was his mantra â€“ he was the missing ingredient, a star in a generally lacklustre firmament.
Promotion to the top set had been a welcome gesture of recognition - capping an enthusiastic year, I'd been awarded by Mrs Peto, sole female teacher on the staff and reluctant surrogate mother to scores of homesick boarders, the Second Form English prize. Due to be presented at the end of the term, I'd been summoned to the School Office and instructed by the Secretary to choose a suitable book, a hardback which could be embossed with the school crest. From a ramshackle filing cabinet of brochures outside the School Office. Off you go.
This apparently simple task proved anything but, the frugal sum allocated promising scarce room for manoeuvre as I flipped through the glossy publishing material. Half an hour - and a teeth-grinding search animated by a litany of silent curses - later, the lone candidate at the price point picked itself and I was relieved to be able to claim the title on the form provided. Prize in the bag, I gave it no more thought â€“ weeks were to pass before the pomp and circumstance ceremonial moment was scheduled.
Unwittingly however, I had just lit the blue touchpaper which would soon ignite the dreary stalemate of schoolboy existence and propel it, cartwheeling uncontrollably, through an evermore bizarre cosmos of genteel mayhem.
Weeks later, breakfast downed and loitering carefree amongst cohorts in the pre-Morning Chapel mist, I feel my psychic hackles freeze as the disembodied voice of Housemaster 'Killer' Fry - no-nonsense Dining Hall gavel-wielder and sternly handsome ex-military policeman - pierces the crisp air like a rapier; "Anything on your conscience, Youl?â€ Deftly dodging the ringing of distant alarm bells and quick to rally my angelic disposition, the hammer blow followed on at pace;
â€œThe Headmaster wants to see you. In his study. Immediately."
That ringing sound could only have been my tin halo hitting the floor and sinking without trace beneath the ankle-deep leaves. Instantly digested as Very Bad News, adding insult to injury, the combination of the huge sprawling school site with the HM's aura of divine untouchability meant, not unlike those comical tourists who regularly got lost on walkabout, my having to humbly request directions as to his location..
The clearing fog served only to make my own confusion all the more palpable as I trekked the endless mile or so to my appointment with Nemesis personified. Had I inadvertently stumbled through some time-space portal? Landed in a Kafkaesque world of retribution for crimes uncommitted? Was I about to be held under house arrest with no accusation and, on the whim of some faceless higher authority, shot like a dog?
I found myself quaking with the sinister knowledge of one whose DNA was slated for imminent scrutiny at close quarters by a grim reaper of notoriously macabre proportions.
The HM, the eminently niggardly David Hay Newsome, Doctor of Divinity, was a William of Ockham-style Christian scholar of some renown and, Lord help us, a throwback to latter day Victorian ethics. A Judge Dread of perennial glaring menace, he usually appeared regally swathed in black silk gown, a diabolic shroud of Turin crowned by a tasselled mortar board. Imperious on the lawn in front of Dining Hall as the school band jollied the marching phalanxes into lunch, he projected from his vantage point a mindcrime deterrent of which Darth Vadar could have been proud. Similarly, from the privileged platform offered by his carved ecclesiastical Chapel throne, his probing gaze would routinely rake the ranks of assembled sitting targets replete in twee, anachronistic uniforms in search of any show of glowering rebellion, real or imagined, taking mental note for later corrective social surgery. For him to miss Chapel on my account was a white knuckle notion; God was descending from the machine....
So it was with a racing pulse that I eventually located the secluded corridor where the inner sanctum of high priesthood was lodged, knocked timidly and was received with the terse command 'Come'. I went sheepishly in.
He was perched, bat-like, at the far end of the aircraft carrier-sized table, framed by maroon velvet crush curtains. Rarely seen without his apparatus of office, mortar board resting slightly to one side in front of him, right then it was his expression that alerted me to the gravity of my predicament. Spectacles firmly on, his unblinking gaze was directed down at the polished wooden tabletop and he was smouldering with the silent resolve of the righteous man on a mission. Having reached him where he sat, I was left standing, apparently ignored, in the hallowed stillness. A theatrical lowering of the spectacles finally fanfared the awakening of Gruesome Newsome;
"Are you feeling guilty about anything you've done this term?"
As an opener, the tone was purposefully hostile. A rush of panic for the second time that morning but, a further mental scan coming up empty-handed, nonplussed on that front I remained and managed a few pidgin monosyllables of mumbling appeasement by way of reply.
Only, with a chillingly outraged shuffling of the sea of documents floating in front of him, and to my disbelief, like a rabbit from a magician's hat, a book was revealed for my inspection, the cover of which was carpeted with a Himalayan mountainscape of eye-poppingly fulsome bosoms in varying states of undress. Bust Up: The History Of The Bra. By Otto Titzlinger.
My Lord! - with the shock of sudden recognition, my English prize was revealed in all its tainted glory. The only hardback I could find for that paltry sum. From the brochures outside the School Office. As instructed. Evidently a titanic error had occurred, more misguided than mischievous yet here before my very eyes was the damning evidence of my Gunpowder Plotting. The swiftness and intensity of the ensuing tirade was geared to take no prisoners; "This was a direct attempt to cheek the school" and "an unforgivable undermining of the school's public imageâ€. Gaining volume, the venomous hiss rattled on; â€œHave you any idea what the book suppliers must have thought?" And on. And on. The pecking order requiring its due pound of flesh, the gradual dawning that I was the meat on today's menu overwhelmed me.
The room swirling around my head without me, the hypnotic dirge of the accusation a faraway echo from some alien place, the writing on the wall could not have been any clearer - this vile, libidinous affront to the school's reputation as well as his own personal moral code was to be met with exemplary punishment;
Punchdrunk from the bodyblows of the verbal onslaught, suddenly I found myself long bluecoat up, over thee armchair while from somewhere behind a spin-bowler's shuffling run-up and a wild dervish flailing of black fabric and double bamboo cane flagged the stinging arrival of six of the very best, applied with counter-revolutionary zeal to my protesting buttocks.
As the spittle flew around me, cocooned face down in that throbbing, suffocating silence, the odour of old chairleather was oddly inebriating.
The barrage at last subsided and the mercy seat having claimed its latest scalp, the honour of the School was thus resurrected. The whipping-boy of collective guilt, upright once more, thanked him and slithered out the heavy oak door like a dazed but pathetically grateful puppy. He was, after all, The Headmaster, you know.
Paying the price difference from my own pocket money ( and with the Secretary's vicious barb you should have been expelled ringing in my ears ), I subsequently took receipt of the Complete Works of Shakespeare. A weighty tome to be sure, I still have it with its proud gold-embossed school crest somewhere, dusty and long unopened.
On occasion though, I catch my thoughts drifting dreamily back to Herr Titzlinger and Bust Up: The History Of The Bra, that storm in a C-cup which I suspect may have boosted the bursting bubblegum of imagination with more invisible lift than any offering by the Bard.
Strange to tell, there were to be no more prizes.