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What do boys at boarding school do when they are not in lessons? In our case it was a mixture of sport and the same kinds of things that pupils at day schools will do when they get home.
Every evening there was “prep” – the equivalent of homework – in which we would undertake assigned tasks in one or two subjects from the academic curriculum. Unlike homework, this took place at a set time every weekday and was supervised. From 6:30pm until 7:30pm we would be confined to our classrooms, overseen by a senior pupil – a prefect or monitor (in effect a junior prefect).
These boys were permitted to administer corporal punishment to any boy whose behaviour threatened the discipline of the class. This usually took the form of strokes administered to the hand using a 12 inch wooden ruler. The least painful version of this punishment was inflicted on the palm of the hand with the flat of the ruler. This merely stung a little. A more severe form would be the edge of the ruler which contained the possibility of bruising to the base of the fingers or thumb. Woe betide anyone foolish enough to withdraw his hand at the last second as the ruler descended. Most of the older boys were wise to that trick and would lift the ruler up to catch the back of the victim’s hand as he stuck it out again.
And then there were “twitzers”. This required the victim to hold his hand out with finger tips together and pointing skywards. The edge of the ruler would then be brought down with some force momentarily numbing the finger tips of the victim.
For boys in first and second year, homework was followed by bedtime. We were allowed to read in bed until “lights out” at 9pm. Older boys had a later bedtime which allowed for other occupations and hobbies, including listening to music as previously described, games such as Monopoly or Mah Jong, indoor sports like squash, and model making.
I have already mentioned that we attended Church services twice on Sundays. In between, our time was mostly our own to indulge in such hobbies. My preferred activity was reading. We had access to the more upmarket of the Sunday newspapers and there were plenty of books available to borrow from the school library. On alternate Sundays the barber would come to the school and set jup in one of the classrooms. On those Sundays, queueing for a haircut occupied what seemed like far too long a part of the day. Sunday was also the day when, twice each term, we were allowed visits. This provided an opportunity to leave the school grounds and explore the nearby towns of Cobham, Esher and Kingston-upon-Thames.
Two afternoons each week were set aside for soccer or Rugby in the winter and cricket in the summer. The school fielded teams in inter-school competitions with other private schools in the county and Saturday afternoons would often require the rest of the school population to support the first fifteen from the touch line or the first eleven from the edge of the cricket field.
Some time after a new head teacher was appointed, hockey was introduced. The new Head had been a member of the England hockey team in the 1948 Olympic games and was passionate about the game.
Whenever the sports pitches were deemed unsuitable for playing, cross country runs would take place. I found that distance running was an activity I enjoyed more than any of the other sports. Every summer there was an athletics competition for which little if any proper preparation took place. Sprints, middle distance running, long and high jumps, throwing of javelin, discus and shot putt all featured on the annual sports day.
Another pastime was boy scouts for younger boys and the army cadet force for older ones. In scouts we learned different knots, fieldcraft and first aid and occasionally camped out under canvas in the school grounds. In the ACF we drilled, learned how to dismantle, clean and reassemble rifles and machine guns; had days out at the army’s firing ranges and, in the summer of 1957, a one week camp at an army base near Portsmouth during which we took part in mock battles as well as all the usual drilling and tests of marksmanship. For me one of the most memorable features of this week was a day trip across the Solent to Rhyde on the Isle of Wight and the opportunity to swim in the sea at Stokes Bay.