An English In Kentucky


















Friday April 4th  2014  Tim Candler


      During the course of exile a tribesman licks a few wounds, might have a few strange dreams, and generally he is left alone to ponder the big questions without interference from some kind of loud noise calling his attention to something or other he might not want to do.  So this might be a good opportunity to discourse a little upon tribal structure. There were two kinds of boarding school. The Prep School which was for those under the age of around thirteen and over the age of around six. And The Public School which was for those between the ages of thirteen to about eighteen, sometimes nineteen for anyone who had to retake some kind of an examination so they too could advance toward a University, or Sandhurst or the City of London, and then might proceed with making some kind of contribution to the years and years and years they'd been fed and clothed for pretty much doing nothing but developing a sense of themselves which more often that not was at best a little unattractive. Within a tribe there were a series of clans, each with its own hierarchy. Each clan had a titular head, assigned it by the professional staff in consultation with the Headmaster, and the titular head would sort of be responsible for the behavior of his clan. The tribe itself had a titular head, also assigned by the professional staff  in consultation with the Headmaster, and he was sort of responsible for the behavior of the entire tribe. Titular heads were drawn from senior tribesmen, who might have been more familiar with their tribe's shortcomings, their failings, their weakness and who had what might be called "proper attitude." And here, you might be wondering if there were any other distinctions between The Prep School and the deceptively named Public School, beyond the age of their scholars. The answer is yes. In the Prep School, punishments where generally the responsibility of the Headmaster and maybe a few loose cannons in the ranks of the paid professional. But in The Public School, punishment was primarily the prevue of clan and tribe heads. They couldn't send a tribesman to detention, but there were any number of subtleties available to them and if these failed they wielded the cane, which was sort of rattan, with a crooked handle that came from a purveyor of canes over there, off to the west, amongst the English Wessex tribes, a place called Bristol. And you have to agree there were probably a great number of eighteen years olds who wielded canes without a great deal of practice, so you could sometimes get cut up a little around the backs of your thighs and on your bottom. Titular heads, and a number of chosen senior tribesmen, where given privileges and other bribes such as being permitted to walk around with their hands in the pockets and with their jackets unbuttoned. Generally speaking these senior tribesmen were hook, line and sinkered, and would swish around calling other tribesmen "tic" or "new bug" or maybe make you dust the library for no good reason, or polish their shoes, or warm their toilet seat by sitting on it for a while, and of course draw blood lines with a cane on your behind if you made a habit of upsetting them with some form of "dumb insubordination." Which is another way of saying "looking at them wrong."

     So you might be able to imagine yourself as a Headmaster who had chosen a tribesman caught buggering a five year old as titular head of some random tribe in East Sussex. Not at all good for a reputation in the small and competitive world of Headmasters. You can kind of hear "rum business in East Sussex" at the annual gathering of Headmasters in Bournemouth. So when it came time for a Headmaster from East Sussex's recommendation as to why someone like Switherington-Smyth should move ahead through the English Boarding School System, despite his intense lack of interest in goal keeping or anything that might have had something to do with a class room, you can kind of see failure written all over the application.  And too, if you happened to have someone like Mr. Switherington-Smyth as a paying customer, and if as a Headmaster you were able to get someone like the young Switherington-Smyth up the next rung into a Public School, there was always a chance that Mr. Switherington-Smyth would be so damned grateful he'd buy your Prep School something like a new dormitory, or squash court, or maybe a golf course, or perhaps an island somewhere. And too, a man like Mr. Switherington-Smyth would say wonderful things about you in those kinds of circles which were rife with good paying customers, but which had somehow gone to seed with respect to the obscure interests of their next generation of menfolk. All the same it's kind of a shock when you walk down stairs from your extended repose one early afternoon, and there's a brown paper parcel for you from The Headmaster, which contains a titular head's school cap that fits you and titular head's tie, to wear around your neck during those occasions such as Poppy Day or travelling to and from your tribal homeland. And I can tell you, my first instinct was to understand this brown paper parcel as an error by the administrative office. They kept it far too warm in there, which would inevitably lead to mistakes, and possibly over the passing of time they'd regularly sent the wrong report card in my direction. My second instinct was to blame the French Master, which I guess is a sort of knee-jerk reaction to distress amongst the English Speaking People. Either way, I struggled long and hard against temptation, sought solace by hunting around the garden for a black paint can and paint brush because the longer I thought about it, the more I was convinced the invisible hand was the kind of person who'd count Wren territories in the ornamental hedges on his walk to the railway station on his way to work in London. And very obviously the kind of person who gave his boy child books by Peter Worsley for their Christmas present. There was something about the handwriting on the footbridge across the railway cutting, and the complexity of it's achievement high up there, where it could only really have been done by leaning over the footbridge parapet and having someone hold you by your ankles. And a long arm too, with that kind of nerve of steel that sends men to pulling Dove nestlings out of burning buildings, and it's difficult to know quite why they'd do such a thing.  But in time people pass on and you don't necessarily ask the questions you should have done, so it's always possible I was mistaken, and the invisible hand was someone else altogether. Like someone who was maybe eighteen years old, and who might have gone on to become a prestigious lecturer in a Sociology Department because he had a fondness for smoking pot, and never once asked where it came from. Or went on to teach Art History and wrote a book about the implications of graffiti in Ancient Rome and got really pissed off when someone scribbled something like "Wolverhampton Rangers" on his garage door. (One more day......)



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