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Sunday March 23rd  2014  Tim Candler

 

     Then, you have to put down your canvass carrying bag, find your school cap because it's part of the school uniform, and you advance toward a gathering of boarding school children and their mothers and their fathers, and the most junior school master, who stick out in the Charring Cross railway station like a party of full regalia Hajji in Vatican square at the Easter time during the Pope's speech. And this is kind of a transitional moment for a boarding school boy, because if you were sent away to school when you were six or seven, this is the moment you're actually re-joining your tribe. It might not have been the tribe you had hoped to join, you didn't sit around in the classroom polishing a spear and plotting raids against the Karamojong. Nor was dressing up and dancing to drums on the agenda. And you certainly didn't raise questions like "why aren't twins fed to Hyena?" But nonetheless, when you are something like eleven years old and it was 1960 something, this tribe was your tribe, and there wasn't a great deal you could do about some of your tribe's stranger misconceptions.  So you're not quite certain how to answer the most junior master from the boarding school when he raises an eyebrow and asks you where your parents are. And when you've had a little experience of these sorts of trick questions from school masters, you just go all Spartan and answer with "none of your damn business," which can lead to a spell of Saturday afternoon detention, but it get's your tribe's respect, and if you're lucky the person taking detention has a deep need to be entertained. Which means you can ask him what he might have done in the World War and more often you find out it was the happiest time in his life and it was certainly a great deal more fun than taking detention on a Saturday afternoon, and he might even ask you if you'd like to go outside for a bit so that you might continue listening to his memoirs while he has a cigarette to calm his nerves, and maybe he takes a 'snifter' from the flask he carries inside his jacket.

    But sometimes when you're asked these sort of  trick questions like "where are your parents?" by school masters, you enter a wonderful world of expensive Taxi's and frills, and a mother so distraught at the prospect of saying farewell to her son that she'd  had to be rushed  from Charring Cross Railway station to a one of those National Health Service hospitals because she couldn't get an appointment with her private doctor. And it's possible too that you might find yourself getting carried away with some of the more lurid details about how your father had to go with your mother, because as everyone knows it's wrong for an attractive, properly bred and well dressed woman wearing a fashionable hat and high heels, to be left unescorted anywhere near railway stations or be left to fend for herself in a National Health Service hospital. So you found your own way to the Charring Cross railway station, because it was the only decent thing to do, and it was a pity there weren't more examples like you in the world.  And everyone looks alarmed  and you stare into the faces of the womenfolk, and you can tell they're feeling guilty and ashamed about the total inadequacy of their own paltry reaction to getting rid of their own child for three months.  Then someone sends a  "jolly good chap" in your direction, and there's a sort of rumble that might have sounded like "bang on," but you're not really certain because your "fight them on the beaches" attitude has choked the father's up a little, and it has renewed their faith in the genetic line of the English Speaking People and in the English Boarding School System. And even though you might be a little short for your age, you feel sort of like Chaka Zulu, and you swagger past the ticket collector, leading your clan onto platform five of the Charring Cross Railway Station. Which gives your French Master his opportunity to perform more menial rear guard duties such as keeping mothers and fathers and ticket collectors at bay. 

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