I must admit I did giggle when I heard the word. I hadn’t heard it before and that foreign-sounding boy sitting cross-legged next to me made a funny noise as well and the little Chinese boy sitting on the other side of me looked as if he might cry again like he did the night before. Well, I was only eight and a half and the headmaster did sound stern and those words did sound peculiar.
“I have noted that a graffito has appeared on the wall of the lavatories and you boys have only been back at school one day,” he had said in a very severe voice.
Me! I had only been at the school one day. The thought made me sniff. The Chinese boy sniffed as well.
“Someone has written ‘Masturbation is not a crime’ with a black felt pen in large letters,” he went on, his voice getting louder. “The crime, in my opinion, is the writing on that wall.” His gaze swept across us all. That was when I giggled, as that one did sound such a strange word, but he was looking past our front row so I knew I was safe. “I suppose it would be useless to ask the culprit to own up. At least the boy can spell and the penmanship is quite distinctive so it should not be difficult to pinpoint the culprit.” He paused as he stared well over the heads of us young-uns sitting in the front. “I see Lorimer in Six is reddening about the gills, and his friend Tuddenham has an unusual smirk on his countenance. Perhaps you would accompany me to my study after this assembly. You may be able to assist me in my enquiries.”
I didn’t dare look round but gazed up at the tall, be-gowned figure on the platform. I had been rather over-awed by Mr Carstairs when I had met him yesterday, but Mrs Carstairs had smiled at us and I knew she was OK. My brother, Jonathan, who was at the Big School along the road said I would be OK, too. Jonathan was sixteen getting on for seventeen and had been at this school since he was eight as well and, when he had left me with Mrs Carstairs yesterday, she had smiled at him. She looked kind and Jonathan said I had nothing to worry about. He’d whispered that Mr Carstairs’ bark was worse than his bite. Mum said this about Grandpa Sinclair and he barked all the time. I kept out of his way at home as much as possible.
I sniffed again thinking about last night. I cried in bed and so did two of the others, the boy who said he was Chinese, Cheng Wu, and the foreign-sounding boy, Adolphus. His surname was difficult to say. It began with M and sounded like ‘Mine’s hurting’ or something like that. It would be important to learn how to say it because outside our room we would have to call everyone by their surname, especially in class, so we had been told. The one who didn’t cry was the quiet, dark-haired boy. I kept looking at him. He said his name was Peter Douglas. I thought he would be a friend. We were all new bugs the other two older boys, Barclay and McPhee, in the room had told us. They said we’d be OK and they would teach us all the rules but we would have to learn them quickly or we would be in the poop. Actually, they said we would be in the shit, but Mum had told Jonathan off when he said that word when he dropped that vase.
Jonathan was in the Senior School at this place, Kinloch School. I sniffed again and wasn’t paying any attention to what the headmaster was saying. Jonathan was my big brother. He was big. He called me ‘Shrimp’ but when he came home on holiday we always got on well together. Dad was in the Embassy in Greece so we nearly always went there for holidays. Jonathan liked it as there was a big pool near the Embassy and there was plenty to do, swimming and playing around. There were always some other kids there but Jonathan always seemed to be one of the oldest. He was big like Dad and he said I’d grow, too. But, where he had a tangle of dark blond hair, I was very blond and curly just like Mum. Anyway, he had told me not to let anyone take advantage of me. When I asked him what he meant he grinned and said I had to stick up for myself, always tell the truth, find someone to be a good friend and watch out for the bigger boys. He wouldn’t say what I had to watch out for.
“…And in conclusion,…” I was suddenly aware the headmaster was still talking. “… Some more pleasant news. All our applicants for entry to the various Senior Schools were successful. We have to thank the hard work of the staff for that joyous news especially in the case of some of our less motivated brethren. A few had to be worked rather hard to make their grades. I hope that this year’s candidates will take that admonition to heart and all should try to work to the fullest extent of their capabilities. Then, as Captains of Rugby, Hockey, Fencing and Athletics have moved on we have the pleasure to announce that Simon Fleming will be Captain of Rugby, James Curtis-MacDonald will take over as Captain of Hockey, with Perry McDennis as Captain of Fencing and Gerald and Fraser Marshall as joint Captains of Athletics. Please stand and come and receive your badges.”
Five of the bigger boys marched down the side of the hall. I knew Simon Fleming. His father is Second Secretary at the Embassy. My Dad is the Military Attaché. Jonathan always said Dad was a glorified spy, whatever that was. Simon was OK and he’d helped me with my swimming over the summer. He said his father was leaving the Diplomatic service and going to work in Hong Kong soon. Jonathan said it was because his Mum had gone off with some man some time before so he wouldn’t get any further promotion. Anyway, Jonathan had told Simon to keep an eye on me. Gosh, he was big. That is, tall. Not like me. But then I’ve got plenty of time to grow.
Me? I’m James Arthur Stewart Drummond. I’m really Scottish ‘cause Dad and Mum are both Scots, but I was born in Delhi in India where Dad was stationed at the time. He’s Arthur Constantine Stewart Drummond and he’s a Major in the Royal Marines. My brother Jonathan is Jonathan Sinclair Stewart Drummond. He wants to join the Marines, too, when he leaves school. I haven’t decided what I want to do. Mum says I have plenty of time and my sisters say I could be another model for the Pears Soap Bubbles advert. Cheek! Just because they’re older than me and got straight, rather mousey hair, certainly not blond. Still they’re not too bad as sisters go. They squabble and then laugh together and leave me alone. Jonathan says they’re at the age when all they think about is boys. They’re twins and they are fourteen and they are identical. Jonathan says they don’t follow the Sinclair tradition. Mum and her sister were also twins and had been celebrated as the beautiful Sinclair sisters when younger. We’ve got all their photos that appeared in Country Life and Horse and Hound before they got married to Dad and Uncle Hamish who aren’t twins but are brothers.
I looked at Simon as he walked down off the stage and I think he saw me and smiled. Jonathan did warn me that the bigger boys usually ignored the new bugs and those in the lower Forms and I wasn’t to approach Simon in case he was with his friends and they might sneer. Still, the two bigger boys in our dormitory were OK. They said they had to look after us but not to the extent of wiping our bums. Stuart Barclay was ginger-haired and said he was eleven, nearly twelve, and Watson McPhee was ten and a bit. He wasn’t much taller than me. He said his older brother, Gordon, was in Mr McCrae’s house, same as Jonathan, and he’d been told to look out for me. They had been kind when we three had the sniffles and they hadn’t taken the mickey. Stu said he’d been the same when he started at school but we would soon get used to it. Anyway, Peter had shared a bar of chocolate with us all just before lights out and he was the one who didn’t cry.
The rest of the day went very quickly. Our dorm kept together for meal-times and in the afternoon the doctor came round to examine all us new bugs although I’d had a big examination at our doctor’s at home last week. The doctor today said I was fit and healthy, but if I ever felt unwell to go straight to Matron. She stood and smiled when he said that. “I know your brother,” she said, “Always had cuts and bruises to be dealt with. Good lad in the scrum!”
That was the other thing. We didn’t have proper lessons that morning and Mr McWilliam, our teacher, gave us all pieces of paper and asked us questions about where we had been at school before and what we had learned. I had been at a little school in Edinburgh with Miss Pruitt and I’d liked it there but two of the boys had put their hands up and said they hadn’t been to school as they had private tutors at home. It couldn’t have been much good ‘cos when Mr McWilliam asked one of them to read out some stuff printed on the piece of paper he made an awful hash of it. I was sitting next to Peter and we both read it out OK. I don’t know about the other boy. Mr McWilliam didn’t ask him. Anyway, in the afternoon we had to change into our rugby shorts and shirts and I must say I wondered what we would have to do. Jonathan had said it was a rough game and he’d come home once with a black eye at the end of term, but I wasn’t to worry as they treated the young-uns carefully. It wasn’t bad. We played touch rugby and didn’t have to tackle, just carry the ball as far as we could. If we got touched we had to pass the ball back to that boy, or, if near the goal, kick the ball across the line. Mr Francis, who took us for that, said we would learn the proper rules in time and then we would begin to play properly with tries and scrums and how to kick the ball between the posts. The boy who couldn’t read very well was very good playing and he said I was a plucky little bugger after I had grabbed the ball and run down the pitch with it and managed not to get touched for ages. Jonathan had been told off by Mum for saying that word when he cut his finger once so I would have to find out what the boy meant.
When we were getting ready for bed that night Stu asked us four if we were feeling alright. We all nodded. It was all different, I thought, and I had quite enjoyed myself. Adolphus said he missed his room at home and I thought he might begin to sniffle. I remembered what Jonathan had said about some boys feeling homesick but he was always too busy to think he’d rather be at home as there was so much to do.
“I like it here,” I said, “I don’t mind not having my room. Anyway, my Grandfather isn’t here and he’s always telling me off and no one’s told me off so far.”
Stu laughed and said wait until we had old Winklepicker for Latin as he was far worse than anyone’s Grandfather. He’d had to write out three pages from the text-book at the end of last term because he had forgotten the third person plural past perfect tense of habeo. We four young ‘uns didn’t know what he was talking about and Adolphus did begin to sniff. Stu got a bit upset then and said he was sorry if he was scaring us. Actually, old Winklepicker wasn’t too bad he was just old and bad-tempered like all old people. I said my Grandfather was old and bad-tempered so I was used to it. That made the others laugh and nod.
I was all ready for bed then. I was tired. Jonathan had said I had to have sensible pyjamas and I saw we all had plain ones, not like my favourite ones with the bears on the front. Then as we got into our beds Peter came round with another piece of chocolate for us all. He said his father had said it was the best thing to stave off hunger pains as he was sure we would be starved like he was at boarding school when he was a boy. Watson said his father had told him the same but the food here was OK. Then Peter asked a question.
“What was that word Mr Carstairs said this morning? I’ve never heard it before.”
“Which one?” asked Watson McPhee, “If it’s graffito that means something written on a wall.”
Peter shook his head. “No that other one. The long word.”
There was a quiet murmur from Watson who looked over at Stu who was sitting up in bed. “It’s what the big boys do,” Stu said.
“What’s that?” asked Peter.
“I don’t know,” said Stu, “But two of the boys in our class were laughing and kept repeating it until Mr Robinson told them to shut up. Chris McMasters asked them at break-time and they said it’s something big boys like his brother do with their…. ….you know… …their things.”
“I know,” piped up the Chinese boy, Cheng Wu. “My brother plays with his thing every night when he’s home and tells me to shut up when I ask him what he’s doing. I said I’d tell Mum and he threatened to cut my thing off if I did. He said it was masturbation and I was to keep quiet about it and go to sleep. That was in the Easter holiday and he was home from school. I looked it up in the big dictionary the next morning but I didn’t know what it meant. He told me to shut up again the next night because I started to ask and he said it was none of my business I’ll learn in good time. So I don’t know why he was jogging up and down ‘cause he told me to turn over and go to sleep again. Anyway, he’s in the Big School here now he’s fourteen so I still want to know more.” Cheng had told us when we introduced ourselves that he had only been in England since Easter but that his elder brother was in Big School here in Scotland and had been here for ages. He did say he come from Hong Kong to join him and the school. I wasn’t sure where Hong Kong was. I knew about London in England and Paris in France, and I’d been to Athens in Greece, but I’d not heard of Hong Kong and I didn’t like to ask.
I was puzzled. I didn’t think I would know how to spell such a long word as that and I hadn’t heard the word before. I could spell ‘master’ as in ‘schoolmaster’ but how did it go on? And what did Cheng mean about his brother playing with his ‘thing’ and ‘jogging up and down’? I was getting very confused.
“What’s a thing?” asked Pete. He obviously didn’t know either.
“The thing between your legs,” Adolphus said. “That’s what my brother calls it. He’s in Curtis-MacDonald’s brother’s class in the Big School and when he came to stay during the vacation they kept laughing about how their things were getting bigger.”
Watson gave a laugh. “Don’t any of you know what the proper name for your thing is?” He turned and looked at us all as we were all now sitting up in our beds. “The proper name for your thing is penis.” He looked up and down the beds. “Didn’t any of you know that?”
Another funny word. I thought about that. Yes, I knew I’d seen and heard the word before. I had read it in the newspaper. That’s right. A mother had written in to the doctor to ask if her son’s penis was OK as he kept playing with it. But she said he was four and I don’t remember what the doctor said. I guessed it was his winkie as that was what Ranald called his after he asked to be excused at Miss Pruitt’s and she had asked me to take him to the lav as he was a new boy in the school. He’d told me when he was having a pee that his mother had said he should use proper words and this was his penis as he shook it when he finished.
So when Watson asked if anyone knew the proper word I nodded but he didn’t see me as Adolphus called out he knew and he looked at him and the others all said they knew, even Peter.
“Yes, I know what it’s called,” said Cheng, “My brother calls it his dick as well and it’s grown. He’s got hair round it too.”
“Yeah,” said Adolphus, “So’s my brother and that Curtis-MacDonald ‘cos I saw them chasing each other after they’d had a shower. I asked him why I hadn’t got hair down there and he said I wasn’t old enough. He’s fourteen and he said I had to be at least twelve before it began to grow.”
Oh, my! Things were beginning to fall into place, which I knew was a good way of saying that things were making sense.. I’d had to share a room with Jonathan during this last vacation while we were in Greece. I saw him several times when he was undressing at night or changing into his swim-suit and his ‘thing’ had lots of hair around it. Then, one night I had woken up as I heard him moaning and he had got the bed-clothes off him and he was holding his thing and kept rubbing it and grunting. I kept quiet but it was dark and I couldn’t see much and the next night I tried to keep awake and he was doing it again but I fell asleep and I’d forgotten all about it until tonight. So, why was he doing it?
Up until now I hadn’t said a word then Watson spoke up again.
“I can tell you all about it, if you want to know,” he announced, rather smugly.
I didn’t say anything but I nodded and so did Adolphus and Pete. I think we were all wide awake now.
“My brother Gordon told me all about it last year.” He looked at me. “Hasn’t your brother told you?” I shook my head. “Probably he thought you were too young,” he said, I thought, rather dismissively. “Well, Gordon said all boys like it when they do it, but you have to be older than us to make things happen.”
“What things happen?” asked Stu, “And you’ve never told me any of this before.” He sounded a bit peeved.
“I didn’t know it was important, but you haven’t got any older brothers.”
Stu shook his head. “I’ve got two older sisters and my young brother and no-one’s ever said about…. what is it? …..mastur…something?
Watson giggled. “It’s masturbation… …or my brother says it’s also called wanking!”
Cheng began to bounce up and down in bed and laughed out loud. “I know, I know!” he said, “My brother’s name is Huang and I heard Peter Phipps say that my brother had the right name as he was a wanker. My brother said he’d better not say that at school….” Cheng put his hand over his mouth. I think he’d realised he’d said too much.
“But, what is it, this mas… whatever, or wankering?” Peter persisted.
“No, it’s wanking… ….It’s rubbing your penis until it squirts white stuff. My brother showed me after I asked him what he was doing,” said Watson rather proudly
“Is it like… …pee…?” Peter asked hesitantly.
Watson shook his head. “No. My brother says it’s stuff for making babies.”
There was a sort of concerted gasp from the rest of us. Making babies? I’d heard something at school and that programme on televison said that babies came out of Mummies. I knew I had been in Mum’s tum because I had been told more than once that I had been premature because I was teased about it. Jonathan had said I’d been so inquisitive I wanted to know what was going on outside. And I’d seen Mrs Jefferson next door but one with her new baby when she came back from hospital at Easter and she was certainly thinner than the week before. The baby looked most peculiar when Mum said I should look at it. All pink and snuffly with its eyes closed. Mum said I looked like that when I was born and Grandfather said kittens are more sensible, they don’t open their eyes for weeks. Still, I did watch that programme on televison and it said that Daddies were involved, too. That made sense now. But, I didn’t know what they had to do.
What did he say? White stuff? All my penis produced was yellow stuff and I certainly didn’t have to rub it to produce that!
Watson wasn’t finished. “Gordon calls it spunk and says I’ll begin to make it once my balls drop. I asked him what he meant and he said I’d soon know when I’m at least thirteen and a half.” He held up his hand and counted off as if to check. “Gosh, that’s more than two and a half years if he’s right.”
Stu laughed. “That means I’ve only got a year and a bit.” He paused. “But that’s a long time to wait.”
Golly, I had more than four years to wait. I looked at Peter. He was the same age as me so he would have a long time to wait as well.
Cheng was not to be outdone. “My brother said to Phipps his hair starting growing when he was nearly twelve.” He pointed to Stu. “You’ll be twelve soon you said. Have you got any?”
Stu blushed and shook his head. “Never looked,” he said slowly.
Cheng laughed. “You’d better check in the morning.”
We had to settle down then as we heard Matron in the corridor. She opened the door.
“All in bed? Good. Lights out in two minutes. Sleep tight!”
I was tired. I forgot all about what the others had said and slept soundly.
I was awakened in the morning by laughter and giggling from the corner where Stu’s bed was. He was standing by the side of his bed with a great grin on his face. He was holding his pyjama jacket up against his chest and I could see he hadn’t got his pyjama trousers on. The two who were laughing were Watson McPhee and Cheng Wu. They were pointing down. I slipped out of bed and went along the room to see what was going on.
“See,” I heard Stu say as I got nearer, “There is some, isn’t there.”
“Not much,” said Watson, who knelt down then and I could see he was peering at Stu’s ‘thing’. Watson nodded, “Yeah, not much, it’s fluffy but there’s some there alright.”
Cheng dropped to his knees too. “Definitely. It’s started. My brother’s is quite black but your’s is pale and……” He turned and looked at me. He giggled. “Stu’s hair has started. Look!”
I peered down and saw, just above his bent down thing a few wisps of fair hair. He grinned down at me and turned to look at Cheng. “Do I look like your brother?”
Cheng shook his head. “No, he’s got lots more and it’s black.”
I didn’t say anything but I knew Jonathan had lots more as well and his was curly and brown. Darker than the hair on his head which wasn’t so blond as mine.
A rather chastened Stu stopped smiling. “But it’s started and he is much older then me and, anyway, I’ve got red hair.” Cheng smiled at Stu. “Sorry. I suppose I’m a bit jealous,” Stu said and shrugged his shoulders.
Watson looked up. “You’d better try rubbing it tonight. See what happens. Gordon’s dick goes all stiff when he does it.”
“I’ll have to see,” said Stu very quietly.
That day went very quickly, too. We did Arithmetic and English in the morning and one lesson of History in the afternoon. The History sounded interesting as we were told we would learn first about how the Romans invaded Britain a long time ago. A teacher at Miss Pruitt’s had shown us pictures of Julius Caesar and Roman soldiers so I was pleased I would know something about it already. After that History lesson we did exercises in the gym. We had to change into our gym kit but we didn’t get too hot and sweaty as the lesson didn’t last long. The big boy in our class who wasn’t asked to read was moaning as his shorts were really small and tight. I didn’t know the teacher’s name who took us for the gym lesson but he went to a cupboard and found some bigger shorts for him. “Your mother bought by age not size,” he said and we knew he wasn’t angry as he smiled at the boy and told him to keep them but he would put the other ones in the store cupboard. It was a good job there was plenty of bread and jam for tea time at four o’clock as I was very hungry after the exercises. Still, we did have a nice piece of lamb chop with potatoes and peas for supper with treacle tart for afters. None of us youngsters stayed long in the Common Room reading or playing draughts or ludo because I think we were all very tired and anyway bedtime was nine o’clock for us young’uns.
When I traipsed up to our room I had quite forgotten all that had happened there in the morning but others hadn’t. Cheng and Watson definitely hadn’t and nor had Adolphus who had looked on from a distance when we had peered at Stu’s thing. All three were standing by Stu now as he began to undress ready for bed I looked to see what Pete was doing. He was putting his pyjamas on and didn’t seem very interested so I thought I’d better keep out of the way, too. But I listened carefully as I took my pyjamas out of my locker!
“Going to do it?” asked Cheng, “You know, rub it. And you have to pull it as well,” he added.
“Yes,” chipped in Adolphus, “My brother does that.”
“You didn’t tell us that last night,” said Watson accusingly, “I told you all I knew.”
“Never remembered it until Cheng said it just now.”
“Your brother’s just gone up to Big School hasn’t he?”
“And you know about it?”
Adolphus nodded again.
“Tell us then!”
Adolphus looked round at us all. He hesitated. “Dieter does it. Every night. We have to share a bed when we stay with our guardian in London. I tried it but nothing happened and he just laughed and said I’d have to wait.” He looked as if he was going to sniff again. “He told me he’d give me a good hiding if I told anyone.”
Watson laughed. “You don’t have to worry about that. My brother said all boys do it or they get fidgety when they go to bed and it helps them relax, but they don’t like grown-ups knowing they do it.”
“Yeah,” said Cheng, “My brother told me that as well. He said it helps him calm down. I never told you that last night - I asked him what Phipps had meant and he told me to shut up about it, but he did tell me when Phipps went out the next afternoon.”
Stu had pulled on his pyjamas and was getting into bed. “It seems funny they say all boys do it but then keep quiet about it,” he said quietly. “Anyway, Matron will be here soon so you’d all better get into bed.”
I was so tired that as soon as Matron came and said ‘Good night’ and turned the lights out I was fast asleep.
I came awake again the next morning to the sound of giggling. It was Watson and Cheng. They were standing by Stu’s bed and shaking him awake. He didn’t look too pleased when he sat up.
“And did you try it?” asked Watson.
“What?” asked Stu looking a bit startled.
“Your dick. Did it work?”
Stu shook his head and wrinkled his nose. “No. It just went a bit stiff and that’s all. I went to sleep.”
“Perhaps you didn’t do it enough,” said Watson. “My brother rubbed his up and down for at least a couple of minutes before he began to grunt and sigh.”
“Yeah, just like my brother,” said Cheng who giggled again and looked round to see if anyone was listening.
Grunt and sigh. That was familiar. That’s what I’d heard Jonathan doing. Lots of grunts and lots of sighs.
“Oh,” said Stu. He looked a bit miffed. “I only did it about ten times.” He shook his head. “How does one know?”
“Gordon said the first time he tried it, it took ages and I’d better not try it until I was ready or I might hurt myself.”
There was a concerted “You never said that last night” and “How do you know when you are ready?” from Stu and Cheng. It was all getting rather complicated. It got even more complicated as Pete got out of bed and rather shyly said “Mine’s stiff in the mornings sometimes. It is today.”
He opened the fly of his pyjamas and showed us. It looked a bit like a finger standing straight up. Cheng giggled even more.
“That’s just like my brother’s and his isn’t much bigger!” He stopped. “He’d kill me if he knew I’d said that!”
Watson laughed. “Don’t worry, my brother’s looks like that. It’s a bit fatter though!”
Like that? I’d thought my brother’s had looked huge. But then, he was sixteen and a half. Gosh, I’d thought it looked like one of those bananas behind the big main ones in a bunch. I stifled a giggle. I’d better not say anything or they might think I was boasting about my brother. Gosh, I wondered if mine would grow as big as his? How could I find out? Perhaps I might pluck up courage when we were home for Christmas. Christmas! I almost sniffed again. That was a long while yet and I did miss Mum. But then I thought of Grandfather. “Keep that noise down, James, I am trying to work!” I knew he was annoyed as he called me James when I was Jamie the rest of the time. And all I had done was to play one of Jonathan’s new records. I didn’t really know how the knobs worked on the big record player and I admit it was loud. I didn’t really like that music anyway but Jonathan was always playing it and Grandfather never shouted at him.
I missed Jonathan, too. I wanted to be like him. That photo of him I had hidden in my locker by my bed. Him in his CCF dress uniform, tartan trews, mess jacket and glengarry with the dark green hackle, when he got presented to that Royal lady at Easter at the big parade. He looked so tall and strong and proud, especially as he’d just been promoted and had two stripes on his sleeve. Mum cried when she saw him march up. “Just like your father,” she had whispered. I wanted to be like him. Tall, strong, proud, and with a big strong, thick banana thing like him. I was really a bit homesick. But Jonathan had said I had to be brave. I would be.
“You’re quiet,” Pete said. He’d picked up his wash-bag and towel and was ready to go to the bathroom.
“Thinking about home,” I said and stifled the sniff.
“Same here,” he said. “Come on though, cheer up. My Dad said his schooldays were the happiest days of his life. I’m not sure about that yet. Three days so far.”
I felt a bit happier. We grinned at each other and I picked up my wash-bag and towel and followed him to the bathroom. I knew we were going to be friends.
I didn’t ask him about his stiff thing. We just talked about the school and what we’d done so far. He said he was glad we sat together and he was looking forward to the game this afternoon. He said he missed going out with his father’s ghillie on the moors. He said his father had let him watch the grouse shooting in August. I said we’d been in Athens and it was ever so hot. He said he’d only been down to England, down to London, once and hadn’t been anywhere else other than to visit his aunt and uncle in Edinburgh. I said I liked Edinburgh because I lived there, especially going up to the castle and watching the soldiers. He nodded and said he’d been up there, too. I said it must be good to live in the country, though. Grandfather had taken me, Jonathan and my sisters to the Highland Games at Crieff last year where he was judging the piping and I’d gone off and wandered down to the river and the girls came looking for me. I think Grandfather would have shouted at me except there were too many people about. I told Pete this and he laughed. I said I liked the hills and mountains. Edinburgh was nice but I thought they were better. He said he did, too. He told me his father had been at the school and he always said he wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else as it was surrounded by the country he loved.
When we’d got dressed and the others were all in the bathroom I showed Pete my photo of Jonathan. He smiled and said he looked very nice. He didn’t have a brother, just two older sisters.
That afternoon we had touch rugby again. Mr Francis picked out the boy who couldn’t read very well to be one of the team captains and another one who looked quite big to me but wasn’t the boy whose shorts were too small and hadn’t been asked to read.. The first boy I heard him call Pringle and said he’d better be as good at games as his brother. Anyway, Pringle pointed to me first when he chose his team and then he pointed at Pete second. In fact, he also chose Cheng as well but Adolphus was chosen for the other team. Pringle grinned at me as we set off down the field. “We’ve got to beat that lot. That boy’s big brother called my brother a stupid oaf! He told me to look out for him!” We did beat them. Pringle had a great grin on his face when we finished. “Must tell Ollie. He’ll be pleased.”
The rest of the term went very quickly. I really enjoyed hearing all about the Romans and Julius Caesar but it was difficult to think how far back that happened. It helped as there was a display stuck up along the classroom wall which started with the Romans and then the Birth of Christ and so on and it came right up to 1990. It was strange when we had to look at that and Pringle had to go to it and point to about where his year of birth was. Mr McWilliam was our teacher for History and said he was older than us. Pringle made us all laugh, including Mr McWilliam, as he ran along to where it said ‘1666 Great Fire of London’ and pointed. “I will keep my eye on you, my boy,’ Mr McWilliam said, ‘Don’t forget I’ve taught you’re two brothers and they had to be kept in order.” I liked doing the sums in Arithmetic and we began learning French with a lady teacher, Mrs Fisher. She was nice and we were soon pointing to things in the room like ‘la table’, ‘la fenetre’, ‘le livre’ and ‘le vase’ for the pot with a bunch of flowers in it. Pete asked why there were some things ‘le’ and others ‘la’? Mrs Fisher laughed and said she was waiting for that question. She explained that we were lucky as we didn’t have to divide things into masculine and feminine in English, but other languages did it like the French, or even divided things up in more complicated ways. Adolphus put his hand up and said he knew some German and he had to be careful over ‘die’, ‘das’ and ‘der’ as it was ‘der tisch’ for ‘the table’, ‘das fenster’ for ‘the window’ and ‘die vase’ for ‘the vase’. I was glad we spoke and wrote English!
Mr McWilliam also taught our English lessons. We started by learning about sentences. To begin with we had to copy sentences from the blackboard and learned that a sensible sentence would have a subject, a verb and an object. I got a tick for getting ‘The boy stood on the burning deck’ right as quite a few had put ‘O’ for object under ‘burning’. It’s strange we talk to each other without thinking ‘Is that a verb’? I suppose it was like Mrs Fisher had said about French or German children that when learning their own language they didn’t have to think about those bits which came in front. All very strange but I wanted to learn more. We also had to write our own sentences and make up a story so several sentences followed each other. I wrote about seeing the pipers at Edinburgh Castle when Mum had taken me up there. I said they were soldiers and there were other soldiers there on guard and they all were wearing kilts and some, like the pipers, had special jackets. It was difficult as I knew lots of words but didn’t know if I could spell them properly. I did write ‘jackits’ as that was like it sounded. Oh, and there were all those words which didn’t sound like the spelling or those that had the same spelling but sounded different. I had lots to learn.
There were no more bed-time revelations. Stu’s growing furriness seemed to have been forgotten. There were usually just moans about the prep we had to do, or having to shower after gym and touch rugby. Watson said boys always have dirty knees showing in the comics he’d read. We got told off though when wearing our proper school shorts if there was still mud anywhere and we wouldn’t have long trousers to hide our legs until we were thirteen and a half and ready for Big School. There were fewer moans from us as Pete and I helped each other with our prep and Pete, especially, helped Pringle both with his prep and his reading. As I chipped in, too, we both became good friends with him and found his first name was Jack. We heard about his father and how he was involved in getting oil out from under the North Sea and that sounded most exciting as I had seen pictures of the oil rigs. The big boy who wasn’t asked to read went for most of his lessons somewhere else than our classroom. His name was Arnold, but as he always looked annoyed I didn’t know if that was his first name or his surname. Of course, I still missed home but I had made friends, not only in our dorm room, and soon it would be Christmas and I would be seeing my sisters and brother again. And Grandfather! And I’d heard from Mum we would be staying in Edinburgh for the whole holiday. And we were told not to write sentences beginning with ‘and’.
I had only seen Jonathan three times during the term. Twice was when some of us were taken to the Big School to watch rugger matches. Jonathan had been chosen to play in their best team. The first time I don’t think he knew I was there but the second time I was near the line when the team ran out onto the field. He saw me and mouthed ‘Glad to see you - we should win!’. They did and we all clapped and shouted as his team ran off the field and waited for the other team to come off too. Jonathan was very muddy but looked very happy and as he passed me gave me a pat on the shoulder. “Is that your brother?” asked Brigstock who was in my class. I said it was. “He’s big, isn’t he?” said Brigstock admiringly, “My brother’s not so big as him.” As Brigstock’s brother was only three classes ahead of us with Stu Barclay and so still in the Prep School he certainly wasn’t.
“He’ll grow. Like us I expect,” I said, hoping again I’d be big like Jonathan. Oh, and the third time was on something called Commemoration Day which we went to in Big School. He was in his CCF combats uniform then. That combats uniform is supposed to be good for hiding away from the enemy. Not because you were scared but to give you an advantage so Pringle told us. I learned a new word, camouflage, though none of us could spell it! All rather complicated. One of the other boys said the tartan trews were only worn on occasions like Church Parade in Big School and times when many parents attended. Of course, Mum and Dad weren’t there on Commemoration Day but I did see Pete with his parents. I was introduced to them and both of them asked if I was happy at the school. I saw Pete grinning so I said ‘Yes’. I think Mr Douglas must be someone important as he and Mrs Douglas were sitting in the front row and he was wearing his kilt.
On the last day of term, the Tuesday of that week, Jonathan was waiting for me in the courtyard of Big School with all the others ready for the buses to take us to the station to catch the trains down to Edinburgh, or England, or other places further North.
He smiled as I struggled along with my big sports bag. “Hi, Jamie! Here give that to me. What have you got in there, all Mr Carstairs’ family silver, eh?”
“Thanks,” I said, “It’s only clothes and a few books.”
“And Mr Lion?” he screwed his face up into a big grin.
I’d had Mr Lion, a rather raggedy cuddly toy, for as long as I could remember. Jonathan had said I should take him with me when I joined the school as everyone had something to remind them of home. True, we all had our own treasured possessions and even Stu Barclay had a poor old teddy bear who had a kilt on which he always put on his pillow before lights out.
I nodded. Mr Lion went everywhere with me, even to Greece. I remembered Jonathan still had a teddy bear of his own on his dressing-table at home. Now he was in the Big School he didn’t take it with him.
We went over and stood by two of his friends who seemed to be waiting for brothers as well. I just stood and listened. The two other boys were moaning because of all the homework they’d been given ready for the last term before their exams after Easter.
“It’s not fucking right is it, Drummers?” one of them said as soon as we got up to them. “We’ve got all next term and old Fartbags has piled it on and so has bloody Kinky Kincaid. Bloody History and three essays to write for English, plus all that sodding Maths! Shit!!”
I’d learnt all sorts of new words during this term. I heard ‘fuck’ now all the time and it wasn’t just to describe what men and ladies did as Brigstock’s brother had told us one evening in the prep room when he was ranting and raving over having to do all those lines for Mr Pickford. “Fucking Old Winklepicker,” he kept saying as he scribbled frantically on sheets of papers. His brother and I were sitting alone at the next table doing a sheet of long divisions as everyone else had disappeared off somewhere. He looked triumphant as he scribbled the last word. “Done it! All two hundred!” He looked at us, a rather knowing look on his face. “You know what fuck means?” The question was directed at me. I shook my head. He laughed. “It’s what my Mum and Dad did to get him!” He pointed at his brother. “Dad stuck his prick in and he came out!”
I’d also learnt that ‘things’ were called ‘pricks’ as well as penises, or dicks, or cocks. Brigstock looked across at his older brother.
“Huh, he must have done the same before and look what came out then! The Loch Ness Monster, all skinny neck and fat body!!”
Gosh, Brigstock was quick to say that, but then Mr Wilson had said in History when Brigstock had described Bonnie Prince Charlie’s escape that he had an eloquence for one so young.
“Good for you, young-un,” his brother said, laughing. “Makes you wonder though.”
Makes you wonder what? At least I knew what the word really meant now, but the older boys seemed to use it all the time. Or some of them did. And all those other words. I knew I hadn’t better say any of them in Grandfather’s hearing or I would get told off again, or worse. Sent to bed with no supper, like the boy in the book I had been reading after Prep. He hadn’t said a bad word just refused to do as he was told. I didn’t know what the book was called as it was old and had no cover.
Anyway, my brother and his friends were getting quite worked up over the injustice, as they saw it, of all the extra work. And I would have to remember to call Jonathan ‘Drummers’ at some time.
“Isn’t that Roddy Campbell?” One of my brother’s friends was looking towards a Land Rover which had just been driven up. A man got out and beckoned to a young lad I recognised as Campbell who was in the same class as Watson McPhee and they were friends. I saw the boy Campbell and Watson go over to the Land Rover, followed closely by Peter Douglas and a big boy I guessed was Watson’s brother carrying their bags as well. Yes, Watson and Pete had said they were getting a lift home.
“Yeah,” said Jonathan, “He was here when we were still in the Prep School. He was in the First XV in games we watched.” The other boys nodded and looked intently across at the greetings that were going on and the stowing of the younger Campbell’s, Watson’s and the others’ bags in the boot of the 4 by 4. “He’s in the Army. Lieutenant, Black Watch.”
“How do you know that?” One of the other friends asked. I was curious too, but I kept my mouth shut. I had learned quickly not to say anything when bigger boys were talking together, though Simon had chatted to me a couple of times when we had met in the corridor. He wasn’t with friends, except once early on when he had Pringle’s brother with him. He was big, too, and shouted out to his brother to come over and said he was glad we’d made mincemeat out of that other team. Funny term ‘mincemeat’! All we had done was run a bit faster and keep out of their way.
“Roddy told me to join the CCF when I got to Big School,” explained Jonathan. “He knew my father was in the Marines so he said I had better join.” Jonathan laughed. “I thought I’d better as he was all dressed up in his uniform and swinging that swagger stick of his.” He looked at the friend who was the most talkative one and grinned. “You didn’t join though…”
“You know I didn’t fancy it. All that bloody banging about and all that bloody cleaning.” He smiled at Jonathan and turned to the other two. “He fancied it, and Roddy… Or that might be the other way round…” He turned back to Jonathan. “Still, you looked good in your new trews…, even better without!”
Jonathan looked round and down at me. I just looked back at him. No expression. But… …Keep quiet. …Look innocent. …Keep ears flapping. He turned back to the other lads. “Not in front of the child…” he said quietly. They just grinned at him. Anyway, what did that lad mean? And as for Jonathan calling me a child! I kept quiet though.
“He’ll soon fucking learn,” growled the other friend. “Like my blasted little sod of a brother.” He moved closer to Jonathan and the other lad. I strained my shell-like ears to hear what he was saying. “Hunh, he found out about the joys of spring last summer hols. Never heard the last of it… …and all those fucking questions…” He shook his head. “Then he got the wrong side of Carstairs first week of term and he’s been in the shit ever since. Dad had a letter saying he was being given extra work as the devil makes work for idle hands. Bugger me, his hands were never idle those last two weeks before coming back here and I bet I’ll hear all about it again as soon as we get home. And then Dad’ll make me keep a fucking eye on him as well because of what upset Carstairs. Sod that!!”
He turned and looked at a group of five or so older lads coming round the side of the Prep School building where I’d come from. I saw one of them go across to the Land Rover carrying a bag and a long case of some sort. My attention was drawn back as Jonathan’s friend stepped forward.
“There the little bastard is!” He growled a bit louder. “Always fucking late!” He waved towards the group. “Over here!”
Two of the boys peeled off from the others who shouted good-byes and cheerios and the couple lugged their bags over to where we were standing. Oh, my God, I recognised the pair. They had been pointed out several times after that first assembly in the Great Hall. Lorimer and Tuddenham.
The first of Jonathan’s friends reached out a hand and grabbed his brother by the jacket collar. The boy I recognised as Lorimer stood still. He probably thought better than to cause a scene.
“Always bloody late!” the elder Lorimer grumbled and the younger boy stood and looked at him.
“No problem,” the younger one said quietly. “The buses aren’t here yet. Mr Francis says there’s been an accident on the road near Moy but they’re on their way.” He shook himself free from his brother’s grasp. “Here, let go. Got something to tell you. You know Porky Prothero, don’t you?” His brother nodded. “Yeah, well he’s up for the push.” He turned to his companion, Tuddenham, who nodded as well. “Been pinching, things, hasn’t he, Steve?” Tuddenham, still silent, nodded again. “Even had Steve’s watch, didn’t he?” More nodding. “Mr Francis caught him after rugger practice and he had six watches on. Three on each arm. Then they searched his locker and bags and there was loads of stuff people thought they’d lost.”
“He’s been pinching things?” The elder Tuddenham spoke for the first time and turned to his younger brother. “You got your watch back?” More nods. “Anything else?”
“Yeah, he’d swiped a pair of my football socks. My name tag was still sown in. And there was money, too.” It was odd, the younger Tuddenham had a deeper voice than his elder brother. That was odd, too. I knew who Porky Prothero was as well. He was a very large boy who must have been in the top class. I’d heard his father was some Pop Star or other but Prothero was his real name. Then I remembered. Pete and I had gone back to our room one day after tea to collect some books we needed for prep and Prothero was just coming out of our room. He said he was looking for some boy I hadn’t heard of and Pete said he wasn’t in our room. Pete was a bit upset later because he thought he’d lost a pound coin he thought he’d put safely in the drawer of his bedside cabinet that morning and it was almost all the money he’d got left as it was near the end of term. I wondered now if Prothero had taken it? Poor Pete. He’d been upset as he had wanted to get some stamps and things from the tuck-shop. I’d given him two second-class stamps and Adolphus had given him a Snickers bar. He was very puzzled as he said he was sure he hadn’t put it in his pocket and lost it. I thought I’d better speak up even with the big boys there.
“My friend Peter Douglas couldn’t find his last pound coin and he was sure he hadn’t lost it and that boy had been in our room.”
A rather startled Jonathan turned round to me. “What was that, Jamie?” he asked, quite concernedly. I was glad he’d called me Jamie and not ‘Shrimp’. I repeated what I had just said. He nodded and looked at the younger Lorimer. “I think we’d better see Mr Francis as soon as possible.”