I didn't want to go. I really didn't.

I tried everything I could think of to stay at home, knowing all the while the inevitable was ... well, inevitable. Public school. Boarding school. 'You're a big boy now.' Which was all well and good, but I didn't want to be away from home and my comfortable circle of friends.

"It's fun!" Simon said as we sat on my bed.

"Yeah, but you've been a boarder for yonks, and I ...." I turned away so he couldn't see I was on the verge of crying. Crying at thirteen wasn't on. His hand landed gently on my shoulder.

"It'll be okay. Really, Neil."

"But I won't see anyone for a whole three months!" I was feeling hard done by. It was all my dad's fault. He'd told me stories about his days as a boarder and as much as they were entertaining they were entertaining because they'd happened to him. He was my dad and dads can cope with things like bullying and having to break the ice on the swimming pool in the nude. I shuddered at the thought. I wasn't so sure I could cope nearly as well.

Family rows had been commonplace for the last six months. My sister, her husband, and my parents would argue about the best education for me like I was an object. I'd hear them at it and sit and listen to them bickering in the living room as I sat at the top of the stairs.

"Boarding school, definitely boarding school." Ron, my brother-in-law would say, and I'd know my father would argue the point just because Ron had made it, but also that he'd have to agree in the end, because that's what he thought too.

"I want to keep him at home," my mother would say, her voice quivering. "Why can't he go to a good day school?"

"Boarding school makes real men." Ron would pontificate, and I was sure he was getting revenge for the time I had hidden on the flat roof and poured a bucket of water over him.

Boarding school won the day. But which one?


We went on a tour. Three had expressed interest -- how kind of them -- three schools in different parts of the country. So we sojourned northward; a long way north; so far north that I would be unable to come back for the occasional weekends and would have to stay up there the entire term. So far north that my dad teased me that I'd have to wear a kilt. I was in no mood for being teased.

It was a famous school. We were shown around by a stern faced man who shook my hand formally and glared at me before a smile slipped into place as he turned to talk to my parents.

"Of course we're very academic, here," he said as we walked genteelly around the magnificent buildings set in immaculate grounds. "Most of our students go on to either Oxford" -- his smile got bigger -- "or Cambridge." He frowned, pausing in the tour. "Is Neil going to do well in his common entrance?"

"Umm," my mother said, glancing at me. I grinned back, convinced I didn't want to go to this place and sure that she knew it.

"Yes," my dad said, nodding sagaciously. "I'm sure he will."

Next, we were shown around a dormitory: a huge room full of beds with no privacy at all.

"This is the junior dormitory," said the stern faced man. I looked around horrified. My mother picked up a lone teddy bear that was resting on top of a pristine counterpane.

"This is so sad," she said quietly and stroked its paw.

Back in the car we drove away in silence, heading south.

"Well Neil?" my dad said after a while. "What did you think?"

"He's not going there," my mother said firmly. "That teddy bear gave me the jim-jams."

I breathed a sigh of relief, then agreed vociferously.

The next school was as famous, if not more so. Prime ministers had gone there, and kings.

Again there were magnificent buildings, but this time the man that showed us around was a deal more friendly and I warmed to him. Rather than talking to my parents all the time, he actually bothered to talk to me. My mother was noncommittal as we left, as was my father. I wasn't convinced by any stretch of the imagination, but if it came down to a choice between the two I knew what I'd say.

I was hoping beyond hope that the final school would be the one.


Nestled in a little valley all of its own, the school boasted one rather nice manor house surrounded by a lot of more modern buildings and a few porta-cabins.

"We thought it would be better if Neil's potential house master showed you around," the head master said with twinkling eyes. "Ah, here he is now." A portly middle-aged man wearing schoolmaster's robes and sporting a rather dusty mortar board at a rakish angle, came bustling up the corridor.

"Hello, hello," he said, beaming as he introduced himself to my parents. Finally he turned to me and smiled. "And you must be Neil."

Then, I didn't know how hard he slippered. Then, I had no idea how painful it was to be caned by the headmaster. I'd learn all that in the next few years, but what I did know as I shook his hand was that if I couldn't persuade my parents to send my to a day school -- and I was still working on it to the best of my ability -- then out of the three, this was the boarding school I wanted to go to.

"... and of course this is the junior dormitory." It was cold and long and thin with a bunch of hard looking beds and no privacy. My heart sank. "I know it looks grim, but by the time Neil joins us it will have cubicles, just like the other dormitories have."

"Oh," I said, my relief obvious. They laughed.

Back at home the battles raged on, whilst in the background I was still working on my mother, trying to get her to keep me at home.

"The school itself is very important," Ron said to my flustered dad. "It's all very well going to boarding school, but it has to be the right one. Remember, it's who you know in life that counts, and those that go to minor schools are ...." He tailed off, the sneer obvious, even to me sitting at the top of the stairs. My dad had had enough.

"Neil!" he called. "Come down here, please." Appalled he knew I was listening, I thought about making a run for it.

"Yes?" I tried to project my voice, as if I was miles away and had just managed, by the merest chance, to hear him call me. He laughed.

"Quickly, please."

I ran downstairs.

"Were you listening?" Ron said suspiciously.

"Of course he wasn't," my dad said, winking at me. "So, Neil. The choice is yours. Which of the schools we visited would you like to go to?"

"You can't be serious!" Ron was incensed. "You can't possibly leave the choice of his school to Neil. He hasn't any idea what it means. He hasn't any idea what happens later on in life. He's thirteen!"

"No, he hasn't. And you're quite right, he's thirteen. But he's the one who has to live it. He's the one who has to put up with whatever is thrown at him: not us. So isn't it right that he gets to choose?"

"Don't be ludicrous." Ron was almost spluttering. "Until you seen what real life is all about you can't possibly know what's best for you. You've cosseted him and you've ...."

"Steady, old boy," my dad interjected, his tone of voice chilling slightly. "I have faith in my son."

I was very aware of moods, and I knew that this was a BIG decision. Even so, I made my choice, made my bed to lie in for the next four years, without a seconds hesitation. I watched as my father smiled and Ron harrumphed and stalked out of the room. I was going to the nice place; the school without any academic aspirations.

More fool me -- but that's hindsight talking, and at thirteen the idea of hindsight isn't that important.

Ooops! I still had to pass the common entrance exam.

My reports were laughable. Every one a doozy. 'Neil could do well if he took his head out of the clouds and tried' was the common theme. I'd been taken to see psychologists; I'd been taken to see doctors. The end result was that I got removed from my prep school and sent to a crammer.

'Bleak house' we called it, and a bleak house it was: with a miserable woman who, with the aid of a hefty fee and a green conductors baton whacked across our palms, got twelve ‘could do well if they tried' children to the point of taking their common entrance exam. My mother would drop me off every morning, and every afternoon I'd walk home, shed my school clothes, and rush off to be who I really was.

At the end of term I took the exams … and passed!


The summer holidays arrived and my parents had planned a cruise for which we all had to go to the doctors for a raft of inoculations. Our arms swelled up, and as a family we were all ill. But eventually we were fit and ready for the off. Then, a week before we were due to leave, it happened. We were having lunch. I can't remember how our universal disapprobation came to the fore, but it was probably me ... or maybe my mother ... or it could have been my father. Or the dog. By the end of the meal we'd decided that none of us actually wanted to go on a cruise at all. My mother was upset as she'd been looking forward to the pre-cruise shopping spree, but it didn't matter. The family had been antsy for the last few weeks -- inoculations aside -- and now we were all happy again.

So I got to hear more and more horrific stories of boarding school from my friends who were already there, and my dad, whose memory I was sure must be failing him. It didn't matter as school was forever away at the end of a seemingly endless summer.

Of course it wasn't that simple. My mother, robbed of her chance to shop for the family cruise, now set her sights on shopping for my school clothes. A list had arrived along with a bill for the first term's school fees that put my dad in a bad mood for all of a day -- until he saw I was worried.

Dressed to the nines, my mother dragged me along to 'the school outfitters.' Anybody who wanted school uniforms and accoutrement went there, from the snotty Eton and Harrow types, to the lesser spotted minor school types like me. First on the list was 'Trunk, one of.' Though they were pretty much all the same size, the choice was huge as they came in a variety of colours ... and metal! My mother fancied a hideous brown check thing that I swore would probably have me hung, drawn and quartered before I'd even met another student, let alone made a friend. She paled at my description and let me pick my own. It was beautiful: silver, with black edging. Next came 'Tuck box, one of.' This, much to my chagrin, was a lot smaller. I chose one made of pale wood and gloss varnished. It had silver corner re-enforcers and an inside secret compartment to keep secret things in. I was much excited at this and stayed still as a mouse while a rather strange man took my measurements, spending rather longer than I liked on my inside leg. He spoke with an odd lisp which I found quite funny until my mother hissed that I should behave.

Trousers, blazers, shirts, Sunday suit, underpants and undershirts came by the armful, followed by socks, shoes, games shorts and tops, rugger boots, tennis shoes and all. We staggered out after a couple of hours and went for tea at Harrods, my mother glowing in the warm aftermath of a shopping trip done well.

The summer was coming to an end all too quickly. It was getting close to the time, close to the event, and I wasn't entirely happy. Simon had been gleefully telling me of the thrashings he'd had from the monks at his Catholic school, and I was getting more and more put off the whole idea. I finally went to my dad. He was sitting in his favourite chair with his feet up on the footstool and his eyes closed.

"Dad!" He opened an eye.

"Yes, Neil?"

"Simon says if he does anything bad he gets tied up on a cross thing in the refectory, whatever that is, and is beaten by the monks. He says they take it in turns to hit him with a cane, and he says he sometimes gets as many as forty or fifty strokes." My voice was quivering by this point and I watched as my dad started shaking: his mouth quivering like my voice. Suddenly he sat up, his feet hitting the floor with a thump.

"Umm," he said, turning away from me and getting out his handkerchief. He blew his nose loudly, then turned to look at me, a definite twinkle in his eyes. "Forty or fifty times, he said, did he? Well, that sounds just awful." Then he burst into laughter.

I stood there astounded. I'd come to tell my dad how I thought we'd all made a dreadful mistake with boarding school, and how Simon had given me proof. I'd bared my soul and told him all my fears ... and all he could do was laugh!

"DAD!" I put all my angst into that one word and he stopped laughing and sat down. He looked at me, smiled, and patted his knee.

"Come and sit down, Neil." I did, and got an 'oof!' as he wrapped his arms around me. I giggled. "You're almost to big to do this anymore," he said, sounding sad. "And soon you'll be away for weeks at a time."

"But Dad, Simon ...."

"Simon's pulling your leg, old chap," he said, "and doing rather a good job of it by all accounts."

"I ...." I was speechless and angry, and struggled to get up, but dad tickled me until I was almost hysterical.

"Glad you're not too old for that, then," he chuckled and kissed me on top of my head. I turned to him and buried my head in the nape of his neck, wrapping my arms around his shoulders. He smelt of dad, and mildly of Paco Rabanne. I reached up and kissed him on his stubbly cheek.

"You mean they don't ... umm ... beat you like that?"

"Well, I don't know for sure. But if they ever do anything like that to you I'll be there quick as a flash to rescue you."

"You will?" I pushed myself away so as I could see the whole of his face. He nodded.

"I will. But I very much doubt that'll happen. The most I ever got at my school was six of the best, and that was back when dinosaurs ruled the earth, and I was very, very naughty."

"You were naughty, Dad?" I said, glancing over at the clock and seeing it was well past my bedtime.

"A good stalwart try Neil, my boy. But I can tell the time as well as you can." He hugged me, a bit longer than he usually did, then pushed me off. "Off to bed with you, then."

The days that were left before 'the off' went by faster than an express train, and soon it was my last night at home.


Two day previously I'd said goodbye to Simon, as his school went back before mine.

"When will I see you again?" I'd asked, helping him into the car with his trunk and wondering what on earth he had in it that could possibly be so dashed heavy."

"Exeat, maybe," he said as we walked back to get the rest of his things.

"What?" I frowned, not understanding and looking for the joke.

"Exeat, dummy," he smiled, settling into explanation mode. We sat on the steps that led up to his front door. He was in his school uniform and I thought he looked rather good. "We get two exeats a term, and I should think so do you. They're weekend holidays, Neil. But they're easy to lose."

"Lose?" I was confused. How on earth could you lose a holiday?

"Mmm. If you do something wrong they gate you, and then you don't get to go home."

"What?!" I was shocked. "Ever?" He rolled his eyes.

"No, idiot! You lose that weekend's holiday, but believe me that's bad enough." I believed him. Finally the car was packed and his parents came out to drive him away.

"See ya, then, Si."

"Yeah, see ya then." We grinned at each other, and shook hands. I watched and waved as they drove away, watched and waved as the car got smaller and smaller, watched and waved until it disappeared from view and I was left, standing alone on the pavement.


We got up bright and early. I'd like to say that: after all, it would be a good way to start a description of one's first day at boarding school. Unfortunately, in our family things were never that simple. My dad was good at planning, and if his plans ever went the way they were meant to, then all was well. But he had a wife and a son who hated getting out of bed to contend with. The bottom line was that we were all night people.

Consequently we were late packing the car, and late setting off. It was only when we were eating lunch at a pub halfway to school that I remembered I'd forgotten the key to my trunk.

"Don't be silly, dear, you can't have," my mother said, sipping her sherry. I nodded white-faced. The worst thing was it wasn't intentional: the best thing was that I was utterly convinced we'd have to go home to fetch the key and I'd get another day's holiday. After a brief but intense whispered row -- because it really wouldn't do to be seen rowing by other patrons in the pub -- my dad got up and went to talk to the barman. He came back, smiling.

"The barman has a friend who says it's a piece of pi ...." He stopped, aware that he was being listened to and lowered his voice. "He's got a friend who can open Neil's trunk without a problem." He'd just finished when a man who like a much younger version of Arthur Daley arrived sporting a battered trilby.

"Problem with a trunk I hear." He sniffed and blinked.

We all trooped out to the car and opened the boot. My pride and joy was there, silver and gleaming in its beauty. The man - whose name was Sid - had the lock open in less than thirty seconds.

"There you go, guv! Piece of piss, like I said." My mother reddened as she gave him the evil eye whilst my dad handed over a note.

"Thank you," my father and I said in unison.

"Na probs!"

The remaining journey was somewhat quieter, and I was uncomfortable as I could feel a row was brewing that my parents were only managing to quell because it was my first day away from home. We turned in through the gates, past the gatehouse and down the long gravel drive. Up until then I'd been as nervous as nervous could be; a ball of roiling nerves that I'd obviously been hoarding away all summer had settled into my stomach from the moment I'd got out of bed, and I hadn't managed to eat anything at lunch. Yet as I first saw the main school building in the distance over the rugger fields, my nerves vanished, and I merely felt hungry.

We pulled to a stop outside a rather large building that had four sets of doors with a sign over them that said 'Assembly Hall.' Sitting on a trunk on the hall steps was a small raven-haired boy with rosy red cheeks and lips to match. My nerves came rushing back as dad got out of the car and walked over to him.

"Excuse me, but do you know where Green House is?" The boy stood up and brushing down his trousers, blinked.

"N ... no, I'm sorry. I'm new here and was waiting for help. Um, I'm in Green, too." He smiled and I found myself getting out of the car.

"Oh, good," Dad said. "Neil here is new too." We smiled shyly at each other and shook hands. His hand was warm and slightly damp, and I noticed long dark lashes over emerald green eyes.

"How do you do. I'm, um, John," he said.

"How do you do. I’m Neil," I replied. We let go of each other’s hand just as my dad arrived back with his camera.

"Would you two mind shaking hands again, please. I'd really like a photograph,” he peered through the viewfinder, then looked up. “Your first day and everything."

"Dad!" I almost wailed, cringing with embarrassment and shyness.

"I don't mind," John said, smiling at me as he rubbed his hand briefly on his trousers.

We grinned at each other and shook again: his hand just warm this time as the camera shutter clicked.


'The First Day' by Camy

This is one of several short stories written during the mad month of November 2008, as part of my NaNoWriMo.

With thanks to those who know who they are.
Any mistakes are mine, and mine alone.


Feedback would really be appreciated!

email me at: camy.sussex[at]gmail.com


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