Get Your Laughing Tackle Around this
There was a young chap in the same year as me at boarding school who was a quiet intellectual type. Whenever I went to the library to find some solace and escape the torment of life, there he would be. I had taken up reading since arriving at this school. Previously, any attempts to open a book and decipher the marks therein had resulted in frustration and tears. Why was it that every teacher, when needing someone to read aloud to the class, would call my name first?
“Smith, stand properly, don’t slouch, now turn to page 52 and read from where we left off last time.”
How the hell did I know where we left off last time? The page looked like a blur to me. “Er –em…” “Top of the page, boy!” “Er- ‘The’ I mean ‘This’ er ‘is a p-pr-o-fo-u-n—‘”
“Oh sit down, Smith. Radcliff, continue please.”
Of course attempts had been made to rectify my lack of reading ability, but all had only resulted in increasing my confusion and torment. At one school, I had got on reasonably well with one of the teachers who I think felt sorry for me. A few years after I left, he asked if I would like to return to the school for a visit.
“Hello, young man. It is so nice to see you. How are you? And do tell me how are your mother and father. Well, I hope?”
As he finished speaking, he leapt to his feet and, as if by magic, had in his hand a book, which he thrust under my nose. “Open it! Read from anywhere.” I sat in shock, the fear rising up from my stomach as I opened the book. It was an early reading book for five year olds. I was, I think, eight or nine at the time. The page was a blur, I wanted to run. I stumbled over a couple of sentences before his hand took hold of the book and my fear started to subside.
So at the age of 12, here I was finally reading of my own volition. I naturally gravitated to the Natural History section, and this happened to be behind where Clegg was always sitting. Every time I stretched to take a Gerald Durrell book or have another look at “The Book of Monsters”, he would shuffle his chair and mutter, “I came in here to get some peace”.
One day he wasn’t there, so I took a book and sat in the seat he would normally sit in. At suppertime, I saw him. He looked upset. In fact, due to the red puffiness round his eyes, I suspected he had been crying. “What’s up?” I asked. “I’m not going home for the holidays.”
He then explained how his father was away in some country as a diplomat, and that his mother was there with him.
“Mother says that they will see me at the end of the school year,” he said and started to sob. I just said it. It just came out. “Why don’t you come home with me for Easter?”
He looked at me, and he held the last sob.
“I will have to ask my parents, but that should be OK.”
I was starting to wonder what I had just said and thought maybe mum would say no. I didn’t actually know Clegg at all. Bartholomew Clegg had been known as Barty, but due to an unfortunate sound during a quiet period in Chapel, the “B” was changed to an “F”. He, for the most part, ignored his new nickname, and I, like the teachers, stuck to the original “B”.
I wrote to my mother that evening and awaited her reply. It arrived by first-class post two days later. “Dear George, You have a friend! Of course you must bring him to stay with us over the Easter holidays.”
The letter continued in the usual vein requesting information about my daily life and telling me how my sisters and brother were such splendid children and telling me all about their latest adventures. I would always fold the letter and place it back in the envelope, while feeling jealous and ever so slightly annoyed.
To be continued…