Page inspired by Ben Carter
Back we march from having tea,
In the noisy Refectory,
To the lockers we all roam,
Grab our books and give a moan.
Time for prep has come again,
It really is a mental strain!
"We're here to work!" That's what I say
I just don't feel like it today!
I jumble through my choice of books,
There's none of which I like the looks!
Right at the bottom of the pile,
Is science, that'll take a while!
I start to work, the time drags on,
And only ten minutes have gone!
A secret note flies through the air,
The teacher gives a deathly stare.
Behind the pillar comes a noise,
"Stop that now, you naughty boys!"
The girls break out in fits of laughter,
"Nancy Gill, I'll see you after!"
I settle down, and finish working,
While on me teacher's eyes are lurking!
The clock strikes eight — it's time to go —
But only till tomorrow, though!
Nancy Gill (written 1988)
Bubbles & Martians
Prep was a time not only for its prime function, study, but also, I have since realised, was designed to give the pupils a time for reflection, for quiet and peace (qualities all the more valuable for their rarity in the hot-house atmosphere of a school boarding house). And indeed this in my experience was the usual state of affairs. Each night's Prep was different in atmosphere, depending on which Member of Staff was an duty, and each night before it started, the same question would be heard all over the House: "Who's on tonight?" - the answer, as far as Peel was concerned, being either "Tank", "Gink", "Jif", "Les Poolman", "Glasby", "Get-into-bed-Carter-or-I'll-recommend-you-for-a-slippering Brand" or of course the great and well-beloved "Hell." The response could range from groans and a muttered "Oh shit!" to "Good news!"
However, at least in Peel in the middle and late Seventies, Prep could be, and often was, not simply a time and a place of study. The library-like quietness of Prep was sometimes itself the spark that caused suppressed fires to burst into flame, and so Prep could turn into the stage upon which dramatic human moments covering the full range of human emotion were acted out .... love, rage, hysterics, jealousy, the greatest comedy and even, on occasion, tragedy and violence.
My own personal recollections cover two incidents; one of extreme embarrassment and one of the greatest moments of glorious comedy of my life.
The first was in my first year. It was the Summer of 1975, and I had played my first game for the School Year cricket team. I was asked, I think by Les Glasby, to stay behind after the game and help tidy the Pavilion. I remember that I was dog-tired and because of that was soon left on my own by the others who had been given the same task. I desperately needed to drink something but nothing was at hand, so I went searching. I soon found a plastic container of what I thought was orange juice. I drank deeply and noticed a strange taste. Orange juice it was not, but, worried about getting back to the House on time for Supper, I decided not to say anything and simply get home. During Supper I began to feel really quite ill, but got through the meal only by eating nothing. Then Prep started and though I felt more and more ill, I somehow got through it. As soon as Prep ended, I walked towards the exit, only to finally lose control and throw up violently and endlessly near the doors to the Common Room a stomach full of ... Fairy Liquid bubbles! What I had drunk wasn't orange juice at all, but concentrated washing-up liquid. My strongest memory is looking back and seeing the entire dining room laughing and laughing at the sight of an 11-year old vomiting up what looked like the contents of a school washing machine... .
A year later it was Summer again and just another Prep. Except that that week I was sitting on a table with CJ Burton, be-spectacled egg-head, Peel's own Mad Scientist. I don't know what started it, perhaps simple boredom, both of us having finished our work early. We looked at each other and started to snigger. The sniggering continued and grew into one of those moments where hysterical emotions become so heightened that all control is lost. In our case, the desire to scream with laughter was suppressed somehow, but only until CJ pulled out his famous metal Pencil Cricket rollers, specially made by him in the metal workshops. One for the batsman, one for the bowler. We started a game between the Martian XI and the West Indies, then the best side in the world who had just hammered England (it was 1976). The scores were astonishing: I, as "Whispering Death" Michael Holding, bowled Zug for a duck but Zooob scored 547 not out!! It was hilarious, and CJ's face, red with hilarity and getting worse with each moment, filled me with a mirth I really hadn't known ever before. Constant glances in Mrs McBeath's (CJ? Do you remember? Or was it Les Poolman's fiancée, one of the women sports teachers?) direction to see if she had noticed, merely made matters worse, and the sniggering began to break out into audible cackles and uncontrolled laughter. We were yelled at once but could not stop, especially once the Martian XI got to 1,000 for about 6. CJ started making what he imagined to be Martian noises and in the end both of us just sat there, tears pouring down our faces, shoulders heaving, unable to stop, not daring to look at each other. By this time of course the ripples of laughter could be heard throughout the dining room; everyone had noticed. Prep had been thoroughly subverted! It sounds nothing now of course, just a moment of teenage hilarity, but I've never forgotten it, and sitting here in Moscow remembering now, at the age of 40, I am laughing out loud once again!
Ah Mr Carter, you do bring back some fond memories of endless nights trying to work out what to do with that sacred time between the hours of 7.30-10.00pm (depending on age) that was so ingrained in your mind as a wycol boarder; Prep. Many tales I cannot repeat, as I would hate to embarrass certain ex pupils that stayed up late in the darkened halls under the pretence of working late! But two tales I am willing to recall (though in the first case, I honestly cannot remember the poor boy's name, unless Mr Ben of Moscow is willing to divulge it?).
Tale 1. One October night, being by now a 3rd year, Mr Ben of Moscow and his chums left us hard-working 4th years to our nightly studies (pencil cricket, which has already featured) and went upstairs to prepare for bed. I must now point out now for the record this is not a piece about our friendly Russian domicile but of an acquaintance of his. The boy who I shall now refer to as 'The Mechanic' disappeared to do his nightly ablutions. The Mechanic was obviously at that stage in his puberty, hence he was curious about his body and he therefore disappeared into the bathroom cubicle to do what ever quizzical 14 year olds do. We hard-working 4th years were oblivious to anything untoward going on.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Buster (our lovable Matron) being ushered upstairs by a flushed 3rd former (might have been Ben). Ten minutes later a slow snigger started in the far corner of the Prep room and by the time it reached myself and my Pencil Cricket partner for the night (Pete 'White Shoes' Coleman) the laughter had become uncontrollable. When we fully understood what a tear-stained John 'Killer' Killingback was saying, we too could not contain ourselves either. Apparently, so the story goes, The Mechanic was found writhing on the floor of the bathroom in agony clutching his prized asset. Buster was called to the scene as his friends were not quite sure what illness had struck their friend. Once she had calmed him down and got him to remove his hands there for everyone to see was the instrument of his agony ... a spanner attached to his appendage that would not come off. He had obviously thought this would help his progress into manhood greatly. This story had got around the prep room in under 10 minutes and reduced its occupants to a mass of gibbering fools. The boy suffered no long standing injury except to his pride and I am sure it took him a long time to get any girl to take him seriously, especially as from that day he was renamed ........ 'Spanner.'
Tale 2. This involves a re-enactment of a scene from a famous 70's television program - 'Starsky and Hutch.' Tim Prouty and myself had for some reason taken ourselves off to a Test Match at Trent Bridge. Remember this was in our last year, so we were allowed cars at WyCol. I am sure there were others involved, but I can't remember who (maybe Tim can). We returned back earlier than we thought and had decided to stop off at that well known hostelry 'The Buck' to quench our thirsts before getting down to some serious study. One drink turned into five and before we knew it we were slightly later than our intended 7.30pm. Eager (as you would be) to get back for Prep, we thought it would be good to enter the College from the main entrance instead of coming from the back of Lincoln Hall where we used to park our cars. Driving down the road past Fry and Cavell, this overwhelming urge to be Starsky and Hutch took over. We promptly wheel-spun my car to a stop by the telephone box opposite Peel, jumped out of the car with fingers for guns and rolled across the lawn in front of Peel towards the bemused Pupils sitting doing their Prep. Once we had finished rolling we finished side by side with two fingers pointing like guns up at the windows to come face to face with Hell. He must have either been in a good mood or on drugs (good mood then) as he just rolled his eyes and walked away leaving us still lying on the grass. How we escaped any punishment for that I will never know but it was never mentioned again.
Prep was always a mystery to me as a pupil. I could not understand why after working all day you had to do it all again that evening? Now, as a responsible Father of two, I spend more time slaving over books with my kids than I ever did in my time at Peel. As they say - "What goes round, comes round."
In Brief ....
Getting told off in prep for bursting into uncontrollable laughter at the sight of Mike Arnott, who was off to a fancy dress party held for all the participants in the school production of whatever-it-was-that-year, and was grinning through the dining room door in the guise of an Arab.
Wymondham College Remembered