Monday, 21 November 2011

The Early Years, Part One

From Boy to Man
Rugby School Chapel (left) and Fives Court (right)
 I loved both my parents but it would be fair to say that I have always had more in common with my mother than my father. Those who know her today find it hard to remember my mother as the happy woman that she once was but I still remember it well.
I would not go so far as to call her carefree, but while of a slightly stern disposition, she was generally happy and many times when chastising me, I would often catch her trying her best to stifle a smile at my antics.
My father was the carefree one, always with a ready smile, a shilling for me and my friends and I don't believe he could have disciplined me had his life depended on it. Mother made him try on occasion but he was just no good at it! Indeed he sometimes found himself on the receiving end of my mothers sharp tongue but he took it with equanimity, behaved himself for a few days then quickly resumed his previous behaviour.

The main bone of contention between my parents was always money. My mother's parents were middle class but just barely, they looked after every penny and had passed that habit onto her.
My father came from new money and after a lifetime of poverty, his parents spent like it was going out of fashion. He did the same and had the nice house, the big carriages, the best clothes and newest fashions. I don't believe that my mother was at all aware of our financial situation, for while she chastised him for his overindulgences, she always accepted them in the end and never made him return his purchases.
I didn't see much of our parents, I spent most of my days with my governess studying and I usually ate dinner with her, except when my father was out and I was allowed to dine with my mother. As I got older, father spent more and more time at his club and sometimes I would eat with mother up to four times a week.
The Quad, north east corner
That all ended when I turned 10 and was sent away to Rugby School; it was something of a shock to my system to say the least. I had been led to believe that school was a thrilling experience but to me it seemed to be a form of slavery in which the older, bigger boys forced the younger ones to do their bidding under threat of physical violence. I was away from home for the first time in my life, I didn't know a single other person there, I shared a dormitory with five other boys so never had any time to myself and I spent much of my first year feeling utterly miserable. 
I hated it and received many beatings from my supposed betters before I learned how to fit in. It took two years before that truly happened, and even then I believe I was only accepted because at just twelve years of age, I had turned on a boy two years my senior and bested him in a fight. I was no longer given menial jobs by the other boys; indeed many seemed proud of me and I quickly made a lot of new friends. Thankfully I never had reason to defend myself again while I was there.
Once I had been accepted and had much more free time to spend on my studies, I began to enjoy the experience. I quickly became a favourite of two of the Masters but since I had already proven my willingness to defend myself, it did not make me a target of ridicule as it might once have. I did well in most subjects and although I enjoyed learning, I would not say that I excelled as a student.
School entrance from Rugby High Street
I returned home three times a year and mother always came to the school to collect me. She would stand by the gate smiling, ready with a brief hug and kiss before we began the journey home. We wrote a lot while I was at school but it is fair to say that I didn't know my family in great detail for those years I was away. 
I returned home in the summer of my forth year to find that I had a new sister. I knew that she was expected, of course but it still felt to most strange that one visit home it was just me and my parents and the next I suddenly had a sister. Fanny was a sweet baby and I enjoyed playing with her but by the time I returned home again the next time, she seemed to have forgotten me and cried when I picked her up. upon each visit my parents felt more like strangers and only my mother took the time to write to me during term time. I began to feel more at home in school than with my family and it was a real wrench when I had to leave.
When I was told to report to my house masters office one day, I was not unduly worried. I had never been called out of class before but I was on good terms with my house master and I knew that I had not broken any rules.
I realised that something was seriously wrong the moment I saw my mother, for her usual smile was nowhere to be seen. We stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity until my house master came around his desk and put his hand on my shoulder.
“Pack your things, boy, you're going home.”
“Why?” I asked, still unable to take my eyes off my mother.
“Your father is dead,” he answered. “You're the man of the house now.”
I don't think he meant to be harsh; he probably though it was best to get the news over with quickly.
I didn't feel anything. Mother nodded for me to do as the master had said and I turned and headed for my dormitory.
I didn't know then that I would never see that room or my friends there again. I didn't know that we had lost everything. I didn't know that my life was about to change forever. 

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