That summer was the last time they spent any meaningful time together as boys. They had to go off and grow up. That’s the problem with being boys, young mates—sooner or later you have to start becoming young men. The bloke who owned the farm that Guy’s dad managed had sold it. Guy didn’t know much about that as it wasn’t the sort of conversation dads had with their sons, or maybe it is but it certainly wasn’t one Guy’s dad was going to have with him. All Guy knew was one day he was told they were moving nearer town. Town was Dannevirke, a rural service town between Palmerston North and Napier. Guy’s mum didn’t think much of the local high school in Dannevirke and part of the deal for Guy’s dad on the new farm was having boarding school fees thrown in for the kids. So, Guy and his family were moving to a new farm and from there he would be joining his older brother, Richard, away at boarding school, away from everything he knew, he didn’t really understand that bit yet.
Guy didn’t go up to Hemi’s place to say goodbye. They never even talked about what was happening after summer and they started high school. It wasn’t the sort of conversation mates had and they hadn’t the first clue what was coming anyway. No, after another day’s patrolling the farm, Guy and Hemi walked back towards their very different homes.
‘See ya then’.
‘Yeah, see ya’.
Life would be quite different for them the next time they greeted each other again. He didn’t understand why at the time, but it started to dawn on Guy that the contrast between the life at the little primary school he and Hemi attended and the next stage of his life was going to be massive. Guy’s mum started sorting out all his things to take. It hadn’t really occurred to Guy quite what was going on until his mum started making a list of all the stuff he would need to take with him. Guy had never been away without his family before. Who has at that age? The worst bit though was his uniform, Guy had never worn a uniform. The uniform he was given was the one Richard had grown out of the previous year. Guy in his new boarding school uniform looked like someone wearing clothes they would grow into next year. Stupid, in other words.
Richard was two years older than Guy and as the older brother he was a bit of a pain in the arse to him. Guy hadn’t missed him much since he left for boarding school a couple of years previously. Richard would come home every now and then on weekend leave and was still the same pain in the arse who had left. Despite being brothers, Guy and Richard had always been very different. You could use the old term ‘chalk and cheese’, but ‘town and country’ would be more appropriate.
So, Guy was driven to the big city, Palmerston North, to his new school. Palmerston North Boys High School, Palmy Boys as it was known, he was pretty quiet in the car. His mum was chatting away about all the things he wasn’t listening to. It was a reassuring sound, his mother talking. But he just looked out the window and watched familiarity sweep by. His mum was talking about how he should look people in the eye, shake hands properly. Not to worry about schoolwork too much as he was one of the brightest kids in his primary school, so he’d be fine with the new subjects. How Richard would look after him, he’s pretty sure that was the stuff she was talking about, but he kept looking out the window and agreed with her every once in a while.
The arrival at College House, the boarding hostel at ‘Palmy Boys’, was shocking for Guy, the whole day long. He knew he was going to hate it the minute he walked through the gates with his mum. The size of the older boys struck him first. They weren’t boys, they were men in school uniform. They looked so unlike anything he had seen before. He’d met the older brothers of some of the kids at his primary school of course, but they had also been to his school, so he had seen them grow up. This lot though, they were different. They were terrifying because they looked so at ease in the alien environment he had now walked into. They were so big.
The boys joining the day he did, all the new boarders, none were like him. They had their own uniforms that fitted. They looked like they were used to wearing them. Their parents had flash cars. Range Rovers, big Ford Falcons, new Holden Commodores, even some of those mythical European cars like BMW and Audi. Guy had never seen a real one before and here were a couple of them in the same place. The cars driven by people who owned farms rather than managed them.
Some of the boys from out in the sticks like him had been to a ‘prep school’. He’d never heard of a prep school until now, they don’t have many in New Zealand. There was one called Huntley somewhere in the Rangitikei that these boys had come from. It’s a flash school that rich country people send their boys to, to get them ready for high school. Like boarding school but with younger boys. Guy thought that sounded pretty crap. Other boys had been to schools called ‘intermediate’. These Guy’s had all been to really formal schools. This was just a bigger version of the way they had always been to school.
Now he had a chance to look around, take it in a bit, he noticed that the place smelled funny, a mixture of city, mown grass, and liniment. Something else there as well, food cooking. There was a sound of a big, busy kitchen, like in a hospital. A sound he remembered from when his mum was sick with what she called ‘lady problems’, and he went to visit her there. The hospital kitchen was nearby, and he remembered the sound of it. This place reminded him of that. Institutional was the word he would have used had he known of it at the time.
His attention focussed back to the fact he had been hurried along to a library, a place all the new boys were gathered to meet the boarding house master and staff. Guy was shown to a chair with his mum, among all the other mums and sons. Some dads were there, but not many. Dads have farms to run. The house master looked like a grandad. A tough one. Not a tough but kind one like Guy’s grandad, just tough. He strode up to the front of the room and turned to face the gathered throng. He didn’t have a face that reassured Guy everything was going to be okay.
He looked frightening to Guy. He wore a suit, a tie. His name was Mr Muldoon. He was really big, grey hair, glasses hung round his neck on a chain. He looked around the room, taking in all the faces he could see, getting a measure of the boys in an instant, as only a lifetime of being a house master could allow him to. He spoke. What Mr Muldoon said next, while simple, affected Guy more than anything else he could have possibly uttered. ‘Welcome, men.’
Mr Muldoon then said some things about how important education was and how the school they had come to was the very best school in all of New Zealand. He spoke of the school’s history, the achievements of the ‘Old Boys’. The lifelong friendships they would forge here at the school.
‘You should be very proud to be here, not everyone gets to attend a school such as this. I’ve been proud to be part of this school for the last 30 years’. Men have left this place and made great strides into the world. We’ve had international sportsmen, politicians, successful businessmen, and men who excelled in the arts, all forged their characters at this school. Embrace what we offer you, and all the opportunity in life is yours for the taking. There are young men in this room you’ve yet to meet who will become your friends for life. This is the start of a tremendous stage in your development as men’.
Guy heard little of that. He only heard the word ‘men’ being used to describe him. Guy was 13 years old and had been called ‘men’. Guy didn’t feel like ‘men’, he was still a boy and he knew in his heart that he was not ready to be ‘men’. Unfortunately for Guy he was, in the words of people who know how to describe things, one for ‘wearing his heart on his sleeve’. Boarding school is not the sort of place where that trait is regarded as a quality, it was to become something of a curse.
Back out in the school courtyard, all the ‘men’ are gathered around. The mums are saying goodbye, everyone is trying not to cry but doing a shit job of it. The young men are trying not to look stupid by crying in front of the other young men. The older boarders, the ones who looked like men in school uniform, are all looking on, seeing what the new ‘men’ looked like. It’s a bit like the human version of weaning lambs. Guy hugs his mum, not too much though. She goes off to the car, looking back all the time, waving. She gets in the car and toots the horn, waves and drives off. Guy is standing there on the footpath with Richard who has come to see their mum off as well. Guy looked at Richard and knows he is not going to spend too much time ‘looking after him’. Richard had already been here two years. This was his third, he didn’t have a bowl cut. He was much bigger and taller than Guy, squarer, fitter. He was very athletic and built more like a man. Guy was still a bit round. He wasn’t at all athletic.
Guy is on his own here, surrounded by 130 boys now called men, but on his own. He’d been here half a day and already knew he was in the wrong place. Some things are just known.