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Chapter Four. The Hostel

Chapter 4 

While Hemi was having his school bus conundrum, Guy was standing at the gates to the boarding school hostel. Richard had already gone after a parting piece of encouragement:

‘You better not make a dick of yourself here….’

‘You’re a dick, Richard,’ Guy mouthed silently after him.

Guy was then hurried along by a woman who told him she was the matron. She looked like someone’s mum. He learned her name was Mrs Doyle. She was short and round with grey hair and wore a grey smock, the sort of thing you would expect someone called matron to wear. Mrs Doyle would become very important in due course. Next thing Guy knew, he was in the middle of all the other new ‘men’, being introduced to what were basically actual men in school uniform, called prefects.  But these were just large, older boys, in their last year at high school, being given the responsibility of introducing the newly enrolled ‘new men’ to their rooms, and roommates, and rules.

Guy was taken into a long three-storeyed building, through a common area covered in photos of sports teams and lists of names and dates written in gold on varnished boards. The procession of 13-year-old men carrying luggage twice the size of them snaked up two flights of stairs with much crashing and grunting; no help was offered or expected. Large double fire doors were noisily thrown open and the small caravan of new men echoed down a long corridor with a couple of doors on one side and windows looking down on the hostel courtyard on the other. Guy saw all the other boarders filing off back to school for the afternoon’s lessons. There seemed to be over a hundred of them, a sea of grey and black uniforms jostling noisily in chaotic order. 

‘You laddies keep quiet please!’ Mr Muldoon bellowed at them as he walked along behind. The hush was immediate and total. Laddies seemed an odd way to address the school ‘men’, Guy thought. The prefects stopped and read out names, asking the new men to identify themselves so their rooms could be allocated. A prefect each took a couple of new men to their room. They weren’t men though; any more than Guy was. These were boys, the manly encouragement had worn off already. By the end of the hall, it was only Guy and another boy called James. James was a bit smaller. He had brand new uniform on, not a dumb hand-me-down like Guy’s. James had freckles, like Guy, he also had a large bowl cut mop of bright red hair. Guy and James were ushered into a room with half a dozen cubicles with shoulder-high partitions. Each cubicle contained two single beds a wardrobe and a pair of chests of drawers. There was a lone single bed nearest the  door. All the beds were immaculately made, and the room was spotless.  This was called a dormitory, or dorm, but it had much more in common with a barracks.

They were shown to their cubicle in the middle of one wall and told, ‘This is your spot, make yourself comfortable, unpack your stuff then come back down in 30 minutes to be shown where everything is. The prefect was tall and strong, with dark hair and a mean face. which suited his nature. He was mean. He had dark hair with a chin which was too big for him. He was lean, not solid, he had squinty eyes which looked as though he was always about to accuse you of something. He hadn’t talked much apart from telling the boys what to do and where to go. His name was Ralph. 

Guy didn’t know yet that Ralph had the bed by the door because he was the room’s prefect. Each room had a prefect. Guy would learn over time that Ralph was one of the worst bullies in the entire school. Guy would eventually find out precisely how mean he was.

James and Guy introduced themselves. James had been to one of the flash prep schools, Huntley, he’d already been at another boarding school for two years. His parents sent him away when he was ten. Guy couldn’t imagine that, why would parents do that? 

James told Guy that this place seemed nice enough and that he’d get used to it pretty quickly. Guy was busy wondering who lived in the other cubicles. Once they’d unpacked, the two boys went down to the common room to see the others and be taken on a guided tour of the hostel facilities, and an introduction to some rules: kitchen, dining hall, locker rooms, washing area, other dorms, TV-room, mealtimes, punishments…the afternoon became a blur. Guy was introduced to the other 30 or so boys in his year who had arrived today.  There were 130 boys at the hostel and five staff: the housemaster, Mr Muldoon and his wife, two live-in teachers and the matron. 

Guy was deciding how best to remember everyone’s names because one thing he was very good at was remembering things. He had an almost photographic memory for events, people, and numbers. 3:30 rolled around prettyquickly and then a small army of boys and young men dressed in grey and black rolled through the hostel gates. Everyone who lived here had returned from the first day of the new school year, all a year on from where they had left off. All of those boys were now more important, more senior and more cocksure of themselves than they had been the year before. The fourth formers were now no longer turds. Richard had told Guy many times how being a turd at high school is the lowest form of life and basically Guy would be something along the lines of a slave for his entire first year. Guy had assumed Richard was just being a dick, as he was given to being so often. 

Ralph rounded up Guy and James and took them up to the dorm to meet the others who shared the room. When Guy and James walked in with Ralph, there were seven others already there—four little Guys who were play fighting, two getting changed into sports gear, and a small, skinny bespectacled boy in a cubicle by himself at the end of the room.

‘You guys shut up, stop that shit and get over here!’ Ralph barked. 

The others approached the cubicle Guy and James now shared. The others were just standing there, smirking, nudging each other and looking expectantly from Ralph, to James and Guy and back again. Guy was about to discover that remembering everyone’s name would be pretty easy here. Ralph pointed at each of the others in turn and said,

‘Jethro, Fitz, Tin-Bum, Little Frank, Spaz, Herbie and Scutter’. 

Nicknames. Turns out everyone in the hostel had a nickname. Many nicknames had completely obscure origins, some were obvious and simple. The now-introduced others all gave the acknowledgment greeting of the raised eyebrow and upward nod. They all said one word in unison, clearly rehearsed: ‘turds’, and went back to what they were doing. 

‘Right, get changed and get out; you two, put on your sports kit and come with me, we’re going for a run’.

The run was to amuse Ralph. He ran too fast for Guy and James; he was fit, he was five years older than them and he ran at his own speed, stopping every once in a while, to shout at the two boys to keep up. They ran round a very large city block. Neither of the boys had proper running shoes; they ran in what you would have called tennis shoes. By the end of the run, Guy had blisters and felt sick. James fared slightly better because he’d been used to the forced runs from before.  Ralph informed them that they would run every day after school and before tea because the road race was in a couple of months and the hostel, one of six school ‘clubs,’ or ‘houses’, always won the road race. The hostel was called Murray Club. 

A bell rang out. Tea time. Lines quickly formed at the dining hall and there was clearly an order of dorms to the lines. Guy and James were near the front of the early queue because they happened to be near the dining hall at the time. ‘Turds to the back!’ was shouted by a large number of fourth formers. So, the turds went to the back. Dinner was organised chaos—large quantities of hearty but simple food, buffet-style but with housemasters watching over the distribution. Seating was at large tables arranged with an equal share of students by year. Guy learned some new nicknames. Seated at his table was MMBO (because he had B.O.) Bibibah, who stuttered, Jubes, who had big lips, and Stumpy, who was short and stocky. They were all in Richard’s year and were very happy to tell Guy that his brother’s nickname was Blaah. Because he went all apeshit when he had one of his many tantrums, so they would make it worse by standing around shouting ‘BLAAAAHH BLAAAAAH’.

Finding this out was one of the only enjoyable moments Guy had in his one-and-half years at this hostel. Mr Muldoon stood to make some announcements about all the great things Murray Club would achieve in this new year and reminded the new boys that joining in was not optional. Dinner was demolished and there was a bit of free time before bed. No Prep tonight because it was the first day of school. Prep was enforced study, two hours every night, overseen by prefects.

The TV was on in the common room. Boys played pool, or records, or cards, or undertook various hobbies, one boy even tied fishing flies. Guy had no idea what to do, so he watched TV from the back of the large common room, being ignored by everyone, reluctant to say anything to anyone, willing the day to be over. Guy heard the sound of something jangling and the distinctive noise of dog’s paws on lino, accompanying the steady, heavy steps of Mr Muldoon. A large yellow Labrador on its noisy jangling lead wandered into the common room with Mr Muldoon. The jangling came from a large set of keys attached to the lead. Mr Muldoon was rounding up his charges to tell them to go to bed. Guy noticed that everyone had already started moving when they heard the dog coming.

The bathrooms were busy with the sounds of ablutions, a lot of spitting and flushing, towels being used as whips (which were called rats’ tails), bare feet or jandals on lino, and the overwhelming smell of 130 tubes of toothpaste being used at the same time. Steam rose from showers, there was more towel whipping, swearing, laughing, running. The noise diminished to quieter night chatter, swishing of book pages and magazines rustling, then just a murmur. throughout the hostel. Guy and James sat in their beds opposite each other, the nicknamed others were chatting among themselves, comparing notes on the female teachers, and the general consensus of any conversation directed to Guy and James was that they had just had the easiest day here. Tomorrow gets worse and it all goes downhill from there, once they start thinking of some good jobs, they’d need the turds to complete to avoid punishment and regular thrashings of learning and encouragement. They were warned which teachers to watch out for and look out for and learned that the school groundsman was a cyclops who chased boys with a rake when you made him angry, which was best achieved by calling him Cyclops. He had a large permanent lump in the middle of his forehead, obviously from some injury, or medical condition. So, he got called Cyclops and he wasn’t happy about it. The survival lesson was interrupted by the sound of dog’s paws on lino and jangling in the corridor. 

‘Night, laddies’.

‘Good night, Sir,’ echoed down the halls. 

‘Lights out, laddies’.

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