Jim's Tales - three.
By Stan Stewart.
When he was just turning thirteen, Jim’s parents enrolled him in boarding school. The school was a church college with 300 boys.
Preparing for school was a major task for his mother. Jim had to be equipped with the correct clothes, including blazer and underpants. Jim had never seen underpants. The thought of wearing them seemed strange and unnecessary to him. In addition, the parents were required to supply sheets and towels and each item had to be identified with a tag bearing Jim’s name. Quite a job for Jim’s mum.
Arrival at the largest set of buildings Jim had ever seen and being part of a gathering of the most boys (300) he had ever experienced, was a thing of wonder to Jim. About half of the boys were Pacific Islanders and some of these boys were huge – full grown, man size.
Jim settled in surprisingly well. The school rule was, ‘No Visiting for the first month’. Teachers and boys made up their entire world. Thankfully, there was no bullying and despite his small stature, Jim never felt under threat.
The three hundred boys slept in two dormitories, 150 in each. It was an open space with no dividing partitions.
Lights out was signalled at 9.00pm then there was to be no talking. Jim made friends with the boy in the next bed. This little chap greatly missed his family and cried himself to sleep. Other boys would call out, “You want to go home to Mummy”. However, the dormitories were patrolled by House masters and this teasing did not go on very long. Sometimes this lonely little chap would sniffle long into the night.
Once a week, during a designated period, all the boys were required to write home. However, they were not allowed to seal their envelopes. This was to enable the teachers to read each letter before it was posted. Phone calls home were not possible. Every two weeks, Jim’s mum would write to him with news from home.
Jim enjoyed boarding school meals. They were tasty and nourishing, and most important to a growing boy, ‘enough’.
The showers were intimidating for the first couple of weeks. About 20 boys showered at a time under shower roses fixed in lines down the long room. A Prefect ushered the boys in and called out ‘time’ after about ten minutes and then the next group would come in. Jim says that boys were shy for about the first ten days. After that, they became at ease with undressing and group showers. Group nudity was never noticed or talked about.
The curriculum was the standard three ‘R’s” of the time – reading, writing and arithmetic. History was British history. Nothing was said about world events. Even though the boys in the school were moving from boyhood to manhood, there was no sex education. Never at anytime was there mention of sex.
Anything to do with the female gender was steadfastly avoided. Boys were growing whiskers and turning into men, but there was never any mention of bodily changes or strange wet dreams in the night. The school ignored all such life episodes, seemingly treating them as unimportant – or rude – or something.
Teasing seldomly occurred. Jim can’t remember conflict or tension between races. Islanders, Māori and Pakeha lived together in peace in this artificial, single-sex world.
But what was mentioned was religion. Every weekday there were two religious sessions and Sunday a two-hour church service. The boys learnt to grin and bear it. There was no alternative. However, Jim found the singing in the two-hour service exciting. Three hundred boys, half of them from the Pacific Islands, singing the old hymns of the faith, was in his words, “thrilling”.
Sport was taken very seriously. Each boy had to choose two sports. Jim chose rugby and tennis.
Jim’s parent rarely visited him. However, all his school breaks were at home. Riding the steam train for four hours was a great beginning for his working holiday at home.
Looking back, boarding school was not an ordeal for Jim. He learnt to cope and fit in. When he left at the end of his third year, he was ready to leave. However, in no way does he regret his three years in a boarding school with 300 boys, nor sleeping in a bedroom with 149 other boys.