Charlie Stevens

Name ID 1598

See also

Read, David Beating about the Bush
Page Number: 020
Extract Date: 1938

corporal punishment

I had company on the journey, a German boy by the name of Kurt Hunke, who was a few months older then me and had been to school in Europe. He was tall, fair, good looking and quite an athlete and was also very advanced scholastically, speaking excellent English. We got to know and like each other on the four-day trip to school, and my own standing at school was much improved by his friendship.

The older boys were divided into the bullies and the others and, although I was still a target for the former, they did not try anything when my friends were about. In the carpentry shop one day I saw one of the day-boys removing some tools and as only a handful of us were allowed in the workshop without a master, I told him to put the tools back, otherwise the privileged few would be blamed. His reply was to let me know that he did not take orders from "white kaffirs", which inevitably led to a fight. Others came running to watch but when I began to bleed furiously from a wound behind my ear the fight was stopped.

The boy ran away and was not seen for the rest of the week but when Donald and Charlie Stevens reported to the headmaster that they had seen him use a nail in the fight, the boy was sent for and given corporal punishment. The boy was Greek, and the punishment was given in the presence of his father, who waved his arms about dramatically and gave loudly his low opinion of the British. Mr. Wynne-Jones, the headmaster, understood no Greek and carried on regardless with the caning of the Hellenic backside. The boy was made to apologise to me afterwards, and in the perverse way of youth we later became quite good friends.

Extract ID: 4181

See also

Read, David Beating about the Bush
Page Number: 021
Extract Date: 1938

Igniting Paraffin

Charlie Stevens was my age and the top sportsman in the school, outshining us all in practical skills, but academically he was on a level with me although he had been at school since he was seven. Capable, and a born leader, he was highly thought of by both staff and pupils and made a very good prefect and so when he came to me one day and asked if I knew why paraffin from a bottle would not ignite, I felt flattered to be consulted. I told him that it needed heating first, unlike petrol, which would ignite when cold. Petrol would be no good, he said, as it would blow up and he explained that he wanted to make a stove from a Pascal sweet jar for the next Scout safari. If I was willing to try it out with him, we could borrow the blow-lamp from the workshop to heat up the jar.

[more in the book]

Extract ID: 4182

See also

Read, David Beating about the Bush
Page Number: 023
Extract Date: 1938

Tunnelling in the school grounds

For some time tunnelling in the school grounds from the river bank had been carried out by a group of five senior boys. When several of these left the school, interest waned and the tunnels were neglected, but during my second year the Tunnelling Committee decided to revive the work. They invited three new members to join them and to my surprise I was amongst them. I was given a long lecture on secrecy and hard work but when I asked what the tunnels were for, no one seemed to know. They just thought it was good idea and would be first class for midnight feasts, although it is worth considering that at the time any explanation would have satisfied me such was my pride to have been included in the secret mission. When I was younger I had experienced acute claustrophobia when I first wriggled down a porcupine hole and I must admit I did not look forward to digging in a confined space but after a few days I grew accustomed to it. At the end of the first week we had cleared all the fallen debris and boxed in the soft sides.

We were ready to start on new ground and very soon came across hard, impacted soil, which was tough-going. Sweating as we worked we realised there was a shortage of fresh air, so a small chimney was opened which also let in some light but this part of the tunnel then collapsed and had to be cleared, leaving us with a large space, which we named our feasting room. At about this time we discovered there was another party tunnelling away a little above and across our front. Jeff and I had just finished our stint at the face and were in the wash-house when Charlie ran in to say we must go back to the tunnel as there had been an earth fall and two fellows were trapped inside. It alarmed us to realise that the ventilating hole was on the wrong side of the collapse and we fought down our fear as we ran for the river.

The quickest way to rescue the trapped pair would be through the rival tunnel but we could not waste time searching for the other team to seek their permission, so we clambered straight into their tunnel, Charlie leading the way with a torch. The narrow entrance led into a large cave and, in the light of our torch, eight very surprised faces caught in the middle of a feast turned to glare at us. There were two girls and six boys in the party and had there been room for manoeuvre they would have certainly have roughed us up, but as soon as they heard the reason for our invasion, their hostility was forgotten and they set about helping us. Fortunately the collapse had been from the surface, allowing some air to reach the trapped boys, but the tunnel was too narrow to turn round in and all they could hope to do was to move backwards. When they found they could go no further, they panicked and it was with great relief that we were able to clear away the small amount of earth which separated the two tunnels and get them to safety.

Shocked by this near-tragic experience, we gathered outside in the bright sunlight with ashen faces and agreed a temporary halt to our excavations. Inevitably the story leaked out and we were thoroughly cross-examined by the headmaster and the parents of the two girls, although it should be mentioned that it was established that the girls were there only for the feast and not for any scandalous reason. We were told to attend the headmaster's study the next morning before assembly and that we should be prepared to be sent home for good. However, in the event, the morning brought us three strokes of the cane from Mr. Wynne-Jones' practised hand and the girls were sent home for the rest of the term.

Extract ID: 4183
www.nTZ.info