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Apart from that sort of entertainment we used to go to two or three movies each school year. The AKC (the Army Kinema Corps) would have regular movies in the army barracks throughout the year and we sometimes went to one or two of them for a matinee showing. In addition there was another venue at the Gymkhana Club where they showed matinees and evening movies on two or three days a month though not all attended by us..

We always had to get “togged-up” for these visits and other public occasions, with our best worsted grey-suits, collar and tie, even in mid-summer. But apart from the enjoyment of seeing a movie we usually also got the dubious sexual thrill of being near the convent girls who occasionally went along to the same movies.

The girls would sit down one side of the theatre and we would sit down the other. We never got to speak to the little virgins, except brothers to sisters and vice versa. But we would try to respond to their apparent skittishness by flinging live chameleons, geckos or other wriggling things across the aisle and onto them. If you got caught doing things like that you would be in for a “pasting” from the Brothers when you got back to school.

Several of the boys and girls reckoned they had “boy-friends” or “girl-friends” in the convent, or the Boys’ School, as the case might be. But this amounted to waving your hand at them from the depended position as you passed each other. No contact was ever made and it was real “pretend” stuff most of the time.

I remember I asked Kathy to “fix me up”, as we used to put it, with a girl called Lesley de Mello. She was quite a pretty girl and, once we were “fixed-up” we actually wrote a few letters to each other. We never spoke nor, certainly, did we ever get within fifty feet of each other. I suppose I thought that, one day she could easily become the love of my life…. Until, and that was only years later, I was told that she was a raving lesbian!!


The Gymkhana Club was also the place where a travelling Indian dentist would, once or twice a year set up his make-shift “action-room”. This was real frontier dentistry. The chair and the drill were definitely pre-First World War. In addition, he was a solo operator or, as he might have said, “a-doing-it-by-myself” man. Having got the patient suitably positioned, he would fix in a drill-bit and start up the drill which he would pedal with his right foot while precariously wobbling on his left

There was no such thing as a “Novocaine” shot to deaden the pain. I guess the stuff must have been available though, I never heard of its use in dental fillings until we came back to England after Independence. The damned drill would slow down or speed up according to how well he was balanced and he was forever half toppling over.

Suddenly he would hit a nerve and have to scrape me off the ceiling before he could proceed. I must have been more and more reluctant to let him get at me again because he would constantly be saying to me,

“Urray, mister, please open it the mouth, so I can get my tool inside”.

Sod his bloody “tool”, I thought, the drill is bad enough. I was too bloody scared of this “hit-man” to ever go to him for an extraction but, I suppose he must have used some sort of anaesthetic, even if it was only a blow to the side of the head with a hammer, for that procedure.

God must have realised that I had suffered enough at the hands of this and other dentists, because He finally introduced me to Jonathan Kay, the world’s best, and to whom I have been faithful for the past thirty and more years, building up a patient-dentist and personal friendship which I will treasure until I leave to go to the “happy hunting grounds”.


I really must break to tell you about going on holiday to India (1993) with Jonathan and his delightful wife, Leila. Pirkko and Kathy were there too, and we had spent two or three weeks trotting around the Rajasthan (previously, Rajputana) area of the country. Two days before leaving the UK, I had visited Jonathan to discuss baggage and medical supplies and had mentioned to him that my upper incisor-right felt a bit loose. He checked it out and said that maybe we should pay a visit to his surgery right away so that he could examine it properly. This was around mid-night.

Anyway, we went to the surgery and he said that there was no long-term hope for the tooth and that sooner or later it would have to come out. He asked if it hurt and when I said “No”, he stuffed some plate-making putty into my mouth and said that he would get a denture made for me in anticipation of the future extraction.

“We’ll also take a couple of hypodermic needles with us in case you have to have the tooth extracted while we are out in India. The local dentists may not have the right facilities for sterilisation to hand”, he added.

I said, really without thinking, “Jonathan, if you can’t do the extraction, nobody else is going to have a go at my mouth. I’ll wait until we get back.” and forgot about it.

Imagine my horror when we got to Bombay, a day after being in the jungles of Abu, and my damned tooth began to give me all sorts of hell. I took a total of over twenty co-codamol tablets during the day and was in absolute agony in the hotel room. Jonathan and Leila were in the dining room when Kathy went down and told them that I was suffering.

Jonathan came up immediately and having looked at the tooth said,

“Right, it’s got to come out”, and proceeded to spill a bag-full of dental instruments onto the bed.

He gave me the magic shot and with a twist of the wrist, yanked out the offending “peg”. He put in a bung and said that I should relax and he would look at me again in the morning. I lay there with so much relief at having had the cause of the pain removed, but wondered a bit ruefully, about my pretty face; the visage I would present for the remainder of the holiday.

“Aw, heck, I’m not trying to “pull a bird”. “Forget it.”, I thought, and went to sleep.

Next morning, bright and early, in bounces Jonathan.

“That looks fine.”, he says, and promptly fits a new denture into the gob.

“How the hell, did you manage that?” I asked.

You would not believe it ; he had got on the telephone to his special dental technician the night we were in his surgery and, within twenty-four hours, the night before we left London, had obtained the denture.

Now, if you’ve got a friend like that, tell me a story to match.


Pirkko with Irish Christian Brothers — 1972

During the hot season in Abu, which was most of the time, the Brothers wore a white habit over their white shirts and trousers and in the cold months, which was from about mid-October to the end of the school year, they wore a black habit, trousers and shirt. They usually wore a white “dog-collar” throughout the year. In addition to the black uniform they would wear a long black cape fastened at the neck with a brass chain and clasp, rather like the “Sandeman Port” man, when they were out of doors or, if it was the “white” season and there was a cold snap in the air.

When they were in black they did look quite regal in a way. But the black uniform brought out the domineering nature which always lurked just under the surface. In fact, I can only remember the Principal delivering his canings when the black cape was in position. Maybe there was some significance in his dress which he wished to convey to us boys, but I think it was lost on us at the time and it is only when thinking back on school-days that one suspects that that could have been the case.

Canings were always sudden, public and delivered in the morning before “chota haazri [1] ” in the refectory. You never knew when they were coming. Maybe you had done something which you thought was going to get you a caning and you would get a scolding on the spot, but then you might wait for weeks or months, worrying and wondering whether you really were in for it, before the caning was delivered. Before the caning was delivered, Brother Roe, for it was he who I remember as being the chief perpetrator of the cruelty of caning, used to say ;

“This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.”

And I thought,

“You lying bastard. Give me the cane and let me whack you so that you can really know what it feels like.”

We would march into the refectory, stand by our tables, and say “grace” with a certain amount of irony ;

“Bless us, oh Lord, and these Thy gifts which of Thy bounty we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful. Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.”

— These Thy gifts?

A single fellow or group of offenders, as the case might be, usually given a name like “The Tank Corps” or “The Electricians” (my two occasions) would be called to the front of the refectory and ordered to get the piano stool which would be suitably placed for the swing of the cane. One by one, we would dutifully bend over and receive our “ration”, invariably “six-of-the-best”. No bum-rubbing was allowed lest you let down the rest of the school. This was not a masters’ rule but one strictly imposed by, and adhered to by all the pupils. If you rubbed you had failed and given the master his satisfaction and were likely to be “sent to Coventry” for a week or two.

In 1943, as part of the development of the school buildings and Bro Roe had assumed that his “folly” would become highly successful, a series of 100-gallon water tanks were installed on the roof-top above the washrooms. The tanks were intended to hold water pumped up from the well and piped in to allow us to draw water from taps rather than scoop it up in our aluminium basins from a water-filled bath in the bathroom. Until such time as the well was ready the “bisthi” [2] had continued to mount the steps to the roof and fill the tanks from his sheepskin container. The whole operation would probably have taken forty or fifty climbs up the steps. The temptation to have a quick dip in the tanks was very great and six or seven of us did so, but I think the bloody bisthi complained about the extra work he was having to do emptying and re-filling the tanks. We were reported and became the Tank Corps — Sergeants All, and with six stripes each (across our backsides!) to prove it.

The power-generator supplied all the electrical needs of the school. Although it was quite a large bit of machinery, it was only used to supply lighting. “Da” Pereira was the engineer in charge and was naturally responsible for the maintenance of the supply. Each evening, at sundown, he would start the unit and at mid-night it would be switched off. The power lines were a very simple “Heath Robinson” affair, a couple of bare wires a foot apart hooked up to a wooden post at a height of about twenty feet and carried across to the side of the school building and thence to the various light-switches within the school. It didn’t take much figuring out to realise that by shorting out the bare wires we could short out the whole school building. On several occasions we did so by tying a length of broken violin E-string wire onto a couple of stones and hurling the contraption up so that it fell across the main power lines.

Why should we do such a thing? Well, once you were in the “big” dormitory, from about the age of twelve, you had to do a period of night study from eight o’clock until nine and then come down to the chapel for half-an-hour of rosary and prayers before lining up to go to the bogs for a pee and then to bed at about ten. Short circuiting the lighting was one way of getting out of that late night stuff. But eventually we were “split” upon or else “Da”, or someone else had seen and reported us, and we became “The Electricians”.

Throughout our years at the school we were still able to enjoy our “electrical-failure, no-study” evenings whenever we wanted them because we discovered that the lighting was so simply arranged that by connecting the bayonets inside any of the scores of light-bulb sockets (we usually used a small coin to short our the bayonets) we could virtually fuse the whole system. “Da Pereira”, I think in total exasperation, left the school before we had finished our Senior Cambridge exams.


In most sets of Rules and Regulations there is a “catch-all” clause. In the Army it is “Conduct, prejudiced to Good Order and Military discipline.” What does it mean? It means anything you care to name; if you blink on parade and the C.O. disapproves, he can have your “guts for garters”.

We had something like that in St. Mary’s. It was “The Meanings of Words Book”, and its rules were used to administer a dose of the strap whenever a Brother felt like bashing one of us. It went like this. We had set periods for library on a Wednesday and a Saturday afternoon. Having selected your library book, whenever you came across a word which was new to you, you wrote it down in your Meanings of Words Book. Then you looked up the word in the dictionary and entered its definition together with its usage in a sentence. At a later time you would have to learn the meaning. Finally, at the end of a library period, you would have to date your last entry.

At any time — usually when he wanted to exercise his arm or simply to beat you up — a master could ask to see your MoWB. It didn’t matter that you had not yet learned the meanings of all the words you had written down. The crunch came when you were asked what page of the library book you had reached. You had better (a) either know the meaning of all words up to that point or (b) have entered the meaning in your MoWB. If you didn’t… it was “bash, bash” time!

Many of the lads tried different strategies to try to out-fox the masters; schemes like filling in a whole lot of words from the first chapter or two and learning the meanings, like keeping their fingers crossed that the master would not find a word with which to catch them out, like pretending they were slow readers, like… you name it!! None succeeded and eventually you realised that it was easier to accept that you had to conform or face the music. But the good thing about the whole “deal” was that you certainly increased your vocabulary!


When I went back to visit St Mary’s in the sixties or seventies, I had noticed how relatively relaxed the Brothers were. There was no high-handed bullying of the boys and even the compound of the Brother’s house was no longer sacrosanct; anyone of the boys seemed to have been able to wander around it at will, whereas in my day it was “taboo” territory.

However, from time to time, one form at a time were allowed in to pick and gorge on the mulberries which grew on a tree in the garden – it was usually because the particular pupils had been extra generous in donating their pocket-money to the Holy Childhood or some other crooked scheme to fleece us of our pittances of pocket money.

The mulberry tree was usually laden with fruit when we were allowed in to harvest the crop and like first-day cherry-pickers we made absolute gluttons of ourselves – grab the fruit by the handful, fill your mouths, one or two chews and swallow the pulp and nectar-like juice.

On one occasion, I was about to pick a mulberry when I noticed that it was not a mulberry at all. It was a hairy caterpillar which very closely resembled a mulberry. I ignored it and turned my attention to other bunches of the fruit. I heard one of the other lads on the tree on a branch behind me. I turned to warn him of the caterpillar but it was too late. He had already munched the beast! I just could not bring myself to spoil his afternoon by telling him he had eaten the caterpillar


I think 1943 was my bad year because that’s when I also got my first bout of malaria. Malaria is one hell of a rotten illness. For those who don’t know, it starts off with terrible headaches, shivering-ague, rigor and very marked influenza-like symptoms of pains in the joints. There are different types of malaria, all carried by mosquitoes, Benign, Tertian, Quartan, Malignant and so on. The main differences are in the number of “peace”, or fever-free days you can enjoy between attacks, for instance, with Tertian you get three days “off” between attacks.

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[1] Small breakfast. The first meal of the day.

[2] Water carrier.


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