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Lawrence College, Mt Abu

The Lawrence College, Mt Abu, was one of four schools associated with the name Lawrence. It was a military-funded school and my eldest sister, Kathleen, and I were there during 1935. It was, like other Lawrence schools, a co-educational establishment. The senior staff were mainly retired, ex-military personnel.

The Headmaster was Major Tarbottom (retd.), an unfortunate name. I had never heard it before and always wanted to see his backside to find out just where the tar was spread or, was he born with tar on his bum? I would ask myself. Furthermore, I was intrigued because I felt that, if the tar had been applied after he was born, the application must have been very painful. I had seen hot tar being spread on roads and, on one occasion, had seen a labourer get some on his bare feet and yell as though he was about to die. Poor Major Tarbottom, I thought, it must have been so painful.

I was the youngest boarder in school and all the girls used to want to fuss over me. On one occasion, three or four of them, teasing me and telling me that they were going to kiss me, tried to pull me into the girls’ dormitory. I struggled without success and finally, just at the door of the dormitory, I must have decided that attack was the best defence because I leapt forward and bit the girl immediately in front of me on the chest. I bit hard.

She screamed out in pain and let go of me, likewise the others. I didn’t get kissed, — more’s the pity when I think of it and, many times since then, as I grew older and “discovered a thing or two”, I have wondered how nice it might have been to bare the young lady’s breasts and service her properly.


Lawrence College, Mt Abu — Main Building

Lawrence College, Mt Abu — Playing Field

Our junior classroom was on a floor above the gymnasium, a completely separate building from the main school block. I noted that during classes several of the students would put up their hands and say “May I be excused please, Miss?”. Then the teacher would say “Yes”, and the student would leave the classroom for what seemed like an eternity. I wanted my share of this absence from the class-room and asked one of the pupils what it was all about.

“Well, it’s when you want to go to the ‘bogs’ .” I was told.

So the next day I asked to be excused, but when I got outside the classroom I could not be bothered to run across the playing field to the bogs in the intense heat but, instead, I just imagined I was running across. My eyes did all the work but I totally miscalculated the “speed” of my imaginary “run”.

Right, now I am at the top of the stairs. Now I am at the bottom. Now I have run across the playing field and am at the bogs. Now I am doing a pee. I’ve finished and am running back and up the stairs. I have returned. Now I enter the classroom.

Of course the whole deal took less than fifteen seconds. I re-entered the classroom.

“Well, didn’t you want to go, after all?” asked the teacher and all the other kids giggled.

“I went,” I lied.

The teacher, almost certainly thinking I had pissed on the landing, went out and had a look. She came back in, looking puzzled.

“You were very quick.” She commented.

“I think I must have run very quickly.” I said, and then realised I was not breathing heavily enough to convince her that I had just “run” a couple of hundred yards.

After that I lost interest in being excused from the class. It was far too complex a business just to get out of the classroom for a few minutes.


I had noticed that Mum and many visitors to our home appeared to take pleasure in holding the push-handle and levering my baby sister’s pram on its two rear wheels and cooing and clucking at Phil, who was in it. Phil seemed to enjoy this a lot and she would coo and cluck and occasionally giggle back at them.

One day, while Mum was busy working with her sewing machine on the front verandah and Phil was in the pram, I decided that I would follow the example of my seniors and amuse our baby by doing the same thing. Each time I levered the handle further back, thus lifting Phil further and further towards a vertical position. Each time I would call out “Coo, Coo, little baby” and she would really laugh and giggle. I loved the effect the game was having on her.

Then suddenly, I overdid the levering and Phil came tumbling out of the pram and onto her face on the verandah floor. There was no reaction for a full second or so. Then suddenly she let out an almighty scream. I was terrified and so was Mum who leapt out of her chair and came to rescue Phil, while at the same time shouting at me, “What have you done, you bad boy?”

I expected to see Phil’s face flattened like a plate, at least, and pouring with blood. I was out of my mind with guilt and fear. A bloody great bump came up on Phil’s forehead yet, apart from that, there was no lasting damage. However, I didn’t wait, I had done a bunk into the house and hid from Mum while she attended to the situation by nursing the baby and cuddling her close. Phil eventually stopped crying and I heaved a sigh of relief, but I did not even push a pram again for years after that episode.


Mount Abu is home to monkeys by the million. They are cheeky and often, because they seem to move in great packs of several hundreds at a time, threatening. Dad had planted a garden and grew lots of vegetables. He was particularly proud of his tomatoes, huge things, bigger than a cricket ball.

From time to time the garden would be invaded by monkeys and they would virtually denude the tomato bushes, sitting there with their families eating all the ripe fruit. We kids were afraid of them and stayed in the house watching Dad trying to dissuade the marauders from their raids.

Usually it was a case of trying to throw tomatoes at the “bunders [1] ” — incidentally, that is where the English slang word “bounder” comes from — but the monkeys were able to duck and dodge the missiles and would often catch and hurl them back at Dad. The inscrutable expressions on their tiny black faces seem to suggest that they are glowering and ready to attack. Otherwise, they bare their teeth at you and it is hard to decide whether they are laughing or letting you know that they mean business.

The Mount Abu lot are biggish — maybe 120 pounds or more, when adult — and powerfully built. To be honest, I think Dad was more than a little scared of the things himself.


Lawrence College, Ghora Gully – 1936

In between 1935 and 1936, my father was posted to Landi Kotal in the North-West Frontier Province region of India. It used to be the last town on the road up to the Khyber Pass. As a family we stayed in the town of Peshawar.

The landscape around Peshawar and Landi Kotal was mountainous. Peshawar was fairly well populated and green while Landi Kotal was hardly more than a village built well into the Hindu Kush mountains and desolate beyond imagination. This was the frontier between India and Afghanistan where there was constant fighting and frequent marauding raids by the Afghanis. The people of the North Western Frontier were mainly Pathans and Pushtun many who were regarded as descendants of Persians and the progeny of the same tribes as Ghengis Khan. The men-folk were often tall and ferocious-looking people with European complexions — fair skins and blue eyes.

On one occasion, Dad had taken me up to Landi Kotal for the day, as company for himself on the longish drive. He had left me in his office while he went out to check on his company in the field. After some little while, getting fidgety, I walked out on to the verandah and then across the maidaan [2] looking for my father. Coming to the edge of the maidaan, I stared over into the distance and saw the most amazing sight — four bodies of Afghanis were hanging by their necks from the crossbar of a construction which had been set up for just such a purpose.

Frightened, I ran back to the office and sat down and waited until Dad returned. But I never said anything to him about the hangings neither did I query them. Many years later as an adult, I came across a photograph which was of four bodies hanging in the same way. Dad said that they were probably the same chaps who had been hanged — I think the word “lynched” would have been more appropriate — on the day we went to Landi Kotal.

Peshawar, like Quetta, was quite prone to severe earthquake tremors and I can remember quite clearly on one occasion being at the movies with one of our bearers. I suppose I must have been dozing, but I was suddenly disturbed as all hell seemed to break loose. The audience were leaping out of their seats and rushing for the exits.

At the time I thought that there had been an announcement on the screen that there were prizes, presents or something being given to anyone who got out of the cinema really quickly. I jumped out of my seat and joined the melee heading for the door. I had lost my bearer but soon found him again outside — Did he have any presents or prizes and where could I get one? I wanted to know. It was only then that I discovered that there had been an earthquake and part of the cinema walls had collapsed.


For a few weeks my sister, Kathy, and I attended the local day-scholar convent in Peshawar. But March 1936 arrived all too soon and we were shipped off as boarders to the Lawrence College, Ghora [3] Gully. The train station was at Rawalpindi and from there it was a bus-ride, followed by a pony- or mule-ride up to the school. I was in the junior school and Kathleen was in the Girls’ School. We had a common playground.

There was a bit of bullying amongst the kids, and now and then I would come in for a measure of it. “Fight back” was the watchword of the time, but in my case it usually resulted in an additional punch on the nose or a thump in the belly. I don’t remember how she came to hear of it — Kathy was my own special guardian and Bodacea and always protected me — but I remember that she had only landed a few juicy thumps on my current attacker when word got around that she was “tough” and not to be “messed with”. They stopped bullying me after that.


There were a couple of strange kids in Ghora Gully. When we caught butterflies, grass-hoppers and dragon-flies we would take them to Dickie Hall, another pupil, who promptly ate them. I remember spending hours and hours trying to swat these flying creatures with my hat, shaped like that of a French Foreign Legionnaire, so that I could feed Dickie with them. Surely, I thought, he must be even hungrier than I am.

But we were all hungry most of the time. I remember on one occasion finding a half empty, discarded, baked-bean tin on the hillside between the back of the school and the teachers’ house. It had probably lain there for several days. I stuck my finger in and greedily devoured what remained of the beans only to find that nestling under the top, which had not been properly removed by the tin-cutter, was a great fat slug. I felt sick to my stomach but figured that, if Dickie actually chewed and swallowed those other “juicy” creatures, perhaps it was OK, since I had only eaten the beans and thrown away the slug!


As juniors, we were assisted in our dressing, washing and bathing by “ayahs” [4] . There was one of whom I was particularly fond. On more than a few occasions, sleeping in the dormitory, I would have the misfortune to wet the bed, or worse, mess myself during the night. This ayah would come on early duty and gently wake me and take me off for a bath and sneak my pyjamas off for a thorough laundering before dressing me in my school uniform and before the other kids were awake.

Maybe some of the other kids had the same mishaps ; I never got to find out if that was the case, but nobody ever scolded me for messing the bed and neither was I ever taken before Miss Clegg (the headmistress ) for a trashing — at least not for messing the bed. My ayah was, I figured, a real trooper for keeping my secret.

In later years I have thought about those episodes and cannot help but feel that they may have been due to lack of parental presence, sheer loneliness and dread. I was, after all, only six years old, away from my parents for nine months at a time and, living in an almost perpetual state of fear, constantly terrified of a wallop or even a “few of the best” from Miss Clegg’s crop — a length of date-palm branch with the leaves removed, but the knobbly ends still intact.


There is the story of a classroom where each morning there was a puddle of what appeared to be pee on the floor. The teacher had become quite concerned about the occurrences and had tried to find out who the culprit was. But no amount of general questioning could identify the boy or girl responsible. In desperation, she finally said :

“Well I’m going to turn the black-board away from the class and towards me so that no-one else can see it. All of us will close our eyes and promise not to open them until told to do so. The guilty person can then come up to the board and write his or her name on the board and return to their seat so that when we open our eyes only I will know who it is. Is that agreed?

The class all agreed and so the blackboard was duly turned away from the class and the children were told to close their eyes.

“All eyes closed now. Let the guilty person some up and write their name on the board.” said the teacher, closing her own eyes.

There was the sound of feet walking across the classroom floor and the “squeak, squeak” of the chalk writing on the black-board. There was a bit of a delay and again came the sound of the culprit retracing their steps across the floor and returning to their desk. The teacher opened her eyes and told the class to do so too.

On the floor was yet another pool of pee and writ large on the blackboard, — “The Phantom Pisser Strikes Again.”


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[1] A monkey

[2] A field, usually cultured like a large lawn.

[3] A horse.

[4] A female servant, usually for the children, but often as a mother’s maid.


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