i.m. Ron Durdey
Each time I walk or drive by the one storey
Edwardian sandstone building with its
daunting windows and an entrance for Boys
and another for Girls and Infants –
one of my alma maters, an All Age
Church of England school – a memory
will appear like a genie… It is Empire Day,
’51. Mr Youd, the Head Master,
takes the assembly. We sing, ‘I vow to Thee,
my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect…’ I whisper
something to a friend. ‘Stand on the mat!’
And I do but it is the wrong mat – not
the one outside his office where the rough boys
from the farms and the council estate wait
to be caned. He forgets me. He walks past
at break. ‘What’s your name?’ I tell him and see
he remembers and thinks carefully. ‘Go!
Count yourself lucky this time!’
I would like to think I had, at nine,
been mocking his imperial twaddle.
‘We may have lost India but…’ and knew
it was the wrong mat. Maybe I was sharing
my aunts’ views of him, his school peers:
toady, bully and a quarter master
corporal in Ceylon while their father
and step brothers were on the Western Front.
Perhaps the line ‘The love that makes undaunted
the final sacrifice’ made me think
of my father. Whatever it was
I had learned a lesson.