The form of imposition by the bully boys tended to vary according to the latest fashion. The favourite in my second term was for a gang to force the smaller new boy to head a ball. Not the relatively innocuous football, rather the choice was a golf ball, a cricket ball being deemed to be too dangerous! Another ruse was to take a piece of a junior's wearing apparel….school cap, tie, or whatever and then taunt the unfortunate junior boy with the article well knowing that the boy would be in trouble with the teaching or prefect fraternity for not wearing the required piece of clothing.
My second term was punctuated by punishments imposed by teachers and prefects. One way they used to punish minor infringements was to give “lines”. These would be given for infractions like talking in class or after lights out, late arrival at lessons or for doing homework badly. A sentence meant writing out some thing like “I shall not talk after lights out” one hundred times or whatever multiple was imposed. The lines had to be handed in the next day and had to be legible, otherwise the punishment was extended. These punishments might not seem much but they were incredibly tedious and kept me from doing something more entertaining. I experimented with various ways of writing the words more quickly. One was to write the words in columns. Another was to try to hold two or three pens in my writing hand to double or treble my productivity, but none of these really worked….
Detention was another sanction favoured by the teachers. It was often imposed as a group punishment, especially on a whole class. Our Latin master, a Mr J, frequently used this method especially when he was dissatisfied with our homework. He was a fearsome man. As housemaster for Simms House, he ruled his pupils with an iron hand. He was highly educated having gained a Masters degree at some prestigious English University. A tall presence of athletic build he was one of the blackest men I ever came across. He knew his subject, but he was easily displeased and tolerated no backsliding. Make a mistake in reciting amo amas amat or some other Latin verb and the unfortunate pupil would be ordered to remain standing. Another mistake and the boy would be told to stand on his seat. If that failed then the next step in the sequence was the award of lines or detention. It was not unusual for half the class to be standing on the seats of their desks before the Latin period was half over. His entry to the classroom was always attended by complete silence and a dread of being told to present one's home work.
I cannot say I learnt much Latin under Mr J's regime. Several terms later in my school career I found I could avoid it by choosing another language to study. The decision to do so had fairly serious consequences because in those days knowledge of Latin was essential to study medicine or law.
BROWNS TOWN MARKET
But Brown's Town for the most part was a small and quiet place. People were friendly and there was never any hint in those days of the restrictions that are common today because of crime and gang related anarchy.
Summer Hill was about 5 miles out of Brown's Town set in the hills above. It was the centre of a property where pimento trees and shrubs (The Allspice of Jamaica) were cultivated in the extensive rolling hilltop lands around. The fragrant pimento berries were harvested and sacked for transporting and processing elsewhere into Pimento Dram. This traditional and famous Jamaican drink is a rum-based and spicy pimiento berry-flavoured liqueur that is now hard to find and expensive.
The pimento tree is indigenous to the Caribbean Islands. It was found growing in Jamaica by early Spanish explorers. The name pimento originated from the Spanish word "pimienta" (pepper or peppercorn). To most English speaking people the tree is called "pimento" and the berries "allspice". The name allspice originated from the popular notion that the pimento berry contains the characteristic flavour and aroma of cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and pepper, all combined in one spice.
At the end of the nineteenth century, it became fashionable to have umbrellas made of pimento. The great demand led to wanton cutting of the saplings and it was only through strict controls legislated in 1882 and equally strict enforcement of them that saved the young pimento trees from disappearing altogether.
Summer Hill was a large and sumptuous property, with a spacious house set on the top of a hill with views of a memorable beauty looking north over the hilly country down to the Caribbean coast. The road leading up to it left a red scar through the groves of pimento. The red soil was typical of the bauxite deposits that were common in the area and later to be mined as a mainstay for the island economy. It was surrounded on one side by flat concrete pans on which the pimento was dried after harvest. On another side of the house Douglas Tucker had built some green houses in which he kept his highly prized collection of Jamaican and other island orchids.
Douglas Tucker was a prominent figure in the area, although I did not understand that at the time. He was a successful lawyer and much involved in the local Boy Scout movement as a commissioner. I was to meet him again several years later in that capacity.
The Raleigh bicycle was a birthday present. I do not know how Mum had got hold of it as Brown's Town was not large enough to support a cycle shop, at least I do not remember ever having seen one there. The cycle was all black and of the old fashioned sort with a heavy pipe frame and rod actuated brakes. The saddle was of leather and supported on two coiled springs with another spring at the front end. It was of pre war design, made in England and all black. It must have arrived in Jamaica as part of the UK post war drive to recover through exporting its manufactured products to the colonies and anywhere else they could find a market. It was my pride and joy and eventually made it possible for me to begin serious exploration of my surroundings.
Caning was the most serious form of punishment after expulsion and was quite often resorted to. The cane was a very flexible piece wood akin to bamboo. It was light coloured about 4 feet long and ½ inch in diameter. The strokes were administered to one's bottom, the recipient being required to bend over with or without a support to hang on to. The pain after each stroke was momentary but excruciating. After effects were accumulative depending on how many strokes were applied. Caning really was an effective sanction for most of the boys at JC.
The punishment was graduated according to the offence. Prefects were allowed to cane but could administer only a limited number. This was, I think 3 strokes and then only in the presence of other prefects who presumably were there to ensure that the punishment was deserved and within limits.
Housemasters used the cane in response to an infraction reported either by a teacher or the Head Boy. The housemaster decided on the number of strokes. There must have been a limit because I cannot remember anyone being given more that 12 strokes. Referral to the Headmaster was the worst punishment and this rarely happened. He did use the cane and on one dreadful occasion the boy, a senior, was caned in front of the whole school. I forget what it was for, but it must have been serious because it happened only once in the six years I was at JC. Most boys who saw it I am sure felt ashamed and dismayed that things had gone that far.
Pride in the school was something that was encouraged and expected amongst all the boys. A sense of belonging to an institutional community became stronger as I progressed through the school. This came with a feeling that we were the best especially when compared with other schools.
Throughout the year there was a program of various sporting competitions that involved other schools. These included an annual swimming gala, a football competition for the “Manning Cup”, inter school athletic competitions, and of course cricket. To be picked to represent the school for one of these was something that was encouraged and competition for selection was quite hard. Most boys strived to achieve selection at some sport and the process started with in school competitions between the houses. If you did well in the house competition then you stood a reasonable chance of selection for a school team.
Boys achieving selection to represent the school were accorded some respect, but those who really did well, like winning the inter school 100 yard dash became heroes, especially amongst the junior and middle level forms. School colours were awarded to the best, the first award was a half colour for achieving something against another school, full colours were awarded to boys who had done exceptionally well like becoming an inter school champion in swimming or the member of the team winning the Manning Cup.
But I am getting ahead of myself again. After one term I still had little feeling of belonging and being part of the school/or of wanting to get into sport. My main thought, without really realizing it was to survive and some how get back to being with people I knew. So the second term came and went following a similar pattern to the first.
On one weekend during my second term there was a fire drill for the borders. There was no prior warning that this was a practice drill, so when the alarm went at about 10pm that night only the older boys knew what it was about and what to do. The seniors turned the juniors out of bed with a lot of yelling and we eventually found our way down the wooden stairs to the sports field. We were all dressed in various styles of pyjamas and nightshirts, and most were without footwear. The motley crowd was eventually called more or less to order by the masters who themselves were in a strange variety of attire. Then the rolls were eventually called after much too-ing and fro-ing and the masters inevitably found that several boys were missing.
Some had gone home for the weekend, some were still in their dormitory thinking the whole thing was just a senior boys' prank and a few had wondered off to other parts of the school not really knowing where they were expected to be. Poor Gordon Tucker was one of the missing and there was a bit of a panic about that as he, being a cripple and always at school over the weekends during term time, was supposed to have been looked after by one of the prefects. It later turned out that the prefect concerned was one who had been allowed to go home for the weekend! That was the only fire drill I experienced as a border and I have often wondered what would have happened in the event of a real fire as there were some obvious deficiencies and not much appeared to be done subsequently to make the drill more likely to save everyone.
During the week the daily routine allowed for a short break in the morning and another longer one at lunch. When lessons finished in the afternoon there was another short break before we were expected to go off for sport. During these breaks a man called “Melody” would always appear pushing a small wheeled cart in which he had fruit and fruit drinks. Old Melody was a small very wrinkled man, black, balding and with a limp. He was always cheerful, always smiling and always announced his arrival in the school grounds with the tinkle of his hand bell. He would regularly set up shop under or near the large Ficusberry trees in front of Simms Hall. And almost always he would be surrounded by a small group of boys wanting to buy something from him. He charged next to nothing yet selling fruit and fruit drinks was his living. Of course there was always someone who tried to get something for nothing from him, but Melody had lots of experience of his schoolboy customers and held his own very well and with good humour. He had been a fixture at JC for many years, yet no one at the school knew much about him. Nobody knew his real name, even the Headmaster referred to him as Melody. He appeared to have no family and no one knew where he disappeared to once outside the school grounds. Occasionally he might have been spotted at the local market buying to replenish his stock.
Melody was typical of so many of the population in Jamaica at that time. Poor as a church mouse, trying to scratch a living somehow, no education, no real home, probably just a shack amongst many that could be found on the edges of the villages and settlements. Yet he always seemed cheerful and content with his lot.
Melody died three years later in 1949 and there was a special service in the Chapel for him. The Headmaster (Hugo Chambers, himself an old boy of the school) spoke with feeling about Melody. But like every other boy who had gone through the school, I could see Melody as being an essential part of the scenery and rather took him for granted. There were a lot of tears and tight feelings of regret at his passing.
Another, but less frequent visitor of our school breaks was the ice cream cart. This two wheeled contraption was really a sophisticated dray. It was drawn by a mule or sometimes a scrawny horse. The animal was harnessed between the two front poles attached to the box like body. It was gaily painted and advertised the brand of a well known English ice cream but locally produced (Wall's I think). The ice cream was kept in an insulated box with a tiny hatch. It was kept cool by blocks of ice inside. The refrigeration equipment of those days was expensive and cumbersome and well beyond the reach of the owner of the cart. The ice cream was sold on sticks or in small tubs and in a variety of flavours. My favourites were rum and raisin and a creation consisting of vanilla ice cream with a thin surface of chocolate.
The life of the ice cream seller must have been hard. He had to load his cart with ice and ice cream very early in the morning at a depot a long way from the school. He and his mule would then trudge the miles up the long climb along the Old Hope Road on the way to JC. Perhaps he made a sale or two on the way, but it was at the school and the market at Matilda's Corner where he made most of his business. It was a race against time and the tropical heat as the ice could not have lasted all day. He had to sell all his ice cream or run the risk of returning with the melted remnants of his stock to the depot. Some days he did not reach the school; maybe that was because he had managed to sell all his stock on the way, or maybe he tried his luck somewhere else. At any rate when he did arrive he was a popular visitor especially when boys still had some pocket money to spend.
The end of term eventually arrived and after going through a repetition of the end of term rituals I went back to Brown's Town for the long summer holiday. The end of term ragging was not as severe. I guess I had found ways of avoiding much of it and I was still glad to get away more or less unscathed.
The summer holiday turned out to be largely unpleasant and a hard time especially for Mum. It also was a turning point. Shortly after getting to Brown's Town I went down with a high fever that was diagnosed as malaria. For the first 3 weeks the local doctor treated me for that disease, initially with quinine pills gradually increasing the
The Doctor was a Scotsman and fortunately he did not persist with the original diagnosis. He came every day to see how I was getting on. In those days GPs would do their rounds by visiting sick patients at home. He puzzled over the symptoms unconvinced that my problem was a repetition of the malaria I had had when in Mexico. Eventually the problem was diagnosed as Malta fever or Undulant fever. In those days the availability of anti biotics was very limited and so I was put on a course of treatment involving sulpha drugs. This worked very well and after another 3 weeks I was up and about again. I owe much to the careful Scots Doctor who refused to be fooled by the similarities between Malaria and Malta fever.
By that time the summer holiday was almost at an end. Mum had decided that we were to move to Kingston where Charmian was to enter a new school, The Priory, and I was to become a dayboy. I suppose Brown's Town had turned out to be a disappointment for Mum, too quiet and confining for one thing, and little opportunity to get involved socially for another. Mrs Earle, who had by this time become a good friend and companion had decided herself to change employment and move to Kingston where she was to become a teacher of French at The Priory. I have no doubt that Mum was much influenced by Mrs Earle's decision to leave Brown's Town.
I have no doubt that Mum had had a hard time seeing me through the bout of fever. She had acted as my nurse and comforter throughout that trial and was always a source of strength and comfort to me. In retrospect, I often wonder whether I showed enough in later years the love, appreciation and respect that was so much her due.
We moved to Kingston just before the start of the third term in September 1946. Our new “home” was a guesthouse near the racecourse at Knutsford Park. It was on Musgrave Road and was another typically Jamaican guesthouse. A single story large house set in a large garden with another small building providing additional accommodation. Board and lodging were provided on long or short stay terms for families and single people. We had two rooms with a bathroom and meals were taken in a communal dining room. Mrs Earle had moved there earlier and so there was at least one person in Kingston that Mum knew. That was certainly better than her situation when she first arrived in Brown's Town where she really had no close contacts at all.
The move to Kingston signalled a major change in our circumstances. It also brought to an end the first phase of our life in the colony.
© Copyright M.& M.M.O.Dealy
EARLY DAYS AT A HARD SCHOOL
Fervet Opus in Campis
This page last modified on Thursday, July 10, 2014