Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Tales from St Bathory's - part 1

First in an occasional series of tales and snippets from St Bathory's, an exclusive boys' school run on traditional lines on a cold island off the coast of Northern Britain.

Smith was scared.  Very very scared, and with good reason.  In his back pocket was a note (he had been holding it in his hand, but hed noticed that the sweat from his clammy hands was beginning to stain it), with the simple words Miss Chalfont written across the cover.  He didnt know the precise details of what the note from his dormitory monitor contained, but he had a pretty good idea and it was not going to be anything good.

St Bathorys School was an odd mix of the traditional and the modern.  Located in the picturesque and remote Isle of Man, it was set traditionally enough in collection of Victorian red-brick buildings, secluded from the islands adult population behind a high wall.  But the small green dots of glowing LED lights also indicated a more hi-tech approach to ensuring that Balthorys young charges did not stray, as intranet-linked webcams allowed continuous monitoring of the grounds, and all of the rooms inside the accommodation and classroom buildings.  The school marketed itself on the UK mainland as providing a traditional education in a world of progressive liberal dogma, ensuring through rote learning that its boys received a firm grounding in the classics of literature, in geographical and historical facts and figures, as well as in moral behaviour, etiquette and manners.

To the disappointment of many parents of unruly young teenagers, however, Bathorys specialised in the difficult late childhood stage, only taking boys between the ages of 16 and 21.  Of course, even on the Isle of Man, boys of 18 or over are legally adult and therefore could not be required to complete the course.  On their 18th birthdays, therefore, Bathory boys were conducted into the Headmistresss office and asked whether, freely and of their own volition, they would sign up for the remaining three years of the course.

Some took a little while to make their minds up, but sooner or later the door to the Headmistresss office would open again, and the boy would emerge, resplendent in the purple-tinged tie that showed he had chosen to spend the first three years of his notionally adult life, completing his education at Bathorys.

Some were quite overcome with emotion at the prospect, with tears streaming down their cheeks, and a few could hardly even walk so thrilled were they at this transition in their young lives.  But all signed.

Indeed, one or two each year were admitted to the exclusive advanced scholarship programme, exchanging their caps and blazers for the garb of servants and gardeners, signed up for a further five years as apprentices to learn useful trades and be prepared for their adult life, usually at the request of a young lady intent on marriage to that fine catch: the Bathory boy, schooled in traditional gentlemanly arts and chivalrous towards ladies in all things.

In a startlingly progressive innovation, however, the Headmistress before the current one had declared that Bathorys would experiment with a mixed sixth form!  There had been great confusion at first, as Bathorys had always had a very clear set of rules about separation of the sexes.  All the pupils were boys, all the staff ladies and all the school servants were men.

As the school did not go in for holidays, half-holidays, days out or school trips, therefore, every female that a Bathory boy encountered from the tender age of 16 to his graduation at 21, would be in a position of authority over him, and authorised to ensure good behaviour and respectful demeanour at all times.  Indeed, so effective was the conditioning that this constant reiteration of gender roles created, that Bathory graduates were famed for being quite incapable of any attitude towards any female other than utter deference.

More than one business recruiting these otherwise excellent workers had run into trouble when a old Bathorian had found himself required to work in close proximity to a lady.  Directors investigating their new sales managers low performance would discover that much of his day was spend in running errands for girls from the typing pool, helping the young Eastern European night cleaners in scrubbing the toilets, or simply signing away much of the firms production to an attractive female buyer, for essentially no charge.  If the warning signs were spotted in time, the solution was obvious and many a Bathory boy became his companys star performer, reporting to a female manager all the way through a golden career.

This, essentially, turned out to be close to what the Headmistress had in mind when introducing the mixed sixth form.  When the first co-eds (a term that rapidly made it into the list of forbidden words in the school rule-book) arrived, there were just seven of them.  All were over eighteen, all tall, athletic-looking young ladies with something of a sporting bent.  Several of them turned out to have been school team captains of hockey, or lacrosse, for example and even the dark-haired quiet girl who declared herself to have no interest in team sports turned out to be a champion golfer, with a swing that was the talk of the county. 

Their uniform seemed only vaguely similar to that sported by the boys, as for example in winter they were allowed think warm stockings under their gym-slips, and a warm jumper over the top, while the boys continued to shiver in bare legs, with at best a sleeveless pullover on a really cold day.  The girls bathrooms were rumoured to have water that was actually hot, as opposed to the luke-warm dribble in which the boys showered whenever they were not being subjected to the considerably more powerful jets of the dedicated cold shower room.

The girls did not, to the boys great surprise, even have to attend classes.

However, it should not be assumed that the girls at Bathorys had an easy life.  Far from it.  All were designated as prefects, from the day of their arrival, and their responsibilities started with getting the boys out of bed at 5.30 in the morning, and carried on throughout the day.

Several of the teachers declared that they couldnt imagine how they had managed before, without the help of the prefects, as the girls supervised break-time, sat at the head of each table in the dining hall; to ensure everything on the boys trays was eaten up, supervised homework and eventually, as dormitory monitors, made sure that all the boys were properly washed, and then tucked up soundly in bed by 9pm each night.  Of course, the same girl would not be expected both to get up at 5.30 and still be carrying out prefectorial duties at the boys bed-time, but even so, life was no picnic as a prefect at St Balthorys.

This makes it even more commendable, perhaps, that the prefects took night duty so seriously. Night-duty was an inspection of all the boys dormitories, and a task that the teachers had previously taken on by rota.  A prefect would be woken at a pre-set time in the middle of the night, would grumpily swing herself out of bed in the cold and darkness, and patrol the corridors and dormitories in slippers and dressing gown.  She would carry two torches: a small fairly dim one for finding Her way, and a larger brighter one for emergencies.

Sometimes the patrolling prefect would simply open a dormitory door a crack, and cast an eye over the half-lit slumbering forms inside.  At other times, She would gently approach a boys bed, silent in Her soft slippers, moving stealthily until suddenly grasping the bed-clothes and jerking them off, simultaneously illuminating the beds contents with the powerful torch.  This was, as the Headmistress had explained at a morning assembly soon after the girls arrival, an essential component of the  schools moral welfare regime.  Self-abuse was clearly forbidden, in the school rules, and active monitoring was necessary to ensure that the pupils complied.

Boys caught behaving suspiciously were not dealt with on the spot, but instead the patrolling prefect would firmly secure their hands to the bed-frame and leave a little note sellotaped to the miscreants forehead.  Sometimes the bed-clothes would be tossed back over the naked boys body, but more usually not, as the prefect continued Her rounds, looking forward to the return to Her own bed, or occasionally to slipping into another bed pre-warmed by one of Her fellow prefects who would greet Her with a sleepy cuddle to help Her warm up after so diligently performing Her duties.

To be continued...but probably not immediately

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