Laurence Inman reflects on ‘a pleasant Autumn day at Bournville Boys’ Technical School’

Experiences at school can be formative in many ways. Laurence Inman shares one of his.

The papers being full of stories of ‘historical’ child-abuse, it is to be expected that my mind should drift back to September 1961.

A pleasant Autumn day at Bournville Boys’ Technical School. Me, Tez and Geoff had just enjoyed a particularly stodgy lunch and were about to re-enter the main school building when we noticed that the huge blank wall at the side of the hall was covered with daddy-long-legs. There was a swarming surplus of them that year. Only the previous day a teacher had told us that it happens every thirty years or so.

In those days we wore school caps, which we kept folded in our jacket-pockets. We were eleven: what could be more natural than for us to repeatedly throw them up at the wall, trying to dislodge a few insects ?

Suddenly we heard a voice, hissing with impatience, behind us.

‘You three boys! Come with me!’

It was the head. W P Jennings. Oooh, we thought, he wants us to do a job for him. So, off we followed, happy and innocent.

In his office he gave us a lecture about how our parents had to work hard to buy those caps. He wrote something in a book. He drew the curtains. He opened a cupboard and took from it a long bamboo cane.

Geoff, crying by now, was first. He held out his hand in the wrong direction, putting Jennings in an even worse mood. Tez and I always thought this was why we got two strokes; surely the tariff for cap-throwing couldn’t be more than one ?

This was the first time an adult had ever hit me. Before that they were always welcoming, encouraging and dependable.

Here was a new type of person: mean, sadistic, capricious and unpredictable.

It would be melodramatic to say that something in me died that day. And untrue. The fact is that in the swishing of that cane something was born, and I’ve never liked it.