‘The Great Escape’

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The whole dormitory was in an expectant silence as I looked up into his cold green eyes.  The black robed demon was about to strike and I was determined not to give him the satisfaction of seeing fear in my hate filled eyes.  Brother Tassianis was his ordained name and I hated this man with a vengeance; for the past four years he had controlled my life, and I in my small way his.

From shoulder height his arm flailed down and the two pronged, inch thick leather strap instantly left blue, white, and pink welts  on my outstretched hand.  I didn’t even flinch; inside I was seething and cried out in instant agony. But he would never know, nor would any of the fifty or so other onlookers that now kneeled or stood on their beds to witness my punishment  ‘The other one boy,’ he demanded, his ruddy face tight with effort. I lowered my injured hand and raised my left.  Six times he would visit his wrath on my outstretched limbs.  My punishment for leaving the school grounds without permission.  My mission:  to purchase a bottle of pop, and a cream bun from the baker shop barely a hundred yards from the rear school gate.

Defiantly I turned my back on my tormentor and made my way back along the wide central isle of the dormitory.  Three rows of ten:  bed locker, bed locker to my left and two to my right.  The previously tense silence now faded into chatter as the boys all garbed in striped pajamas began to talk about my conduct.  A few braver ones called out their support, but mostly it was their faces that betrayed their admiration, and that’s what it was all about, not losing their respect.  At a boarding school with a complement of three hundred and thirty boys, you were either a leader or you were a follower, and no way was I going to be a follower.

Lights out nine thirty, and as I pulled the covers up that night my hands still throbbing painfully I decided I had had enough.  I was twelve years old now, and soon I would be a teenager.  Fuck you Brother Tassianis, I am going to run away, and I am going to do it on your watch.  In my mind I imagined Brother Asshole getting six of the best for his negligence in allowing me to escape.  The nightly symphony of bedsprings began to squeak as I refrained from self-stimulation and began to plan in detail my route to freedom.

O’Malley was a day-boy at St Joseph’s College and a classmate, and so it was with his help I obtained an open ticket on the twice daily steam train from Dumfries to Edinburgh via Glasgow.  That was the easy part; actually finding the right opportune moment with enough free time to make my bid was going to be tricky.  This is where the intemperate Scottish climate would come into play.  Every Wednesday and Saturday afternoons we were obliged to play rugby or soccer, but if the weather was bad enough we were led through the town to the local cinema.  This would be my opportunity, and as it was November, with luck I wouldn’t have to wait long.

As it turned out it was a Wednesday, and with Brother Asshole leading the way, three hundred and thirty boys all dressed in duffle coats beneath which were gold braided royal blue blazers, (I mention the blazers because it was important not to be recognized while on the run.) and three abreast marched through snow covered streets to the Dumfries Playhouse.

O’Malley sat beside me in the dimmed cinema, and apart from giving moral courage it was his job, physically if necessary, to make sure that no squeaks raised the alarm. The lights faded, the curtains parted, and with a cacophony of sound “The Guns Of Naverone” burst onto the silver screen, and I was gone.

From the cinema to the train station was about half a mile, but I was already cutting it fine.  The Glasgow train departed at two thirty and it was already one fifty-five, but I made it with about five minutes to spare.  With the ticket already purchased I waited well outside the station until I could hear the whistle of the train.  Boys in the past had been apprehended at this point, because the stationmaster and the ticket clerk were primed to intercept any boys in gold braided blue blazers.  As the train pulled in I moved to the station entrance.  Minus the obligatory school cap and collar well up on my duffle coat I snuck past the ticket office and on to the train just as it began to pull out of the steam filled station. With a billowing of white and gray smoke the whistle sounded and I was free.

I made it home a hundred miles all told around teatime.  My mother was so speechless all she could think to do was call my father, who for once in his life came directly home without first stopping at the pub, so at least my mother had something to be grateful for?  He immediately called my school, who unto that point had not missed me, and even went so far as to insist that I was still there.

I smiled; oh Brother Asshole was in big trouble now?

Epilogue: 

The following day I was driven back to school, whereupon I was told to report to the headmaster for another six of the best.  (Another black robed antagonist.)  He kept me waiting outside his office for about two hours; after which he appeared and told me he was too busy, to return to class and he would attend to me another time.  He never did!  I like to think that he had decided that, at least in my case corporal punishment was not the answer.

A couple of weeks later, while on a business trip my father came to visit me.  I told him that if he didn’t take me with him that night I would abscond again, only this time I would not make for my home, where I was obviously not welcome.  Instead I would make for the streets of London.  That did it.  I bade farewell to St Joseph’s College that very evening.

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16 Responses to “‘The Great Escape’”

  1. I used to alternate between wishing I could be at boarding school and enjoy exciting school-girl adventures, and wondering if kids that were really stuck there could escape. You got the escape and the adventure; not bad–well, maybe not good either, but it makes a fun read.

  2. Martin Emmett Says:

    As a former day – boy of the College I’m always interested in any accounts of life at the College. My uncles attended, as did my nieces. My nephew is now the last in my family to attend. Having had a member of my family at the College in every post-war decade I enjoy plotting the many changes at the School ,and your vivid account of your escape was a treat. Needless to say, your experience, sadly, is all too typical. I was lucky – I enjoyed nearly every day of my five years (in the seventies) – but I had my family to go home to at night. I enjoyed life at SJC so much the only time my mother knew for sure I was home was a batch of sports kit dumped in the kitchen for washing! Thanks for sharing your experience.
    Kind thoughts and best wishes.
    Martin

    • Thanks Martin for your words of appreciation. I too have some fond memories of St Jo’s, but it was a different world then and in the end I was more than glad to get away. Perhaps if they had had females students in my day it may have turned out a bit different. Did you read any of the other short stories on my blog? And of course there is a link to my books ‘Right Hand Up To God’ and ‘Princess Sheeba.’ If you should be tempted to acquire either I would be more than happy to send a few words of my appreciation.

      Thanks again, yours Malcolm J. Croan (Callum)

  3. Ruari McCallion Says:

    I was there, I sympathise deeply with you for what you went through and congratulate you on your escape, but I have to correct you on something.

    The Arsehole’s name was spelt Tatianus; known as Tassie.

    Anyway, glad to hear you haven’t held a grudge!

    • Thanks for the comment Ruari. When were you there? I hope you will forgive me for misspelling Tassie’s name. Never could spell, but it is getting better the more I write. Thank god for editors.

      Yours, MJC – Callum

  4. Ruari McCallion Says:

    I was there from ’65-69. And you?

    • 56/61. Surprised that Tassie was still alive and kicking then. I guess I remember him as being older than he was. Was brother Lucian, and brother Gabriel still there then. Both I remember with great affection. I even chose Gabriel as my confirmation name. Were there females there in your time? I may have stayed if they had been there in my time. I have to say it wasn’t all bad, I did have some good times. I think the real problem arose (excuse the pun) when my balls dropped and I started to think with my other head. Such is life, yours Callum.

      • Calum – Didn’t see this till just now.

        I think he was one of those who always looked old! He was in charge of the Wee Rec when I was there, even till I left, IIRC.

        I fear I don’t recall Lucien with affection. Gabriel was kind of OK, I think – but my brother knew him better than I.

        There were women there in my time – the Matron (Mag) and the woman who taught the Control classes. So females – yes. Oestrogen: no.

        Happy New Year

        Ruari

  5. Peter Still Says:

    Hi Callum – my sympathies also. I was there around the same time as Ruari. Your name struck a chord as my sister was married to one Robert Croan (who also attended the College but in the late 50s I think). You don’t happen to be his brother do you, whose name is Callum?! Either way, that would be a remarkable coincidence!

  6. Yes Peter, its me. See e.mail.

  7. Raymond McLaughlin Says:

    A very accurate account Callum in the way that you descibe the College in days gone by . I take it that was the Wee Rec that you were in at the time, know Tassie was in charge of it whilst i was there as a boarder 1965-70.
    Could feel my own hands tingling as you recalled the bit with the belt, brings back memories. Then having to put them under cold water to ease the pain.
    Raymond McLaughlin

    • Your recollection is spot-on, Ray, but I never realised you had it quite so bad.

      Happy New Year – Ruari

      • Raymond McLaughlin Says:

        Yes, used to get the belt on a fairly regular basis. Some of it, i might have deserved, but on reflection i wasn’t all that bad a kid.
        It was Big J. K. who seemed to take great delight in strapping me and many other of the boys.
        I can still remember until this day his method of warming up before administering his punishment upon you. A sarcastic grin on the face, two or three full practice swings besides his long black cassock. Remember, he must have stood around 6ft. 2in. at a minimum. He was still in his mid to late twenties at the time ,so a fit man.
        He wasn’t the only one to belt me, but he still sticks in my mind even after more than forty years.
        Having said that, we had a lot of good teachers.
        And a Happy New Year Also,
        Ray

  8. Marek Domanski Says:

    My God. It’s Callum Croan. Do you remember Marek Domanski?

    • To be honest Marek the name rings a bell, but that is about all. I am 67 now so it isn’t yesterday.
      Thanks for getting back to me, I appreciate it! Yourcs CC.

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