REBELLION AND MAGIC
In January 1959, I returned to Merion House for the last time. Things came to a head in the late spring, when, after having been severely beaten for a minor crime, I completely flipped. I was sick and tired of being told to bend over and take it like a man; particularly when “bend over” could have meant one of two things. Then I took a momentous decision. I resolved that I would rather die before ever giving in to this kind of mistreatment again.
This was a “Road To Damascus” moment. This was my first truly enlightening realisation – Now the jack boot was on the other foot. I had not only discovered I was powerful, but – and this was the enlightening bit; - I had achieved this power through the willingness to sacrifice my life. Heady stuff for an eleven year old.
I now declared war on injustice – on my school and my parents, and rebellious to the end, I fought them with a savage ferocity: with violence, fire and the most defiant language I knew – and having grown up in close proximity to “the men” who worked on the family farm – there was little in the vocabulary of vile invective left for me to learn!
After having been assessed by a psychiatrist at the child guidance clinic in Maidstone, I was made a ward of court and placed in the care of the “local authority”. Unbeknown to me, the “local authority” had told my parents about a place called Finchden and had arranged an “interview” for me.
And so: Sometime in the autumn of 1960, my parents and I got into the family car and set out for a small town on the edge of Romney Marsh called Tenterden. My father was in his usual driving mood – facial setting on “determined” whilst barking orders at other road users and driving slightly too fast for my mother’s peace of mind. If she complained, he put his foot down just a little further.
The weather was still warm for the time of year - As far as I knew, we were going to visit yet another school – another fresh start – maybe it would be an approved school?? I had heard rumours about “approved schools” or Borstal and I was steeling myself to more confrontation. I was frankly a bit nervous.
As we drove in through the old gates and into the courtyard of a dilapidated Elizabethan manor house with “Victorian bits”, I was strangely calm. My mother was stressy and fussing, whilst my father, with extreme decisive control of the gear lever followed by handbrake, firmly parked the car right next to a not so new black Ford Consul thus bringing us all to an gratuitous sudden stop.
As we all walked over to the main front door, I noticed a rather scruffy longhaired, bearded youth strolling across the courtyard. So did my father! His facial setting immediately changed from “moderately severe” to “severe”. He said in a just-too-loud-voice, so that the young man heard him, “What, in God’s name is that!” - And then in a muted aside to my mother something else. I just caught the one slightly raised word, “guttersnipe”.
It was at this point that I began to inwardly sing – my intuition told me that all my past troubles might be over and that something wonderful was about to happen. My father strode up to the front door and over-firmly pressed the bell, leaving is finger on the button for a completely unnecessary length of time.
Nothing happened. He was just about to do a repeat performance, finger poised, facial setting switched to “very severe”, when the front door opened. And then the miracle occurred – totally unlooked for - out of the blue. I was greeted by the biggest smile I had ever seen on a “grownup”. Arms outstretched and palms upwards, this shining old man beamed me a charismatic blast of love. He seemed to completely ignore my parents and gathered me into his arms. I found myself in a warm bubble of affection – outside time and space.
My parents simply did not know how to react to this. – My father’s “facial setting” was now all over the shop. I remember glimpsing him doing a sort of frowny smile - embarrassed, bemused and jealous all at once. My mother simpered and fussed self consciously.
No sooner had the magical bubble formed than it burst, and everything went back to “normal”. But the world I used to live in had now gone – left behind in some parallel universe. My spirit had taken root in an altogether different future than the one I was locked into a moment ago. Now I noticed that Mr Lyward was making soothing noises to my parents as he ushered them into his large study, The Oak Room”. My father’s facial setting had gone into a mode I didn’t recognise, and I liked it. - He looked so young.
In the meantime, I was given into the company a member of staff, Sid Hopkins, whilst my parents and Mr Lyward discussed my new future. And to cut an even longer story short, that is how I became one of the boys who went to Finchden.