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Summonsed to the Warwick School Headmaster's Study once again, after 31 years

Tom Winnifrith
Wednesday 1 February 2017

It was the last week of my last term at Warwick School and my friend J and I decided we should have a whisky drinking contest. My A levels were finished and I only needed 2 Es to get into Oxford. J was an idle sod anyway and a year younger than me so his A levels were an eternity away. There was nothing else to do other than drink, smoke and chase girls- we were young and were going to live forever.

The rest of the boarding house pretty soon knew what was going on and when. The venue was the Crown, which was the "boys pub" in Warwick. That is to say we would go there, the masters knew we would go there ( from about 15 onwards) but by not going there and going to the Roebuck instead, the masters could turn a blind eye. It was an arrangement that worked well for all, especially the Crown which did a roaring trade.

And so J and I pitched up that Thursday evening. The rules were agreed. Rounds of 5 shots a time until 25 and then singles thereafter. Another boy, B, decided he wanted to join in but unlike J and I he had not been practising at lunchtime so was not a serious contender and at 15 shots he, wisely, decided to go and be sick and pulled out. In the end it was 28-27. I think I won. J reckons he won. I think it must have been a bit of a blur so let's call it a draw,

By this time both J and I were in a pretty sorry state and we decided to walk back to the boarding house with some friends. As we left the Crown, someone saw a Police car and said "watch out it's the Police". " I am fine" I shouted and attempting to demonstrate this by waving wildly, I collapsed in a heap on the pavement. J fell on top of me. And pretty soon - thank God - the rozzers had got us both up to Warwick Hospital for a stomach pump. I went first, J watched and then he had his pump.

The next morning we awoke in hospital. My throat felt like I had smoked 60 woodbine. The after taste of sick and whisky was still there and I felt awful. J confessed that he felt the same way. But we discharged ourselves and headed back to School for Breakfast.

We were informed fairly quickly that we had an appointment with Headmaster Strover at 12.30 that day. We attended assembly where the HM told the whole school about how two naughty boys had let themselves and the whole school down by drinking rather too much. J and I listened and enjoyed the admiring glances from our peers. 28 shots really? And you were drinking at lunchtime as well? Wow.

At 12.30 we entered the study of the HeadMaster where Mr Strover pointed out that we had broken up 1 minute ago and that this meant that he could not expel me as he wished as I was beyond punishment. And it would be unfair to punish J as I was escaping and thus we were both to reflect on the error of our ways, etc, etc. That we did. I have never drunk more than half a bottle in one session since.

Of course Mr Strover could have summonsed us at 12.25 and expelled me and J. But that would have been a bit unfair since I would have lost nothing. It would have been a pointless gesture. J would, on the other hand, have been forced - as it happens for the second time in two years - to find a new school to continue his glittering academic career which eventually saw him get a 2:2 from Wolverhampton Poly. Mr Strover was thus showing a fine judgement which allowed J to fulfill his true academic potential.

I have again been summonsed to the Headmaster's Study. My articles about bullying and staff brutality have prompted a request from the new HM to meet urgently. As it happens I am passing through Warwick next Monday on my way back from Shipston and so have agreed to go. I cannot imagine Warwick is revelling in what I have written but the new HM seems to genuinely accept that mistakes were made and wants to discuss the matter. He insists that Warwick has changed and I believe him totally.

However I cannot sleep tonight. In the cold my ankle is clicking loudly thanks to that bullying in the old pool back in 1977. Or was it 1978? My mind is wandering and I remember the two times that sadistic Mr Eve threw my head against a wall as if it was yesterday. Is my mind playing tricks on me. I remember another teacher turning her back on me and walking away as Eve started to shout and menace. This is 38 years ago but I am almost certain that this woman did nothing as my head smashed against a wall of wire lockers in the junior school changing room. I shall not name her even by initial as I am only 99% certain but I remember fleeing the scene in tears to hide somewhere and she saw me. Is my memory playing tricks?

Mr Eve's campaign of physical abuse lasted for many years. Surely the other teachers at Warwick Prep knew? I wonder if the truly amazing, kind, and caring Mrs Fawcett is still around and if I should ask if she could she come to see the HeadMaster too. Mrs fawcett was a wonderful teacher and human being and I would trust every word she said. If she said no other teachers knew I would believe her. But I cannot see her saying that. However why the hell put her through the ordeal of discussing it at all?

Heck I am almost 50. The teachers involved are 80 or older. Does it matter any more? Should we not let sleeping dogs lie? On balance I think a message needs to go out so I will not let this matter rest but maybe I will not rope in others.

But there is perhaps a wider issue for the school. Four times a year I receive the Old Warwickian Magazine. OWM is a glossy publication full of photos of strapping rugger players of days gone by or fat balding men my age dressed up as penguins and looking smug at some reunion dinner.

Warwick was a brutal place in the 1970s and 1980s. There was bullying by pupils and one or two teachers. Those who were in some way unusual that is to say, gay, bookish or crap at sport or just different, really had a tough time. Flower arranger Simon Lycett, who is gay and was unbelievably camp even as a boy, has mentioned this en passant in the OWM once. But the issue was much bigger than that and perhaps the school might recognise that? Or maybe nobody really cares.

Anyhow I look forward to going back to the HM's study for a meeting which will, I am sure, end far more positively than my last engagement there.

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About Tom Winnifrith
Tom Winnifrith is the editor of When he is not harvesting olives in Greece, he is (planning to) raise goats in Wales.
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