CONTRIBUTION BY MALCOLM CRANE 1958/1963
John Ward, the editor, of this web site, asked me to contribute a few words. Actually he wanted a piece built around one single word: wrath (extreme anger) – a subject that John, I and our contempories learned a great deal about at Joe’s in the 1960s.
Before I heard John’s request, my original thought was to contribute a few paragraphs on how I wasted my formative years in two pursuits: doing insane acts that were bound to bring terrible retribution on my head and then somehow managing to elude retribution and the evil b******s who policed the Jailhouse. I spent my last three years at Joes in the artful pursuit of causing mayhem and then ‘ducking and diving’ my way out of punishment, usually by becoming the invisible man. On one occasion, I successfully managed to elude the school’s arch monster, Rev V. O’Brien and a team of prefects for a whole week. My crime was getting an audience of over a hundred for the History Society as against the average of six. Why I undertook this ludicrous exercise, I don’t recall – but it seemed a good idea at the time which could be a good epitaph for me. O’Brien didn’t see the benefits of attracting a huge audience and had plans for an ‘average of six’ in my direction with a strap.
Like so many pupils of the era, I was one of the underclass. My years at Joe’s were an utter waste of time. I arrived as a bright, enthusiast child, had the crap beaten out of me before I had time to sit down and eventually left as a muddled, bewildered adolescent with problems of self esteem. Don’t feel sorry for me. I have become a reasonably successful businessman. And, more importantly, this was a series of events that happened to hundreds of kids at the hands of the Christian Brothers. A third of my contempories are dead or have had problems particularly with drink and I know Joes hastened their problems.
I personally was saved from a life of muddled bewilderment by a kind man who saw something in me that nobody else ever saw. He himself had spent five years as a prisoner of the Japanese and reckoned I bore many of the hallmarks of being an ex-prisoner. He once asked me why I still fear anyone walking behind me when I’m seated. The answer is simple - at Joes you were likely to be dragged out of your seat by the scruff of your neck by one of the teachers for no special reason. When I’d been at Joes for less than a month, I got ‘six of the best’ of Bernard Howe for no reason. He was just in a bad mood and I was the poor sod who he decided to vest his energy on. It was a form of wrath. It was also a cowardly, sadistic act towards a child.
Around the time of my salvation, I read A Day in the life of Ivan Denisovitch by Solzenichzen which was about life in a Siberian Gulag. I found parallels in Ivan Denisvitch to my wasted years at Joe’s. Denisovitch was a prisoner in a gulag run by sadistic monsters. He learnt he could win small battles which got him through the day. It was the same at Joes.
My contempories at Joes know that I never voluntarily read a book during my years at Joes – I was an unlikely future expert on Russian Literature. I never read a book in my school years, of my volition, in the hellhole. I learnt loads about Iambic Pentameter, Chaucer and Shakespeare but nothing useful. Generally speaking the English Language teachers were decent blokes which couldn’t be said of half the teachers at Joes. Some were monsters: O’Brien was an uncontrollable monster. I was present when O’Brien was giving a music lesson in the school hall. Dear old Dave Ellam (RIP) did something to upset O’Brien and next thing I saw was O’Brien pick up a chair and hit Dave over the head with it. Dave was soon laid on the floor and O’Brien was hitting him and screaming at him. This was an unusual occurrence even by Joe’s but just another example of the madness that was Joes in the 1960s.
Les Charles was a teacher who many of us feared and hated. He once gave me ‘six of the best’ for spelling Louisbourg in the French way, rather than Louisburg which was the English spelling.He just announced arbitrarily that everyone who had made a spelling mistake would get a good hiding.It wasn’t planned, with Charles it never was. He just came in one morning and decided to dispense a little wrath. With him, it was a way of life.
Six of the strap from Charles was something to fear. He used the long strap which was 24 inches long, three inches wide and rigid from layers of leather. The pain was excruciating and clung to your hands for 15 minutes. The pain of one blow to the hand was agony but ‘six of the strap’ was indescribable.The worst experience was in winter when you were strapped with numb hands. The pain defies description as the heat of the strapping stung against the freezing flesh.
The (not so) Rev O’Brien was an unpredictable sadist. He is dead now and hopefully roasting in hell along with some of his colleagues. He gave me innumerable strappings for any and every reason.
Wrath – where was the wrath of God on the monsters who controlled Joes and ruined innumerable lives.
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