ESCAPE: Don’t Fence Me In!

For me, there has always been a problem with confinement. At my junior school, it was less of a problem because the grounds were huge. It had been a ‘school-farm’ and there was still a farm manager who was tasked with looking after the grounds and providing the kitchen with veggies in the spring and summer. The vegetable grounds were out of bounds, of course, but nightly raids for a pillowslip full of carrots was common. There was little else that was edible, raw. I tried potatoes for myself, so I speak from experience. Understanding that it contained iron, a mouthful of parsley was also not to be recommended. Ye gads, we were hungry!

Pretoria Boys' High School facadeAlthough perched on the side of a hill on large, beautiful grounds, Pretoria Boy’s High School is surrounded by suburbia. I first got to explore it on the bicycle of the matric student that I, as a new boy, was assigned to ‘skiv’ for. Some schools called us ‘slaves’, but you get the idea. Tony Carter was a good man and I wish I could meet him again to tell him so. He was an atheist and it distressed me greatly as a Christian at the time. The worst job that I had to do for him was wash his socks, which were noxious. The best was being sent out of the grounds to shop for him on his bike. I would take a new route each time and soon got to know the surrounding suburbs of Arcadia, Brooklyn, Hatfield and Lynwood. This area expanded as I was invited by day-scholars to spend Sundays with them at their homes.

In time, I left the school grounds whenever there was enough time to get to my destination and back before any sort of roll call could prove me missing. Donning a track-suit, I would set off on a training run, jump the fence and disappear. Always on my own. There was never anybody to contradict my story, even if I was back late.

‘Sorry, Sir, I… I fell asleep on the lawn and when I woke up, everyone was gone!” Round shouldered, looking at the floor, squirming with embarrassment. Hoots of derisive laughter from other students, but who can punish anyone for falling asleep? Lies of convenience, but no harm to anyone else.

At a friend’s flat in Sunnyside, I even kept a set of jeans and tees to change into, to party in on Saturday nights, but I was usually back in hostel by lights-out at ten… On Sundays, another friend in Lynwood, Kees Korndorffer, (more of him later) would pick me up at the back gate on top of the hill on his small Honda, as the rest of the boarders were trooping off to church service in the hall. That gave me an extra hour and a half of freedom, and bothered my conscience not a lot.

By then some of Tony’s arguments had found fertile ground.

Just down the road from that gate, one night, I was, only once, persuaded to join a fruit-raiding gang. Being the newbie, I was put on guard at the gate, where I crept into the shadow of overhanging trees. Within ten minutes, barking dogs alerted the owner. A powerful torch flashed, a man’s voice commanded dogs to ‘get ‘em!’ Five boys belted out of the yard and back to school, empty handed, where we congregated at that gate. I offered the others a consolation prize of big fat juicy peaches with which I had filled my jersey from the tree over my head…

There was no escape in malingering. When you felt sick, you stayed in bed and missed breakfast, thus proving that you really were ill. Afterwards, Mr WC Brooks (Housemaster and senior science master) came to hold your pulse and fix you with his gimlet eye. Then he would bark at you: ‘Have you had a movement?!’ Not knowing what that meant, and what you guessed might be the answer became the difference between castor oil, or not. I could never remember which reply I had given and was so seldom sick that I never came, scientifically, to any conclusion. Only years later did I figure out what the question was about. Now, I have to smile when I hear about people who have joined a particular movement…

About peterjearle

Writer of thriller novels. 4 Published: 'Purgatory Road', 'The Barros Pawns', and the Detective Dice Modise Series:'Hunter's Venom' and 'Medicinal Purposed Only', all from Southern Africa.
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3 Responses to ESCAPE: Don’t Fence Me In!

  1. Nigel Rollo says:

    Peter, part of my confinement took place at St. Marys School. Nairobi. We had an orchard in the school grounds. The prime objective of any raid was the guava tree, secondly, the loquats. The punishment if caught, a sound thrashing with the cane by a zealous disciplinarian Holy Ghost Father. I achieved both objectives …and got caught!

  2. peterjearle says:

    Stolen fruit really does taste better, perhaps an effect that adrenalin has on tastebuds! Do you still like quavas, or do they put you back in St Mary’s?

    • Nigel Rollo says:

      I agree with the “stolen fruit” sentiment with the added qualifier: “straight off the tree”.
      I still like guavas, probably because there were so many sources available, most without such dire consequences if one was caught!

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