It is seven o' clock and I am sitting here just thinking about the assembly I have to take at nine. I never thought, a year ago I would be here, yet here I am with Mrs Taylor and our clowder of cats happily ensconced in the boarding house at Brentwood School.
In our old house we had wooden stairs but here we have an open plan staircase and each stair is wrapped lovingly in beige carpet. "Isn't this luxurious?" said my wife when we first arrived - "This is just a huge cat climbing-post!" said the felines in unison and since day one they have been running, hanging, jumping on, under and through these stairs. And we were worried they wouldn't settle in. Now I’m worried how long the carpet will last!
No one can prepare you for being a Housemaster. It is a job I have wanted for a long time and at the end of my first half term, I think I can say that I feel settled and happy. We have the best bunch of boys any Housemaster could wish for, every one of them unique in his own way. They range from the eccentric to the introverted, from the sporty to the academic, from the messy to the meticulous and from the hungry to the…hungry! Hunger is the one thing they all have in common.
I had no idea how much boys eat. No that’s the wrong word, they don’t eat, they graze - constantly! I remember watching a nature programme where a shoal of Piranhas devoured a whole zebra in just a few minutes. The boys of Hough can do the same with bananas, cheese, bread, orange juice and milk. They drink so much milk I am trying to get the Bursar to buy me a couple of cows so I can keep up with the supply. Poor Mrs Taylor! No matter how much she orders, we always run out and our lovely Matron, Jane, is expedited to the supermarket post-haste for yet another 10 pints!
It’s a real team effort here. Between my wife and myself there is a team of cleaners headed by Sarah, and Paul our brilliant Mr Fix It, who really can fix anything and everything. In the first week his repair jobs ranged from the leg of the piano stool, a pencil sharpener and someone’s shoe! And of course Jane our Matron – who knows everything and is the heart of the House.
We have one boy who seems to shed clothes around the house like a snake – we often find socks, t-shirts, ties and trousers anywhere he has been. Jane keeps a spare set of everything – just in case.
But I wouldn’t change it for the world.
They frustrate me because they have no concept of how to load a dish-washer, they exhaust me because they expect the Duty Study to be a treasure-trove of everything they could ever need or want. “Sir, have you got any gold card?” “Sir, do you have a toothbrush?” “Sir, you don’t have any after-shave do you?” We now have a box of precious things: razors, deodorant, shower-gel, stationery, and yes a few bottles of very cheap after-shave! One thing about this job, you have to be prepared for everything.
My very first Sunday in the House the boys were making breakfast. Suddenly the fire alarm went off: it is the loudest fire alarm in the entire galaxy. I managed to get all the boys outside and registered and then it registered with me that I had no idea how to turn off the alarm! I was presented with this electronic board of flashing lights and not a clue what to do. Eventually, after several calls to the alarm company, I managed to locate the key (the smallest key in the galaxy), the talisman that eventually silenced the beast and Sunday resumed albeit with rather fraught Housemaster who needed a lie down in a dark room for an hour.
But I wouldn’t change it for the world.
We are trying to make this into a real community and I think we are getting there. Thirty-eight boys, nine different nationalities, nine different cultures, from all ages and backgrounds – yet it works. We all muck in and we all have a sense of pride in our boarding house. And it is our boarding house – it’s warm, dry, safe and the best place I have ever worked and that is because of the sound of boys which makes this house a home.
Assembly calls. More anon.