‘Unjolly Hockeysticks’ – installment 2 – ‘Coping Strategies’ by Hugh Harrison

Unjolly Hockeysticks’


            Once I had parted with my life savings hidden in my pencil box to Hen for his escape bid to London two days before, I was left praying for the success of his brave endeavours. After all, one of the few benefits of Catholicism is the belief in the ‘power of prayer’. So, every night following Hen’s heroic departure for Salisbury Railway Station via many miles of circuitous hedgerows, I pictured him in my mind’s eye avoiding the all-pervading preying eyes of the Bird in his pursuing black Riley car.

            Fortunately, like me, Hen was a good cross-country runner, and I had every faith he would succeed in his mission to find Dad in London and appeal to him for refuge. I even imagined him arriving at Waterloo Station and being greeted by a tall, jovial Bobby who would escort him, hand-in-hand, to the ground floor flat in Mayfair where Dad lived. The policeman would stand at Dad’s door and say:

‘Ah, Mr Harrison, how fortunate to have found you home! I’m delighted to return your son, Henry, to your safe custody’, And Dad would reply:

‘Thank you so much, officer, for all your trouble. Come inside, my dear boy’.

And that’s how I pictured it might be. All of this, of course, was a complete fantasy on my part. Magical thinking, however, had become my default frame of mind  within the regimented confines of Cheam Hall.

The School, and its draconian hierarchy, had been unnaturally quiet the last two days as we all awaited positive news of Henry’s successful bid for freedom and safety. No reports, either positive or negative, however, had penetrated the ivy-clad walls of Cheam Hall. So, we continued to undertake our morning cross-country runs, cold showers, rifle drills and muted meals whilst we watched for fluttering signs of activity from the Birds.

Needless to say, there was no response, except for the ominous silences at morning assembly as their  penetrating eyes scanned us for give-away signals, or secret codes. It was on the evening of the second day of Hen’s absence that we heard a commotion at the tradesmen’s entrance whilst we were finishing our tasteless meal. I heard Hen screaming and crying as he was pushed roughly and ruthlessly along the main corridor like a captured convict by the crowing Bird.

We sat, glued to our chairs, unable to swallow or move. I felt sick and nauseous as it dawned on me that Hen’s heroic bid for freedom had failed. I wept internally for his misfortune, but the sounds of his wailing were overwhelming as I realised that the Bird had selected the ultimate instrument of violence and torture: the hockey stick.

I couldn’t remain seated anymore, so I rose from my seat and proceeded to the dining room entrance, ignoring Mrs Bird’s demands to ‘sit down’. As I walked into the corridor I could see Henry cowering in a corner by the Study door being beaten to a pulp by the merciless Bird in his black gown. He almost grinned as he rained countless blows on Henry’s broken body and head like a demented eagle.

I froze with fear and hatred, but couldn’t move. Everything had frozen, apart from the raining blows and constant screaming. My powerlessness and cowardice were complete. The feelings resonate still.

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