langley grovel

At some stage in the first two years after our arrival at Luitingh’s Guest Farm, I spent some weeks at the boarding school. I do not remember any detail of this stay except for a food (which I had not encountered before) called melk-kos, a pudding made with milk, flour, sugar and sprinkled with ground cassia. It was, as I recall it, the sole source of comfort that I had at that establishment. I have a memory of a phrase which emanates from that time. I was so unhappy, I told a school-friend – I cannot remember who – that I even cried out of my bum.

koshuis 3I spent an entire term there again when I was ten or eleven*, and Lesley and Anton went to the Seychelles on an extended holiday, funded, I think, by Vere. By that time my status in the school was different: I was an established outsider who had earned the respect of the teachers by coming first in class every year. In general, I was left alone.

Jack and his brothers had gone to boarding-school at Durban High, under a headmaster called Langley. He was remembered with nostalgia by some old-boys, but his reign, to oversimplify, was a brutal tyranny where the boys were treated in ways that are now illegal. At all of these boarding schools, as at mine, the problem of attending to the needs of a large number of small children or teenagers was solved with a combination of beatings and hierarchy, each level of the hierarchy expected to grovel to the one above it, and to obey every rule or be beaten. Vere had boarded at a school for young ladies. So had Lesley, at Escort High. Lesley’s headmaster was one Colonel A.C. Martin, known by the pupils as Betsy Martin. She spoke with some affection of Betsy, who had tried without success to persuade her not to leave school to become a hairdresser the year she turned sixteen.

Although with her intelligence, competence and creativity Lesley was an ideal candidate for tertiary education, she was desperate to get out of the school system. I can understand why, for by her account, the schools and boarding-houses that I attended were more endurable than the ones where she had been.

__________

* The photograph shows the koshuis dining-room. When I was there the tables had no cloths and, if I am not mistaken, we sat on benches. Nevertheless the discovery of the picture on the internet flooded me with tiny bursts of memory, including fragments of taste and smell.

__________

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