© Brian L
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Author’s note to reviewers
Many of you will have read some of my earlier stuff on the site. This genre is a new venture for me, so I’m not sure if it’ll work for everyone. I hope you’ll tell me.
Best wishes to all.
Keep taking the tablets.
THE SPORT OF KYNGS
Jameson speaks to me for the first time on Sports Day. Today.
"You all right?" he says. "What are you doing here in the pavilion? Shouldn't you be out on the field somewhere?"
It’s a hot, sultry day and I’d chosen to skulk in the pavilion because it was the only cool place at that time. Everyone was running, jumping, hurling javelins and so on. I am dressed in shorts, singlet and running shoes because I don't want to stand out. There is a special smell about school sports pavilions which you don't get anywhere else. It's a mixture of sweat, dust and a sort of faded excitement left behind by sometimes victorious and sometimes defeated sportsmen and women. I find it very restful.
I jump up from the bench. When the school captain speaks to you, you always stand up. If the school captain speaks to you, that is. Since he is in the sixth form and I have just joined the school as a fourteen-year old I never expect him to speak to me, except to criticise. That's what it's like at boarding school.
Jameson is tall, smooth-skinned, blond and looks like a Greek god. Everything about him is in proportion and he glows with health. He is wearing the same sort of gear as most of us today, except for the blue sash which marks him out as the special person he is. His tone is friendly and he's smiling.
"Sorry, Jameson," I say. “I haven't been picked for any of the events, so there's nothing much for me to do today. I'm not much good at sports, you see, so I ... "
I stop because I know that I am beginning to babble. That's the effect people have on me. It's the same when my father talks to me.
"I despair of you, Justin," he says. "Your mother says you're just shy, that it's all part of growing up, but I have to tell you, young man, that the sooner you grow out of it the better. The only shy people the world respects are girls. Men who are shy get absolutely nowhere, take my word for it. Do you understand what I'm saying?" Then he would sigh and wave his
hand in dismissal.
Now Jameson is still smiling, almost as if he knows what I am going through - perhaps he even sympathises? He laughs and walks up to me.
"I can't believe you're no good at sports." he says. "Stand up straight so I can see what you might be good at." I stand to attention while he walks round me. I can almost feel his eyes sizing me up.
"Relax," he says, putting a hand on my shoulder. "This isn't the army. How tall are you?"
"Five nine," I say.
"That's quite tall for a lad of - what is it? - fifteen?"
"That's right," I say. What do three months matter?
Jameson is now behind me and I feel his other hand on my other shoulder. I feel both thumbs on my shoulder blades. He presses down hard at the same time pulling backwards. The singlet tightens across my chest.
"Have you tried for the high jump?” he asks. "You've got long legs and your shoulders are flexible."
"Well, I've only been in races so far and Mr Crennan says I'm rubbish."
Crennan, the sports master, makes sure he always picks potential champions to represent the school. He doesn't believe in wasting his time just trying to keep the whole school in good physical condition. The fatties and weaklings don't object: he doesn't bother with them once he has chosen his teams for the inter-school events.
"Well, Mr Crennan, does a good job, as far as it goes, but it doesn't go far enough in my opinion,” says Jameson. He must suddenly have remembered that criticising a master in front of a junior is simply not done at Kyngs. He stops talking for a minute, staring at me hard.
"Tell you what," he says. "Come over to the gym on Wednesday at four. I take a few juniors then. Don't worry, no-one's going to laugh at you. With the right practice and training we might get you on the field next year. Okay?"
He is holding out his hand and looking at me encouragingly. We shake and, with a wave and another smile, he walks out into the sunlight and heat, leaving me both taken aback and thrilled.
The school captain thinks that I have potential! He has personally singled me out for special attention! My father will be very surprised and proud. I can almost hear him saying "That's more like it, my boy. When is Sports Day? I must make a special effort to get there next year. See how you make out. Jameson you say his name is? Isn't he Robbie Jameson's son? The England wicket keeper of a few years ago?"
I don't say anything about this to the others in my dorm. I have a strange feeling that if I say anything no-one will believe me. Or that Jameson may change his mind and call it all off, which would be an unbearable embarrassment. I would never live it down. I will get a reputation as a fantasist. In fact, just now I don't want a reputation of any kind. I like to blend into the background whenever I can. Not what my father wants at all, of course. Background is for wimps I have heard him say more than once. But if I did achieve something on the sports field - a third or perhaps even a second - he might stop going on at me. At least for a short time.
As for Jameson, apart from being flattered, I am excited at the prospect of training under his guidance. The school captain is a powerful figure - almost a deputy sports master, though there is no such post. The captain has to be a natural athlete because at Kyngs he's captain of both cricket and soccer, a role model, someone who not only encourages, but
I am not going to sleep tonight, I know.
The next few days I wander about in a daze. Teachers who notice this - and even at Kyngs, which I wouldn’t rate highly for what my father calls pastoral care, there are some who regard us boys as human beings - keep asking me if I'm all right and one even suggests I report to matron. But I say I'm okay or that I'm worried about the exams. The worry about exams bit seems to satisfy them. Everybody's worried about exams, so it's some kind of reassurance that I'm normal.
On Wednesday I turn up at the gym at five to four to show Jameson that I'm grateful
for his interest. I don't know many of the other boys. Some are probably from Jarrett Court, a feeder school. They're younger, of course, and don't speak to me. I nod at them and say "You for Jameson then?" and they nod back.
Jameson appears, smiling and looking even more god-like than when I saw him last.
"All got your gym gear?" he asks as he lets us in. "Yes, Jameson," we chorus and then giggle because it sounds so odd, almost as if we’d rehearsed it.
"Right," he says pushing us in. "Get changed and put the mats and other stuff out. Those who know the drill help the new boys. Quick as you can now."
One boy puts up his hand.
"Will Mr Crennan be coming, Jameson. He'll laugh when he sees me here, I know he will.”
"No, he won't be here, Rogers, as you should know by now. I'm in charge and I've told you to get a move on."
But he’s smiling and his face crinkles up as he speaks, so nobody takes what he has said as criticism. In fact, we’re all laughing as we charge into the locker room. Jameson follows and checks that there's no larking about as we get into singlet and shorts. When he takes his own shirt off I'm taken aback by his broad muscular shoulders, bronzed chest and
slim waist. I wonder if I'll ever be able to get myself into that state. I have to stop myself admiring his physique and busy myself tying my plimsoll laces and following the rest into the gym.
The session lasts about an hour. It starts with warming-up exercises for all of us. Jameson’s eyes dart about and pick up the things we are doing wrong and shouts from time to time. We like this because he doesn't add any of the abuse or sarcasm that we’re used to from Crennan. It's as if we feel that we owe it to Jameson to do what he says so that we get a
'Well done' or a 'That’s more like it‘. I can see from the faces of the others that they want to please him, to make themselves worthy of his attention.
After the warm-up we divide into groups according to the event which he thinks we might be good at.
Only three of us are in the high jump group and Jameson tells the other two to pass on to me what they have been practising, the run up and take off. He organises other groups in different parts of the gym. . He darts from group to group to check they're not doing anything silly, correcting their posture and so on. The end of the hour comes all too soon and we scurry off to the showers, sweating and panting from our exertions but smiling happily with a sense of achievement.
"No hanging about, boys, five minutes is all you've got to shower, dry off and get unto your clothes."
He stands by the door, but there really is no need for supervision. We are all too exhilarated to want to chase each other about or flick towels. In the locker room he stands by me as I struggle into my shirt.
"Well done, Turner," he says squeezing my shoulder and following it with a pat. "You're starting to shape up already. Hope you enjoyed yourself.”
"Oh yes, Jameson," I say, forcing myself not to blush or stammer. "Very much. Thanks a lot." I don't know what else to say, so I just stand there awkwardly, wondering if it'll be all right to start buttoning up my shirt.
"Right," he says. "Next Wednesday then, same time."
"Oh yes please!" I curse myself. Why do I have to sound so eager? Because I am, I suppose.
He laughs and moves away to chivvy some of the younger boys who have not yet mastered the art of getting changed quickly and methodically.
"Socks," I hear him say as he moves amongst us. "Someone is going to get into trouble for leaving them behind. And don't forget your underpants. We don't run a laundry service.” Lots of laughter and 'See yahs’.
After the next two Wednesday afternoon sessions Jameson congratulates me on my progress and my chest swells with pride. Evans and Roberts, the other two in my group, are good, but I know I am leaving them behind. I haven’t checked, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find that I’ve become taller, because of all the muscle stretching & lengthening exercises.
Perhaps there’s something in what my father says after all. Perhaps if I do surprise everybody and achieve something, even if it’s only on the sports field, I’ll get the confidence and poise he’s always talking about. I think Jameson might play a part in changing the sort of person I am or could be. The idea both frightens and excites me.
It’s at the fourth session that things start to change.
I’m there at the usual time and surprised to find myself alone. Usually before Jameson arrives there’s a small crowd of us, the younger ones chattering excitedly in one group and the rest in some sort of superior way standing quietly and exchanging the odd word.
I see Jameson hurrying towards me. He is looking a bit concerned.
“You didn’t get the message?” he asks.
“Today’s cancelled. There’s a flu bug going the rounds at Jarrett Court, so I thought it best to scrub today. It looks as though the message didn’t get through to you, Turner.”
I think he sees the disappointment on my face, because he grabs both my shoulders and gives me a shake.
“Still,” he says, “ you’re here and I’m here so why don’t we have a one-to-one session. What d’you think?”
“Yes, yes,” I say and I feel good when his face lights up, as if he is beginning to take as much pleasure from my development as I am.
“Right. In you go.”
We change quickly and move from the locker room into the gym. Without Evans and Roberts, of course, he is able to devote all his time to me, so before the hour is up I am much more tired than usual.
“I reckon we can call it a day now,” he says, more than usually out of breath and sweaty. “We’d better shower and get dressed.”
I’m a bit startled because Jameson doesn’t usually join us in the showers. He’s usually too busy watching nobody slips on the soap or scalds himself. Now he puts an arm round me and says “I’m going to make sure Crennan okays you for the high jump this year. You’ve got what it takes.”
In the locker room I quickly take off the gear, skip into the adjacent shower room and start the water. I grab the soap from the tray and look round for Jameson.
Suddenly I realise he’s standing close to me but not within range of the water. He’s staring, saying nothing. He makes no attempt to start any of the other showers.
“Sorry, Jameson,” I say. “You’ll want the soap” and hold it out to him.
“Take your time, Turner,” he says. “When you’ve finished.”
I soap myself quickly while he watches. I am beginning to feel a bit uneasy, embarrassed even.
“I hadn’t realised,” he says in a funny sort of voice, “that you were so … big.”
“I’m five nine, going on five ten,” I shout through the wall of water that surrounds me.
“I don’t mean tall, you idiot. I mean … big” and I see he’s about to step into the warm downpour.
Then suddenly there’s a shout.
“Jameson, are you in there? What’s going on?”
I recognise the voice and turn the water off.
Crennan is standing a few feet away and I can’t help seeing us all as if I were an onlooker. Two quite tall young men, stark naked, and a shortish, fully clothed, thin man, balding, with a small moustache. All staring and wondering what is going to happen next.
Crennan breaks the silence.
“You two. Dressed and in my office. Now.”
He disappears. Jameson smiles. Somehow he doesn’t look like a Greek god anymore. He winks at me and puts a finger to his lips.
“Shtum,” he says. “Let me do the talking.”
We grab towels, pad into the locker room, dry ourselves and get dressed without looking at each other.
Crennan’s office is next door. We enter. He is sitting behind his desk staring straight ahead, Jameson looks at me and narrows his eyes as if to remind me of his earlier instruction.
Suddenly Crennan speaks.
“You can go,” he barks.
“Not you, Jameson. Just … ” He seems lost and waves a hand.
“Turner, sir,” I say.
“Whatever. Just go.”
I don’t wait, but as I emerge into the early evening air I find myself shaking. I take a deep breath. Then I move quietly round the corner of the building to a position where I can see straight into the office without being seen. Crennan, a fresh air fiend, has left all his windows open as usual.
Jameson is not, as I expected, standing to attention facing Crennan across the desk. He is sitting in an armchair with one leg over the arm. He has a lit cigarette in his hand and is speaking in a calm, relaxed way.
“I can’t see what all the fuss is about, Arthur. Nothing happened. This is something that need go no further. You can leave young Turner to me.”
Crennan’s voice, on the other hand, is not relaxed. There is a tenseness I have never heard before.
“Charles,” he says, “I could have you expelled. I hope you appreciate that.”
“Oh, I don’t think it’ll come to that. After all, I could have you sacked, couldn’t I? Or even brought before the courts.”
“I trusted you, Charles. Don’t forget that it was on my recommendation that you were made School Captain. That takes you out of the classroom often enough. Not that you were much use there anyway.”
Jameson shifts his position and takes a drag at his cigarette.
“I was grateful for that, Arthur, but I think I’ve repaid that favour several times over. I think you know what I mean.”
Crennan is silent and when he speaks again it’s in a voice I’ve never heard before. He is pleading.
“I fell in love with you, Charles. You know that, don’t you? I took risks because of that love.”
I see Jameson’s face, not smiling, not god-like, but sneering and cruel.
“Come off it, Arthur. I’m eighteen. You’re - what - forty-three?”
“Whatever.” He flicks ash on the floor. “It was never going to last. I’m young and there are lots of interesting possibilities around.” He laughs. “You caught me with one of them just now.”
Crennan stands up, turns round and stares out of the window. I see tears in his eyes.
“Just go, Charles. And cancel these Wednesdays. I was a blind fool to have agreed to them in the first place. I grant that you are a natural athlete and I know you can get the best out of these kids in a way I never could, because I can’t be bothered with them. But this has got to stop now.”
He turns round to face Jameson. The bark returns to his voice.
“Do I make myself clear. This has got to stop now.”
Jameson stands up, tosses his cigarette butt into the waste bin.
“If you say so, sir.” The sneer is still on his face.
He turns and slowly walks out of the room. Crennan walks quickly to the door, then stops and crumples into the armchair, bowing his head into his hands.
From The Headmaster
To Dr Justin Turner
Date 6 April 2010
Dear Dr Turner
You will have received by now the formal notification from The Board of Governors of your appointment as Deputy Headmaster at Kyngs from next term
I would like to add my personal congratulations and to say I am very much looking forward to welcoming you.
It is a source of particular pleasure that you are an Old Boy of the school. I don’t know if you are aware, but your achievement of taking first place in the High Jump on Sports Day all those years ago created a record that has never been bettered. I see on the wall as I write a photograph of the then Headmaster presenting you with your medal.
There is one aspect of your appointment that I ought to mention in advance. As you know, all schools are required by law to nominate a senior member of staff as Child Protection Officer. This follows a number of cases highlighted in the press where boarders at some schools were found not to have been given the pastoral care which they and their parents have a right to expect. Happily, Kyngs has never been one of them.
I propose to nominate you the CPO at Kyngs and hope very much that you will accept.
With best wishes