11. November 2012

Bradfield College

Benedictus es o Domine,
doce me statuta tua
I was seventeen in 1959, when I came to Bradfield College – today something else, of course – for a short Winter Term. In Germany I had been a longtime boarding school inhabitant, having come to Landschulheim Marquartstein in Upper Bavaria at the age of ten in 1952. My good conduct and perhaps my good English let me get selected, together with my friend Uwe, equally an old resident there – pardon my rusty, Germanoid English please – for the first exchange between these newly partnering boarding schools.
   As normal in those days I travelled by train and ferry to England, changed in London – I think I even had to take the tube from Victoria Street Station to another station (Waterloo or Paddington?) – and ended up in Reading. From there on I was in the caring hands of Bradfield.
   Did my friend Uwe and I live in different “houses”? I remember A-House, up on a hill, I think Uwe was there. Gallantly I used to help a young mother to push her baby’s perambulator up the hill, in one of these big wheelers, only to be made fun of by the rest of the boys. I lived in the main U-shaped building in the valley.
   Episodes like this are most of my memories of Bradfield, today, over fifty years ago. Nevertheless, allow me to tell you.
   Each Wednesday afternoon there was the “Assault Course”, an event in full military uniform, with First World War rifles and in heavy black army boots. You even got trained to creep through an imagined mine field, quite naively though: the trick was to set your knees where your hands already had been (unless in heaven …).
   Then everybody had to cross a small, dirty river nearby, in two ways. One way was sliding down from an adjacent high tree – you practically had to step into the void: a test of courage, taking sometimes minutes of hesitation. Racing down you had your wrists in a looped rope passing through an angular piece of water pipe over the main rope, much safer than a parachute jump. The other way, secondly, the return, went via a horizontal rope across the river. You had to keep lying on top of the rope and pull yourself across, one booted leg stretched vertically down as a counterweight to you and your gear. Just when one “soldier” was in the middle, the next one mounted the rope, brought it to shiver ans shake, and made the man in the middle anxious and by reflex pull his perpendicular leg towards his body. Almost always he turned over into hanging under the rope. This position could be held only for a minute or so, and you had to decide which way to save yourself, going back or forward – like a donkey between haystacks. Invariantly you fell into the water – cold and dirty, with a complimental laugh by the rest of us.
Uniform trousers not in order.
The man stands at ease.
   We Germans were not allowed in arms, and so we remained pure spectators. My only active role there was to straighten the bottom of the trousers of the last one in a row of uniformed boys standing at attention. You couldn’t do that yourself without bending down, which messed up the straight trouser bottom.
   Another episode, with Beethoven’s »Albumblatt für Elise«. I virtually fell in love with the unknown (and unseen) piano student in the next house, near the school, or was it in a room of the school with an open window? Romantically I imagined a fine girl excercising. The circumstances were profane however: I had been used to go to the toilet privately: our school toilets were indoors and had doors to lock. The toilets in Bradfield College were outdoors, i. e. rather cold at this time of year, and they had no doors at all. For my “sessions” I choose free hours in the morning, to hopefully use the compartment by myself alone. Simultaneously someone else must have excercised the piano. In fact everywhere everything was done to prevent us from engaging in solo or, horribile dictu, joint sexual activities.
   You were not allowed in your bedroom during daytime, and the bedroom window had to be kept open at times, day and night. This bedroom – I was privileged to have one for myself alone – was so small that you had to hang clothes along the wall. A table with a cupboard underneath, a chair, a bed, that was all in this cell. I felt fine. But I closed my window when going down for breakfast. This anomaly could be seen from the courtyard. I was gently advised to leave my window open.
   Our “study” was warmer, in the centre of the building, no windows. Cozy, and full of books. We even had a record changer, playing Carmen Cavallaro and other smooth stuff like Bing Crosby or Sinatra all the time. In the study we were in three. Our group had a “living room” (house room) as well, for those without a study. Private space was extremely restricted, restricted to a small hanging cupboard for each. I remember one boy stacking his possessions so diligently into this cupboard that he kept his shoe polish tins fastened to the top board by thumb tacks.
   We had to run every afternoon, outsides, through the countryside. Today you’d call it jogging, but I remember it fiercer, more competitive, and exhausting. I’m not very sportive; newer was, to my regret. Had I stayed longer at Bradfield I would positively have learnt to enjoy it. Afterwards we had a good shower. But there were no showers, just small square basins to fold your body in. With a bit of contortionism a child could get all its body wet and warm in one dip. Wonderful.
   Boxing I liked as well. It turned out not to be “brutal” at all, just fast and fun. The slightest dizziness or staggering was taken as knock-out, the match was finished. We trained a one-two-three sequence of hitting with the left, then ducking, then hitting with the right – if I well remember. In general athletics everybody was astonished to see our red shorts, very short, with white T-shirt and school emblem; Englishmen  wore subdued colours and shorts long to their knees – like today.
   One evening a week our group prayed and sung hymns in the house room. The hyms, psalms, changed, the melodies as well. One evening our master apologized to me that one melody had been the German national anthem, and that he had noticed too late. I hadn’t even noticed; we were not very national in the fifties. In England the national anthem was played after the last cinema show each day, and you had to hear it correctly standing up.
   The right way to stand was another matter. We had to stand when the teachers entered the large, historic dining hall and walked en group to their elevated table. I was sitting at a table one gangway off the main corridor, and when my master came to his seat at our table I had first to turn to the main gangway, then around to ours, when he passed here. Even today I turn around en face when our priest circles the few faithful on Sundays.
   Secrecy. I gratefully remember a small boy who had developed a – completely harmless – liking or just an interest for me, but did not dare to show it openly. After a while he felt quite safe and happy in our study, but on his way to and from he rushed through the corridor not to be seen.
   Dress code. Bradfield’s code for priviledges, according to rank and age, was new to us. It seemd (and seems) very strange to grown-ups, but to us it was like mysterious, secret rules, building our community. Individual rules were without any sense. This did not matter, on the contrary, it added to the “code” character. We all played the game to use priviledges to the most, or even to try to sneak out of them for a while. Examples. Normal, colourful shirts came with detachable collar and cuffs. This allowed using white collars and cuffs, according to the rule, but nevertheless with individual, coloured shirts. (With socks you could not do that: for the smaller boys they were required in one colour.) Some of the less wealthy used washable rubber collars, a thing I knew only from jokes, and protective sleeves.
   We had distinctive dark blue college ties. I still must have mine somewhere (after reordering it once some thirty years ago …. Incidentally: I found todays dress code and other standards, 99 pages!). Blue Jeans were not a subject these days. Back in the boarding school at home we all had some Levis, shrinked (shrunk?) to fit on the very wearer’s body while drying. At Marquartstein we were not allowed to use these »Niethosen« (“riveted trousers”) outside of school premises.
   At Bradfield we all wore black gowns, the teachers long ones. Ours were short and wide. The sides to polish shoes and the side to wipe cutlery were, I think, generally standarddized or at least individually well sepatated. My gown, which I took along, got lost, I’m sorry to say.
   Unfortunately Uwe had to return prematurely to Germany due to a death in his family. I offered to join him, as it was already late in the term. So we came to fly by airplane from London, our first fight.
   Bradfield College gave us their coat of arms on a wooden tablet to affix on the wall. Thank you!

Googling around. More Bradfield memories at http://www.friendsreunited.co.uk/Discussion/Topic/964154.
Some (German) advertorial memories at Lobeshymnen. An Italian video from 2009.
Old Bradfieldian Society here: http://www.bradfieldcommunity.org.uk/OBSoc/Pages/default.aspx
The tie from here.

This was my Bradfield – this and much more.
Finally I’ll let you read a translation of an article I wrote for the school newspaper »Auspuff« (“exhaust pipe”). You find the German original in my blog here.
   Commenty welcome, best directly to Fritz@Joern.De

The Prefect System
by Fritz Jörn [= Joern, then 17]
Published in German in »Auspuff« of March 1959, page 10f

It’s impossible to give to the reader with just a few lines in an article a somewhat correct image of an English school, as the English school – especially the boarding school – bases on other conditions than the German school. Looking at details a foreigner might mainly know the “prefect system” and flogging.
   During my stay at Bradfield College I was assigned to just one age group, but I’ll try to show the rising from a newcomer, fag, of about thirteen to senior boy ready for university. The fag still has little amenities in this system that gives to each age group different rights and duties according to its age level. He lives in a large houseroom [there were no girls at my time] that he may use only partially; he has to sweep out, shine the prefect’s shoes and keep the rooms in order; he must ring the bell with second precision (or, if there’s no bell in the house, he has to shout a long-drawn-out “bell”), and he has to announce the time until the time to study in a sort of countdown. He’s also subordinated to the prefect, naturally. The fag sleeps in large dormitories. Like all sleeping rooms they may not be entered during the day. He keeps his books, notebooks, preserves, spirit stove, and similar private necessities in a cupboard in the house room, well stored away, as there would be no room for disorder.
   The next higher level is the senior boy. As visible sign of this he may now leave his jacket unbuttoned, and he runs around with his hands in his pockets all the time. He lives rather separated from the fags; there is always this effort to keep age groups apart. The manyfold duites of a fag mostly are dropped for him: He’s still got to serve meals and to clear table, but he gets – depending on the house’s possibilities – a sleeping room by himself or with just one other boy, and he gets a study to live. So he’s probably already out of the house room. The normal senior boy is the most comparable to a pupil at Marquartstein. He just has to wear black shoes and white collars (but not white shirts).
   The goal of a senior is to become prefect. Then he stands out from the others, he’s allowed to wear brown shoes and coloured collars, he may keep his gown over his shoulder. He gets his meals quicker, he no longer serves at the table, and he may step on certain corridors and places. He has many other rights, as most rooms are separated into normal and prefect parts. On the other side he has to watch and educate the others, practically to be seen by roll calls etc. In the higher classes (grades) probably most are prefects, but that’s difficult to say, as there are no “classes” in our sense, neither at school nor (visibly) at the boarding. The highest prefect of a house is the house prefect, the highest prefects altogether are school prefects (with white ties), from which the head boy stands out.
   I think that the prefect system not only stems from the often mentioned English character but from a practical shortage of educators. It educates the pupil to a responsible personality, shows him the power and his boundary.

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