Thursday, March 09, 2006

(134) The dream of the teacher´s assault

Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch and I found the actions of a self-proclaimed guru disgraceful.
On the morning of May 22nd 1997 I received a phone call from Jeremy.

He recounted to me a dream he had had the previous night.

The setting was an assembly hall at his old school, Eton. Around six hundred boys were being ordered to sing a Christian hymn. Nobody believed in it, or this ritual, and they were not singing. One rather weedy master had one boy on stage in front of all the others and was shouting at him to sing. He would not and the enraged master struck him a backhander.

As he did so, Jeremy noted that he wore an amethyst ring like the guru’s. Jeremy was scandalised by this and exhorted the boy to complain to the headmaster. Both the boy’s appearance in the dream, and also the ambience, made Jeremy think that he was myself.

For some time we went in search of what he understood to be a new headmaster, uncertain of his precise whereabouts.
The dream ended with him continuing to pressure me into registering a complaint and me deferring because I was concerned that this might lead to the master losing his job.

This dream mirrors the events that occurred in February 1978 at Bedford Modern School, where I was assaulted by a weedy physics master called Lloyd Phillips as I ate my lunch in a crowded dining hall (he had neither taught me nor had there been any conversation between us in the previous four years).

He had run up and screamed into my face, at the top of his voice, that he was unhappy with the way that I had ridden my bicycle that morning and that he would "Smash my f… ing face in!!"

I had done nothing about it. I feared that a complaint to the headmaster, who had only been with the school for four months, would have led not only to the master acquiring a police caution, or even a criminal record, but also to the loss of his job and a terrific scandal for the school and the Harpur Trust that administered it.

At least, I had given that as my explanation for deferring so long when I did mention it to the headmaster in 1987 whilst we were discussing other, not wholly unrelated, matters.

But it may have had more to do with my being, at seventeen, simply too gauche to make a complaint!

The week after this assault the new head had forced my father to withdraw me.
And that had had much to do with another miscreant Phillips.

The form master simply walked into the class one morning and, without any other introductory remarks, asked if I were going to get my hair cut.

The boy sitting opposite me, John Phillips (no relation) whispered eagerly "Say no! You don’t have to get your hair cut! Say no!!"
This was the same person who had, the previous year, screamed with hysterical delight upon hearing that I had been diagnosed with diabetes and was arrested not long after for smashing a shop window in the Bedford High Street.

I had never had any problem with the length of my hair prior to that, and, frankly, after the incident in the dining hall I was feeling none too respectful towards the school personnel. Also I had been asked by this form master about getting it cut the week before, but since it was not so long and since I had only ever previously been asked by a particular member of staff - the chap whom it was understood was always the one to insist upon trimming - about it before and he had not mentioned it this time, I had shrugged the form master´s inquiry aside.
And also I could think of no reason why anyone would urge another pupil into trouble.

So, with a degree of gullibility and naïveté which must appear scarcely credible, I did say "No".

I was promptly whisked off to the new head’s office and he, ignoring all protestations, booted me out.

Subsequently the head of the governors would inform me that if I wanted an apology for the assault, I was not going to get one.
My repeated retort " Well what would have happened to me if I had said that to him?" met only with silence.

A year or two after the assault I passed Lloyd Phillips in the street, and he had reacted with an expression of great guilt and remorse.

Years later I was to hear that J. Phillips had gone on to do a brief stint as a schoolteacher (see also Entry 164).
Jeremy had no knowledge of my school incident, although I had previously informed him that years before this dubious guru, who was himself an ex-schoolteacher, had broken a walking stick over my arm (see Entry 92).

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