Youthful distancing

Asthma meant going away to school at the age of fourteen.

The school was tucked into a valley deep among the granite tors and outcrops of Dartmoor. It was reached by a single tracked road from the village of Manaton, three miles away. Dry stonewalls topped the verges. Hillsides were covered with bracken, ferns, heather and gorse. Slight falls of snow would close the road, enclosing us in the austere greyness of the school buildings. To be cut off from the main road at Bovey Tracey was an unhappy circumstance, the school community was a stifling place when isolated.

Yet the true distancing came not in term time, but in the long holidays.

Being a seven day boarding school which allowed no autumn or spring half terms, and which compelled participation in games or cross country running on Saturday mornings, the school holidays were significantly longer than those enjoyed by the communities from which the eighty boys at our school had come. There were five weeks at Christmas, a month at Easter and nine weeks in the summer.

The holidays meant weeks at home when everyone around was still at school. In summertime, the extra days at home were welcome, there was much that could be done. In December and January, the three weeks outside of the holidays enjoyed by others were days that could be long.

In a village that had one shop, a post office and one pub, there was not much to interest a teenage boy. A mobile library called once a week, the three television channels offered little daytime excitement.
Days were passed reading books and playing games against myself. Games involving playing cards or dice were the simplest.

A pair of dice allowed the playing of a complete cricket match: rolls of one, two, three, four or six meant the corresponding scores were added to the score of a batsman. If a five was rolled, then, ‘howzat?’ would be called. A second dice was rolled to determine if the batsman was out: one meant he was bowled, two meant he was caught, three meant he was leg before wicket, four meant he was stumped, and six meant he was run out. Should a five be rolled, then the batsman was not out and the rolling of the first dice would resume.

Hours and days could be passed doing little or nothing. Had those days been at the present time, the opportunities presented by electronic technology would have made the holidays into something completely different.


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