by Melissa Rodgers

Another tale from Campbell House

Recalled by Robin Klitscher 1950- 54

Nevil Paterson’s memories of Campbell House in the newsletter distributed in September, with its reminders of basic living conditions and bygone standards of enforcement, brought to mind an episode that was, well, character-forming in its own way.

It was 1950 (or perhaps 1951; I forget). I was a lad in what was in old money the Third Form (or perhaps the Fourth). Anyway, I was resident in what was then known as the South Dorm of Campbell House.

It was the practice for the entire resident body to be rousted out of bed at zero dark hundred, get sleepily into gym gear; go for a run; take a quick (and usually cold) shower; dress for the day; then finally – and thankfully – repair to breakfast.

One day the Matron of long standing retired, and a new Matron was appointed. She was heard to say that going for a vigorous run before breakfast was not what adolescent boys should be doing, for best-interest medical reasons.

The resident body heard this, and waited for something to change. But they waited in vain, for nothing did. Eventually, by a process of osmosis rather than deliberation, the student collective determined with remarkable unanimity to take the matter into its own hands.

The morning routine was that at an ungodly hour a resident housemaster would visit each dormitory and bellow the occupants out of bed. He would return about ten minutes later to ensure everyone was up and ready in running gear for the dawn’s exertions.

On this occasion, when the housemasters returned to check that there were no shirkers, every one of the 80-or-so teenage residents in every one of the dormitories was still in bed. It was a one-hundred percent strike in sympathy with the new Matron’s doubts about the wisdom of the morning run.

Quite clearly the housemasters were taken aback and did not know how to deal with such seamless defiance. So, off we all went to breakfast and the day’s schooling, aware the while that the housemasters were in urgent cabinet about what to do next, there being no precedent for them to fall back upon.

At lunchtime the senior housemaster-manager stood and addressed us sternly. I should have mentioned that, as a sensible precaution from our point of view, the housemasters’ common room had been burgled, and the disciplinary canes that were kept there had been spirited away.

The senior manager said that the regime understood our point, and that there would be no more morning runs. But, he said, the way we had gone about making it was wrong and could not be tolerated. We would therefore have a choice. Give the canes back and accept three strokes each, or write out the lengthy Grey’s Elegy ten times, without error.

Most of us queued for the cane. Short, sharp and over with quickly. Passing hurt, however intense, was thought to offer a better deal than tedium.

And so it was done. I’ve always thought of the episode as something beyond mere boarding school capers, however; more as a broader lesson for life. The outcome is not the only thing that matters. So too do ways and means, since questionable method can deliver consequences that take the edge off an otherwise desirable result.