A very autobiographical novel
by Brendan Behan
. Behan was sentenced to 14 years in prison
after a stupid incident
in which he shot at a british soldier
during a parade
- he missed, by the way
- and wrote the novel concerning his experiences
. It's a great book, heartily recommended
I was really hoping against hope that someone had already noded Borstal Boy. Then i could just add my writeup with the despairing air of one forced at long last to tell his tragic tale. You see, i was also a Borstal boy, if only for two weeks. This is how it came about.
I was a poor boy at a rich school. It was an exclusive school, not even one of Britain's many Public Schools but a private institution owned by the Roman Catholic Church and run by the Society of Jesus better known in these days as the Jesuits. This should be enough information for anyone familiar with the place to identify it - more i will not say. I embarassed the good Fathers enough when i was there, i think.
I'd entered on something called the Assisted Places Scheme, something His Toniness was planning to abolish, i gather. Perhaps he already has. Basically, if you passed the Scheme's Entrance Exam, Her Majesty's Government would pay your school fees. This was very good for me, since my parents were dirt poor and whiled away the long winter evenings envying church mice and practising for the olympic shivering championships.
On the other hand, it was bad for me because i had to go and live with a group of boys who thought i was a lower life form perhaps fit for opening car doors for them but certainly nothing more. So, in order to gain popularity and be bullied less, i was Bad, i was Dangerous, i was Afraid of Nothing i was Probably Psychotic and i was in A Great Deal Of Trouble most of the time.
Perhaps it was for this reason, perhaps i had just Gone Too Far but whatever it was, i remember deciding to blow up the physics master. I had already set fire to the chemistry master the term before - polyester trousers in a chemistry lab are a bad idea, children - so it wasn't too much of a mental quantum leap. I should probably explain a little about the said physics master and my relationship to him at that time. It may help you to understand.
It was the summer term of 1985. I, unbearable little scrote that i was, had taken my physics 'O' Level the summer before, aged 14, and was now a grown up fifteen year old working my way through the first year of the 'A' Level physics syllabus or to put it more truthfully, disrupting and skiving my way through the classes.
The Physics Master's name was Mr. Sandiman - (pronounced "SAN-di-mun", if you're interested) but we called him "Mr. Rambotham" because of his terrible Ian Botham perm and moustache and his Rambo-esque manner and arrogance. He was not, unusually, a priest but he was in the odd position of being in loco mentoris as it were, until a suitable Father could be found. He had a pierced ear. He had highlights in his perm. If you've seen The Wedding Singer he looked almost exactly like the chauffeur with the appalling dress sense.
Did i mention his appalling dress sense? Never mind...
He was forever coming out with the most inane phrases. "Now lads, you need to treat an 'A' level paper the way you treat a good woman..." What? We were at a private school for boys, in fact for boys likely to become catholic priests. We had no idea how to treat any kind of woman with the possible exception of our mothers and Matron, a ferocious moustached nun who looked a lot like the Olympic Shot-putt champion, Geoff Capes. We made allowances, we tried to use our imaginations...
"Nuzzle the bit where the paper clip holds the pages together?"
"Write poetry for it and engage it in deep, spiritual conversation?" - This one received some odd looks
"Coat it in Haagen-Dazs and lick it all off again?"
"Get it pissed and shag it senseless?"
We had zero idea. We tried it the other way around. Maybe you should treat a woman the way you treat an 'A' level paper, with research, study, sleepless nights, constant worry until the Big Event and finally relief that you never have to lay eyes on the bastard thing ever again... Hmm. I think of my early twenties now and i can see a pattern. How very worrying.
Anyway, back to the point. I hated him, i made his life a living hell and he responded in kind. He thrashed the daylights out of me. My arse bled, i kid you not. He was brutal in punishment - not even the priests could approach his ferocity, not even Matron.
So i decided on my revenge. Perhaps drawing on a twisted sense of National Pride since my mother is from Antrim, i settled on a car bomb. I didn't want to actually kill the bastard, i wanted him to lose his lovely Porsche 911 - god, how i wanted that car! - and i wanted to terrify him. I literally wanted him to shit himself in front of the whole school.
I made gun cotton in the Chemistry Lab after hours. The recipe was easy to obtain - i was already geeking and the age of underground BBS in the UK was in full swing in 1985. I broke into his car during morning recess and i wired a simple switch into the door locks. The age of car alarms had not yet really taken off, fortunately or unfortunately depending on one's point of view. I fed my thin cladded wires through the car, into the boot and down through the spare tyre fitting. I then wired it to a homemade electrical solenoid detonator and 9v battery and attached it to the gun cotton pack i'd taped under the exhaust silencer.
And then i went to my physics class.
I should point out that i was not alone in my plot or its realisation. I had four accomplices who ably assisted with the manufacture of the bomb and the design of the wiring, not to mention the car schematics - we did not want to blow the fuel tank since we'd seen the movies and an explosion of that size might well be lethal. However, i accept responsibility for the scheme and the outcome. Mea culpa and my friends, if you should ever read this, i deserved what i got and you did not - i can honestly say i've never regretted that you were never caught, although i've certainly regretted that i was.
Everything went as planned after dinner. Rambotham opened his car, the bomb went off, he was flung backward by blast. He lost the moustache and his eyebrows and sustained some heavy bruising and as far as i know, he never returned to the school after his hospital check up.
I was immediately dragged to the Head's office. Some snitch had earlier reported me for hanging around the Porsche but nothing had come of it since the car was a constant subject of fascination to pretty much all the boys.
The Police arrived. My parents were summoned. I was arrested and held in Malmesbury Police Station and charged with Criminal Damage, Conspiracy to Cause An Explosion and Breaking and Entering.
Two days later - i made no request for bail since there was no way my parents could ever afford it - i was charged at Malmesbury Magistrates Court. The Headmaster testified for me. The Chemistry Master testified for me. The Divinity Master, whom i had driven to distraction with my arrogant and militant atheism testifed for me, bless his heart. I was a minor and therefore, i was sentenced to one month at the same Borstal as Behan, away in Suffolk. Perhaps i'll write about that some other time. For now, suffice it to say - god, that's another Rambotham catchphrase - i only served two weeks of my sentence, the rest commuted on grounds of good behaviour, ironically enough.
What i did was terrible. It was a hideous thing, the product of warped adolescent mind. And that, i feel i must point out, is entirely my own doing. There can be no excuses, it was wrong. If anything good came out of the whole affair, it was that the school supported me, my parents supported me, my sister was and is a tower of strength in adversity and i learned exactly how forgiveness works. That's my story, now tell me yours.