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Carl Hancock was born in Aberdare, a South Wales valley

town, famous for its steam coal. He now lives on a small

farm in the Adelaide Hills, a region famous for its
vineyards and excellent wine. Between these bookends
there was a lot of teaching in places as far apart as
Brynmawr and the Great Rift Valley.


Copyright Carl Hancock (2015)

The right of Carl Hancock to be identified as author of this work
has been asserted by him in accordance with section 77 and 78 of
the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be
reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any
form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying,
recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the
Any person who commits any unauthorized act in relation to this
publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims
for damages.
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British

ISBN 978 1 78455 401 9 (paperback)

ISBN 978 1 78455 403 3 (hardback)
First Published (2015)
Austin Macauley Publishers Ltd.
25 Canada Square
Canary Wharf
E14 5LB

Printed and bound in Great Britain



He would be there by now. Five oclock in Beynac would

mean four oclock in Dover. The tears ran down MarieClaires cheeks as she washed the salad for the family dinner.
She watched the pole of cold water tumbling into her
colander, saw the little grains being lifted out of the heart of
the lettuce.
She was weeping because it had begun for him, the first
day of the process that she feared would draw her son further
and further away from her. She looked down at the leaves she
had rejected. It was she who had chosen to reject them in the
same way that she had chosen to let Jean-Michel go to that
school because his father had persuaded her to.
I put you aside for the little wounds in your flesh, the
marks of the earth. You used your lives to protect your
delicate sisters. Ah, mon Dieu, what am I doing? Michel,
dont tell them about your crazy mother! Dont be like her.
Perhaps your father is right. You have spent too much time in
the company of females. He wants to make you strong for
when you have to go into the world. What is the word he
uses? Streetwise. Those boys are brutes. I feel it. They have
hearts of stone and their words are coarse.
The tears blurred the view through the kitchen window
across the wide valley of the lazy Dordogne.
The heavy haze of late afternoon meant that there would
be rain in the night.
No need to water the herb beds after all.

The red BMW was speeding down the last miles of dualcarriageway towards the coast. The majors tunic was folded
neatly across the back seat: he wore dark glasses against the
glare of the warm September afternoon. He and his son had
exchanged few words on their journey down from Camberley.
Now there was not much time. He wrinkled the sunburned
skin of his forehead as he searched for the right words,
something hopeful, something comforting and at the same
time manly and sensible.
Ah, well, old chap, not long to half-term. Make the most
of this chance. I wish Id had it.
Inwardly Major Andrew Shepherd disapproved of his
false heartiness. The boys attention was caught momentarily
by the sight of two girls about his age. They were wheeling
their bikes across a bridge that straddled the road. One of them
waved. Jean-Michel waved back, half-heartedly. Perhaps they
were on their way home to tea and later to watch television in
their own sitting-rooms.
What was that, Papa?
Another thing, lets cut the Papa, Mich. I dont think
itll help. Youre going into a real mans world.
This is how itll be from now on. Of course, I dont mean
that there wont be women, girls, the rest of itbut later. Oh
hell, Im making a mess of it. You know what I mean.
Why was it that his sons gentle nature so often managed
to stir up irritation in him? Was it only because he felt that if
he did nothing to help harden the boys skin, some wily
bastard would come along and take advantage of him? He
knew the dangers that lay ahead. He wanted his son to be
aware of them too.
Will Maman come to visit?
Christ, Mich, will you stop it? ....Im sorry.Im sorry.
Look, this isnt easy for me either. But dont use Maman in
there! For your own good, Son Trust me.
He was trying hard to hide his anxiety. Perhaps MarieClaire had not meant to encourage a soft, effeminate side in
the boy. That gift he had for drawing faces. And how he
enjoyed singing those old French folk songs- the boy had a

lovely voice, but, thank God, it had broken and was settling
into a rickety tenor. In this place hed learn a few old rugby
songs. Surely kids still sang them.
Hed be certain to make the rugby teams. All right, he was
slender unkind ones would say skinny but he had a pair of
wide, muscular shoulders. Perhaps the rest of his bones would
put on some meat soon. And for sure his boy could shift. He
could not forget that time years before when he had been
chasing those bloody crazy horses on that beach in the
Camargue. Such a lot had happened to the family since then.
But will she, Papa? Yes father, Ill remember. No
Maman, no Papa in there.
Youre going down at Christmas. Get the ferry to Calais.
Shell pick you up on the other side. But, dont forget, youre
coming out to me in the summer. Ill have my posting to
Cyprus by then. Im saving up my leave. Well do some
sailing, fishing, anything you fancy. And youre spending
half-term with Nan and Grandad in Port Talbot. Ill send you a
The boy listened but made no reply. Since the separation
he had spent most of his time with his mother. But, in this
week before starting his new school, father and son had been
constant companions. From the moment he had stepped off
the plane at Gatwick, Jean-Michel had been whirled along in a
carefully organized binge of activities. Father was sure,
wrongly, that his son blamed him for the family break-up and,
in his anxiety not to bore the boy, had managed to exhaust
them both after four days of constant activity of afternoon
visits to London museums and parks. In the morning they had
ridden in Hyde Park or played squash at Wellington Barracks.
In the evening it had been dinner out followed by a visit to
one of the many musicals on in the West End. On the fifth
morning, after finding the boy flaked out in bed and sleeping
peacefully at 9am, Papa changed the programme to a couple
of days of loafing, reading and general mooching about.
Jean-Michel understood clearly what his father was doing
and knew that the motivation was love. But he did not know
how to tell him that none of the fuss was necessary. He had a

recurring anxiety that he could not put into words. It was that
school. He had never visited it. He knew that it had been set
up exclusively for the sons of servicemen to help soften the
effects of the vagrant life of the military by providing an
educational anchor point. But to board and join two years later
than normal! He had never once had a pleasant thought about
The day had come and they were side by side speeding
down Dunkirk Hill towards Canterbury. There was not much
physical resemblance. Their one obvious likeness was in their
large, brown eyes. In the boy their effect was melted into
tightly drawn olive skin of an oval face: in the father they
stood out against the fair, fleshy cheeks, the blond moustache
and the frizzy hair. The major was chunkily built with heavy
thighs and biceps. All his movements were purposeful and
energetic. Jean-Michel was languid and willowy and he glided
with the loose-limbed grace of high-class runner. Father was
barely an inch taller than son but forty pounds heavier. It was
he who broke the silence.
Thats Canterbury Cathedral over there.
Jean-Michel glanced to his left to see two grey towers
standing hunched above the red roofs of the city. Soon the
view was lost behind another gently sloping hill where the
harvested fields were being sliced open clinically and
rhythmically, much to the delight of the scores of seagulls out
for a grab at the storehouse of worms and insects. The next
town would be Dover. They would be there in ten minutes.
The school itself was set in two hundred acres of ground on
the hill to the east of the town and half a mile inland from the
top of the White Cliffs. Papa had told him about it in March,
in a letter. He remembered how closely the family had
watched him as he read that letter. He had been hoping to go
to the lycee in Sarlat with the rest of the village kids. His
French was indistinguishable from the local Perigord. He had
looked forward to helping grand-pere in the garden and
weekends in the vineyard out towards Bergerac or dangling a
line in the slow waters of the Dordogne.


He was not afraid any more. He had his tears out that day
back in July on the bank of green hill on the road to Bergerac.
Maman had packed a picnic lunch and taken them off to
watch the Tour go by. She chose a spot that was quiet with no
other spectators in sight. Sophie joked.
Maman, where is everyone? We have come to the wrong
place. They are not coming along this road.
No, it was in the paper. Trust your mother and eat your
The boiled eggs, the salad, the pate halves and the pickled
walnuts had all gone. They were into their third glass of wine
before they heard the first noise, a distant murmur. Soon there
were dozens of cars racing by, lights flashing and horns
blaring. Seconds after the last of the police-cars passed out of
sight, the multi-coloured centipede came whirring along.
Thirty seconds, less and the cavalcade of bronzed bodies,
crouched over silver handlebars, legs pumping, shoulders
rocking was gone. A new silence. The magic had lodged in his
memory. He had tasted the essence of France, a glass of wine
drunk under a hot sun in a country-side abounding with
vineyards while watching the great event as it passed through
his region. Soon he would have to leave all this behind.
Unashamed he had let the tears stream down.
Only three years, Michel. Only part of each year. When
you are sixteen, you can come home for good. I promised
Papa. You know that. He loves you. He believes that this
school will be good for you.
There it is!
His father pointed to the right. A narrow field of
blackened stalks of burnt straw separated the road from a
fence and beyond that, set in a wide spread of flat fields, a line
of low buildings. In the exact middle of these rose a tall stonebuilt tower topped by a Union flag flapping limply in a light
They took the third exit at the roundabout and, with the
school entrance clearly visible along the road, Jean-Michel
had to fight back a final fit of panic. He had a few seconds of
freedom. He would not be part of that place until he was

driven inside. In the very moment of turning off the road he

was tantalized by a brief glimpse of a distant triangle of open
sea. Lightning thoughts of Beynac and Maman.
Too late! They were inside. The entrance itself had a
smart, precise bearing. The actual gates, freshly painted and
crested with red, blue and gold crowns were set back from the
road and linked to them by two high, curving brick walls. Into
each was set a course of sandstone carved in large capital
letters bearing the schools full title.
Now then, son, the trouble is that all these boarding
houses look exactly alike. Were looking for Marlborough. I
think its the first one. Now, if we turn here. Ah, thought so.
See, up on the wall.
Marlborough. There it was in all its nightmare villainy,
named for a soldier as all the boarding houses were. Andrew
Shepherd had made the boy mug up on the famous English
hero. All that Jean-Michel could bring into his mind at that
moment of first contact was a jumbled picture of a battle
fought between indistinguishable lines of troops and the
image of the generals descendant, a round, scowling face and
a balding head fringed with red, downy hair.
Poor innocent pile of bricks to carry such a burden of
dislike, sight unseen.



Theirs was the only car drawn up outside Marlborough. While

his father unloaded his luggage, Jean-Michel took in his first
look at the building that would be his home for the next three
years. With so many straight lines, it seemed that the place
was permanently on parade. He had never seen such vividly
green grass stretching out in all directions. Even that was
clipped as close as the moustache of some proud sergeantmajor.
Inside, sunshine streamed through a high window in the
western lobby on to the lumpy shape of Sally Kedge as she
leaned against her laundry table, waiting. She stifled a yawn.
The sound of footsteps coming from the road took her by
Captain Cheeseman, she called down the passageway. I
think the new boys coming.
She had a last glance in the mirror and pulled her dress
down at the back. A happy thought came to her mind as she
moved to open the door. If this boy stayed the full three years,
he would be one of those she would hand over to whoever
was her unfortunate successor in two years time.
She had not always considered the women who did the
matrons job at the school unfortunate. Fifteen years before
she had been excited at the prospect. It had been her first
regular paid employment and she had seen it as late and
unexpected opportunity to have a useful career. She had been
forty-two then and the bottom had just recently dropped out of
her life on the night when her father had died in his sleep. She

had not been in the room with him and the following morning
she had overslept. This failure to do her duty still troubled her
scrupulous conscience.
Dicky Cheesemans rubber heels squeaked against the
wood-block floor as he strode along the passage-way that
separated his quarter from the boys area. When the
headmaster had appointed him housemaster, he knew that he
had the right man for the job of keeping charge of fifty young
men in those years between boyhood and full-blown
manhood. Yes, Captain Richard Edward Cheeseman M. A.
[Oxon] R.A.E.C. was an ideal choice. He was married with
two children and still violently athletic at the age of thirtyseven. He had the polish to charm the parents, used a good
tailor, could hold up his end in conversations in the bar
without sinking too many and saw his best route to promotion
in instant obedience to his commanding officers orders. He
had played a game of squash earlier. Now, showered and
toweled shiny clean, he looked his natty, military best, twill
and tweed uncomfortable for a hot September afternoon but
proper gear for an officer and a gentleman.
When the call to duty had been shouted down the
passageway, Dickie had been sitting in the lounge with
Marianne. They had been married fifteen years: the wedding
took place the day after his passing-out parade at Sandhurst.
Their tenth term of house-mastering was about to begin and
they had both come to loathe the moment. Jemima and
Benjamin had returned to their boarding-school in Tunbridge
Wells, a progressive, mixed place. Marianne, especially,
treasured those rare days when they were free from the
pestering of their own two wild things on one side of the door
and the fifty hooligans on the other. She could spend the day
in her beloved garden and then enjoy long nocturnal romps
with her revitalized Dickie.
Hello, Sally! I see the little buggers are beginning to pour
in then!
Sally looked away. She disapproved of his casual manner
to the boys and her. None of the new ones were like her first
housemaster, Major Stilwell. He was a gentleman and there

was a proper respect for everyone in those days. But Miss

Kedge never went beyond a frown or a shrug to express her
disapproval. Whatever he did, Captain Cheeseman was the
man appointed by authority and she was his supportive
underling. But in three years he had succeeded in obliterating
the last traces of her idealistic longings to exercise her
mothering instinct in the care of her boys. A little pretence on
his part might have helped to preserve those cherished
illusions. He was capable of such deception. She knew that as
soon as the parent whose lad was on the other side of that door
crossed the threshold into the house, her boss would be able to
switch roles in his practised, hypocritical style.
Good afternoon and welcome. You must be Major
Shepherd. Im Cheeseman. Im going to have charge of your
son for the next couple of years. So pleased to meet you.
After the cowardly exchanges of smiles and handshakes,
all attention was switched to Jean-Michel. Sally took to this
one at once. Those large brown eyes, so innocent, so full of
sadness they would be sure to be shedding tears before the
night was through. He was pretty enough for a girl. She
shuddered for the child. That lovely black hair with the long
wave, they would cut it to a short back and sides in no time.
This is Jean-Michel, Captainer, it is Captain?
Dicky winced and retreated into a burst of bluster. He was
damned good at that sort of thing, well-known amongst the
lads all over the school for his daddy-talks.
Jean-Michel. I noticed the name on the forms, of course.
Lovely name! Fine for a Frenchman. But I would like to
suggest a little conspiracy, just among ourselves. If they know
your name is Jean, half our lot, the awkward squad, will only
be to ready to extract the M. Pooftah name. Thats what
theyll say. John Michael. No harm done? Ill see to getting
it around the place, class lists and the rest. A bit of protection.
What do you say? Be known as John Michael for a term or
two. All right?


Jean-Michel looked wide-eyed at his father then over

Sally Kedges shoulder towards the playing fields. He
shrugged to himself.
Miss Kedge was intrigued by his eyes. She prided herself
on her ability to pick up the vibrations which she claimed
everyone involuntarily gave off. What she detected emanating
from this one was unmistakable. Here was inner strength and
poise. For all the gentle good looks on the outside, the inside
was tough.
Those eyes flicked wet. Not even to have his own name.
He was to be a prisoner with an alias.
My letters from Maman!
Mich, now come on! Stop forgetting. Ill see to the
letters. Ill explain.
But Papa was more disturbed by the house-masters
suggestion than he revealed. Fresh doubts welled up about his
reasons for bringing his boy to this place. But it was too late
for pulling back.
Therell be no problems on that, Captain. No problems.
He looked at his son and tried to cover his shame.
Just a compromise, Mich. For a few weeks, maybe.
There were a few moments of awkward silence but the
resourceful Captain was able to save the day.
Oh, Lord, Ive done it again. Ive taken you for granted,
Sally. Major, this is Miss Kedge, the back-bone of the house.
Matron John! See, its not going to be difficult. Bit of
excitement really. Mystery.
Sally shook hands with the newcomers and said the
expected, welcoming words. The Captain went on.
Matron is always there, always takes the boys parts
whenever there are little disputes. Sally, if you could show
John to the dormitory, well be along in a minute.
Jean-Michel picked up his bags with an ease that
surprised his matron. She led the way with quick mincing
strides, her jelly buttocks thrusting her quickly forward. He
was reminded of Old Sophie, the boulangers mother, except
that Sophie never hurried, no matter how many customers
were waiting to be served.

The clock in the school-tower was chiming five when he

heard footsteps approaching across the day-room. He had
been on his own for the half hour since Papa had left to return
to Camberley. He had spent the time arranging his stuff in his
locker. He wondered when he would meet his first boy. He
was taking another look at the photograph of his mother and
sister. They were standing in front of the old church of Saint
Joseph the Worker in Meyrals on the day of the wedding of
Marie-Clares youngest sister. He closed the album and slid it
quietly into the bottom of his locker.
Conscience had driven Captain Dickie from the comfort
of his arm-chair. He had come to perform some pastoral care.
He was immaculately turned out, as usual. Must set an
example to the lads. If I dont, no bugger will. He had made
an excellent job of a beaming smile one second before he
pushed open the door. Must try to cheer up the poor waif.
Dickie considered himself to be an expert at sussing out
reasons for parents sending their offspring to this open patch
of green on this southern edge of the English coast. For a start,
it was cheap, almost something for nothing. No properly
conditioned Tommy, from private to Field Marshal would
miss a chance like that. Four years under the colours and your
child could become one of The Sons of the Brave, with
virtually free board, lodging and instruction for seven years.
Mummy and Daddy were free unlimited parties or evenings at
the Mess. He had not spoken to Marianne about it, but he was
thinking of sending Benjamin here when the time came.
But this poor half-frog kid. Good God, he could do with a
few square meals. Hed be lucky to get them here. Still, that
strawberry, roly-poly stodge would help to put a bit of lead in
his pencil. His mother sounded interesting. Dickie had read
the files. She seemed to be shacked up with some rich winemerchant but he wasnt sure about that. Father would soon be
off to Cyprus, after a bit of spare, no doubt. The school could
carry the can for the kids failures and complexes.


Settled in then, John? He nodded in his best

conspiratorial manner. Dont worry. Things will work out.
Lets have a shufti at your locker.
There was a pause while the Captain, well-versed in the
untidiness and the trickery of his charges, gave the locker a
quick but thorough inspection.
Super! If we had a contest for the tidiest locker in the
house, youd be in with a great chance. Well done!
Jean Michel said nothing. He was puzzled by his housemasters false chumminess and his childishness.
The man seemed a little bit mad. Had his job made him
like this? Perhaps not. In his travels with his father around
Camberley and Aldershot, he had seen plenty of loony officer
types, grown up men in khaki, playing soldiers and hiding
behind the pips and crowns they wore on their shoulder
He was glad to be on his own again. The house was still.
The only remotely human sound was the drone of water in
some invisible pipe. The bird singing outside his window
sounded relaxed, at home.
He went out onto the playing-fields, hoping to find relief
from the tension closing down on him in that dormitory. The
actual loneliness was not unpleasant but it was an enforced
lull that he wanted to end. He would only know the full reality
of this place when all the inmates were back.
It was refreshing to be out of doors. At home he never
tired of walking along the narrow avenues between the vines
especially in those last weeks of summer just before harvest.
Here out on these Kentish playing fields nature had been even
more carefully organized. There were acres of weed-less turf
where the grass had been trimmed to a perfect height and the
surface had just enough give to encourage a pacey runner.
There was a fringe of trees around the outer edges of where
the pitches would be marked out but the tallest of them looked
minute against the huge back-drop of the sky. The blue shell
arched up from every horizon and reached out into infinity. In
comparison the Earth was insignificant with not a hill in sight
and the long curve of the school buildings set low except