A lesson in faith, fortitude and courage.
The bravest boy I ever knew went to the school whose badge I have depicted here and he was a lesson in faith, fortitude and courage, never to be forgotten.Ad Definitum Finem, To a Definite End.It first began as a railway school, hence the steam locomotive and the nine plums on the tree represent the first nine pupils the school ever had. From these small beginnings, it became one of the most famous schools in our country and is still there today.Situated on the Southern boundary, OK, South, South, Western, only a mile away from Botswana and sixty miles away from Rhodesia’s (now Zimbabwe) second largest city, Bulawayo. Very harsh terrain and very dry suited to not much else than thorn trees and a Senior (secondary) school known as Plumtree. It sure was a tough place when you are twelve years old and bullying, cruelty, were endemic. Into this maelstrom came.The bravest boy I ever knew.
Permission granted from source to tell this story.
Gaul hostel Plumtree school.
One of the boarding houses for the boys.
This is a piece that I want to make something worthwhile. You see it wasn’t a school where you needed to be different, in fact the complete opposite.
I’m pulling no punches on this piece. As explained it was a tough and hard place and it would diminish what the bravest boy I ever knew went through. I’m not going to do that. That would be demeaning.
You see, he wasn’t quite like the rest of us, he had an affliction (depending how you think of course) and this was dyspraxia? How his parents, himself and the staff ever allowed this, remains foreign to me,or does it?
Now I am going to tell his story and show that actually, his parents, himself and the staff were quite correct. It is of course in large part, a lesson in faith, fortitude and courage. Namely his.
The bravest boy I ever knew.
The Plumtree School gates.
Your introduction to the School.
Once passing through those hallowed portals, that was it. You went there for the school term without a break until the term was finished. It was a government school but certain concessions were made along the lines of a private school. This being that in Plumtree’s case you got off school a week earlier than other government schools, seeing as you had been stuck there so long.
Being a ‘new boy’ meant that you were the lowest of the low and each year one stayed there your credit rose. Boys came from all over the country mainly by rail. So let’s just start in Salisbury the capitol city and board there as a new boy. From the moment you step on the train you are hassled constantly. It’s an overnight journey to Bulawayo. In Bulawayo you then board the train for Plumtree along with all the Bulawayo kids and from outlying areas. You then arrive in Plumtree. New boys are the last to be sorted. Carrying your trunk (which is fierce heavy) after all you are just a kid. You head for the gates.
On arriving there, you find the rest of the school (form two up till upper sixth), lined up on both sides of the road. They then begin to pelt you with Marula berries as bewildered you run the gauntlet to who knows where? Welcome to Plumtree School.
I’m thankful this barbaric practice had been banned before my arrival there, but, many other boys before me had to undergo this.
What a gas man?
The Marula tree.
Natural to the Plumtree area.
Now I was a few years older than Charlie and had got past the stage of being constantly hassled. A funny thing happens in that most boys feel, well it happened to me so I’m entitled to do the same thing to any one else? And if I could stand up to it, then so should they? Even those who had a hard time feel like this and if you can’t put up with it then you are just a sissy?
It’s important to tell a few stories. The school consisted of four main houses or hostels, namely, Milner, Grey, Lloyd and Gaul. Then there was Hammond, for all the other boys who wanted to be a part of this great school but couldn’t get into one of the main houses. So, Hammond affiliated to Grey etc. Milner was the closest house to the school quadrangle, then Grey (where I was domiciled), then Lloyd and Gaul. Directly behind Grey was the ‘prefects common room’. To be avoided at all costs. I once took the short cut behind Grey (as a new boy) and never again. Here’s why.
You there, come here. So you go there and immediately are sent back out for not asking permission to enter. There you stand calling,”can I come in please”, to no avail, so you raise your tremolo voice. You then are allowed in and get beaten two to four strokes for shouting with a rubber hose stolen from a Bunsen burner from the science room and the foreplay is over. Amongst other things I was told to grow through the hole in the carpet like a meallie. Then made to lie on the carpet whilst one of the prefects stood over me and dropped a shot putt catching it before it hit my face. Then told to get lost which I rapidly did. The same type of thing applied to any other new boy who walked past. We all soon learned to walk the long way around to school.
God alone knows what they made Charlie go through the first time he passed here?
The culmination of the first term.
That’s the house where I boarded, Grey. In my time at school most of the competitions hinged between Grey and Gaul. Now Charlie lived in Gaul so we never had much to do with each other. His dyspraxia meant that although he was very bright, his motor co-ordination left a lot to be desired and sometimes his speech was difficult to understand, a bit like someone who is born deaf.
Nevertheless, the school provided many things to do and our plays were famous. Now Charliewas a ‘gung ho’ kid and if he couldn’t make it into the play you could be sure he was somewhere in the background contributing. The same applied to everything he did. The culmination of the first term was when the parents came down for sports week-end (athletics), were housed, fed and entertained within the school, including the play, generally a musical with the younger boys playing the part of women and the older boys men. The same applied to the athletics and whilst he may not of been in any of the events, he was everywhere else, raking the long jump pitch, helping put the pole back up in high jump, just a few examples.
Now there came a time when any schoolboy who was not in any of the events at sports week-end had their part to play. There were two races (so all boys had at least a chance to participate in something at sports week-end), namely 800 metres and 1500 metres. This I believe is when people finally began to see Charlie as he really was? This is what happened.
A gruelling race?
On your marks, get set, go and you are off. In Charlie’s case, most of the other boys had finished when he passed the 400 metre mark for the first time. What a great time to go down hey? Ouch, my hamstring, knee, ankle or whatever else. Not so Charlie he kept on going. It’s a long way, another 400 metres when it’s just you? At about this time old Bill Kinleyside (long standing Mayor of Bulawayo) could be seen heading for the track, again. There wasn’t a tannoy system in the world which he would listen too. “Would Mr. Kinleyside please return to the stands and stop encouraging boys at the 200 metre mark”. You may as well stop wasting your breath, he was deaf to all pleas and off he went with his funny, lopsided walk. Except this time he wasn’t going to cheer on his son (a superb athlete), no Sir, this time was because he recognised courage when he saw it.
Somewhere between the 400 and 500 mark, Charlie started flagging. A lone, brave schoolboy voice, could be heard from the crowd. “Come on Charlie”. Now you have to understand the inter-house rivalry was intense, but it was the impetous every one wanted and the school erupted, ‘come on Charlie’. He picked up and began to pace himself for the next 100 metres like he had seen the great athletes doing. Somewhere between the 200 and 100 metre mark, old Bill Kinleyside was waiting and when Charlie hit this, old Bill went wild, flapping his arms and shouting, go Charlie go. Also as he had seen all the great athletes doing and with the added impetous of old Bill, he slipped into overdrive (cheered on by the whole school and now the crowd as well) and sprinted home and crossing the finish line, he went down. It was a lesson in courage which I have never forgotten.
I’m not even going to tell you how far he was behind in the 1500, except to say, he finished that too.
Jesus Christ Superstar.
The old school chapel whose foundation stone was opened by Royalty no less. Ah, the grand old days of colonialism? But I digress.
When, Jesus Christ Superstar first came out it caused shock waves amongst the religious community and was considered blasphemy of the highest order. But we were kids at school and many of the boys considered religion as a load of junk, that’s just the way times were swinging at that time. So we decided to try it out on our music teacher, a lovely woman. At some stage in her life, one of her children became desperately ill and was on deaths door. Formerly, not so religious, she prayed and what she said was, ‘that if God spared her child, she would follow him ever afterwards’ and God delivered and she kept her pledge. This is what we were up against. The lads wanted to shock her and I was against this saying we had to use a bit of psychology to get her on side. In other words play to her strengths, which were, her love of music, her good taste in this, her religious background and her womanhood. Luckily they listened to me and we chose this song to play for her. “I don’t know how to love him,” sung by Yvonne Elliman. We had her almost immediately.
God in Plumtree.
The Easter service.
The long and short of all this is, so well had we manipulated our music teacher and how much she loved the Jesus Christ Superstar album, that she decided to do something about it. She got hold of reverend Chandler, the school chaplain (protestant) and a former Oxford blue cricket and hockey player and he loved it too.
Now I’m a Catholic and we were not allowed in the school chapel. That’s just the way it was then. Once a month a service for us was held in the school library by the Catholic priest working at the Tegwani missionary school (black) just outside Plumtree.
Anyway between the music teacher and the reverend they decided to open the school chapel to all denominations for the Easter service, where they would play Jesus Christ superstar. This was ground breaking stuff and a testament to good people. The great day arrived, an evening ceremony.
The event unfolded, stirring stuff indeed and at the end when Jesus is being crucified and utters the words,”Lord unto thyself I commend my spirit”, the lights dimmed (for effect) and focused on the statue above the altar of the crucifixion.
Spread eagled in the aisle between the rows of seats was Charlie on his knees and more or less in the pose depicted in the above photo. What a gas man?
I was one of the few boys who never found this funny. Here was someone who hadn’t been dealt the best hand in life overcome by a spiritual revelation in a very moving setting. More importantly, he had more courage in his little finger than the rest of the school put together.
Bulawayo Central Hospital.
Charlie visits me in hospital.
Saint Giles rehabilitation centre.
Learning to lip read.
Somewhere off a beautiful lined street of Jacaranda’s like this in Salisbury, Rhodesia was Saint Giles rehabilitation centre.
Essentially it was for people who had some disability, whether born this way or because of some accident (car crash), where professional people could re-mould people’s shattered lives. A fantastic place it was too in amongst a beautiful setting. However, gradually as the war in Rhodesia increased, more and more people injured in this war found themselves here. Which is where I come in.
Left profoundly deafened (which simply means you have no hearing at all), by my illness. I now found myself learning to lip-read here. I came in twice a week from the farm approximately 60 miles away from Salisbury on the main Salisbury, Bulawayo road. On this particular day my lip reading teacher was busy with another patient and asked if I could wait awhile. Ever willing to please and enjoy a fag break I was quite happy to do this. At that moment the kids there came out for their break. Right in front of my eyes were some thalidomide children. Can any one remember those terrible times? Anyhow there were a couple of toy cars, tractors etc, for them to play with. Those with withered arms were helping those with withered legs and vice-versa and they were so happy, laughing and shouting together I was humbled.
Now I distinctly remember never having the attitude of why me? However, in all honesty, I was feeling distinctly sorry for myself. It was at that precise moment in time I had so clear a vision of Charlie running the 800 metres and all his other accomplishments. I made up my mind then, that I didn’t want to be like the great sportsmen, I wanted to be like Charlie, someone who finished, no matter how long it took? So between him and the kids I said to myself, ‘wake up boy’.
Thank you Charlie.
Social networking and Facebook.
I find Charlie again on Facebook.
Well I finally found Facebook and decided to sign up. I loved it there and finding so many of my long, lost, friends there again. Because of the chequered history of our sad country we are all over the world now. Then one day I found Charlie again here and friended him. He’s now living in New Zealand and sadly we (wife and I) had just returned from a holiday there. If I had known I would have definitively tried to see him there, but, I only found Facebook after returning from there.
Being me of course the first thing I checked was, ‘relationship status’ and what I found was, ‘it’s complicated’. It sure is. Anyway our friendship continued. Amongst many things I learnt that he had a University degree and spoke many languages (self taught) just like him. He had been working for Rural Councils in Zimbabwe and when Mugabe sent his ludicrous but very dangerous war vets onto commercial farms, Charlie was amongst all this trying his best to settle things in a place called Chipinge. Make no mistake about this but it was life threatening stuff.
Anyway we interplayed. I loved the story he told me about when he was in school his English teacher (music teachers husband), used to get the lad sitting in the next desk to punch him on the arm to wake him up when he was dozing off. With the comment, “because some boys are worth teaching”. They sure are.
Charlie as he is today.
In his new home New Zealand.
Over the course of our exchanges on Facebook I tried to tell Charlie about how much he inspired me and still does. For some reason he found this very hard to accept. However I kept pestering and I think he became quite annoyed with me so I backed off.
Eventually I got hold of him again and he was now prepared to accept that my feelings were genuine and well meant. I asked him if I could tell his story of Plumtree here on Moving Pieces. That it was worth telling and that I could always use a pseudonym to protect his identity. However I added that if any Plumtree boy ever read the piece, then they would know exactly who I was talking about. Therefore could I just call him Charlie? I then added that I would have to publish the piece first,but, would send it to him first and if he didn’t like it, then I would just delete it. He told me not to bother sending it to him, just that he was glad he had been of help to me. He sure had.
Perhaps you finally really believe me now? And if you don’t like it let us know and I’ll delete it.
Finally, I’m punching you on the arm to wake you up in case you are dozing. Because some people are worth telling stories about.