Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Morning Assembly

It's a raw, foggy morning.  It usually is.  We sit in serried ranks facing the stage.  There are climbing bars on the walls and big ropes looped back and held in place by chains. There's a smell of damp flannel and scuffed  wood and the air has been breathed a few too many times.

The headmaster is conducting morning assembly. His name is Mr Ayre, he must be in his 60s and he doesn't seem to enjoy his work. I can't imagine what he would look like smiling. "We will now sing hymn number two hundred and sixty four," he says.

Everybody stands. 

The staff are lined up behind the headmaster. I can still name most of them.

Mr Guybar. He's French and very young and we call him "Bronco" because he looks vaguely like the hero of a TV cowboy show. I am the proud author of a ditty that begins. "Bronco Guybar comes from France/ He gives you five page essays in advance" and then peters out.

Mr Sexty. This is the 50s and we haven't yet woken up to the glorious possibilities of his name. He has a huge, hooky red nose. I have never ever, before or since, seen a nose to match it.

Mr Chamberlain. A fleshy, handsome man with too much wavy hair who seems to enjoy hurting and frightening small boys. He teaches maths. I don't understand maths.

Mr Townsend. Shambolic and rumpled with tousled black hair and a face like the one W.H. Auden has yet to develop. He has a drink problem and limps with a stick.

Mrs Townsend. Tall and skinny with a sharp nose, like something drawn by one of the Dickens illustrators. We are afraid of both the Townsends but they are- when you get past the manners they assume to maintain discipline- kindly folk. He earns my undying respect by using a double period on Friday afternoons to read us, week after week, a strange, new book about magic and monsters and heroic battles called  Lord of the Rings

Mr Hibbert. Huge, red-faced, a man's man and former barrack-room pianist. He teaches P.E. and music. "Name a tune and I'll play it." he says. "If any of you can name five tunes I don't know I'll give him half a crown."  Tommy Hopkins,  the class brainbox and halitosis king, wins the challenge by proposing a string of up to the minute hits by Tommy Steele, Adam Faith, Frankie Valli....

It occurs to me that I am talking about the dead.  Bronco might still be alive, I suppose. He'd be in his seventies.

We thumb through our hymnbooks and find the place. The Divinity mistress plink plonk planks through the intro. She has the habit of deference and smiles all the time. She's an unmarried lady and wears woolly cardigans. It  figures that I can't remember her name.

New every morning is the love 
Our waking and uprising prove; 
Through sleep and darkness safely brought, 
Restored to life and power and thought.

I conduct a theological experiment. If I shut my eyes and look up I can see a field of pale red. If I  look down the red darkens to maroon- the colour of my hymnbook cover. Brightness equals salvation, darkness equals damnation. Up down, up down. The experiment is repeatable. I have demonstrated the existence of Heaven and Hell.

It's a pity it's such a short hymn this morning. If assembly over-runs it bites into the first lesson of the day which is maths. 

Mr Ayre says the final prayer- one of the collects from the Anglican prayerbook; I know it by heart.  We face left and file out, class by class. I hand my hymnbook to the Divinity mistress.  She nods and smiles.

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