Jolly Jack’s Castle – a Novel by Ken Dunn

Jolly Jack's Castle | A Novel by Ken DunnJolly Jack’s Castle is a story about education in the Independent sector and was written after I had departed a certain school, still smarting from the crap I’d had to deal with there. I hope things are different today but I fear that some of the situations I found may still hold true in both independent and state schools nationwide.

To tell you where the school I taught actually is would be slightly risky, not to say dangerous given the litigation that might follow. Let me just say it’s quite well known and appears to be a prestigious and very ancient monument to learning. It has changed since I left the place but I do wonder how much. To say more would only compromise the innocent, the kids!

The educational dinosaurs I came across amongst the staff there crouched beneath their self-made parapets, not wanting to recognise the real world, and, more often than not, completely unaware of it. They trembled not daring to raise their heads lest the Gorgon of reality turned them into human beings.

It took a while before I realised that none of them had ever really left school. Since being children they had all been through an educational system, although ‘conditioning’ might be a more accurate word to use. They had gone on to acquire degrees in this or that, some, not all, passed through a teacher training course and then back to school as teachers of this or that without knowing or experiencing the real world at all. All highly qualified, all highly respectable but as for simple ‘nouce’ or intelligence, well… ‘Streetwise’ they were not but, then again, some were. To illustrate that here’s an extract from the book which is a conversation I overheard between two of them at the beginning of one term.

The four week Christmas break of ‘playing with grown-ups’ was over. They were back in the nut house and really, really looking forward to another term. It was a cold, late morning and a couple of the staff were up in the staff room looking out of the window as their precious pupils were arriving back ‘bursting’ with enthusiasm for the new term ahead. Fat chance of that. They surveyed the growing traffic jam as parents arrived with their offspring in huge ‘4 by 4’s’, ‘Jags’ and assorted ‘turbo’ models, all adding to the grid lock which always happened in and around the School at the beginning of every term. As vehicle doors opened and mums, dads kids, trunks and bags filled up the gaps between the cars the comments from above followed the usual pattern.

‘Look at that one!’

‘Which one?’

‘The one with the thighs, teeth and…..’

‘Oh, that one!’


‘Think so. Too ‘smiley’. Doesn’t have that guarded look, somehow.’

‘Who’s that?’

‘Which one?’

‘The one climbing out of that red, Japanese ‘bullet’ thing.’

‘Oh, him?’




‘That’s what they say. Someone had a contract out on him last year.’


‘Yeah. He used to arrive in an old Cortina until the ‘heat’ came off.’




‘Something about a ‘duff’ delivery of rocket launchers, or was it anti-personnel mines. Can’t remember now. Either way they didn’t work, so he had to stay ‘low’ for a while.’


‘I see she’s back.’

‘Which one?’

‘The red head. Been ‘on the game’ for years.’

‘Has she?’

‘Yeah. Only way she can afford to get her kids through this place. You can tell by the way she walks.’

‘Oh, yes!’

‘I see he’s back.’


‘That one!’

‘Oh, him!’

‘I thought he’d been expelled?’

‘No. Just suspended.’

‘Oh. I suppose that means the ‘management’ bottled out again?’

‘Well, it was only a medium sized fire.’


‘He’ll have to try harder next time.’

‘He will. Give him time.’

And so the Lent term began.

As previously stated this prestigious and very ancient monument to learning has a history going back centuries. As another extract from the book here’s my version of it.

For almost eight hundred years Braumstate Cathedral School had educated the cream of the gentry but now it was down to the skimmed milk and that was rapidly drying up. It desperately needed an increase in revenue via pupil numbers as well as a major TLC operation before any more bits fell off its crumbling buildings.

The school, nestling in its own extensive grounds and tucked in below the rolling Quantock Hills in Somerset, sits at the north eastern edge of Braumston, a small, confused little place with the surprisingly massive edifice of a Cathedral, built in the 12th century as a direct result of the behaviour of a rather obscure but very randy Baron Bathdere.

He had, according to historians, heavily compromised several female members of the aristocracy, including one of the ladies within the Royal household of Henry II. Never slow to anger at the best of times Henry was spectacularly apoplectic at having a member of his entourage ‘up the duff’. Some kind of punishment, short of disembowelling, was needed. But, as he’d already had several ‘administrative’ punch-ups across the land, in between rows with Thomas Becket, and the Baron just happened to have a large private army, all of whom were as nuts as he was, an ‘understanding’ was established to prevent more blood being spilled. Henry handed down a cold ultimatum to the Baron to placate the situation and, he hoped, pacify any further wranglings with Becket. A Cathedral would be built.

The Baron, realising that his monarch was intent on this happening lest he vented his bloodlust upon him, duly ordered his followers to flog the local population into the construction of a vast guilt box, as he saw it, a new Cathedral, and continued with this endeavour for the better part of forty years. During that time he ran out of all likely female company, the word had somehow leaked out about his little ways, but, always the one to take advantage of any situation, he developed an unnatural taste for the clergy who flocked to the site as the Cathedral began to rise, as he did, if you see what I mean. Anyway, as a result of his exertions, at least in the building sense, the prospect of an earlier and rather messy Civil War was diffused. The whole thing wasn’t finished until well after he died, completely knackered and still unsatiated, in 1213.

Then some bright spark at the time decided it would be a good idea to found a chorister’s school to feed the clergy’s ‘needs’ in perpetuity. Over the centuries the school grew to its present size of 650 pupils, from 5 to 18, and still serving the Cathedral with its requisite quantity of large mouthed, evil, bone idle little bastards ever to be found in any school. Still rooted in the feudal past, and boys only, it had survived the worst that time could throw at it. That included the Black Death, the later Civil War, the Labour Party and, worst of all, Margaret Thatcher but not without the odd hic-cup.

One unforgettable event had happened in the late 1950’s when horrified staff and clergy alike shuddered at the introduction of a female (!) to the teaching body. This happened to be a rather blowsy, very loud Domestic Science teacher appointed on the rather grey basis of an indiscreet liaison with the then Deputy Head during the summer hols in Penrith. ‘Cooking’ had arrived to both bemuse and confuse both the boys and staff. Others had arrived after her, all highly asexual but with the standard ‘sticky-out-bits’ to aid identification but they did, at least, soften the overall persona of the school which was seen as a rugby playing, stiff upper lipped, ‘don’t be such a pansy boy and get back out there in the snow and finish your push-ups!’ kind of a place. Then in the 60’s, as if what had happened wasn’t enough, co-education arrived. Girls!!! The sound of emotional nails being scraped down the blackboard of education could be heard for quite some time after that.

Ten years later the Music School was established as a result of a fairly hairy ‘fling’ the senior master of the time had experienced with a spectacularly, large bosomed, base clarinet player in Brighton. Specialist musicians, and others, from all over the country began to arrive due to an intriguing entry in the advertising columns of the Times. It had read, ‘Wanted. Musicians to handle small things. Girls and boys available.’ This had been placed by a more than angry senior master, furious at the way the base clarinet player had quickly ditched him for the Headmaster. But eventually ‘musical’ children arrived in coach loads, their parents desperate for them to exercise their ‘art’ and pick up the three ‘R’s’ at the same time.

The School had now received its final quota of teaching staff, mostly completely nuts, which it has maintained, with a few additions here and there, to the present day. Many of them have been there for almost 40 years and one of them, and this has to be a record for any school, Mr Chips or not, had clocked up 53 years! No wonder he was such a bent, bald and backbiting little shit. What has kept them there is beyond all reason but there they were in this remote outpost of academia, probably happy to continue with their blinkered little lives until they had to be put down.

In any case by the end of the 70’s the school was well and truly on the educational map. Punters rolled up in their hundreds, paid their entrance fees, uniform fees, equipment fees, book fees, term fees, extras and so on, all delighted to have their little darlings established in this presumed pinnacle of educational excellence. The ‘Education Reform Act 1988’ arrived and slid by without causing a ripple. State education might have had to grapple with that but here? Some independent schools are still suffering from ignoring that. But then the 90’s arrived and things began to tighten and tighten… A wave of panic, far higher than anything that had happened before, struck the school. Not even good old Baron Bathdere in his most staunch and randiest stance could have gripped the school in as ice-like a grip as the fear of … losing income and customers!

If you decide to read the whole thing you may think that my account of educational nonsense cannot possibly be true. I can easily understand that. I myself had great difficulty believing that my ‘colleagues’ could behave in the way they did on a daily basis. You would be quite wrong to dismiss Jolly Jack’s Castle as anything but based on fact.

I commend the book to you in the hope it may amuse, as I have attempted to do in the articles I have written for NCFP, and, as an important final point, if you are a parent with a child in an independent school you should check more carefully about how your offspring is progressing and perhaps suggest that you ask a question of the Head which, in the past, was usually always sidestepped in one way or another. That question is, ‘What is the philosophy of the school?’

That can sometimes ensure either instant confusion, silent paranoia or even a total collapse of the conversation followed quickly with a spectacular line of purile bullshit. If any of that happens you will then know you have a problem on your hands and the safest thing to do will be to take your child elsewhere. You may even consider the State sector and save yourself a great deal of money.

Jolly Jack’s Castle is currently available from at £8.99 plus p&p but there is currently a 25% discount code until 28th November 2011 – CYBERWEEKUK.

Jolly Jack's Castle | A Novel by Ken Dunn

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