Jolly Jack’s Castle by Ken Dunn | Extract Continued – Part 2

Jolly Jack's Castle by Ken Dunn | Extract Continued - Part 2… 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!

A plan was needed and quickly…

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