To this day I don't know how it all started but there we were out on the sports field in the cold drizzly February of 1960, messing around and ignoring the hapless master in charge who was just too old to be taking football practice for twenty or so bored and troublesome 12 year-olds.
Without warning, from out of nowhere, Jumbo Jameson jumped on me and started thumping away as if I'd stolen the last Mars bar from his tuck box. He'd completely lost it, arms and legs flailing. I managed to shield myself the best I could and so avoided most of the blows. I was more concerned with self-defence than counter-attack as I could see no reason for the onslaught.
After a few minutes of this with the teacher shouting helplessly and waving his arms about, who should come striding over the touchline than headmaster Hardy himself. I caught sight of him and a huge black, bottomless pit opened up and swallowed me. I whispered hoarsely at
'Flippin' Hardy! ' 'Don't believe you!'
"s true. Look.'
Jumbo continued thumping me. So there we both were, rolling around on the ground grappling with each other in full view of the headmaster himself. But what in heaven's name was Hardy doing out on the pitch? He never came out and certainly not in this sort of weather. I could have written his first words for him myself.
'What the blazes is going on here?' he thundered. 'What the devil do you think you two are doing?'
I tried to disengage myself but Jumbo seemed to be deaf.
Hardy bellowed, 'Knight! Jameson! Get up this instant!'
Eventually we stood up before him. At six foot six he towered over us. Never did height give the enemy such an advantage. We were helpless. This was it. Headmaster's study. Six of the best. Swishy willow cane. Why stop at six?
'What is the meaning of all this?' he bellowed.
I .... was defending mysel . ...' I stuttered.
'Poppycock!' yelled Hardy. 'You?' He pointed at Jumbo.
'He stole my Beano and
'Please Sir, I did nothing of the sort.'
'Be quiet the two of you. There's only one way to resolve this.'
And so we fell victim to that summary form of justice where those in authority either cannot make up their mind as to the rights and wrongs of a situation, or else just cannot be bothered to. Hardy did not have the patience or the decency to try and see who was to blame, and so the next day the two of us were to settle our differences in the boxing ring. Worst of all was that the whole year was invited to come and gawp. It was to be a showcase lesson for everyone that any boys caught fighting would be dealt with in a similar way. It was the sort of punishment you'd expect at a US Army boot-camp, not at a prep school for intelligent young people, and intelligent teachers.
I caught Jumbo after tea that day and hissed my gratitude. 'Thanks for nothing, creep! What the heck did you jump on me for?'
'You took my Beano.'
'It wasn't me you idiot! I was set up by that rat Charwill. He's done that sort of thing before. It was him who told you it was me, wasn't it? Eh?
Go on, admit it. '
W .. well, it might have been,' said Jumbo, looking sheepish.
'Huh! I thought so. Why didn't you make sure first, before you got us both into trouble.'
'Well, it's done, and we've got to go through with it.'
'But we don't have to give Hardy the pleasure of seeing us bash each other's brains out, do we? That's what he wants, the sadistic so-and-so.' 'Can't do that. Would just make him more mad.'
'You mean you're going to do it seriously?' I enquired disbelievingly.
'You really are a creep, Jameson.'
This was a little worrying, as Jumbo was bigger and heavier than me, and in boxing it's weight that counts for the best advantage. In that sense it was an unfair match. But did that bother Hardy? Of course not. He'd enjoy it.
So, I'd have to rely on my own talents speed, reflexes and being lighter I was fitter than my opponent, so I could go the three rounds easily enough. If I kept moving I could simply keep out of his way and tire him out.
Yes, good tactics. I didn't feel so bad then.
My mate Ed was a help. 'You'll need a second, then?'
'Would you? That would be super. Hardy can't stop you. You could give me tips and encouragement during the fight. Just like a real boxing match. '
I slept nervously that night, not quite the condemned man in his cell to be shot at dawn, but I had no choice but to go through with the whole silly charade, after which we could get on with more important things that were being delayed - Ed and I had to finish building our secret hideout in the bushes, for a start.
At least the referee was Mr Sargent, our instructor, who was a decent bloke. I was one of his keen grrnnasts so he wouldn't let anything happen to me, would he? He had thought it was all very silly, as he told me later.
Charwill was on the bell. Trust him to wangle the best job. Ding, ding!
'Round One,' he called, with a malicious delight in his voice.
Jumbo rushed off his stool like a maniac, arms flailing like windmill sails in a gale. If he continued like that I could easily keep out of his way and get him tired out. But it was more difficult than I thought. He caught me with a few punches, which did not hurt, but he might land a lucky one that could do for me. And if he squashed me against the ropes I was done for.
I was dancing around with pretty nifty footwork, trying to keep out of trouble. Ed was shouting encouragement, 'Footwork! Use your feet! You're quicker than he is! And fitter!'
I made a note to reward Ed when I got out of this. He was doing his stuff all right. He was worth a Mars bar. Always better to fight the good fight with a trusty pal by your side.
Ding, ding! End of round one. Jumbo was up on points as he'd landed a few punches; I had probably not scored any points at all as I was more concerned with (a) keeping out of trouble and (b) defence not attack, thus ridiculing Hardy's kangaroo court style of justice. After all, I was not boxing to win — I just wanted to get the whole ridiculous circus act over and done with.
The second round followed the pattern of the first. I wasn't tired and was moving well. I fell over a couple of times when Jumbo came charging in.
That was a good delaying tactic, so I fell over a few more times.
Hardy glared. 'Stand up and fight, Knight!' he boomed. (He'd always had it in for me).
'Footwork!' yelled Ed. 'Use your feet!' Coming right after Hardy's outburst that was brave encouragement indeed from my good friend and second. Hardy glowered at Ed in my corner, but said nothing. If the old man wanted realism in this boxing match then seconds were allowed to shout advice and encouragement to their fighters. And that's just what Ed was doing and flapping a good towel during the breaks which kept me nice and cool.
Sure enough, the pantomime came to an end after three rounds. Jumbo had clearly won the match on points as he had landed many more punches on me than I had on him. But Mr Sargent, to his eternal credit, promptly raised both our arms into the air together and proclaimed the fight a draw. Hardy was livid and looked like thunder. He glared at the referee but of course could do nothing to interfere with the decision.
All the boys applauded and cheered. The irony of that I knew was lost on Hardy, because the more the cheers were for us so they were cheers against the headmaster himself for organising the show. He then stalked off looking highly displeased because he knew I had not given him the pleasure he was expecting. I had not fought the fight he wanted. I had spent the whole time defending myself and so in his eyes I was running away. A coward.
Ed shook my hand with a big grin on his face. He said nothing but we both of us knew we had won a moral victory. It was one of the highlights of the year.
As I walked back to the changing rooms Mr Sargent winked at me.
© Andrew Wright