Royal School of Dungannon was one of the best prep schools just as Gallstone was one of the worst schools. Everyone wore uniforms and the place was spotless. The professors were concerned and professional. The headmaster was such a cliche fatherly type I refused to believe in him even after I realized he really was what he appeared to be. Everyone tried! The whole staff tried! They really did! But the mold had set and my personality had been cast. Looking back now I have to acknowledge the fault was mine as much as anyone. I just assumed instinctively that I was going to be bullied and ridiculed so I was defensive from the start, wary, and prematurely judging everyone as my enemy. There were clicks but they were not hostile. There were the usual bullies and showoffs and cowards and sycophants. Sure. Every school has them. But I assumed everyone was bad. What is that thing Shylock said? ‘You called me a dog before you had cause?’
I assumed everyone was my enemy before I had cause. As a result I came across as the angry bully. Not them. Me. I came across as wary and withdrawn and unfriendly. Not them. Me. I came across as imperious and overbearing and conceited. Not them. Me. I would explode into a fiery temper and attack at the drop of a hat. The very first day. Some boys were roughhousing it and knocked off my hat. I thought right! Hazing! Attack at once or they will just keep picking on you! So I clobbered them. One black eye and one broken nose. Then I picked up my hat and snarled “Don’t even think about playing the bully with me! I eat bullies for lunch!”
The two boys who had accidentally knocked off my hat, not even seeing me. Now they stared at me as if at a manic. Worse, when the headmaster hauled us all into his cosy rooms to explain the rumpus the two boys said it was entirely their fault. “Our faults entirely Headmaster! New boy misunderstood the situation.”. I was left to look quite rightly the right cad. It went downhill from there. I could never recover my footing with the boys, even when I won the football game because of my height and strength. They would rather lose than win with me. And the professors had to counsel me after every game that I was suppose to display sportsmanship. “Football is not an excuse for waging war in the mud son.”
The meals were terrible too. I can to loath the meals. The long dining tables. The rites and rituals. Everyone sitting next to their pals and mates and me standing there wondering where I could sit. And even if I could find an empty seat that was not ‘Sorry Nicholson! Reserved for my pal!’ I had to make conversation. And I could not make conversation. I never got the drift of the conversation. I never got the joke. I never knew what to say. So I would sit there like a brute – which I was.
So though I was no long at Gallstone I was still the Gorilla of Gallstone. I withdrew into a shell, becoming awkward and stiff and morose, unpopular, unlikeable. Rightfully. I held my head high and knew I was loathed. And in class I had to seat at the back and pray I was not called on er I be exposed as the right bloody ass in front of everyone in class. I just could not catch up academically without the one- on- one teaching of someone like Ranjit Sahib or George Singh Taylor whom I was so desperate to contact I even wrote letters to Gallstone.
They returned to me unopened. Singh had not returned to the school . Apparently he had been posted to a much better school. Mulish, I wrote letters everything place I could think of where I might by chance contact Singh. I thought how many Sikhs could there be in Ireland? Or England for that matter? I drew out the insignia they both wore and researched it. If it was regulation, and it had to be regulation, there had to be a record and a regiment and regimental headquarters. All I got back was a perplexing letter explaining I must have drawn the insignia wrong because there was no such insignia of no such regiment on record as serving in either HM or East India Company.
Summer came and I returned to Hogg Heaven with joy. I was never much of a letter writer and I had not written home once. I had stayed during Christmas break to receive extra tutoring in a vain attempt to help me catch up. The professor was a bachelor and he enjoyed the extra money he made. One – on – one I made good headway. I was good with people one – on – one – in my reserved, stiff, wary way. At least I did not shut down and sit like a brute. I was not stupid. I just could not learn in class in front of a bunch of boys staring at me and snickering. And it was difficult being in makeup classes with boys who were younger and small than me which made me feel like some hunk of a Frankenstein monster — which was my nickname here behind my back. If I had a choice I would have preferred to be called Gorilla.
Hogg Heaven seemed just as I left it but as soon as I entered the door something went flying at my head. Out of thin air. “Duck!” Maeve shouted as she hauled me into the room as a footman dashed to slam the door shut.
“What was that?”
“Oh John! We have a poltergeist here at Hogg Heaven. Hogg Heaven is heaven no more!”