Chapter 28: A Tear in My Donegal Tweed

On Sundays we wore a Donegal Tweed jacket. It was a rough woollen coat with black and grey flecks. Mine had a small rip in the front bottom corner. I would walk around with my hand over the tear, like it was a wound or something. No one could see it. I was scared they might. It became an obsession, a fetish, a constant mode of hold on Sundays.

Donegal Tweeds
Donegal Tweeds

Now caning was as common as pollen in spring. One teacher brought the cane to class and would administer it there and then. Usually however it was a more organised affair. I got fifty canes in the first term of my third form, but never once did anything bad. I simply could not shut up.

"Talking Goodman? Go up!" said the study prefect. "Going up" meant going up the stairs and knocking on Father Durning's door. I'd knock.

"Come in, Goodman", he'd call. He'd sit at his desk with his back to the door. How did he know it was me?

"Stand in the usual place". The "usual place" was a particular crack in the wooden floor.

"The usual?"

"Yes, Father". The "usual" in this case was the choice of cane. He had two - Henry and Arsenic. Only the inexperienced would choose Arsenic. Arsenic was the skinny one.

"Bend over".

Whack! Whack!

"Thank you, Father", you'd say, turning and nodding politely, as if to say it didn't hurt. You'd leave hastily, because cane-pain takes a few seconds to sink in. You wanted to be well out of the room before that. Then you'd leap along the corridor yelping like a puppy for ten seconds and the pain was gone. It was over and done with, and time to return to study and enter two marks in the back of your Maths book, where we third formers kept our tally. For we were having a race to a hundred.

Usually you would get two canes at the same time, so a hundred meant getting sent up fifty times. Father Durning was for study, Father Blake was for dorm, Father Chaney was for class, and Father Cudby was for dining room. The thing to avoid was getting sent up for misbehaviour in the dining room. You'd usually get two as always, but these ones hurt. They really hurt.

The dining room was a long room with long tables stretching from one end to the other. There were eight or ten boys per section. This included the table prefect. We would stand behind our chair while grace was said. Then we would sit and a bell would ring. The "runner" from the table would go to the servery and collect the food. The small piece of butter would carefully be divided equally, with the person doing the dividing taking the last bit to ensure that he made each part the exact same size. We'd stuff ourselves with as much bread as possible. Then the bell would ring and we'd stand to go.

It was not common to be sent up for dining room misbehaviour. Usually it was for flicking butter with a knife or something serious like that. I guess life wasn't working out too well for me, because once when we were filing out of the dining room, the Head Prefect said, "Goodman! Go up!"

"Why?" I asked.

"For answering back", he said.

"But I wasn't", I protested.

"You are", he said.

"I wasn't doing a thing", I said, holding on to the hole in my Donegal Tweed. With that, the Head Prefect spat a yellow gooby on the floor.

"Lick that up", he said.

"No", I said.

"Lick it up, or go up", he said.

"No", I said.

"That's your option. Lick it up or go up".

So I knelt on the floor at his feet and pretended to lick it.

"Lick it!", he cried, pushing my mouth into it. "Lick it!"

"Since you didn't lick it up, go up", he said.

So I did, and got two of the best on the bum for insubordination as they called it.

"You don't answer back", said Father Cudby, oblivious no doubt to the Head Prefect's gooby.

And I left his room, holding the hole in my Donegal Tweed so no one would see it was torn. It would never seem to heal. Never, never, never.

I was not too keen to get the cane after that, and in the course of the year made it only to ninety-eight.

I could have got to one hundred, for once, in the dorm, I was sent up for making a noise.

"Bend over", said Father Blake.

"I had a bed dropped on my toe", I explained.

"Doesn't matter. Bend over".

"I'm not", I said. "I had a bed dropped on my toe. I couldn't help making a noise".

"Get to bed then", said Father Blake. He was usually fair. And in the morning, standing at the basins in the bathroom, word was passed along that President Kennedy had been shot.

In the fourth form, our dorm master was Father Arbuckle. He had been to Cambridge University and was always typing. The dorm was divided into two rooms. Once, while one room distracted him after lights out, the other room set off fire crackers. Suddenly all lights were on and all hell broke loose. The typewriter tapped for hours that night, and many nights after; for the crackers became a saga, and the saga became a battle.

I got the feeling that Father Arbuckle didn't like boarding life much. Sometimes I came back late at night from an extra piano lesson before an exam - holding my music case and the tear in my Donegal Tweed. And there would be a bottle of coke outside his door for me, and a biscuit.


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