Chapter 32: The End of a World

We had classes on Saturday mornings, with Wednesday afternoons off. This was to enable boarders to go to the dentist and the like without missing school. My dentist was Mr de Berry of Wellington. I stole a pile of his appointment cards, which I would fill in whenever I wanted to go to town. At school, they must've thought I had terrible teeth.

Once in 1963 I was sitting in the train wearing my school suit, after a Wednesday in Wellington, when an old man came up to me.

"I'm not a Catholic", he said. "You from Silverstream?"

I nodded suspiciously.

"I just want to say I've only ever cried once when a public figure died. And that was when Pope John XXIII died". With that, he wandered back to his seat.

It was a strange thing to say to a boy of thirteen. Now we had Pope Paul VI. We'd been told that Pope John was the one who said we must open a window and let in some air. By the fourth form, the fresh air had started to hit our world. Until then we had Mass every morning in silence and in Latin, with the priest with his back to the people. One evening, the Rector, Father Jack Parker, appeared with an announcement. From next Sunday on, the priest would turn to the people and in a loud voice say "Dominus vobiscum". And we were to answer in an equally loud voice, "Et cum spiritu tuo". We practised it.

A year later there was another change. The priest would turn to the people and in a loud voice say in English, "The Lord be with you". And we were to answer in an equally loud voice, "And with your spirit". We practised it. Bit by bit, changes were made. And slowly the old ways began to crumble.



It wasn't just the church. The Beatles were in full flight, and came to Wellington. Winkle-picker shoes and stove-pipe pants were in. Any pointed shoes had their toes cut off at ranks. Trousers had to be a minimum of eighteen inches at the cuff, and tape measures were used at ranks. Hair began to grow longer, and the barber was sent for. Side burns began to descend, and the razor was used. Then came the Caesar haircut, which was a sort of square fringe. Again the barber was sent for. Life was becoming a hidden battle between staff and students. Lockers were searched for "foreigns" - which were any clothes not the regulation uniform. And still the hair grew, and still it was cut.

Then we had a sinker strike in the dining room. Sinker was the local name for steam pudding. No one was to touch it. The plates of sinker sat on the tables, and the dining room staff looked stunned. No one moved. Not a hand touched a spoon. The whole boarding school sat in the dining room motionless, and in silence. There was nothing they could do.

At another time at ranks, Father Chaney the Discipline Master, was berating students for having "foreigns" at school.

"And I saw a pair of foreign socks under Michael Harvey's bed", he said. "I asked him about it and he denied it. When I went back to look, the foreign socks were gone. He's hidden them somewhere else. I saw them with my own eyes, but he denies they exist. You're a liar, Michael Harvey. You're a liar".

Suddenly, from the back of the quadrangle, Michael Harvey called out.

DON'T DISTORT THE TRUTH.

We didn't know it then, but that was the moment the old world died, and the new world was ushered in. There was nothing they could do. Nothing.

One evening, a rugby rally in the quadrangle degenerated from the call of "We want the coach!" to "We want food!" The whole boarding school began to chant.

WE WANT FOOD! WE WANT FOOD!

We ran to underneath the balcony where the priests lived, and began to chant again.

WE WANT FOOD! WE WANT FOOD!

A huge crocodile formed and slithered its way around the buildings.

WE WANT FOOD! WE WANT FOOD!

Someone set some rubbish tins on fire. The crocodile slithered across the fields to the Home of Compassion hospital next door.

WE WANT FOOD! WE WANT FOOD!

We returned to the college grounds. Somehow the mass rally was ignored, as if by ignoring it, it would go away. But we knew deep down somewhere that the power had shifted and it would never be the same.

It's not that the priests were ogres. It's just that they were moving into the new world too. Some were liberal, some were not. Father Bernard Ryan, the Spiritual Director - we called him Doc - was an ear to all. And even though we continued to try to grow our hair long, it still got cut. And the toes of the shoes were chopped off, and the foreigns confiscated.

Slowly the food changed a bit. Slowly daily Mass became less obligatory. Slowly Barracks was phased down. Slowly hair got longer. Some didn't even play rugby. Discussions broke out about Vietnam.

It was bigger than us in our little world. The musical Hair had arrived - this is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius - and they sang songs in public using words we never mentioned except in the confessional. Chairman Mao's Little Red School Book was passed under the desk. Someone read Teilhard de Chardin. Christian Doctrine classes were renamed Christian Living classes. Christian Living was crap.

We were part of a huge movement, a great world-wide crocodile. There was no stopping it. We could justify it, for the Pope himself had opened the window to let the gale blow. And even a little old man in a train would cry when the Pope died, for he knew that the Pope had done good.


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