At age four in the year of Our Lord 1971 I was cocksure that my future lay within the walls of San Fernando Boys’ RC School on Harris Promenade. The school stood adjacent to the Roman Catholic Church from which it sprung, Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The architecture of the primary school was decidedly more modern than the church and the walls seemingly tried to extract an aura of holiness as its intent was obvious. The belly of the school faced east, away from the glare of the pedestrians on the footpath of the nearby Harris Promenade creating a sanctuary in the heart of bustling San Fernando.
Sanctuary in design but little did I know that it was to become a revered institution with limitless capabilities to transform boys into just that…boys.
‘Boy School’ was a wasp’s nest of impetuousness, impulsiveness, non-stop adrenaline, licks, action, pace, more licks, humour, talk about licks, all rolled up in a ball of sweat and energy. Attending Boy School was like riding the tube that traverses the London underground at 5 o’clock in the evening after work. One had to be constantly looking up at the electronic sign board or you could miss Angel Station and be headed at a blistering pace to Cock Fosters!
Like the day in Standard Two. I arrived at about 7.30 a.m. with not a care in the world. As I entered there was a skirmish in progress. Apparently the boys who had arrived before me had nothing better to do than to throw objects at a nest of Polistes lanio one of the largest wasps that belong to the family Vespidae. They were pelting a nest of Jack Spaniards!
The Jack Spaniards retaliated and targeted the first and closest enemy they could pounce on. Anyone clad in a grey shirt khaki pants would be hit. That of course was me entering the door as unconcerned as one could be at 7.30 am. I was stung with alarming ferocity on my lower lip. I turned about and beat a hasty retreat to my home all of about two minutes from the school. By that time my lip was swollen as big as a life raft.
The culture of Boy School was to allow devolved leadership to each classroom where teachers set the performance standards for the boys. Even though each teacher taught with a similar voice of authority, they never took themselves too seriously and were approachable even on off days such as Carnival Monday during the early morning J’ouvert celebrations. Each teacher was rigidly in control of their charges and delivered his/her curriculum with precise certainty, especially the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Mr. Taitt, Mr. Allen, Mr. Attzs and Mr. Barthol. These four stalwarts led the Standard Five classes for many years and say what you may, as a student, one was entranced by these men who never seemed hurried nor flustered. They were always calm, focused and measured examples of masculinity especially when a dose of licks was needed. The oldest of the Four Horsemen used to recite a well-rehearsed poem as he pulled taut the pants of a truant lad to deliver his lashes. Up to today some men refuse to look at khaki such is the pain of the memories of that fabric!
However outside the classroom, students set the agenda. The academics would call it the ‘hidden curriculum’. For all who walked the hallowed halls of Boys’ RC and the stone pathways of Harris Promenade nothing was hidden! Mayhem was never disguised and the wildness of Boys’ RC was give full Monty on the streets of San Fernando. It was a more carefree era and boys were allowed out during the lunch hour. This meant that any event in San Fernando, especially free concerts by the Police Band (or anyone as a matter of fact) in the Chancery Lane Carpark (now the San Fernando Teaching Hospital) and the bandstand, would surely find Boy School boys in the audience once it was between 11.30 a.m. and 12.30 p.m.
The time outside the classroom was meant for enjoyment. Enjoyment came in the pursuit of the games that we as boys relished. But in the enjoyment came competitive rivalry. There was intense competition particularly when we played football. I say football but anything but a ball may have been used including an oil can, plastic bottles and screw covers for drinks bottles! There was rivalry as sides were picked and games were fought and lost with the intensity of professional teams. It was always do or die and hard tackles on the worn grass and gravel surface of the Promenade under the disapproving glare of Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi, were the order of the day. One learned to take one’s losses in the man’s world of Boys’ RC.
San Fernando Boys’ RC was about the celebration of life and friends. As Standard Five drew to a close and the five or six years of sitting next to boy whose favourite deodorant rolled off in Standard Two it was clear that the colleagues who made wildness a celebrated event in and out of the walls, were friends, and could be friends for life. Now many former students look back fondly on their period on the Promenade and have amongst their closest buddies many comrades from Boys’ RC.
San Fernando Boys’ RC makes a young boy confident. My mother attests to this as she recounted to me my insistence that I knew the way to school…on my second day. At age five I could walk all the way from the Magistrate’s Court to Boys’ RC!! A mother of two adolescent young men recently remarked to me that she is eternally grateful for the San Fernando Boys’ RC School experience as the institution has prepared her boys for life. They left Boys’ RC with remarkable common-sense and the ability to make decisions when they are not with her. She is firm in the belief that the years on the Promenade in San Fernando made her boys resilient and stronger.
Her boys aged eighteen and fifteen, left Boys’ RC seven and four years ago respectively.
The legacy lives on.