||My Feller Memories|
The first installments of my chronicles were
largely written two and a half years ago in the first blush of finding Rick Elgerís website and were
less influenced by other people's memories. What
follows from this point forward has developed more slowly and it contains many thoughts that have come
to mind as I read other peopleís reminiscences scattered around the
various sites. If you have the
time, it might be useful to go back and re-read some of that material to provide
the context for this material.
Iíve always thought of the prefect system as part of the Uncle Stevieís anglophile desire to re-create at Feller his vision of an English public school, an Eton-sur-Richelieu, if you will. Although, as we who attended were well aware, in practice Feller was so far removed from Eton and Harrow that this resulted in a moderately bizarre state of affairs.
I was in grade 8 when the prefect system was created, and since I was not one of the original members, I did not pay much attention to the logic or logistics of implementation. However, in various places, a number of the inaugural members have offered some insightful commentary and have provided a few details about how the power structure evolved, and how an elite was imposed where previously there had been none. I think that everyone agrees that the prefect system was Steve Mayís baby; or at least that he was the strongest proponent of establishing it. By the time I started paying attention to any of this, it was clear that the Prefect system and the Sea Cadets went hand in glove in creating a hierarchical power structure amongst the boys. However, itís my recollection that the sea cadets corps was established independently from the prefect system and preceded it by 2 or 3 years. I think that Uncle Steve, with strong agreement and some support from my father, had established RCSCC Fort Lennox, the sea cadets corps, but then went wandering out west for a year. In Steveís absence, my dad, who had been XO, was promoted to CO. I believe that the Prefect system was something that Steve initiated after he returned. One hesitates to put thoughts and motives into another personís head but from what I remember of Uncle Steve, if my memory of the time frame is correct, it does not seem unreasonable to suggest that, the prefect system was initiated, at least in part, so that he could have something to be in charge of until such time as he could regain control of the cadet corps. In any case, I plan to write more about cadets in a different part of this narrative.
The prefect system that I joined had swollen to include a School Captain, 2 Head Prefects, 8-10 Prefects, and an equal number of Head Boys (which was sort of over kill for a population of about 150 boys). [Was it just me, or was anyone else confused by the fact that the Head Boys were the lowest rank. It seemed that Head should be in charge like Headmaster. I often wonder whether this bit of illogic irreparably scarred my psyche for life.] The prefectís badges of office were our different coloured ties: dark purple for School Captain, magenta? for Head Prefects, bright red for Prefects and gold for Head Boys. The hoi polloi wore the traditional rep tie with the dark blue diagonal stripe on a silver gray background. [Hmm. The school colours were supposed to be purple and white so maybe it was the confusion created by the colour scheme of our ties that actually scarred me for life.] I canít remember whether the head boys and prefects actually had distinct duties, but collectively they acted as glorified hall monitors, overseeing the behaviour of the younger kids at mealtimes and on the flats in the evenings. This relieved the teachers from the day to day responsibility for these duties and the prefects were rewarded with a few privileges which mostly meant that they didnít have to do a daily chore and had a bit more freedom to roam the grounds unhindered and not follow all the rules. Each day one prefect would serve as Duty Prefect (I canít remember the exact title, I just made that up, so donít write to correct me if itís Prefect of the Day, or something). The duty prefect was responsible for checking how well everyone had performed their daily cleaning jobs, supervising lines before chapel and meals, making sure that everybody got where they were supposed to be and didnít malinger in their rooms all day, that sort of thing.
I was never involved in the upper echelons of the prefect system administration so I actually do not remember, or more likely never knew, very much about how it operated. Nor at the time did I think too much about why it existed. I must admit that as a day student, I was never too committed to the system and I always half-wondered whether I was allowed to participate because at some point it would have looked strange if I was excluded. I guess I recognized that Uncle Steve had a soft spot for me, although at the time I certainly never appreciated all the implications of that. In any case, I was always a bit uncomfortable wielding the reins of power, limited though they were in any of my assignments. Perhaps I thought too much about the situation and on some level realized the irony inherent in being a trusty whose privileges were obtained at the expense of compromising my loyalty to my fellow sufferers. Whatever the reason, I certainly wasnít very good at bossing people around or taking illogical orders and, although I never considered myself to be particularly rebellious, on at least one, and perhaps as many as three occasions, I ended up ďtrading in my tieĒ and rejoining the ranks. All of which is a long-winded, roundabout way of admitting that what follows will be very much a personal memoir written by a low ranking, day student.
My first assignment as a head boy was to establish a perimeter patrol and catch boys sneaking out behind Massey Hall or the coal shed for a smoke in the morning before or after breakfast. I think Uncle Steve somehow found out that this was a regular activity for a few guys, got a bee up his jumper about it and recruited me to put an end to it. Or maybe he wanted to find a place for me and this was about all he could think of for me to do since I didnít actually live on the flats or eat meals or do chores. In any case, I remember sitting out by the monkey bars beside the boyís tennis courts on crisp fall mornings guarding the problematic exits and safeguarding the purity of the younger boyís lungs. Ultimately, I donít remember having much of an effect. I believe that I caught a couple of kids the first week and then not much happened after that. It seems improbable that my presence actually curtailed the practice; surely it was much more likely that the culprits simply found an alternate route to exit the building. My one entertainment was the ritual I had with the fellow who walked FHRís nicotine-stained, off-white German Shepherd. This guy would come out and let me find a used up disgusting old butt that he carried in an obvious place and then go off with the dog and presumably smoke the fresh cigarette that he had secreted in a less obvious place. I never bothered to let him know that after the first time I had figured out what was going on so Iím not certain that he knew. I like to think that it gave him added satisfaction to think that he was being clever enough to beat the authorities.
This was a lousy job and it didnít take me very long to realize
that it was not only futile, but was actually pretty hypocritical.
In those halcyon days of blissful ignorance before surgeon generalís
warnings were found on every pack, I think that many of the male teachers and
staff smoked. I donít remember
any teachers actually smoking in class, but certainly several of them were heavy
smokers in the confines of their living quarters.
My father was a 2 pack a day man who picked up the habit in the army
during the war and never was able to kick it.
I know that when his health was failing, his doctors allowed him to
rationalize that the psychological trauma of trying to quit would be worse than
the health benefits that quitting would produce.
It seems impossible to imagine that doctors ever believed that nonsense,
but then there are people who now think that the greenhouse effect is a myth, so
I guess anythingís possible. In
any case, my father, and presumably at least some of the other male teachers,
sort of turned a blind eye on the fact that many of the older boys smoked
regularly. In fact, most of the
senior boys, many of whom were 18 or older, had a standing invitation to come to
our apartment in Massey Hall and ďwatch TVĒ after study hall.
I doubt that it was much of a secret, and presumably the statute of
limitations has run out on this so I wonít get anyone into trouble by
confirming, that almost every night of the week our living room was filled with
boys shamelessly breaking the no smoking rule, thereby flaunting the regulation
that it was my job to enforce the next morning. That was the height of that, the next two years it dropped
off, not as many smokers and didnít have my sister to impress.
I suppose that it wasnít surprising that this contradiction may have
coloured my attitude about the ultimate silliness of many of the rules that the
prefects were supposed to enforce.
At the time, I was technically a non smoker, although I was probably wandering around in a tar and nicotine haze until about noon every day from all the second hand smoke I inhaled the night before. I did experiment with cigarettes on a couple of occasions. The first time was for a 2 day period when I was egged on by one of the older boys when I was 10, but the dizziness/nausea that inhaling induced and the impossibility of obtaining my own cigarettes at that age, or more precisely paying for them, made that flirtation a short lived affair. I tried smoking again one week-end, I think the spring of the year that I was in grade 9. A couple of lost souls were left at Feller over Easter break and the three of us snuck across the fields to Ste.Blaise and scored a 20 pack of Export A filter tips. I think my mom smelled smoke on me the first or second evening and found them in my dresser drawer, and that was the end of that episode. Unfortunately, I decided to try and be cool the summer before college and got myself addicted trying to impress a girl. Fortunately, seven years later I completed the reverse operation when I was trying to impress a girl who was a non-smoker. In neither case did the ploy work, providing me with undeniable proof of the fact that if youíre cool, youíre cool and smoking simply doesnít have much to do with it either way.
Anyway, I wish that I could report that after a couple of weeks of sitting out by the monkey bars, I found my chore so demeaning that I just quietly retired. Certainly thatís what I should have done, but since I donít remember exactly what happened, itís entirely possible that it just got too cold and either I was assigned another task, the nature of which is lost in memory, or I was allowed to continue wearing the gold tie for the rest of the year as a reward for services rendered to the crown.
Whatever the outcome, I know that the next year I was promoted to Prefect and was given a slot in the Duty Prefect rotation. I guess even though this was still essentially doing the enemyís dirty work for him, I was able to rationalize it a bit better and I didnít find it quite as demeaning as butt patrol. However, I still did not wear the mantle of power at all comfortably and this time I definitely did not make it through the whole year. In retrospect one trait that my parents instilled in me, either genetically or by training or both, was not to be a blind follower, and to question the logic of certain activities. Certainly they were very much New Testament Christians, thus, equality, fairness and consideration for others were of major importance in their everyday approach to life. I cannot speak for everybody at Feller but certainly I was heavily exposed to the scriptures during my formative years. Given my nature and my background, when I was a teenager and began to think for myself, it seemed quite clear to me that the Jesus described in the New Testament was a rebel and an iconoclast. He didnít have much use for the elite that constituted the power structure and although most current day fundamentalists do a good job ignoring parts of the Bible they donít like, the whole picture in the four gospels and Acts make Him seem quite the socialist with a lot of small c communist undertones. So I suppose itís not all that surprising that even at that relatively early age, I had misgivings about participating in the elite.
Anyway, my downfall came sometime in the early spring, when everybody was still a bit cranky at the end of a long winter. This particular day, all the tenors and basses from the choir were clustered on the landing of the stairway above the grade 8 classroom. We were waiting for the sopranos and altos to finish up their practice so that we could have our own final run through in preparation for a choir trip that was to take place later that day. A few of us were flirting with some girls who were near the conveniently open door, when an officious head prefect, who clearly took himself and his position way too seriously, came and ordered all of us to go back up the stairs and stop bothering the girls. My recollection is that only a handful of guys took themselves this seriously and abused, to a greater or lesser extent, the opportunity to exercise the petty trappings of authority that membership in the prefect system provided. However, thereís little doubt that a certain amount of unnecessary hazing occurred on a regular basis and Iíve always felt that this was a relatively mild instance of this. It happened that Lloyd Meldrum and I were both standing near the head of the line and that our girlfriends were occupying chairs next to the open door. Iím not absolutely certain but I suspect that it was Lloyd who precipitated the chain of events that was to follow. If I remember correctly, Lloyd resisted the order by making the case that he was a day student and not subject to the head prefectís authority in this matter. I followed Lloydís lead in what I believe to be one of the very few times that I made a point of invoking this special status (I refuse to count sleeping in and avoiding Kurt Brosiís pre-dawn exercise sessions) and in any case, it was clear that we had the full support of our colleagues in defying the petty tyrant. Apparently he wasnít swayed by our superior logic as he pointed out that we were both prefects and as such we had to obey him and set an example for the lesser mortals in our group. I donít know who initiated the next move, again probably Lloyd, but the correctness of it was so obvious that if he started, I was right there with him in a heartbeat. Both of us took off our ties, in effect resigning on the spot, and removing us from under his jurisdiction. Whereupon he stomped off spluttering, presumably to tattle on us to Uncle Steve, while we accepted the congratulations of the assembled horde.
Later that day, as all the boys in the choir mustered in one of the classrooms prior to boarding the bus, our antagonist came to check up on Lloyd and me. It was clear that he was expecting to catch us out and exact some measure of revenge for our previous disobedience. He stood at the door of the classroom and his eyes scanned the crowd. He came across me first and I remember the look of surprise he had when he looked at my chest and discovered that I understood quite clearly the implications and consequences of what Iíd done. I had not put my red tie back on after he left but after practice I had gone home and put on one of my Feller ties (as had Lloyd). So for the second time that day he went off spluttering. The next day I arranged a meeting with Uncle Steve. I believe that he expected me to be contrite and to ask to be re-instated. Presumably he had prepared a lecture on the importance of being a team player, etc. In fact, when I showed up I had a handful of red ties and simply asked if it was possible for me to trade them in for a refund. [Uncle Steve bought the ties himself and made us pay for them out of our own pockets. Now that I think of it, I wonder how he had the nerve to pull this con off with a straight face. Although, I guess given the pittance that Feller paid, maybe he really couldnít afford it and I guess that even he could not have managed to talk the school into subsidizing the purchase of our ties.] This was likely the first and only time that I ever saw Uncle Steve taken aback and relatively speechless. He clearly recognized a stubborn fool when he met one or was so nonplussed that he meekly negotiated a refund and off I went. I know that I remained red tie-less the rest of the year, I canít remember about Lloyd.
I was reinstated the next year in conjunction with a Sea Cadet promotion (more about this elsewhere) but I have no clear memory, or fuzzy one for that matter, of what exactly I contributed to the operations of the prefect system my senior year. The only thing that stands out was yet another instance of resisting the arbitrary exercise of authority. One perk of being a prefect was that you didnít have to go outside at recess. Presumably as demi-gods we did not require fresh air or exercise (it certainly wasnít that we had better things to do). One cold and blustery day one of the head boys came by and attempted to turf out the only guy in our class who was not part of the prefect system. A group of us over-ruled him and sent him on his way. Rather than letting it go, went in search of more fire power and returned with a head prefect in tow, rather ironically this time it was Lloyd Meldrum. Lloyd dressed us down and proceeded to force the lowly commoner out into the elements. Later on, Lloyd called me, and presumably everyone else involved, on the carpet and lectured me about supporting our fellow prefects and how the rules were important, as I said the incident was fraught with irony. I know that at some point he mentioned that if this sort of thing happened again that we would be turfed out and that we would never be able to use our membership in the prefect system as a stepping stone when we searched for a job after graduation. I remained silent but was inwardly unrepentant, I sensed correctly that somehow my grades in the junior matriculation exams would ultimately be more important to my future endeavours than my position as a prefect.