Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Poem (An Extract From Summoned By Bells) John Betjeman

The 'Percival Mandeville' extract from Summoned By Bells comes from the beginning of the chapter about going to private boarding school. The lie Betjeman told to get out of fighting reflects with great credit on Mandeville, who, strong and clever though he was, would never 'hit a chap when he was down'.

Extract from Summoned By Bells

Percival Mandeville, the perfect boy,
Was all a schoolmaster could wish to see-
Upright and honourable, good at games,
Well-built, blue eyed; a sense of leadership
Lifted him head and shoulders from the crowd.
His work was good. His written answers, made
In a round, tidy and decided hand,
Pleased the examiners. His open smile
Enchanted others. He could also frown
On anything unsporting, mean or base,
Unworthy of the spirit of the school
And what it stood for. Oh the dreadful hour
When once upon a time he frowned on me!

Just what had happened I cannot recall-
Maybe some bullying in the dormitory;
But well I recollect his warning words:
"I'll fight you, Betjeman, you swine, for that,
Behind the bike shed before morning school."
So all the previous night I spewed with fear.
I could not box: I greatly dreaded pain.
A recollection of the winding punch
Jack Drayton once delivered, blows and boots
Upon the bum at Highgate Junior School,
All multiplied by X from Mandeville,
Emptied my bladder. Silent in the dorm
I cleaned my teeth and clambered into bed.
Thin seemed pyjamas and inadequate
The regulation blankets once so warm.
"What's up?" "Oh, nothing." I expect they knew ...

And, in the morning, cornflakes, bread and tea,
Cook's Farm Eggs and a spoon of marmalade,
Which heralded the North and Hillard hours
Of Latin composition, brought the post.
Breakfast and letters! Then it was a flash
Of hope, escape and inspiration came:
Invent a letter of bad news from home.
I hung my head and tried to look as though,
By keeping such a stiff upper lip
And just not blubbing, I was noble too.
I sought out Mandeville. "I say," I said,
"I'm frightfully sorry I can't fight today.
I've just received some rotten news from home:
My mater's very ill." No need for more-
His arm was round my shoulder comforting:
"All right, old chap. Of course I understand."

John Betjeman
Extract from Summoned By Bells