Reflections and Memories

Arne Thorkildsen

How I came to Alexandra Boys

My parents got married at the Norwegian Seamans Church in Durban in 1952. My folks started their way up to Northern Rhodesia the day after they got married and planned on stay a short while in Northern Rhodesia. My sister Sonja was born not too long after they arrived with my sister Tove being born 11 months later.  Then many years later came the very late ‘’Laat Lamatjies’’ – the two boys also just 11 months apart.

Growing up with Norwegian parents meant bearing Norwegian names, which posed a challenge for many English speakers. My brother, affectionately known as Bj, encountered this firsthand, with many Zambians struggling to pronounce "Bjorn." My own name, Arne, pronounced as "ARNA," leading to various iterations like Arnie, Arnu, Arnay, and Arnold. And if you think that was tough, consider our surname: Thorkildsen, derived from the Old Norse tales, meaning "Son of the God of Thunder’’.

As Zambia embraced independence in 1964, the educational system gradually started to falter, gaining momentum particularly in 1974 amidst a global economic downturn. By 1976, the situation had deteriorated significantly, compelling many expatriates to opt for boarding schools for their children. Despite his stoic Viking demeanour, my father couldn't hide his dismay at the prospect of sending his sons away, but he understood it was necessary. It's worth noting here that the idea of boarding school absolutely terrified both Bj and I. We couldn't fathom leaving our beloved Zambia to study in a foreign land!

In 1977, we embarked on a journey to Durban for school, settling in Morningside but residing in a private hostel in Red Hill. It took Bj and me less than a month to adjust to boarding school life. Coming from a household with a Viking father, we found ourselves dealing with softer authority figures – my mother could wield a meaner spanking than the school headmaster ever could. And as if that wasn't enough, we were also spared the weekend ordeal of labouring in the home workshop under the reign of a tyrant Viking dictator, constantly barking orders. Our new found freedom was bliss.

These days at boarding school began to carve out their own unique memories. Durban was full of biker gangs in the late 70’s like the snake park gang, the bluff gang, North Beach Gang and the infamous Red Hill Gang. We even had the chance to meet and play football with the legendary biker gang leader known as "Chunky Charlie" and his crew. After every game we played, during which they showed they were a bit out of shape, they would gather in a circle, roll a joint, and start puffing away. With a hearty drag from the joint, Chunky Charlie would solemnly advise us, "Stay away from this shit’’.

Now for high school and up first was Bj, being a year older. My parents had their eyes set on Kearsney College in Hillcrest. However, my dad's lawyer, Patrick Lesley Smith in Pietermaritzburg had his boys attend Alexandra Boys High School. He motivated my father by saying’ ’how can I keep an eye on them so far away’’. So off to Alex Bj went and started in January of 1979. My journey stared in 1980.

Little did I know that these were to become THE BEST YEARS OF MY LIFE.

Microsoft Word - Memoirs of a boarder.docx

Bottom of the food chain (1980)

Ah, the sacred corridors of high school hierarchy and in particular, Founders House, where the hierarchy was as evident as the dusty chalk on the whiteboard. Like all second formers, we were at the bottom of the educational ladder as a humble second former and boy, did the seniors make sure second formers knew it.

You see, the prefects' constant watchfulness allowed the matrics, those high-flying sixth formers, to wield their power like a scepter. And what did this acquired ability mean? Let's just say that it had far more to do with slavery than with academic endeavours.

Imagine this: one moment you're going about your business, attempting to traverse the perilous waters of algebra, when out of nowhere a matric shows up with unwavering determination, he requests a "favour," leaving no room for hesitation or refusal.

There was no getting around these elder masters' whims, whether it was picking up dropped coins from the third floor's dizzying heights or pretending to be a human steam engine replete with whistle noises. But perhaps one of the most peculiar—and let's face it, downright bizarre—requests came in the form of a romantic rendezvous with none other than a broomstick. That's right, you heard me correctly. Picture this: the prefects are lounging around, basking in their superiority, when suddenly, one of them decides it's time for a bit of entertainment for their girlfriends. And what better form of entertainment than watching a unfortunate second former waltz with a broomstick?

With a mixture of trepidation and resignation, I found myself reluctantly taking centre stage, broomstick in hand, as the prefects eagerly looked on. With all the grace and finesse of a newborn giraffe, I swayed and twirled, my partner in cleanliness never looking more elegant—or ridiculous, depending on who you asked.

As the music played (or rather, as someone hummed a tune that vaguely resembled a ballad), I threw myself into the performance, determined to make the most of my absurd predicament. And you know what? For a brief, shining moment, I felt like Fred Astaire himself, sweeping across the dance floor with all the charm and sophistication of a true gentleman.

Of course, the illusion was shattered the moment I caught sight of the prefects trying (and failing) to suppress their laughter. But hey, in the grand scheme of things, a little humiliation was a small price to pay for the sake of Founders House shenanigans and the enduring camaraderie of high school high jinks. And so, with broomstick in hand and dignity slightly bruised, I danced away, knowing that one day, it would be my turn to have my laugh at a second former dancing for my girlfriend. Oh, the circle of high school life—where today's performer is tomorrow's spectator, and where every absurdity becomes a cherished memory to be recounted with laughter and nostalgia.

But worry not, we were a resourceful group of second formers. We became adept at staying out of the matrics' line of sight and, consequently, out of their minds very rapidly. Ultimately, they couldn't demand our obedience if they couldn't see us, right?

Of course, not every matriculant was a tyrant in a blazer; some were good people who just needed a little amusement at recess. However, for those who exulted in their newly acquired abilities, well, let's just say we became masters at becoming invisible.

Thus, we second formers made our way through the educational jungle, avoiding damage and perhaps escaping with our lunch money still intact, despite the mayhem of schoolyard politics and the ridiculous demands of seniors. High school hierarchy is a unique rite of passage. Ah, the joys of it.

Being a FAG (1980)

In certain historical contexts, particularly within former British boarding schools, the term "fag" was used to refer to a younger student who performed menial tasks or acted as a personal servant to older students, typically seniors or prefects. This practice was part of a hierarchical system within the school, where older students had authority over younger ones and could assign tasks or chores to them.

Back in the day at Founders House, being a "fag" had nothing to do with cigarettes and everything to do with being the lowest rung on the high school ladder. You see, if you were a fresh-faced second former like me, you were basically the servant of the senior class, with duties that made Cinderella's chores look like a walk in the park. The duties of a "fag" could vary widely depending on the specific expectations of the older students they served.

These duties might include:

Running errands: Fags might be tasked with fetching items from the school store or delivering messages between students and teachers.

Cleaning and tidying: Fags could be responsible for cleaning the living quarters of older students, such as their dorm rooms or common areas.

Carrying belongings: Fags might be expected to carry books, sports equipment, or other belongings for older students.

Assisting with personal needs: In some cases, fags might be asked to perform personal tasks for older students, such as shining shoes or ironing clothes.

Picture this: you're innocently trying to cram for your algebra studies when suddenly, a prefect, saunters over and declares, "Fag! Fetch me my coffee, chop-chop!" And just like that, you're off on a wild goose chase to the prefect study, praying they don't run out of coffee.

But wait, there's more! Not only are you the personal errand boy for the seniors, but you also get the prestigious honour of shining their shoes, tidying their dorms, and basically being at their beck and call 24/7. Talk about a crash course in humility! Imagine this: you're on the brink of falling asleep when suddenly, a senior's voice pierces the quiet with a resounding shout of "Second Former!" At the mere sound of this command, every second former had to spring into action, as if propelled by the speed of Usain Bolt, obediently answering the call of our seniors.

Of course, we second formers weren't total pushovers. We quickly learned the art of strategic invisibility—ducking behind lockers, blending into crowds, anything to avoid catching the eye of a roving senior looking for their next minion.

And so, amidst the chaos of algebraic equations and the tyranny of the senior class, we survived, armed with nothing but a healthy dose of sarcasm and a talent for disappearing act. Ah, high school hierarchy—where every fag had their day, whether they liked it or not.

Now, let's address the elephant in the room: this whole 'fagging' thing? About as outdated as a flip phone at a tech conference. It's been roasted more times than a turkey on Thanksgiving for perpetuating more drama than a soap opera and about as healthy as a deep-fried Twinkie. Nowadays, we've upgraded to a support system that wouldn't even let a kid carry their own backpack, let alone fetch someone's slippers.

However, reminiscing about my days as a second former (Grade 8), I can't help but chuckle. Sure, it toughened us up, like a crash course in resilience training. Because let's face it, if you can survive being called out by a senior louder than a rock concert, you can handle anything out there in the real world. It's like the educational version of boot camp, only with less mud and more math.

TAP Duty (Jan 1980)

Ah, the joys of TAP duty—every second former's dream job, right? Well, maybe not. Let me regale you with the humorous tale of my brief stint as the guardian of the taps in January 1980.

It all started after a week of being Bobby Wagner's personal FAG. Now, let me tell you, being told I was useless and that I was being replaced was music to my ears. I was overjoyed at the prospect of being freed from the clutches of Bobby's demanding whims. Little did I know, fate had other plans for me.

Enter TAP duty—a seemingly innocuous chore that quickly became my own personal waterlogged nightmare. You see, some scholars had a nasty habit of treating taps like they were auditioning for a role in a never-ending fountain show. With the province experiencing a water shortage, my role suddenly became the stuff for a legend—a hero in the battle against H2O wastage.

At first, I approached my newfound responsibility with all the gusto of a rookie firefighter. I turned taps off with the precision of a seasoned pro, my enthusiasm bubbling over like an untamed geyser. But alas, like a leaky faucet, my enthusiasm soon began to drip away.

One fateful morning, I found myself summoned for questioning by none other than John Pachonick, the tap detective extraordinaire. He wagged his finger in my direction, accusing me of negligence in my duties. Quick on my feet (and perhaps a tad too quick for my own good), I concocted a tale so wild even the most seasoned storyteller would have been impressed.

"I did close the taps," I insisted, my voice dripping with faux innocence. "But someone must have used them after my inspection. It's a mystery, I tell you!"

And just like that, I slipped through the cracks, leaving John Pachonick scratching his head in bewilderment. As for TAP duty? Let's just say I made a swift exit stage left, leaving behind a trail of dripping taps and a legacy of questionable excuses. Ah, the joys of Tap duty at Founders House —the only place where a mundane chore can turn into a comedy of errors faster than you can say "turn off the tap!"

THE POLICE in Founders House (Jan–Dec 1980)

Ah, the memories of yesteryear, when vinyl records and cassette tapes ruled the land! If you ask any millennial about these relics, you'll likely be met with a mix of awe and confusion.

Picture this: our very first day in Founders House, and what do we hear echoing through the common room? None other than "Walking on the Moon" by The Police blasting from the common room speakers. It set the tone for our stay, followed swiftly by "Don't Stand So Close to Me." Little did we know, that single record would become the anthem of our time there, the one approved gem in Founders House's meager music collection.

As the year progressed, we second formers witnessed a hilarious spectacle: the upperclassmen, or "matrix's," attempting to perfect their dance moves for the upcoming social with Girls High. Oh, the laughter and giggles that ensued as they strutted and shuffled, trying to impress the ladies with their awkward charm. It was a sight to behold, and one that still brings a smile to our faces to this day.

Even now, after all these years, I can still belt out every word of "Walking on the Moon" and "Don't Stand So Close to Me" with impeccable precision. It's like muscle memory, except instead of lifting weights, I'm lifting memories – some fond, others cringe-worthy, particularly when I recall the Matrix's attempts at dancing. Let's just say their moves were more Matrix-y than suave, leaving indelible, and not necessarily flattering, images in my mind. But hey, it's all part of the charm of looking back on those high school days, right?

Ah, the elusive dream of every Founders House lad: the chance to strut their stuff at the social evening with Girls High. But let's be real here, just because we were itching to bust a move didn't mean the girls were lining up to be our dance partners. It usually took until you were a fourth former before you even got a shot at shaking a leg with the ladies. The gates of opportunity finally swung open, and there you were, ready to unleash your inner John Travolta and either impress or utterly distress anyone within a five-foot radius with your Saturday Night Fever moves. It was a make-or-break moment, and let's just say, not everyone emerged from the dance floor unscathed.

Legends of the Stool (Aug 1981)

Legend has it that August 1981 was the month when Michael George Stening-Smith, affectionately known as MG, etched his name into the accounts of school folklore, albeit in a rather unconventional manner.

Now, MG was no ordinary student. He was the epitome of athleticism, a titan of sports, and a paragon of prefecture at Alexandra High School. His trophy cabinet gleamed with accolades from basketball, water polo, and rugby—enough to make any aspiring athlete green with envy. But it wasn't just his prowess on the field that earned him respect; MG took his duties as a prefect with utmost seriousness, ensuring that order reigned supreme within the hallowed halls of both the school and Founders House.

However, fate has a mischievous sense of humour, and it decided to test MG's patience on the fateful day when his beloved docking station became the scene of an unspeakable crime—a floater of monstrous proportions greeted him, like a foul-smelling challenge to his authority.

With nostrils flaring and determination ablaze, MG set out to restore order, conducting a thorough investigation to find the perpetrator responsible for this heinous act. The suspects, all juniors, were lined up like soldiers awaiting judgment, with MG wielding the dubious "parcel of shame" with authority. How could a junior muster the audacity to produce such a prodigious piece of excrement the size of the Sunday Star Newspaper to this day remains a mystery.

As the sequence began, each junior nervously awaited their fate, knowing that one wrong move could lead to an unforgettable encounter with the infamous floater. It was a game of pass the parcel unlike any other, with MG playing the role of judge, jury, and executioner.

Among the lineup, I stood, caught in the crossfire between Nigel King and Alan Haird, two unwitting contenders for the dubious honour of receiving the fecal parcel. With quick thinking and nimble feet, I seized the opportunity to evade MG's gaze, stepping back just in time to pass the baton of embarrassment to poor Alan Haird. In that moment, a surge of pride washed over me—I had managed to sidestep and outwit such a legend as MG. Amidst the chaos of the floating turd and panicked juniors, a legend was born—the legend of MG and The Legends of the Stool of August '81. To this day, the tale echoes at each old boy’s reunion, a testament to the absurdity of youth and the resilience of hostel lore. With each retelling, the size of the turd seems to grow, taking on a mythical quality that transcends the boundaries of reality. But regardless of the embellishments, one thing remains certain: the Stool of August '81 will forever be etched into the annals of school history, a symbol of camaraderie, mischief, and the indomitable spirit of Founders House.

Oops - Hoops (Nov 1983)

In the chronicles of hostel escapades, Anthony Hooper, better known as Hoops, carved his name with a bold, although misguided, stroke. The stage was set in November 1983, during the tumultuous Std 9 end of year exams, where Hoops found himself trapped in the throes of academic dread.

It's important to understand the fundamental element of life in Founders House before continuing reading our story: The phenomena of Disprin. Disprin, well known for its almost miraculous qualities, controlled the ailments that afflicted hostel residents. Disprin was the go-to remedy for anything from bothersome stomach bugs to bothersome bee stings to sunburn aftereffects. Within the hostel's sacred corridors, the matron applied Disprin freely to treat her charges' ills, wielding it with the authority of an experienced apothecary. Rumour had it that the matron, wise beyond her years, had learned how to cure by giving Disprin shots, and that she had done it in strict accordance with the hostel master's instructions. Disprin was, in fact, a cultural institution rather than merely a medication.

Hoops, hailing from the quaint town of Kokstad knew he had to raise the bar and combat the simple dose of Disprin. Like a seasoned strategist, Hoops devised a plan to evade the impending academic gauntlet. His weapon of choice? Tobacco! Hoops set his sights on simulating the dreaded pink eye—a malady notorious for its contagious allure and accompanying feverish symptoms. Armed with tobacco, Hoops embarked on his theatrical charade, rubbing it into his eyes with theatrical fever. The result? Swollen, red eyes that would make even the hardiest soul gasp.

Upon entering sickbay with his red-eyed facade, Hoops witnessed the matron's horror, a testament to his acting prowess. Bed booked, phase one of the plan was an absolute success.

Phase two, however, proved to be a trifle more complex. With the matron's attention momentarily diverted, Hoops seized the opportunity to manipulate his temperature reading. Concealing a mug of hot water beneath his blanket, he deftly swapped out the thermometer, plunging it into the steaming depths.

Alas, Hoops' cunning was matched only by his ignorance of basic biology. As the matron scrutinized the thermometer, her glasses fogging with incredulity, Hoops' fever soared to unprecedented heights. With each passing second, her eyes widened in disbelief, her words echoing like a dire prophecy: "My boy, you should be dead!"

And thus, in a blaze of feverish glory, Hoops unwittingly etched his name into the records of hostel folklore - a cautionary tale of comedic misadventure and the perils of overzealous deception.

Copyright © Mario Di Maggio. All rights reserved.