Chapter 2: Tim Cat’s Schooldays
Bortsworth Grammar School for the Boys With Fathers Off in the Colonies was an august institution but was also open in other months. For two hundred years it had taught the male offspring of the British Empire’s far flung civil servants. The school specialised in latin, bullying, it’s own idiosyncratic form of Rugby football and petty tyranny and often all four at the same time.
I boarded the school train at Bortsworth Station and immediately got off again as it had reached its destination. Quickly mingling with the other boys, I was simply carried along with the tide of new young scholars full of bright dreams that were ripe to be dashed against the indifferent cliffs of educational negligence.
The loss of empire had not resulted in a corresponding loss of purpose for Bortsworth Grammar. It remained a boarding school and the boys’ letters home would all be forwarded to a now abandoned office in New Delhi despite the fact that most parents lived in the Home Counties. The school atlases had been last updated in 1902 and the history curriculum finished with the Russo-Japanese war.
Here among the crumbling faux-gothic architecture and desecrated chapel converted to a farm building, I would learn to shoot a musket, gut a fish and decline irregular verbs while being pommeled with a pig bladder. It may sound like a cruel and heartless place and it was but nobody judged me because I was cat. Mainly this was because none of the teachers had eye-contact with the students. Lessons were conducted with the teacher facing the board and classroom discipline was maintained by roaming bullies.
It was a happy time for me as I had three square meals a day and I could poo where ever I liked. On Sundays our meals were circular instead of square as a special treat and I had all the milk I could drink after I wrested control of the school dairy from the Third Form cheese cartel. Drunk on power and excessive lactose, I was living the high life and yet somehow lonely.
It was in my third week at the school that my life changed forever. I had advanced quickly through the Malthusian struggle that was the school pecking order. I had my own gang of goons to keep me safe and so at last I could indulge in my midday naps in peace. It was only then, in the comfort of the dairy room’s stone flaw, warmed by the sunlight filtered through smoke from the burning vehicles on the quad, that my inner emotions could rise to the surface. I had not just survived at school, I had prospered. I had amassed already substantial files on my fellow schoolmates that would be effective kompromat when they later entered the workforce and/or the Conservative Party (assuming they survived the end of year Bortsworth Rules rugby match). Yet I had no friends, only cronies.
A sudden breeze blew dust into my eyes but also lifted the straw scattered over the stone flag floor. Brushing aside tears, I starred bleary eyed at a shape formed partly from shadows and partly by piled up straw. It was the vague shape of a dog.
“Are you a dog?” I asked of the apparition.
“Yes” it said, “I am Straw Puppy and I am… your friend.”
The following Monday I was sitting in the Latin class surrounded by my loyal capos when I decided to take stock of my achievements in school. I had learned as much as I ever would from the school masters, I had conquered the existential struggle of the school’s bloodthirsty hierarchy and I had made a friend, even if he was somewhat incorporeal and smelt slightly of manure. I resolved that four weeks of school was more than sufficient, particularly when adjusted for the relative lifespan of a cat.
I clapped my hands and had my acolytes carry me to the school careers teacher.