Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Usher and Witzenfeld
The Geography teacher, Dag Tomlinson, hated me as much as he loved John Usher, and he tended to be openly critical - overcritical in my opinion - of any shortcomings in Witzenfeld's work. Maybe that was why I became John Witzenfeld's natural ally. Not a close mate, mind, because it's not a good idea to get put in the same pigeonhole as a "loser", but I always let him know that as far as I was concerned, he was ok. As for Usher, I had nothing to do with him. He was a snob, and would have turned on me too (my school uniform was definitely out of the bottom drawer, frequently consisting of handmedowns or trousers and jackets I had grown out of), but I was made of sterner stuff than poor Witzenfeld, quick to anger, quick to fight, and much cleverer with insults and banter than anyone else in my class.
Witzenfeld and Usher left school at sixteen, while I stayed on for three years in the Sixth Form, trying for A Levels and a place at university. I never heard from or of Witzenfeld again, but a piece in the local paper some years later caught my eye giving a lurid account of one John Usher arrested in a gents lavatory in Shifnal and charged with acts of gross indecency with other men. He was convicted and imprisoned, because sexual acts between males were illegal in those days. I didn't gloat, or at least I hope I didn't gloat, but it seemed like a sort of poetic justice to me that this clean boy had been caught doing something dirty in a public lavatory.
I had one final clash with the obnoxious Dag Tomlinson, an incident when he reprimanded me and I threatened to beat the shit out of him. There was a formal "tribunal" of the teaching staff to decide what punishment I should receive. All except two teacher wanted my expulsion, but I was saved by the Headmaster and by one teacher, Frank Arkenstall, who had been my form master, protector - and French teacher - from the moment I had joined the school at the age of eleven.
It's all water under the bridge now. though seeing that episode of Silent Witness made me wonder what happened to John Witzenfeld. My guess is that he has led an ordinary life, unnoticed, like most of us - job, marriage, kids, mortgage, fortnight's holiday in Skegness, watches the match on Saturday afternoon, is a keen gardener and a good neighbour. A decent uninteresting man. A good husband, a good father, a good neighbour and a good citizen. Kind to animals too, I shouldn't wonder. I hope so. He was certainly a more decent human being than the boy who taunted and derided him all those years ago.
Envoi: Here's a challenge: pick out the three boys referred to in this article, ie, including me.