three pairs of lovers with space

MY FATHER AND MYSELF BY J. R. ACKERLEY

 

Joe Randolph Ackerley (4 November 1896 – 4 June 1967) was an English writer and editor. His memoir, My Father and Myself, was posthumously published by The Bodley Head in London in 1968. Presented here is all of Greek love interest. This pertains to his schooldays boarding at the senior (“public”) school of Rossall in Lancashire, to which he was admitted for the last term of 1908, at the unusually early age of still eleven, and where he stayed until the summer term of 1914.[1]

 

8

Describing his arrival at Rossall’s senior (”public”) school:

Joe Ackerley as a preparatory schoolboy

I was a cherubic little boy with large blue starry eyes; my first nickname was “Girlie,” and at the public school older boys soon began to make advances to me. In my very first term there the head of my house, who seemed to me more like a man than a boy, used to sit on my bed in the darkness, night after night, begging to be allowed in and whispering into my ears things that terrified me almost to tears. He never got his way with me, whatever his way may have been, and for long after he left, happily for me at the end of that term, I continued to hate his memory and think of him as the devil. I don’t remember when I started to masturbate, but this was my first introduction to love. Later, a ginger-headed boy used to crawl across the dormitory floor to my bed after lights out and, lying on his back on my strip of carpet, beseech me in whispers to let him in, or, failing that, to stretch down my hand. Him too I resisted for a time, but he was more my own age than my previous wooer, less alarming, and I was eventually cajoled into stretching down my hand. I remember that I found the touch of his hot flesh and the smell of his stuff on my fingers more repugnant than exciting; for a long time I disliked the smell of semen, unless it was my own; I have never been able to enjoy other people’s smells—farts, feet, armpits, semen, unwashed cocks—as I enjoy mine. Later still I became more accustomed to the prevalent depravities of this excellent school, so discerningly selected by my father, in which I was never bullied or, when my first too mysterious and monstrous wooer had gone, unhappy.

Boys playing hockey at Rossall, by Henry Barraud, 1891

A shameless and amusing boy named Jude, who sat beside me in class, had opened the seams of his trouser pockets, so that his own hand or that of any willing friend could have ready access to the treasure, not hard cash but hard enough, that stood within. My left hand was sometimes guided through the open seam on to Jude’s body as we sat poring over our books—though I remember wishing that it could have been the body of his younger brother instead, who was more attractive but not in my form. This led to holes being made in my pockets, but whether Jude’s hand or anyone else’s, except my own which was frequently there, was ever permitted to enter I don’t recall. Indeed, when I try to think back to my schooldays, I remember only my hand, not often and always by invitation, upon a few other boys, not their hands upon me, and if this is true I can suggest a physical reason for it to which I shall come later. I see myself, then, gazing back, as an innocent, rather withdrawn, self-centered boy, more repelled by than attracted to sex, which seemed to me a furtive, guilty, soiling thing, nothing to do with those feelings I had not yet experienced but about which I was already writing a lot of dreadful sentimental verse, called romance and love.

 

12

S. P. B. Mais

Indeed I was far from needing, I am sorry to say, the fervent warning I received from Teddy Bacon at school. This boy was the son of that wealthy Manchester friend of my father’s whose £100 check I was later obliged to return, and he unfortunately left Rossall at the end of my first or second term.[2] He was charming, clever and beautiful, with a pale milky skin and black hair, and he occupied in the regard of our English master, S. P. B. Mais[3], the preeminent place in which I was to succeed him. After he had gone I noticed a photograph of him in the center of Mais’s mantelpiece and, looking at it one day when I was alone in the room, I turned it round and found, to my surprise and jealousy, written upon the back of it in Mais’s hand: “The best boy I have ever known or am ever likely to know.” Teddy was the school whore; I can’t remember whether he was expelled or departed more normally; at any rate, just before he left he took me aside and begged me, whatever I did, not to go the way that he had gone. The reason for this tardy revulsion I don’t recall, only the vehemence of it. My father’s friendship with his father had brought us together for a time, too short a time, I liked and admired him very much and if ever he had sat on my bed after lights out, asking to be let in, I wonder if my life, then and later, would have been happier. Probably not; happiness of that kind, I suspect, was not a thing I was psychologically equipped to find. In any case he was in a different house. He was killed in the first few weeks of the war.[4]

A house photograph, Rossall School, 1911

Instead of supplying his place as the school whore, my sexual life was of the dullest. Apart from the furtive fumblings I have already mentioned, I had no physical contact with anyone, not even a kiss, and remained in this virginal state until my Cambridge days more than five years later. Other boys, less attractive than Teddy, became enslaved to me, but speechlessly; I gave them no help, they left, we corresponded, they entered the war and were killed, and when I myself, in my last terms, fell in love with a boy named Snook, I could not bring myself to touch him and it remained a pure and platonic ideal. A clue to the guilty state of my ideas of love as a pure thing, an innocent thing, spoiled and soiled by sex, may be got from a poem I wrote about my feeling for Snook in my last term and published in a magazine called The Wasp, of which I was inventor and editor, and most of which I conceitedly wrote myself. It was a counter-blast to the official school publication, and may have been the venture upon which Captain Bacon bestowed his £100. The personal pronouns in this poem are clearer to me than they may be to others.

He loved him for his face,
His pretty head and fair complexion,
His natural lissome grace,
But trusted not his own affection.

He watched him smile, his eyes
All lighted with youth’s careless laughter;
His brain rehearsed his lies
And wondered if he’d like him after.

Then love of beauty rose
Untarnished like a woodland flower,
Which never lies but grows
Caressed by sun and kissed by shower....

He would not understand,
This pretty child of many graces,
So with a burning hand
He led him out to quiet places.

Rossall School

This erotic little poem so upset my housemaster[5] that he said his inclination was to beat me, but I replied that he could not do that because the title I had given the poem was “Millstones.” To another master, William Furness, with whom I was pally, I confided my passion for Snook. He said he thought it a very good thing that this was my last term—but for reasons which would have shocked my housemaster almost as much as the poem had done. Snook, said Furness, was, in his opinion, a perfectly heartless little boy and quite unworthy of me.

 

Appendix

In which he discusses the problem of his having been “sexually incontinent”, excised from the main part of the book as insufficiently relevant to its theme:

Whenever I was emotionally aroused, whenever I was in the presence of someone physically attractive whom I was wanting to embrace, or even when I was awaiting his arrival, I lived in a state of hot sexual excitement, the bulge of which in my trousers I was always afraid would be noticed. A kiss then, the mere pressure of an embrace, if I got as far as that, was enough to finish me off—and provide a new shame, that the stain, seeping through my trousers, might be seen. It may well have been this that, in my schooldays, sitting beside Jude in class and letting him guide my hand through the opened seam of his trouser pocket, precluded me, in my recollection, from requiring or desiring reciprocal treatment. I took to wearing tight jockey shorts to prop up against my stomach my betraying display, and later preferred double-breasted to open jackets as a further disguise.

 

[1] Rossall School Register, 8th edition, 1881-1954 (London, 1956) p. 209.

[2] Edward Sivewright Bacon, as his full names were, was born on 22 July 1894, and had been admitted in Summer 1908, the term before Ackerley, and he left aged 15 in the summer term of 1910, which was actually Ackerley’s sixth, not his first or second (Rossall School Register, 8th edition, 1881-1954 (London, 1956) p. 206).

[3] Stuart Petre Brodie Mais M.A. (1885-1975), author of English textbooks, taught at Rossall 1909-13 (Rossall School Register, 8th edition, 1881-1954 (London, 1956) p. 13).

[4] Ackerley’s memory is again shaky. Bacon was killed in action, serving in the Royal Flying Corps, on 31 August 1917, three years after the war began (Rossall School Register, 8th edition, 1881-1954 (London, 1956) p. 206).

[5] W. F. Bushell, Ackerley’s second housemaster ((Rossall School Register, 8th edition, 1881-1954 (London, 1956) p. 30).