Saturday, 2 July 2011

The original Tunnels

Merchant Taylors' school playing fieldsToday was the 450th anniversary of Buds' school (wow, the headmaster must be really old) so they had a special day where the old boys (boys only school) got to go back and investigate the school and how it's changed in the 23 years since he left. For a start they take girls: the Manor (boarding house) is shut. This is probably a good combination, there would have been All Manner of Trouble at the Manor had there been girlies living there too. There was trouble enough but it isn't mentioned in the annals, mm.
We left at 11am and drove up to London on the A3. This was a really good idea until we got to the Devils' Punchbowl where they've been digging a stonking great tunnel for the last 4 years. It's still not finished so there were roadworks and grillions of cones and a massive traffic jam. And in amongst those grillions and quadrillions of orange cones, we saw 6 green ones. Exactly the same, but green. I didn't know they did green ones. We were most surprised.
parcel shelf looking at the planes from heathrow airportBune and Jason by the bouncy castle and the merchant taylors school design and technology blockEventually we got past that and onto a new road called the M25 where we parked for a while, as you do. But then, WHAAUM! ENOOGA! BLAN! It was Heathrow, the busiest airport this side of Mars Colony 1. There was a plane taking off every 1 minute and they went right over our heads. Apparently it's a city all of its own with 2 motorway exits and train stations and it never stops, ever. Even the biggest double-decker planes in the world land there. While we were stationary I got on the back shelf and shot at the planes with my bazooka.
bungeefly bouncing omt day merchant taylors schoolFinally after 2 hours we got a bit lost near Rickmansworth and went through Moor Park (a Private Gated Community, starter homes £1 million plus) and arrived at the school. We parked our rusty old car (value £17.43) next to all the Rollers and Beamers and Bentleys and so forth and approached, 1pm.
merchant taylors school great hall with stage, organ and assembly seatingThey were just setting up so we went for an investigate. There were new buildings. We met GeoffColley (army, geography) who was the only teacher he recognised, he remembered Bud from when he was in charge of the rifles. Then we gained entrance to the school through an unguarded door and checked out the great big assembly hall. I sat in the headmasters' chair which was very soft. We didn't go in the enormous organ but Bud did 23 years ago and swapped all the pipes around so the organist would play the wrong tune in assembly. The 2 visible great hexagonal lights dangled from above are 2 of the 6 available: they are on cables that wind down to the ground for bulb-changing so that is what he did with only some of them, for effect.archery with targets at merchant taylors school
Then we climbed onto the stage and went up into the spotlight cages and the scenery-painting rooms and I wound the giant red curtain back and forth. But we couldn't get onto the roof because there was a new padlock on the metal staircase and the special window that opens when you bang it in the right place was behind a new door that says alarm set when locked. Follower Ross said that might be the case, but the alarms were only in a few areas. Also most of the padlocks have been changed and Bud threw away all his naughty keys when we cleared the loft so we couldn't go up the clocktower which had a new padlock anyway. There are a few fire-escape access points but we don't talk about them.
Then it was 2pm so we nipped out via the croquet lawns and hit the event proper.
croquet lawns and merchant taylors school clocktowerBud bought many tokens which get you on the rides etc and said knock yourself out, my son, for I have bought loads. So I went on the giant bouncy castle and shot 6 arrows at archery and hooked 2 winning ducks and had an ice cream. I flew high into the air on bungee cords. Then at last we met Buds' friends, all 4 of them. Binkie brought his wife Adele, Jason didn't, and Bune, who is about to adopt 2 kids of my age, brought a complicated golf club to sell to a man on the way home, as you do. 3 of them only know me from this blog (and by reputation) so I wowed them with my grooviness in the new clubhouse with its flash bar. We played with the weapons at the CCF tent (they'd got rid of the old Lee-Enfields and had new guns, but still use the .22s on the 25 yard range). I failed to throw ANY balls through the holes in the wall but won a blow-up baseball bat anyway. I poked it out of the car window on the way home and the wind nearly took it but I used it to shoot the hot air balloons we saw.
At That Kind of School it is vital to have a silly name: if you do not have one, one (or more) will be given unto you. This is why he is called Bud. Other fine chaps include: Binkie/Horse, Mog/Homo, Stick, Nobber, Spu, Thunderous Thighs MacWirch, Grease, Gindu, Dip, Bernie, Wigley, Yid, Chod, Pedro-svog, DeZip, Hot Rocks, Stumpy, Oganmelon and many others. They wanted to drink lager even though they were too young so set up a club called the Anderton Club with actual ties with a crest of an overflowing beer mug, to make their drinky-poo outings more official. They had a club building society account with enough money in to pay for a restaurant bash every end-of-term where they had drinks, speeches and drinks. I'm sure the staff thought "What a fine bunch of fellows".
Anyway so they talked while I set up the minigolf that nobody was using and took tickets from Bud and went back to the archery twice more and the giant bouncy castle twice more. Then we watched a hockey match while eating burgers (bargain at 4 tokens each), apparently the hockey coach has a second job as England coach. It's That Kind of School. Once the ball came right into my personal viewing booth but it didn't hit me.
But the tragedy was, by the time Old Boy Lord Falconer had given out the hockey prizes, all the events were shut and I didn't get to go on the lasergun game, and we still had 23 tickets left. So we had a sit-down with our drinks.
the trapdoor to the tunnels, merchant taylors schoolIt just so happened that we'd both brought torches, as you do. So we left the friends and regained access to the almost deserted school - a lost oriental parent let us in. Avoiding the alarmed areas we found something special in the corridor past French, by German but not as far as Geography.
It was a trapdoor with a pull-ring: a little set of wooden steps led down into the service duct where we found pipes, cables, rat poison, pumps, some new lights, and they went on forever with junctions and turns and bits you could stand up in and bits you couldn't. Bud had to bend down all the time but I could practically run along, as long as I didn't bump my head on the many head-height hazards. He had to lift me over a couple of hot water pipes but mostly I was better at it than him. During the air raids in the war the boarders used to sneak down the tunnels and fire .303 blanks at the day boys if they were staying the night in the classrooms. map of tunnels under merchant taylors school main buildings
We went under the Headmasters' house, the cloisters, the kitchens and the road and all the way to the boiler room. You can't get out that way or the old external escape hatch by the Heads' cricket pitch so we pretty well retraced our steps past the junction to Physics and Computing and got back to the original trapdoor. Here is a map showing the extent of the tunnel system in red and the little tour we did in green. 25 years ago Bud and his friends used to use these tunnels to access various off-limits parts of the school at unusual times of the night: one wonders whether the current pupils of the venerable institution get up to similar high jinks. We listened carefully to make sure there was nobody there and emerged like a couple of dusty cobwebby ghosts into the languages corridor and we slipped away unseen.
service duct you can stand up in merchant taylors schoolWe went back to where the friends had been but their table had been packed away so they'd gone. In fact everything had been packed away so we were practically the last people there at 6pm. It had been a very busy day, lots of kids and Old Boys with their Hilfiger cabin shorts and gold plated ties and stuff, we were quite out of place. But we'd been down the tunnels and I've been on the Ark Royal and stuff so I don't care. Poo to you and your grillion dollar bonuses.
sleeping in the car, tired boyWe were one of the last cars in the field and left quietly. Bud pointed out the woods where he used to detonate Lithium and Nitric acid bombs, the woods where they used to hide and drink lager, the cider tree (it didn't make cider. They just used to stick their empty cans on it so it looked like a cider tree) and the all-hallowed "Harpil", asian off-licence who didn't care how old you were. Then he showed me the streets of rich houses where the Andertonians split off from the main, official carol singers group and went off raising beer funds of their own in a naughty and unofficial manner. Then we got lost near Watford again and after a brief yet annoying spell going the wrong way on the M1 we joined the M25 and pretty well 85'd it all the way back to Pompey.
I fell asleep at Petersfield, only 20 minutes from home.
We had to have very big showers to get the itchy tunnel dust off our sweaty skin. Bed at 10pm after a splendid day.
Video: tunnel time marred only by the stalker-style heavy breathing of the cameraman. One of my best days ever, if only we had the funding to send me to such a splendid school.

1 comment:

Hi! I'm glad you want to comment, for I like messages from humans. But if you're a Robot spam program, Google will put you in the spam folder for me to laugh at later.