Three meninges bathe and sheathe my delicate, financially valuable brain: the dura mater, arachnoid meninx and pia mater, in ascending order of intimacy.
Perhaps I’ll tell you about them sometime. Today I want to talk about something even more intimate: my alma mater, the place where I spent my formative 13th thru 18th winters.
I hate to love Trinity School for Boys, but what I really love is to hate her.
Last week I had occasion to return to her picturesque Apple Chapel on sentimental business: a friend was getting married, or something. Like good little Trinitarians, my circle of mates has never really outgrown her. I suppose there’s no shame in having your wedding at your own high school—but please shoot me if I ever have my funeral there.
It was like stepping back in space to the 1990s.
As I entered the Chapel, a satellite of the much larger cathedral where morning assembly is held, you can probably imagine the various stigmata of Mariolatry that surrounded me.
Stop it. The sight that hit me in the apse was nothing like that, I assure you.
Despite her name, Trinity is no den of Catholicism. Her founders and First Boys were High Anglicans, the Protestants known for protesting just a bit, reluctant as they were to rock the boat like their Lower brethren. The vertical denomination refers not only to the taste the early High Anglicans had acquired for psychedelic stained-glass polyptychs, but to their insistence that all around them was continually turning into plasma, serum and bodily tissue. These hallucinations were likely just a side-effect of their signature vice: the recreational use of liturgical censers.
(Pass the thurible, said the bishop to the vicar, as they sat in a circle getting incensed.)
Ah, but I fear I’ve lost my Muslim readers, haven’t I?
Let’s rewind a tad—to the Middle Ages, which occurred in Medieval times.
It is the Middle Ages. The Catholic Church holds undisputed temporal and spiritual sway over the peoples of Europe. (‘Catholic’ literally means all-inclusive, indiscriminate, ecumenical; think of holistic, Holocaust or holdomor.)
But one peoples, who call itself Anglicans, are none too happy living under the thumb of a fat man in a dress in Avignon. The final straw comes when the Pope refuses to relax the canonization criteria for their favorite candidate, the popular mystic Jesus. He just doesn’t have the necessary number of magic powers, explains His Holiness with faux regret. (You can’t beat pancreatic cancer by praying to Jesus, for instance.)
So the Anglicans secede from the Mother Church, with the usual sequelae: centuries of internecine pogroms.
My grandparents in Germany still remember the Catho militias who traveled door to door cleansing the community of “Prods” (to use the hate-word for devotees of St Jesus). But because all religions are about the same thing—being a better person and loving your neighbor—it was no trivial task to tell members of one sect from another. Save for a certain lascivious avariciousness of the lips, the average Papist doesn’t look palpably different from the average Christolator. So the roaming Romites needed some kind of shibboleth to sift the wheat from the chaff of Christendom.
Their solution was as simple as it was fiendishly elaborate.
When you answered the door they’d either hit your thumb with a hammer or pretend to break bad news, like “someone scratched your car,” or “you left your headlights on.”
Any homeowner who blurted out “Jesus!” was killed on the spot. Only if you blasphemed properly (“Mary mother of motherfucking God,” or “Begorrah” for short) would they let you off with a savage beating in front of your family for sullying the name of the patron saint of teen pregnancy.
Naturally, this great Old World tradition was exported to Australia in an attenuated, lazier form. I was too young to understand why, but I vividly recall Dad nailing a sign to the door of our house, a sign that was to save our lives more than once: No Salesmen, Charities, Death Squads Or Take-Away Menus Please.
The age of sectarian genocide was over by the time I started seventh grade, thank God. In the Vatican, a fiat* of Pope Lawrence had shuttered once and for all The Holy Office for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, better known as the Inquisition. (The site now houses a burns ward.)
But the mistrust lingered. Even in an extremely moderate family like mine we weren’t allowed to have Catholic girlfriends. Since it’s not really clear what the point of dating a non-Catholic schoolgirl is, this was tantamount to saying your genitals are grounded for the next six years, young man.
In short, the Trinity I knew had nothing to do with the Father, the Warrior and the Stranger. The sigil of our school stood for one thing and one thing only: cricket, footy and assemblies—the three pillars of a private education.
As a young sportsman, assemblies were the closest thing I had to a forte.
To this day I don’t understand all the fuss about footy. Apparently there was a ball involved somewhere—hence the sport’s proper name, rugbyball—but I never got my hands on this McGuffin. A fellow intellectual once got close enough to describe it as “an inflatable piece of cow.” How bathetic.
Cricket was a bit more bearable, I suppose, because you could mostly mind your own business. It was certainly easier to get homework done when you didn’t have to keep one eye out for bearded behemoths bearing down on you like pituitary Panzers, bent on using your spinal column for tackling practice. My Saturday mornings became even closer to tolerable once I’d attained the role I was born to play: twelfth man for the Last Elevens.
Of course it wasn’t all sport. The ideal Trinitarian divided his “life” at school equally between honing his leg spin in the nets, Growing In Stature And In Service To God And Man, and hitting the academics.
Which wasn’t much fun for an academic like me. Still, to quote Nietzsche word for word, what almost kills me almost makes me admire the Klebolds and Harrises of the world. At least they had the balls, ramrods and powder to turn the tables on the jockocracy.
Like most boys I wanted nothing more than to be an onward Christian soldier, so I was devastated when they exempted me from Cadets, forcing me to join the debating society. It was all because my fraidy-cat mother had snitched about a condition I suffered at the time (“haemophilia,” for the medical geeks).
Then as now, debating was the extracurricular of choice for noncombatant Nigels. We asthmatic, bespectacled and Warfarin-blooded perorators could only listen in skeptical awe to the tales of what happened “on bivouac”—like the tale of a certain master who once in the safety of Belanglo National Forest no longer insisted on swearing in Classical tongues. “Fucking Abos!” replaced “indigenes in crucem, eos in crucem,” et yadda.
To my regret I never did find out what the recoil of a rifle feels like, or if a bivouac is an actual thing. (I have my doubts.)
Students at the local public school, Fairfield Boys High, didn’t even have their own river for rowing practice. It must’ve been out of envy that they tried to beat us up on the bus every afternoon. Successfully, as a rule.
But there were good times as well [subs—need a bullshit example here]
They say it’s February 2018 now. Australian society has moved on a bit since the time of Hammer. The average employer is no longer quite so impressed by an applicant who can speak New Testament Greek and cover himself in glory as a front-row hooker in the four-man cox.
Meanwhile life at Trinity, or what passes for it, hasn’t discernibly changed. Latin is still the lingua franca of daily worship, sports practice and the English classroom. (Not the French classroom, obviously.) The great leafy Quadrangle is still one side short, as it has been since the 1960s—courtesy of rioting borders inflamed with school spirit, goes the story.
And me? I turned out all right. Like my idols Mao-Tse Tung and Christopher Flannery, I eventually realized idolatry is poison. It was that old mating call of the Cathos—“Mary, mother of motherfucking God!”—that tipped me off, of all things. How could anyone worship, with a straight face, a demigod born of a one-night stand between God and His own mother? You may as well be a Scientologist or a Presbyterian, for God Delusion’s sake.
But it was those six years that made me the man I am today, says my therapist.
*In religion a fiat is a kind of executive ruling, coming from the word fatwa.