Mr Lyward’s Answer by Michael Burn The Story of George Lyward and Finchden Manor


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NameMr Lyward’s Answer by Michael Burn The Story of George Lyward and Finchden Manor
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And after they had come, what happened? They found security, emotional security from exterior pressures; from the mother who had badgered them with her griefs and the father with his ambition; security from ideals and from immediate goals. No one judged them. They lost their labels, and were offered their lives. I asked a man who had been a boy at Finchden twenty-three years ago what had been his first impression.

'Intense relief'

'Relief from what?'

'From school.'

What he needed when he first went there was respite from classes; he came to classes later. 'My boy hates games,' one parent said. The boy did not have to play games at Finchden; after a time, freed from the compulsion, he grew to like games and emerged an athlete.
The rambling house, with its black and white timbers and warm brick, the garden and the lawn, the sheep-cropped marshes below and the encircling woods, breathed an English tranquillity. To the boys from rich homes and public schools, this was something they knew; to the boys from suburbs something they sought on bicycles or on foot; to the boys from slums something they had never known. Day or night, no door in their part of the house - inside or out - was locked, except the larder. The staff seemed friendly, without being either painfully understanding or hearty. They did not coax you into corners and get you to tell them things. Neville might seem to be in a dozen places at once, and David might be equally elusive, but Sid - Sid was a rock. He walked across the courtyard, leaning on his stick; at one time, to please the boy who had given it to him, he wore a fez. He made jokes. If you died and were met by Sid, you would feel that all was well; if all was not well, at least you had the right companion. Mr D. was a brilliant teacher of mathematics. He kept himself to himself, was sometimes taciturn and gruff, and pretended not to like people, although he did. Peter Goddard was six foot three, a skilled carpenter and engineer, who had worked out his own method of teaching. It was he, chiefly, apart from the building firm, who had saved the house. I believe, given time, he could have repaired Westminster Abbey single-handed. He was the sort of man who seems to have an intuitive relationship with engines. Neither Mr D. nor Peter took any part in the 'psychological treatment', and at times made a point of talking jokingly as if they thought it waste of time. The boys enjoyed the dry asperity of Mr D. and Peter's rough directness, and respected both of them.
And the animals! Hamsters, rabbits, guinea-pigs, a hawk, an owl, pigeons, a tortoise, budgerigars, dogs, a monkey. Perhaps on your first day, you went into Sid's room, where you found a skeleton piano, a printing press, a hand-made television set, and the atmosphere of an alchemist's den. You might be allowed to make a tape-recording of your voice. You saw the things that other boys had made. You heard stories about old boys. No one, staff or boy, was inquisitive or censorious. You could cry if you wanted, and nobody would sneer. It was all unusual and intriguing and you felt you wanted to see more, that you might be happy there. Sandy Morton took to the place so much at first glance, that he went straight home for his baggage, without even waiting for an interview.
Sometimes I would be working in Mr Lyward's oak-room; collecting reasons why the boys there (and elsewhere) had 'gone adrift'. Upstairs Mr Lyward and one of them were singing and playing the piano. I went to the boys' concerts. Two might be playing the guitar, one a year ago a 'thief and gangster', the other described six months before as morose and full of hatred for himself and the world. Now they were easy, carefree, and young. I went into the yard. A boy looking like the dormouse at the Mad Hatter's tea-party was sitting under a tree playing happily with a dog. His mother had pampered him, his father despised him, and he had been wretched at home and school; already, after two weeks, he looked relaxed.
It seemed to me that if all those who asked, as I had asked: 'But what on earth do they do?' could only know the boys' stories even as little as I, then see them now, they would need no further answer. If the visitor could only have known a boy's face when he came, taut and hostile, and have seen it again a little later, that would be enough. Finchden had given emotional security and a last long holiday before the stress of life. If Mr Lyward had done no more than afford this blessed pause, he would have done much. In one first interview he recalled 'The boy wept for joy and my other assistant almost wept to see it. The only explanation the boy could give of his tears was: "I can do as I want here". Before that he had been telling me: "I think I ought to work", but soon he was laughing at the idea that it was Daddy talking and not himself. It was one of those interviews I shall never forget.'.
Mr Lyward's adventure straddled the twenty-five years between mass unemployment and the building of the Welfare State. Through the experience of Finchden one could see that the rich were now less rich, and more worried for the futures of their children; while the children of the poor, less now from poverty than from monotony, sought distraction in the cinema and the gang. The good and brave impulses of parents strove desperately with rising costs - the dangerous injunction to 'get on' at any price received the sanction of what was called 'realism'.
The post-war legislation which enabled local authorities to pay for a boy's keep showed the makings of a wiser approach to troubled children than England had ever known before. Meeting many probation officers and social workers showed me how much dedication still went unknown. People seemed never to have time, or to leave their children time, to grow gradually into fulness. Did they even desire it? The term 'maladjusted' itself begged so many questions. Maladjusted to what? Should one admire adjustment to war, fear, and the hydrogen bomb? I preferred the phrase 'emotionally disturbed'. It stated a plain fact without reference to any doubtful standard. Inevitably, Mr Lyward's work laid bare nearly all the deeper human relationships. The liberation of the child led often to a reconciliation of the parents, and the parents' failure with their children exposed their own inadequacy to one another.
It is unfortunate that people should believe that any story about 'maladjustment' is bound to be violent and sensational. One boy said as he left: 'You are the most wholesome people I have ever met.' It was the world outside which seemed troubled, and Finchden that was at rest. Whenever I left to return to London, I seemed to be leaving an oasis - long after I had grown used to the general sense of relaxation, and the calm humour Mr Lyward and his staff never lost, at moments which would have driven other people distracted.
The boys at Finchden did go later into the same kinds of job as everyone else, several becoming eminent. They did become good citizens and good husbands and good fathers. But that was not all. Their liberation was a major operation. It came about by a freeing of the whole personality from the deepest level, so that those 'immediate reasons', for which they had been sent to Finchden Manor, did not so much 'undergo cure' as fall away. Finchden's influence remained with them long after they had left.
How deep it was, many did not understand for years.

CHAPTER THREE
My room in the boys' part of Finchden held a bed, a desk, an aladdin stove, and a sofa without springs, and until my arrival had been used as a class-room for two or three boys who had reached the stage of taking classes. It was on the opposite side of the house from the lawn, looking over the playing fields, and on a half-landing. Above, along a low dark corridor, lived David, Neville, Mr D. and a ghost; below, down a few stairs and through an immense oak door, the boys' rooms began, so that mine was a kind of half-way house.
The first morning I got up early and went down to the dining room. One wall was almost all window. An old boy, lost at sea during the war, had painted robust murals of ships in full sail across another wall. Half-a-dozen boys were drinking tea out of taxi-drivers' mugs and eating bread and jam off trestle tables. A boy was stirring porridge in the kitchen. Not being able tothink of anything else to do I retreated to my room and made the bed. Soon there was a knock at the door, and a boy came in who looked exactly like the Cruickshank drawings of the Artful Dodger. He was skinny. His hair at the back disappeared under his jacket, and in front a long black lock hung down like a question mark and obscured half his face, which was dead white. He had thick black eyebrows, and looked out from under them with an air of perpetually suspicious but amused reconnaissance, as if he were about to inveigle people into conspiracies that would surprise them. Imagine a poet and a squirrel and a jockey, put the mixture into blue jeans and a leather jacket with a bedraggled fur collar, and this was my first visitor.
'Have you really come on the staff?' he said pityingly

'I have.'

'How long for?'

'I don't know. Anything may happen.'

'Well, as long as you've got that clear. It's the hell of a place, you know. We're all mad. Including the staff'

'Mr Lyward doesn't strike me as mad.'

'He's the maddest of the lot. He's a ruddy genius.'

The boy took out a tin box and began to roll a cigarette from tobacco dust. Suddenly, as if it had just struck him, he asked:

'By the way, do you smoke?'

'Yes.'

'Can you spare a fag?' I gave him one from the packet visible on the desk. 'You'll have to look out,' he said. 'Everyone'll be cadging fags off you. By the way, you don't need to come down to breakfast. I'll bring you some tea up here. Unless ...' he ruminated, watching me under the lock of hair, 'unless you have coffee for breakfast?' There happened also to be a tin of coffee on my desk.

'I'll make it for you if you like,' he said.

Another knock at the door. The Artful Dodger put his fist swiftly round the handle.

'Wait a moment! I'll tell you who it is. I bet you a dollar it's Fred.'
It was. Others followed. Each time the Artful Dodger, whose real name was Flynn, guessed who it would be, each time was right. They wanted to know why I had come there, where I had travelled, what I had done; a new member of the staff was unusual. Their reconnaissance was oblique and conversational.

'I'm staying here till next spring and then I'm going to get a job,' said one of them.

'God help your boss!' said another.

They began to argue amongst themselves, conscious of me, but not noticeably 'showing off'. They used the word 'cured' jokingly and, whether in Cockney or public school accents, seemed fairly fluent at expressing themselves.

'Hey, what shall we call him?' said one, jerking a thumb at me.

'Got a nickname?'

'No.'

'I bet you have. You don't like it, or you'd tell us. Well, I've got one for you. Singe !"

'Why Singe?'

'Burn - Singe. See? Captain Singe. He was a smuggler round about here. No, not Captain. You're on the staff. Professor ... Doctor.'

All the staff were called either by their Christian names or nicknames, except Mr Lyward; he remained 'Sir', and when the boys were not addressing him direct, 'Mr Lyward' or 'The Chief'. I became Dr Singe.
I spent the morning wandering about the house and grounds. About eighteen of the boys had specific duties, such as cleaning, washing-up, or cooking. David and Neville taught a small group in the mornings. Two boys were with Mr D., studying mathematics. One was building his budgerigars a cage. Another, who had already built a tennis court, was starting on a canoe. Others were rehearsing a revue; others drawing, modelling, playing the piano or the trumpet, lying on their beds reading, chasing one another, making a dug-out, gardening, arguing. There was not one desk in the whole building, and perhaps one blackboard. The ordinary terms do not apply, but I suppose recreation room is the nearest description of the large and lofty hall, in which were the stage, a ping-pong table, a piano, and a dozen different activities going on at once.
The boys slept five or six to a room, although three had rooms to themselves, and huts on the edge of the playing field housed a couple each. The bedrooms reminded me of my time as a prisoner of war. Each boy had a small space which was his own and expressed his own personality. What one saw might only represent a temporary protest against having hitherto been no one, a stage, a self-assertion, a fantasy of character through which the true character had not yet emerged. One bed might be unmade and the clothes all over the place, and another as tidy as a barrack-room. I saw at various times above, near or beneath the beds a wireless set the boy himself had made; a model aeroplane or theatre; drawings of Finchden, portraits, abstracts; three hamsters in a cage; a kitten; and a puppy. One boy had collected several hundred second-hand books, another had taken a passing fancy to pieces of cheap glass, bought at the local auction; another had rigged up a telephone exchange, through which he spoke to different parts ofthe house; another had a selection of several hundred admirable photographs, taken and developed by himself; and another a fox, though this was stuffed.
At lunch everybody found knives, forks, and a place. A scrap developed on the floor; no one paid much attention, and after a few minutes the boys got up, shook themselves, and resumed eating. Peter and usually some other member of the staff came to this and to the evening meal, but they did not 'supervise'. The servers plonked the food down, returned, and shouted: 'Seconds!' and people went when they felt like going. The food was sufficient, what is called wholesome, and better or worse according to the boy who was cooking. All except one or two who sat morose and silent, taking no part, were talking; apart from shouting and slanging matches, there were also conversations, and their range and intelligence began to surprise me.
Later, unobtrusively, Mr Lyward appeared, wearing a brown trilby, and an overcoat and muffler. Arguments continued, but the boys were aware of him, and it was not long before somebody appealed.

'What do you think, sir?'

'What about?'

'What Jimmy's been saying!'

'What have you been saying, James?'

'I've been thinking we ought to have a grace before each meal,' the boy answered gravely. 'Why don't we?'

Everybody groaned. One could imagine nothing less suitable to Finchden, or the boys there, than grace before meals. But Mr Lyward took the question seriously. He did not answer yes or no. He enlarged it and put it on a different level.

'Doesn't it depend how much importance we attach to an outward expression?' he asked. 'How much do we need these forms? Is it enough if we feel things, and don't express them in any form at all?'

Jimmy answered:

'If I say my own grace, I suppose it doesn't matter what the others say.'
And so there began one of those discussions for which I shall always remember Finchden. I remember one after a concert, in a corridor, when they talked about children's theatres and ways of keeping the attention of children. Or it might be in a bedroom, or on the playing field, or in the courtyard leaning over the grocer's van; or like this discussion about ritual, in the dining room, with the cooks and servers devouring the spoils of the kitchen, and the wrestling and shouting and chasing continning all round, until some boy, unable to waste his chance a moment longer, burst out with:

'Please sir, may I go to London on Tuesday?'

'To London?' Mr Lyward turned to the others.

'What does anyone think about Paul going to London?'

'No,' in a chorus. One boy said:
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