For the final year of my secondary education I went away to boarding school. The school – St Matthew’s – was single-sex until the last two years, at which point the girls were sent by bus to their brother school, Rathkeale College, for lessons.

Rathkeale was built on an alluvial plain, which is flash ex-geography student speak for ‘next to a river’. The riverside location meant that the grounds of Rathkeale were littered with river rocks. In an ingenious combination of punishment and grounds maintenance, the miscreants of Rathkeale were sentenced to a period of ‘rock running’: picking up the misplaced river rocks from around the grounds and transporting them back to the river.

This little trip down memory lane is explained by today’s photo:


With the help of a rented truck we ran rocks from Robyn and Jon’s house in the city to our garden, to enable us to bolster a half-hearted rockery currently in our garden. Robyn and Jon’s garden is being redesigned at the moment, and their location means that there is a surfeit of rock, so we were very happy to take some off their hands (and even happier when Jon kindly helped Tristan with the rock-heaving at his end, while Robyn iced a delicious chocolate cake and then fed us slices of it).

My involvement was largely supervisory, on account of having a crocked back (and also because I’m a weakling). I spent much of the time lolling around with my hands in my pockets – a crime that, were I a Rathkeale student back in the day, would have earned me a ‘SPORCH’. This acronym stood for Society for the Prevention of Rathkeale College Hunchbacks; the punishment was dealt to boys who made use of their pockets when a teacher was present, consigning them to a few days of compulsory formal uniform-wearing.

I have no real idea why the staff at Rathkeale were so opposed to boys making perfectly rational use of their pockets – or, indeed, why their uniforms featured pockets at all if the use of them was so inappropriate. However, I must admit that I’ve never met a former Rathkeale student with a hunched back, so the SPORCH approach must have worked.


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