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A Shout From The Attic: The Boy From Royston

Ronnie Bray recalls a boy who lived in a house called Royston - a boy whose feet refused to obey Ronnie's well-meaning orders.

To read more colourful episodes of Ronnie's life story click on A Shout From The Attic in the menu on this page. Read also his sparkling columns, Letter From America.

As a boy, I wrote and rewrote the word “Royston,” including the capital letter, thousands of times in books, and on scraps of paper without ever knowing why. Perhaps I liked the way the letters curled into each other in my scrawly hand, or it could have been some deep-seated suppressed but resurgent cryptomnesiac race memory bursting through to my lowest level of consciousness to point to a distant grandeur whose material vestiges abandoned me at an early age. I wrote and wrote and wrote the word without thinking that it obsessed me. How could it? I had no idea what it meant or why I continued to write it. Even in the dawning of the twilight of my life, I scribble it each time I pop a new cartridge into my fountain pen.

I only once saw “Royston” in real life and that was on the front garden gate of a house in Trinity Street, Huddersfield. There was a beaten copper nameplate on the garden gate bearing the splendid name “Royston” in bas-relief. There it stood looking back at me in its reddish-brown lustre but saying absolutely nothing. Any message I expected to hear, any release from, or explanation of, my graphological insanity, did not come. What did happen is that one day the front door of “Royston” opened and out came this young boy, a year or so my junior, and with his cap and Macintosh raincoat he trotted besides me to school.

I have no recollection of his name, and less idea what I was doing over a hundred yards off the beeline from my home to Spring Grove School, but his claim to fame is connected with one of my earliest defeats in the field of orthopaedic medicine.

He was an unassuming young boy, of a good, reasonably well to do family, or they would not have lived so far up Trinity Street, but with an obvious defect that showed itself in his pedal department. His feet were decidedly Chaplinesque. They were correct twice in every twenty-four hours when the time was ten minutes to two o’clock.

My memory was taken up with my extensive medical knowledge and could not be induced to release details of the unknown boy who dwelt behind the chintz curtains, of “Royston” arranged for me to wait outside his named gate and share the ten-minute walk to school, but we did and I took an uncommon interest in his feet.

My medical training had equipped me to consider his problem and something akin to arrogance in the application of my diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment saw him stood still on his way to school facing downhill in Trinity Street as I rearranged his feet in alignment with the standard model for boys his age. He stood, silent and unresisting, with his feet looking good, but as soon as he moved off, they returned to their former positions.

After fifty stops for re-alignment that took us almost onto the Rifle Fields I decided that since his feet would go into their proper positions but moved each time he started to walk, he was simply being uncooperative and I would have to share the skill at my finger tips with a more deserving case. In the complex world of young boys it was little surprise to me that the next few times I called for him he had already gone. Was he avoiding me on purpose? I hated to admit that he could have been but we walked no more together but he nodded politely and discretely in my direction from a safe distance.

Even now, he is probably giving demonstrations of a stopped clock somewhere in the world as he shuffles his way through whatever it is someone with his pedical features can make of life. Maybe he got a good sit down job for which he arrives before anyone has chance to see him walk in and leaves after the last worker has left, saving himself the embarrassment of having to do his penguin walk, as he remembers with increasing lamentations how he once rejected the aid from a good-hearted friend that which medical science could not dispense, and which would have made his life so different.

As he, even now, waddles his comic way through life, does he even remember Ronnie Bray, the ten-year-old thaumaturge, and contemplate how different his life could have been if he had been more co-operative? I will always remember the boy from “Royston” and his obstinate feet. But what comes into his mind if he ever thinks of me … I wonder.


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