Jean-Michel Shepherd is a good-natured, handsome thirteen-year-old. His estranged Welsh father is afraid that his son has been softened by spending too much time in the company of females in his mother's family home in the village of Beynac set high above the banks of the lazy Dordogne. The boy needs toughening to make him street-wise, ready to deal with the harsh realities he will meet in a male-dominated adult world. He has found the perfect place and he persuades Jean's reluctant Maman to allow their son to join the military boarding-school in Dover. Here he will grow up to be the alpha male, toughened by the demands of the physical life and strengthened by the warmth of the comradeship of like-minded fellow students. Though he hates the prospect, he is ready to go along with his father's wishes. The reality of his new life is much worse than he had feared. He discovers that his house, Marlborough, has the deserved reputation of being a hard place, brutal to the youngest boys, those joining the house at the same time as himself. The house-master cannot cope so that life there is dominated by a group of sadistic sixth-formers, bent on crushing the spirits of newcomers just as theirs were when they were new. Digby, the head of house, and his comrades expect no resistance to their stated bogus aim that they merely want their charges to learn to be survivors in a harsh world. But Digby has met his match in the quietly spoken, stubborn Jean-Michel and he is determined to break this rebellious upstart, whatever it takes. This confrontation is the heart of the story and just as it seems that Digby is about to triumph...
Carl Hancock was born in Aberdare, a South Wales valley town, famous for its steam coal. He now lives on a small farm in the Adelaide Hills, a region famous for its vineyards and excellent wine. Between these bookends there was a lot of teaching in places as far apart as Brynmawr and the Great Rift Valley.
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