G-SPOT

Black tie used to mean a lot, not just getting dressed for dinner

A trip down memory lane to boarding school

In Summary

• Back in my day, school prefects had tremendous authority, or so it appeared.

St Mary's Girls student Dennissa Kirimi with her mother Lucy and lawyer father Kirimi Mbogo at Meru law courts on July 3
St Mary's Girls student Dennissa Kirimi with her mother Lucy and lawyer father Kirimi Mbogo at Meru law courts on July 3
Image: DENIS DIBONDO

Once upon a time, a black tie meant everything and it wasn’t about getting dressed for dinner

I came across a conversation about school prefects on Twitter, and while I must admit I only picked up fag ends from the chat and didn’t have the time to read all that had been said, I was instantly transported back to my school days. Back in my day, school prefects had tremendous authority, or so it appeared.

At my school, which combined both primary and secondary on the same campus, the senior school prefects came second only to the headmaster and his staff.

In fact, in some cases, when there was no other authority around, the boys and girls in their specially designed black ties might as well have been small gods.

At my school, the senior prefects wore black ties to distinguish them from the rest of us mere mortals, who wore the school’s blue and white diagonally striped tie with our khaki coloured uniform. The junior prefects who were in Standard Seven (I’m from the generation who missed out on Standard Eight, even though our parents and our younger siblings or other relatives didn’t) wore special badges with the label “Prefect” to help them stand out from the rest of us.

I don’t remember the junior school prefects being particularly respected, except by those in the lower classes, the Standard Ones to Standard Fours. By the time we got to Standard Five, the only prefects we held in some sense of awe were those in the Sixth Form, who may have been adults as far as we were concerned, though in actual fact they were barely 17 or 18 years old, on the whole.

That said, it’s somewhat embarrassing now, but my Standard 5 class once threatened to make the school ungovernable if a certain Standard Seven prefect, Jeff Koinange, whom we all admired for his prowess on the rugby pitch and his general “coolness”, was not sent to monitor our class while our teacher was away. We were aged 9 to 10 and horribly impressionable, while they were aged 12 and bordering teenage.

If my memory serves me right, it was after all nearly four decades ago, our rowdy class won after we had chanted “We want Jeff” in the manner of the biblical citizens of Jerusalem shouting their preference for Barabas, though of course that is not to compare my old pal jeff to that ne’er do well from the kangaroo trial of the Nazarene carpenter.

One of my greatest regrets was that I never made it to the Black Tie brigade. I ended up leaving my school and the country and ended up in a British school, where, though, the headmaster and some staff put a great deal of importance on the role of Sixth Form prefects, the student body couldn’t have cared less.

That said, I was appointed a prefect at my British school, and the job came with the fancy title of school recorder, which was just a posh, old school way of saying I was the secretary of the prefect body. It was a great honour, especially as I was the “new kid”, but I must say it didn’t come with the cache that the St Mary’s School black tie had.