In May 1960, at the age of eight, I was sent to boarding school. I attended a Boys’ Preparatory School until I was thirteen and then a well-known Boys’ Public School until July 1969.
I am in the process of writing my memoir as an educator from my schooling to my life in progressive/alternative education as a teacher; a journey taken by way of India. As I have been working on the early years of my education, I have been observing the disintegration of British politics through the lens of my own upbringing. White males steeped in privilege and bolstered by the myths of colonial superiority have dominated the political landscape throughout British History. Institutional arrogance, intellectual bullying, and competitive cunning are the qualities that appear to unite ‘the ruling classes’, successful by-products of the Public School System. Compassion, empathy and sensitivity have so often been lost in the fight to survive the deprivations of these boarding schools.
Change is coming, but it is not one orchestrated by these emotionally stunted men.
Below is an extract from my memoir in progress.
‘I was embarking on, or to put it more accurately, was being placed on a pathway designed for the ruling classes, at whatever level of ruling that might be. This pathway could well be called the destiny of deprived privilege. The Great British Public School System was created in the 1860's to supply the British Empire with manpower, future officers and senior administrators educated as successors to take their rightful places in distant lands; to bestow their superiority in the name of civilisation. Very different from the lesser mortals, whose bodies populated the far reaches of the colonies – disposable bodies, bred for factory or fighting, embodying the industrial military machine. This way of educating young men had been designed so that it that ensured a mindset of superiority combined with an unwavering belief in the power of the Empire. The ability to put up with extraordinary discomfort, physical, mental and emotional was an integral part of this upbringing. Now, after two world wars, the British Empire was in its final death throes, fatally wounded and dangerous, but it would live on in the cold climate of my schooling.
The greyness of my garb predicted my entrance to a loveless life. Standing on the step of the front door of my home, pausing before entering the car with its familiar smell of leather seats, I recalled the dark blue trunk that lay inside the boot encased in blackness. I had watched as the starkly new garments of grey and the virgin white underclothes were placed in it. I had noticed a small rectangular piece of cloth sewn on to each item, white with letters of blue sewn in; letters that created a name. This name was not the one which had been used for me up until now, it was that of the family name preceded by two initials, mine - for the next nine years at school I would not have my name. For the next five years this name was also followed by the Latin word ‘minor’ to indicate that someone of the same name was in existence.
My elder brother had the superior epithet of ‘major’ attached to his name. Only thirteen months divided us in age, but the grey journey into manhood he was sent on wrought a separation that could not be reversed. His misery was evident, and he was returning with me - I was not alone.
‘Come on, John. Come on, Andrew. Hurry up.’
Our father was already in the driving seat. Our mother hesitated by the front door, a picture of the conflict of emotions granted to mothers for whom social status triumphed over maternal feeling. There were tears in her eyes.
I gazed at the assembled dogs, au-pair, brothers Peter and Hugh waving. I waved back – never to be the same. We drove slowly down the gravel driveway, young leaves were beginning to unfold in a tender vibrant green, the flowers in the borders threw colour across the well-tended borders. Spring was strong, heralding new, vibrant life.’