the age of one I was put down for this wonderful school in Sussex that my father had been to. In his view of the world, Ardingly was a good thing, and he had done well there, so I had absolutely no fears whatsoever.

Also, I had always got on well at my little prep school, where I was popular and top of the class, and I just assumed that at the next school I would be able to carry on in the same way.

But I remember I had slight butterflies in the car on the way down when my father gave me a sex lecture, which he had never done before. I thought, why is he talking to me about this now?

When we arrived, the scale of the place terrified me. It was gigantic with huge, dark, Gothic, forbidding buildings.

There was a reception for the new boys and their parents in this frightening old hall, and as I looked around at all these much bigger boys and their parents, my confidence evaporated.

At my prep school, no one's voice had broken. At Ardingly they all had full beards and moustaches, or that is how it seemed to me, a race of Ubermensch. I couldn't believe it.

I had never shaved, I was still very squeaky and I then realised that compared with the Ardingly boys I was terribly short as well.

One of my sharpest, saddest memories is of standing at the drive, having shaken hands with my father, watching the car returning home - my home. It was a family rule never to show emotion under any circumstances, so I didn't say anything, but I remember fighting back the tears, and thinking: 'I don't want to be here.'

I wandered around the grounds, not knowing where to go, whether to go to the dormitory or the day room, or back to the assembly hall - I didn't know what the hell to do. And in this very brief time I had been told that the lavatory was called 'dykes' and butter was called 'tolly' and tea was called 'hoggie'. There was a whole range of new words and facts spinning around in my head.

I started unpacking. The month before, we had gone to a department store where Ardingly uniforms were stocked and bought the most gigantic range of sports gear and various clothes and things, all of which I was completely unfamiliar with. I remember feeling terribly lonely, not knowing where to put anything, and being too frightened to ask anyone. Somehow I got through to the end of that day, and then cried all night in my bed. Pathetic, really . . .

I felt no better in the morning, and I woke up desperately fighting back the tears. Later that day I began overhearing comments about my weediness, how small I was, and squeaky, and it became apparent that anyone whose voice hadn't broken was going to be victimised severely. There was lots of physical bullying from other boys: punches and kicks, hair-pulling and ear-twisting, and another popular one was a knee in the balls. It was gratuitous, brutal and totally relentless, day in and day out, particularly in my house.

I became terribly religious for a while, because I thought God would help end all this bullying. But when it continued it made me lose my faith completely. I thought: 'How can He possibly exist? I pray every night, and every morning I get bullied?' So I refused to get confirmed.

I did well academically in my first two years, but of course that was considered weedy. The only thing that counted was sport: you could be completely thick, or very unpleasant, but if you were good at football or cricket then everyone loved you. I had been in the first XI of everything in my prep school but because I was so much smaller than anyone else I wasn't even in the third XI, which felt dreadful.

After one month we were let out for a Sunday from 10am until 6pm. My father came to pick me up. I can remember everything about that day still. Until then I had always thought home was rather a boring place, but I remember thinking I had no idea that we lived in such a nice house, and I had no idea that I loved my family so much.

And from the minute I arrived home I couldn't take my eyes off my watch because I was so terrified of going back.

Nothing changed until I was 15, when I suddenly grew taller and my voice broke.

My entire personality changed then. I got into all the school teams, isolated the bullies and victimised them in any way I could. I was absolutely one of the lads, I became a heavy smoker, and made lots and lots of friends. I completely stopped working and I became very difficult at home in the holidays. My parents were quite shocked by my behaviour.

And at the end of it all I loved the school, I preferred it to home. The honest truth is, despite the first two years, I remember it now with affection, not with bitterness.

Robert Pearce owns and runs The Futon Company, which introduced futons to Europe.

(Photograph omitted)