THERE's a natural instinct for boys at boarding school to want to defy their housemaster. Masters can't keep an eye on everybody all the time. And at any school you expect boys to want to experiment with drinking and smoking. It would be unnatural if they didn't.

I started drinking at school when I was 13 or 14. The local off-licence wouldn't serve us, so we'd go up to somebody on the street and ask them to buy a bottle on our behalf.

We went to pubs on a regular basis. Most of the ones round the school weren't too bothered about serving under- age people. When we were in the sixth form we were allowed to the pub at a Saturday lunchtime for sandwiches. We were supposed to have only two pints of beer which was ridiculous, because we always had more. We went to the pub on Saturday evenings as well, although we weren't supposed to. We would say our parents were taking us out. What could the school do? They couldn't check every pub in the county.

When we went on theatre trips, we'd watch the first half of the play and then sneak off to the pub during the second half. We'd skull as many pints as possible and meet up at the coach stinking of beer.

Eventually I was suspended for two weeks before my O Levels for sneaking out one Sunday and getting very drunk on Pomagne. We won it on the coconut shy at the local fair. The police picked us up and we were taken back to school in disgrace. I can't remember exactly what happened when we got back - I think I was unconscious. The school made an example of me by suspending me. My parents were less worried by the drinking than by the fact that I had got my poor mother into trouble as well by persuading her to give us a lift to the fair.

We smoked in the grounds and in our rooms - all over the place. We would send the first year boys down to the village shop to get our cigarettes. Punishments for smoking were different in each house, depending on the housemaster. They mostly gave warnings and wrote to parents, and if that didn't work they gave up, because they couldn't physically stop us.

Most boys at my school probably tried magic mushrooms at some stage because they grew all across the golf course and rugby pitches in the autumn. When boys were walking back from games, you would see them bending over to pick them.

The masters knew they were there, but it was impossible to police. We dried the mushrooms in the laundry room, or hid them somewhere until they shrivelled up. One chap phoned up one of the tabloid papers and offered them an exclusive about magic mushroom-taking. Journalists came to the school, the boy spilt the beans, and they did a big article. The boy got suspended.

The school tried to hush everything up. They preferred suspension to expulsion, and as a last resort would ask your parents to take you away so they didn't have to expel you.

Schools like to avoid any involvement with the police if they possibly can, to avoid bad publicity. They always try to persuade the police that the school and the parents will deal with a boy more effectively than the police.

I don't regret what I did at school - I was never drunk in lessons or anything like that. However, I do think that once you've got the public school mentality, it stays with you for ever. An old school friend came to stay last weekend and we ended up playing our old drinking games with vodka and schnapps before going to the pub for about 13 or 14 pints of Guinness. We finished off with some spectacular 'helicopter' puking, where everyone throws up while spinning around. Disgusting, I know.