My boarding school was awful, and it still is

 

Share
Related Topics

I went back to my old school on Saturday. My boy's school was playing rugby there and I'm an enthusiastic observer of him being trampled upon and kicked by other children – I think my old school called it character-building. I turned down the familiar road and the memories came flooding back.

There was the boarding house where my parents dropped me off at the age of eight. I remember thinking that the couple that lived there had a lot of kids. Then my parents said goodbye, I don't remember them explaining that I was going to live there for five years. It was all quite confusing. To break the ice I flipped open my tiny little grey suitcase and started laying out my shrapnel collection on the bed. This was the playground currency of Beirut and I thought it would be a conversation piece with my fellow inmates. It didn't go as planned. A boy ran and got the housemaster. He, in turn, summoned the metalwork teacher who had some undisclosed military background that had clearly ended in some institution. He confiscated my entire, precious collection and talked darkly about "unexploded ordnance" and "controlled detonations". I never saw my collection again but was slippered by the housemaster who, just a couple of hours ago, had been sipping tea and chatting with my now departed parents.

I drove on and parked by the playing fields. I hadn't been back since 1981 and I think my ego half-expected the place to have stopped once I left. It was very much the same, except everything looked a lot smaller. I felt like some awkward giant visiting Smallville. There was the woodwork class where the red-haired sociopath that taught us had made me run around for 20 minutes looking for "elbow grease". He had a curious obsession with recording us. He had one of those long-distance microphones and used to always have it on … God only knows what he did with the recordings.

I wandered over to the pitch. My son's team was still getting changed but the opposition was already there, being given a pep talk by their coach. "What do I not want to see today? Handbags, mincing, I want commitment, proper tackles." I couldn't believe it. It was like flashing back to that long, hot summer of 1976 when we would use words such as "spastic, flid, mong" and admonish friends with remarks such as "don't be so Jewish". Girls were known as "hags" and if you were seen speaking to one you had "hag pong". Oh, the casual prejudices of the upper classes. Nobody ever even hinted that these terms might be wrong, insulting, ignorant. Instead we were shown such films as Where Eagles Dare and Bridge over the River Kwai and taught to relive the fading glories of Empire while teasing the poor German kid whose parents had sent him to a place that had become his own personal Colditz.

My boy's team was slaughtered, 54-12 I think, although I lost count after he was kicked hard in the nose and had to go off to the side weeping. At the match tea, I met an old teacher who recognised me. "Why aren't your brood here?" he asked. I didn't answer.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Ashdown Group: Automated Tester / Test Analyst - .Net / SQL - Cheshire

£32000 per annum + pension, healthcare & 23 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A gro...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour and the Liberal Democrats would both end winter fuel allowances for pensioners with enough income to pay the 40p tax rate  

Politicians court the grey vote because pensioners, unlike the young, vote

Andrew Grice
US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have a drink after agreeing a deal on carbon emissions  

Beijing must face down the perils of being big and powerful – or boom may turn to bust

Peter Popham
Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis