Alice Jones: Teenage romp undermines the Bedales utopia

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The Independent Online

Sex in the sandpit, shoplifting from Waitrose and whiskey binges; you get a higher class of teen rebellion at Bedales.

This week the £30,000-a-year co-ed boarding school expelled three 13-year-old pupils after an end-of-term jolly ended in a drunken romp in its lush grounds.

It's a serious lapse of discipline from the school which counts Daniel Day Lewis and Lily Allen among its alumni. And while teachers in more challenging inner-city schools probably wish that they only had occasional thievery and friskiness to deal with, it attracts far more attention when privileged rock-star spawn and mini aristocrats get caught being naughty.

This week the writer Amanda Craig, who immortalised her experiences at the school in her 1970s novel, A Private Place, delivered her own damning report in the Daily Mail. Her time at Bedales was "the worst five years" of her life, characterised by loneliness, bullying, even sexual assault.

"Drink and drugs were endemic", she writes. "It was like Hogwarts on Viagra" (the admissions office will thank her for that one).

It's a very different picture from the bohemian idyll painted by the prospectus. Priding itself on its progressive attitude, the school focuses on the individual with an enriching extra-curricular programme – Thursday mornings are dedicated to bread-baking, while sheep-rearing, chutney-stewing and hydrotherapy are also on offer. Teachers and pupils are on first-name terms and there's a liberal code of discipline: "Students who break the rules may spend longer being questioned and guided than being punished."

Like all utopias, it sounds great in principle, but Bedales' chummy community is not without its cracks. It's Craig's description of the rigid social cliques – "in descending order of status, Jetsetters, Semi-Jetsetters, Groovers, Semi-Groovers, Semi-Rejects or Rejects" – that's most telling. You can remove the iron rule of the teachers, but the laws of the playground are far more entrenched – and, for any 13-year old pupil trying to fit in, far more terrifying.

The Olympic Velodrome is tipped to scoop this year's Stirling Prize – and rightly so. The streamlined swoosh of cedar and glass housing the world's fastest bicycle track was the first venue to open at the site, completed on time and on budget. For that alone, it probably deserve the gold medal but in any case, it's already won architecture's most coveted prize – an affectionate nickname. Taking its place alongside the Gherkin, the Razor and the Shard on London's increasingly Lego-like skyline, please welcome the Giant Pringle.

I wonder, though, how Mike Taylor, chief architect, feels about the comparison of his sleek, precision-engineered design to a potato-based fried snack. Do architects dislike these glib monikers? Or do they, perhaps, design buildings with them in mind? If so, Taylor must have been hoping for something a little more sporting – the Tilted Wheel, perhaps.

In fact, though it might seem counter-intuitive to link the venue likely to give Team GB its greatest medal haul with junk food, it's a perfect fit with the on-site catering ethos. This week, McDonald's announced plans to open its largest restaurant on the planet – a two-storey, 32,000 sq ft hangar, seating 1,500 people – at the Olympic Park. There'll be three other outlets there too, for the overspill. Is it too early to christen the main stadium the Doughnut?


Every cloud has a silver lining. And in the case of the copious clouds currently washing out what traditionalists like to call "the Great British Summer", the upside is the consignment of the most annoying word of 2010 to the dictionary dustbin. If July's rainstorms have taught us anything – other than the fact that soggy sandwiches and wellies do not a happy holidaymaker make – it's that the staycation is dead. Those smug types boasting about their recession-busting breaks two hours' drive down the motorway, have gone curiously quiet this year. Bring on the budget airfares, package deals and lobster sunburn, the summer holiday is back.