Getting expelled from Bedales was probably the smartest career move I could have made. Now, 25 years later, I move in a world where everyone without a doctorate believes they could have had one, so it is gratifying to have achieved an academic distinction that most people think impossible to attain. The children now in the newspapers for getting thrown out of school, seem to prefer to compete on grounds of age and in this, as in most competitions for educational exclusivity, you have to start really young.
An inspiring example here was set by the son of the England footballer Vinny Jones, who has been sent home from his nursery school for fighting at the age of four. But being sent home from voluntary education does not have quite the same cachet as expulsion from a state school, where attendance is meant to be compulsory by law.
My story was a simple one, with two causes: sex and drugs. I couldn't get either. At the time, it was an occasion of shame, pain and confusion, especially for my parents. For myself, confusion was uppermost, along with a dogged, inarticulate determination to break out of the future that had been planned for me and discover real life.
I had started my secondary school career at Marlborough, alongside 16 girls and around 850 boys, who talked of nothing else but masturbation. I can't remember a single conversation with a normal Marlburian which did not revolve around this pastime. For most of them, it would be the only career for which they were ever truly suited. The teaching was either undemanding or meretricious (Eng. Lit.). The only man more miserable than I was a young Latin teacher, who had the originality, in that environment, to be gay. He taught us Martial and Catullus and then retired with a nervous breakdown.
Bedales was full of girls. I was by that time much too thoroughly screwed up to be able actually to enjoy their company. When a Canadian girl stuck her tongue in my mouth as we were all noisily saying goodbye for half- term, I thought the shock would kill me. Then I wished for about a week that it had, so that I need never come down from such a summit of delight.
Other people's memoirs make the place seem an unremitting social and sexual competition in which nothing was admired so much as a capacity for dazzling deceit: a perfect training, in fact, for the media careers we all ended up with. But I noticed none of that.
Perhaps I was too insignificant to compete with. I probably thought I was. It seemed to me then self-evident that life could not be faced without drugs. I had hardly any experience of them and never managed to find any in my time at Bedales. The fact that I was successfully facing it without them seemed to me nearly as shaming as the fact that I was unable to get laid; and probably connected to it, too. There had to be some magic medicine somewhere which would release a loveable and competent me from wherever he was hiding. So when the phone rang, I was ready.
It was a public pay phone, and I should not have been anywhere near it: I was bunking off some lesson one Friday afternoon, but as I walked past, it started to ring. The voice on the other end asked to be put in touch with Andrew Brown. It was George, a friend from Marlborough. He had run away. Could I help? I arranged for him to stay the night at the school, and the next day hitch-hiked to Guildford to set him on his way home, with Mark Smith, a younger boy I hardly knew, who seemed to think it would all be fun. We grew very drunk on cider, and shouted abuse at passers by. I remember George's shape growing smaller and less distinct as he trudged up the Hog's Back to hitch home.
Mark and I returned to Bedales. We were treated as if we had the plague, and locked for the night in separate, empty dormitories. I climbed out on to the window ledge, as so often before, and wandered across the roof to talk to him.
The next morning, the headmaster asked me solemnly whether I would break any more rules that term, and I said, thinking of my nicotine habit, that I probably would. It seemed to me that I was helpless against the pressure of fate: why else should the phone have rung when it did? So I was put on a plane back to Germany, where my parents were.
My father said that he thought the authorities had been afraid of my influence; it seemed to me insane of them to suppose that I had any. George went back to do his A levels; Mark Smith was forgiven, and I did nothing sensible for years.
Twenty years later, I met Mark Smith again: he arranged to interview me on LBC, where he was a news-jockey, to plug my first book. It delighted both of us that we should meet again in such circumstances.
When the date of the interview came, I forgot it, and was too ashamed to apologise afterwards. Sorry, Mark.
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