My Grandfather held the last Army post of Commandant. Even before I was born, the issue where I would be schooled was not even up for debate. My dad also had the benefit of spending his school holidays here, so he was able to witness the daily operations of the school. Understandably, I too was excited, what with the excellent sports facilities, including the athletics track my grandfather built. I was a sports nut, and this just seemed like another adventure.
We all loved it! What with the impressive entrance and the headmaster’s house on your left as soon as you passed through the security gate, and the immaculate grassy areas. By the time I experienced my first meal at the cookhouse, I was in heaven! There was so much choice, tasty at that and the staff was very friendly. The dining hall was the size of a disused railway station, having a high ceiling and displaying plaques of previous champions along the walls. In the middle of the hall was the main table where waiters served the headmaster, his deputy, duty staff and sixth form prefects. What a feat to have everyone fed and watered in an orderly manner.
The school RSM shared that he had the pleasure of working for my Grandfather, after asking if we were related? He also commended him for his achievements. I enjoyed shooting the rifle and was quite proficient, while my marching drills were correctly displayed with confidence. We had CCF (Combined Cadet Force) every Friday, where we were unknowingly groomed for military life, but still much fun. Every Saturday evening, we watched a movie in the day room, but we also had to clean and shine our shoes and belts for inspection by the duty member of staff in preparation for the Sunday parade. Some boys occasionally tried to cheat by using a cleaning product called ‘clear’.
Every Sunday morning began with a jog around the large school perimeter, which was predominately won ironically by a boy who was always in orders for smoking. Afterwards, we showered, and then ate the best fry-up ever. I still remember that taste of the fried bread made to perfection. Sorry Deryth, but you will be happy to know that something was missing, a door stopper sized slice of your white bread from the local bakery with lashings of butter! After breakfast we paraded in our no1 dress, including bulled up shoes and a brass belt so shiny you could see your face in it, and a beret. The junior houses had a duty matron to help as and when required, along with an assigned tutor and a second-year pupil to make your time more welcoming.
There was a steep road at the back leading down into town which felt like it was grinning at you as you hiked home. Sheep sounds would occasionally be voiced in our direction by locals whilst we walked this monster of a hill, by virtue of an ex schoolboy shagging a sheep.
There was always laughing after lights out until the duty tutor came in and threw a wobbly. At night, the boys’ dorm raided other dormitories, screaming out dorm raid before running to the fire escape door at the end. The escape was predominantly eventful, with pillows used to try and beat the intruder into submission. Sometimes boys alternatively attempted to climb over all the cubicles in their own dormitory whilst naked to arrive back at their own bed space. One evening, as a first year, I attempted this very same activity. When I climbed over the first cubicle, a boy started making all these false accusations against me, claiming I was a gay boy because I jumped naked into his bed space. Again, I probably just wanted some attention and for the next five years, that is exactly what I got! Deryth had tried to warn me, MYOB.
The education was excellent, with amazing facilities and literature. There must have been a library, I just do not remember using it, and we had teachers with character! I will never forget a man who was usually miserable. His favourite words were “You cretin”, which was wasted on me, as I only recently learnt its meaning. We had a teacher that had a hairdo, which was hair sprayed to death, with a breath that brought tears to your eyes if she ever came into your personal space. Most teachers were spot on, only raising their voice as and when required.
When I was a junior, I was incredibly lucky to go on a school ski trip to Fiesch in Switzerland. I loved the continental meals and best of all I became friends with the most beautiful German girl, and we started to write to each other. I have no idea why we stopped writing, but it coincided with my being bullied. She may have written. The bullies may have taken my mail and written back on my behalf. I played in the 2nd XI hockey team but still got to go on a trip to Hanau, Germany. My dad managed to get the job driving the coach, and I remember getting abuse because he smiled and some of the boys on the trip provocatively teased me “How could he be my dad”.
In my first year, I must have been a loose cannon, as a giant of a second year in my house picked me up over his head and dropped me on my back, taking my breath away and stepped back for the rest of the day. The next day Alex was back! Mind you, sometimes I had to defend my mum after a boy teased me for not having one, and other times I had to salvage my ego after boys questioned my sexuality. After the third time of my being put in front of the housemaster for corporal punishment for beating up my peers, I was threatened with expulsion if I did not change. My parents were informed! The next conversation I had with them made me change overnight. My dad pleaded with me to change as my getting into the school had made them all so proud, especially just before his own father’s death in 1986. There was a lot of pressure for me to conform and somehow my backbone was removed overnight, and it did not take long for the vultures to detect it.
In the first term of my second year I foolishly used a racial slur in my defence of verbal abuse. He then proceeded to beat me up! Something had to be done as it happened in the dining hall in full view of the headmaster’s dinner table. The boy in question was suspended. This event turned up the fire in my life! He was the only mixed-race black boy in the junior house and had much support. For my own safety I had to be swapped with another boy in the other second-year dorm, and even here I had to fight a few times as the fire was starting to burn me!
When at home for school holidays I played a lot of football with children in the neighbourhood. Football was a great escape for me, even though I was not that good. The boys would tease me about going to a posh school, but that was expected. Once, one of the non-sporty boys thought it would be funny to launch an apple with pinpoint precision at my face whilst I was up a tree. I chased him until I caught him by the public phone box at the zebra crossing to the park and no one attempted to stop me from using him as a punch bag. I was fortunate to have such a kind and witty eldest stepbrother and wife as they were the first of Deryth’s family to make me feel welcome and then my youngest stepsister and cheeky construction entrepreneur husband were next to pop into my life on occasion. Over time I would familiarize myself with my other siblings. On reflection, these brief visits kept my heart together!
I don’t blame my parents. Life can throw a spanner in the works and running a coach company and child-minding created problems every day. Even if I were able to tell my parents of my sadness at school, some urgency with the coaches would take precedence. They did what they had to do! My parents used to take us out to the pictures, where they would inevitably fall asleep and then we would go to Pizza Hut, where frequently arguments would break out. This is what happens when you had a stressed out and short-tempered dad spending time with young provocative minds who just wanted attention. Sometimes that attention could be seen an hour later as a handprint on our backside. I am happy to say that my dad now has a sense of humour!
As I had played mini rugby for Harrow, I was looking forward to playing again. In Junior school I patiently played full back in the B team. Honour came my way in my second year when I made the most important tackle of my school career. Every year produced a boy that developed at an earlier age and was gifted, and I had the privilege of tackling one such boy as he sped for the corner to score a try. Even the housemaster of his junior house congratulated me afterwards. This was a good way to prepare for my rugby career in the senior school!
In my senior house, I was starting to be teased by juniors as well as the seniors. Once, whilst sat in the pool changing room, an older boy from my senior house stood in front of me naked, making me look down in embarrassment. They now knew the truth! The older seniors in the school never did that again, instead, they just called me “gay boy”, but in their heart, they knew that I was not!
The bullying had not noticeably affected me in the first two years of senior school, as I was able to hold the position of full-back in the A team. Mind you, around these years I had also been taking confirmation classes where we used to have bible teachings at a gentleman’s house, whose sexuality was also questioned for having a squeaky voice.
In the dinner queue, an aggressive boy pushed in front of me and others, and like a fool I questioned him. In one swift move, he dropped me on my head. I have never felt so much pain in my life. And to enforce my misery I had to walk to the sanatorium alone.
By the Fifth form, I was starting to get depressed and become a recluse! I used to only play with the other boys that were also bullied in my house, and one day, one of those boys came into my private cubicle and took advantage of me. A few days later he showed up again. However this time he was unsuccessful and never bothered me again after his excellent failure!
That did not stop the disturbing thoughts that would plague me for years to come. I experienced a miracle to concentrate and complete my GCSE’s exams, including a B grade in Maths and Design, when I made a fibreglass shoe-holder in the shape of a shoe. To help me get to sleep I spent most evenings listening to talkback radio. I must have found listening to people talk, soothing and relaxing. During the day I repeatedly listened to pop ballads, which may have reinforced my depression.
The only way I could convince my parents that I did not want to go back to boarding school for sixth form was to scream hysterically at them for the first and last time! It did not matter that my teacher for my proposed BTEC National Diploma was a TA officer and someone I trusted and respected because my life would have still been a living hell outside of lessons. I did not know what I was going to do, and on advice from a family member, I agreed to study BTEC in Computer Studies, as in 1991 that was the future.