My first post for a while, so bear with me as I try to make them better. If you’ve not read these before, I type fast and don’t proof read, so be prepared for clumsy sentences and idiosyncratic spelling. If I read through them, I’d probably stop myself posting them.
When I was thirteen years old, I was sent to boarding school and it broke my heart. I thought it would be an adventure, but from the departure of my parents, I was rent asunder.
There was a sudden sense of helplessness and loneliness and nowhere to hide. I am not very good at being institutionalised. I remember the weeping on the first night, that cutting off the apron strings that sees you falling, flapping, into a new void, another staggering abyss in the chapters of childhood development.
I had fallen victim to homesickness, the malaise of the pathetic and weak, and I hated myself for it. Then, it all blurs into a couple of years of power games by boys who were further confused by the onslaught of pubertal hormones and acne. I have no horror stories. This was no Magdalene Laundry or grotesque bricked enclave of abuse, unlike some I have read about. It was merely the confusing sickness of no relief from scrutiny or bullying barracking. It all seems so trivial now, yet at the time I remember the stomach spasm of nausea when turning the final corner after the holiday weeks, and seeing the dull, red Victorian building that would hold me for another term.
What stale hell was this?
What psychological Chinese burns of the mind would be inflicted on the weak boys, the wheezy boys, or the boys who liked books this time? Why did the wrench feel so bruising and bone cracking? I had been in a major car accident just before my third birthday that had left the next few years of family life confused and, to the sort of plastic mind a Jesuit would make use of, uncertain. I was reminded of this reading A Safe House in Stephen Grosz’s The Examined Life. He writes of a frightened businessman’s fantasies of a safe retreat where he can hide from life in a rural woodland, the sensation of “I’ll give up everything if only I can have”, and Grosz says to him that these seem to be the sort of thoughts of a frightened child. This pushed forward my own silly, shameful memory of desperation.
In that first week of wide-eyed horror of being alone with wretched, panicked boys all jockeying for power positions, I wrote a letter home. I had in the years before departure, built up a small Hornby railway set. I had imagined building it up into one of those models of a snippet of civilisation, with carefully painted commuters reading war year newspapers on platforms, milk churns, cattle and rolling fields of papier mache and chicken wire (frankly, this was a delusion as I have always lacked the concentration to complete grand projects. My attempts at Airfix models merely led to Spitfires that appeared to be suffering from neurofibramotosis). In my first letter home, I made my plea to escape, and included in the promise that I would do anything, “even sell my train set” (seeking a more middle class blog post, you’ll be hard pushed to find another one today).
The moment I had posted the letter, the shame of being so pathetic hit me. I queued and queued for the pay phone with a hot 5 pence in my hand. Once at the phone, I told my mother that she must not read the letter I sent home, it had been produced in a moment of madness and everything was fine. Infuriatingly, some prying boy, desperate to find ammunition that would mean he could damage his way further up towards the alpha braggarts and jocks, had seen the letter and, with spiteful joy, revealed all. I had inkily fallen onto another self made sword of my undoing. From now on, I knew there was much that should be kept festering in the mind. (later, on a visit home, i found where my mother kept my letters and burnt that particular one to ash)
The first few weeks are the most skin puckering, thrown into novelty, you are raw and overtly self-conscious, one poor new boy once lost all his hair. Later on, you work out methods of isolation, of camouflage, to try to avoid the most barbaric projectiles. It takes a couple of years to observe how the embarrassment of subservience drips down from year to year, the contamination of cruelty, the domino effect of frustration from fifth year to fourth year to third (if only this was restricted to our school years and we emerged at 16 or 18, content enough not to brutalise others because of our own shortcomings). Some of the bullied boys changed in the first few terms. Some went a little mad. A few changed their character so much that they became someone else to survive. Were they able to return in later years? Did they want to? I remember leaving school for the last time and suddenly being gripped by the worry that, within a year or so, I may have manipulated my memories so that I looked back with nostalgia at these “best years of my life”, fortunately not.
And now? Now I have a career as an odd boy become odd man, so it all worked out in the end I suppose.
I am off on tour as usual, Chorley, Canterbury, Lowestoft, Cockermouth, Newcastle, Glasgow and a town near year. Details HERE
One and only London outing of this show HERE