Monday 1 September 2008

what chance have you got against a tie and a crest...?

I received the latest update from my old school in the post on Saturday morning. My usual instinct is to throw this rubbish straight in the bin with a flourish, but I'm usually completely unable to stop myself opening it up and marvelling at the contents and this time was no exception. On the face of it, there's nothing much to get excited about here. After all, it's just your bog-standard, common-or-garden run down of what's been happening at the old alma mater: who's retired, who's getting married, who's dead, how the cricket team has been doing this season... that kind of thing. I find that the whole thing generally makes me want to laugh / cry / rant / throw up, often all at the same time. Given it has this effect on me, I really should just trust my better instincts and throw it away, but I just can't seem to help myself.

I may not have any great nostalgia for my time there, but I got on fine at school: I survived, I got good enough exam results to go on to university and and I met some of the people who remain my very closest friends. As time goes on though, that's increasingly not enough, and my general distaste for the place is slowly morphing into anger. I look at this colourful update trumpeting how wonderful the school is and how valuable the network of former pupils is, I look at the pictures of ruddy-cheeked public schoolboys and guffawing middle-aged men in old school ties and ridiculous blazers and I despise it and I despise them. I've never been back, and for all I know the school may have changed out of sight since I left in 1992, but I look at those pictures and they seem to represent everything I have tried so hard to leave behind me. The school may have changed, but the people in the pictures look the same, with their unmistakeable air of patrician arrogance and their sense of entitlement. Going to a school like this is no kind of preparation for the real world, but it does seem to be the perfect preparation for a life spent in the city, or in the army or in any of those other places that still seem to be awash with public schoolboys. Like attracts to like, and the old boys in the newsletter, whether they be the chairman of their own public limited company or the British ambassador in Kuwait, revel in their connection to the school and seem only too happy to wear their old school ties and to turn up to every event at the school that they can.

This may well be playing up to every stereotype of a public school that you've ever heard, and I think this is partly what angers me: that's not really what my experience there was like. Yes, of course there were plenty of awful people, and yes, there was a strong streak of arrogance in a lot of the pupils there, but there were at least an equal number of relatively normal people who were very much like you or like me. Definitely like me, anyway. I was one. I left precious little mark on the school in my five years there, and I have been happy to keep it as my dirty little secret, something that I never, ever go out of my way to advertise to people. I have an old school tie somewhere, but I seriously doubt that I will ever wear it. It's not that I'm ashamed of my schooling, exactly, it's just that I dislike being associated either with people's stereotypes of a public schoolboy or with the people who actually do conform to that stereotype. God, for all that my best friends went to the same school, there are still large swathes of my fellow pupils who happily live up (down?) to that image and who I would be happier to never, ever see again.

That newsletter from my school is more than happy to perpetuate that stereotype to the world, and is more than happy to encourage others to revel in it too. Hell, to a large extent it's probably that image of public school that attracts people in as much as the quality of the education you might receive; to some people, it's a lifestyle to actually aspire to. Some people are born to it, others wish to have their kids become a part of it. I have nothing particularly against people who choose to give up some of their time and their energy to their old school, but I simply cannot understand how these people have allowed the school to become something that it has never been for me: the best years of your life. I simply do not understand the compulsion to put on the old school tie and to actively seek out the company of others in the same tie so that you can swap stories about the halcyon days of your youth. I do not understand how anyone can let their time at this school define them

...except of course, in my own way, I have allowed it to define me too.


  1. I've only just finished Ch. 1 of my statistics text, and already I find a use for it...

    The trouble, it seems to me, is that only a certain type of person continues to put on the tie and show up for everything; they are not representative of the whole of the student body, past or present. Naturally, as these are the only people showing up, they are the only ones publicized, and therefore give face to the schools, feeding the stereotype.

    Er, right. Think I'll put my nose back into the textbook now.

  2. ST, I have exactly the opposite reaction to my alma mater - the longer I'm away, the more I realize how lucky I was to have been there. Of course, our two schools were very different (if only in the matter of gender specific schooling!).

  3. Here is one from the grass is always greener book. My father was transferred quite a few times during my childhood. As a matter of fact, I went to three different High Schools. Due to that fact, I made a point of never wanting to move my children, and have actively encouraged school sports, activities, and spirit in general. I wish I had more school roots sometime. Just an observation

  4. Guess you won't be donating to the new 'Fives' courts then?

    Come on, at least that was fun, no?


  5. My feelings exactly.

    After a couple of weeks at uni I happened to mention my schooling to the guy in the room next to mine.His attitude towards me changed instantly and whilst we remained kind of friends, he would regularly trot out the usual public school stereotype,despite the fact that I clearly didn't fit the bill.

    Since then I have always tried to keep my schooling a secret.

    So it must be down to some kind of morbid fascination then, that I too can't resist having a quick flick through the latest newsletter : )