Monday 21 July 2014

closed doors...

There was another article in the Guardian the other day about boarding schools.  "The damage boarding schools do".  It's a follow-up piece to something published a few months ago, where journalist Alex Renton wrote about the abuse he suffered at boarding school. As the introduction to this new article says, "Among the hundreds of emails he received from men wanting to share their experiences, there were others from women – wives, mothers, sisters - who have watched in horror as the men they love struggle with their demons. Here, he tells some of their stories"

I think I've written about this before somewhere, but I was sent to boarding school when I was seven years old, and I never really lived at home properly again afterwards.  I was never sexually abused at school or anything like that, and I wasn't even terribly homesick; I just adapted and survived.  It's what most people do.  I read some of the stories in that article, and it's eye-opening to see quite how massive a part school had in the lives of some of these people, and the real and lasting damage they think it caused them and the people around them.

I don't think I harbour any resentment towards my parents for sending me away when I was so young.  My dad was a GP, and we weren't wealthy by any stretch of the imagination.  My parents scrimped and saved to be able to send me to fee-paying school.  We spent our holidays with my grandparents in Plymouth and the only time we ever went abroad was when we went camping in Brittany when I was about fifteen.  If I feel anything, I feel humbled by their sacrifice; they clearly wanted the best for me and for my brothers and felt that this was the best.  Can you imagine how hard it must have been, especially for my mother, to send their seven year old son away?  How could I resent that?  My mum once asked me if I would ever send any children of my own to boarding school, and she got quite upset when I said no.  That no is an implicit criticism of her decisions, I suppose, but I've honestly never harboured them any ill-feeling for their choices.

That said, I never would send any children of mine to a school like this. They've changed out of all recognition, I'm sure. They have girls and everything now.... but I still wouldn't do it.  I boarded between the ages of 7 and 18 and, by the time I went off to university, my personality had been formed and shaped by the experience.  It wasn't until I got to university that I began to notice the differences.  I went to Warwick University, and the majority of people there had not been to fee-paying schools.  I was massively self-confident in some ways - for many people this was their first real time away from home and they revelled in the freedom; for me, this was old hat - but in other ways I was almost terrifyingly ill-formed.  Girls.  I had absolutely no idea.

Whilst I don't feel that my school experience has formed a huge, ever-present shadow over my life like some of the guys in that article, it definitely left its mark.  I find it hard to express or respond to emotions; I think I'm quite a closed person and I definitely bottle things up and clam up, putting my head into the sand and waiting for the storm to break around me.  It must be infuriating... but I'm trying.

Of course, all the best insight on an article in the Guardian can be found in the comments.  My favourite here is this one:

"Emotional damage caused by these schools is a feature, not a bug. It's meant to produce cold, heartless, emotionally stunted and cruel Tories like the ones running the country right now. It works quite well."

How dare you: I will never be a Tory.  I may be cold, heartless, emotionally stunted and possibly even cruel, but NEVER Tory.

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