My grandfather held the last Army post of Commandant. Even before I was born, it wasn’t even up for debate where I would be schooled. My dad also had the benefit of spending his school holidays here, so he was able to witness the operations of the school. Understandably so, I too was excited, what with the excellent sports facilities including the athletics track, which my grandfather built. I was a nut for sports and to me, this just seemed like another adventure, but little did I know that my experiences here would shape my character.
We all loved it! What with the impressive walled entrance and the headmaster’s house on your left as soon as you passed through the security gate and the immaculate grass 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, with the high ceiling and plaques of previous champions decorating the walls. In the middle of the hall was the main table with waiters serving 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 had much fun.
Every Saturday evening we had a video to watch in the day room, but we also had to clean and shine our shoes and belts in preparation for the Sunday parade, which would be inspected by the duty member of staff. Some boys would sometimes try and cheat by using a cleaning product called “clear”.
Every Sunday morning would start 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 would parade in our no1 dress, including bulled up shoes and a brass belt you could see your face in and a beret.
The junior houses had a duty matron to show you TLC as and when required, with an assigned tutor and a second-year pupil to make your time more welcoming.
There was a steep road at the back, going down into town, which felt like it was grinning at you as you hiked home. An infamous boy had earned the schoolboys a nickname, by engaging in bestiality with a sheep, whilst wearing wellies so that it had no escape; which would occasionally be voiced at our direction by locals, whilst walking this monster of a hill.
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 they got 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 would alternatively attempt 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 four years, that is exactly what I got! Deryth had tried to warn me: MYOB, mind your own business!
The education was excellent, with amazing facilities and textbooks. There must have been a library, I just don’t remember using it, and we had teachers with character! I will never forget a man who was usually miserable and his favourite words were “you cretin”, which was wasted on me, as I only recently learned 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 you weren’t paying attention. Most teachers were spot on, only raising their voice as and when required.
When I was a junior, I had the amazing good fortune of going on a school ski trip to Fiesch in Switzerland. I will never forget 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. God knows.
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 agro because he smiled and some of the boys on the trip provocatively asked: “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 humbling me 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 didn’t 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 his father just before his death in 1986. There was a lot of pressure for me to conform and I was humbled so that somehow my backbone was removed overnight and it didn’t take long for the vultures to detect it.
In the first term of my second year, after being verbally bullied by a boy, I foolishly used a racial slur in my defense. He then proceeded to give me a kicking! Something had to be done as it happened in the dining hall in full view of the headmaster’s dinner table, and lo and behold the boy in question was suspended. This event turned up the fire in my life! He was the only boy of mixed parentage in the junior houses 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 wasn’t 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 pin point precision at my face whilst I was up a tree. Before I could congratulate him on his excellent shot, I had to unload the pain that I was already carrying and chased him until I caught him by the zebra crossing to the park. This boy already had a reputation of being a nuisance and no one attempted to stop me from using him as a punching bag. God would occasionally shine down on me and enable me to play like Pele. I was so blessed to have a kind and witty eldest step-brother and wife as they were the first of my step family to make me feel welcome and they have no idea how therapeutic those sleepovers were. Then my sister and cheeky builder extraordinaire 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 was 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’m 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. I played full back, but for my junior years, I had to humbly play for 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, in the pool changing room, an older boy from my senior house approached 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 wasn’t!
The bullying hadn’t 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 ironically was also questioned for having a squeaky voice. I may not remember the scriptures used, but I always felt better for having listened to the Gospel.
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, whilst a voice suggested suicide as the answer to my problems.
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, pulling the curtain closed. I can’t remember what led up to this, but he started to play with my penis which made me uncomfortable, and then he suggested that I put my hand in his open fly. Yes, I was confused at what had just happened, but lust was now in control! I held another penis for the first time.
WOW! I ashamedly admit that I enjoyed it. He said to pull it out and yes it was bigger than mine, even though he was smaller in stature. He then suggested I rub it and I did so until he finished in my bin.
“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour”. (1 Peter 5:8)
The thoughts that now started to go through my head were disturbing as I’d now opened a can of worms and there was no going back. A few days later the boy with the agenda showed up! This time he just took it out and stuck in front of my face and suggested I suck it, so I did. Thankfully he released into my bin again otherwise, the worms in my mind would have been even bigger.
This happened one more time before I went to his cubicle and agreed to let him stick it up my bum. I thank God that my arsehole and wallet were intrinsically linked. They were both tightly shut! This boy never bothered me again after that excellent failure! That didn’t stop the disgusting thoughts that would plague me for years to come. The Lord must have helped me to concentrate and complete my GCSE’s exams and I even got a B grade in Maths and Design, where 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 Uptown Girl by Billy Joel, which may have reinforced my depression. What happened to my Thin Lizzy or Def Leopard.
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 didn’t 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 didn’t know what I was going to do, and on advice from a family member, I agreed to do a BTEC in Computer Studies, as in 1991 that was the future.
Being able to share disturbing experiences shows that I have been delivered and free from my past, but more importantly, it reveals that I am dead to self and alive in Christ.
Ready or not, I now had custom-made baggage for adulthood.