There is an image that many have of public schools as being full of high socked, beret wearing, pre- “gap yaaaah” students, that spend all day discussing politics and having early nights after a crazy early evening library session..
I’ll admit, prior to going to my first boarding school after an eventful few years at a local state school, I cried myself to sleep knowing that I would now have to mix with these “pretentious wannabe politicians”.
The reality was somewhat different, which actually resulted in the best few years of my life that I would gladly give anything to go back and repeat those years of “high-class” debauchery. So we ask, is public school bad?
My school record is littered with numerous violations of various schoool “rules”, in-fact I was suspended a few times from a couple of schools, which eventually led me to being expelled or asked to leave which is the typically polite way of dealing with unruly students at private school. I gratefully accepted their offer of removing myself from school as it meant a nice unexpected holiday, without really thinking through the effect this had on my parents, not only financially but emotionally knowing all this work they were putting into mould me into becoming the perfect citizen, was going to waste.
My first school was the ambitiously titled “King Williams College” on the Isle of man, which is still the only private school the island, where I spend 4 years preparing for my GCSE’s before being removed just over a year before I was due to sit them. The final nail in the coffin came when I decided to escape the confines of the school on a weekend I knew my parents were away, and go on a two day bender before being caught drunkly stumbling through the local towns streets by my boarding house master. I did actually ask permission to which he agreed, but had forgotten that I was supposed to be on lock-down so it was technically “not my fault” which was an excuse I regularly used during my time there. Sadly, this was added to my previous assault of throwing clay at a classmate during an art class which really left them little option but to mutually agree that it would be better for me to get as far away from the school as possible. Amazingly, it didn’t go down on my record as a full expulsion as the housemaster did bear some of the responsibility which I felt a little guilty for, as no-doubt he also received a bit of a bollocking as well.
From there, my parents decided there was no-where else to go on the island so I was taken across the sea to the UK and visited several schools, deliberately throwing tantrums if I didn’t like them until I found St Bedes School in an aptly named town “The Dicker”, in East Sussex. St Bedes, although being a great school was a little more relaxed on their entrance policy than many others, it was basically a borstal for posh kids which suited me perfectly.
My first day at St Bedes, was a little mind blowing for a young unruly teenager. I immediately found myself surrounded by other kids who had broken their previous schools penal codes, and I before I had a chance to un-pack my sports kit, I was making full use of the sports facilities for slightly different purposes as they were the perfect place to have a fag.
Smoking at school was much more than simply a quick nicotine fix, it was the best social environment for us to compare detentions, on top of this it also provided daily entertainment where we would indulge in our own game of cat and mouse, running thought the adjacent woods provoking the teachers into chasing us and trying to catch us whilst we were out of bounds. During the evenings this would be especially fun as using the cover of darkness and using our anonymity our provocation would somehow escalated into shouting “(insert teachers name) is a cunt, come get us baldy”..
The weekends at school would be the best part, and despite some of my mates having perfectly good families to visit, many preferred to stay at school to take part our weekend piss-ups that we organised which probably led onto me getting into the club industry. It was surprisingly simply to buy booze back then, there was never any of this “challenge 21”and whenever we did come up against any resistant we were able to produce our home-made fake ID’s which we had printed from the schools IT lab. The local town Hailsham was about 2 miles away so we would each buy 2 small bottles of vodka, some gaffer tape and 10 packs of extra strong chewing gum, and tape the bottles to the insides of our thighs underneath some baggy jeans for the long walk home. Despite the strange walk, we never got caught and our weekly “wood parties” became legendary. Occasionally, one of us would bring in some weed and we would spent the days on the 6th tee box of the on-site golf course, listening to a Bob Marley CD and having weed infused laughing fits. Jamie who as my best mate at the time, eventually got caught from a routine check of our room after the bed was pulled out and revealed 2 crates worth of cider and several bottles of finished Glen’s vodka which was our drink of choice. After this discovery the whole house was on lockdown, and I was also caught with a few bottles resulting in a short suspension.
MY GCSE’s were soon coming up and I have to admit I really wasn’t taking them very seriously, this was evident when I decided to go into my mock exams under the influence of a rather large nerve calming shot. Amazingly, I managed to pass my all 7 of the GCSE’s I took with flying colours, much to the amazement of my stressed and now greying parents. My last day at school was the worst experience, as I was still technically banned from the school, so before I had a chance to say goodbye to my mates who I had spend every minute with for the past year or have the obligatory cigarette in full view of the teachers, I was taken away immediately in a taxi which I am still gutted about even to this day.
Boarding school was really and truly a great place, and one day if I can ever afford to send my kids there, I would not think twice about putting them through it. For me it was never about the education, despite how good it was if you actually were paying attention, it was much more about learning to live independently and preparing you for the life skills you need when entering the big bad world. I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t want to be a 15-16 year old kid and spend every minute of the day and night with your mates having the best time ever. The memories of my time at school I still cherish today and I would give anything to repeat it.
So, if you have a perception of public school kids as being different and slightly more prudish, just remember we get up to just as much trouble as you, if not more, we just do it with a funny voice and have to wear a suit…