The prep school I went to in the 1970s had changed little since the 1940s. Lumpy mattresses, barely edible food, harsh discipline. It’s why we spent our every day there dreaming of escape; and why we nicknamed it Colditz. Not that I’m complaining. Though no mother now would dream of sending her eight-year old boy to such an establishment, I feel quite privileged to have been there. It was horrible but it was endurable and it was very, very memorable. Experience with a capital ‘E’.
One thing you notice under such conditions is how incredibly appreciative you become of every creature comfort. On the rare occasions when they accidentally gave us butter instead of marge, it tasted better than ambrosia; as for the time when they couldn’t find any tracing paper for us to use as bog roll and had to substitute some soft tissue instead — well, it felt gentler than ermine and thistledown.
Heavenliest of all were school trips: the one occasion during term-time apart from exeats when we were permitted to enjoy the pleasures of the outside world. Obviously, you were still in your horrid uniform —scratchy flannel shorts, grey blazer with wasp-patterned trimming — and under military discipline. But it still felt pretty cushy.
I can’t remember exactly where the incident happened but it will definitely have been at one of the following places: Tintern Abbey; Goodrich Castle; Berkeley Castle; Slimbridge wildlife centre; Symond’s Yat; British Camp. That’s because the people in charge of our school trips were unimaginative but practical, always taking us, year in year out, to places within spitting distance of Malvern, which is where my prep school was, at the foot of what I used to call the Black Hills of Death. That’s how they looked to me, as they loomed ever closer, as Daddy drove my brother and me back to school after exeat.
Read the rest at the Spectator.