I am of an age – 70 next March – when inevitably one tends to look more back than forward.
I’m the early 1980s I worked for a South African company with an irritable, growling office manager nicknamed The General.
He once quoted to me an Afrikaans’ saying after a particularly arduous time “Tomorrow is also a day“, which 50 years on always cheers me.
This said, at this age, you tend to be more contemplative of the past and one area is my education. I was at three main establishments – if I ignore my kindergarten.
The first was a huge house in Hampstead adapted to a prep school called Lyndhurst House as the massive pile was in Lyndhurst Gardens which had an almost entirely Jewish intake drawn from North West London; the second was St. Paul’s, which – based on Oxbridge admission – prided itself on its London academic pre-eminence though, ironically, for Jewish boys the Common Entrance requirement was 70% (it was 60% for Gentiles); and finally Magdalene College Cambridge.
Of these three institutions I was happiest at my prep school.
The headmaster used to beat us boys with the cane, the deputy head slipped his hand down our shorts and there was a collection of washed-up eccentric teachers who would not be out of place in Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall but you felt part of it.
If the average parent at Lyndhurst House was a rich and successful businessman, then his equivalent at St. Paul’s was a left wing, divorced TV producer who lived in Barnes or East Sheen.
The writing staff of the school magazine Folio resigned en bloc after an article was censored that the poorer schools in the vicinity should share our better facilities.
Nowadays it is not uncommon for clever and sporting state pupils to be fast-tracked to public schools. Public schools have somehow survived with their charitable status intact and parents are still content to pay huge fees, though in the case of St. Paul’s there are regular appeals for donations.
Magdalene was an eye opener. Although my closest friend came from Kendal Grammar – and another in my history set from the Bolton School – the joke was ‘Magdalene to go mixed. Grammar schoolboys to be admitted.’
I arrived there two years after the Garden House Affaire, when Judge Melford Stevenson severely sentenced the students involved in a violent demo against the Greek Government at the hotel.
I wonder if there was an admission policy to debar the more militant entrant as the University was less restive, though heavy drinking Magdalene hearties indulged in high jinks after an alcoholic session at their drinking clubs.
The oddity about my expensive education is that I cannot number more than three inspiring teachers.
Such career guidance as there was recommended the professions and certainly not commerce.
Peter Bazalgette, the subsequent media tycoon who was “up” at the same time at Cambridge was exceptional, as was another Magdalene alumnus who opened a successful art gallery.
The lasting legacy of Magdalene were the friendships I made, though like at St. Paul’s, my background could not have been more different.