While in the basement mooching around for a bottle of Valpolicella or somesuch, I not so long ago tripped over a forgotten cache of stored books – some Raymond Chandler, Ray Bradbury's 'The Illustrated Man', Wilfred Owen, Orwell, Mervyn Peake, Flann O'Brien, 'The Buddha of Surburbia' etc – when to my amusement and at the very bottom of the box a faded jacket unveiled the legend 'This Book Belongs To Christ's Hospital' stamped onto the inside front cover of ... 'The Outsider' by Albert Camus. Which sparked a few rippling wry reflections.
The 'Bust Up' episode turned out to be a tuning fork for the rest of my experience at CH, shame my mood was bound to darken as a result: a series of minor standoffs fuelled by subversive energy, daring and maybe wrongheaded, always guaranteed to get you into trouble in that culture. From book prize to bamboo tattoo ( a little calm explanation of things wouldn't have gone amiss ) sparked a sort of defensive hauteur on my part but not of outright enmity to authority figures - though I did start to be animated by an indignant spirit, full of expectation but not a little scepticism - at least not until DHN's gardener broke my arm in a judo class but that's another story...
How ironic a take did we have on the teachers of the day? Along with Gruesome we had Rat, Killer, Phallic, Boot, Rubber Johny, Dolly, Pinkie, Corvers - could have been a bunch of ex-cons from the front pages of the Daily Mail
. The language of minoritydom if you like which is a bit surreal as we were by far and away the majority but a good way of trying to rhyme the contemporary world with the archaisms at CH. Nothing remarkably surly about that, the sort of standard recalcitrant antiheroics that go on in any youth reality but particularly at boarding schools back then. To be fair, the vagaries of the gene pool determine that most of us grow up with one parent who's more/less undemonstrative/modern than the other: my Dad would have been happier spending his entire life in the belly of a Sunderland flying-boat while my Mum, like me, would have liked to have first seen the light of day 20 years into the future. So many of us I think, in our dangerous, occasionally delusional youth, are oversensitive to what we 'heroically' perceive as the tyranny of the prim and proper.
I realise that this is a bit like going to the Copacabana and shouting 'Pele's a poofter' - but 'Englishness' covers a host of evils whether it's cap-doffing 'Yes, Minister' or xenophobic 'Little Britain'. I don't mean to overplay this - there's nothing wrong with legacy and heritage which the Old Blue has now dubbed the Living Past - but you have to respect the fact that the cultural pendulum never stops swinging and you need to be vigilant with levels of creeping institutional hubris: memory can carry within its bosom the mordant whiff of death by nostalgia if not the potential for gargantuan fraud. Nothing philistine about that perspective which I consider less offensive, for example, than the notion that public school HM's have a mandarin-style Mandate from Heaven, conferring on Newsome the aura of Archangel to the Proles, dispensing the traditional priveleges and sanctions with righteous gusto. Arguably though, at least he had an alibi of sorts in senior executive responsibility so can be partly forgiven for his tragi-historical self.
How about a spot of the Living Present – or, better still, the Living Future – as long as we can avoid killing our parent(s) and completely obliterating our past to pave the way for somebody else's Brave New World, improbably governed by Techno-geeks and Finance-nerds.
Unconcerned, but not indifferent.
By the way, R.I.P. Bomber and Richard Palmer, both inspiring creative mentors from the analogue age.