Today it rained and rained. The warmest April since 1929 has come to a very wet end. It seems trivial to talk about the weather during these days but we have been truly blessed with sun and blue skies in England. You will discover soon enough that it is rare in this country to have continual fine weather and when you get older and reflect on your childhood, it is the bright summer days that you will remember.
When I was thirteen years old, I passed my common entrance examination to gain a place at Harrow. It was important for my father, your grandfather, as it was the school he went to and wanted his sons to continue the tradition.
For many boys, it was and is their happiest days. For me, it was a place I found trouble. It was not the school’s finest period in its history. One of the school houses ( the boys were split into 12 school buildings to sleep) was burnt down the term before I arrived, the school’s collection of Turner paintings were stolen by a group of boys in my house and a boy again in my house was arrested for shooting his air rifle at passers-by on the main high street. The Headmaster persevered i.e. kept his job. He and the Governors continued in silent pain and pretended the that the school hadn’t broken into smithereens
One particular summer is still remembered as one of our finest. The heat encouraged good boys to behave and bad ones to have fun.
How I looked forward to those warm Saturday nights when my four accomplices and I would escape from the school grounds by taking the subway into London and party until the early hours; it worked week after week like clockwork; confidently striding off Harrow Hill without a care in the world even though if caught, we would be immediately expelled. So much confidence in those days! Where the hell did it all go?
The route back to school duplicated the way out. A friend leaving a window open at the top of the fire escape followed by a few steps to my room. Easy! Except on this particular Saturday, my so-called friend forgot to leave the fire escape window open and I had only one choice; to climb through the housemaster’s study. During those summer nights, he always left his window ajar. It was a high small window, almost an apology as if no one working there would ever want to look out.
The housemaster’s study reminded me of a dentist’s waiting room. It smelt stale and was full of relics and nasty knick-knacks he had bought on his yearly vacation to Bognor. I climbed in without much trouble. The heavy felt curtains were drawn and as I was beginning to walk across the beige carpet I heard footsteps heading in my direction. Surely not? It can’t be? But yes the housemaster had decided to work late; I would recognize those steps anywhere.
I dashed and hid behind the curtains. A crack in the curtains allowed me to watch in disbelief as the housemaster sat at his desk inches from me and began to mark a pile of examination papers. His carriage clock read 3 o’clock. Next time I looked it said 4 o’clock. I had spent an hour standing silently upright. It was the longest hour of my life. I was on the verge of giving up. I planned to reveal myself by telling him a good joke. To borrow an old quote, ‘ how often at moments full of potential drama only a joke comes to mind.’ But then without warning, he put his pen down, straightened his papers and switched off his table light. The joy and relief remain today. He walked slowly to his door and when he opened it, he turned directly to where I was standing and said, ‘ I don’t know about you laddie but I am going to bed!’ He then shut the door and walked out.
I never found out if he knew it was me. I never found out if it was my breathing or the stink of cigarettes that gave me away. I never found out because the incident was never mentioned to me or to any other boy in the house.
My luck at school didn’t hold though. I was asked to leave less than a year later.
I hope you will follow your mother’s ( head girl!) example and not your father’s in your academic life. It will make life a little easier.
Te Quiero mucho,