”Eton is a four letter word”, so said its Head Master once said. So what are the consequences of having been there? Time was the empire was your oyster. Ah yes – the top school, for the top people of the top nation. Effortless superiority was its watchword. The chair-borne classes lorded it over the rest. One lived in a sense isolation from the swinish multitude. There is a grain of truth in these presumptions. When I was a boy in there was an unspoken subtext to so many conversations in which 93% of people who attended state school somehow did not count. When one spoke of people it was public school people of whom one spoke. Many boys, with stratospheric conceit, openly said that all those who had not been to public school were thick.
It is the best club in the world so it is said. There even existed an Old Etonian lodge of Freemasons – the very Freemasons of the Freemasons.
But alas no more. Surely the costs now outweigh the benefits – and I am not talking about the 30 Big Ones per annum one’s parents have had to part with to keep one strutting in a tail-suit. I am talking about afterwards. In the Big, Bad CHav World where prowess on the rugger field counts for precious little.
So what are the disadvantages? First off one feels permanently under-dressed. Then one is saddled with the bray – when one is really riled one tells people to ”FORK ORF.”
Etonians are told that the world owes them a living. But they are in for a very rude awakening.
Eton has been used as a cane with which to tan David Cameron. Whenever he invokes the cause of social justice he is sneered at well what would he know? Does he care? This bigoted line has been used by Gordon Brown. One does not have to like Cameron to see that this type of attack is grossly unfair. Cameron is a sanctimonious and disingenuous in equal measure but not because he went to Eton. No, let’s not let him off too lightly – his failings ARE personal.
Nothing provokes a reaction quite like having been to Eton. People are wont to hide it. I have used the school’s bizarrely lengthy official name – the King’s College of Our Lady of Eton beside Windsor – to disguise the identity of my old school.
I can, in good conscience, say tha I went to ‘the College of Our Lady’ or a school name, ‘King’s College’. After all, in the proper name ‘college’ does come before ‘Eton.’ So I can persuade myself that my versions of the name are more accurate than the commoner version – Eton College.
Etonians are told of their renowned old boys of the school: from Maharajahs to Prime Ministers, to authors, to actors to criminals. So does that mean, if one is nor a world beater, therefore one is a total loser? It is like Winston Churchill’s son Randolph remarked, ”nothinf grows in the shadow of a great oak tree.” The expectations to live up to are positively oppressive.
There are so many presumptions people have. You are an old boy of Eton you must have a double-barreled Purdey, quintuple barreled name, blue blood, broad acres, more bullion than the Bank of England and a burning contempt for all those outside what Gladstone dubbed, ‘the upper ten thousand.’ This golden circle who have been doing a golden shower on the rest for centuries are there to stay.
Leaving those storied precincts one is in for a massive come down. If the rest of the world attended that one attended Eton, it is very seldom in a reverential sense. More often it is in an outright hostile sense. One Etonian in the year below me was a talented sportsman. Popular and daring, he was not scholastically gifted. Even so, he achieved three respectable A levels putting him ahead of most of the population. But he could not adjust to Reading University, to the sudden loss of status. At the age of nineteen he took his own life. I don’t wish to insinuate that the wrench is a fraction so violent for most Etonians but it does illustrate how distorted one’s sense of the sources of self-worth can become.