Eton: Silver spoon or poisoned chalice. By Godfrey Wheat.

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”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.

 

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About Calers

Born Belfast 1971. I read history at Edinburgh. I did a Master's at UCL. I have semi-libertarian right wing opinions. I am married with a daughter and a son. I am allergic to cats. I am the falling hope of the not so stern and somewhat bending Tories. I am a legal beagle rather than and eagle. Big up the Commonwealth of Nations.

16 responses »

  1. It didn’t stop Cameron becoming Prime Minister, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall becoming a celebrity chef, Johnnie Boden setting up a clothing brand, Matthew Pinsent winning 4 Olympic gold medals, Alex Loudon going out with Pippa Middleton, Tom Hiddleston becoming a successful actor, Dominic West becoming a very successful actor, and Douglas Murray appearing on every other episode of Question Time. All of these are relatively young men. Eton becomes a problem where those of its alumni who just want to lead ordinary, hedonistic lives come up against a rock of opposition from ordinary people who want to employ people they can patronise rather than people who remind them of their own ordinariness. To paraphrase Dan Quayle, if you do not spectacularly succeed you run the risk of spectacular failure. Simon Mann, Darius Guppy and Jonathan Aitken, and Charles Brocket, can all relate to this though a theme of hubris contributing to failure springs to mind and the fact that they all succeeded before they failed (so what about the ones that never succeeded before they failed and weren’t hubristic?). This fear of failure haunting men in their twenties and beyond has been well described by Cyril Connolly and Anthony Powell and is nothing new for Etonians. Failure is your friend – it tells you where you went wrong. Nothing stunts promise like mediocrity and maybe any number of mediocre opportunities one would have clutched at to fund a carefree life would, had they not been cruelly refused by the ordinary, held one in a rut from which it would have been much harder to emerge into success than the sort of convoluted progress or decline that culminates in appearances on Romanian television. If the ingredients have been interesting (although the journey bumpy) then there is ample scope for optimism. Cheer up, man.

      • But the others don’t “let it hold them back”. It is the world that holds them back. Ir sees an Etonian failing like piranhas smelling blood. If one was found with one’s pants down in Hyde Park you could be sure the press would mention that it was an Etonian. Britain is a very envious place. Also failure is endemic in a country in economic decline and most endemic in the middle classes given that every circumstance conspires against them (a stagnant stock market, rising tuition fees, heavy taxation and regulation for the rich but not the super rich, almost no interest on saving accounts, the cost of care for the elderly, the decimation of middle management in the private sector, the rising cost of energy bills). The alumni of other public schools might be undergoing similar crises.

      • Read ‘roll the dice’ by Darius Guppy. His name was all over the front pages due to his frriendhsip with Earl Spencer and his notorious school. His accompplice was far less frequently mentioned due to his not having been to a school like that. I remember Hudson the film director making that point about Etonain caught with his pants down in Hyde Park.
        The middle class have been squeezed for a long time. Now anyone in an office is called middle class. The middle class pay through the nose for shit degrees and then do unpaid internships. Taxes are higher on them, salaries are lower, mortgages are harder to get. The tattooed classes are paid to be idle. Until recently the tattoed classes could steal with gay abandon and did. After the riots they got sent to prison for stealing bottles of water worth 2.50.
        Now one has to be something more than middle class to go to public school. I am not sure it is so easy for daddy to get one a job in these meritocratic times. Now one is faced with competition from Raju from Mumbai who is a Maths whizz and workaholic.

      • Read ‘roll the dice’ by Darius Guppy. His name was all over the front pages due to his frriendhsip with Earl Spencer and his notorious school. His accompplice was far less frequently mentioned due to his not having been to a school like that. I remember Hudson the film director making that point about Etonain caught with his pants down in Hyde Park.
        The middle class have been squeezed for a long time. Now anyone in an office is called middle class. The middle class pay through the nose for shit degrees and then do unpaid internships. Taxes are higher on them, salaries are lower, mortgages are harder to get. The tattooed classes are paid to be idle. Until recently the tattoed classes could steal with gay abandon and did. After the riots they got sent to prison for stealing bottles of water worth 2.50.
        Now one has to be something more than middle class to go to public school. I am not sure it is so easy for daddy to get one a job in these meritocratic times. Now one is faced with competition from Raju from Mumbai who is a Maths whizz and workaholic.

  2. I knew the Reading man you mentioned. Are you sure that was why he did it (althought it had occurred to me too as a possible cause), and might there not have been other psychological reasons made worse by living too fast?

    • I am not sure if this boy terminated his own life for that reasons. There may have been other reasons at play. I shall not identify him but he has an brother who is two years older than him named Harry.

      • Certainly the social life at Reading University in its rough-and-ready ordinariness might have scandalised someone used to the elan of puffa jacketed lad culture at Eton (where the intellectual level can’t have been much higher); if that was how he felt he should have visited London, which is a short train ride from Reading and cheap on a student’s rail card. Can he really have felt this way? Was he really so narrow-minded and snobbish? I doubt it – there were so many much better candidates for such a mindset. Anyone would have thought he’d been sent to Siberia.

      • I agree that it must have been quite a come down for the poor lad. It was not far from Eton. He could have visited his old chums. I passed through Reading station dozens of times but did not walk into the town until 2007. I am not sure he was narrow-minded or snobbish. There will have been sport for him there. There were probably other factor’s at play in his suicide. You knew him better than I did.
        Yours,
        Godfrey.

      • Think of the fun to be had at Reading: no work and undergraduate girls with lower expectations than the Oxford prudes that at 19 would only date Merchant Bankers before succumbing to some mental problem of their own making.

      • Yes, I am sure that academic studies bear it out. The thicker people are – specially girls – the younger they lose their virginity. Lots of Oxoniennes are anti-sex feminists, blue stockings who prefer books to blowjobs, lesbians or Chrisitan nut cases. All these things go with over intellectualism. They think their way out of common sense. I want a girl who feels and does not think. Let her surrender to her basest impulse. At other universities – or shoul I say unis – freshers’ week is a massive shag fest. If you do not fuck 10 people everyone thinks you are a dullard.
        Remember Nietzsche – if a woman is interested in books there is something wrong with her sexuality.

  3. To get a job at the Telegraph having gone to Eton is no disadvantage. Likewise the Armed Forces. The City and the Law are solely concerned with merit and how much money you can bring in. The sinecures have gone, but that affects everybody. Education is, I agree, in very bad shape.

      • Because when it comes to the business of killing or being killed there is no point putting merit second to ideology. That the British army did well to remain apolitical played a large part in it. Gordon Brown’s underequipping of troops in Afghanistan disastrously threatened to change this. You never want generals becoming politicians or politicians becoming generals. That way lies Banana-Sombrero land.

      • I agree that one must favour merit over ideology or connections. I met a bloke in Buckingham University who had been an office in the British Army. I shall call him Mark. Mark read Engineering at Durham and he said that Sandhurst was still very snobbish. He claimed he did not get promoted because he was not from a posh background. He later became a Maths teacher. I wondered whether there was a fair reason for him not being promoted and his excuse was just sour grapes.
        The US likes its former military leaders to become commander in chief i.e. President. However, the man with less military experience has won the last several elections. McCain v Obama, Kerry v Bush II, Gore v Bush II, Clinton v Dole, Clinton v Bush I/

      • I agree that one must favour merit over ideology or connections. I met a bloke in Buckingham University who had been an office in the British Army. I shall call him Mark. Mark read Engineering at Durham and he said that Sandhurst was still very snobbish. He claimed he did not get promoted because he was not from a posh background. He later became a Maths teacher. I wondered whether there was a fair reason for him not being promoted and his excuse was just sour grapes.
        The US likes its former military leaders to become commander in chief i.e. President. However, the man with less military experience has won the last several elections. McCain v Obama, Kerry v Bush II, Gore v Bush II, Clinton v Dole, Clinton v Bush I/

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