Monthly Archives: May 2015

Indian itinerary

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first journey

cross the border into Bihar

Calcutta

Varanasi

Delhi

Ajmer

Ahmedabad

Mumbai

Aurangabad

Udaipur

Delhi

Manali

Vashist

Dharmasala

Delhi

Agra

Delhi

Amritsar

Delhi

Jaipur

Delhi

Allahabad

Delhi

Jodhpur

Delhi

Goa.

Delhi

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second trip

amritsar

delhi

cochi

chennai

bhubaneshawar

delhi

amritsar

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third trip

trichy

chennai

bhopal

delhi

cochi

Amritsar : adolescent odyssey

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Susumu set off by railway from Delhi to Amritsar. It took several hours despite the train going at quite a pace. I stood in the vestibule with the door half open. A very welcome breeze came in. I enjoyed the view – greenery as far as the horizon.

I wrote my diary on the train. I wish I could find that!

I saw a Sikh soldier comb his hair. He took his turban off and let his hair down – it went down to his waste. This is the only time I have ever seen this.

I chatted to some passengers and deliberately called the Punjab – ”Punjabistan.”

Towards evening we arrived at Amritsar’s main station. We took a cycle rickshaw to the Golden Temple. We had read that tourists could lodge there for free. It would certainly save money but we were not that hard up. Moreover, India was a very affordable place for us. We got to the Golden Temple and there was a dispute over the fare. Had it been so many rupees in total or so many each. It was not a heated argument. A Hong Kong Indian was passing by an he interpreted for us. I thought this dispute was not worth it. Let’s just pay what the many asks. A policeman came along and this plump PC Plod said that the fare was what the rickshaw driver said. The Hong Konger said we should stand our ground. If we were right then we must insist on paying what was originally agreed. In fact even Susumu caved in.

We walked along into the pedestrian precinct leading up to the Golden Temple. There was a little office there. Virtually every man there was visibly a Sikh – as in beard and turban. They instantly agreed to let us stay. We were led through and archway and they pointed us to a door. We opened door and there was a little courtyard – maybe 10 m long and 5 m wide. There were several foreign tourists lolling there. Rucksacks lay propped up against the wall. Sleeping mats were on the floor. There were three small doorless room leading onto the courtyard. This was to be our home for the next three days. It was perhaps the roughest accommodation I stayed in but it was one of the most enjoyable places I stayed at.

That evening we had  a look around the famed Golden Temple. Hari Mandir is the holiest site in Sikhism. We walked alonG the  white stone path. It was almost luminous and too smooth. I almost slipped on it. Unlike Her Britannic Majesty I did not wear my socks. There were quite a few people milling around considering it was dark. We passed through a gateway and saw the tank. Indians use tank in the old fashioned sense as in to mean a pond or water container. (Of course tank can mean a military vehicle too in India. Bear in mind that tank  – as in the weapon – was only invented in 1916. They used the word tank for this secret weapon to hide what it really was. The British Army told people it was just a  vehicle for transporting water).

There was a huge pond and in the middle of it was the golden temple itself. Yes, much of the holy of holies really is gold. There was a walkway all around the shores of the tank. On the far side of the tank there was a bridge to the temple. There were buildings surrounding the pond. Sikh psalms echoed out over sound systems and rebounded off the white buildings all around the tank. In these buildings there were offices, prayers rooms, libraries and so on.

There was an American girl staying there. She has milk white skin and was very buxom. Nice! She was a New York Jewess and destitute of any indoor voice. Her father was an attorney and a doctor. Her family cannot have been short of greenbacks. What was a JAP doing in this place? (JAP – Jewish-American Princess). She must have been after a novel experience. I shall call her Golda.

I also met Nathalie. Nathalie was a Mancunian a few years older than me. She was of average height and slender, surmounted by mousy brown hair. She was more than typically nubile for one of her age. She had dropped out of university and was bumming around India. Nathalie was traveling around India with Sarah – if I have her name right. Sarah was a 19 year old English girl. Sarah was a lanky strawberry blonde. She was tolerable looking but must have been exceedingly clever. She was due to read Medicine at Oxford. One would never get it from her unassuming manner. I met her at Oxford once and then so far as I was concerned she sank without trace. By the way Sarah, can you check my cholesterol?

The Hong Kong Indian chap was also staying in our little courtyard. It was for foreigners only. Ain’t that a bit racialist? Well it was by citizenship and not ethnicity. I am not sure of the nationality of this bloke. Keeping us apart from the Indians was probably so we did not scandalise them with our immorality.

There was a couple from Slovenia. I shall named them Josip and Senka. They were about 25 – so quite old in my book, at that time. Both were slim and one had a goatee. I will let you guess which. They were chirpy and spoke superb English. We discussed the bombing of Yugoslavia that had gone on not long before. Yes, somewhere called Yugoslavia existed at that time. These two were in a quandry about it. Josip spoke of the Kosovars, ”their human rights were being broken.” ”No,”, Senka corrected him, ”their human rights were being abused.” Their ENglish was that good that they squabbled over minutiae such as that. Josip went on ”the issue is not so simple as it was presented.” They were the first Slovenians I had ever met and they left a favourable impression.

There was a lavatory in this place but I could not bring myself to squat down for number 2. I would take a cycle rickshaw to the Italian restuarant near the station – a journey of 20 minutes – just to take a dump. I would have some bread to justify my presence in the ristorante.

I dared to shave without a mirror in the Golden Temple complex. Would a sardar whip my razor away in a frenzy of religious righteousness? One must not scrape the hair from one’s visage! The Sikhs did not seek to impose this on others. It was only for the Khalsa – those Sikhs who were observant.

I went to look at Jallianwala Bagh. This is the site of surely the most horrific and shameful epsiode in the history of the British Raj. In April 1919 Brigadier General Dyer ordered his troops (Gurkhas) to open fire on demonstrators at this public garden. The official death toll was 379. That is almost certainly a considerable under estimate. There was a commission of inquiry. Dyer confirmed that none of the crowd had firearms and nor had they attacked his men. He was asked if he could have use an armoured car with a machine gun on the crowd – would he have done so? He said, ”Yes, I probably would.”  He had refused to order a warning shot in the air despite one of his subordinates suggesting it. His soldiers deliberately blocked the only exit to this park.  You cannot deny that Dyer was honest. However that is the ONLY good thing you can say about him. The wall at the rear of the park was too high for most people to make it over to escape. Some of the people were killed in a stampede to get away. Some people have tried to defend Dyer by saying that 5 British civilians had been killed the day before. Moreover, protests had been temporarily banned. This is no excuse. Dyer knew exactly what he was doing when he commanded his men to open fire on civilians. He knew most of the crowd were women and children.

This was surely an act of mass murder. It is a disgrace that Dyer was not prosecuted for it. He was forced to retire but that was far too mild. SOme Britishers even delivered an encomium to him.

I read how after the massacre he was blessed by Sikh priests at the Hari Mandir. This seemed so outrageous as to be unworthy of belief. I have seen a newspaper article from 1919 which has convinced me it was true.

Ireland does not like to remember that Dyer was Irish. The governor of the Punjab, Sir Michael O’Dwyer was also Irish. Edward Harry Reginald Dyer retired to England and died in 1927. O’Dwyer had strongly spoken up for Dyer and said that killing hundreds of Indian civilians was the right thing to do. O’Dwyer retired to London. In 1942 Udham Singh went to London and tracked him down. At a meeting of the Asiatic Society in Caxton Hall Singh approached O’Dwyer and shot him dead. Singh made no attempt to escape. He was hanged for killing O’Dwyer. Singh has since been reinterred in India with much pomp.

Jallianwala Bagh is mainly an open space. It is not large now – I suspect nearby buildings have taken over some of the original ground. There are a few trees but the soil is mostly barren. I suspect that is because so many people walk there. It is hard by the Golden Temple. There was a small exhibition about Indian revolutionaries and the massacre. A display on Mohamad Ram Singh caught my eye. He took a name for each of the three faiths of the Punjab. He wished to stress their unity.

I felt no hostility to me there as a Westerner. It would not be right to ill treat me for my race but I expected that some people would feel animus towards me owing to the massacre.

I dined in one of the communal kitchens near the Golden Temple. The Sikhs feed people for free. It is all vegetarian fare. One has to cover one’s head.  In restaurants around there no meat was served. It is holy ground. It was daft. How come you can eat meat a mile away?

I saw a billboard in Amritsar which had an excellent slogan – service of man is the true service of God.

We walked around the Golden Temple. We queued to go to the holy of holies. People immersed themselves in the tank but did not swim in it. I saw huge gold fish there. People bent down to touch the floor as the entered the temple. Was this worship? I was in a quandry. DO I do that? Is that courtesy or apostasy? In the end I decided it was the former and I followed suit.

The interior of the Golden Temple is not wonderful. It is certainly not dull or horrid. It is small and there are a few images of Guru Nanak an others of the ten gurus who led the religion for its first 100 years or so. They often fought the Muslims and some of them were martyred in the most horrific fashion by the Mughal emperors. Some bearded Sikhs in white shalwar kameezes sang their hymns. A Granthi chanted orisons from the Guru Granth Sahib – their holy text. Another man fanned him with a feather fan. A podgy chap played the squeeze box. I never found their religious music to be stirring or to inspire meditation. Perhaps I am just unaccustomed to it.

Outside on the white walls there were many memorial texts. These memorialised Sikhs who had since passed away. Some would be to army units. ”This plaque is to commemorate our brave jawans of the Sikh Regiment who most nobly laid down their lives for their beloved Mother Indian in the Second Indo -Pak War” and so forth.

I led Nathalie and Sarah there after I had been there myself. Sarah slipped on the smooth white stone near the gate to the whole complex. She was not badly hurt.

On the bridge to the holy of holies a young man touched Nathalie;s back. I paused. Do I say something to him? Before I could interject she smiled at him contemptuously, ”funny yeah.” He was amused. Nothing else happened. It was not exactly sexual harassment but then men and women do not touch each other in India unless they are family or married. This made Nathalie feel uncomfortable – it invaded her space. It was not a privy region of her body. She and Sarah later told me they were much more worried about rape in the UK than India.

A lot of people slept on the floor around the tank. Many youths gathered there. I heard the army was recruiting more men. There had been intermittent fighting against Pak that year. No one spoke of full blown war.

That evening I went to the Hari Mandir again with the JAP and a few other tourists. I knew more about the place and Sikhism than any of the others. A group of Sikh boys gathered. They were fascinated by us and turned on by the girls. Golda was excited but perhaps felt menaced. ”Stop it already!” It was an unseemly outburst so far as Indians are concerned. Young women in India tend to be very demure. Golda had no reserve even by American standards. An older Sikh gentlemen politely told us that our presence was problematic and we were attracting too much attention. Would we mind leaving and coming back another time? He was very diplomatic and reasonable. We acceded to his request.

I had a long conversation with Golda. I referred to her country as the USA. She disliked that. Say the US. She was studying at Yeshiva University and she was a passionate Zionist. I was sympathetic towards Israel at the time but in our dialogue I made many criticism of Israel. I hope I was not too hard on Israel. She said it was right to Zionists to take that land. ”The Arabs have lots of countries.”

Later I was alone in a room reading. Nathalie came and lay down a few metres away. She started chatting to me in a coquettish manner. She sweet talked me and nudged closer. I moved closer to her. I was taking the bait! I became very turned on. I moved to kiss her but she pulled back. She strung out the seduction. Then finally she let me snog her. Then she moved off. What a piity. There was nowwhere to shag her.

Later I went to a restaurant with Nathalie and Sarah. Two more British girls came along. I shall name them Marjorie and Clare. Marjorie was short, porcine and plain. She had a Brunhilde hairstyle and was reading Medicine somewhere. She was still fuckable. Clare was leggier and much better looking. I do not especially go for tall ones. Clare was at Cambridge and had won a journalism prize. That was funding her trip. She was self-effacing and scintillating. I made not so veiled references to having snogged Nathalie and said how she fancied me rotten. Nathalie was having none of it. I was crass. What good did I think would come of it?

Nathalie left the next day. I kept in touch by email. I hoped to meet and shag her but never got to. Perhaps tjat is a good thing. She had told me she took drugs sometimes. A couple of years later she was living in Oxford doing a Drama course. I contacted her but she chose not to meet me. She was living with a boyfriend there.

After three days in the Golden Temple our time there was up. That is as long as one can stay. We made a small cash donation. It gave me a very positive opinion o the Sikhs.

Susumu and I went to the station. We got  very early morning train to Delhi. We were on wooden seats.

A little boy and girl came to perform. The boy had a moustache painted on. These kids were aged about 8 and they did a song and dance routine. I found it annoyimng at stupid o clock but Susumu thrilled to it. He said in Japan they could make a lot of dosh.

There was a little park not far off. Apart from that there was nothing to see.

Agra: adolescent odyssey

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I finally sorted out when I would be departing India. Susumu and I decided to see some of the vital cities for any tourist in India. This was a famous triangle: Agra, Amritsar and Jaipur.

First of all we boarded a choo choo for Agra. Within a few hours we pulled into Agra Cantt. Cantt is short for cantonment. The cantonment meant the area where the Britishers lived and it usually included a barracks.

Susumu and I stayed in some retiring rooms at the station. Upstairs there were beds in a dorm and we lodged there. We walked out to a restaurant. Agra is a fairly large city but there was a lot of open green space. That night as the insects sang we strolled to a charming little restaurant. We ate outdoors. I thought the meal was satisfactory. Susumu ate chicken as he usually did. He always pronounced it ”Shikn”. Susumu was displeased with his meal. When the bill came her berated the burly Nepali looking manager. ”Your food was shit!”

The manager was almost amused. ”What you want? You want fighting?” The manager did not seem at all offended.

We paid the bill and left. Susumu told me in Japan if one is unhappy with a meal one can summon the manager and complain. The meal will then be free.

We slept decently at the retiring rooms. This  was quite something because there were monkeys scampering across the roof.

Next day we headed to India’s iconic site – the Taj Mahal. It was a sweltering day so there was not such a multitude of people queueing to see the Taj. I caught sight of the Taj Mahal from quite some distance. I had seen this image countless times before. Somehow seeing it in the flesh, as it were, was not the epiphany I thought it might be.

We queued up for our tickets. The signs declared the different prices for Indians and foreigners. As bold as brass you might say. I had a certain respect for that. In India the Indians come first. The tourists who come from abroad are usually much richer than the average Indian. It is unobjectionable that foreigners like me should be charged several times more. The admission fee was not princely.

We walked along the pavement towards the mighty memorial. I knew they limited the number of people allowed in. So many hundreds of thousands visited this mausoleum that it was shaking the Taj to its foundations. That is why it was good to hike the admission ticket price.

There was a calming pond beside the walkway. Rose gardens lay on either side. I saw the bench where Princess Diana sat with her legs crossed and back to the media as she contemplated the Taj. It was seen as a poignant image of a lovelorn woman. There she sat gazing at this world renowned testament to love when she herself so emotionally deprived. I found this interpretation emetic. She was one of the most fortunate people alive and all she could do was whinge and break confidences.

At last we came to the door of the white building. There is most to admire in the handiwork. The stone is inlaid with numberless flower motifs. It is a Muslim building so there are no images of people or animals. At the door two British teenage girls stood chatting. Some Indian men took photos of them. These girls shrugged it off. They were used to a lot of unwanted male attention. This is a common experienced for Occidental females in the Subcontinent.

I half remember having to take my shoes off. What no one tells you is that as you are at the door to the Tak if you look to the right there is an army base just over the fence. You are not allowed to take photos of that.

Into the Taj itself. It is cavernous and echoes despite people trying to reduce their voices to a susurration. The place was somehow soothing. There below floor level was the tomb itself. It was rectangle the size of a person. That was where she lay. Mumtaz Mahal, favourite wife the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, is interred there.

We spent a few minutes wandering around gawping at the opulence of the place.

The view behind it is almost as spectacular. There was a very wide expanse of a dry river bed. The river was but the tiniest trickle in the middle. I saw a heard boy with his goats wander by in the distance. It was a strange contrast to use in there – tourists from the far side of the globe with our costly cameras.

Shah Jahan had wanted to build a reflection of the Taj in black on the far bank of the river. The cost of the Taj was exorbitant. His high spending ways were too much for many of his family and the courtiers. A palace coup was arranged. This romantic spent the rest of his days locked up composing Urdu elegies to his dead wife.

The other famous site in this city is the fort which is not far away. I think we might even have walked. It is just along the bank of the river.

We paid our rupees and in we went. Though the place is in good nick there are few items exhibited. It was somewhat interesting to take a look round. It was like many Indian forts – mostly a red-brown colour. There were wide walls one could walk on and many battlements. The rooms were not many but they were roomy. I overheard an Indian guide tell a tourist that there was an underground tunnel from the fort to the Taj so that the emperor could go and pray at his wife’s graves. I had my doubts about that one. There was a deep moat and this same guide say that lions and tigers had patrolled it. That might have been true. It would also have been a good place to keep such a big cat menagerie.

We saw a hugely fat Canadian woman waddle towards us. How do I know her nationality? She wore something with the maple leaf on it. So it is a reasonable supposition that she was a Canuck.  Canadians seem to wear their flag more than any other nationality. ”Not American – the other one” seems to be the message. The unfortunate woman was morbidly obese.

Susumu remarked that she must have been molested as a child. This is why she subconsciously decided to render herself very unappealing to men by eating gross amounts of food. I was not convinced by his explanation.

After only about 24 hours we caught the train back to Delhi.

Further Experiences of an Irish Catholic at Eton.

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The title is a doff of the cap to Somerville and Ross – Further Experiences of an Irish RM. My father was such a fan of the 1980s television series. This will not be a linear account of my time at Eton. It is more thematic. However, in this piece I have tried to restrict myself to covering the first year. As I said in a previous piece – the characters described herein are altogether figments of my creativity. Any verisimilitude between personalities written about in this work of fiction and real persons whether living or otherwise is completely accidental. Does that libel proof me?

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RUGBY

In my first few days I turned up for some rugby trial. It was on Agar’s if I recall rightly – one of the nearer pitches. I had been asked what XV I had been in at prep school. I looked quizzical when asked and answered hesitatingly – the 1st XV. Much later I realised that most boys had been to large prep schools that would have a 1st XV, 2nd XV and 3rd XV. My prep school had had only one. There had been the under 11s too. So it befell that I went for a trial with some of the best players in the year. I thought I acquitted myself well. But I found myself on a list in School Yard to go to a practice on another field on Dutchman’s.

Some time later I realised I had been demoted. This was for the 5ths! I was embarrassed and could not admit it to my friend in a letter. I claimed it was the 4ths.

I had an enjoyable season playing rugby and we won more than we lost. Our coach was a tall, youngish woman Miss Auchinleck. A woman coaching teenage boys rugby may seem curious. It was perhaps fortunate that she was not blessed with beauty. My mother was astonished about a woman being our coach. ”Does she get in amongst you?”

Miss Auchinleck was accompanied everywhere by her waist high brown dog. Miss Auchinleck was so bereft of beauty that there was a running gag about her. People would see Miss Auchinleck and her faithful hound and remark, ”I would love to fuck her, The dog that is.”

Sport was status. If a boy was a gifted sportsman than he had the respect of the others. I was no sportsman!

There was one boy in the 5th XV whom I shall call Melbourne. Melbourne aged 13 was already about 6’2”. You might think this was an immense advantage. But he was ponderous and malco-ordinated. In fact our captain was Domitian. Domitian was very short and had a curtain hairstyle. What he lacked in stature he compensated for with extreme aggression on the pitch. This even went to the extent of growling and he charged forward with the ball.

After half term I remember Domitian telling of us of what he got up to in London. How he had been drunk and wandering around in a dinner jacket till the wee hours. He was short of the grey matter. In his second year he apparently tried to slash his wrists and promptly left the school. I never found out what he did since but he is on FB.

We went to play at Tonbridge and I think Byranston. Pangbourne came to play us. We would meet them at the Burning Bush and take our opposite number back to our room to change and then off to the pitch. I played as a second row.

I think it was at Tonbridge when I managed to catch the ball in a line-out – it was Tonbridge’s throw so that was a coup. The ball came loose in a ruck one time. I fly hacked it on out of the melee. I managed to get it all the way to the opposition try line. Somehow I think a try was not scored. In fact I do not remember scoring at all that season.

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MATHS

I was weak at Maths – certainly by Eton standards. Maths could have proved a stumbling block to my getting in. My Common Entrance gave my Maths as ”borderline” which was a sensitive way of saying I failed it. I think that was for Maths II. For Maths III I am pretty sure it used a less sensitive word for ”failure” and that is ”failure”. But they took me anyway.

We sat in the Maths department on the morning of our first Maths lesson. The rumour went around that the chap about to teach us was a rabbi. He was short, bearded  and styled the reverend – he looked a bit rabbinical. I shall call him Gnome since that was his soubriquet among the boys. If that indicates disrespect then you have understood it right. We pronounced the silent G in Gnome just to emphasise our disdain for this creep.

Gnome went through the list of names. He observed, ”There is a distinct Scottish flavour to this division.”

We were given a calculator that showed the last few calculations one had done. This was useful to the teacher because he could see how we had messed up earlier on. There was the manual for it. Our first EW was to read the manual that weekend. EW stood for extra work. It was an example of Etonian lingo being inaccurate. It was not EXTRA work – we had to do it. It was our homework.

I reasoned that I would soon have to do a lot of work that I could not avoid. There was no way I could assimilate everything in that calculator manual. He would not test us on it. I did not do the EW. I got away with it. So there Gnome!

After only a few lessons Gnome realised I was already falling behind. Maths was a bugbear of mine. My Maths teacher at prep school said he knew Gnome.

In the afternoon I had to come in for a brief one on one session with Gnome. Gnome had a few algebraic equations for me to do. My hopelessness was soon apparent. He said I needed extra lessons. Soon enough these were arranged with a female teacher. I paid attention in these

Gnome was a bit of a cunt. I cannot think of a single person who ever said they liked him. His lessons were purgatorially boring.  Some of his behaviour would these days lead to official complaints. I am not hinting at sexual misconduct. I do NOT accuse him of anything of that nature. When I could not remember some rule in Maths he huffed, ”When was the Battle of Bannockburn fought?” / ”1314” I answered. ”So why can’t you remember a basic mathematical rule?” he screamed. This would these days be called emotional harm. ANyway, we treat teenagers too softly now. He was very impatient with low ability boys. In fact we were not THAT low ability. I passed Maths GCSE. Bear in mind most people do not do that. So even the slowest of us was above average. It is a sobering thought.

I did sympathise with Gnome even at the time. He had to teach us thickoes and it was a waste of his talent. He was into higher Maths. He taught the top scholars and he even wrote Philosophy. Well tough! You are a schoolmaster and you have to teach the thickoes as well as the bright ones. I suppose because he was head of department he manfully took on the task of teaching the dim ones.

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LATIN

I was feeble at Latin. This was partly down to lack of ability and lack of application. I had not been taught much of it at prep school. I was the only one to sit Latin Common Entrance. If memory serves me right it was the night before the exam that the headmaster sat me down with a Common Entrance paper for the first time.  Alcazar was what I called the headmaster. He bore a resemblance to Alcazar – the Latin American strongman in Tintin and not to the castle in Granada. However, Alcazar in Tintin had a lantern jaw and this headmaster was weedy. I cannot blame Alcazar overmuch. I sensed he was deeply unsure of Latin. Even if I had had a terrific Latin teacher I only would have been a bit better.

My Latin beak in my first half had the name Shortland-Jones. Mr Shortland-Jones was bald, elderly, diminutive Old Harrovian with a cut glass accent and an inability to make the ‘R’ sound. They do not make them like him anymore We called him ShortHAND-Jones. This cruel epithet was owing to the fact that the middle finger on one hand had been amputated half way up. Occasionally we called him Shorthand-Finger but not to his face. Shorthand-Jones turned this to his advantage. He knew we were grossed out by it. Mr Shorthand-Jones would ask us a declension. If we could not recall it he would use his gnarled digit to poke up on the head. These days people would complain – as though this were abuse. His strategy was somewhat effectual. We really did not want to have his deformed finger jabbing into our scalps. So boys who endeavour to learnt a bit of Latin.

I was in the 6th of 7 Latin divs. The other boys in the class were faineant at Latin. I found the grammar as dry as dust. No attempt was made to make it appealing. We did not think we had any business complaining that it was taught in a desiccated style. It was Latin! The ambience of the class was that of being proud to be idle. There was little sense in trying since we were all useless at Latin.

Nickerson was in my class. Nickerson was a skinny blond boy in another class. He excelled at the guitar and nothing else. He must have been at Ludgrove with Norbert. Norbert was also in that Latin div. Yes, I was that woeful at Latin that I was in the same class as the notoriously dim witted Norbert. Nickerson encouraged me to mime at Norbert – pretend to speak to him for a while but say nothing. I tapped Norbert on the shoulder and then moved my lips as though speaking. It took Norbert a few moments to figure out that I was not actually talking. Norbert was half deaf but in fact he took this vicious prank very well.

I turned up a minute late for a div and Shorthand-Jones rebuked me. ”You’re late.”/ ”Am I?” I retorted. He took that fairly well. Rawlings and Udo later said I had been wrong to be so bolshie. In fact I got some street cred for my truculence.

I was performing abysmally at Latin. Conjugations made me lose consciousness. Shorthand -Jones wrote a letter to Sagar saying how dismal I was at the subject and that he forecast I would fail trials. These were the exams at the end of the first term. I was worried by that. At this point Sagar told me I had to do a GCSE in the subject. I had not realised that.

I was summoned to a room near Jourdelays to resit a test I had failed. A few others had been called to. I simply forgot. I got away with it.

The next term I did make more of an effort. Sometimes I could memorise the tables but I could never remember the rule and then make it operate in a practical example. Try as I might I was dreadful at Latin. It was incredibly banal. I was good at the Classical Civilisation side of things. A quarter of the subject was just history.

Rawlings and I used to test each other on vocab. We would speak in pukka accents and the voices of old men. We affected the personas of crusty dons and dropped hints as to the right answers.

My next teacher was Mr Bren. I shall call him this as I found out later he had fled Czechoslovakia as an infant in the 1930s. I presume he was Jewish. He was bald and cantankerous but I got on well with him. He openly verbally abused some boys.

Bren was of middle height, chubby and bald. He had an acerbic manner but I got on well with him. He openly despised Norbert. ”Ooga, ooga, ooga Norbert!” he would say whilst doing a chimp impression scratching his arm pits. It makes me crack up to recall it. The class would be in paroxysms of laughter as Bren mercilessly took the piss out of the dunce.

There was another boy called Cardboard – not his real name – in another class. Cardboard made the immense mistake of opting for Greek despite being dyslexic. Cardboard performed terribly at Ancient Greek. Bren also ridiculed him in front of the whole class. Cardboard was a fat, speccy, adinoidal voiced, pigeon toed Physics freak with minimal social skills. He was enough of a target for malicious mirth anyway. Bren used to lampoon Cardboard for having illegible handwriting. This often reduced Cardboard to tears in the lesson. Oddly, parents never seemed to complain about that sort of thing back then. These days the headmaster’s phone would be jumping off the hook if a teacher merely said ”be quiet” to  rowdy pupil.

Luckily I had pulled the finger out with regard to Latin. I was performing half-decently. As I was punctual, polite and industrious Bren took to me. He would often sing my praises to the class. ”Woode is a man among boys, a beacon of light amidst a morass of idiocy.” You may think I am inventing these words but I am not.

There was a boy in the class named Earl. He was not an Earl – that was his surname. He sat at the back of the class and we all knew he kept his textbook open during tests. He would get full marks in tests every time. We did not really resent this. He was cheating his arse off but was still well liked since he was a fairly gifted sportsman and conventional in every way. In the end there was poetic justice. About 12 years later he lost his job and his fiancee on the same day. He was caught fucking his secretary in the office. So much for cheating!

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BEAKS

Teachers at Eton are officially called beaks. We did not use the word beak very much. I have no idea of the etymology of it. They had to wear a uniform. This consisted of a dark suit, white shirt with a detachable stiff collar and white bow tie. Many of them wore a black jacket, black waistcoat and blue and grey striped trousers. Women could wear something along these lines.

9/10 of them were men. A large number were ‘not the marrying type.’ I was too green then to realise that some of them were gay. There were others whom even at the time I realised were as queer as cum flavoured quiche.

There was an English teacher known as Wetty. Wetty is no longer with us. Wetty taught me Drama. He must have been 50 when I arrived there. He was tall and not fat. A thin thatch covered his dome like head. He spoke in a camp and languid drawl. His movements just screamed ”homo”. We found him hilarious. It is surprising people did not ridicule him more.

Oswald was another beak who was as queer as a three pound note. Wisa, an Egyptian in my house told me a story about Oswald. a Latin lesson the class came across the word that was construed as ”bent” but not to mean ”bend the metal bar”. One of the boys asked the meaning of this word.  Oswald said, ”Hmmm… bent… the way I am.” Wisa chortled, ”And nobody got it.” Oswald has accidentally admitted being homosexual to his class . Was that a paralepsis? Perhaps it was an awkward attempt to define ”bent” as in ”inclination, character, tendency.”

Oswald later confided in a tutee of his that whilst he was homosexual he had not tried it since it would be a sin.

The head of art was Mr Mugglestone. Mugglestone was skinny and mischievous. He had mousy curly hair that was a bit unruly. He was very likable and the most immature person in the school. Once he took us to some gardens to draw. He ran ahead and his behind a tree! He was forever cheekily smiling. Despite his childishness people did not misbehave because he was just so sweet. He seemed feeble and effeminate. Udo remarked to me of Mugglestone, ”Did you ever see anyone so insanely homosexual?” Mugglestone told uus how he had been in the cadet force when he was at school and detested it. He was the most unsoldierly person of all time. The sergeant major who shriek at him ”Mugglestone – you are naked!”, / ”No, I think you will find I have one button undone.” Mugglestone would be marched off the parade to await some horrific punishment for his insubordination. Mugglestone said how he had been working on the second floor of  the Art Department late at night when he saw some boys smoking below him. He could have busted them for smoking but devised a more apposite punishment. He filled up a bucket of water and poured it out the window and onto their heads!

The teachers had mostly been to Oxford or Cambridge. The ubiquity of Oxbridge graduates among the staff made getting into such universities seem very possible. Plenty of them had PhDs. A few of them had regional accents. Perish the thought! I could tell that some of them looked askance at our arrogance. It must have been galling to teach 13 year olds who were so stuck up and complacent. Others did not hide their left wing views. It is breathtaking that some of these leftists had the hypocrisy to teach at Eton. Perhaps it was outreach in a place riddled with right wingery. There were others who had the same snobbish attitudes as most of the boys.

Chevalier was a French beak and he was French. He refused to wear beak’s uniform. I do not know how this little beardo got away with it. Why was wearing the right clothes unbearable for him? He smoked in lessons. It is an astonishing thought these days. His Gallic rebelliousness garnered him a little respect among the boys. In fact Chevalier never taught me.

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IRISH STAFF

There were four beaks who were Irish. All of them were northern and I am fairly sure that all were Protestants. One of them spoke in Received Prounciation. The other three had mild Ulster accents. The boys called them Irish. Doing impressions of them boys would speak in Dublinese. They were unable to distinguish between that an a Northern Irish accent.

That summer half the house was under renovation. One of the builders was a Southern Irishman. He was straight from Central Casting. He was short, podgy and had a potato face. He wheezed and had eyes popping out of his red face. He was not very mannerly. Rawlings quipped that this chap must be my father. Rawlings was partly Irish on both sides.

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HOMOSEXUALITY

Prunella had been dead against me going to Eton. She had remarked, ”I am not surprised so many Eton boys end up gay of they only women they get to see are really old” My father testily chided her. Those were the days when homosexuality met with frank disapproval from most people.

I considered being gay to be at best risible. So did the rest of the school. It was the subject of endless mirth. How much of these was mere badinage? Some of the behaviour there had homo overtones.

One of our favourite things to do was a pile on. Of a weekend we would be in the Quiet Room watching telly. The Quiet Room was named in that Eton manner of giving something a totally misleading name. During the week the telly was locked so the room really was quiet. But when it was the weekend and the television was out we gathered there and it became raucous.

Someone would shout ”pile on” and roll onto the carpet. One person would like on him. More people would jump on him. Before long everyone in the room would be lying on top of each other. The poor sod on the bottom would be crushed half to death. AFter a few seconds we would pile off. It is surprising no one got asphyxiated with 20 boys on top of him.

These pile ons were not always voluntary. Sometimes someone would be lolling on the carpet and someone else who leap on him and shout ”On Perkins!” or whatever the name was. ANother one was to see someone sitting on the carpet watching tell and then t jump on him and lie on him bodily – exhort the others to pile on.

These pile ons lead to a lot of physical contact. To some extent it was just horseplay. There must have been an element of orgiastic homoeroticism to it. So twas totally innocent then. Oh such frottage!

Then there were bugger trains. One boy would be seated on a chair in the Quiet Room. Someone else would sit on his lap and someone would sit on the second boy’s lap and a fourth would sit on the lap of a third until about 10 boys were sitting on each other as though engaged in rectal intercourse. We would all laugh ourselves silly at this. Sometimes it would be voluntary but sometimes a particularly feeble specimen would be seated and a hefty lad would sit on him and loudly demand others to sit on him.

There was an unwritten rule that one did not engage in bugger trains or pile ons after D Block. After that is might be faintly well – gay. Moreover, it would seem not quite right for an 18 year old to have such close physical contact with a 13 year old.

The strange thing is I never heard of a gay relationship there. Nor so far as I know did anyone engage in gay acts – not even mutual masturbation. Reading memoirs from as recently as the 60s such conduct was rife. Back then it was mere situational homosexuality. Those boys experimented with queerdom due to the absence of girls. As soon as they left school 99% of them were straight.

There was a tall and skinny lad in the block above who had been orally raped the year before I came up. His assailant was expelled. This victim must have felt eyes boring into him as the story went around about what happened to him.

Those were the days when people voice undisguised disgust at homosexuality. Arse bandit, colon commander, rectal ranger, sod, poof, queer and so forth were among the milder epithets for what was widely considered to be something shameful.  People were fixated with queers partly because they were fighting an inner battle against such instincts. It is not that most boys were really gay but that there were no girls around.

In my house we read Empire (a film magazine), Loaded, FHM and lads’ mags. In the back of these supposedly hetero magazines there would be advertisements for ”Gay X Change” and other gay chatlines. We would cut these out and stick them on the door of another boy as if to say that he was a homo.

There were endless jokes about queers. In my second half a boy in my year wanted some favour from the house captain and said to him, ”May I offer you sexual buggery?” It was meant as a quip but the house captain was stunned at how perverted this child had already become.

Just occasionally girls would ring the house phone. This was before mobiles. Boys would sometimes answer and say, ”We do not like girls we re all gay here.”

We did not have any chances to mingle with chapesses in the early years.

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TWO YEARS ABOVE

I had been warned that when I went to public school I would get grief from the boys in the year above. They were very keen to demonstrate that they were no longer the sprogs. They could push us around. The boys in the top year would be far too lofty to even notice us yet alone mistreat us.

The boys two years ahead seldom felt it worth their while to mistreat us. Seldom. Bullying at Eton was never severe. There would be a few punches on the shoulder. That was as bad as it got. There is such a tendency to alarmism these days. Any unpleasantness is treated as though it is the most horrendous crime. Bullying is certainly distasteful but let’s keep things in perspective.

Anyway, there were a few boys two years ahead who are worth limning.

Ram was a British Indian. As a typical British family they had moved to Spain. Having said that this was a time when it was not the done thing for posh people to move to Spain. That was ”ra-ther” nouveau. His mother even spoke with a British accent. Judging by her age she was almost certainly not born in the UK. Back in the 1950s very few Indians had been born in the United Kingdom. Ram was shorter than me despite being two years older. He was spindly but a skilfull footballer. He went out of his way to be kind. When I was verbally abused for being Irish he was the only one to spring to my defence. I admire him greatly for that. I would guess that he occasionally got insulted over his ample melanin. I never heard anything like that except when looking up which shirt colour to wear for house football. It was either white or blue.  ”We’re white” someone would shout. ”No, we have Ram on our team.” That was the size of it. Some people came to loathe Ram for wearing a medallion. When he was in library (i.e. a house prefect) he actually did his duties of trying to make us go to bed on time. Why should he care? I was a courteous and obedient boy and did as I was told. I was also grateful for him having the courage to do the right thing by me in difficult days. Rawlings in particular despised Ram.

Forest was aptly named. He was as tall as one. He was Forest mi  to be accurate. Forest ma was in B Block when I arrived. Forest mi had an especially upper class accent and a filthy sense of humour. He was formidably clever. He was doing Russian and only the cleverest boys did that. Forest was a gangly 6’2” when I met him and he had not finished growing. He had trouble playing football because he was so tall it took a long time for message to get from his brain to his feet – a bit like certain dinosaurs. He sucked his thumb – even when dribbling a ball. He was volatile and intolerant. Ram accused him of being a baby. Forest mi sometimes gave me grief for being Irish. I remember him thumping my bicep after the IRA had killed someone. ”You kill my countrymen and I hit you.” In this case ”’you”’ meant the Irish as a whole. He did not hurt me much and I laughed it off. Forest mi was the scion of a shipping dynasty and was possessed of some very right wing views. Despite this he detested the Catholic Church because of its teaching against contraception and he wanted Hong Kong to go to the Chinese. He was also a strident critic of the Tory Government which he said he turned the UK into ”a crap services based economy.” Although he became fluent in Russian he despised Russia as a country that was terribly misgoverned. He was a wag. He cracked many anti-gay jokes. He also turned nursery rhymes into smut. ”Old mother Hubbard went to the cupboard to get her doggy a bone/ Then Rover took over/ And gave her an old doggy bone.”

Clay was a boy two years above who though not tall was very clever. He was well adjusted and not outspoken. He was an Oppidan Scholar which meant he had come within an ace of winning a King’s Scholarship. He was doing Japanese which was the only language even more intellectually exclusive than Russian. He was one of the most genuine and agreeable boys in the house.

Goebells was unlucky in having the same surname as a leading Nazi. He was also about the height of Goebells too. He was an ardent Christian and spoke with a strikingly upper class accent. At tea one time the others chided him for supposing boning a girl in Spain in the summer holidays. Goebells played along with this. It was all a windup for Janice – the brain dead maid. There was no one more unlikely than Goebells to have done this. He was unprepossessing and as I said he was a passionate believer in Christianity.

Cunningham was also in D Block when we arrived. He was well below average height but he was a talented sportsman. He later became House Captain of Games. His slightly dark complexion and his natural quiff made him instantly recognisable. He was forever chipper and he was very approachable. I never saw him angry. He was one of the most genial boys in the house.

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HOUSE CHARACTERS

Moyola was three years above me. Moyola was the great grandson of a renowned Irish politician which is why I give him this name. I noticed his unusual name and asked him if the famous man was his ancestor. Moyola said yes but found the whole topic profoundly boring. Moyola acted as though he had been dropped on the head at an early age. He spoke in a high pitch voice yet was very muscular. He was a rower of outstanding ability. He was also fond of the most sexually perverse jokes. By Eton standards that was really saying something. He was a bit of a nutter and seemed devoid of the usual range of emotions.

Moyola had a penchant for the trumpet and the pink oboe. He was always cracking filthy jokes about homosexualism. He also did a fine line in light bondage. I remember one evening in my second half Moyola paid an unannounced visit to my bedroom. He was supposedly in debate. Debate was a typically irrational Eton term in that it did not describe what the word actually means. Debate was a group of boys who were mostly in C Block and they were supposedly junior house prefects. In fact it meant bugger all. Moyola came into my room at bedtime wearing his banana boat schoolboy’s cap. This was a yellow and blue stripe cap given to those who were terrific rowers. Moyola was carrying a knobbly bamboo cane. He told me to get into bed. I had been seated at my desk. Then he said no – get out and kneel by your bed. I thought it amusing and obliged. This was some sort of lark. Then he commanded, ”drop your trousers.” I was perplexed and refused. He then pulled down my pyajama bottoms. I accused him of being a queer. He gave me a few thrashes with his cane. He did not hit hard but his springy cane bit me. I certainly felt it. I jumped into bed. He shrugged and was off. That was that. It was a few seconds of mild pain and humiliation. I thought no more of it. Moyola did something a tiny bit naughty. My bum was not crimson. Presumably there was a frisson of sexual pleasure for him. These days people would hugely overreact and tell me that Moyola had abused me or psychologically damaged me. It was very trivial. I do not resent this boy one bit. At least he imprinted on me my predeliction for S and M. Now that was educational!

Judge. I call him Judge since he was the son of one. Judge was three years ahead of me and had very pale skin, a beak like nose and narrow eyes. He sported a curtains hair style – then at the height of fashion. He spoke in a bass voice and was in the choir. No choir boy he – he was good at karate. Judge was also the house joker. He liked acting and was well known as a wit. In Prayers we would have a performance every night. This could be a reading, a song, juggling, a piece of music or a skit. Judge liked to amuse us with his hilarious acts. Once they did a send up of Gladiators. His character was named Lion-o. His act was bravura and everyone almost fell over laughing.

Caesarion was also three years above me. Caesarion was fairly short and slender but he was terrific at sports. He spoke with heightened received pronunciation and it was not difficult to see why. He was a lord already. His father had one of the heighest titles in Yorkshire. Caesarion was a descendant of a Viceroy of India no less. There was not braggadocio about his chequered family history. Perhaps this is why he was so self-assured. He was convivial  and very decent. He was also effortlessly academic. It made me see why those with hereditary titles were appointed to offices in the past. They had a self confidence and a lack of personal ambition that was very rare among commoners like me. This was before Alain de Boton’s book ‘Status Anxiety’ was published but the idea was forming in my mind. People often flagellate themselves with these questions of status.

Cameron was also in C Block when I arrived. Cameron was not related  to the Prime Minister. He was one of those Scots who had an unbelievably pukka accent. He also had the speech impediment to go with it – not that it dented his confidence one iota. He would try saying, ”My name is Charlie Cameron.” It would come out as ”My nwaym is Chaa-wu Kim wym.” No one ever slagged him off. He had a deformed chin and jet black hair. Hilariously he was a linguist. Imagine hearing French in that accent!  Cameron was a close friend of Judge’s.. They had the same wicked sense of humour but Judge was the livelier of the duo. He got himself into Oxford. He also got himself booted out for failing his exams.

Taylor was another member of C Block. He had brown hair and was lissom. He was only averagely posh. He was also North British. Taylor was an all rounder – reasonably smart, fairly good at sports etc… But was not a plodder. He was clubbable. He eventually made it to Pop when someone else was sacked from it for taking E on a weekend out.

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THE HOUSE ACROSS THE ROAD

Across the road was a house called White’s. Some of the boys in White’s were very notable characters. One of them was known as Nigger Lips. How unwise of me to give his nickname. I did not invent it. Nigger Lips was white but his lips really did look like that. He was the grandson of a celebrated poet. He was no writer himself and not a scholarly type. He carved a niche for himself as a bad boy. He liked to wear Gulf War era combat trousers in his spare time. He was good fun. Part of the joke with him be dubbed Nigger Lips is that his best mate was Aryan Boy. Aryan Boy looked just as you would imagine. He was tall and very muscular. He had glow in the dark blonde hair, pale skin and blue eyes. Aryan Boy was a tremendous rugby player and generally seen as a hard lad. In fact when I got to know him slightly I discovered there was a more sensitive side to him that he preferred to keep hidden. He was interested in theatre but did not want people to know that. It might undermine he image.

There was a boy in the house across the street named Tooth. Tooth was in my block and I felt very sorry for him since he was a social outcast. He was bereft of common sense. He had a very strange manner and he seemed to have an incredibly ability to make the wrong decision every single time. He had not been to a prep school. Instead he had been to a tutorial college. This partly explained he complete dearth of social skills. He had a vacant facial expression and his mouth was often agape. He had a mass of mid brown curly hair. He was hopelessly disorganised and often late for things. He was half French and half American. Despite having grown up bilingual he did not manage to do well in French. He had lived in London his whole life so Tooth spoke with  British accent. In my stupidity I took pity on him. I would speak to him. My compassion was a grave error. There was unpopularity by association. By spending time with this pariah some of his status rubbed off on me. The moral of the story is – be selfish. Decency is usually savagely punished. In his second term he told his dame to ”Fuck Off!”. He was put on the bill which is to say he was sent to see the Lower Master and given a heavy punishment.  I continued to teeth feel sorry for Tooth but we drifted apart. In later years he was to make every mistake in the book. He claimed to be involved in London gangs and to graffitise buildings. ”This tag got me into one of the best north London crews.” He really was one of life’s victims. He also began smoking a frightening quantity of cannabis. Eventually he was expelled for possession of drugs. He ended up at a school in northern England that is a holding centre for the academically subnormal and unjustifiably arrogant. In a cruel twist of irony I was later to teach there. Fate certainly has a sense of humour!

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COLLEGE

The original house in Eton is called College. It is where the King’s Scholars live. On one of my first days I ventured over there. I had to sign out of the house after a certain time and give my destination and reason. This simply involved writing something on a sheet – not speaking to anyone.

I was awestruck by the academic ability of the King’s Scholars. There were 14 of them in our year. Only a few conformed to the geek stereotype. It really is true that some boys have all the luck. Some of them were exceptionally scholastically gifted and sporty and good looking and rich and companionable etc… It is a myth to say that someone is either an athlete or a brainbox. Some are both and most are neither.

College was handsome on the outside. It looked a bit like Hampton Court Palace with is 16th century red brick. Inside its corridors were very plain. Their bedrooms were rather small.

The King’s Scholars were known as KSs. Bertie hero worshipped Durum who was a KS in our year. Bertie told me about KS’s. I pretended not to know what KS stood for since I calculated it would be uncool to be too well informed. People occasionally called them Collegers. They wore gowns over their tailsuits. No one gave them grief for being brainy. Intelligence was respected but hard work was deprecated. One had to be brilliant without even trying. On the other than boys who were slow were insulted for their poor exam results.

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GOGGIES.

Goggy was an Etonian word that has since disappeared. The bizarre thing was that in Eton’s micro language it meant two polar opposites. One was a boringly contemptible geek – the sort of adinoidal acne blemished boy who would spend Saturday night wanking over a Physics textbook. The other meaning was someone who was dim, dozy and forgetful. In either case you did not want this moniker.

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HERITAGE

I was fascinated by the history of the school. I walked around its oldest precincts. I carefully read all the plaques and inscriptions. In the Cloisters there were many memorials to those who had been killed in various wars. Most boys did not even notice. They did not care about the history of the place. They took it for granted that they would attend Eton or a similar school. I valued it partly because I had a very well developed sense of history but also because going to Eton was not a foregone conclusion in my case. I was determined to get the max out of it.

I also devoured books on the school. I read the autobiographies of some who had been to Eton. Wilfred Thesiger was one such man. I was able to identify with him as an outsider with academic difficulties.

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SMOKING

I had long known that smoking was a measure of coolness. I had little desire to be cool. I meant that. Only a little desire so to be. Smoking was very unwise and immature. I did not want to die of cancer. I had long since decided that I would not do something to stupid. People smoked because they were ductile. I would not be giving in to such moronic peer pressure. Almost everyone else succumbed. Only one other boy in my house in the block also held out for common sense. He was also uncool.

I do not remember anyone smoking in the first half. (In a delightfully Etonian illogical manner there were three halves to a year. A half meant a term. In fact it had once made sense when the academic year was divided into two terms each of which was called a half. Enough of this parenthetical digression!)

By the second half boys in my block certainly we having a chuff – as say. They would go out onto the nearby field for a fag. The smoking age was 16 then. Aged 13 one could get boys who were a little older to purchase the ciggies.

We had a talk from Sagar on smoking. He was out tutor in addition to being the housemaster. The B Blockers guffawed that this. The whole purpose of having a tutor was so that if one had a problem with the housemaster one had someone to go to. From the B boys viewpoint Sagar could do no right. I was somewhat influenced by this. Anyhow, we had a weekly tutorial session with Sagar. This was a general chin wag for the nine of us. Sometimes there was a little admin and often there were PSHE type things to do. (PSHE – Personal Social and Health Education). Smoking was one of the topics.

Sagar was an ardent anti-smoker. He must have been born about 1950. He was highly unusual in that he never smoked. He was trim and lived a very healthy lifestyle – jogging for miles each day. He had also been high up in the Combined Cadet Force. Most soldiers smoked but he always viewed it as idiotic and wasteful. He asked us had any of us ever had a puff. Only two had. These were Nobby and Udo. Nobby was very susceptible to peer pressure. Udo was a bit daring and he had tried his mother’s cigar.

In winter the street lights went on at 6 pm. This was called lighting up time. It was a wheeze amongst the boys that this was also lighting up time in the other sense. By that time it was dark enough to go out for a smoke.

I remember in the second half playing an informal game of football with some boys from Rose’s.. Sussex, who was in that house, noisily bragged about going for a chuff.

Of the nine of us only two of us never smoked. These were myself and the shortest one. I recall Clive and Rawlings at the end of our first year urging me to do and cajoling me to. I was irritated and testily refused. Only in D Block did Udo say in front of the others ”Portley is probably very wise not to smoke.” I was staggered. People actually respected me for not smoking.

Our mid morning break was time for Elevenses – as in a snack at about 11 am. It was also time for chambers. This meant that the masters gathered in school hall for a chance to discuss things and brief announcements. We could wait on the steps and try to speak to them. We called our mid morning break ”chambers”. It was from 11;20-11;40. Whenever I see the time is 11;20 I always think it is time for chambers.

There was a boy known as Druggo in Cook’s House. Druggo was in our block. Druggo was tall, slender and had a turne up nose. He was dim but fairly sporty. He gave the impression of not caring at all about his education because he had so much money to inherit that he need never work. Cote, who was also in that house, joked that Druggo was so cool that he had a beginning of chambers fag, a middle of chambers fag and our end of chambers fag. Druggo had this handle because he was so incredibly fashionable that it was rumoured that he tried narcotics. He left after D Block. I do not know what became of him. He was so mightily impressive that when his girlfriend had come to the Fourth of June he was openly contemptuous towards her. I think he even called her ”my bitch” because he had picked it up from gangsta rap. Now that it respectable!

As for smoking – in the end most boys did as I do. They gave up smoking. So I was right and they were not. I was the one who was really mature and had the strength of character to say no to a stupid and deadly habit.

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MAIDS

In those days we referred to the women who worked as cleaner in the house as maids. I see nothing at all wrong with this work. These days some people take umbrage at this unobjectionable word.

These maids were all menopausal. I never saw a young one in another house either. I suppose the school would not want any goings on. These working class women were mostly amiable. We got along well with them and we were almost respectful towards them.

There was one such maid whom I shall call Marge. Marge must have been 50. She looked like a poor man’s Barbara Cartland. She was gloriously obese and wore makeup like a circus clown. Even as a young woman she must have been a munter. The idea of having sex with Marge would be enough to make even the straightest boy offer his arse to the nearest AIDS infected pederast for a bareback buggering. Yet we told Norbert we all fancied Marge rotten.

Norbert did not have much between the ears. Because he was slagged off so much he was also very susceptible to peer pressure. When he said he did not find Marge to be sexy we ribbed him even more. He must be gay for not wanting her to get her knickers off.

The good thing about Marge is that she was discreet. She cleaned our rooms and came across packets of Marlboro reds, bottles of vodka and plenty of girlie mags. She never once reported this. If she had then we would have detested her.

In the afternoon there was messing. This meant tea time. We would go to a kitchen on our floor to make a snack liked beans on toast and scrambled eggs. The maid would be there to help and wash up. We would often hang around and natter with these old women.

There was another maid named Janet in the house. She was have been in her late 40s. She had very pale blonde hair and was almost fuckable. She had grown up children and a naive manner. We would chat to her very freely.  We would slag her off to her face. She was so stupid that she did not realise. SOmeone even had the nerve to ask her when she lost her virginity. This was too much even for Janice. She just gave us an empty headed stare as she tried to decided what to say. Udo interjected  in a mocking voice, ”I don’t know the lights were off.” We all fell about laughing.

Judge would later admit the fantasised about the Dame as she was the only woman around. That was quite an achievement for a woman who must have been menopausal.

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BEKYNTON

My house dined out. That is glamourising it. We did not have a kitchen so we went to a refectory called Bekynton for our meals. The women who worked there were not all old but seemed to have been selected solely for their ugliness. It certainly was not for their culinary skills. In my third year they did employ one good looking young woman there. Now that was asking for trouble! Yes, she did have a liaison with a boy in my house. No, it was not me but the Captain of Boats. That is another story.

We did not dine smartly. People often had food fights. There were many tables. Blocks were unofficially segregated.

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POP

The Eton Society was never referred to by its real name. We always called it Pop and its members were Poppers. These boys were Eton’s peacocks. They had sponge bag trousers in a houndstooth cheque. They had brightly coloured waistcoats runup for themselves. Their tailcoats had a braid on them. On Sundays they had to wear black waistcoats but these had silver buttons. What a delight!

The outgoing Poppers elected the incoming ones. They tended to be jocks. This meant that most boys respected them. They were Eton’s traffic police. They were there at big events almost like bouncers to control our conduct. They were even allowed to fine us! It was an ego trip for them to boss us around.

I have to admit that I did admire them and envy them. I knew I would never be popular enough to get into Pop. This is the first time I am ever admitting that I hatched a secret plan to join Pop. Over 4 years I would save 1 000 pounds. That was a huge sum of money for a teenager back then. I would bribe my way in. How mature is that? In the end I gave up. I had other things to spend it on. There would be too much privation. Being in Pop would not be so special. Moreover, no sum of money would buy my way into that august body.

Pop had their own room where they could socialise. Lesser mortals were not allowed in there.

I later found out what was in the hallowed pop room. It was full of overflowing ashtrays, empty beer cans and porn videos. Remember these boys were effectively our police. They were as corrupt as hell.

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REPUBLICANISM

I gave some thought to republicanism. I had known the republican version of events since before I could read. It went something like this. England had attacked Ireland. Ireland had been enslaved. We were Catholics and the English were Protestants. The Protestants in the north were of English blood and they had no right to be there. They barbarously treated our Catholic compatriots in the north. Ireland breaking away from England was splendid. Now we were free. Any connection with England was bad. The IRA were freedom fighters and everything they did was amply justified.

The IRA launched rockets at Heathrow while I was at school. I did not get a hard time about it.

I rejected republicanism like my father but I was a conventional nationalist. My mother held the most nauseatingly republican views. She was also a total hypocrite. She condemned the wicked English establishment which she desperately wanted me to join. If Ireland was at war against England then how come we were allowed to go to England? If Ireland was not at war against England then the IRA were terrorists.

However, part of me felt that perhaps I was wrong to denounce the IRA. Were they not the most patriotic Irishmen of all? They were willing to suffer for their platitudes. I read up on their martyrology. I could not but be impressed by the defiant and high minded letters some of them wrote before execution. There was another side to this that I did not look at. The Crown Forces had men of gallantry and principle. They never got a chance to write such letters before being killed. The fact that people are physically brave is immaterial. Every cause, good or evil, has been served by men who were prepared to die for their beliefs.

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POLITICS

The political atmosphere of the school was the most unthinking sort of Toryism. Quite a few boys were the sons of Conservative MPs. Overtime it became fashionable to slag off the Conservative Government and express support for other parties even – perish the thought – Labour. Every smart alec began to say he was a Liberal Democrat. That was a very avant garde thing to do.

I was politically centrist at the beginning. I could see that Labour had some decency to them. I felt some sympathy for the poor. I felt more should be done to assist them. I was glad that apartheid was all but over. I spoke about Mandela being ushered into office – it was laudable. Norbert showed rare political insight, ”The whites have treated the blacks like dirt. Are you telling me the blacks are not going to want their revenge?” I said, ”Mandela is a good man and he won’t allow that.” Inwardly I was stumped. Norbert had a point.

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MONARCHY

My parents were passionate royalists. Even at the mention of aristocracy I would see them mentally genuflect. My father spoke of his admiration for the British Royal Family, ”Everyone from dustman to a duke from Land’s End to John O’Groats says ‘God Save the Queen’ and that is the best justification for it”. They were sentimental about the monarchy as am I.

My father said, ”I think we are all impressed by titles.” When someone says, ”I think we all…” they are distancing themselves from a belief they hold but find difficult to defend.

They psychologically bent the knee to aristocrats and royalty but sometimes expressed radical views.

On the list of pupils I saw boys with the appellation ”Hon.” before their name. This meant ”the honourable.” They were honourable because they were the sons of a peer of the realm. Sometimes this was rendered as ”Mr” – Mister? I suppose ordinary boys do not get Mister till the age of 21. There were a few Lords and suchlike.

These noblemen seemed to be a bit more confident perhaps. They did not have to wrestle with the problem that others do. Am I posh enough? Other than that there was nothing to unite them. They had an ordinary spread of academic ability and ability of every other kind. They had different attitudes. If anything they were timid and dismissive about their titles themselves. They tended not to like having their titles referred to. It might be done in a mocking way.

One of the sons of a peer in my Block was named Hon Saunders. Hon Saunders was a small lad with a mass of black hair and a talent for football. He was not too bright and nor was he hard working. His accent was at the lower end of the posh register. It showed vestige of Cockney. How genuine this I do not know. He certainly did not face the same existential crisis as the rest of us. Am I upper class? He knew he was upper class. His father was a peer of the realm for God’s sake. They lived in London and had a pile in Yorkshire. He once painted a picture of it. He took tea with the Queen Mother but did not boast about it. He would only talk about it when pressed to do so. His nobility gave him the social self-assurance that many others lacked. He once told me how he reviled class prejudice. ”Saying ”ah frightful lebbage” is just as bad as calling a black man a nigger.”

This was before ‘Status Anxiety’ by de Boton was published. At Eton there was this constant self-assessment as to one’s social standing. I suppose it exists everywhere. It can be the other way around where people like to be assertively working class and detest the upper class and the middle class. Most people strive for some status or other whether it is monetary, sporting, intellectual or in fashion. I do not think Eton was peculiarly pernicious in this respect.

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ACCENTS

Most boys at Eton had what is often called a public school accent – so no surprise there. There was some variety within this. There were some boys whose accents were stratospherically posh. I have never met children these days who speak with such uber pukka accents. (That is another thing – the use of upper class argot such as ”pukka”. I did not use that word to illustrate the point). There were those whose public school accent was the middle of the range and those whose accents were at the bottom of the range in that they had some regional inflection. I do no say ‘bottom’ as to imply that they were not as good just they were not as distinctively public school. However, the ubiquity of the public school accent despite one’s local origin gave lie to the notion that it is a Home Counties accent. Yes, most of the people with this accent live in the Home Counties. That means those counties immediately surrounding London. However, this accent is socially and not geographically based

I can think of a few boys who maintained their local accents. These would be mild versions of that. One boy in my year had a Scots accent. One chap had a slight Yorkshire accent and two had Mancunian accents. There was someone from Northern Ireland who had an Ulster accent. There were even a couple of boys who had a bit of a Cockney accent. In my house there was Doug – he was known as this for playing a character named Doug in a skit. Except we pronounced Doug as ”Doog” because that was how he said it. Doug came from Lincolnshire and kept his accent.

These were rare exceptions. 98% of boys spoke with received pronunciation. I arrived there with a public school accent. I phoned my mate Thomas in Scotland after a couple of months at the school. Thomas also had a public school accent. As soon as I spoke on the blower to Thomas he said, ”Your accent has changed.” I honestly did not think it had. But he was into acting and so perhaps had an ear for these things. If it did change it was unconscious.

I later reported this to my pater – Thomas reckoned my accent had become a little plummier. I was anxious. I felt it was a bad thing and reflected falsity on my part. My father put the supposed accent shift down to a bad telephone line. He really has no objectivity and will strive for any excuse no matter how ridiculous too avoid arriving at unwelcome conclusions.

Over time my accent certainly did become a jot more pukka. My vowels became longer.  Yet sometimes I hit a bum note when doing so. Honesty compels me to record that this change was to some extent studied. I am a verbomane and thus pay exceedingly close attention to the precise words used. Jolly. This word does not mean ”happy” for public school people. It is used to mean ”very”. It is a social marker. Only those who are decidedly posh use it. It was widely said among those a generation above myself. In my second year I wondered, could I use the word jolly in this way? I guiltily decided that I could. I slipped ‘jolly’ into my speech but felt a little like I was betraying myself. There were other indicators of poshness that were just too  much such as ”frightful”.

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THE OTHER 93%

How do the other half live? That means those who do not go to public school. Except in this case it was 93% of the population who do not attend public school.

Many boys had the most acrid disdain for those who did not go to public school. As this was my milieu it was difficult not to internalise these attitudes. I had been more or less surrounded with such views at my prep school. I arrived at Eton with some class prejudice. It was reinforced. I too became haughty. The word ”pleb” was shamelessly used against anyone who had not been to public school. They were assumed to be inferior, stupid and to have bad taste. Pleb was often abbreviated to ”leb” There were several other barbs used to describe the working class or even the middle class. Among these were ”prole” and ”commoners”.

The most revolting garment ever invented was the shell suit. This was seen as the uniform of the underclass. At my prep school there had been countless jokes about how disgusting and obloquial shell suits were. It made me cringe to see my cousin wear one. I was wiser than to tell my schoolmates what she wore. I was not wise enough to reflect that this showed that the whole notion of one class being better than another was what was really obscene – not the shellsuit.

Suits were also a dead giveaway. We sometimes wore suits in the evening to the theatre or going away for matches at other schools. Our suits were all sober coloured and conservatives. Boys often had pin striped suits and some were bespoke. Not a few were from Jermyn Street or Savile Row. The suits worn by those who had not attended public school were a dead giveaway. We would see men on television or on the street and their suits seemed nauseating. They would be loud and bright. These people simply had no refinement.

Clive had been to a state school till only two years before. This was a fact we did not seem to take on board. He angrily chided us for calling anyone at a state school a pleb. He was more experienced than us and knew what state school people were really like.

I was into individuality. I would do what I wanted. I realised the majority were not always wrong. In some ways I was conventional and never had long hair. Sometimes I agreed with conventions. I was not a compulsive dissenter. But as I was such an individual I should have judged  others this way. It ought to go without saying that someone’s worth is not determined by how much money they have or what type of school they attended. There are Etonians whom I revile and there are state school people who are delightful. Which school someone attended has nothing to do with whether this person is worthwhile or not. It took me until after I left school to drop that idiotic and pernicious snobbish outlook.

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THE ”-AGE” SUFFIX.

We would talk about plebs as ”lebbage” or someone’s girlfriend as ”birdage”. There was even ”billage” for being on the bill.It was part of Eton micro-slang. Not many people used the older generation’s expression hoi peloi rather than lebbage. Note it is ”hoi peloi” and not ”the hoi peloi”. The definite article is already contained in the Ancient Greek term.

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RACISM.

There were three and a half black boys in the school when I arrived. There were a few dozen British Indians. None of them were Indians directly from India. There were dozens of Orientals – mostly Hong Kong Chinese. There was not one child from mainland China or Korea.

People cracked racialist jokes. I do not think anyone genuinely disliked people from ethnic minority groups. Racism was something people could switch on against someone they disliked if he happened to be from a minor ethnic group. They could just as easily switch it off again for someone they liked who was a member of that same ethnicity.

Gaj was in C Block when I arrived. He was a 6 foot Sikh and powerfully built. He wore a black turban to fit in with the school colours. He was the only boy permitted to wear a beard. Luckily for him he had plenty of facial hair so it did not look measley. He was bursting with self-confidence and his voice was often heard clanging around the football pitches. He was a noted goal keeper. Towards the end of the year they were electing the new Pop. Rumour had it that Gaj fancied himself as Pop material. Gaj was not elected into Pop. A boy in my house chuckled over chambers, ”Ha ha – Gaj didn’t get into Pop coz he’s a nigger.”

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THE LOWER MAN

Eton has a Head Master like any other school. Notice that Head Master is spelt as two separate words at Eton unlike everywhere else. He was known to the boys as the Head Man. There was also a Lower Master – he was a Deputy Headmaster with special responsibility for the boys in their first two years. That is to say F Block and E Block. The Lower Master was always known as the Lower Man. The Lower Man in my day was Ellis as I shall call him. Ellis had been to a public school in south-west England. In a bizarre twist of fate I was interviewed for a job in his old school years later. I saw a photo of him there when he was headboy. He was greeting the Queen Mother. It was 40  years before he nearly expelled me! Ellis did National Service in the King’s African Rifles. Rumour had it that he had been the commanding officer of a certain Idi Amin. The Ugandan in our block was said to abominate Ellis for this reason as though Ellis was somehow responsible for the atrocities carried out by AFrica’s most deranged tyrant.

Ellis was a short man and yet he had an unmistakable air of authority about him. He was physically unprepossessing with folded over eye lids, a baggy face and lips that were a little too thick. He looks much older than his real age which would have been 55 when I first came across him. He was very upright and somehow when he walked by we all found ourselves instinctively bracing up. We all just knew that he was in charge and no one ever caused trouble when he was around. It was mysterious how he managed to held up in check like that.

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SOPHISTICATION

There is a stereotype of Etonians as suave, sharp dressers who believe in themselves and can handle any social situation. They are well-bred and inherit immense fortunes. They are highly intelligent but never drily academic. They are athletic and they are go getters who storm the City. There certainly are boys who conform to this stereotype. Some are just like that and some of them forced themselves into that mould. There are plenty of boys who are not like the stereotype. There were boys who were weedy, who were milquetoasts, who were messy some were geeky and others did not come from rich families at all. Eton was certainly no guarantee of success. Plenty boys amounted to nothing in later life.

There are no etiquette lessons at Eton. People seem to imagine it is like a finishing school which teaches boys which knives to use for which course at a five course banquet. Boys know this sort of thing from home.

The boys were in many ways ordinary teenage boys. Most were not intellectually curious. Many were keen on sport. There was a lot of philistinism and not a little bigotry.

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THE LIBRARY

On my first tour of the school with Sagar a year before I came up I asked, ”Do you have a library here?” It was an obtuse question but also a courteous request to see it.

School Library was in a grey granite domed building right in the centre of the school. I was later to discover it was a memorial to the Old Etonians killed in the South African War – as in the Second Boer War. The Eton Rifle served as  a distinct unit in that conflict and in no other.

I shall never forget the sight of a dozen boys with their noses buried in various books in the upper reading room. Each mind was teeming. There was one boy with mounds of dark blond curls who somehow struck me as formidably brainy. There seemed to be such a thing as clever hair. This is hair with the texture of computer wires. Men who are egregiously intelligent are either bald or else have tonnes of hair. That’s the way it seems to me.

In F Block I started going to the library quite a bit. I would often doss on the tatty green carpet upstairs and pore over books. I collected historical arcana like a true obsessive. I read reams about Ireland and other countries.

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SALLY

I should say a word about Sagar’s wife. I shall call her Sally though in fact she had an adrogynous name. She actually looked rather like him which seems to prove the Selfish Gene theory.That is to say people often go for someone who resembles them because this is a subconscious way of trying to preserve their genes.

Sally was a teacher at a nearby Primary School. She very much behaved like a Primary school teacher. She was a decent person and always well turned out. We did not have a great deal to do with her since she had three children to raise. She never did any harm. She and M’Dame were at daggers drawn. Hilariously, they made no attempt to conceal it. The Dame in particular was the soul of indiscretion and bad mouthed Sally – to our delight. Looking back on it the Dame was startlingly irresponsible.

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Dharmasala: adolescent odyssey.

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Susumu and I took the bus from Manali to Dharmasala. The bus wound its way through the serrated foothills of the Himalayas. Much of the road was not hard top. We traveled ovenight. We stopped at a roadside restaurant beside a precipice. Huge cauldrons bubbled away with chapatis and suchlike. I supped upon local fare. I slept but fitfully. I dislike bus travel. Before dawn we came to a bus station down the mountain from Dharmasala. Susumu and I got off the bus and took out rucksacks. We had to wait in the chilly half light for the bus up the mountain. The bus we had been on was going on to another destination. I was in light summer clothes. I had to dig out some extra garments from my pack. I lay there almost shivering on the floor of a small and dusty bus station for a couple of hours till our bus came. By the time it was fully light it had warmed considerably. Mercifully the bus journey was only a few minutes up the very steep mountain. I saw fir trees for the first time in months.

Soon we were in Dharmasala. We easily found a hotel a couple of minutes from the main square. We checked in and went to bed. The crisp white sheets were very welcome after a rough night on the bus. After a few hours I came around again. A hot shower later I was a new man.

Only then did I take time to admire the vista. There was only the odd wisp of mist around. The place was like something from a dragon’s tooth painting. It was tranquil and clean as can be. I made a jarring but pleasant contrast to the crowded and scorching plains of India. There was a little balcony there. I stood on it for  minute. I saw beige coloured pink faced monkeys scrambling over the corrugated irons roofs of houses below. The green hills tapered away to the flat land on the horizon.

Our hotel was pin clean and had tiled floors. There was a laregish dining room upstairs. Susumu was sombulent for  a long time. I went out for  a stretch of the legs. It was rewarding to explore this small city.

Dharmasla means refuge. I am not sure which language it is from though – maybe Hindi. This northern Indian town is not far from the Chinese border. In 1949 the People’s Republic of China invaded Tibet. The Communists cruelly oppressed the Tibetan people in a manner that since 1945 only communists have managed. Non-communists have certainly oppressed people and murdered them since 1945 but not on this scale. Mao Zedong in his monomania sought to root out Tibetan identity. Their religion and culture was systematically destroyed. The Dalai Lama had at first not resisted the Chinese invasion. It soon became apparent just how horrific communist ruled was. He fled to India. The Chinese authorities have since become cannier. They realise there is propaganda mileage in easing off the oppression plus there is money to be made from tourism if they allow some Buddhist temples to function.

The Dalai Lama – spiritual leader of the Tibetans – came to India. He settled at Dharmasala. A large Tibetan community is there. Dharmasala has a lot of Western tourists. Some of them see it as a place with cool weather and a decent spot to relax. Others are afficionados of Buddhism. Buddhism is mainly a peaceful religion but it also strikes me as dull. There were many Richard Gere type wankers around. In fairness they are far from the most obnoxious religious nuts.

The town was built on a slope. Many of the streets did not have a hard top. I went to the Dalai Lama’s temple. He sometimes puts in an appearance there. He was not in town for the few days I was there. There were the usual Buddhist statues and bells. The building was white and unremarkable.

When I returned to the room Susumu was smoking. He said he only did that after sex or taking a dump. He told me tales of banging hookers in Thailand. He worked as a hotel receptionist in Japan. It said much about how wealthy Japan was in those days that a hotel receptionist could afford to take a few months after to go travelling.

In the mornings we would breakfast in the dining room. We had to share  a table. We met a Danish woman in her 30s. Like most Danes she spoke flawless English. She was slender and had flaxen hair. She would have been attractive had acne not been so spiteful. It was notable that even at her age her cheeks had those angry red marks. She was animated and intelligent. She told me of her adventures in Italy in her teens – getting all the way there by hitching rides with lorry drivers. How she got drunk and ended up in hospital in Italy. Her parents had told her not to go and if she went to Italy they would never forgive her.  But when she returned they threw their arms around her. She studied Medicine like her father but in the end became a computer programmer. Here she was chilling in Dharmasala. She took time to walk in the hills.

Over the next few days I tried to meet this Dane again. There was a slim chance I would get to shag her. I left a note for her. It was to no avail.

In the dining room on another occasion we chatted to a chubby middle aged German woman. She nodded at one of the Tibetan monks who ate at the place. She remarked how that man had been through the most ghastly ordeal. She precised his experience at the hands of the Chinese secret police. On the bookshelf there was a tomb with the monk’s photo on the dust jacket. It was a moist account of what had happened to him. I did not read it but the story could well be true. There were plenty of mountebanks out there pretending to have been tortured by the Chinese police because this sort of tale was sure to elicit sympathy and hard cash from gullible Western tourists. Such abuses often did occur in Tibet but one could not believe every story.

I was a little sceptical about the cause of Tibetan nationalism. Tibet had been independent but not free under the Dalai Lama. It had had slavery. Tibet had at times been a province of China. I looked back into many history books that showed maps of Tibet as a Chinese province.

On a balcony cafe Susumu and I spoke to a Tibetan aged about 30. He was not a monk and wore Western clothes. He told me how Tibetans never fought. I then told him how I had read about the Tibetan Army fighting the Chinese centuries before.

”Well if someone come and shit on your head what you doing to do?” He replied.

That was not what he had been saying a minute before. He could not have it both ways. Either the Tibetans were pacifists or they were not. Now he was saying they did fight but only when gravely provoked and only for rectitude. That would be admirable but it was incompatible with his earlier boast.

There were too many credulous Western tourists who fell for every claim of these Dalai Lama disciples. I suspect some of the so-called Tibetans were Indians of Nepali stock who could pass for Tibetans.Not all Indians look Indian if you see what I mean. Some of those from near the Chinese border resemble East Asians not South Asians.

It was in Dharmasala that I discovered that India has the cleverest monkeys in the world. One day I was alone in the bedroom. I left the door to the balcony open. I saw on my bed with my snout in a book. I heard something and my eye was drawn to the baclony door. A monkey had cheekily come into the room. He was a filthy little mange ridden simian. I looked at him for a moment – unsure what to do. Then he growled at me and made a menacing scratching gesture towards me. He was a few metres away so it was not immediately threatening. I said to him, ”Could you go away please? Would you please leave?” So he did. I learnt not to leave the balcony open. Moreover, I also realised that staring at the animals makes them aggressive. There would be troops of them in the streets snaffling snacks offered by tourists who were eager to add to the monkey infestation.

In one cafe we used to go to we met some Japanese tourists. One of them was Yasu. Yasu was in fact Korean. Susumu later elucidated something to me. Even though Yasu’s family had been in Japan for 90 years he was not a Japanese citizen. He only spoke Japanese and had never been to Korea yet he was a Korean citizen. I even saw his passport once. Susumu was fairly blinkered but on this issue he was fair, ”It is a shame for Japan.” He felt bad that Yasu was not allowed Japanese citizenship.

I later told some Korean pupils about this. They told me that that young man had been very Japanese in their eyes. Koreans in Korea would never have the name Yasu since in Korean Yasu means ”beast.”

Susumu persuaded me to buy a blue duffle jacket. It was bracing at night. I quipped that he was getting commission. Somewhere along the line I lost that jacket. That is a pity because it was fetching.

One evening we went to a restaurant sort of place that was showing Time Will Tell. This is a documentary about Bob Marley and it shows many interviews with the man himself. I had seen it 6 years earlier. These being the days before You Tube if you did not see something on telly it was difficult to see at all. The video was not easy to find. I sat on a wooden bench and two score tourists watched it too. Many of them had dreadlocks and tie die clothing. These were the sort of hippies who peopled Dharmasala. They exclaimed their approval every time they saw Bob inhaling wisdom weed.

Sususmu and I went for a walk in the woods one misty afternoon. The trail twisted away up the hill. There was a pine forest on one side and a bare dank hill on the other. Eventually we came to a placid pond. It would have been picturesque had there not been so much refuse floating on it. Sadly so much of India is like this. Waste disposal leaves much to be desired.

After a few days Susumu wanted to depart and I did not. So I escorted him to his coach and said farewell. I took his photo and we kept in touch by email. We have never met again. I would like to see him.

We have a bet that by 2019 a white American will be Dalai Lama. He said that and I wagered this will not happen. If I am wrong I have to come and work for him for a week. I cannot recall what he owes me/

He sent a round robin out a few weeks later boasting of tupping a hooker in Bangkok. ”She was sweet, sweet, sweet.”

I spent time on the internet after Susumu had gone. I looked up political parties websites. I chatted with a ponytailed Frenchman. He saw I was looked up the Ulster Unionists. ”Are you engaged to this party?” He meant – was I member. Oddly, I had grown timid about speaking French so we only spoke in English. We would have had more of a rapport had I spoken to him in his native tongue.

After about a week I decided to head on.

Bravo Two Zero – a tissue of lies.

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I read Bravo Two Zero yonks ago. I also saw the film aged about 15. I lapped it up. It was a tale of derring do. It was Boys’ OWn stuff. A handful of plucky Britishers deep behind enemy lines wreaking mayhem among the enemy. It was not so far fetched as to pretend that no one on the British side was captured or killed. He could not exactly do that since it was announced by the government that some of the SAS were killed or taken prisoner. What I find astonishing was that they could fight dozens of Iraqis in daylight on open ground. In one of those firefights not one Britisher was wounded and the SAS charged an Iraqi armoured personal character. However, in my naivete, I did not disbelieve it.

I even met Andy McNabb when he came to my school to give a talk. He was short, personable and as hard as nails.

I lately read a book about Bravo Two Zero. Another SAS man wrote a book about it in 2002. This was 11 years after the Bravo Two Zero mission. He exposed what an utter balls up it was right from the off. McNabb disregarded much expert advice. He took the wrong kit. There may be some blame on his superiors but he messed but a great deal.

The objective was to locate scud launchers. This was so the air force could destroy scud launchers and their communication systems. The SAS were not tasked with destroying the scud missile launchers unless the RAF could not do it. As McNabb himself said at Cambridge the SAS is not about killing the enemy. If they wanted to kill enemy soldiers they would call in a bombing raid. The SAS’s goal is to surveil a target. It is to gather intelligence in a way that only a human can do within binocular range. In some situations a spy satellite or listening device will not cut it. The SAS is not primarily there to kill people but sometimes it will kill people when that is unavoidable.

Despite McNabb saying the objective is not to kill people according to him they killed hundreds of Iraqis. ”The REAL Bravo Two Zero” exposes this to be a lie. The mission was a cluster fuck. To cover up the comprehensive failure some fantastical tales of outstanding triumphs were invented. McNabb talked up the hardhihood of his men. Yes, they were SAS and far more gallant than most. But what McNabb claimed they did was just impossible in terms of loads they carried over great distances in terrible weather.

The author travelled through Iraq. He interviewed many Iraqi witnesses. He visited sites mentione d in the book. He found none of the blown out vehicles that McNabb claimed they destroyed. Nobody would have collected a totalled and burnt out vehicle from deep in the desert. There is every reason to believe that if the SAS had destroyed an Iraqi APC it would still have been there 11 years later.

The author was not totally credulous. He wondered whether Mukhabarat had got to the witnesses first. The Iraqi secret police could have controlled it all. They could have ordered them to tell a certain tale on the very real threat of death. They would have been briefed on what account to give. This did not tally with the tale they told. It did not suit Saddamist propaganda. He suspected his witnesses of lying about some issues. They probably purloined gold coins of a dead Britisher.

This is not to be utterly demeaning about McNabb and his men. They still did well to survive at all. I would not have done a hundredth as well. They showed resourcefulness, valour and immense reserves of energy. All the same it was still a fiasco. The objective was not achieved. 7/8 of the SAS patrol became casualties. McNabb is derided by former members of the SAS and there is a reason why. He led his men to calamity and then shamelessly lied about it. He scapegoated his dead comrade instead of raking responsibility himself.

The public were eager to believe this story. McNabb gave them what they wanted. They wanted heroes and extraordinary achievements – the SAS winning against the odds.

Overall, it is a farrago of lies. It reminds me of that well known adage: in war the first casualty is truth.

A dream of killing a man.

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I was in a flat. It was oone of rhe lowe floors in the building. I think there was a woman in it with me. I do not know whom. There was a man in the building who had burst in to other flats and killed people. I have been thinking lately about how these Chinese basketball players came to our place in Hangzhou and beat up my Chinese chum. Maybe this got me dreaming/

Then in the daytime this man came into the flat uninvited. I do not know why the door was not locked. He was white and hefty but not call. I think he represents Wyn. Wyn was my nemesis in Baku and I wish to send him a missive.

He looked sulky. He is pathetic and thinks he is tough when in fact he is a wuss. Oddly I did not feel nervous. I do not remember him carrying a weapon. I had a handgun. I found it very easy to shoot him a few times in the chest from a range of several metres. His chest did not bleed but he had been hit. Bizarrely he did not fall or stagger. I rushed towards him. Suddnely my gun became a kicthen knfe. I stabbed him several time sn the chest and he fell down dead. I do not recall there being blood.

I was very satisfied. Several people came around and congratulayed me. I was as proud as punch. There were men and women who thanked me. One of the men was a tall, middle aged Arab man in traditional Arabian robes.

What can it all mean? Part of me was thinking this man I slew was Polish. Wht has that got to do anything? There are no Polish people/ I have disliked Polish women who were my housemates. I have never had beef with a Polish man. Wyn is  a Brit. I think this is because I was reading about a British Polish comic yesternight.