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by Bill Cemlyn-Jones
14 September 1990

I’ve had an unhappy life. Dammit, I’ve had a tough life. I’ve been through grisly experiences even I won’t believe. But none, believe me, half so unhappy. Half so tough, as those halcyon years of hell I spent at school.

“I crossed the enemy line but the enemy had run out of whisky!”

Remind me to tell you some day how I tackled singlehanded a maddened bank manager with no weapon but a small blunted overdraft, or when I landed behind the enemy’s lines and found that the enemy had run out of whisky. Tough? Sure it was tough.

But it wasn’t as tough as the day when the feds handed me over to the warden of an English Public School. The gates clanged behind me. Devils Island. No dames, no booze, no pot. There wasn’t even any television. (It hadn’t been invented in my schooldays, which is about the only good thing you can say about them.)

The warden, or headmaster as he preferred to be called, was a pompous old ass called Dr. Arnold. His son, Matthew, wrote sentimental verses on the lavatory walls. The head boy, Tom Brown, warned me that playing by myself, would make me go blind and cause my hair to fall out. I, though a shy lad, was rather proud of my naturally curly hair. It was a horrifyingly dull life.

“If you were feeling sexy, you were told to take a cold shower.”

The only subject you were taught was elementary Latin grammar, a fantastically useful subject for future astronauts, ballet dancers, disc jockeys and politicians. Most of the time we spent playing football (rugby) or cricket. For football you kick the ball, and for cricket you hit the ball with a bat.

In England, the weather is normally horrid all the year round, so we played both games more or less simultaneously. They were much enjoyed by the big boys, all rough bullies, who kicked the little boys (rugger) and hit them with a bat (cricket). It was horrifyingly boring.

Mural in the public lounge of the Greta Arms Hotel of Charles Dicken’s novel, Nicholas Nickleby, depicting the hapless pupils of Whackford Squeers at Dotheboys Hall

If you felt sexy – during these doubtless impressionable years – you were told to take a cold shower. It was while taking a cold shower that I met the only friend I met during my repulsive school years. His name was Portnoy. He told me about girls. At the time I thought it was a figment of his heated imagination. The happiest day of my life was when Portnoy and I finished digging our tunnel from the shower room and broke out of Dotheboys Hall.

Even today, a century later, many middle class English parents sent their unfortunate kids to Public (i.e. Private) Schools, and boast about the undoubted fact that it costs them a lot of lettuce; what a wonderful thing they are doing for their brats and all that nonsense. The fact is, most parents hate their children, and are prepared to pay large sums to get off them in so called boarding schools for the major part of the year.


I didn’t do that with my kids. I didn’t send them to school at all. I marooned them on a desert island. Actually, not a desert island, but on the then relatively unspoiled island of Mallorca. They had a good time.

So I did. I shacked up in a bar in Ibiza.

GUIDEPOST cover, 14 September 1990


Featured image (photo composition): man/KyleRyan, Unsplash (partial face blot-out supplied); fireworks/Sen Lee, Unsplash
Whisky/Gadjo Niglo, CC BY2.0
Dotheboys mural/summonedbyfells, CC B2.0
Shower/uzi978, CC BY-SA2.0
Mallorca/Pat Neary, CC BY-SA2.0