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March 31, 2008

Spring has sprung!

Once the croci make an appearance, there's no turning back!

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March 29, 2008

Top Hats Off to my Public School

By Jasper Loxton

I can still remember my first impression of the place. Pulling up into the courtyard facing the huge red brick building with an archway carved into it that was filled by two great old oak doors with two rustic door handles. Gargoyles along the top of the building watched down on the whole site. Visions of buggery, caning and slavery raged in my mind. It was at that point I realised I was in a Charles Dickens novel.

It was a whole world away from the atmosphere evoked by my local comprehensive, a large school that housed two thousand students and took in anyone. The school was a five-minute walk away from my home and located in a middle-class neighbourhood. It was notorious for scaring away the good boys of my leafy streets and embracing the "riff-raff". With a sister who had managed not only to survive but even flourish at the school, eventually becoming Head Girl, the idea of receiving a light pounding now and again seemed more character-building than threatening to me when I first started.

However, two years in, after being made to feel like a terror suspect at Guantanamo and having experienced just about every kind of insult and wrestling move ever conceived, while my classmates were thinking up ways to debase the teacher, I would wonder where the best hiding place in the playground was. I wouldn't say I was suicidal, but the social side of school was as hard for me as it was for my classmates to resist the temptation of enraging the teachers. OK, so everyone's been bullied, but the happiest days of my life felt too far away for me to ever reach.

Being accepted, aged thirteen, into St. John"s, a fee-paying public school in Leatherhead Surrey
signalled more than a new education for me. More like a new life. After scraping through the school
entrance exams, scoring 0% in Maths, a poor score in "Verbal Reasoning" (a kind of general IQ test),
but getting a good mark in the English paper, I felt like a well-spoken dunce. It was the fact that
my father was an "old boy" that gave me the edge.

I was going to be boarding at the school for the next five years. As a fourth former, I lived in a
dormitory with five other boys, all of whom were from Surrey and had come through preparatory
school, or "prep school" - fee paying primary education. To begin with, with many of the boys having
known each other from prep school and with no one having even heard of a place called East Sheen
(where I lived), I did feel like an outsider again. Quickly, though, I realised that fourth form was
going to be one of the best years of my life.

The people you live with in a place like this become more than just classmates or even friends, but
almost brothers. You do nearly everything together: shower together (thankfully in cubicles, not
what you"re thinking), sleep together (separate beds!). Such an environment requires friendship;
otherwise you would make enemies under your own roof.

The school was divided up into houses (think Hogwarts). I was in Churchill House, notorious for
being the Gryffindor of St. John's. Our major rivals were West House, (think Slytherin). There were
two other boarding houses and two day houses. Being a member of Churchill was an honourable
position. With the largest trophy cabinet of them all, and a housemaster who was believed to sit at
the right hand of God, we were the envy of all the school. To be able to take pride in where I was,
and to be part of a house feared for creating the strongest rucks on the pitch, not in the
classroom, was a refreshingly brilliant thought.

The school was one of the top establishments in the country, but banish the image of the Eton or
Harrow-like toffs you"ve conjured up. It was not an environment that endowed a pathetic and self-
limiting form of "status anxiety", denigrating social inferiors - even if your daddy did earn twice
what my daddy earned, or you yourself sported a slightly chavvy haircut. We may all have had the
same accent, one that some people call "posh", but the sort of snobbery where people think they are
better than someone who doesn"t pronounce their "t"s was not rife. We didn"t sit around in smoking
jackets, sipping brandy and congratulating each other on being the country"s educational elite.

The melting pot, or my former school, seemed like a world away. There wasn"t much of an ethnic or
social mix, St. John"s being predominantly white and middle class. Along with this, you were aware
of just how many boys there were. The only year that had girls was the sixth form. Up until then,
when you reached the top of the school the "look but don"t touch" rule was carved into the mind of
every fourth, lower fifth and upper fifth former. In my pre-sex (sorry, sixth) form years, the idea
of turning gay did seem like an obvious move as there was potentially masses of choice, but I
couldn"t bring myself to do this. Interestingly, the homo-eroticism that has come to define the
"public school boy" was not as prevalent as you might have expected, and I myself experienced only
one homosexual advance throughout my whole time at the school.

I had to keep myself on the straight and narrow. Until I reached the sixth form, I think I must have
clocked up a maximum of about two hours" talking to females. To say I was awkward and nervous around
girls would be an understatement. With boys huddled around a window late at night watching the hot
girl get it on with the school captain was the only real action I got. Even pornography was in short
supply. Understandably, these beautiful girls became untouchable goddesses you would talk about for
hours, fantasise over for weeks, and grow to love for years, dwarfing yourself by placing them upon
the most towering and glorious of pedestals. Making love to yourself was not a hobby, but a
responsibility to one"s health as dreams of heterosexual sixth form copulation raged.

We were not all nerds who could only sleep with a microscope. We had fun, but because of the
constant reminder that our education was being paid for, there was a greater responsibility to
succeed. We were privileged enough to have been given the best start in life, where the only
graffiti was the initials of former students carved into the red brick of your house.

There was a hierarchy in the school, where older years were more respected then younger years and
prefects could control the younger years. But these positions of power were never abused, and
"fagging", (whereby younger pupils act as servants to the older boys) never really happened. Every
day, a prefect supervised us for "prep time", a period in the evening where you had to do your
homework. Although the older years cracked the whip now and again, I never experienced or witnessed
bullying to the degree I had before.

Obviously a privately funded school can afford a better educational lifestyle for its pupils. With
acres of sports fields, good school meals and many other facilities on offer, the chance certainly
exists to be a happy schoolboy. The school matron at St John"s, Mrs. Parker (affectionately known as
Mrs P) was a 70 plus year-old, who, like a grandmother on crack, delivered a smile as well as your
laundry to your door.

When everything is pretty perfect around you, it is hard to complain, and so the compulsion to
strive and succeed was enhanced. You also have the opportunity to be emulated in way that probably
just isn"t possible in the mixed-sex state system. For example, I had a wide fan base of younger
years after briefly courting one of the most desirable sixth form girls.

Swaggering down the ancient cloisters as a decorated sixth former, with your own rooms to work and
sleep in, and with the knowledge of finally being among the females - it really is a unique kind of
education.

It is because of these things that the public school system has been criticised for being an archaic
and artificial bubble that isolates children from "the real world", but you can"t blame economically
privileged parents for seeking the best education for their child. So, is private education
intrinsically better then the state system? No. But when you feel driven away from your local
comprehensive, the thought of a private haven does not seem so terrible. Private education may not
be for everyone, and it does require a certain type of person to cope with such a school and live by
its rules - but if you can, and you want to, you have the ability live out Enid Blyton"s fantasies.

After leaving school, I found the real world as surreal as that of the school and it was clear that
a degree of institutionalisation had set in. I was known in school, even famous, from starring in
drama productions and notorious for winding up teachers and it felt very strange to be unknown, and
arriving at university to start up new glory years. With St. John"s, I remind myself that, in the
words of the song, "you can check out anytime you want, but you can never leave". Still, three years
after leaving, I keep in touch with my friends and continue to visit the school.

It is hard not to feel slightly superior when you have been greatly privileged. But I try to remind
myself that you should always judge a person"s character over their intellect, wealth or education.
If you do, you will avoid becoming the type of snob who has come to taint the public school image,
and instead of being yesterday"s upper class twit, you"ll be today"s gentleman.

March 23, 2008

Glorious Easter

The forecast said clouds and rain, but we're having none of that in Central Indiana so far. The sun is quite bright, but the temps remain on the cold side. I took a walk around the domain and noticed a few signs of Spring. My scraggly tulips have emerged, but no flowers yet. The buds on the crabapple trees are ever so slightly larger and bare a richer shade of red. Birdsong starts before the sun comes up.

March 20, 2008

Vernal equinox

It happens today! And we are getting a whopper of a day for it too, weather wise. It was a cool 50°F (10°C) with a bit of a NW breeze, but nice in the sun with a wind break. Peeps were actually sunning themselves in the courtyard outside the building. I risked getting the car washed again although rain is predicted for tomorrow. I really wanted to get the inside cleaned since it hadn't been done since the Autumn.
On top of Spring's arrival, we are going to have a full moon! Beware!

March 19, 2008

Dancing in the dark

The Nez went off line last night for about two hours. This soaking rain we've been getting flooded a damaged transformer and knocked out the west side of the street. Now I get to reset a bunch of clocks again.

March 18, 2008

RIP Arthur Charles Clarke

RIP Arthur Charles Clarke • Dec. 16, 1917 - Mar. 19, 2008

March 17, 2008

Erin Go Bragh!

whatever.

March 14, 2008

Pi Day

Each year on March 14th many classrooms break from their usual routines to observe the festivities of "Pi [π] Day" because the digits in this date correspond with the first three digits of (3.14).

March 11, 2008

RIP Diana Blake-Bigelow Mar

RIP Diana Blake-Bigelow Mar 11, 1946 - Jun 2, 1994

March 09, 2008

The first robin of Spring

Here he is busy robbin' Bighead's food. Ah, nature!


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March 06, 2008

Clock tricks

I hear that Daylight Savings Time kicks in again this coming weekend. Spring forward . . . so we lose an hour. The worst part is getting up in the dark. Also changing all the clocks again. Most change by themselves, computers, VCRs, TiVo, but I have quite a few that don't.
And I always forget that one on the thermostat.

March 05, 2008

It is March already . . .

But this weather is just like January with all the snow...
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I am tired of scraping the snow off the car every morning. My cat is going outside just like it's Spring and staying out all day. I can't wait to get some plants in.