I’m not one for school reunions. At least ten years ago there was a drinks party in London for all the boys in “my” year at Eton. It was excruciating as the few I recognised I wasn’t especially keen on and otherwise it was a sea of strange faces. I ended up talking to the then Head Master, Tony Little, who was in the same year as me. I think he felt sorry for me.
On Thursday I weakened and went to a dinner for all the boys who had been in Bud Hill’s (BJWH) house at Eton. The evening started inauspiciously when I found my patent leather evening shoes were splattered with white paint. How on earth? Then I saw that the sixty or so diners were identified by their Leaving Year; I was 1961. In fact that is my brother’s LY and I left in 1972. We were seated with our contemporaries which must have been boring for my neighbours at dinner. They all remembered my brother and asked after him, as we say in Ireland. Actually a bit boring for me too.
There was one consolation. I was opposite Jonathan Franklin. Does his name ring a bell? He’s the author of Two Owls at Eton. He said he’d been asked why his book had been so successful and he puts it down to the selling power of that four letter word; not owls, Eton. “If it was Two Mice at Harrow it wouldn’t have sold a copy” he said.
After dinner the Provost, William Waldegrave, said that he would say “just a few words”, lulling me into a sense of false security. In fact, his entertaining speech more than made up for his untruthfulness. A theme was the greater familiarity between boys and beaks these days, bordering on impertinence but just steering clear. He cited Constantine Louloudis as an example. William Waldegrave had been making an effort to shed a few pounds and when Constantine saw him, appraised his tummy and said “I see Lady W has been holding you back in the pudding department”. I might say that Lord Waldegrave does not in the least resemble the corpulent Sir Gregory Parsloe-Parsloe and has no need to bant.
Needless to say I let myself down pretty badly after dinner. I told Lord Waldegrave how much I’d enjoyed his memoir and then, rashly, included the title in my econium: Glittering Prizes. Even a mild-mannered Provost can look vexed when his memoir is actually A Different Kind of Weather. Glitters is of course a memoir by Frederic Raphael but I, like Hamlet, had method in my madness. I was thinking of this excerpt from a half-forgotten post of October 2015.
“As William Waldegrave, another Etonian, wrote – you seek the glittering prizes, but when they slip through your fingers you adopt Harrovian Winston Churchill’s dictum and just keep buggering on.”
Well, Harrow didn’t do too badly today – two mentions. That reminds me of a friend doing pupillage for the Bar. Her Pupil Master said that he was appearing in front of a judge for a brief hearing that is called a “Mention”. Was she familiar with this? Of course, she replied, Daddy lives in one.