Off to the Naval Club just off Berkeley Square. The lunch is to celebrate the century of a favourite History and House master. He has been dead twenty five years but twenty turn up. Good food which is rare on these occasions and the club is full of pictures of dead heroes and battle ships which we no longer have.
There is the usual crowd, not least a group of us who were at school together in the sixties and these occasions are one of our main meeting points. Of course as a senior City lawyer points out this bachelor teacher who called his pupils morons and threw things at them would today not only not be allowed to teach but might well be in prison. Instead here were a bunch of mostly successful old and middle aged men singing his praises and chuckling over all his idiosyncrasies. I give a three cheers for Mr Chips eulogy. History Boys all.
I have been involved with the Old Boys for thirty years. Like most voluntary organisations it spends most of its time wondering why its not more popular and agonising over the lack of people prepared to actually do something on the committee. Despite amazing efforts at laying on every kind of function, all over the world, only around ten per cent of old boys and girls are involved with the Society. And that figure has remained constant despite the most heroic and expensive efforts to widen the franchise/appeal. In fact some functions like the annual dinner ,once the main stay of the Society, seem to be going backwards.
As elsewhere alternative attractions and the decline of public space and the corresponding rise in private(and selfish) interests have had their effect. The old days when the old school tie was the network were blown away by the winds of change in the 60s. There is not an old school society in the UK that is not suffering the same fate.
Until 1970 the school was a boys only . And yet even today on a ratio of something like 8:2 men outnumber women at its functions-mainly dinners, lunches,drinks,sports days. The appeal of drinking with others is socially and in fact ,something that men at least publicly enjoy more than women. Men it seems with their desire to be in teams and belong to organisations find these functions more attractive and appealing. It would also seem that the fact of playing sport at school where for a brief moment you are representing your community makes the memory of the school experience that much richer(for men).
Nevertheless despite these attractions only ten per cent of old boys have anything to do with the school on leaving. For most the day they leave the school , give or take one or two friendships, is the day they leave the school. There are even one or two definite groups of ex pupils who prefer their own get togethers rather than those organised by the Society. Many actively hated the place. In many ways the odd ones are,we, the ones that stay behind, the ones that get involved with something in their past. The searchlight must surely turn on us .
Of the friends of mine who regularly turn up at these events one thing is certain. The fact that a group of 5-10 friends turn up , is one of the reasons we all go.It is part of our friendship. It would be easy to say that what we have in common is that we all come from either geographically or emotionally fractured families and therefore school played a more central part in our childhoods than it did with others. Divorce and service abroad have, after all , been traditionally the main recruiting sergeants for boarding school. But it is not always that simple. One dedicated old boy actually ran away from school and was ignominiously driven back by his po faced parents. But that hasn’t stopped him.over the decades, relishing in old school memories, friendships and get togethers.
In my case although my family was f*****, and I enjoyed my time there, for years I thought the old school was a antediluvian joke. To me university was where it happened, swapping tepid homosexuality for rampant heterosexuality, punishment for freedom, was the business. But an old friend ,ten years after leaving,brought me back into the old boy dinner ambit and one drunken day I found myself on the committee where I have stayed for decades. Maybe as a freelance worker I liked being part of something stable. In a mild way serving on the committee has allowed me to achieve some relative works which has brought satisfaction.
So the old boys will always attract only a minority. And given social and economic trends that minority may get even smaller. And for many its an almost accidental relationship. For some its obviously the only place that will have them. School whether we like it or not, is (a long with many other experiences)part of our history ,memory and personality.
There are many who relish the old boys. The school needs its alumni for support in various ways not just financial-though this is increasingly important. So the OCs are not going to go away.
One of the memories I always have is after a committee meeting at the school coming out onto the front lawn and finding a smartly dressed older gentleman. It turned out he had been at the school sixty years ago, he had spent his life working in some foreign clime, he was just making a rare trip to the old country and he thought he would just pop in.
Touching his youth, remembering long lost friends, hearing the echo of innocence, freshening his memory. Who doesn’t when passing near by the old family house make a detour to have a look? Its changed a lot since my day.