Friday, September 9, 2016


Time for a boyhood memory of my own. It's called...

by Peter Clothier

I still get it, 70 years later. I write about it because I know that others do too--even some who did not attend boarding school, as I did. It's a seasonal thing, the back-to-school syndrome. It occurs at this time of year, late August, early September, and it happens every year. It's not rational. Like most other feelings--by definition, I suppose--it's irrational. But it's there. A kind of dread...

Let me take you back to Victoria Station, circa late 1940s. To the hiss and heavy mist of steam from departing trains, to the accompanying, pervasive smell of oil and grease and coal; to the inimitable clatter of steel wheels on steel tracks, the din of engines gathering momentum, and then speed; to the shriek and squeal of a thousand high-pitched voices as children say goodbye to parents and pile into the waiting carriages.

There are a dozen different school uniforms here, some cornflower blue. some oak-leaf green, some purple. My own school colors are black and white. We wear knit black and white ties, grey socks with black and white trim, school caps with black and white stripes. There are dozens of us, scampering around the platforms, gathering our belongings, watching as our big black and white banded "trunks" of school clothes are loaded in the baggage cars, along with the black and white banded "tuck boxes" that our mothers have packed with home-baked cakes and biscuits, packages of sweets and chocolate bars.

There are some, delighted to be going back to school, who shriek with delight as they run into old friends and stand about chattering before leaping joyfully into the carriages and "bagging" the best seats. There are others who bravely fight the need to cling to their parents' hands for fear of being picked out as sissies, and struggle to hold back sobs and tears when they hear the whistle blow to announce that it's time for stragglers to board...

I happen to be in the latter category. I'm no sports enthusiast--in fact, I'm a total duffer when it comes to football or cricket. I don't share the popularity of those who do. I know that for the next three months I will feel as desolate and out--of-place as I do now, setting out from the train station. There's no relief in boarding school. No going home for the weekend. If you're lucky, your parents might stop by for a brief visit sometime during the school term. To me it feels like a prison sentence meted out for some terrible crime I'm unaware of having committed.

So, yes, the feeling does come back at this time of year. It's a feeling of dread, of desolation. It's obviously buried deep inside somewhere, lodged there as obstinately as a limpet on a rock. I have learned to recognize it for what it is and to breathe some sense into myself when it recurs. But yes, it's there. It's always there, this time of year. Even now that I'm way too old for anyone ever to send "back to school" again.

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