Thursday, October 13, 2016


Sticking with the theme of punishment for a while...

Some boys had a wonderful time at boarding school. But few, I think, including those who had a wonderful time, escaped unscathed. Even those whose social standing and fine education has led to privileged, influential lives in the corporate world or public service--and there are many of them--are likely to be showing signs of emotional damage in one way or another in their lives. 

This story is about three of them. One of the three is me. 

By Peter Clothier

I was watching a public television program about Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey and The Who a couple of nights ago when I heard a familiar name: Kit Lambert. Kit was at the same boarding school, in the same “house” as myself, though I think perhaps a year ahead of me. He was the son of the British composer, Constant Lambert, one of a group of boys whose fathers were among the prominent British cultural figures at the time, including the composer Ralph Vaughan-Williams and the painter John Piper. They attracted a number of their friends to the school: Benjamin Britten was a frequent visitor, along with the soprano Margaret Ritchie and the tenor Peter Pears. It was a place of privilege.

Back story aside, I learned, somewhat to my surprise, that Kit had become something of a creative entrepreneur in his adult years, producing and managing for, among other luminaries, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, as well as for The Who. It appears, though, that he later sabotaged his own success and squandered much of his reputation on a serious and self-destructive drug addiction. He died of a brain hemorrhage at age 46 following a fall downstairs at his mother's house.

One of Kit's creative endeavors involved a 1961 trip to the Amazon to make a film documenting what turned out to be an ill-fated expedition to discover the source of the Iriri River. With him—and I believe the leader of the expedition—was another product of the boarding school we had all three attended. His name was RichardMason. The expedition came to a brutal end when Mason was hunted down by a band of previously uncontacted Amazon Indians and done mercilessly to death with arrows, spears, and clubs. With no connection whatever, and certainly no animus, I personally have reason to remember Mason quite well: as a school prefect, he had given me what we then called “six of the best”—a caning—in the prefect room.

My punishable misdeed was to have been caught with another boy—Bridger, but that’s another story—in a (strictly out of bounds) local pool room, where we were not only playing pool but drinking beer and smoking cigarettes, both serious violations of school rules. The caning was a ritual event, in which the offender was required to bend over a chair with his pants pulled down to ensure no palliative measures had been taken; the insertion of blotting paper in the underpants was a favorite way to lessen the pain. The prefects (senior boys) then lined up in gauntlet formation and the head prefect (Mason, in this case) thundered down between the lines with his cane raised in the air, and brought it down across the victim's buttocks with all the pent-up energy of his furious run.

A nasty business. And I admit, a rather circuitous story, to get to, um, the meat of the matter. I believe all three of us were scarred, each in our own way--not necessarily by this particular experience, but by being forcibly removed from parents, siblings, and the security of home at an early age, and deposited into that peculiar, hierarchical, often cruel and isolating island of boys. 

Note: For a fine British organization set up to provide help and support for Boarding School Survivors, check out the link to their website.

Where we were: Lancing College

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