Sunday, May 8, 2011

Chapter IV The Great Pretender

The spring holidays between leaving King's and entering Westminster
were a busy time, a full wardrobe of clothes to be outfitted for at the 
Westminster school shop, only part of my preparations. 

For some reason, I felt inclined to seek my first job, so adapting my 
mother's habit of advertising for lodgers in the Times personal 
columns, I placed an ad for work, clearly mentioning that I was 
13 years old.  Not only did I secure an easy going, well paid job 
in the wholesale sheet music business with Piccadilly Music, turning 
down a competing offer of UKL 2.50 from an estate agent, I was 
also interviewed and commissioned by the then broadsheet Sun 
newspaper who paid me a handsome sum to write my first article on 
my motivation for seeking a job so young. One of the journalists 
interviewing me, Richard Hall, had a son Crispin who would one day 
work for me on the Holland Park School newspaper.

The holidays must have been longer than the customary four weeks 
as I also found time to journey by train to Shrewsbury and visit my 
brother Gordon there. He was assigned to Gladstone's House and 
in retrospect it was quite extraordinary that a boy in only his second 
term was able to secure the guest room for his younger brother's
visit.  I must have noticed my brother's trunk and other personal
property bearing his initials G.I.F.. Quite on the off chance I began
referring to him as Gif and he seized the opportunity to distance
himself from his previous persona of Gordon Jr.. Later, many
would call him by the further corruption, Giffy and others would
mistakenly believe, taking the corruption to its greatest extent,
his real name was Geoffrey Fields.

On my way back to the Shrewsbury train station, I narrowly
avoided death as a goods lorry speeding through an underpass just 
missed me as I carelessly crossed the road.

I continued on my train journey to Birkenhead, Cheshire. There,
I probably transferred to the local underground that took me
under the River Mersey and deposited me in the heart of
Liverpool. In 1966, the city was still vital and had not yet fully
embraced the steep economic decline it was to endure 
over the next 30 years. I was there to be a house guest of the
Groves family. 

My best friend from King's, Jonathan Groves and I shared the
same birthday, December 29 1952. A chorister, he came from
a pre-eminently musical family. His father, Charles, was at that
time conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. He was
an extremely large, kindly man, always receptive to an after
concert backstage visit by one of his son's former classmates
(Jonathan went onto King's Canterbury). I had been one of 
many boys at King's always excited to see the Groves Jaguar
sedan as it would glide down the gravel entry off West Road
towards the school.

Borrowing a gown

To say I was intimidated my first day at Westminster would 
be a considerable understatement.  I was assigned to
Liddell's under the supervision of its housemaster, Charles
Keeley. An English teacher, Jim Cogan, was his second-in-
command, the house tutor. The house would be where
I would board and be closely supervised for the duration
of my time at Westminster.

The founding housemaster, Stephen Lushington had
left after a dispute with the school and senior boys still spoke 
of him as a sort of hero, battling the school's conservatism.
His successor, Keeley, was an innately shy, retiring man,
a life-long bachelor, cared for by an ancient white Russian
housekeeper and, most importantly and curiously, a
devout catholic in a citadel of Protestantism. Keeley spoke 
in the softest tones imaginable for a man; I dare say, given
my present partial loss of hearing, I would still would not be
able to have a satisfactory conversation with him. However,
in his duties as head of history, no teacher has held me more
spell-bound with his erudition than, "Charles", Mr. Keeley.
To cut to the chase, Mr. Keeley was ill-equipped to be a
substitute hero-father and our relationship was doomed to 
failure from the beginning. Jim Cogan, for his part, just never
liked me.

As a newly minted housemaster of a house founded as recently
as 1956 in an interview room full of veteran housemasters looking
for star material, I could well imagine it was by sufferance that my
sponsor John Carleton billeted me to Liddell's, Westminster
being one of those schools where the Headmaster does not
double as a Housemaster.

The fact that I was aware that "Coot" (as in "queer as a coot") had
a soft spot for me would prove to be a double-edged sword.
For my part I never forgot for one moment that my entire opportunity
at Westminster was down to one person, the Headmaster, John
Carleton. An old Wet himself, John had spent almost every
year of his adolescent and adult life at Westminster. A
confirmed bachelor, he had entered into a late marriage of 
convenience with the writer Janet Adam Smith. There had been
rumors of a sex scandal while he had been Master of the Queen's
Scholars, the equivalent of deputy Head.

There was word of a confrontation with another famous old
Westminster Sir John Gielgud. Gielgud, a notorious homosexual, 
occupied a house in the Division Bell district, just beyond the
school's perimeter. It was said that Gielgud had been informed
that he was no longer to enter into the school proper, into Little
Dean's Yard. He carried on, however, with his habitual 8 p.m.
stroll past my study window which looked out into Dean's Yard,
always accompanied by a small dog and usually by a handsome
young man.

Carleton held the cherished distinction of once noting
in a school report that the young Peter Ustinov would never be able 
to write (good) English. And I cherish the distinction that I, too, was
taught by the same man, albeit 3 decades later and in a different

Carleton was already in his late fifties when I was to
come under his care. His skin, an unfamiliar deeply tanned color in a 
sea of English rose complexions. He wore a double breasted suit, in
the continental style of two vents at the back, cut to show his lean
frame of above average stature.

Our relationship was strictly Platonic, or should I say, Socratic as in
the relationship between an inspiring teacher and slavishly devoted
pupil, taught to question everything. I loved him deeply as a long
lost great uncle, but not one of the white haired, wizened variety.
It was as though he had adopted me as his progeny and
deeply wanted his diamond in the rough to succeed.

During my time at Westminster, Carleton was bombarded 
with the most unsettling reports of the boy he had St. Peter-like
granted entrance to. (Westminster was, after all, the Royal College
of St. Peter, attached to the Collegiate Church of St. Peter,
commonly known as Westminster Abbey: the answer I furnished
to a question I was asked on BBC TV's Top of The Form when
later captaining the Holland Park School team.)

After getting carried away and turning in some University standard
work for a bog standard class project, I was accused of plagiarism
by the villainous music master David Birt, forced beyond his limited
intellect to teach English.  This time I was frogmarched by Birt to
either Charles or Carleton who would have patiently explained
to the little man that I was known to produce "quite good" work

There was the row I instigated by submitting the best submission two
years' running for a Stuart Horner travel grant awarded annually under
the auspices of a school committee, only to be denied on specious
grounds by the self-righteous-soon-to-be-outed Denny Brock, whom
Carleton could not afford to cross on my account. The pitch
battles with my housemaster. Unfounded allegations of drug dealing, 
an incipient problem I begged my mentor, Carleton,  in a private
meeting to guard against. 

As with the dozens of musical groups that I interacted with later
in life, it is impossible to give justice to the hundreds of boys that
I knew at both King's and Westminster, even to just thank those
who shared their tuck with me!

Some like Stephen Poliakoff, I saw outside of school in friendships
that lasted decades.  Stephen stayed the course at Westminster but
chose to leave King's College, Cambridge (where I had been short
listed but clearly rejected for admission the same year) after just 1
year, picking up immediately on his already budding career as a
playwright which has since blossomed into a significant one.

Others like Nick Bell was a witness to my own efforts at playwriting
and general buffoonery the next year in class Shell IV.  I had the 2
of us in trouble on account of my copying some nonsense from an
inconsequential class test in Latin and the hapless temporary teacher
thought he had cracked a major crime ring.

I was particularly glad for Nick to contact me 40 years later and return
to me a playscript I had written and had directed myself.  And  even
better was meeting his lovely family and their new "Aga" stove!

Upon entering the school, I was assigned to class 5D , sometimes
written in roman script as VD, the fifth denoting the usual entry form
at Westminster; scholars would normally skip the fifth form
altogether and proceed to the next year, the upper Shell. The "D"
indicated I had been placed in the bottom stream. I soon discovered
I was at the bottom of the bottom in ability and surrounded by giants.
Several of the boys had already had their growth spurt. Most of them
were a year older than I and even among the 16 other boys admitted
the same term as I, only 1 or 2 knew as little of the core curriculum at

At King's I had never considered myself a slouch at mathematics nor
English. What was taught that term was far above my head; as for
Latin and French, it was an uphill battle to write my name correctly.
That Election (summer) term served as my introduction to the
mysteries of attending an elite school. Little was expected of me
and I satisfied expectations. I was duly asked to attend a summer
school in France and improve my French which request relayed
through my mother I complied with. The weeks spent in Menton
on the French Riviera did serve as a prelude to my first grand
European adventure, my hitch-hiking alone from Switzerland
through Germany to Amsterdam. At 13, though verbose, I was
painfully shy: I would insist on swimming in the warm Mediterranean
fully clothed.

At Westminster, those exhilerating, terrifying first few days, I
discovered that no longer would teachers rotate to the various
classrooms to teach their specialty subjects as at King's, now we
new boys would have to find at a near hourly frequency a different
classroom from the great many scattered throughout a labyrinth of
buildings, some dating from before the 16th century re-foundation
of the school.

For the first couple of terms I was given a bed in Liddell's only
dormitory, a long room with perhaps room for a dozen boys.
My bed-wetting had abated and my experience at King's of
sleeping in a communal dormitory had accustomed me to such
sleeping arrangements. In place of lonely boys looking for human
warmth, Platonic love from older boys, there was much talk in the
dorm at night of masturbation but no action that I was aware of.

My first friendship was with Charles Kessler, an attractive small
black-haired boy, no doubt of the Mosaic persuasion. He and
Sebastian Giles were the smallest boys in the house that term,
both in 5C. As it happened, Charlie was not interested in forming
homosexual bonds, nor were any other of my close friends during
my career at Westminster. One of the least pleasant young men in
Liddell's, Adrian Ward-Jackson, would find fame on his death-bed
as the late Diana, Princess of Wales' point man in her involvement
with AIDS causes. Hilarious with his acid tongue was art dealer in 
the making and expert on European royalty, Guy Stair Sainty. 
Guy was to become my unofficial tutor in History and skeptical
thinking.  Mike Douglas was a gifted footballer and linguist. I was 
soon to hitch my sail to his as I sought to improve both my soccer
and Spanish language abilities. Alex Catto was really the boy who
set the tone among the fifth form boys in Liddell's my first term, not
exactly a bully but forceful of character, as befits a Scottish laird. 
As 13 year olds we had little and desired even less contact with the
senior boys, those aged 16-18 who appeared as gods to the terrified
new boys. That they were house and some school monitors with the
very real power to punish added to their remoteness as people.
One who stood out with his good naturedness, however, was
Johnny Corbin; a year later, Richard Macrory proved to be a genial
school monitor; the house rebels had to have been Giles Burrows and
Mike Elliott, ties always askance, both passed over for monitor.

As I became familiar with the school, I began to look elsewhere for
friendships. My old hero Charlie Forman was up Grant's. Denny Brock,
my mathematics master, was housemaster there and the place
seemed to have an almost martial atmosphere. I probably wished I 
were there with their strong esprit de corps and their determination
to win everything. The pivotal point for me that first term came in a
school day trip to Brighton, the Victorian sea side resort with its
Edwardian Royal Pavilion. For the life of me, I cannot remember
any scholastic reason for the trip; could it be that the school just
allowed us boys to choose a junket? Well, it was a very liberal
school in certain ways.

Luckily for me, I fell into sitting at the back of the hired motor
coach with 2 boys from 5B, Eric Gavin and Michael Trend, both a 
year older than I but physically at the same stage of adolescence.
The two were capable of getting into as much trouble as I was; I think
we all were all suffering from that thirsty evil, that surfeit of freedom
after the drudgery of prep school. After all, there were no
examinations of real consequence that summer. There was no
question I was staying down a year, no question that neither Eric or
Mike was a scholar. We soon became a close-knit group, a little too
soon for sharing details on the when and where of parties, but I am
sure we talked about girls.

Both Eric and Mike were day boys. Eric's father a well-to-do physician
in Kennington, across Westminster Bridge, lived in a Georgian house
next to his surgery. Eric remained a friend of mine for many years,
always with a scheme; coincidentally in addition to becoming a
working dentist, he, too, became involved in the music business and I
would see him at MIDEM, the music trade fair held in Cannes, during
the 1980's.

Mike's father was the very unassuming (to me) Burke Trend,
then conceivably the most influential man in Britain as Cabinet 
Secretary and co-head of the British Civil Service. Trend had to have
been a Conservative at heart but he had the then Labour prime
minister, Harold Wilson's ear. The Trends lived right on Blackheath
in a late Georgian villa. It was always a treat to visit Mike. His home
had to have been as untidy as ours, now that Soakie was no longer
with us. There was nothing to be in awe of. There was always a lot
of yelling in the house: Mike yelling at his younger brother Patrick,
his mother, Lady Trend shouting at Sir Burke. Nothing poisonous
in the exchanges but pretty forthright for what I had grown accustomed to in Britain.

Burke always wanted to know what I thought; I never knew if he was
the greatest conversationalist of his era without ever revealing his
own hand or that in those years of political upheaval, he genuinely
wanted to know what made the younger generation tick. And
somehow he found it more convenient to listen to me than endure
a lecture by Tariq Ali, then figurehead of student unrest in Britain.

The burning issues of the day were the Vietnam War which
the British government backed politically if not sincerely with any real
commitment, the Anti-Apartheid movement on which Her Majesty's 
Government sat on the fence, the continuation of the Campaign for
Nuclear Disarmament (CND) which MI5 accurately perceived as a
common front for Marxist adherents and finally, the general feeling
that students were utter pawns of the older generations, that we were
placed on a treadmill and had no say in what speed we traveled at or
where we were indeed headed. Ah, a truly unifying politik. These
feelings of alienation were to build, then explode in a series of
eruptions beginning in Paris, during the spring of 1968. The fact
that these political feelings were contagious, flashing across borders,
was due to the utter emotionalism of the issues. When this very
same wave of unrest was to envelop Westminster School, while
Paris burnt, it was to unite the moderates and radicals among
the student body, only divide the school between the old guard in
the Common Room and the Young Turks sipping tea
alongside them, biding their time.

When I came to apply my waning youthful energy some years
later to a reasoned, scholarly approach to the polemics of Gore 
Vidal , I did not hesitate to send a copy of my dissertation to 
Lord Trend (as he had become), now Rector of Lincoln College, 

His note, written on college letterhead, thanking me and offering 
a critique, became one of my most treasured possessions.   It does 
not surprise me to learn long after his passing of Burke Trend's 
effectiveness as a Westminster School governor, at times concerning 
himself with those same Common room tribulations.

I am rushing ahead in the account of my days as a Westminster.
Where Mike Trend and I cemented our friendship was in the
school orchestra. At King's I had accepted gladly the
responsibility of playing triangle in the junior orchestra whilst
being rated the number 6 trumpet player in a school of 180
boys. At Westminster, with its blase attitude towards most
extra-curricular activities, I was immediately admitted into the 
school orchestra as third trumpet. That first term for me was
the last for first trumpet, Nick Ingman, at Westminster. He had
overlapped with the departed Andrew Lloyd Webber and must
have maintained his friendship, for Nick was to become Lloyd
Webber's arranger for many of his successful musicals, besides
arranging more than a dozen U.K. number one pop records.
He was an excellent trumpet player, his maturity giving his playing
a huge edge over the musical prodigies at King's. A scholar,
Andrew Gilbart was second trumpet, in line to succeed Ingman.
I tried very hard to observe and not to overreach my abilities
and I remember Ingman as genuinely very helpful to someone
foundering, as I was.

Gilbart, for his part, had priorities other than music. Equipped
with his superior intellect, he went up to the formerly raffish
Trinity Hall and embarked on a career path that has seen him
make a name for himself as one of Britain's leading
Environmental law experts. From Queen's Scholar to Queen's 
Counsel, Andrew having taken silk.

For my part, I suddenly found myself before my fifteenth birthday,
first trumpet in a school orchestra that attracted the high and
mighty of Britain's Establishment to its thrice a year concerts.
As we commenced our weekly rehearsals at the start of Lent
term 1968, I was naturally concerned about my standing, or
should say, my continued sitting in the orchestra. If I sank it would
be of little concern to the orchestra's conductor. The school had
established a policy of mounting its concerts regardless of whether
there were enough boys to sit before the music stands. The school
would contract with professional musicians to fill the gaps in the
musical ranks. If a boy couldn't hack it in rehearsal, there was little
actual worry for Birt, the conductor. Hire another gypsy, that's all.
Our rehearsals bore absolutely no resemblance in sound to that in
concert. But I was determined to make it to the concert, dressed
to play not to spectate!

This is where mischievous Michael Trend showed the true colors
of friendship. Sitting behind me, far from the conductor's podium,
Mike was a gifted, if somewhat lazy, French Horn player. For him,
all this rehearsal business was an obligation to be dispensed with;
thankfully, he had Fields sitting in front to crack jokes with. But I
assuredly needed Mike's guidance. Was I counting the bars at rest
correctly, was I too loud, too soft, would he mind rehearsing me
afterwards when I could get the measures right for my part?

I became a stalwart in the orchestra, thanks to Mike's
mentorship. We would still have professionals join us; for a while 
I was the only trumpet player in the school. But I learnt quickly and
knew my limitations: I and not the conductor would tell the hired men
on the day if I felt able to play the first rather than the third trumpet
part (there were some devilishly difficult parts in Orff's Carmina 
Burana). I knew I could never hope to surpass the elation of having
played Faure's Requiem in Westminster Abbey (there was not a single
hand-clap allowed in appreciation of our interpretation of that sublime
music), nor getting the soaring trumpet voluntary spot on in Ravel's
orchestration of The Great Gate of Kiev. I can still see Mike's broad
grin as he congratulated and at the same time reminded me that I
had more notes to play . When I eventually finished secondary school
and knew that I could never play in the real world, I was very happy
to give Mike my precious trumpet and imported mouthpieces.

Mike Trend was at one time Conservative Member of Parliament for 
the very safe constituency of Windsor and Eton and sometime 
chairman of his political party.

In that summer of 1966, a favorite occupation of mine was to 
practice my tennis strokes against the wall of the long building,
rebuilt after the bombing of 1943, that houses the day boy house,
Wren's, downstairs and College, on its top two floors.

College was where the present day Queen's Scholars, all 40 of them
were quartered, segregated from the rest of the school. For those
boys whose parents either did not profess to the one true religion of
the realm or feign such devotion, there was the less lucrative option
of their sons being dubbed "Honorary Scholars" and belonging to
other boarding or day houses; these boys, usually but not necessarily
of the Jewish faith, were also entitled to wear a gown, a shorter one
than that worn by a master, but a distinguishing mark, none the less.

I soon became star struck with these boys of superior learning.
After all, I had become aware of Westminster's exacting
standards when my hero at King's, head boy Charlie Forman, had 
failed to win any sort of scholarship. Soon after Play term began in
September 1966, I became best friends with Julian Campbell who
had just joined the school, going straight into the upper Shell.

Julian was another beautiful pre-adolescent with flowing curls;
I supposed Julian became my unofficial mathematics tutor; gosh,
he could have tutored me in anything, such was his intellect.
He involved me in his election, 7 or so fellow scholars of his year,
all boys self-confident of their abilities but I can't recall a moment
of displayed arrogance among my new friends. A year later, it
would be Peter Collenette who threw the first of the many Saturday 
night parties for our generation, the festivities almost always
involving girls from the other private schools in London. That first
one saw a preponderance of girls from the elite St. Paul's Girls
School, including a very young Olivia Davidson.

Julian was the eldest of 4 brothers born to a remarkable divorced
mother, Rachel. In all the years that I knew his family I never heard 
his father spoken about voluntarily. They lived in a ramshackle house
at the far end of Chelsea, 31 Edith Grove; his house became a
second home for me, Rachel, the idealized mother figure, always with
a large pot of food available to feed the next stray boy. His brothers
all went onto Westminster from The Hall school, the next, Marcus
became one of my best friends after Julian went literally east to
India and then west to America with his American bride, Saundra.
Following on were Benedict and Cosmo. Of the lot, only Julian
passed the Challenge, the Westminster scholarship examination.

Rachel, was very much a full time mother, later working part-time as 
recall in an Art Gallery. How Rachel managed the whole affair
undoubtedly had a lot to do with her patrimony rather than alimony.
Her father was the noted historian Noel Blakiston who lived in a
magnificent Chelsea town house at the other end of ultra fashionable
King's Road. His wife was a Russell, a generation or two removed
from Woburn, the ancestral home of the Dukes of Bedford, the
owners of much of London's literary quarter, Bloomsbury.
Julian's great great grandfather was Lord John Russell, the Victorian
statesman. Not to be outdone, there was a framed invitation to 
Julian's paternal great grandfather to attend Edward VII's coronation
hanging in the upstairs loo! Rachel was one of 2 sisters, the other, the
illustrious actress Caroline Blakiston (Sunday, Bloody Sunday).
The designer Mary Quant was a relative by marriage, so this was a
household very much, literally and figuratively in the centre of swinging London.

The same could have been said of our own household. We had this 
absurdly large flat in Hanover Gate Mansions and despite its
ridiculously low rent of 20 odd pounds a week, my mother decided
to let out rooms. In the front of the flat, of the three large
bedrooms, only mine and my mother's never seemed to have been
rented out. Even her consort's, Myles's, room was at one time
occupied; first by an American philosophy post graduate student who 
formed a highly illicit attachment to Randy (lucky guy!) and then,
later, by Frank Kermode and his then consort Anita, both on the
lam from failed marriages.  In the middle section, we had the
Honorary Secretary of The Victorian Society, George McHardy
who occupied the room originally allocated to our Mexican
American housekeeper, Soakie. On the other side of the principal
bathroom was the former telephone room, once Gif's abode,
now rented out for 3 pounds a week to a young newspaper
illustrator on Fleet Street, the Yorkshireman, David Turner.
In the back, 2 more bedrooms, the more humble one usually
temporarily housing a young society person seeking to make their
way in swinging London. The other bedroom, in the key position
opposite the second bathroom was first occupied by Richard Fries,
a King's man always destined to be a Mandarin, later U.K.
Commissioner of Charities. Following Richard came the irrepressibly
charming Paul Levy, a journalist, author and bon vivant with a sizable
private income derived from trade in Lexington, Kentucky.

Other flats in our mansion block were occupied by such diverse 
people as the art critic Robert Hughes and the filmmaker Tony Cox
along with his wife Yoko Ono.

As I was a weekly boarder, I was exposed to the high flying
adult society from Saturday afternoon (we had Saturday morning 
school) until late Sunday night when I would choose to return to
Westminster, ahead of the Monday morning classes. As I entered
puberty, serious conflicts began to arise between Randy and me.
Randy always claimed he entered puberty 2 years ahead; he may
have been deflowered that far ahead, but by fourteen I was more
than ready to start sowing my oats. But Randy must have been
feeling very insecure at this time: in the hot house atmosphere
of Westminster I was advancing academically far beyond Randy's
level. His early habitual drug use no doubt exacerbated the situation.
The result was a poisoned atmosphere at home with Randy making
life unbearable for me. The point was reached when I would break
out in hives every time I went home for a visit and return to school
with the picked at blemishes; the Liddell's house matron suspected
that we had bed bugs; It turned out to be a simple nervous disorder
that was cured by my staying at school at weekends. At 13, this was
no hardship as Westminster became a special place when only 50
or so boys out of 500 would occupy the school.

Not to lay the blame entirely on Randy. I was an extremely
sensitive adolescent. There was a one week break that I voluntarily 
took from school to rest my nerves. Hash smoking might have
helped those frayed nerves albeit at a certain intellectual cost.
Things were to come to a head at Liddell's, a year later during
Play (Autumn) term, 1967, when my raging hormones took over.

One aspect of school life that helped me enormously was being 
taught history my first full year in the fifth by the Headmaster
himself. Just 2 forty-five minute periods a week but how they
immediately became the highlight of my existence at Westminster.
To be sure, it was History light, but Coot always had a fascinating
story to tell so as to embellish our studies. He liked giving tests of
20 questions, and I can't recall ever not placing first or equal first in
our weekly quizzes. How my classmates must have marveled at my sycophancy!

During that pivotal year, my level of academic achievement was
in line with what was expected of the average boy. This was
confirmed in the end of year school examinations as I followed
the rest of my classmates into the upper Shell.  However,
I had made one strategic error in my study habits. I had placed
in the middle of my Spanish class without realizing that the class
would be split in two the following year and that I would be
assigned away from the easy going Dave Brown (D.E.B.)
and placed with the well-meaning but austere Alan Livingstone Smith.

I went to battle-stations, but this time, in a most constructive way.
I began consulting with the star Spanish student at the school, Mike
Douglas, who happened to be in my house. If there were any
anomalies I didn't understand in my prep, homework, Mike would
patiently explain.  I began achieving perfect scores on my prep which
naturally raised a few eyebrows. Livingstone Smith, bless his soul,
knew his profession well enough not to confuse tutoring with
cheating.  He bided his time to see if my newly acquired knowledge
of Spanish were for real. All the time, I was petitioning to be moved
up to the higher stream taught by Dave Brown.

The moment of veracity came at mid-term with a customary progress
examination, the same identical paper sat by both classes. I think I
came in 3rd overall, obtaining marks for questions for which we had
not yet been taught the answers. Still I was not elevated to the
higher class; my motivation had all but dissipated when awaiting
the latest corrected prep from Livingstone Smith, I had an awkward
fright : it was customary for this teacher to give out the best papers
first and make his way down towards John Brown and Mark Deighton,
the laggards of the class, adding suitable comments along the way. 

My paper had not been returned. What a sinking feeling I had …
perhaps, I had confused tenses and achieved a zero on my prep.
O me miserum! Then I entered into a dream world as Livingstone
Smith announced to the class, that he had awarded me a digniora
for the cumulative excellence of my work in class that term and that
I would be leaving for the rarefied atmosphere of Mr. Brown's class. 

I was in utter shock.A digniora is a Westminster honor that is 
extended for exceptional work. In this particular era, it was rarely
given, sometimes not awarded in a single year to any pupil.
Mr. Livingstone Smith now commanded, you shall take this
piece of paper to your housemaster's study where he will be
expecting you. He will need to sign off on it, my teacher explained.
I think my heart sank. The thought of visiting Charles Keeley's
office had up to this time conjured up Trouble with the proverbial 
capital T. I had no feelings of I told you so, I simply felt we were
tuned to different frequencies. I went, of course, and Mr. Keeley
must have said something kindly along the lines, "I see you've made
your mark somewhere". He accompanied me to Carleton's study
upstairs in the next building at 17, Dean's Yard.

To say Mr. Carleton was beaming with pride would be an
understatement. This was our shared moment of redemption, 
a moment when his assessment of my potential had been
vindicated by a no nonsense master. The boy who failed all but
one of his entrance examinations, who had finished dead last in his
first term at the school, been subject of many a negative report,
had turned up trumps, after all. The boy upon whom he had
personally bestowed a bursary to help with the school fees
would be collecting more coin of the realm. For the Headmaster
of Westminster School enjoys the ancient right of receiving surplus
Maundy money from the Crown, the silver coinage that is minted
each year to commemorate the number of years of the monarch's
age, the reigning monarch now requiring more than 80 sets of the
coinage to be distributed to a like number of pensioners on Maundy
Thursday, the day that honors Christ's washing the feet of the poor.

Here was the boy from Pacoima stepping forward to receive the tiny
little silver tuppence piece. I promptly sent the citation and coin
to share with my Dad in California. He misplaced the items and they
were never recovered. By a happy co-incidence my best friend
Julian received an identical coin for his digniora and I was able
to fondle the coin proudly when I wanted.

I was already accustomed to borrowing Julian's gown for after school
visits to the Palace of Westminster situated across Millbank from
College Garden and the school. The scholars enjoyed the privilege
of attending parliamentary debate in either house of Parliament,
Commons or Lords, without having to queue for a seat.

I was the great Pretender.

Work in progress

Updated May 31, 2011


It seems unfathomable that it has been almost 40 years since John 
Carleton's death.  Ironically Carleton's successor John Rae's tenure
at Westminster was cut short due to wife Daphne Rae's roman a clef
concerning life at their earlier posting, Harrow.

I very much wanted my daughter to attend the school as a sixth 
former but it was not to be as she preferred early matriculation
to a U.S. university and marriage at 18.  We did have the benefit
of a tour of the school circa. 2004 and I found the students
refreshing to chat with.  Subsequently I have returned for
2 (Liddell's) house reunions where I exalted in meeting again
Guy Stair Sainty, Michael Douglas Q.C. and Professor Richard
Macrory amongst others.  Disappointing was trying to connect
with  Dave Brown who had succeeded the late Charles Keeley
as housemaster.  Brown had now assumed a gravitas worthy
of a Victorian head master and I appeared to have failed his exacting standards.

Alan Livingstone Smith is still hale and hearty but attends the 
Rigaud's House reunions at Westminster as a former house tutor.
I hope someone will draw his attention to my incomplete portrait here.

John Brown became one of the leading book publishers of the day. 

Julian Campbell returned from India and soon departed for Lexington, Kentucky where he has spent the remainder of his life, still married to Saundra.  Marcus Campbell could have been typecast as the handsome, easy going bookseller in the film Notting Hill.  He can be found at his impressive Art bookstore opposite the Tate Modern museum in London.  After many years he did confront his mother Rachel over the non persona status of his late father.  Rachel has lived for many decades near Newmarket racecourse.  

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