Thursday 18th August 2011
ETON College – now they were two fascinating gigs.
You cannot help but be overawed by the impressive architecture, the history in its closes. After all, the place has been around for half a millennium.
The alumni include nineteen British Prime Minsters. Neither Arthur Wesley (later the Duke of Wellington) nor Eric Blair (George Orwell) achieved much academically, the latter a pupil, briefly, of Aldous Huxley, who was unable to keep discipline.
Film director and human rights activist Sebastian Doggart was the last boy to be punished with a beating, in 1984. Prince Harry, third in line of succession to the present monarch, graduated from the College in 2003, having gained A-levels in Art (grade B) and Geography (D).
School fees are currently set at £30,981 per annum. Extra costs may include Boat Club membership, Music lessons, tipping of house domestic staff, and tradesmen’s bills for items bought in local shops.
My professional engagements at Eton were both pleasant occasions: running a summer school workshop and as a guest poet. The students were attentive, the hospitality splendid, the view from the chapel roof magnificent. On the Thames I watched rowers doing ‘bumps’ and saw the wall where they do that game in which nobody’s scored a goal since 1909. Except when the play is in Calx, neither team may ‘furk’ the ball, which is to hook it backwards.
The town of Eton seems to be a part of the school, rather than the other way round. The streets afford frequent glimpses of Masters wearing gowns and scholars in the traditional uniform of black tails, waistcoat and white tie. Boaters are a summer term option.
Many sightseers will combine a guided tour of the College with a visit to nearby Windsor Castle. I cannot confirm or deny the tale of the American who was overheard observing:
“Truly wonderful, yes, but why did they have to build it so close to the airport?”
The College is seven miles from Heathrow. Aeroplane noise intrudes upon learning every two minutes or so.