Impossibly posh. David Cameron. Oxbridge gateway. Tory. Tory. Tory. This is what comes to mind when the average Brit thinks of boys-only private boarding school, Eton College. Current fees are eye-watering – nearly £12,500 a term – making it comfortably one of the most expensive private schools in the country to send your little lads to. Which, of course, brings with it all sorts of preconceptions as to how those little lads will turn out.
Understandably, though, the young men I spoke to for this article didn't want to be tarred with the brush of negative leftie media attention. One said, "Look, I loved my time there. Obviously there are some real arseholes that embody that Eton stereotype, but there are some of us that are decent." And this is surely true; all of the guys I spoke to seemed absolutely nice enough.
So instead of dragging them we thought we'd give them the chance to show they really are just like the rest of us, by asking them to share the rowdiest stuff they got up to during their time at Eton College, Independent Boarding School for Boys.
On your first night there's an initiation into the house where you had to sort of run the gauntlet, which entailed being woken up by the older boys and told to run down a corridor and each person in the top year would get a free swing at you. It was quite funny. Obviously, looking back it is quite an odd thing, but it's been done in our house for about 20-odd years, apparently, so it's a tradition that has gone back.
Fagging is a very old, old tradition where the elder boys select a younger boy who does chores for you, and you pay him every week. The pay is normally between £5 to £10 a week. You can get him to go shopping for you or to clean your shoes, or you text him to get him to get you some food if you've been out late. If you'd been out on a Saturday night on "restaurant leave" to have a couple of pints and a curry in the local town, you could text him at 12 o'clock at night and just say, "Look, I'm quite pissed, I need you to go make me a coffee and some baked beans on toast so that I can look sober for my house master so I don't look like a moron." If you didn't wake up or didn't answer, that's when the repercussions could occur. There was some real bullying sometimes. You don't want to risk getting a bad name with the other boys because then everyone is out to get you. The social hierarchy is kept in place.
If you send them to the local store and you say, "I want this, this and this, and then spend the rest on yourself," it works out pretty well. I was treated very well by my guy, but I know guys who were treated… very badly, shall we say. So it's all about who you get. I just reciprocated how well I was treated to my boy and he seemed to enjoy it. I'm still in contact with him, actually.
You're not supposed to be drinking, but everyone does. I was quite a silly boy a couple of times; I had my stomach pumped once. I was let go of by the Wine and Fine Dining society for that. My house master wasn't too pleased, I can tell you!
It might sound tame on paper, but it's called 'The Five Point Challenge'. Basically, the night before the 4th of June – the big school celebration day, effectively – you have to escape from your house at night and get to five points around the school. The school know it's happening, and really don't want it to, so their solution consists of ramping up the punishment (six hours of writing out Virgil, something everybody would hate while everyone else gets surreptitiously drunk on the 4th of June). They get teachers – mostly the ones who do rugby – and pop or poppers – our name for the prefects, and mostly the ones that do rugby – and the security guards of the school, and get them to patrol the various five points.
I did it with my friend in my house. We smuggled in some rope and a screwdriver before the night, unscrewed the blocks on the windows and abseiled out. We almost got caught before we left, actually, as we had to get from the third floor to the first floor, and our housemaster was patrolling within the house. We were going along and heard him walking along the corridor, and it would have been pretty obvious that we were up to nefarious activities, as we were wearing CCF kit we'd nicked. CCF is the combined cadet force.
Anyway, we abseiled down into our housemaster's garden and crawled through his hedge
that came out into a field, and we heard voices on the field, so we crawled along a ditch for about 150 metres and then broke into a sprint across the field to get near another hedge to take stock. We immediately ran into some security guards who didn't see us, but they heard us, so we had to sprint into another field. We didn't manage all the points. Some guys in the year above us tried to get the burning bush, which is the central part of the school, and is heavily guarded. They tried to chuck about six smoke grenades and run through, but they got absolutely hammered by the security.
I feel that story goes across far better when I tell it in person, and it probably comes across incredibly posh. But it's a good laugh.
Smoking was quite a way of rebellion. A lot of teachers would go to lengths to rat out people smoking, go to their holes and chase after them with their dog. There was a place called "trenches" when I was there, which was a glorified bush, basically, or "wigwam" or "maintenance" – lots of other ones, but they were known, so it was a bit of a risk. There was a place called "spider". My housemaster in snuck in there with his dog and he flushed us out, five of us. We all ran. I was the furthest from the exit, so I ran out the side and I'd ripped all my uniform, and he was chasing after me, shouting, "I know who you are, boy, I'm your housemaster!"
In our last year people used to sneak out the window and go to a club called Liquid in Windsor, which had "Liquid Tuesdays" or something. It played UK top 40 and was a bit dingy. There was one time when my tutor's wife had broken up with him, and two weeks later a group of us went to Liquid and he was there with three other teachers and they were all smashed. We saw each other and ran out knowing it was a mutually damaging situation.
Eton is located between four girls' private schools, so it meant that quite regularly you'd have a social where you'd have a dance with them when you were aged 13 or 14, with fizzy drinks and stuff. It resembled an Aussie barbecue, where all the guys would stand on one side and all the girls would stand on the other until someone assisted you, and then you could go and talk and that broke the ice. But I've never been to a more awkward event in my entire life. By the end, it became like a mad dash to the end. You had two hours of nothing happening, and then in the final hour there was this complete free-for-all with people getting off.
I think it would be fair to say most guys don't know girls or don't date while they're at school. The majority of guys had no female interaction, and the rest would meet up with girls desperately in Windsor – a very boring place – on Saturdays. If you're lucky, by the time you're 14 or 15 you've made friends with girls from the other private schools in the area and you spend time with them on holiday and go down to Cornwall or something. Luckier still, you might come back with a phone number. Dating was much more a holiday thing – you can't do it in term time. Quite bleak, really, now I'm telling you, but honestly there were a lot of good laughs to be had without girls!
Research: Patrick Heardman, Annie Lord and Ruchira Sharma
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