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What It's Like to Go to an Elite Private School in the London Suburbs

My attempts to ascend the British class system were less like climbing a ladder and more like walking under one and getting crushed by it.

by Lucy Hancock
Mar 24 2015, 4:25pm


Photo by Joe Ridout

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

Thanks to a fortuitous combination of the irresponsible banking culture of the 80s and having a great big gob, my dad managed to hustle his way off a South London council estate and nestle himself in the warm, tweed bosom of the financial elite. That's how I was lucky enough to start life in a really nice house in a really nice bit of England: the green-gardened home county of Kent, where the upper echelons of society are busy keeping the "cunt" in countryside.

Problem was, my parents being new money scum n' all, we weren't fully paid up members of the hunting-shooting set. This didn't particularly faze my mom and dad; they were proud that their upwardly mobile daughter was doing her best to covertly "yah" her way into the Jack Wills Rowing Club, in a way that, to remember it now, makes my eyes water with shame. I don't know how I thought I could get away with it at the time. To my new "friends," I might as well have been carrying a tray of cockles through the streets of Tunbridge Wells, singing "Who Will Buy."

At the age of 11, being fucking dense enough to fail my exams, I managed to cheat my way out of the Kent grammar school system. My parents decided to send me to private school for my own good, which is where my short career as a wannabe schweffe began as I found myself gravitating towards the most feckless students private school had to offer. If you've ever peered into a Foxtons office and wondered where on God's earth these twats are manufactured, I can tell you, because I spent a lot of my youth trying to get off with them.

You could say my attempts to ascend the British class system were less like climbing a ladder and more like walking under one and getting crushed by it. I'm ashamed to say that, in my abject desperation to fit in, I didn't chuck my fist in the face of those who thought it was cool to nickname the only black guy in our year "token." Another grim insight provided by my adolescence was that the people running this country are the same ones who spent their teenage years forcing blunt objects up other boys' assholes as a way to initiate them into sports teams.

In the absence of a double-barreled name I adopted a sort of "fake it to make it" attitude. I didn't actually have a pony, but quite enjoyed the intoxicating cachet of the local pony club, where horsey girls with names like Muffie and Harriet would send me out into the field to pick up their horses' shit.


Photo by Joe Ridout

Once those teen hormones got raging through my system, though, I quit my poo-picking career and set my sights on the top of the food chain within the local boys' public school. This place had serious draw for me because it was a bit like Hogwarts, except instead of spells, these young wizards were learning how to cry-wank and patronize their cleaners.

It wasn't just the men in uniform I was hot for, it was all those exotic words. Tuck shop, civvies, mufty, tufty, matron. Sick bay was called "the san"! Plus all the boys had such friendly nicknames, they sounded like 101 Dalmatians. Rolly, Poly, Raffles, Woffles. And even names with "dog" on the end! Corndog! Brewdog! "Come on Dogdog!" I'd shout supportively from the touchlines. Oh yeah, I was a sucker for the homoerotic sports I didn't understand. On Saturdays my only friend Hannah and I would spend hours choosing the right pashmina and denim skirt combo, then, collars popped, we'd hotfoot it down to the school rugby field where we would scale the pitch cheering for our boys: the ones who didn't know our povvo names.

Occasionally I would be invited to a house party with a fun theme, like "Pimps 'n' Hoes" or "Chavscum": an exhilarating event in any pubescent socialite's calendar. These shindigs were mostly organized by someone's guilty boarding school mom (or, as she was formally known, the "silly old twat"), who, if you sliced down the middle, would doubtlessly be made entirely of jam and cream sponge.

I never will really understand why anyone would leave 30 horny 15-year-olds in an entire wing of their Georgian pile with an icebox full of Bacardi Breezers. And why you'd do it again once you'd already spent a morning scrubbing watermelon vomit off the William Morris wallpaper.

Once in a while, parental supervision at these dos would arrive in the form of an inappropriately flirty Jeremy Clarkson Dad character with red wine lips. He'd stumble down to the party pretending to look for a black lab with a woman's name—rich people fucking love calling their dogs Amanda. Once he'd done some racist jokes and jealous if "I were 20 years younger" back-slapping with the boys and located Molly or Tilly or Bessie or Amanda, we'd be left to our own devices. This involved cracking open the antique drinks cabinet and getting off our tiny, triangular tits on vintage port and doing "three-way snogging" with other girls, which was basically licking each other's faces.

At these functions, blending into the crowd was futile. These other girls were something else. They would compare their hockey tour hoodies adorned with hilarious nicknames, hair like shimmering clouds of bleached yellow candy floss. I felt like Wellard on a day trip to Crufts. They would strut from group to group with ease, gliding effortlessly into conversations about equine rugs and tit wanks and from their concealer-stained lips would flow consequence-free statements like, "Daddy doesn't care for the Jews." I stood and watched on, marveling in mutual horror and admiration at their conviction.


Photo by Nick Pomeroy

Despite my best efforts at putting the "rah" in to rah-rah skirt my early career as a rival seductress didn't get off to a flying start. Once I'd given the crowd my eye contact dance rendition of Xtina's "Dirrty" up against a barn I had nowhere sexier to go. It didn't help much that I only had one friend at school and unfortunately for me she was a pliant sort with big norks. This meant she'd regularly leave me for dead AKA head-bopping through the remix to "Ignition" hand-pocketing balls on a pool table while she struggled with a zip on some fucking red trousers.

When I wasn't going it alone I'd be keeping it real with that curious type of posh boy who seems to hit puberty and middle age at exactly the same time. The ruddy, guffawing kind who is more likely to have suffered from gout than acne in their teens. The Tory politicians of the future. These were the guys I was routinely left with at a party. This was actually alright for me, as post-Aguilera I had become "quite good banter for a girl"—mainly just because I couldn't work out the elusive sweet spot between frigid and slag.

In an attempt to capitalize on my ultimate ladbantz status I started drinking pints and offering to arm wrestle people. Maybe your first whitey was somewhere normal, like in a park with a load of junior skateboarders. Mine was from a Cuban cigar, and if you must know where I was sick, it was in the pool house.

The author pictured in said cowboy boots and "jim jams"

With the Breezers in their sails, all Kent's hottest young couples would shotgun spots in the parties' communal sleeping areas as I changed into my jim-jams. Toes curling in the bottom of my clammy sleeping bag, I would lie in the heavy darkness of the billiards room while blonde backcombed heads were plunged into crotches like cafetieres. One particularly harrowing night, I top and tailed a creaky leather sofa with a girl on the receiving end of a frenetic fingerbang. Her genteel suitor all the while desperately assuring her I was asleep. Fraser: I was not asleep. No one was.

Once we got a bit older and could legit get away with fooling our parents we were going out for dinner, the bright lights of the King's Road called to us. We had enough intel through older siblings and Tatler to work out where all the coolest cats would be on a Friday night, so we'd pull on our pointiest cowboy boots and ride that smooth South Eastern railway all the way to Toff Town. The significance of our footwear is not lost on me, as blood beating in our ears we'd finally muster the courage to fling open the doors and stride into the Cadogan Arms like it was the OK Corrall. There we'd order "one glass of wine please" in a quivering voice and just as quickly as we'd entered the building, the doors would be swinging behind us and it was back on the 10PM train to Sevenoaks with a bag of Skips.

I was so desperate for these people to like me because they were powerful rich and clever and mean and it scared me out of my senses. I wanted a slice of their innate and unbreakable conviction so much I forgot what I was all about. But eventually, tired of being eloquently insulted by people who might in retrospect have been trying to fuck me, I fled the scene and started hanging around with normal boys. Ones who didn't have silly names on tags sewn into their underwear.

Now we're all grown up, the fusty rugger buggers are a distant memory, but I still dread bumping into one of those super-safe-sick festiwankers who is so scared of his coke dealer he calls him bruv. They're always undercover at a "music night" where they love to talk about their ironic urban T-shirt startup "Realtings" or their Fulham-based dub label. Their almost Stanisklavskian interpretation of a poor person quite convincing if it weren't for the signet ring tan line.

The ghosts of my misspent youth still appear sporadically on episodes of Made in Chelsea and of course in my newsfeed, where their entire lives appear as a continuous loop of them jumping backwards off a yacht. In some ways suppose it's actually quite lucky I was never invited. I imagine I would get very seasick on a yacht.

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