Towards the end of my time at Marlborough, a new idea was introduced into the school, of having the senior boys specialise in some subject. I chose mathematics. All day I worked at maths of one kind or another. I found it a great strain trying to keep interested hour after hour, day after day, week after week. I had a letter in 1962 from a Marlborough boy who said he had been following with interest my sailing voyages, ‘I found your name carved on the desk I am sitting at. It looks as if you must have spent as many boring hours here as I have.’ (I wrote back and said that I did not remember being a carver of desks. Could it have been a forgery?).
Marlborough, Wiltshire Guide for Tourist Photo Gallery
There were thirty boys in this maths specialist form, and I was only eleventh in the form. I looked round one day at the ten boys above me, most of who were far cleverer than I was, or could ever hope to be. I thought to myself, ‘What a knock-kneed, pigeon-breasted, anaemic, bespectacled, weedy crowd they are!’ (I must have been in a liverish mood because I was bespectacled myself.) I thought, ‘I can never hope to be as good as these chaps, and would I want to be, anyway? There must be something wrong with this set-up. Real life is flowing past, and leaving me behind.’ I told my housemaster that I was leaving at the end of term.
That was the last term of 1918, and the college caught the Spanish influenza epidemic. There were so many boys down with it that we were lying in rows on the floor of the sanatorium. I think most of us were pretty ill, but only a few died. I was at my worst when the Armistice was signed on 11 November, and I could hear the crowds shouting and cheering outside. I could not even lift myself on one elbow or move on my mattress.
When I got home and told my father that I had left Marlborough, he was furious – justifiably so. I had treated him badly, and I do not know why I had not asked his permission to leave. Perhaps I wanted to be absolutely certain of leaving, and felt that he would not consent. I was due to go to the university and stay there until I was twenty-five, preparing for the Indian Civil Service. I felt that this was all wrong, and that I would not be living a proper life.
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