1. Why?


The first two parts of these memories practically relate two alternative Caldecotts. In the first, I was guided by sympathetic hands towards a career in music. It is the second, though, in which more of my Caldecott contemporaries will recognize themselves. It had its ups and downs. It is also, I daresay, a Caldecott in which anybody who went to any boarding school in the 1960s will find a common landscape. You could find parts of it bleak, while concluding that boarding schools are like that. But you might ask why you were there at all.

The official answer, no doubt, is contained in the archives of the Caldecott Community and presumably, in my case, those of the Municipal Borough of Ealing which accepted that I needed to be sent to a boarding school and paid the fees. As the “person concerned”, I could consult these, but I have no wish to discover things I had forgotten or never knew. Moreover, if the opinions of those consulted, for example the child psychiatrist I dimly remember seeing, sound unconvincing, it is not as if I could go back in time and demand to know their reasons. These are my memories and I will stick to what I remember of the reasons I was given at the time.

After my parents’ divorce when I was about three-and-a-half, I certainly became moody and hysterical by turns, and did not integrate well when I began school. For a series of reasons, there were three schools – in Worcester, Harrow and Hanwell (Ealing) -, which probably did not help either. At the same time, my mother’s divorce had resolved one set of problems but opened up new ones and there were stormy scenes at home, though my stepfather was an incredibly patient man and heard her out each time. As I remember it, I worshipped my stepfather, who knew an incredible amount of things and could do an incredible amount of things (and I still remember him that way). My mother, much later, assured me that I hated him. I do not see how I can remember things so differently from how they really were and I can only assume that, since common wisdom has it that children hate their stepparents, she saw what she expected to see. Likewise, when a half-sister was added to the family, by which time I was six, my mother assured me that I hated her and my presence in the house was upsetting her. Again, I do not remember it that way and I am happy to say that my sister, with whom I have excellent relations, does not either. So once again, I think my mother saw what she was convinced she was going to see. My mother herself was becoming increasingly unstable. Some time after I had gone to Caldecott, at about the time a half-brother joined the family (I was now twelve), she had a series of nervous breakdowns, was admitted to mental hospital and subjected to the now discredited ECT treatment. She always maintained that saved her. She did find stability in religion and ended her days as a Methodist lay preacher.

The long and short of it is that my mother decided I did not fit into the household and Ealing Council, possibly alerted already by teachers of Vaughan Road Primary School, Harrow, and St. Mark’s Primary School, Hanwell, agreed. Caldecott was not their first choice (I do not know what their first choice was), but my mother insisted that it must be a school in the Home Counties where I could be visited reasonably conveniently.

Another question might be whether I needed to stay at Caldecott ten years, till the end of my schooling. A couple of decades later, a cash-strapped Ealing Council would probably have sent me home when my secondary education started. I do not think it would have been a success. The real problem with my mother, I believe, is that she always saw my father in me. The holiday periods were just about manageable, though there were fraught moments when the truth came out and she accused me of treating her as my father had. Ultimately, the longer and the further I was away, the better we got on. My marriage helped, since she got on well with my wife. Still, the conclusion has to be that I benefited from remaining at Caldecott till I finished my A levels and went to University.

I was not aware, until quite recently, that a third solution was attempted. My father had agreed to be the guilty party in the divorce in order to conclude the process as quickly as possible – that is how things worked in 1956-7. Consequently, custody of me went to my mother. My father was most upset about this and, when the proposal was made to send me to a boarding school, he and my stepmother (a most determined woman) made strenuous efforts to persuade Ealing Council that they were able to offer me a stable home (my father had an excellent job with the BBC), with a half-brother and another on the way, and that they were the proper people to do so. I suspect that today, a penurious Ealing Council would give very serious consideration to such an offer. Back then, the Judge had spoken and my father had been legally written out of my life for ever (apart from alimony and a spot of “reasonable access”). I learnt this from my stepmother only after my father’s death.

It might be rather fun to write a book consisting of three parallel lives, combining speculative accounts of how my life might have gone had I remained with my mother or been restored to my father, with what actually happened. And not telling the reader which is the true one. But I would not have the imagination needed to carry such a scheme through, and in the end it would prove nothing. I met some extraordinary people at Caldecott. Betty Rayment saw that my musical talents were recognized and developed, and I have to be grateful for that. Who can say whom I might have met or who might have guided me in my mother’s or my father’s home (and towards what)?