Passing Stranger

By Mihangel

3. Boy again

From those beginning notes of yearning and love there in the mist,
From the thousand responses of my heart never to cease,
From the myriad thence-arous'd words . . .
Borne hither, ere all eludes me, hurriedly,
A man, yet by these tears a little boy again . . .
A reminiscence sing.

Walt Whitman, Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking

Visualise a pre-war wireless set, quite a period piece, externally sturdy and well-crafted, but undeniably old-fashioned in its circuitry, malfunctioning on certain wavelengths, and by now a bit battered. That is me. I am a pre-war model, by a year.


Aged two to six, evacuated from the London blitz to a sleepy Oxfordshire village.

Summer time, outdoors in my pram, snoozing after lunch. Not far from the bomber base at Brize Norton. Frequent planes flying low, this one so low that its undercarriage clipped our chimney pot and sent it clattering down the slates to smash on the ground not a yard from me. So I have been told. I do not remember it. But loud noises pain me still.

Winter time, in church. No Sunday school for us, ever. Instead, the grown-up service and the torture of sitting still through the sermon. Our pew was close to the coke-fired stove. Nobody knew that the flue had become blocked. The rector keeled over first, rapidly followed by whole pew-fulls. The less groggy dragged them outside. By the time they got round to us, all the family had turned blue. Mum and Dad recovered quite fast. Jessie needed artificial respiration. Being the smallest, I was the furthest gone, and only just made it back. So I have been told. I do not remember this either.

Summer time again. From here on I do remember. Balmy days, catching sticklebacks with thread and bent pin, watching kingfishers on the Evenlode and pyewipes in the meadow, wary of adders in the woods, gazing open-mouthed at the spark-flying glow of the village smithy. Lord knows from where, an ice-cream van appeared at the end of our lane. I had never seen an ice cream before, and never saw another until the war was over. Jessie and I dashed out with our pennies and dashed home in triumph to show Mum. I found I was showing her an empty cornet. A hundred yards back a white blob was splatted in the dirt of the lane. The van had gone, and Jessie was not generous.

Clumsy at meal time. Knocked the butter-dish on to the stone floor. As Mum scraped up the mess, the whole family's ration for two weeks, riddled with glass splinters, beyond redemption, the silence was icy. I would much rather have been shouted at. Dad was not there. I hardly knew him, then. He stayed in London throughout the war, braving the bombs, and only joined us for the occasional weekend.

Shopping with Mum in an Oxford department store. Losing her, running desperately up and down the aisles. Trying not to panic, but all too conscious I had no money for the fare home and wondering how to square the bus conductress. But not crying.

I might cry in private, but never in public, or hardly ever. I had only Jessie to play with, and she bossed me around. I had long since learned two lessons: that if I cried she only bossed me more, and that it never paid to lose my temper. Instead I built myself a shell and, when hurt in body or in mind, I retreated into it. I spent much time there. I also discovered, having learned to read at four if not at three, that books and make-belief are handy refuges from a hostile world. Bossiness has pained me ever since, and books have been my sanctuary.

Lonely already. Even then I yearned for love of a kind I did not have. I could not have defined my need, but I knew that I had a need.

In the Acland Nursing Home in Oxford for a week having my tonsils out, away from home for the first time. Lonelier even than usual, and resentful of the effervescent bonhomie of John my room-mate. All I wanted was to hide my five-year-old self in my books and comics until Mum should take me home.

Our last night, the sirens howled. A nurse rustled in to check the blackout and dim the light. We lay listening to the crump of bombs falling on the Morris Cowley works on the far side of town. John pretended to man an ack-ack gun and shoot down German planes. Bored with my lack of response, he pulled down his bedclothes and pyjama trousers and played with his willy. In the half-light I gazed at it, fascinated and horrified. I had never seen another boy's willy before, and it was adorned, unlike mine, with a strange nozzle of skin.

"Let's see yours, then!"

"No. It's rude."

How did I know it was rude? A stray bomb exploded not far off, the windows rattled furiously, and the light went out.

Next morning the nurse got us ready to leave. She checked the records at the foot of my bed and tut-tutted that I had not opened my bowels all week. I had been too shy to ask to go. She up-ended me and rammed what felt like a monstrous bar of soap up my backside. It hurt like hell. But it worked, fast and copiously, which hurt still more. Mum, when she arrived to collect me, found me taut with unexploded tears of pain and outraged dignity.


Aged six to seven, back in London, at a dame-school.

Art class, with free rein to draw what we liked. I did an evil demon with horns, trident and barbed tail, dripping with gore and captioned "The Bloody Devil." I was very pleased with it, but Miss Pike was not. She turned puce, shook her head till the hairpins flew, docked six points from my credit sheet for foul language, and reported me to my parents.

"Look, boy," said Dad in sorrow. "Bloody is not a word that gentlemen use."

I felt misunderstood, but did not have the balls to protest that the word could also be used in a literal sense. Nor to protest that I had heard Mum use it as a swear-word when she thought I was out of earshot. Nor, therefore, did I point out the corollary -- much though it tickled my sense of humour -- that it proved that Mum was not a gentleman.

Dad's morality being Victorian, he was always saddened by the errors of my ways. When he and Mum threw one of their rare dinner parties I was sent to bed early, with strict instructions to make no noise. My room being immediately over the dining room, the chatter kept me awake. Why not read? The curtains were closed because it was still full daylight outside. It had been drummed into me that burning electricity in daytime was wasteful, and I dared not switch the lamp on. So I tiptoed out of bed to draw the curtain. Dad heard. He stormed up and walloped me.

At this stage, after church on Sundays, he made me learn the catechism off by heart, a bit at a time, four full pages (in the microscopic print of my prayer book) of turgid dogma. For example:

Question: What is the inward and spiritual grace?

Answer: A death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness: for being by nature born in sin, and the children of wrath, we are hereby made the children of grace.

Right up a seven-year-old's street. Dad never explained a word of it. Needless to say, I never asked. The theory, I suppose, was that it would divinely infiltrate my mind and lead me to the godly life.

But things like this made no sense. Mum and Dad weren't sinful or particularly wrathful, were they? So how could sin and wrath come into my birth? I knew nothing, then, of the physical facts of life and precious little of the Christian doctrine of sin, but my reason rebelled. It still rebelled in later days when I understood more about both. What one learns by rote as a child, moreover, sticks in one's memory. The catechism stuck in mine for life, and it put me off religion for life. Not quite what Dad had intended.


Aged eight to nine, at another London dame school.

There was a boy named Ken, with a monkey's face and a monkey's mischief. He would stand behind the teacher while she marked his work and waggle his ears at us. I longed to be his friend and learn how to waggle mine, but Ken had his own gang and would not let me join. I had to teach myself, and can waggle them to this day. It was the best thing I picked up from that school.

I have once, just once, lost my cool. It was at home. I had -- still have -- a phobia. In the days when Dad was hardly around, Mum had assiduously taught us to eat quietly with our mouths shut. When Dad swam back into our daily life, I realised he was the noisiest eater imaginable, and Mum did not seem to give a damn. It caused me acute misery. Jessie knew this, and laughed at it. One day when we were alone she pinioned my arms -- she was much bigger than me -- and chomped loudly in my ear. Driven for once beyond endurance, I tore free and thumped her in the mouth, loosening her front teeth. Mum came back to find her in floods of tears and blood, and me sick at heart awaiting my doom. She questioned us both, and my halting explanation made no sense to her. Nor, when he came home, to Dad. Memory of my punishment has gone, buried under memory of my crime.

One Saturday Roger asked me round to play. He was a podgy and oleaginous boy from school I did not much care for, but he was the only one who seemed to like me, or enough to ask me out. He was probably lonely too. For a while we zoomed around his bedroom with our Dinky toys and then, inexplicably, he began to strip, and told me to strip too.

"Let's swap germs," he said, incomprehensibly.

I knew what germs were, but what was this all about? His soft little willy was like John's, with skin at the end, and for a while he rubbed it against mine. "Oh, that's nice," he said. But it gave me no pleasure at all. Would I have liked it more if I had liked him more?

In the summer holidays Lizzie and George came to our house, Jessie's friends. It was hot, and we decided to cool off with the hose-pipe in the garden. George changed into his swimming trunks with me in my room. As he undid his belt he firmly turned his back on me and said sternly over his shoulder, "No hanky-panky now, right?"

Hanky-panky? What was he on about? Oh, my innocence. Only very gradually did I begin to learn.


Aged ten to thirteen, at prep school in Kent.

Stuart and I were caught whispering when we should have been quiet.

"Davies and Harverson, a black mark each. What were you talking about?"

"Sir Thomas More, sir. That he was a really a communist."

"How do you make that out?"

"Well, sir, he wrote Utopia."

"Cancel the black marks. A star each instead."

It was a good school.

I was bright, very bright -- I cannot hide the fact -- and this school fostered brightness. It taught me a love of good literature; or more accurately -- because love is beyond teaching -- it introduced me to good literature and encouraged my intuitive response; so effectively that to this day I can get drunk on words, and language, like music, can bring tears to my eyes. This school also taught me to be curious, questioning and critical. It taught me that what books or people tell you is not necessarily the full story, nor even necessarily true. A difficult lesson to remember, this, when you want to believe what you hear, and one which I have sometimes ignored to my cost.

Above all, this school taught me to think clearly. At no stage of my life could I possibly be called an extrovert. Whatever emotions might be churning inside, I could hide them from public view. But I could not hide them from myself, and I had often despaired. Now, success in the thinking department helped to replace despair with resignation and even patience. Helped to balance a total ineptitude at games. To boost a low self-esteem. To overcome an almost pathological shyness enough to make some friends. Not many, not close, but some.

By the time they left prep school at thirteen, not many boys were into puberty. It came late in those days, markedly later than now. It came late to me. But at eleven my prepubescent sexuality showed signs of stirring, with an interest in other boys' equipment. Erections started, or perhaps I just started to notice them. Don and Harry and Charles and I compared ours, and all were small. Once we caught Derek in the changing room and debagged him. To our eyes his equipment was huge, and it was as stiff as a board. Most boys would have taken it as a bit of fun, but not he. He was so mortified that we released him with apologies.

The next stage unfolded. One day after games we ganged up on a senior boy called Paul, and some held his arms while others pulled down his shorts. He did not mind. And he had hair, the first I had properly seen, wispy and carrot-coloured, and another big one. At least it seemed big to us, and it gave little Tim an idea. "Let's make him stiff!" he squeaked. He dropped his own shorts and danced around, his tiny willy bobbing up and down. Paul dutifully obliged. At which point a master walked in and hauled us off to the headmaster, who reproved us in sorrow rather than anger.

"Don't do that sort of thing, boys. It's not fair on your mothers. Remember the pain they went through when you were born." To this day his logic escapes me.

A term or two before we left, he had us one by one into his study and asked if our fathers had told us the facts of life. Aflame with embarrassment, and quite untruthfully, I said yes, and was released. Not long afterwards, Dad asked if the headmaster had told me the facts of life. With equal embarrassment and equal untruth I again said yes, and with evident relief he let me go. I loved my parents, I suppose, as children generally do. I had no-one else to love. But at that stage I was also afraid of Dad.

Most of my friends had given the same answer and were in the same boat. We had to pick up the missing information piecemeal, by roundabout and sometimes inaccurate means. My own contribution to the learning process was a booklet dating, presumably, from my parents' marriage, which I had unearthed while rummaging in our cellar. It was about contraception, and it contained highly instructive diagrams.

Theory was one thing, but practice was another. One night when I had reached the top of the school, Bill and I were discussing what we had found out. By then I had discovered -- I do not recall how long before -- a new pleasure, and so had Bill. We compared our self-taught techniques. He lay on his back and stroked, I lay on my front and humped the sheet. We tried each other's method. Bill's immediately proved better than my own, while Bill, after humping for a bit, came over to my bed to exhibit his erection worn raw by the friction. He could not stroke it for a week, and put the blame on me. Meanwhile the two others in our dormitory remained silent. They evidently did not jack off, but whether through disapproval or lack of interest they did not say.

Though Bill and I had orgasms, they were dry. Our first direct information on what happened next came from Stuart, who was now beginning to get hair. He had been swimming in the holidays, he reported, and while towelling himself afterwards had suddenly squirted some stuff that was not pee and smelt like nothing he had smelt before. He did not understand it, but we put two and two together for him. The pity was that he was in a different dormitory and could not demonstrate to us.

When I left prep school for Yarborough, armed with the top scholarship, I was still largely innocent in this realm, ill-informed and physically immature. While I was aware of the rudiments of reproduction, the concept of alternative sexuality was unknown territory. I doubt if the word homosexual had yet come my way. But already I knew, in a wholly undefined way, that I was not interested in girls. This was not merely the normal boyish disdain of the opposite sex. If a girl had paraded naked in front of me I might have shown an academic interest, so to speak, in the differences, but in no way would she have stirred me. Boys were already beginning to.


Aged thirteen to eighteen, at public school in the Midlands.

Both in retrospect and at the time, Yarborough was a most excellent place, civilised and civilising. It was in no way to blame for the personal problems I brought with me. Among schools of its kind, it seems to me that its broad-minded and liberal philosophy was untypical. It encouraged independent thought; but not here the cult of scholarship to the exclusion of all else, for it deliberately took in boys of widely differing ability. Not here the cult of athletic prowess, for it equally respected the scholar, the actor, the musician, and the ordinary member of society. Not here the bullying, physical or verbal, which seems to have been endemic in so many other schools. Nor here the sadistic discipline of cold showers and of the fag-master with personal fags.

If at any or all of the school's activities you proved a lame duck, it did not matter. You were accepted for what you were. What did matter, whatever your talents or lack of them, was to contribute to a harmonious and tolerant society. If you excelled, to excel without arrogance. If you were a leader, to lead gently and justly. If you were ordinary, to be ordinary graciously. If you were a rebel, to rebel politely. If you were trusted, as you consistently were, to honour that trust. Though not of course spelled out in those utopian terms, that was the ethos; and by and large, despite the inevitable few misfits, it worked.

Apart from teaching and supervising major activities, the staff were hardly in evidence. Much of the drama and games, the societies, the library, the printing press and suchlike were essentially run by the boys. So too, above all, were the houses where we ate and slept and lived. They were more or less self-governing establishments, in much the same relationship to the school as colleges are to the university at Oxbridge, and their day-to-day organisation, supervision and discipline were entirely in the hands of the boys. The housemaster was there as a backstop. He joined us for lunch and took evening prayers, but only once a week did he enter the boys' side for a word with everyone in turn. Otherwise we saw him only when we needed. And we had as much privacy as we wished. Open changing room and showers, to be sure, where nudity was standard and nobody thought twice about it. But there was no communal living in open dormitories and common rooms. Instead we had individual studies which anyone else could visit, and enclosed sleeping cubicles which they could not.

This light-handed and laid-back regime, unusual for the time, was one of the factors which gave Yarborough its distinctive flavour. The other, yet more fundamental, was the astonishing degree of independence and individual responsibility which came our way. Years later, after we both had left, I asked the headmaster why he allowed us so much independence. "We wanted the boys," was his reply, "to be the architects of their own society."

Hand in hand with independence went responsibility, and it was here that my salvation lay. As a new boy, I was the least confident of citizens. Had I been told that I would end up at the top, I would probably have burst into tears or run away. My ambitions were solely academic. I wanted no more, because I was all too aware of my social weaknesses. But, in time, responsibilities landed on my shoulders. Imight not want them, but they came. Having been given them, I had to honour them as best I could.

The social journey through school was not easy for me. While active bullying was virtually unknown, one early encounter did scar me. In my first year I had to share a study. My mate was Peter. Physically more developed than me, he was fascinated by my smoothness. "Oh, what a lovely face!" he would exclaim, stroking it with his long and clammy fingers. I loathed it, and several times came close to losing control and hitting him. There was nothing sexual behind it, nor deliberate bullying. It was no more than insensitive teasing, taking advantage of my notorious diffidence. But it imprinted a permanent phobia which plagued my later years. Skin-to-skin contact as such remains fine, but to this day a stroking caress makes my flesh crawl.

In those days the sexual norm at prep schools -- and mine was no exception -- was mere curiosity, juvenile and immature. Public schools, with their older boys, were different. At them the norm, from what I have heard since although I did not know it then, seems to have been one of almost promiscuous activity, of mutual masturbation and blow-jobs and more, not necessarily surreptitious but sometimes open. It has been said that if the sodomy laws had been enforced, Eton and Harrow would have been half-empty. Whatever the detailed truth, the basic point seems broadly valid.

But it was not valid at Yarborough. There was no such culture there. If you wanked, you wanked in private and did not talk about it. If you had an interest in boys' bodies, you suppressed it. Yarborough was a sexual wilderness, or almost. If gay activity, achieved or attempted, came to the ears of authority, the automatic penalty was expulsion, and in my time expulsions were a rarity, averaging perhaps one a year in a school numbering six hundred. Nor, as far as one could tell, was there much activity that went undiscovered. No doubt a fair number of boys desired, but very few practised, and all too rarely did the highly efficient grapevine buzz with juicy scandal.

But if practical gay sex was off the menu, talking about it was not, at least for some. Not salacious talk, but the talk of adolescents trying to be sophisticated and grown-up. With them it was a pose, almost a fashion. They might say, 'Have you seen that new boy with blond hair? God, I'd like to bed him!' But they never did, or virtually never. It was mere talk. Not only of sex, but of love too, idealised, almost a reflection of medieval courtly love.

This, then, was the ambience in which my nature took shape. At fourteen, puberty finally struck, together with many of its consequences. Not all, thank God. No acne. Instead of humiliating loss of voice control, a decently gradual descent from alto to bass. But the inevitable growth spurts. Body hair. And desires and fantasies.

Few girls had crossed my path. My parents socialised little and kept themselves to themselves. So did I, by example and by inclination. Since the age of eight I had been at boys-only schools. I had little in common with my extrovert sister and disliked her patronising friends. A few of my peers acquired girlfriends at home, but not many. Girls never once featured in my fantasies. Boys did. Untutored imagination told me something of what boys could do together, and listening to the talk of the more worldly-wise filled out the picture. Theirs was neutral talk, for homophobia had no more place at Yarborough than homosexuality. But it stirred my slumbering fires.

Religion still left me cold. I had no problem with the liberal Anglicanism which Yarborough purveyed. Quite the reverse, for I heartily approved its ritual and music and even, without subscribing to the doctrinal detail, its broad ethos. I was, it is true, confirmed; but under false pretences, cowering behind a self-built barricade of reservations. If I had refused to be confirmed, as I should have done, there would have been no ructions whatever at school. But at home the ructions would have been unholy, and I did not feel up to facing them. Therefore, timid and outwardly conformist youth, I followed the line of least resistance.

What did strike a chord was the Christian humanism of Steve Phillips, my classics master and an assistant chaplain. He did not talk about sex -- too much to expect, perhaps, even from him, at a time when sex education was unheard of. But he did talk about love in broad and encouraging terms, and, though certainly no queer himself, he actually and astonishingly gave me a copy of the Pervigilium Veneris, a Latin poem on the primeval power of love. Whether he saw through my self-disguise I will never know, but his unspoken message, as I read it then and read it now, was that gay and straight love are equally valid. He was a rarity in that day and age, for to the church at large homosexuality was still a sin. But I accepted mine, without any shame, as my nature. I knew, knew, that love for either sex was no sin: no sin to love, no sin to yearn for love.

I guessed what sex might be like, and I longed for a bed-mate. Even more intensely I longed for love and a soul-mate. I constructed a mental image of my beau-ideal, a projection of my pallid self but much enhanced and strengthened. Although he was faceless -- for his qualities were all inside -- he exuded trust, compassion, wisdom and fun. Above all, though paradoxically as shy as his creator, he dispensed encouragement. He supplied me with the will-power to assume a public façade of apparent strength, while inside I was scared shitless. He generated the heat which hardened the soft clay of my values and standards into fired brick. In default of a real friend, this imaginary friend proved my saviour. For years he stayed by my side.

My middle name is Jonathan and, because Dad was another Michael, it was as Jonathan that my parents addressed me. For some reason I felt the name was sissy, and at school I tried to be called Michael. But I retained enough proprietorial interest to think of my new mentor as Jonathan. Yet even he could not launch me on a private quest for love, or even for sex. Poor anaemic creature, the red-blooded reader will say, for lacking the gumption to go out and look for them. True. Inside I was still as shy as a mouse, a weakness painfully obvious to me but beyond my power to change.

I had always been, and to this day remain, a gauche and unsociable oddball with a congenital lack of the small-talk which breaks the ice and oils conversation. Parties were purgatory, and still are unless I throw them myself and choose the guests. Dances were hell, and would be still had I not carefully avoided them these last forty-five years. I could communicate with those I knew; but how could I get to know them? I had no passport to the standard conversation of teenagers. Popular music said nothing to me, nor film stars and football, nor even county cricket. Nor do they now.

Yet, serious-minded boy though I was, I was also a human being, and enjoyed fun and friends if I could get them. Anyone thrown into the hurly-burly of a boarding school is almost bound to interact with his peers. With the half-dozen or so in my house who were nearest in age and temperament, the ice broke of its own accord, and with them I could gossip, argue and joke. Outside this group, older and younger, I was too short of social skills, too tongue-tied, to break much ice at all. So it remained throughout my school career. I had friends of a sort; but not many, and none anywhere near close enough to entrust with my secret. Nobody I knew showed the slightest sign of being homosexual. How many of them might actually, like me, have been closet gays is of course another matter.

Yarborough, then, was a remarkably chaste establishment. Was that a pity? I am in two minds. If sexual activity had been as endemic there as it evidently was elsewhere, I would have grown up more experienced, and possibly less inhibited. But would I have grown up more fulfilled? I doubt it. Such promiscuity, after all, was entirely about sex, and not in the least about the love which in my idealism I craved. But in my last year, when I had reached the very top, I was forced to ponder some interesting questions.

My housemaster's son, of my own age and captain of another well-known school, suddenly reappeared at Yarborough in mid-term in disgrace, having been caught in flagrante with a small boy. This gave rise to much discussion. He was a silly ass for getting caught, the general opinion went, and irresponsible both for abusing his position and for abusing a boy so much younger. A priggish attitude, perhaps, but most of us were idealists. But what if the chance of sex, with love or without, had come my own way? At an earlier stage my scruples would have been few. Now, entrusted with authority and stiffened with a new sense of responsibility, I knew I would turn down even the most golden opportunity. The decision, though it never arose, might have been painful, but it would have been straightforward.

But beyond it lay a thornier question. If I were to hear of other boys having sex, what should I do? Be dutiful and report them? That would be hypocritical, and would ruin careers for a crime which I could not personally condemn. Or turn a sympathetically blind eye to the peccadilloes of my own brethren, thereby betraying the trust the school had laid upon me? Had this conundrum arisen in practice, no doubt the circumstances and my inner mentor would both have guided me. But it concerned me enough to raise it at a meeting of the Arnold Society

This was an eminently civilised discussion group of twenty senior boys which met fortnightly in a master's house. It was one society which was, quite rightly, moderated by the staff. Two of them -- Steve Phillips and the head of biology -- presided benignly as, over sherry and coffee, one of us read a short paper on some moral or social question which was then thrown open for discussion. I raised my worry, heavily disguised under the umbrella of conscience versus duty. Generalised conclusions being beyond reach, none was reached, and I forget the detail of the debate. But I do remember being comforted by the way my peers, and two masters whom I deeply respected, acknowledged the possibility of conflict.

Luckily the dilemma remained theoretical. But it very nearly became real. Not all prefects were idealists. My deputy was Malcolm, a handsome boy whom I did not much like. From what he told us of his holiday escapades, he came across as very much a ladies' man. Only after we had both left did I learn from the grapevine, relayed by a friend who was still at school, that he had at least gay leanings.

Malcolm had waited until his very last night at school when, if he were caught, expulsion would not matter, for he already had his references and his place in the army. He invited four of the most attractive younger boys to meet after lights-out for a rag, implying some relatively innocent prank such as was not unknown at the end of term. When they expectantly turned up, he told them what sort of fun he really had in mind, and they all fled in horror. Had I known of it at the time, I suspect I would have done my duty because of the circumstances: the twin facts that the boys were so young and that Malcolm was a prefect.

My final year brought another step forward. Nature had made me, outwardly, a meek conformist, in stark contrast to my one-time study-mate Peter who was an outspoken rebel (and ironically went on to become a line-toeing Tory MP who earned a knighthood for obedience). Yet inwardly, as far back as I took any interest, I defied my true-blue Tory parents and stood politically, as I do today, on the centre-left. But timidity kept my radicalism under wraps, and I did not question openly until I reached the top of the school. Only then, armed with the standing to instigate change, did I find the courage of my convictions. With the aim of greater democracy and a less antiquated code of government -- the diminution of fagging, for example, and of corporal punishment -- I set afoot the reforms which are outlined approximately, though not exactly, in The Scholar's Tale.

I also found myself with pastoral responsibility. The house captain, if he was respected, was not only the first port of call for a boy with a problem, but he also needed, if his flock was to be happy and harmonious, to be proactive in spotting undeclared problems. To one who hugged his own hang-ups to himself, this did not come naturally, but it was my job. Willy-nilly I became a counsellor for personal problems and a conciliator between boys and boys, or between boys and staff. True, nobody brought a sexual problem to me, any more than I could have taken mine to others. But it was highly educational.

Publicly, then, I did well at Yarborough. I was, to repeat, bright; brighter than I am now. From the beginning I had the respect of the teachers -- I was staggered at the age of fifteen to be consulted by the headmaster about staff promotion. After a while I had respect from the boys, though I was never a truly popular figure. Once my growing was done, I had a commanding voice and presence. More and more responsible jobs came my way which, spurred on by my inner mentor, I shouldered and, I like to think, did well. My academic career, stimulated by my classics and English teachers, geniuses both, was meteoric: O-levels at fourteen, A-levels at fifteen, S-levels at sixteen, and finally a scholarship to Cambridge. My failure on the sports field counted, in this climate, for nothing. Superficially, all was fine.

More privately, and again abetted by my inner mentor, I consolidated my moral values and my academic standards. A love of scholarship which had long since mapped the outline of a future career. A love of literature, an emerging love of music, and a love of Wales and the Welsh. A philosophy based on justice, tolerance and honesty, impossible though it was to be honest about my desires. An ability to distinguish bad logic from good and to suffer fools, if not gladly, at least usually in silence. A mental and verbal clarity which, in the hindsight of fifty years, astonishes me today.

All this will sound disgustingly vainglorious. But it has to be mentioned, for every coin has two sides. This side of my coin, burnished by my inner mentor, was sharp and resplendent. The other side was dull, blurred and ill-struck. A deviant sexual orientation -- deviant for those days, and dangerous to reveal. Coupled with it, and likewise inherited from my earliest years, a caution of fellow men, a social ineptitude arising from desperate shyness, a profound sense of inadequacy. Hence a frustration, a lack of emotional fulfilment, and an inner loneliness that was sometimes painful. All this despite my mentor. All this hidden deep. All this hiding the gayness wholly out of public sight.

Tecum habita: noris quam sit tibi curta supellex, said Persius: live with yourself and you will know how poorly furnished you are. I was a hermit who detested his social poverty, who hated the solitude that went with it. Or was I rather a prisoner? Prisoners live in unwanted isolation, hermits are solitary by choice. Perhaps, by now, I was a bit of both.

Thus my years at Yarborough moulded the pliable boy into the shape of the man. An ill-balanced shape, I fancy, for the effective public persona was still at odds with the mouse inside. But at least the most diffident of citizens had acquired a veneer of confidence, and at last the mouse was now out of sight.

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