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Posted: Thu Nov 06, 2008 10:50 pm
Actually I want to say a few words about my form teacher, Desmond Mottram. He arrived at the school at young man, probably the hippest one there with his trendy 1970s beard and flared suit trousers. He had a good sense of humour and was a blessed relief. (Also had a strange habit of not so much drinking a cup of tea as eating it out of the cup. Amused us kids no end.) However, there was a marked change at the start of the second term with him and it went gradually downhill from there. Debenham got to him, we were sure. By which I mean that the humour drained out of him and he started shouting at us like the others. Nevertheless I thought he was a good teacher. Partly that's because I enjoyed maths and was good at it... but it's often down to the teacher as to whether you connect with a subject. In all I think he was a nice young guy who was too impressionable to resist the evil culture of the school. Sad.
I'd also like to say that if there's one teacher I liked in the school it was Will Rasmussen. I'm aware he's been talked about on this forum and that he wrote an apology and met with some students. I don't want to detract from anyone else's experience, but mine was good. And in a way, I'd like him to know. Partly I was good at Greek and I enjoy the play of language so this enamoured me to him, but mainly I had genuine respect for him. Whereas monsters like Debenham demanded respect, Rasmussen elicited it. No question he was strict. Really strict. But I always had a sense that he was incredibly fair and if he was going to deliver punishment for bad behaviour, he would equally give praise for good effort. And he could really teach.
I didn't like Barrington Barber, but that's really neither here nor there. I was touched by his response to accusations on this forum. My dislike came partly because of fear. He was a stern, hard man who punished as good as the rest and I was rather weak as a boy. The medicine ball game in the church crypt was so scary and could take the wind out of you (but sort of exhilarating too). I hated boxing. Always have done and always will. Quite simply I didn't like being hurt or hurting people. Being hurt by someone makes you feel anger towards them in a really primitive way. So I hated hurting my friends or being hurt by them when we were paired up. And there was no faking because Barber would spot it. Also, Barber's style of art leaves me cold. Still life... agh so dull. Da Vinci? Agh, give me Dali any day. And I just couldn't get the life drawing though I'd have loved to. His style of teaching didn't work for me and I never really progressed.
Dr MacRae was fine. She doesn't feature much in my memory, so maybe that's a good thing. As almost the only female teacher in the school and well endowed she gained a fair bit of attention from us boys, especially once our hormones started kicking in. There are two memories that stick with me. Just about the only biology class I ever did, dissecting lungs and kidneys. And a chemistry lesson in our classroom in Chepstow villas. The tables were arranged like a big single table in the middle of the room with us all around it. There were 3 bunsen burners on it. This was the time of those breath freshener sprays. Remember Sweet Shot? They delivered a single-burst of mint-like stuff. They also made a mean flame thrower when fired across a bunsen flame. Every time Dr MacRae turned her back to prepare some chemicals there would be this series of flame bursts across the table. She must have heard it! A rare moment of delight.
Posted: Thu Nov 06, 2008 10:57 pm
I kinda held onto that diary because I knew it was evidence. I think I knew it was evidence as I wrote it, hence making it clear that Debenham was the head and using the real names of teachers with only their nicknames in brackets. But these are the only two real entries. Sorry. There are some other personal ones. Mostly it gives evidence in small doses of the large amount of time I spent off sick and the fearful prospect of going into school. More on that probably in another post.
Out of interest, were you in my class? Torpy/Mottram?
Re: Closure (A couple of apologies)
Posted: Thu Nov 06, 2008 11:12 pm
To my sister, let's call her Sparkle, I want to say sorry here.
I know I don't need to because we get on so well these days and have done a lot of reconciling, but in light of all that's coming out here for all of us I want to say it here, publicly too. I was a bully at home, I'm sure. As a child being bullied by teachers at school and having no outlet for all the frustration in that rigid environment where we had to be perfect and silent and studious all the time, I guess it came out at home and you were my nearest rival. Bullying is what I was being taught by example. You were no angel (then) of course ;-) and we'd have probably had sibling rivalry anyway, but I know you had a hard time at the school yourself and I made it harder no doubt. Grandma in all her wisdom certainly voiced "Ooh you were a nasty little boy." I'm sure you can hear her voice saying that (along with "but you've grown up into a lovely young man"). Sorry, sis.
Posted: Thu Nov 06, 2008 11:41 pm
To my classmates, in case you've worked out who I am, sorry for the last year I was there. I must have been a pain in the arse.
Our friendship bonds and alliances in the classroom really kept us from going spare. My best friend left the school abruptly when we were 13. I was distraught. Over the year that followed, I sunk further into despair and depression. The above diary incidents happened in that year. I visited this friend regularly at weekends and retained my bond with him, but at the expense of my friendships in the class. I was aware that by the time I left the school about a year later (by which time we'd transitioned to Eccleston Square) I had pretty much alienated myself from everyone else.
Having always been quite a softly-softly go-along-with-it-all kind of boy, teenage angst came head-on with despair and rage. Without an ally to diffuse me, and the feeling I'd been abandoned to this prison of a school, I started to rebel. That comes out in my diary of the confrontation with Colin Russell, where in the past I might have allowed myself to be a punchball just to get through the day without extra stress.
I also recall that a day after an end-of-term church service, Debenham told us we had not sung with all our hearts, so we all had to stand in rows and sing joyously. 2 hours I think it was. At one point he came along and picked on me for about 5 minutes, absurdly insisting that I sing with a mouth wide open and that I smile at the same time. I was incensed by this but also the anger turned cold, and afterwards I did something that until then would have been unimaginable to me... I walked out of school. I just grabbed my coat and quietly slipped out. At the end of the day I told my mum and was pleasantly surprised that she wasn't angry with me.
I don't recall how but I guess my dad must have had a conversation with someone at the school, possibly Debenham, about my walkout. The school had been unaware, despite the fact that I missed lunch and the whole afternoon. In a way I was disappointed that my one big rebellion hadn't even been noticed, not by friends let alone teachers! Via my dad I was told I had a choice: be caned or write an apology and explanation. My dad essentially wrote a letter which I copied and signed and handed into Debenham, defeated, and that was the end of that.
I really went downhill over that year. I was told later that I'd reached the point of a nervous breakdown. The only way I can describe it is that I hit the buffers of despair, in other words so much despair I was overloaded and didn't know what to do with myself. One weekend at home I don't remember what triggered it but I walked out into the back garden in the rain and climbed the tree and just sat there for some time. Two days later at school, Mr Mottram takes me aside and asks me, indredulous and ridiculing me, what I was doing sitting up a tree in the rain. How did he know? My mum apologised that she'd had an SES woman-to-woman chat/gossip with Vivian Wilfred, the school secretary thinking it would go no further, but it had of course been reported. As ever, I felt that inside or out of school, we were being watched.
One very very sad day, I came home, aged 14, wearing my school uniform with the grey mac. Instead of using my key, I rang the doorbell and lay facedown on the front garden and just waited to be picked up.
As you can imagine my mum was distressed at this cry for help. Shortly after I saw a GP about recurring headaches and she must have seen how sad I was that she asked me how school was. Then she asked whether it was that I didn't like school or didn't like this school. Although I really had no point of reference, I said this school. Unbeknownst to me she spoke to my mum about it, who spoke to my dad and got him to talk to the GP. And that was the start of the end for me. But that deserves a post of its own...
Posted: Fri Nov 07, 2008 12:14 am
With that visit to the GP came a chink of light and I am so grateful to her for noticing in a short consultation what my parents 'didn't notice' over 8 years. (I have a lot of suppressed anger toward my parents for the betrayal. This is mixed with so much love. Especially in the case of my dad, who changed so much in 1986-8 into a lovely man who I adore and am proud of. I have anger and at the same time it would hurt me so much if I knew I had hurt them.)
My parents went to see Nicholas Debenham to discuss my possible departure. Note that they hadn't made up their mind at this point; they went to consult him!!! I was brought into the meeting too, which meant I was in a quandary. What if I say I want to leave and then they decide to keep me there? How much more unbearable will it be? I don't remember much more than confirming quietly that I want out.
Afterwards, either the same day or the next day, Debenham summoned me to his office. There, while he sat at his desk, he stood me in front of the desk and verbally abused me. Literally just insulted me. Told me what a disappointment I was to my parents, and more and more. Then he dismissed me.
As an adult I find this truly extraordinary. I have no idea what Debenham stood to gain from verbally abusing me, other than maybe an animalistic expression of power at a time when he felt his power had become somewhat less than absolute.
Anyway, the next day he repeated the ritual.
And the next day.
This time I told my parents and they wrote to the school.
It made no difference. Over the next few days the ritual was repeated.
I told my parents again after this had continued for a week.
Again they contacted the school and this time it stopped.
It took several months before I finally left the school. Maybe my parents decided to keep me there for The Merchant of Venice play which I was in and which I was truly relishing. Maybe it was simply hard to do a school switch mid-year.
In the end I did switch, not just mid-year but mid-term. My parents had looked into 3 schools but I was so single-minded that I would only go to the school that my best friend was at that they didn't even bother with interviews for the other two. I've never looked back.
But one final incident in this protracted exit was my father's second conversation with Debenham about me leaving. He told me many years later, and he always corrects me on the exact wording, but the thing that made up his mind was when Debenham said "It would be better for the soul of your son for him to stay in this school and die than move to another school." I know that sounds disingenious and made-up, but it's the truth. Debenham had such a strong conviction in the karmic purity of the school that he truly believed I would be freed from more samskaras if I stayed and that I would be a lost cause if I left. He wasn't implying I would die at the school, simply that the purity of the school was of such epic proportions as to transcend mortality. Still rates as delusional in my book.
I've seen posts about how much Nicholas Debenham is a different man today from the monster we experienced in our time at St James. It's heartening. Extraordinary actually, but I know I've changed a lot in 25 years. Maybe it's possible. Nevertheless I still retain a knot of utter disgust for that man. No I would not want to meet him. The last time I did see him, two years after I'd left the school, my fists clenched involuntarily and I had to walk the other way. The fact that, at least in the posts I've read so far, he has shown no remorse leads me to believe that he hasn't changed except maybe on the surface.
Sorry, I don't quite have the good grace to let this go yet. I want closure, but maybe at this moment I have a stronger want to "not let him get away with it" that makes me hold onto my pain.
Well, I'll be kind to myself. A lot has come out and been released. It has allowed some of those funny moments to shine through. I can let go of Mrs Hare/Debenham because frankly she's a waste of space in my psyche. Russell was a stupid little man with an explosive temper who seemed to need to exert his authority over anyone who reached or exceeded his height. It sounds stupid and we joked about this inferiority complex theory, but I think it's on the mark. Again I can let that go. It's too petty to hold onto.
For now, that will have to be enough. I'll be back!
Posted: Fri Nov 07, 2008 1:12 pm
Pablo, your diary entries are fascinating, and could have been written by me with a few small changes, which is interesting given I was in the girls school, which was supposed to be less violent. The anger you obviously felt was a constant thing for me, even in junior school. As a very small child I had tantrums in school, and now my parents wonder why they never thought it was odd that I was having them at school almost every day but never had them at home. Amazing how the SES indoctrination meant that they never questioned anything even when it flew in the face of what they knew. As you say of your parents, they "let it drop".
I had completely forgotten about the boards and clips for exercise books. What on earth was that all about, anyway? The more I hear these strange accounts, the more wierd to whole thing seems to me.
As for Debenhams comment about your "soul", I don't know what to say. If that belief hadn't harmed us all so badly, it would be funny. Instead it's just chilling. His attempts to undermine your self-confidence (telling you over and over what a useless child you were) are classic SES tactics to make you lose your sense of self and give yourself over to the "Absolute" I think, done in a typically cruel, crude and misguided manner. I would like to give your 13 year old self a hug now, as I went through that myself on so many occasions, at school and at home. I too got out at around that age (thanks to my own parents finally waking up to what a mess all three of us siblings were and what a damaging organisation the SES is), and thank goodness I did, as I think I would be dead now if not.
I hope that sharing like this on the board helps you to start moving on, Pablo, and making these memories into the "dead battery" you described so well before.
Posted: Fri Nov 07, 2008 5:34 pm
Pablo, I just want to say thank you for your brave posts. Reading them has been a moving and ultimately very positive experience for me and I'm sure that many other people have been, and will be, similarly affected by them.
Posted: Fri Nov 07, 2008 8:12 pm
Thank you both, Tom & ET, for your kindness. Again, it means a lot to me.
Yes indeed that 13 year old boy needed a hug and I've wished I could go back and give him the love and strength to get through those times.
Over time I have learned to trust my instinctive reactions as an emotional barometer and a measure of personal truth.
Saying "I am free of so much even in the space of this past week" I feel comfortable and able to say "Yes".
Saying "I am able to let go of Debenham" gets a twisted knot in my gut.
Over the day today I've come to realise that letting go of my bitterness regarding Debenham would need an unclenching of that inner fist, which would mean facing the pain that's in there. So why would I not do that, having come so far? The answer could be that it's fear of that pain. No it's not that. It's that tied up there in that knot is stuff about my parents. And I'm not ready to face that. Even though I am aware there is resentment, abandonment and betrayal all wrapped up there and which needs addressing. One step at a time, and after almost 40 years, there's no need to rush this.
Posted: Mon Nov 10, 2008 12:23 pm
Thanks again for everything that you have written. Despite all the coming to terms with my own past that I have done, reading other peoples accounts of their time in SES still saddens me greatly and still surprises me as just how bad and how horrible these organisations have been.
pablo wrote:Over time I have learned to trust my instinctive reactions as an emotional barometer and a measure of personal truth.
This to me is the worst thing about St James. Young men and women come out of the schools vulnerable because they are unable to trust their instincts and their emotional responses. In my mind my real education started once I left school and it has been a hard enducation to learn to believe in oneself. It has been quite an emotional rollacoaster but I have learnt that my own emotions are extremely important to listen to and must not be buried.
pablo wrote:It's that tied up there in that knot is stuff about my parents.
My own journey through recovering from my past has lead me to the point that I don't personally require reconcilation with St James. I would choose to participate in reconcilation if there were any indication that the schools intend to meet its victims and accept what they have to say and instigate the changes that are required but as yet the schools still fail to show enough humility for this to happen. I will campaign as best I can though for the schools to change for the benefit of future pupils.
The fault and the real need for reconciliation lies with my parents and a knot is the only way to describe it. I have confronted my parents about my time at St James and for the most part I have made my peace with my mother. The trouble is confronting my parents about this means hurting them and essentially challenging them that they failed as parents and this is not something that I want to do. I love them after all. Their fault was that they were engrossed (in my they case still are) in the SES that meant that they were unable to take an objective view of what was going on for me and my siblings at school.
On the one hand it's easy to forgive them because they were victims of a cult that messed with their ability to objectively look out for the best interest of their children, however on the other they just shouldn't have been in this position and the fact that they cannot recognise this makes it very difficult for me to let go.
Posted: Tue Nov 18, 2008 6:07 am
Welcome to the forum!
I have also dealt with the same emotional issues you have and I didn't even attend any of the St. James, etc. schools; I was merely brought up in the SoPP in the US. It's really something ingrained in the School, and although I'm sure similar boys schools at the time were awful to be in, I think that many of the worst parts were because it was part of the School. The School that held the "truth" and was going to help bring people closer to enlightenment.
I have posted a lot in the past about my experiences growing up there, particularly as a woman. I'm so sorry that you had to go through the system as long as you did.
I think we all struggle with the way it makes us feel about our parents in terms of accountability. Luckily neither of my parents are still involved in the school, so it is easier to speak to them about it. However, one of them was for about 30 years so there's a lot going on there to deal with.
Posted: Tue Nov 18, 2008 6:38 pm