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Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Before my son started boarding school life was a constant round of hassling him to do his homework, shouting at him to pick the clothes up from the floordrobe in his room or trying to beat him downstairs on a Saturday morning so that, for a change, I could watch what I wanted to watch on the telly.

I had this misguided impression that things would improve when he got to boarding school, that life would be somehow calmer and stress-free. I imagined myself waking up to the soft, peaceful strains of New-Age music and greeting my wife with a hearty ‘good morning’ as she chanted soothing mantras whilst assuming the lotus position on the yoga mat in the corner of the room, but the only thing that changed really was that I could watch what my wife wanted to watch on the telly.

Life has very rarely turned out the way I wanted it to, and with my son ensconced in boarding school my perspective on how I live my life has altered a little, but although the stressful pre-boarding school situations have disappeared they have just been replaced with different stressful situations that, given that he is 3000 miles away from my present location, are even more stressful.

Conversations with my son on the mobile phone or Skype usually begin in two ways:
1. "Dad, can I have a (insert your choice of very expensive electronic gadget here),     
2. "Dad, I’ve lost my (insert your choice of very expensive electronic gadget here).

Sometimes, when he wants something but doesn’t really want to talk to me, he sends me a text. The last one I received from him went something like this: “dad can i have a ifone4 plees.” 

My reply was: See if you can work out the answer to your question by solving the following riddle – What word starts with N and ends with O and has only two letters?

I can imagine the scene in the boy’s dorm as they all plot and scheme together to see whose parents are gullible enough to give in to their ludicrous pleas of electronic poverty.

“I’ll ask my dad,” says the first boy, “he likes buying me very expensive electronic gadgets.”

“No, I’ll ask mine,” says the second, “he bought me a very expensive electronic gadget when I lost my other very expense electronic gadget last week. I’ve already been through four PSPs and I’ve only been back a month.”

The third says, “Hang on, I’ll ask mine. He’s brilliant. He buys me loads of very expensive electronic gadgets – even when I forget about them and leave them in my trouser pockets on laundry day.”

“No my dad works in the oil industry,” says the fourth boy. “He’s got loads of money. He’s bound to buy me an expensive electronic gadget that I’m in all likelihood going to leave on the bus or the train or the back seat of a taxi and never see again.”

Of course, there is inevitably the boy whose father drives a Ford Cortina and never buys him any of the latest very expensive electronic gadgets and who sits morosely on the end of his bed, sulking because his mobile isn’t the latest model with the App that allows the user to gain access to the United States Department of Defense Database and start World War Three.

When my son is not phoning to ask for something he is just not phoning. Days and weeks go by without a single word from him and when I try to phone him I get a voicemail politely telling me that he is not available because his phone is switched off. After several attempts to contact him the worry and frustration started to get the better of me and I began to sleep fitfully at night dreaming up all kinds of ridiculous scenarios, mostly involving clowns.

Someone once told me that it was the job of all parents to worry about their children, even if they don’t worry back, and so, in order to put my mind at rest, I decided to take direct action and call his housemaster. “He’s absolutely fine,” I was told. “You’re the fifteenth parent to call this week. If you don’t hear from him it generally means he’s enjoying himself too much. If I was you I wouldn’t worry, but I’ll get him to call you anyway.”

Like UK based parents, I can also look forward to the entertaining prospect of discovering the many strange and unusual delights contained in my son’s luggage when he returns home for the holidays. A friend of mine, whose son attended a boarding school in France, opened his suitcase when he arrived home only to find that all he had packed for his two-month-long stay was three pairs of underpants, a pair of white socks, a pair of black trousers, a long-sleeved black-and-white striped T-shirt, a set of braces and a black beret. As she gazed incredulously at what her son obviously regarded as the ideal wardrobe for eight weeks of blazing hot summer in the Middle East she, quite understandably, asked him if he was planning to become a mime artiste.

What more does a young boy need for a holiday in the Middle East . . .

On his first trip home my son’s case had very little room left in it for clothing of any kind as he had filled it with his bedding (including his quilt and pillow). “What have you brought all this for?” I asked him, despairingly. “I sent you a list that told you the things to bring with you.” His answer was simple and, in an odd kind of way, quite logical: “But you didn’t tell me not to bring it.”

On more than one occasion he has turned up with an odd quantity of mismatched socks, a bewildering array of unsuitable clothing, one shoe and a number of school ties in various stages of disrepair, all of which were crammed unceremoniously into his suitcase. It was as if he’d hired a blind alcoholic with two broken arms to pack for him, so he could spend his time more productively playing Minecraft on his computer.

Worse still is the end of school year when, after the Speech Day presentation, I have to repack all his things, separating them into three distinct categories:

1.   Items that are going to be stored at the school over the summer,

2.   Items he will be taking with him on holiday, and

3.   Items requiring immediate incineration. 

I am filled with a truly terrifying sense of dread when I place my hand into one of his bags, knowing that my fingers are likely to close around a mug that once contained the residue from a Batchelor’s Chicken Cup-A-Soup but has since become home to a thousand unknown bacteria, any one of which could wipe out all life on this planet. The most frightening thing, however, is the stray sock – the one that was worn a few times before it was lost down the side of the bed, where it would lie there for months on end, forlorn and forgotten but biding its time, becoming dusty and crusty as each day passed until, through the miracle of evolution, it would develop into a sentient being, slow moving and capable of rudimentary thought processes, thus requiring it to be classified as an entirely new species. 

The Sock Creature from the Black Bedspace

It’s not all bad news though – since attending boarding school my son has received the best education any parent could wish for, delivered by some of the best teachers in the country. Not only that, the outdoor activities available to him and the support he receives from the bursar and his housemaster are outstanding. He will, in short, leave the school a much wiser and more rounded young man than when he started.

All in all then, despite all the stress and strain of him living 3000 miles away, sending him to boarding school was the right decision.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, my wife has just told me that she wants to watch The Great British Bake-Off.

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