Thursday, 7 December 2017

Stiff Upper Lip by Alex Renton (2017)

'I didn't have anyone tucking me in at night. I wasn't allowed a teddy bear. I didn't have anyone telling me that everything would be alright.'

The above isn't a quote from Stiff Upper Lip by Alex Renton. They're my words. Alex went to a boarding school near mine in 1969 and I went to mine in 1971. This book, on one level, might as well have been written for me - and my sister, who went to another school not so far away. On another level, the book's made me realise that I dodged a massive bullet. Alex's school was rife with sexual abuse. Mine wasn't when I was there. (I'm afraid that it was in the late 1970s after I left).

Sexual abuse

Stiff Upper Lip is a challenging read if, like me, you were placed in loco parentis aged eight. It talks about Alex's time at boarding school but it also talks about the history of this very British institution, of which I was a part. But a major theme of the book is the massive sexual abuse that happened in many schools. So am I lucky? In my case the piano teacher didn't do anything more than touch me on the knee (although strangely he did turn up at my house six months after I left the school and had a cup of tea with my Mum). 

I can only conclude that my school was run like a benevolent dictatorship. We were protected from the worst of all abuses. I mean there were abuses; there was lots of caning and shouting and the expectation you'd have a stiff upper lip and the ability to cope with this trauma. But, whatever happened at any of these institutions, I agree with Alex when he says that all boarding schools in the 1970s (I can't say what it's like now) let us down in their duty of care and that's something I'm only now starting to deal with in my mid-fifties. 

No comments:

Post a Comment