by Anura Guruge
Posting John Cranwell’s obituary yesterday got me thinking. I really should chronicle some of my life at Mill Hill — though now, older (if not any wiser), I realize that there are probably stories involving lets say ‘the armory’, ‘ivy plants’, ‘laxatives’, ‘prize for reading in the chapel’, ‘pantry raids’, ‘stolen exam papers’ and ‘the eagle lectern from the chapel’ that I shouldn’t talk about though I think the ‘the Potassium Permanganate induced purple swimming pool on Parent’s Day’ story is open game. Unlike others I wasn’t at Mill Hill for long. I was there for the ‘6th Form‘ to get my ‘A-Levels‘ (Advanced Level) and thereby get to an university. I arrived in September 1969 and was kicked out, expelled, as a disruptive influence, in ‘May’ 1971 — a few weeks ahead of the ‘A-Level’ exams, though I was allowed to come in and take them as an ‘external candidate’. I can’t say that this was the best or happiest period of my life. It was traumatic. My adoptive parents basically abandoned me, just as I turned 16, and took off to New Delhi, India, some 3,000 miles away. I was left all alone in England. I don’t blame them (anymore). If I was my son, I would have abandoned him too. I had not lived in Britain prior to that. I had visited BUT going to Mill Hill as a boarder was when I first started living in Britain. It wasn’t fun. But I survived. Made me what I am. Racism was alive and well and I used to be routinely called, at a minimum, a ‘wog‘ though I would often point out that it was people from the Middle East, like Jesus, who were ‘wogs’ and that us darkies from ‘Asia’ should be called something else. I learnt two wonderful expressions, that I still use, with relish: ‘Play the White Man‘ & ‘Munda Logic‘. [Refer to this post for an explanation.]
Anyway, I was thinking …
I am, as some of you know, terrible about names. So I can’t remember 99.9% of the folks that I should remember from Mill Hill.
I do remember Felix Francis — now a famous author following (with his characteristic limp) in the footsteps of his famous, once-a-jockey, father, Dick Francis, the very successful author of novels about horse racing. Felix, like I, was at School House. We might even have shared a dormitory. He was nice. I can’t recall him ever been mean. He always seemed pleasant with a smile that could have been interpreted that he was happy with his lot in life. I am glad he has done well. We have not ‘spoken’ since our days at Mill Hill. He probably doesn’t even remember me — just another of the pesky brown faces. I knew that he was the son of a famous writer. I have never read a Dick Francis book. Maybe I should. I have seen Dick Francis. He, of course, used to come to the school to see Francis — though I don’t think Francis played much sports.
So Felix Francis I do remember. Well he is famous though I note that he has yet to make the Wikipedia Notable Mill Hill Alumni list. He should. Maybe I should edit that list. I will never make that list but that is how it should be.
The other famous Millhillian of my time was A Sigmund Freud grandson. Was it Paul Freud — now a famous artist? It distresses me much and I am acutely embarrassed but I can’t remember his name. I am bad with names. [She doesn’t say it anymore now that we have been married for 11 years, but when we were first married Deanna used to say, half in jest, ‘your problem is you can’t even remember the names of all the women you slept with in the last year’.] Well, I never slept with anyone at Mill Hill. Of that there will never be any doubt of debate. Remember me saying earlier that I was expelled for being a ‘disruptive influence’. Do you know what my underlying ‘crime’ was? Want to guess. I was agitating that certain ‘tendencies’ involving young boys should be curbed! Think Catholic clerical sex crimes. Well, I will leave it at that. I was expelled and I left School House, in a taxi, with my head held high, and kids in every 2nd floor window, facing the road, cheering my — and not because I was leaving but because I was a ‘hero’ of sorts for trying to point out that young boys have rights too. Anyway … I can’t remember the name of the Freud. Is that Freudian?
Unlike Felix he was not in my grade. He was definitely 3 (or more) years younger than me. Thin (maybe even frail), pale and VERY artistic. Not sure how we knew each other — though in reality everybody knew everybody given that we were all thrown in together. In my last year at School House I had my own room, ‘Study’. It was one of the ‘privileged’ ones. It was up on the roof. I think there were only 3 studies up on the roof. The roof studies were special, compared to those on the two main floors, because we got exceptional privacy and we could get onto the roof JUST by stepping out of our windows. Once you were on the roof you were free. Climb down from the roof, at night, when the rest of the school slept, and London was your oyster — if you hitchicked. And I did. Even got picked up by a Rolls Royce.
Well when I had this exclusive roof study, the young Freud approached me and asked whether he could paint it for me. That was one of our prerogatives. We could have our studies painted whatever we wanted. OK, maybe that was only the roof studies and maybe only if you were a school prefect (as I was for awhile before I resigned (that homosexulaity thing …)). Maybe I asked him. I really can’t remember. Bottom line was that he did paint my entire study including the roof. He started by painting everything, 4 walls and the roof BLACK. Then using luminous silver he painted his depiction of what space would look like if you were standing on the moon. To say it was BRILLIANT would be an understatement. It was indeed a work of out. People came to see my study. So I think it had to be Paul. But, for whatever reason, I keep on thinking ‘Ashley’. Yes, there is an Ashley Freud.
I wish I had a picture of that moonscape study. I wish I remembered his name. I wish I can get in touch with him. IF you are reading this and you know the Freud PLEASE tell him that I THANK HIM and wish him well.
Now, I really must go and finish my latest book on popes.
Cheers. More on Mill Hill at a later date.