Dean Owen

5 years ago · 2 min. reading time · visibility 0 ·

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Eight inches of Water

Eight inches of Water

I was eight went they sent me away.

The two-hour drive to the South of London felt like a trip to a funeral. I had no idea what a boarding school entailed, but fear of the unknown got the better of me.

“Take me home” I snivelled on approach.

I remember the trip a month earlier for the interview. Deep in the heart of Hampshire, we approach the school up the long driveway. An Old English Sheepdog came to greet us. He had no idea he served as an icebreaker.

The headmaster welcomed us into the study.

“How do you spell Wednesday?” was the single question that sealed my fate. I soon discovered this was a lose-lose affair as I timidly responded “W-E-N-S-D-A-Y?”

“Not quite” he said, proceeding into the correct spelling.

“Welcome to Highfield” he beamed while shaking my limp hand. All I could hear was a mocking hiss.

That year England suffered from a heat wave like never before. The water taps all had little “Save Water Now” stickers on them. The bathroom had two rows of baths neatly lined up. The matron stood ominously with a ruler in her hand as we poured our baths.

“Eight inches! No more than eight inches” she quipped as she went around the baths measuring the water height with our puny naked frames immersed.

A week into the school term I got, delivered from home, a package. I hurried up the massive stairs to the dormitory and sat on my wire frame bed with two-inch mattress. Ripping open the package, out emerged a long red velvet box of chocolates. I remembered the day before, one of the prefects confiscated a Cadbury Flake from a friend before tucking him in and slipping his hand down the boy’s pajama bottoms. I hid the box in my sweater and ran down the stairs, out the entrance, across a whopping great field, and into the woods. I dug a hole with my tiny hands and buried the box. The woods were littered with prickly green conker and chestnut shells. I gathered a few sturdy looking conkers and snuck back into school. I was sure I had a winner.

We played conkers every chance we could. By the end of the day I was proud to have an elevener in my possession before it being obliviated by a twoer.

I was looking forward to our first Exeat. I was slated to stay in school as most of the other boarders went home for the weekend.

The rain had finally made an appearance the night before and I trotted merrily into the woods to dig up my chocolates. I found the box scratched to pieces with nibbled out fondants.

“I hate this school” I whimpered as I trundled back in the rain.

At the end of term I begged my parents to not send me away again. They put me into day school near home in London. I would not return to boarding school again until I was thirteen. Those five years that carried me through to university were the best years of my life.

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Dean Owen

4 years ago #40

I think you might be retracing my old steps, doing that drive from Barcelona through the Pyrenees (did you stumble on an amazing goat cheese farm?)

Paul Walters

4 years ago #39

Dean Owen This one just popped up again on a Cafe beBEE feed . You know its a good piece when one reads it again. Hello from deep south in the Pyrenees!

Dean Owen

5 years ago #38

learn something everyday. I never knew they used leather. Wouldn't be surprised if Wales used a brolly, and Ireland a bottle.

Ken Boddie

5 years ago #37

Sorry, Dean, my error. I meant that the leather strap was delivered, in theory, to the palm of the hand but occasionally landed on the wrist by mistake. The 'strap' used to be a common method of delivering punishment in Scottish schools, unlike English schools where the cane was used.

Dean Owen

5 years ago #36

Yep, all good memories. Only one grudge, that they introduced girls to the school the year after we left! Never heard of leather to the wrist! Sounds positively dangerous! Much more so than rattan to bums.

Dean Owen

5 years ago #35

Certainly looking forward to reading your article Kazi Najib Ashraf

Ken Boddie

5 years ago #34

You've stirred up a few memories with this buzz, Dean-san. Don't know why they say "school days are the best days of your life"? My secondary school days were a real mixed batch, some good, some bad, some embarrassing, some frustrating, the result of a working class child being 'allowed' into a private school on the strength of a fees paid bursary. I am glad in retrospect, however, for my 'education', some conventional, some less so, and I even have fond memories of some of the masters who taught me, although many were bullies and took delight in 'moulding us into shape' with a leather strap to the wrist. Unlike you, Dean, I was day schooled all 12 years of my 'best days' and was never so unhappy as to say, or even think, "I hate this school". Thanks for sharing the 'best days' of your life.

Dean Owen

5 years ago #33

I think you are the talent Irene Hackett."life 'does stuff' to all of us with imperfect timing - and yet such circumstances still contain value" Indeed it does! It is the imperfections that make life so joyous. Utopia is overrated.

Dean Owen

5 years ago #32

Yep, same everywhere (or perhaps it we could narrow that down to same within the Commonwealth countries)! I am like you. I love your whimsical recall of your schoolboy experience. Not too serious and we don't hold grudges. Fond memories unless you were the one who lost possession of his eringi!

Lisa Gallagher

5 years ago #31

Maybe your too hard on yourself Dean Owen? I think many of us can have selfish tendencies from time to time.

Dean Owen

5 years ago #30

Our parents knew so much more about us than we ever imagined right? Loved this gem of a story. Thanks Vincent.

Dean Owen

5 years ago #29

Not good Lisa Gallagher, selfish... and it haunts me.

Mamen 🐝 Delgado

5 years ago #28

So glad to hear that!

Lisa Gallagher

5 years ago #27

You are a good man Dean Owen. It's very obvious you take your memories and utilize them for good. I can honestly say, I'm thankful for all memories (both good and bad) they have both helped to push me to be the best person I know how. Perfect, never! ;-)

Dean Owen

5 years ago #26

I tend to agree, eight is too young. But to some extent I hope schools don't become too politically correct like insulated safe zones far removed from reality. A little mischief and discipline can be quite healthy. And the odd nasty schoolteacher is what makes life interesting. That said, much can be done to monitor for seriously harmful behaviour. A teacher at my prep school committed suicide jumping off a cliff after being arrested for possession of child pornography -

Dean Owen

5 years ago #25

I only have good memories Mamen Delgado. Everything I write is drawn from good memories, even the "hard experiences". I will never let go. Thanks for sharing.

Thank you for the compliment Dean Owen. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend a finishing school in Switzerland, but I attended a finishing/modeling school in Orlando, FL. I was a girly little girl but I also liked to climb trees and play ball. I believe my mother wanted to be sure I learned to be ladylike.

Kevin Pashuk

5 years ago #23

Another story from deep in your well Dean-san. The legacy of sending young boys to boarding school has some dark moments, and I am glad that many of these issues have been correctly dealt with. (Especially considering that I work in an independent boarding school). We do not take boarders younger than 14 and then only in exceptional circumstances. The safety of the kids is of utmost importance and we strive to make their time here an exceptional experience. I personally was bored and unchallenged through my school years. School was designed for 'quiet little people' and I wasn't the ideal candidate. It's ironic I'm working in education now, seeking to reform it along with a million of my colleagues.

Lisa Gallagher

5 years ago #22

Dean Owen, 'flaunting their eringi mushrooms?!" LMBO, you caught me off guard with that one and pretty unique NEW term haha! Unlike girls at that age who would be mortified.

Mamen 🐝 Delgado

5 years ago #21

Woww Dean... I went to a Public School till I was 13 years old and later to Private Schools but I have such a great memories of all of them. I went walking from home to the three of them and I remember the school days as very happy days, with a lot of sport and great activities. Your writing is captivating and shocking for me at the same time. Hard experiences which I suppose made you grow in a very particular way and take you to who you are now. Sometimes is difficult but very recommendable to look back, at least to let it go... 💫

Dean Owen

5 years ago #20

It was indeed a hot summer. As far as bathing in front of matrons, I think at the age of eight, boys have zero shame, indeed perhaps like to flaunt their eringi mushrooms any chance they get!

Dean Owen

5 years ago #19

Oh OK, this comment answered my question. Yes Comprehensive were rough. My brother went to one, and he landed in jail on a number of occasions....

Dean Owen

5 years ago #18

CityVP Manjit isn't it fun to recall these old codgers. I actually want to thank the one that gave me "six of the best" which actually was well deserved. Did you go to a comprehensive? They were often ten times more rough than public schools.

Dean Owen

5 years ago #17

CityVP Manjit isn't it fun to recall these old codgers. I actually want to thank the one that gave me "six of the best" which actually was well deserved. Did you go to a comprehensive? They were often ten times more rough that public schools.

Dean Owen

5 years ago #16

It's funny Franci Eugenia Hoffman, I would have hazarded a guess that someone so eloquent and well mannered as yourself went to finishing school in Switzerland or something.

Dean Owen

5 years ago #15

It is a weird system, typically three years of hell followed by, if you are lucky, 2 years of absolute power if you were made a prefect. I mean, I was forced to cut the lawn of a whole rugby field in the middle of winter with a pair of scissors. On the other hand, once I was made prefect (in some schools they are called Gods), I had the power to make the lower formers or my "study fag" do absolutely anything. Fortunately most of my class made it through life with a well balanced attitude on life, so I can't quite say the system is majorly flawed, but certainly warped. Thanks for reading Aurorasa Sima

Dean Owen

5 years ago #14

Phil Friedman, your observations are spot on. I didn't want to lay it on too heavily, and for sure there is a lot of material I could have covered, but certainly 19th/20th Century public school education in Britain was warped to say the least. It was not so much the corporal punishment, which I actually endured once, a caning on the backside followed by a handshake, but indeed many boys were sexually abused by the prefects, teachers, and members of the clergy. It was often so subtle the boys would not even think to bring it up at home with their parents. All that said, I am thankful for my experience because it taught me the most valuable lesson, and that is to always make ones own bed.

Dean Owen

5 years ago #13

Thanks Irene Hackett, I think 8 is a little young for boarding school, but that was 20th Century Britain. I think things are a lot nicer now, well they should be considering the fees they charge these days. Glad you liked my recount. As you see I clutched hold of warm things in the midst of a very cold and callous environment. I am glad you discovered new worlds. I was stuck in a Dickens novel!

Lisa Gallagher

5 years ago #12

It must have been hot if you remember that day Dean Owen and I must ask, how hard was it for a boy that young to bathe in front of the matron? I would love to hear about your years in boarding school from 13 on. I can't imagine being sent off to school at such a young age. I attended 4 different schools. Elementary, Jr. High, HS and I left my HS in my Jr-Sr year to attend our Vocational School, best decision I made at such a young age.

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #11

@CityVP Manjit - I can identify. I attended a city-area technical high school that had 6,000 students housed in a former WWII aircraft manufacturing plant. The school was so large, that at times you couldn't get from one class to another in time for the bell, even if you ran full out. It was a pretty tough school, at which many of the advanced students in machine shop turned out some pretty impressive "zip" guns, as well as a variety of bludgeons and other weapons reminiscent of a Middle Ages battleground. Cheers!

CityVP Manjit

5 years ago #10

Ironic that 11 is the comment number because when I was a lad, I had no idea that the 11+ test was important and that it would change the direction of my education. Phil makes a good point of making the distinction with a British education. In 1972 it was the 11+ that streamed me into a comprehensive school, while those kids that passed the 11+ went to a grammar school. Grammar School: Comprehensive School: The first time I knew what the distinction was, is when I arrived at the Comprehensive School. Whereas a grammar school is designed for academic achievement, I came to define our comprehensive school as the place where the top 5% of students go university and the bottom 5% of students go to jail. Naturally, I kept my wits and kept my distance from the students who were going to graduate to jail. Yes, the way that the 6th formers carried knives, hammers and chains with them did not inspire much confidence when I first joined, but the police did a good job of cleaning up our school and in later years, the bottom 5% that went to jail, went to jail for less violent offenses, it was good that the school had found a way of diverting the major nut-jobs to a more special institution.

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #9

@CityVP Manjit - with respect, there is a variance in usage in Britain from much of the rest of the world. In Britain, the "Public School" system is actually what we in North America call "private school". Just to keep things straight.

CityVP Manjit

5 years ago #8

I am thankful I went to a public school and not a boarding school. I tried to escape the first time I was admitted to hospital to have my tonsils removed, the nurses ordered a steel cot to contain me in and I managed to figure out to get out of that too, I don't know why my instincts always wanted me to go home, but I am glad the nurses station was not sleeping on the job, at the age 5 following my instincts was a recipe for trouble. Would have been just the same at a boarding school. We did have corporal punishment at our schools and Mr Rogers, the old codger seemed to relish the whipping of the cane, he used to leave the door open so other kids in the corridor could hear what was going down and what would happen if any of us fell out of line. I became very adept at avoiding Mr Rogers and since I lived in my own constant daydreaming world anyway, there was not much chance I would face punishment. I do remember nearly getting caught at the Comprehensive by the headmaster because I was racing other boys in the corridor, I did hear the headmaster spot me and say "you boy! stop!", my instincts told me not to look around but run faster and as I turned the corner to flee down the stairs I could hear "I will find you!!!". The next day my younger brother was standing in the stairwell ordered by the headmaster to tell all the pupils that passed him that "I will not run in the corridor again". I stopped and asked him what he was doing there, he said the headmaster saw him running in the corridor, I replied in his ear "too bad, that was me". I learned early on life that some people can fall into a bucket of shizen and come out smelling of roses and others end up on the receiving end of life - that end being called injustice.

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A engaging story as I have never had this experience. I often wondered how I would handle being sent to a boarding school. I attended only local schools until I went to college. I believe it would be quite challenging to be sent away at such a young age. I feel the same way as Phil Phil Friedman that there is more to the story.

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #5

Dean Owen, very stirring piece and exceptionally well written. I hope it will form part of a series that will share with us other details of your journey. Please forgive me if I make some observations that do not fall in with the crowd that will inevitably interpret this as a story of warmth and discovery. For I see it as a tale of survival. Survival in a corrupt and bankrupt system of education commonly known as the British Public School network. Where, according to my British, Welsh, and Scottish friends, not to mention the history books, institutionalized bullying, sadistic corporal punishment, child abuse both sexual and psychological, all manner of miscreant behaviour was found on a daily basis. A system based on social class and privilege, and designed to perpetuate the corruption therein. And a system that gave Britain Chamberlain, George VI, and Kim Philby. And a system that, thankfully, you had the understanding (even if only intictive) and the gumption to escape from. For me this tale is not a happy one, but rather part of a longer story with a happy ending. My very best to you, and my respect for being willing to share this openly.

Dean Owen

5 years ago #4

Certainly no Harry Potter. From the article above you might well mistake my for Hermione!

Dean Owen

5 years ago #3

I think so much has changed. Both my boarding schools started allowing girls shortly after I left. Caning with a rattan cane has stopped. Huge dormitories are now smaller rooms with cosy bunk beds. It's all gone a bit soft. I remember one of the punishments was to not be allowed to use our hands to eat. We had to sit on them and be fed by the boy next to us. Weird.

Paul Walters

5 years ago #2

Dean Owen Harry Potter you were not!

Pascal Derrien

5 years ago #1

As i was doing roughly 3 schools per year my parents envisaged boarding school but thankfully could not afford it you just described and confirmed my fears 👊 Dean Owen

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