Our school song was a rousing number but the lyrics were in Latin, which meant that few of us ever had much idea of what it was about. It was called Carmen, but this did not mean that we bawled it from the ramparts of Seville or that we ever had much contact with sloe-eyed castanet-wielding beauties of easy virtue, more's the pity. No, Carmen is simply Latin for Song.
It would have been pleasant to record that the school motto was Motto, but it wasn’t, it was Vincit Qui Patitur, which had little resonance for me because I didn’t do much suffering or conquering while I was there. A better one for some of my contemporaries might have been the motto of my primary school, Amor Omnia Vincit, though you could get expelled for that.
The references to Deus in Carmen were fairly perfunctory. The school had been founded by a High Church prelate—a bit of a show-off, apparently, who used to travel to Canterbury with a retinue of 800 horsemen—but four hundred years later it had become a rather godless establishment, and the only man of the cloth on the staff when I was there (Holy Joe, though I expect he had another name) was of no account, and his colleagues disliked the sanctimonious old fool as much as we did.
It is to this background, and the fact that I moved on later to a university college founded by a notorious free-thinker, that I attribute my lack of enthusiasm for the Church as a career, though at one time I might have accepted a bishopric, if only because I rather fancied myself in the hat.
We led a monastic life; to lust after there was only the headmaster’s elderly secretary, called, delightfully, Miss Bird; later she acquired an assistant, a not uncomely younger woman. I wonder whether these two were conscious of the miasma of testosterone in which they had to spend their working days, and of the roles (not passive ones, I might say) which were assigned to them in our adolescent fantasies.
These mawkish reminiscences were inspired by an Old Boys Reunion Lunch which I and a contemporary went to yesterday. We were rather heartened by the fact that although we were among the oldest there we didn't really look it, and that the number of old acquaintances who after a lapse of several decades actually remembered one or both of us was substantial, as was the number of those whom one or both of us remembered. And when it came to singing Carmen we were able to belt out all three verses and the chorus without using the crib sheets to which many others had to resort.