Best In Class


You, boy, stop there!

The Boy was running, that's against the rules, that's fair. He holds out his hands in mitigation. Together they form a cup that is slowly pooling with the blood making its way through the grit of his skinned palms.

The teacher looks at the hands and then looks down a little.

Tuck your shirt in.

The Boy doesn't really hear this right. He's fighting hard not to cry. The pain is intense and his heart is pounding. He just wants to get to a sink.

I said tuck your shirt in! Are you deaf?

The Boy reaches down and begins to tuck his shirt in, smearing blood across the crumpled white of the fabric. Now his mother will know too.

The teacher looks at the Boy with a cold hard stare, for several seconds before turning his back and walking off.


Here's how it works. Here's how you work.

This is a job. I'll explain.

There are two types of students here. You are a scholarship student, referred to mostly as a 'Day Boy'. You almost certainly belong to the working class community within the catchment area of the school.

The other type of students are boarders, and are known as such. They come from all over the world. Their parents pay hefty sums of money for their education. This money is not specifically labelled for education, rather these are boarding fees.

Interestingly, paying boarding fees allows students to be admitted without sitting the entrance exam.

Some of the boarders are smart enough, they've probably had private tuition most of their lives. However, a fair proportion of them have not. They are, at best, average students with average academic expectations.

The reason this is a job, your first full time job is as follows.

The Day Boys are selected through an entrance exam. Formerly the 11 plus. They are selected for their academic abilities.

The boarders attend the school because of their financial circumstances.

In order for the school to attract fee paying students, they have to show that their educational record is good. They need to remain high in league tables that are solely based on the average academic achievements of their students.

Some of those fee paying boarders will bring down that average and so the Day Boys shoulder the responsibility, through selection, to raise that average.

Does that make sense?

Your job here is to get good grades, the best grades, so that we can sell the product of education to rich people. In return you'll be paid with a decent education and the ability to say you went here too.

You will be paid with a gateway between classes.

But beware, like any job, if your performance is deemed substandard you will be made redundant.

The boarders will receive tuition and support if they begin to slip, however, you will simply be asked to leave.

That gate will slam behind you.


The Boy sits at a large wooden desk.

His parents dropped him off one Saturday. Unprepared and unannounced.

Just try your best, there's no pressure.

There are maths questions about ice cream. They seem fairly trivial, however for the rest of the Boy's life mathematics and ice cream will seem unbreakably linked. Intricately interwoven in his psyche as a motivator and a reward.

He will grow into the sort of person that still finds Vienetta fancy, but knows to eat vanilla in company.

The Boy is sat in Room 5 of the New Building.

The New Building was built in 1929.

There are thirty other Boys in the room too. They are all of a similar class and background. No one looks comfortable and some are finding the pressure a little too much. One leaves the room in the middle of the exam crying. He just gets up and walks out.

Conversely, the class is not at all representative of the class the Boy will end up in. A class made from a mix of working class, local children and others, far wealthier and from much further away.

These other children face a different kind of test. A monetary one.

Two months after the exam a letter arrives. The Boy has won. The parents are very, very proud.

They celebrate by buying him his first proper pen. A Parker ballpoint. A Jotter, dark blue and silver.

It's heavier than you would think.


Praesis ut prosis

That's the school motto. It seems as bland as any other school motto.

Latin, of course, to stop most people understanding what it says.

But there's more. Think about what it really says.

It says, "Lead in order to serve".

You are a leader. That is how you fulfill your purpose. Being in charge. It's the kindest, most considerate thing you can do for them.

Them. The other people who have the motto, "prosis ut prois".

Interestingly the various translations of prosis include "profit" and "benefit".

If your Latin isn't so good, if you skipped classes, or if your school didn't teach it at all, perhaps you could be excused for translating that motto as "Lead to profit".


The first lesson.

We walk into the classroom. No one is waiting for us.

We sit down. Quietly, nervously.

Pens out. Ready.

We wait. Ten minutes pass.

The teacher strolls in.

He looks over the class.

He turns and walks out again.

We are unsure about what has just happened.

The teacher strolls in again, and repeats the performance.

Some of the boys find this absurd, and somewhat funny.

Maybe it is nerves.

The teacher walks in for a third time and we learn.

The Boy has never been screamed at by an adult. At least not like this. He's seen his parents angry, or desperate, he's been on the recieving end of a tirade from an angry neighbour, but this is different.

The teacher is red in the face. Saliva spitting out with the words. The volume. The hatred.

"When I walk into a room you stand up"

Over and over. Aimed at each of us in turn.

The Boy waits for his turn to have the teachers face in his as he shouts this. It's a horrible feeling. Waiting for abuse.

It's a horrible way to start your education, but an effective way of learning.

When finished, the teacher walks out once again.

On his return we all stand.


Over the years, The Boy would regularly receive detention for refusing to wear the School uniform.

He once had to write out, over and over, the phrase, "when you are outside of school, you are representing the school".

Once, he was just made to write the phrase "ping pong" repeatedly.

The punishment wasn't always coherent.

The idea was that uniforms make everyone equal. That they disguise the discrepancy between the richer children and the poorer ones. No fancy trainers, or fashionable tops against wolly hand-me-down jumpers.

However, everyone knew this to be a fallacy. You could tell which students were from wealthy backgrounds. New blazers. Untattered ties.

They fit and so did their clothes.

The boy's were used to wearing jackets that they would grow into or ones that they could survive for just one more year. They had half-mast trousers and jumpers with a list of names sewn into them.

There was nothing uniform about what they wore, except on the most superficial level.

Furthermore, the boarders never had to wear those colours outside of the school. It was only the Day Boys that had to parade them through the town and the estates.

Any attempt to modify the uniform was treated as cowardice, as desertion. If they could, you'd be feathered and tarred, but mostly held in detention.


The Boy's home is exactly between two schools. Head North and you find his school. Head South and you reach the nearest comprehensive.

The A6 will take you in either direction.

The two bus stops are directly opposite each other.

Every morning, the Boy would stand at one side of the road waiting for his bus, and across the way, his former classmates from primary school, his peers, their brothers and sisters. His own family.

Sometimes the Boy would have company.

Most times he would be stood on his own.


The first written homework The Boy has is for physics.

A series of ten questions that The Boy finds very easy.

He uses his Parker pen to write out each question and answer with precision.

Start as you mean to go on.

He hands his workbook in at the end of the next lesson.

The teacher asks about his name. Is that double-barreled? No? I suppose we'll be seeing more of that.


In retrospect the A6 became a dividing line, not unlike the net in a game of tennis, but more akin to the game of Kabbadi, with the road being the baulk line.

At first it was just verbal abuse, shouted across the road. It was easy enough to ignore, or at least easy enough to appear to ignore.

Soon, the Boy would spend a lot of energy and time in making sure that he arrived at the bus stop just as the bus rolled in.

Sometimes that wasn't enough. An unreliable council run service would mean that the bus sometimes didn't show up. Leaving the Boy waiting at the side of the road, exposed.

Slowly the abuse took a more physical form.

One or two would dart across the road.

They'd usually start some casual conversation, closing in, pretending to be friendly, before one of them would hit the Boy.

The punch usually came from behind, or from the side.

He knew it was coming, but the few times he had tried to avoid it, he ended up getting punched a lot more for the trouble.

As it was, most school days started with ringing ears and the taste of blood.


A week later and the physics homework is returned.

The Boy sees a row of ticks alongside each answer. He turns the pages.

Ticks all the way.

And then, at the end, zero out of ten.


"Use Ink".

The feedback is confusing. The work is clearly in ink. There's been a mistake. Just some confusion. He's sure this can be sorted out.

The Boy spends the whole lesson waiting for the end. Nervous heart racing. He approached the teacher, holding out the book.

The teacher explains that ballpoint pens are not suitable here. This is the first the Boy has heard of this.

That week he buys his first fountain pen, with his pocket money, without telling his parents. He's worried that they'll be as embarrassed as he was. He's worried that they spent money on the Parker pen that he can't use. He's ashamed.

The Boy also rewrites the homework in ink. The next time it is returned with "Better 0/10".

The mark still stands.


The Parker Vector is a fountain pen for the people.

The slim, lightweight plastic with metal accents.

It is utilitarian.

This one was made at the Parker factory in Newhaven, England.

It is also rather cheap too. You can purchase them at any branch of WHSmiths or Woolworths. There's no need to go into a dedicated pen shop.

The packaging claims two royal appointments. The Queen and the Prince of Wales. It is not known if they use them for their own writing, or hand them out to poor children at Christmas as an act of charity.


Which side of a corridor do you walk on?

Do you walk on the left or the right?

Were you taught that at school?

Did they give you a reason?

Which side do you think people walk on in the Houses of Parliament?

Do you think that is the same side as you?


The Boy wasn't sure what had caused the escalation.

Maybe there was no reason.

The verbal insults had changed.

On reflection, they seemed far more interested in his genitals than he was with anyone else's. Most of the assaults started with punches, quickly followed by kicks between his legs, or punches there.

They'd made the fantastic leap between the words 'day boy' and the words 'gay boy'. They used the full repertoire of slurs. Queer, faggot, all the classics.

The Boy would endure such homophobic attacks nearly every school day for a year. At the time, he wasn't sure if he was gay or straight. He was neither. At the time his sexuality was best described as 'Ghostbusters' or 'Transformers'.

The Boy would learn to zone out a little. His bus would turn up, or theirs would, and it would be over.

One day a group of girls followed the boys across the road. These girls cheered them on as they screamed poorly articulated misogynistic slurs.

The Boy, even then, was aware that maybe they knew that one day they would have to face this sort of violence. Or maybe they already had.

This is the other education the Boy received.


One of the most fascinating ways that the misogyny propagated was through the school motto.

Praesis ut prosis. Lead to serve.

The implication being that everyone at the school was a leader, and conversely everyone not at the school was a born follower.

Born to hang on their words to do what they are told. To listen and perform.

There were no girls at the school.


It's important to remember that these were children too. They might now by grown men in positions of power, leading industry and politics, but back then they were boys, packed off to boarding school.

A typical day for them seemed to be every day.

Wake, be fed, go to lessons, break for lunch (and be fed), return to lessons, finish lessons, prep time, free time, bed time.


They were kept in a world insulated from change and chance. A predictable, ordered world. Perhaps a lonely one.

There is very little agency for them at this point. When we look at what some of them turn into, it might be easy to demonise them, but the truth is, they are what the system molded them into being.

And their lives were not that different from the Boy's, except where they had after dinner speakers ranging from famous sports personalities through to politicians, the Boy got to eat his dinner with Wogan.


Some of the worst bullying the Boy would witness at school, aside from the sanctioned bullying by teachers, came from the borders.

Some of the words they used were alien. Referring to other boys as 'scratters'. A horrible, mean term that places poverty as a rodent-like affliction.

Of course there was a lot of homophobia, a lot of casual accusations, referring to anyone that seemed to close as 'bum chums'.

There's something telling when the least smart people in the room are financially more secure than the smartest. It leaks out in sneers.

It is broadcast form the window of a brand new Volkswagen Polo, owned by a seventeen year old, bought by his father, as he screams past you whilst you wait for the bus.


The Man wants to tell a story of revenge and redemption.

He wants to tell you that one day a group of boys crossed the road and surrounded the Boy. They made a proposition. Stand there and let our little brother punch you and we'll walk away afterwards... but if you retaliate we'll beat you until you can't get up.

The Man wants to tell you that the Boy let one of the little brothers approach him and chose to take his chances rather than be demeaned into letting someone much smaller than him hurt him.

That he lashed out, that he held his ground, that after that everything was OK, and he was left alone.

Sadly, that wasn't how it went.


The Boy's school is a registered charity. It is also a state boarding school. That means they don't charge fees for their education, rather they just charge to allow students to board there.

In the year 2019-2020 they received £375,755 of donations. This money is alongside the boarding fees.

Registered charities receive tax relief on income, rates, and corporation tax.

The Charities Act defines a charity as an institution that’s established for a charitable purpose and “provides benefit to the public”. While the remit of the “advancement of education” means private schools fall into this category, you would be forgiven for balking at it. Rather than providing “benefit to the public”, modern private schools too often actively harm it, giving a tiny minority of already advantaged offspring a further leg up at the expense of already disadvantaged children. -- Frances Ryan 16 Aug, 2018, The Guardian

The Boy is a recipient of charity, or at least that is how he is framed. This is a gift, not a job.


I saw an advert for a researcher position at a company called Deveraux and Deloitte.

The application process was straight forward. I listed a number of subject areas that I was qualified to research and write in (almost all within the field of biochemistry) and I supplied a short research paper on a topic they selected to demonstrate my ability to write and reference.

After that, I was emailed 'research topics' with a word count and was paid by the word. It was steady money and straight forward work.

It wasn't honest work though.

I knew straight away that the ''research topics' were undergrad essay titles. I knew because I had written those essays as part of my degree.

My job was to get good grades for kids that had more money than academic ability, and I knew that was what I was doing. I knew that I was helping people attain better grades than they were due, through a process of cheating.

I needed the money. They needed to do whatever it was they did instead of study.

I consoled myself that they would undoubtedly flunk their final exams, unless they had some way to figure out how to get someone to take them for them too.

I know how much I got paid. It wasn't bad. That means Deveraux and Deloitte must have been charging a great deal for these 'research' papers. I'd guess about £300 a go.

Above all, this all felt very familiar.


A change in the time table meant that a new service was added. Half an hour earlier. Half an hour before anyone would show up at either side of the road.

The Boy became the first Boy through the school gates every day.


The Boy's parents report this incident much later.

They are sat in the hall, opposite one of his teachers. Maths. Also the teacher that taught their Boy to stand up when a teacher enters the room.

For 15 minutes he talks about how lazy the boy is and if he applied himself he might get somewhere in life. That really, it is a question of attitude. He lacks manners.

The teacher then trows a workbook across the table at the Boy's father.

"His handwriting is atrocious too".

The Father looks at the book. The handwriting is awful. A scrawled mess of smudges and loops.

He examines the front of the front of the workbook.

The name is not his son's.

The Father points this out and is told, 'it doesn't matter, they are all pretty much the same'.


The Boy was fortunate enough to find a sympathetic form teacher in his later years. A fellow scholarship pupil that had made it out, relatively unscathed.

Except he hadn't. He was in his early forties, and yet still there.

The Man thinks to use the term 'Judas Goat', the animals that a slaughterhouse keeps in order to keep new arrivals calm as they are led to the killing floor. Then he realises this is unfair.

His advice was well meant. He would repeatedly tell the Boy to "keep his head down below the parapet".

The allusion to war was not unusual. There was frequent talk in the school of front lines, leading into battle and glorious victories.

Keep your head down below the parapet.

Don't get shot. Don't get noticed. Just get through the war alive.

The Boy took this advice to heart, eventually deciding that the best course of action was to desert.

That same form teacher also wrote the Boy's final school report.

It simply said, "when present, seemed interested".


There was no Human Resources department for this first job. However, there were a number of routes should issues occur.

If, for example, you were a boarder, a fee paying student, and your grades began to slip, the school would resort to personal tutoring. It may be casual, such as spending break time with an older, more capable student, or formal where a teacher may provide one to one attention.

The scholarship student will find themselves in a more precarious position. The half-term grading was an essential performance review and failing that would, in the first instance, gain a harsh lecture on pulling up socks and knuckling down, nose against the grindstone ethics. If this was insufficient to change the course of intellectual attainment, the boy may find himself looking for employment elsewhere.


Do you remember the time that boy ran through the corridors howling like an animal whilst two geography teachers tried to corner him and calm him down?

What about that school assembly when the headmaster stood in front of everyone and demanded to know which child had 'daubed excreta all over the walls of the toilets'?

Or that one boarder that was known to be a chronic masturbator, and that his fellow boarders were rotated as room mates because none of them could tolerate the lack of sleep for that long?

And the crying. You'd see it if you looked. Moments where the boys would just break and start weeping.


Blood is notoriously difficult to remove from white cotton. The main problem is that when you add water you are likely to induce haemolysis, where the cell ruptures and releases iron. Furthermore, it all tends to clump and clot when drying.

Forensics use a saline solution to extract blood from fibres without damaging the cells, and some people swear by cold water as a way of preventing staining.

Interestingly, because blood is essentially a water-based medium, it doesn't stain the skin so readily.

Ink, on the other hand can stain for a number of reasons, and since it is usually delivered by some form of solvent, such as propyl alcohol, it penetrates the outer keritinised layer of the skin. This makes it much more likely to stain.

The easiest ink to remove from the skin is carbon black, usually made with lamp black (soot), water and gum Arabic. Coloured inks tend to be more stubborn as they use other organic compounds in the pigmentation and oils in suspension.

Of course none of this explains why we find stains so objectionable in the first place. Maybe it is because they highlight an act that has ruined the purity of something, or because they leave a trace of history, evidence of act that has occurred.

The Man thinks there might be something more to why his adolescence feels like a patchwork of blood and ink stains. The stains seem more vivid thatn the material they incorporated themselves into.

Indelible acts with vivid colours in a grey landscape of memory.


When I completed my MA in 2009 I bought myself a beautiful pen as a reward. It's a Lamy 2000.

Designed in 1966 the 2000 is constructed out of black fiberglass and stainless steel. It has a sleek modernist design with a hooded nib.

It is beautiful.

I also have a collection of ink. Rows of different bottle shapes contain colours and tones. I have this wonderful Japanese grey ink that flows like rain on glass. Then there's the vibrant orange, the deep read, and the shiny, wilful black.

I know. It is almost a fetish.

A different ink for every task.

Ink is the substance that gives my words form. If I write in ink, if I mark the world with it, it feels proper.

I feel proper.


  • Sir John Singleton, British High Court Judge and Conservative politician.

  • Lord Parkinson, former Conservative Party Chairman and Cabinet Minister.

  • Don Foster, Baron Foster of Bath, Liberal Democrat MP for Bath from 1992–2015.

  • Sir John Rutherford, 1st Baronet, Conservative MP for Darwen from 1895–1922.

  • Robert Ascroft, Conservative MP for Oldham from 1895–99.

  • John Wrathall, President of Rhodesia.

  • James Crosby, former chief executive of the HBOS Group and former deputy chairman of the FSA.

  • Sir Ronald Halstead (1927–2021) – Chairman and Chief Executive of the Beecham Group from 1984 to 1985 and Deputy Chairman of British Steel from 1986 to 1994.

  • Lewis Henry Isaacs, architect, surveyor and Conservative MP for Walworth from 1885–92.

  • Jason McCartney, Conservative MP for Colne Valley from 2010–17.

  • Karl Oyston, English businessman and former chairman of Blackpool Football Club.

  • Kevin Roberts, CEO worldwide Saatchi & Saatchi.


The Man is sat in a hotel room, the Hilton in Stockton. There's a pandemic on outside and he's taken to idly scrolling facebook to pass the time.

At first it doesn't really hit. He rereads it.

The teacher has died. The school has posted an announcement.

He will be greatly missed. Teacher to thousands. Unconventional style.

The Man catches himself looking at the scars on his hands, trying to process this. Was he supposed to be elated? If so why does he feel so hollow?

And then the comments. So many of them.

A former student, now a head teacher says, 'He taught me everything I know about teaching... whatever he did, I now do the opposite'

Many tales of physical abuse, more of mental abuse.

He made one student sit in class with a fractured collar bone. A child, in pain, incredible pain, being forced to listen to a history lesson about the noble aims of the Briitsh government during the war.

There are insinuations he may have hit others.

It's too much. The man turns off his laptop and tries to get on with his day, but he keeps coming back to it.

And then...


The comments have all disappeared and the post is now locked.

The school have sanitised it.

They've cleaned up and tucked in.

They were able to remove their stains.


It seems silly to mention it. Such a slight thing, but it has always stuck in his head.

There were no lockers at the school, meaning that the day boys would always walk around carrying a day's worth of books and PE equipment.

Stooping gate mules, yomping between classes as the boarders strolled about unburdened.


The Man is considering the point of all of this.

Why write it down? Why does it still play on his mind?

And then he watches the news. He sees the same people that were in his class at school. The slightly dim ones with more money that ability.

They are now the leaders they were told to be. They are now serving.

They still lack any understanding of any world but their own. They have been insulated from the outside. Bufferred and protected and accommodated for. They have had every advantage, every leg up, every connection, safe passage and opportunity.

And yet they are still unaware of it.

They believe they got there through their own hard work.

But that is to be expected. This was always their destiny.

Praesis ut prosis.

The bit that hurts the scars on the Man's hands, the part that feels like he has been punched from behind, is that the people that voted this class of people into power were the same kids that stood on the other side of the road. Jeering hatred and violence.

How did these two sides form such an alliance?

Is it the mutual mistrust of the mixed class? The children who are put to work before they are teenagers, supporting a system of harm. The bit in the middle that doesn't belong to either.

Or is it the deep undercurrents of racism, misogyny, and homophobia coupled with the knee-jerk desire for authoritarian structures that use the bogeymen of immigration as an easy answer for everything?

Either way, the Man sees the world The Boy lived in, sucking everyone else in.

He sees two bus stops at either side of a road, neither of them taking him, or anyone else to where they need to go.

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