To Harrow, the most heroic of public schools, for a speech about the press, probably among the least defensible of professions. I say the most heroic because Harrow lost 644 boys in the Great War, more than any other public school, I believe. One enters the building where I spoke about the unspeakable through a shrine, with a sarcophagus on the left and its surrounding walls carved with the names of those who fell on the field of honour. Passing through the shrine one enters a large space where a wreath of stone commemorates the dead of the second world war. Say what you will about the class system, public school boys did not exactly shirk their duty when their country called. Ditto the German upper classes, but one has a hard time finding memorials to those who died for the Fatherland in today’s ridiculously unpatriotic federal republic.
The Old Harrovian Room is used for medium-sized meetings or lectures, and, even if I say so myself, it was standing-room only. Mind you, Mr Amherst Lock, head of English, who runs the Senior Literary Society, ensured the turnout by trumpeting the poor little Greek boy as a cross between Homer and Hemingway. Well, what else could he have done? Telling it like it is would have been more appropriate had I been addressing the girls at Stringfellows, not the bright young whippersnappers that make up the society. Be that as it may, Harrow gave me a very good feeling, the impression that this is what a school for young boys should be like: warm, friendly and with very few unhappy moments for the students.
While I was there, memories of my schooldays came flooding back, reminiscences which become more vivid as time goes by. It is strange but true. Our experience of time accelerates as we get older. The moment I enjoyed the most, however, was when I stopped listening to myself and mixed it with the boys. It was also quite moving, as I met the sons of two friends of mine who died tragically while their wives were expecting. If two-week-old Taki-Tancredi ever decides England is the place for him, Harrow it will be. After all, if it’s good enough for four Bismarck boys, and Byron, it’s certainly good enough for baby TT.
And speaking of the great philhellene, he visited Ali Pasha, the pro-consul of all that area that now makes up Greece, Albania and part of ex-Yugoslavia, just before his death at Messolonghi soon after. Ali Pasha received him with dignity and following dinner told him about his twin harems. One made up of 150 boys, and one with 150 girls. ‘Use the boys, you’ll like it,’ said Ali. ‘Why do you assume I like boys?’ asked Byron. ‘Because you’re an Old Etonian,’ said the Ottoman. ‘Actually, no, I’m an Old Harrovian…’ shrieked Byron and used the girls. No Nick Brown, Peter Mandelson or Mark Oaten, old Byron, although there have always been rumours about him. So what? He died for Greece, and that’s far better than blowing (no pun intended) his political future in a party which is going nowhere but downhill.
It seems to me that no one can tell the truth anymore. At least in public life. The rot began with the politicians and it has now spread to people who make their living writing victim memoirs. In the greatest memoir ever written in the history of writing, Nothing to Declare, the genius-memoirist declared that ‘what emerges willy-nilly is the diarist’s truth, not THE truth’. Hear, hear! But the genius hadn’t figured that the world is now full of bullshitters, who write total lies about their supposedly horrid lives when in essence the only thing horrid about them is their rage to succeed.
Once upon a time we were taught to tell the truth. Now we’re taught to succeed come what may, and to hell with the rules. Tony Blair led the way with that grotesque spin master of his, whose name I will not allow to besmirch my page. Next week I will tell you about a great new British daily coming soon to your neighbourhood. Members of the Senior Literary Society of Harrow are welcome to contribute.