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Progress Report: Letters Home, Abandonment, and the Matron Effect

“Oh, Matron” (in the voice of Kenneth Williams)

This is a progress report for the “get over boarding school” project. If you’re here looking for some technical sword stuff, I suggest going here or here.

I usually edit my posts quite carefully. Not this one, because if I do, I will end up deleting the whole thing. So please bear with me.

Shortly after posting the last instalment of this boarding school crap (if you haven’t read them, this post will make much more sense after reading The Price of Privilege and Dealing With It), I went to the UK with my wife and kids for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. It was a lovely family event, as you may imagine. While I was there, I went looking for stuff from my boarding school years, and, in a box in the attic, I found all my old school reports, and all the letters I had sent home. The first few would make you cry. Basically, “I hate it here, please come and get me”, repeated over and over, in my 8-year-old handwriting. That was ok; my wife was worried about the effect they might have, but I could handle it, mostly because I’m out of there now and don’t ever have to go back.

But part of me is still 8 years old, and waiting for Mummy to come and get me. And I have to rescue that little boy.

(I think I’ll transcribe the whole lot and publish them in some format; it might be useful for the psychiatrists working on the boarding school problem.)

I came home to run the Fiore Extravaganza seminar; you’ve probably read my update about it here. My wife and kids stayed in the UK to see more family and friends; they get back tonight. The seminar was great; really productive, and the students and I collaborated on creating a whole new pollax form. That kept the days occupied. I spent most of the evenings hanging out with friends, sometimes talking about this stuff, sometimes not. The major work was done yesterday; I went to an old friend’s place, someone I love and trust, and talked and talked and cried and talked and listened and talked and stalled and talked and set up distractions and listened and cried and talked. I had been dreading it the whole week. My brain is very good at avoiding pain, and I knew that this was going to be really, really hard. I have rarely been so scared. The closest was when my second daughter was born (that was way worse, because she and my wife nearly died that night). But in terms of distress, this was comparable.

That’s the problem with the things that really work. They often hurt. Surgery. Training. Therapy.

And the shit just boiled out. The things I am having the hardest time coming to terms with are the abandonment, the sheer mercilessness of it, and what we might call the Matron Effect.

Let me gloss over this in bold strokes. Picture a big scary old house in the country, populated by 200 boys aged 7-13. The adults are mostly men granted the power to beat you at will, a few women teachers, and half a dozen women, mostly in their twenties, all wearing nurses’ uniforms, and all wielding absolute authority. The Matrons. It is a well established fact that boys are pretty gross. They tend to wash only when coerced into it. So showers were supervised by said matrons; 4-10 naked boys at a time, all under the watchful eye of an attractive older woman? One who could send you off to the headmaster for a beating at any time? Dear god, it’s like they were trying to raise a generation of perverts.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with adults getting up to all sorts of mischief with fellow adults, so long as it’s all informed and consensual. I really don’t care what floats your boat in that department. And I don’t suppose you care what floats mine.

But I very very strongly object to a system that punches holes in said boat while it is being built.

I think this is why the Mark Vorkosigan story arc Lois McMaster Bujold’s books Brothers in Arms, Mirror Dance, and A Civil Campaign is so powerful for me. A boy was deeply fucked up by the adults in his life, and over the course of the books gets some pretty stellar revenge, and finds not only his true family, but also a girl who can handle the quirks that he’s left with.

Moving on…

One obvious consequence of all this is that I have a profound distrust of authority. I simply cannot trust anyone in authority to have my best interests at heart. One of the questions I am asked most often is why I never joined the Army. There it is. I was a) determined never to set foot in an institution again, b) I just knew that some wanker of a commander would get me killed for his own advancement. The only hierarchies I can abide are the ones I’m at the top of. Anything that even smells the tiniest bit like somebody being in charge of me: just fucking no. Except my wife, obviously 😉

I’m planning a separate post, something along the lines of “Renegotiating my Contract”, to look at how this stuff has impacted the way I have run my school, and what I’m doing about it. Why, for instance, I never wear all black these days. [Update: that post is here]

I have also figured out why I’m blogging about all this. Partly, it’s easier to go through it all if I have a means to make it useful to other people who may have had similar issues. “If Guy can do it, so can I.” But also it’s to keep me on track. It makes me accountable for progress. Because a large part of my mind wants this whole mess back under wraps where it slept for so long. My students have been keeping me honest in the salle for years. My readers here are doing the same. That’s you, recruited into Team Guy. Thanks for stepping up.

I had a bad night last night. I slept very little, and woke up still scared and tired. I cleaned the house a bit, to settle my stomach before breakfast, and while I was making coffee, suddenly doubled over like I’d been punched in the stomach and howled my eyes out.

I did it again in the middle of writing this.

I’ll keep doing it, until it’s done.

I expected this. It’s ok, it’s part of the process. All sorts of stuff will come up, and most of it will be bad enough that my mind had to hide it from me for over 20 years, until I was ready to handle it.

I’m ready now.

I'm sure you have an opinion: do share!

3 Responses

  1. In some level I have never before understood that boarding schools exist and kids do attend to them. Or thought how it must feel to go in one. Yet I have known about boarding schools since learning to read novels. It’s horrible to realize that thing I considered as genre of my childhood books is actually a soul-devouring system that was built in good intention and is maintained mostly by benign people who do not truly understand what they are doing. This makes me wonder which of my good intentions are doomed to end badly (which is a good thing to consider).

    Thank you for sharing this and best luck with the healing process you are going trough.

  2. Pingback: Dread

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