A memory of polling day

On the way from the Committee Rooms (a Committee Room is just someone's front room taken over on election day to organise canvassing) at Tachbrook Street to my place off Horseferry Road, I walked around Vincent Square. The cricket pitch in the centre is owned by one of the private schools in the area – I forget which one – and, as I did when I was at a similar school in Somerset, everyone, I presume, was playing cricket. The senior boys were playing 'proper' cricket and were allowed to use the pitch itself while the others used nets and catching cradles around the side. The most junior boys, by age or physical inability, basically hung around and talked to each other.

As I walked around, I saw behind one of the trees, unnoticed out of sight of everyone else, a boy, maybe ten, eleven years old, with curly, brown hair and glasses picking flowers that managed to grow from the little light that filtered through the tree's leaves. I felt sorry for him, such a pathetic figure. He looked not dissimilar – not necessarily the same, but not dissimilar – to me at that age, not because of the hair or the glasses, but his aspect and isolation from the others. I assumed he was in a similar position to me at that age; no good at sport, and so trying to avoid the humiliation of having this proved to all and sundry by always looking for notes to be excused physical exertion and having to use communal showers and changing-areas.

There he was, in school uniform rather than cricketing gear, away from the others and perfectly happy with his own company. I suspect that had any of the others seen him, there would have been a positive hue and cry about this patently abnormal behaviour. I am often told that the British public school system is the best in the world. Maybe it is if you're one of the strong ones, who doesn't flinch from imposing the discipline and orthodoxy of the strong on the weak or one of the moderates who's behaviour doesn't attract the ire of the strong and can live with bullying going on. If you're on of the weak, if you want to be left alone to pick the flowers that grow in the shade of the trees, you tend to find that out of the shadow over your head, a great and terrible hand will pull you up and crush you.



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