12 MAY 1961, Page 12

John Bull's Schooldays

Led Astray

By JONATHAN MILLER rrHE Friar House was a progressive school set 1 in large grounds with a gnarled orchard in which a moth-eaten donkey grazed. The build- ing was a converted farmhouse spread about in barns and outhouses which had been turned into huge, draughty classrooms.

'We like to think of education as a sort of leading-out,' cooed the headmistress at the first interview, and before long I was equipped for the business in a spinach-coloured jumper with a high polo neck. My leading-out only lasted six months but it took six years to lead me back again to a condition where I could take a useful place in society. I believe that the conventional subjects did feature somewhere in the curriculum, but I have only the haziest recollection of them. I seem to recall that they were telescoped in some strange way in order to make room for the more crucial aspects of the leading-out process. Mathe- matics and languages were, for example, conven- iently elided when we learnt the multiplication tables in French.

The morning got off to a good start with prayers, but these were nothing like any prayers I bad come across before and nothing like them ever turned up again. In the midst of the re- strained Anglican assemblies of later schools I often found myself longing for the wilder prac- tices of the Friar House. The headmistress would stand before us with one hand placed delicately on the piano lid. After a formal cough she would lead us off into a sort of Jungian chant to which I never somehow managed to learn the words. There were a lot of hand movements, however. I remember these clearly. Both fists were placed together, side by side over the heart. Then, as the chant grew to a crescendo (something about 'the spirit of the sun within us glows'), the arms reached up and out in an expansive double arc of spiritual ecstasy. This was always the signal for a lot of facetious horseplay; the idea being t° fell both neighbours with one's outstretched arms. The mistress never seemed put out by this scuffling climax. Perhaps she interpreted it as some sort of transport. Even if she had been ruffled she would never have struck us, as there was a strict embargo on violence of any sort. What discipline there was, was conveyed in a curious system which consisted of ascribing different coloured auras to the variod§ pupils on the basis of their conduct in the previous week. My aura was brown at the end of every week, though there were people who basked in a pink one. I never discovered a way of life which sub ceeded in getting the wavelength of my aura switched.

After prayers we would settle down to the morning's work, much of which was taken LIP with garbled Oriental mythology. 'How Manu led his peoples out of Atlantis' was always 3 popular theme. After the lesson the boys and girls would troop off through the autumn mist to the art room, which occupied one of the barns on the other side of the orchard. Here, with the Manu myth still fresh in our minds, we would interpret our ideas of the story on paper. Wet paper. It had to be wet paper, for dry paper gave hard lines and the art mistress explained that there were no hard lines in nature. 'Moisten your papers,' she would cry flutily, and the class would set about the ritual douche. Once this was done it was not only impossible to get a hard outline, it was impossible to confine the paint to anY outline at all, the colours running together into a maddening archetypal blur. The more blurred and iridescent our designs the more it pleased the mistress, who told us that this expressed the confluence of the great subconscious. The method was a great leveller, however, since the bad draughtsman could comfortably hide his incompetence in the aqueous confusion.

Subject-matter suffered the same sea-change, so, that 'Manu leading his peoples out of Atlantis' was hard to distinguish from 'Elijah ascending to heaven in a fiery chariot.' One boy even managed to pass off a detailed representation of 'What he would like to do to Betty Grable' as 'Prince Gautama teaching the Word.' Exasperated by


the blur, a group of us formed a 'hard outline' break-away group and surreptitiously transferred our feelings about Manu on to dry paper. 'Some- one has been painting on dry paper,' cried the art mistress when we handed in our suspiciously dis- tinct pieces at the end of the class. I was down- graded aura-wise for some weeks after this. Many years later I came across a book about Painting by Rudolf Steiner. In the colour plates I recognised the familiar hopeless struggle with drenched paper.

Eurhythmics took the place of PT and in these seemingly endless classes we would act out the story of Mani' in sinuous movements with which Manu could not possibly have led his peoples anywhere; except perhaps to a police station. Once a term the doctor would visit the school and prescribe eurhythmic exercises for any com- plaints the parents mentioned. My mother was once unwise enough to let drop that 1 got a sweat on me at night. The doctor immediately pre- scribed eurhythmic exercises which differed only marginally from the Manu routine. In the course of these exercises I found myself wondering Whether Manu ever sweated at night, and if per- haps that was the reason why he got out of Atlantis.

I also took weaving, though I never completed a single useful garment. During my six months was continuously engaged upon a long strip of Aztec design which could, I suppose, have been

used for ritual strangling. The recorder featured

Prominently in the leading-out programme and during these lessons we would gather in front of the teacher, copying her finger movements as she took us through 1...illiburlero.' I can still hear the banshee howls of this performance. We never learnt musical notation as we did everything by cuPYing the teacher's movements. I could not master this method. I have never been able to tell My right hand from my left and since, by Lacing us, her right hand became equivalent to Y left. I became hopelessly confused and pro- duced a hideous mirror-image of the tune.

. After six months of this life I had been seduced Into a womby confusion of thought and action Which boded ill for my academic future. When my father discovered that my knowledge of Mathematics was confined to an inaccurate ver- sion of the French multiplication tables he re- moved me to a conventional cap-and-blazer establishment. Here, apart from an impressive Showing on all questions bearing upon Manu. I shaped up as a high-grade moron incapable of understanding even schoolboy conundrums. On my first morning, during prayers, my neighbour nudged me and whispered aggressively, 'Charles the First walked and talked half an hour after his head was cut off. What's wrong with that?' stared at him in dumb misery, quite unable to fathom the basic meaning of his question. He smiled sarcastically and as the congregation launched out into a hymn I consoled myself by designing in my mind's eye an enormous painting of the posthumous performance—on wet, wet