12 SEPTEMBER 1963, Page 26



I STILL haven't got used to the idea of taking holidays. Until the age of twenty- five it had not occurred to me that they were an im- portant part of life. Before then I had never been employed so I never needed the release of" un- employment, I had been

paid to go to school and paid to go to university.

It was the end of term which marked the beginning of boredom. The Welfare State, then still in its formative years, brought me up to live like an impoverished gentleman. I was an expensive piece of capital equipment, representing only a statistician knows how many thousand pounds of the national investment, for which no precise and profitable use has even yet been discovered.

The ecology of the working-class scholarship boy remains much of a mystery despite the man- hours spent by social scientists dissecting us. A myth continues to be circulated which pictures us as second-grade citizens in the commonwealth of education—white Negroes trying vainly to pass on a segregated campus. There we are with our coarse regional accents, our provincial ready- to-wear suits, our awkward table manners, our desperate appetite for' study, our embarrassment at being visited by ignorant and awed relatives, as we try to mix with the gay, golden, carefree, upper-class youth who have known each other since they swapped nannies in the pram. It is an affecting and sentimental portrait, worthy of Dickens at his most tearful, and in after-life we often find it convenient to authenticate it as genuine.

Every now and then when one of us blows out his brains before an examination (and is invariably described by his tutor as 'the most brilliant student I have met in fifty years') or is found in bed with a barmaid and sent down (after being described as 'a young man whose moral integrity was a lesson to his fellows')—the legend gains another martyr. Yet another victim seems to have been led into the furnace of the class system to keep the Establishment warm at nights.

In my experience, this is a fantasy. The work- ing-class boy at a university often does have a difficult time adjusting to his new environment, This is not because it is so much more luxurious and leisurely than his home, but because it is so much more spartan and squalid. I remember my own sense of shocked indignation when I arrived at Oxford to discover that several hundred healthy young backsides were expected to share half a dozen water closets. Even in the dockside slums in our town this would have been thought disgracefully insanitary.

In my own house you were never more than a few steps from the lavatory or the bathroom. Here it was at least a fifty-yard walk through the cold open air. In my own house a great coal fire blazed all day even in summer. Here a one- bar electric fire took the chill off one corner of a vast, high-ceilinged ice-box of a room. Nor was I much impressed by being waited on, in an offhand and eccentric manner, by a servant. After all, I had to share him with other people. In my own house I Jaad a permanent and tireless waiting-woman in my mother. Hot meals appeared at my convenience. My clothes were picked up where I dropped them and my shoes were always clean. Arriving in Oxford after such a sybaritic life struck me rather the way Reading Gaol hit Oscar Wilde.

A university to a public-school boy seems a place of unlimited freedom and wild new pleasures. I had been used to staying out until after midnight whenever I wished. I had been drinking in pubs for two years. I had been chas- ing girls since the age of fourteen and I could more easily imagine loving a bicycle than a boy.' Oxford seemed designed to rob me of my free- wheeling independence, not to open up unknown avenues of exploration.

But to understand why a working-class scholar- ship boy easily begins to regard himself as a disguised princeling in exile until he is sold into slavery to an employer, you need to compare his existence with the boy next door in his ,own street rather than with the one in the next room at college. While I was cheating in Latin tests, the boy next door was going out to work. I was still in bed while he waited in the snow for an early morning tram. Throughout the summer I dozed in the garden in a deckchair while he was chained to a desk, or deafened by the roar of machines. Year after year I resisted being pumped full of useless knowledge by some of the most intelligent men in Europe while he learned by rote, among draughts and din, a tedious and often uncongenial skill. He became a husband, a father, a householder, a ratepayer, a code number on the income tax files, a week- end gardener, who lived for his 'two weeks in Blackpool. My life was all leisure, bought and paid for by a glib facility at regurgitating infor- mation at annual brain-vomits known as examinations.

I had escaped the ageing process, that harden- ing of the skin and thickening of the nerves which comes from continual repetition of dull routines without any expectation, or even con- sciousness, of a change in the future. My early playfellows on the street corners and around the allotments were beginning to look and feel middle-aged while I was still in my last term at Oxford. While I, judging by the photographs of those careless days, still retained that boyish, eager tousled look of the typical undergraduate like Stephen Spender reading his first book of poems. You are as young as you expect yourself to be and no one can feel anything but an over- grown child while in state puriillari. This is the injustice of our class system. Man is not born free. He emerges in chains and only the gentle- man ever strikes them off even for a time. Until I was twenty-five I was almost-an-aristocrat, tem- porarily commissioned in the undergraduate rifles.

After a month in my first job, late and lazy as I was at my undemanding occupation, I began to yearn for a holiday. I realised that all the world's a cage and men and women merely in- mates. Now as a freelance journalist, I have regained some kind of `trusty' status and am permitted to unlock the bars for frequent outings. But the holiday now has that exaggerated and nerve-racking significance that it has acquired for all of us except the idlest rich. I work harder planning to spend four weeks not working than I do in the other forty-eight weeks of the' year. No other period is so carefully timetabled, so meticulously plotted and disciplined. Holidays are hard work nowadays. I can hardly wait for them to be over and take things easy once more.