My move to secondary school allowed me to better understand how society reached out to embrace new recruits into its system.
Holland Park School
Photo Credit & Link: Phillip Perry
I lasted exactly one week in a boys’ only school before my first choice of attending the mixed Holland Park School belatedly came through. Whilst Park Walk straddled the social border of Chelsea, Holland Park was uncomfortably situated between an east-west divide of Central London. At that time, London was subject to severe racial riots in the Notting Hill Gate district, populated by recent immigrants arriving from the British West Indies. Cries for better racial tolerance were also extended to including social equality. A fresh system of schooling to encompass an emerging community consisting of new migrants, rich, poor, educated & lesser academic minded children was introduced. It was named ‘comprehensive’ and Holland Park was an early experiment in this mission towards an integrated society. Discipline gave way for creativity. Individualism however was not regarded as an essential ingredient for self-expression; therefore this experiment was still under the guiding influence of the ‘old’ school mentality. Many students, me included, were caught in a web of frustration. We were encouraged to delve deep within to foster hidden talent. However, in many instances, any discovered product would remain the property of the society that allowed us this pretence at self-indulgence. The question was not whether to break out, but when?
In the first year of school, my best friend was Dean Borak, an American student whose mother was an actress. During school hours, we would take time off together for our own brand of adventure. A favorite destination was Box Hill, a picturesque rural area not far to reach by a London bus. Being in the countryside was like being on another planet. We would hike through the snow and scramble to the top of the hill to set an avalanche in place. He taught me US army songs as carefree we marched off to our next adventure. I admired his skill with wild horses and once tried to mount a stallion from behind, a big mistake! When his mother decided it was time to troop him back to Chicago, my world turned upside down. From the perspective of a preteen, it seemed that kids had no real control over exercising a basic freedom of choice, even to pursue healthy activities together. Dean gave me a taste for another culture, one that had successfully broken away from the narrow confines of empire. Now, I was reliant on my own initiatives if there would be any chance of survival for my restless spirit.