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Is anything in our wounded land getting any better?

This morning I received two letters that I want to share with you.

Stroud-based Dr Richard House, who has been writing to national newspapers for several months pointing out the actions of our Wounded Leaders and often tracing them to the core issues, sent me his letter “Sorry seems to be the hardest word” just published in the Daily Mirror, 25 March 2016, p. 60.

“It takes big men to apologise and show genuine contrition – and Bullingdon Club ‘graduate’ George Osborne clearly isn’t one of them. Hundreds of thousands of disabled people across the land have been caused massive and needless anxiety by Osborne’s ‘mistake’. That he declines to apologise shows him to be singularly unfit to be one of our foremost political leaders.”

Great that some brave people are now really pointing the finger at the kind of dysfunctional leadership we have taken for granted! But the second letter seems to suggest that a sickly nostalgia keeps the majority stuck in the Entitlement Illusion, as David Redshaw points out, after looking at his old school’s website.

“I’ve just been perusing the Cutting Edge documentary ‘Leaving Home at 8′ by Nigel Gourlay and it did ring a few bells,” writes David.” It is worth a watch.

I went off to Christ’s Hospital just turned nine in the 1950s when it was pretty post-war Spartan, although I have to say that it wasn’t nearly as bad as your school sounded with its arbitrary beatings delivered by prefects.”

David is referring to a passage in my first book, The Making of Them, which is now available as an Audible actor-read audio-book – the perfect antidote to too many Easter Eggs.

“Ours were sometimes brutal in other more subtle ways. The Cutting Edge film though reminded me of the way that we harden up and internalise our homesickness. In my second term my parents came down to take me out to tea on one of the regulation three visits allowed. My mother said that I seemed quiet and withdrawn. She went on about it (she was very good at going on). When we got back she took me up to see the house matron who gave me a quick looking over and then laughed and said: ‘He seems alright to me’.

What had happened of course was that I had already learned to cover my back, keep my counsel, suppress my emotions and internalise everything.”

Or as we say, David had learned to adopt his ‘Strategic Survival Personality’, as mask that is much easier to put on than it is to take off. He continues:

“Going back to school the following term, before we left to connect with the school special leaving from Victoria, my father, a no-nonsense northerner, quietly asked if I could try to look more  cheerful this time as it was upsetting my mother.

Years later, when I was working in journalism and under the impression that I was fairly well adjusted, I casually told a younger girl reporter on the staff about my education. ‘Good heavens,’ she said, ‘that accounts for a lot.’ This was a shock since I hadn’t realised my contained emotion was so obvious!

They are co-ed at my old school these days and I believe that the entry age is eleven. But they still look so young when I view them on You Tube, marching into lunch to the school’s splendid military-style band. I believe that it is much more civilised now and the replies to my barbs on the school discussion site tell me that the pastoral care that was missing in my day is there in spades today.

But of course you would say,” David is addressing me here, “that this is still no substitute for the unconditional love of the family, and that is what comes out in the Cutting Edge documentary. Young April finally comes to grips with school life, helped by her very close dorm-mates who seem to be very supportive, but Mum is aware enough to question what this separation from parents may mean in the future.

The posts on my old school discussion website are a continual source of wonder because so many of them seem stuck in an inwards-looking haze as they struggle to discuss future funding for the school. It’s as if the 1960s never happened and they are unaware of the anti-egalitarian, backwards drift of society ‘out there’, with some telling me that the beatings they received were good for them and that society will only be put to rights if the birch could be brought back for today’s hooligans. I give up.”

I feel for David, looking at his old-school website in vain hope that all his peers will reject the system that is so unfair to children and so damaging to our society. But they can’t afford to, without challenging the way they themselves have been surviving. The trance is deep and living without a Strategic Survival Personality is often too challenging, which is where the first letter comes in.

A public apology seems too much like being vulnerable and not enough like being a winner. Be vulnerable and the sharks will devour you, says his reptilian brain that is charge of his internal government. No choice at all for the unconsciously afraid un-reconstructed survivor.

So what do you think, gentle reader: is anything in our wounded land getting any better?


  1. I loved your book, having been married to a wounded survivor who once told me that “There’s no such thing as love – it’s all about sex”. But on the rare occasions when after divorce, we met, he became loud, frantic and foolish, which opened my heart and made me laugh. He is a very good man: all the personal tenderness that could not be expressed has been poured into serving humanity. I suspect that this has saved him from what appears to be a kind of compulsive self-destruction in our political leaders. Their hurt is audible in the sarcasm of their jibes against JC, who is however, being propelled to success by their compulsive misbehaviour. An amazing Easter crucifixion.

    Comment by Grethe Hooper Hansen on 25/03/2016 at 5:02 pm
  2. Can I go off at a bit of a tangent, although still relevant to a wounded leader – the heir to the throne (“Wounded Leaders” P148). I love Camille Paglia’s book “Vamps and Tramps”. She is a feisty, Italian American, bisexual professor of gender studies and a controversial commentator, well read and with a habit of throwing in classical allusions to illustrate her points. Although she eschews dogma, she retains an interest in the Catholic saints of her childhood and the psychological pull they seem to exercise on people. Conscious of the cold, work-ethic, hard-faced Protestantism of Prince Charles’ schooling, here she is, a couple of years before Diana’s death, on the breakup of the royal marriage:
    “Diana’s children, William and Harry, give her image stature. Without them, and her widely noted physical tenderness towards them, her marital complaints would seem far more juvenile or petulant. It is ironic that Charles, who plucked Diana from obscurity and who has all the weight of rank and wealth behind him, seems helpless in the court of public opinion against the ancient archetype of the sorrowing mother or mater dolorosa, which Christianity borrowed from the cult of Isis. Charles had sought and found, in Andrew Morton’s words, ‘a virginal Protestant aristocrat to be his bride’ only to discover that his philandering attempts to remain himself produced a new Catholic Madonna, a modern Mary with a taste for rock and roll.”

    Comment by David Redshaw on 26/03/2016 at 4:46 pm
  3. I will not apologise. I’m not a bad person. It’s just that having suffered one annihilation and having survived in a modified form, I will use every means at my disposal to prevent another annihilation; rage, vengeance, cruelty, withdrawal, absence, dissociation, punishment, anything. You will not kill me again.

    Comment by Andrew Mullis on 26/03/2016 at 5:16 pm
  4. Referring to Grethe’s above comment about the sarcasm being levelled at Jeremy Corbyn, it is this very thing that got me taking the stick to some of my fellow old boys on my old school unofficial discussion site. Christ’s Hospital is unusual in sticking to the centuries-old tradition of trying to widen the scope of education in these schools (that’s why they were originally called public) and to this day the larger proportion of the pupils go in on assisted places, so many, like me, will have come from ordinary backgrounds. A few years ago I got involved with UK Uncut, a political direct action group campaigning against tax havens, austerity and unfairness in general. Our tactics are occupation, town centre disruption and street theatre. I started a Politics thread on my old school site to find out whether anyone else did this sort of thing, since, after all, we’d had a privileged start in life, and in the case of my generation had been beneficiaries of the policies of the 1945 Labour government. But boy, what a shock. Replies ranged from the sarcastic to the dismissive to others going off at a tangent and demonstrating their “cleverness” with references to Ancient Greece. It so happened that I was reading Nick’s two books at this time and, given my own rather unarticulated, ambivalent feelings about my education all those years ago, light bulbs started going on in my head.
    I’m afraid all this was like a red rag to a bull with me, so I’ve continued giving them stick on the site for their self-interested, self-entitled snobbery, and the result has been the Rebels on the site cheering me on while the Compliers are getting angry and either asking me to quit the site or telling me to grow up. Well I’ve got to 72 without growing up so I don’t intend to start now. One woman started a thread on the site titled The Making of Them, when the book came out, and she seems to feel that she was one of the Crushed. It’s been a fascinating exercise but Nick will probably tell me that I’m in danger of being a lifetime Rebel and need to chill out.

    Comment by David Redshaw on 29/03/2016 at 6:53 pm
  5. Some progress–boarding numbers down by 40 per cent in 30 years, Nick’s two books,
    good media coverage, survivors getting better and healing plus child-line. Also the website—the downside–still no ban on boarding for under 13s.

    Comment by Henry Lawson on 18/04/2016 at 4:44 pm

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