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Because I am dyslexic I am a very slow reader, even now I cannot spell. In my youth these disabilities had no name they were simply a sign of low intelligence. My school days were dogged by a sense of inferiority. At prep school where these disadvantages were the most obvious because of my nearly 4 years spent as a refugee in a state school in USA. I return to Britain in 1944 completely out of my depth educationally. At prep school I compensated for my dyslexia by playing the fool quite successfully.

Fortunately, I was outstanding at sport, at rugger and at athletics. I won four cups in my last term at prep school. I could out run and out dodge the collection of 10 - 12 boys who daily chased me every break on the playground which was an area of gravel about the size of a tennis court though squarer. These assets made me popular with the boys perhaps less so with the staff.

Aged 13, I moved to Radley, a public school, where I was amazed to find I was no longer the dimmest in the school. In fact I came out top of one class up from the bottom. There were plenty of boys dimmer than I, so the need to play the fool or excell at sport receded. Only half the boys of my age where above me. My character developed, I became more introvert and because I was moved to the wing in Rugger I became disillusioned. You never get the ball at that level and rarely at any level on the wing. I did score a spectacular try when our team visited Marlborough where cousin Jan was a witness. I was always in the team but bored by the Saturday outings to play other schools. I felt alienated by the usual raucous behaviour of my team mates on the bus home.

I spent a lot of time playing the oboe. I had no real talent for music but I loved the noise it made, as Tommy Beecham would say. I never really got into the business of counting. I still love classical music and have a big collection of CDs. Bach, Monteverdi, Telemann and Mozart are my favorites. So my time on the oboe was not entirely in vain. I played a Handel concerto with the school orchestra before I left. I am a natural dancer in the rough and ready style used at art schools in the mid fifties but don't otherwise listen to jazz. I regret I did not attend the lessons in ballroom that were offered at Radley, at 14 it seemed sissy.

Because of my slow reading I tend to read more serious books than my contemporaries. My stay in America led me to miss out on a lot of Englishness that gets instilled subconsciously at prep school. I never composed imaginary cricket teams to play in Test matches, nor did I ever take an interest in the results of sports, I never read Biggles or Dennis Wheatley, Wodehouse still gives me the creeps; Wodehouse, is the very essence of a certain class of Englishness. The William books followed us to America and were much appreciated.

My reading at school was mainly guided by my mother, who was an avid reader - Aldous Huxley, Somerset Maugham, H.E.Bates, Hardy, Butler, Shaw, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Turgeniev and Checkov were my normal diet. Grandma K kept a good library of the classics. I still read for education and stimulus rather than entertainment, few books per annum but heavy and thought provoking. Now most of my stimulus comes from TED and similar internet sources - Harari a favourite. I am a natural intellectual without the usual quick intelligence to go with.

By the time I left school I was still good at rugby but no longer a star, academically below average but very surprised to find myself elected to the upper 6th , a purely honorary status achieved on the recommendation of a staff member, I dont know who but certainly not my form-master or house-master. I was studying sciences in the 6th but not doing well in chemistry. I think it must have been a wonderfully eccentric English master who recommended me; one only had to mention the Caesars, King Lear or Max Beerbohm and he was off on an entertaining monologue for the rest of the lesson. One is lucky if one comes across a teacher who inspires at anytime in life, Charles Wrinch was such a one. The main regret of his life was having spent half a day with Beerbohm he was asked to stay for supper but the last bus back to Radley prompted him to refuse – it would have been only a 5 mile walk, the opportunity of a life-time squandered!

I was perhaps even more surprised to find myself involved in a yet smaller nameless self-elected elite consisting of no more than 10 senior boys. We thought of ourselves as creators and held a few discussions on Sunday evenings. At school I had started showng the first signs of the maverick I have become in later life.

At school I remained senior private in the Cadet Corps, which sounds good but means all my contemporaries had been promoted ahead of me. I seem to have an inbuilt refusal to conform; I was one of the point 5 percent of boys who refuse confirmation. I was made a prefect only at the very last minute before I left. I was irresponsible, not university material.

Radley was unusually Christian I think. I was the only half Jew there and witnessed a British level of antisemitism. My house master let slip that Harrow was going down hill “too many Jews” that kind of thing, not often but often enough. I was certainly not as unhappy at ‘public’ school as it is known in England. Others have testified to a level of bullying and other horrors that I never suffered, but nor was school the happiest time of my life. I developed there a thick skin which has protected me since.

I see the human condition as shaped by the need to belong to a tribe or herd. This is very deep seated but life has steadily placed me as an outsider. Being half Jewish but the wrong half. To the Jews it is your mother that counts. To the rest of the world your father’s name sticks and defines. My upbringing has been secular; going back to great grand parents. My Kohnstamm great great grandfather studied to become a rabbi but lost his faith (Gavin suggests other possible reasons for his change of tack. I guess most of his descendents would have defined themselves as agnostic. Certainly no rabbi set foot in Grandma’s house or my father’s though he keenly supported the emergent Israel).

Radley in my day was uniformly Christian and mildly antisemitic. My life in America sealed me off from being as English as my peers. My dyslexia set me somewhat apart. All these things combined to make me a phlegmatic critic of the human race. I am sure many young people suffer the same sense of alienation but perhaps I more than most. In a less privileged setting I would have suffered more and perhaps turned to crime. I have the necessary inventive capacity and the sense of not belonging. I don’t have to think out of the box, I am out of the box.

I remained undistinguished during my compulsory two years in National Service though I managed to become a second lieutenant in spite of this. The officer class was 90% public school in those days and I was one of them. I distinguished myself in one test at WASB, the War Office Selection Board for officer training. I cannot give details because for all I know it is still used to select the inventive such as myself. But I think I was the only candidate to solve that problem out of 80 or 90 candidates.

During my territorial service I distinguish myself by mastering the airborne command-post tent. My regiment was in the airborne artillery. The tent was the most absurd piece of equipment which had been chopped into pieces small enough in theory to be carried down in their kits by a number of individuals on parachutes; in practice it was so cumbersome we never used it on airborne exercises. It took my colleagues about 15 minutes to put it up. I got round the problem by tying the frame together with telephone cable. It took my team one minute to assemble. This difference gave my team that 14 minutes start on getting into action, so every year for 3 years running we came top of the command-post competition. The judges were amazed, they had no idea how we did it. I offered to show my competitors but they all knew it was quite impossible so never asked for a demo. This syndrome has followed me ever since. In my later incarnation as a demon art historian the professionals would not listen - would not budge.

I am reminded of another small triumph I made to army life, which stems from my early experience of being taught not to swim by grandma. We were sent many miners and other men who had never seen the sea and could not swim. It was one of the normal exercises to go to the pool once a week and I had the idea of supplying those who could not swim with a clothes peg to put on their nose. The results were miraculous one man who had never swam before swam the whole length of the pool and removed the peg and was then a swimmer. Several others followed. It seems the peg was the thing to get over a fear of choking for those who could not swim. It is advisable to instruct the beginner to blow out as one pushes forward the hands in brest stroke and breath in as one pushes the elbows together under the chest. No other instruction is necessary. I would be amazed and delighted if this proven method has caught on elsewhere.

Ironically now with my first opportunity to speak to the “experts” by invitation the corona virus will probably at minimum postpone the show if not cancel it. This prediction has been fulfilled 14 March Snakes and Ladders again. Just as I approach the winning post a big long snake takes me down, a year at least I guess and at 87 a year is a long time.

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