memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

St. Edmund’s College is the oldest post-Reformation Catholic school in England, being a continuation on English soil of the English College founded by Cardinal William Allen at Douay in Flanders in 1568. It is an independent school in the British public school tradition set in 440 acres near Ware in Hertfordshire.

I followed my brother into Talbot house. Instead of calling the forms 2nd 3rd 4th 5th and 6th like any  normal school we had to be different, defining them by the stages of classical education – Rudiments, Grammar, Syntax, Poetry and Rhetoric; (presumably the next step would be Logic followed by Philosophy). I went into Syntax where I languished in adolescent inertia, trading on and using up my academic credit until, by the end of Poetry, it was all spent. My school reports reflected this decline: Thomas is a bright boy but he must be careful to maintain his concentration and later Thomas’ results were not as good as they could have been or simply could do better … could do better; once, to vary the style, one of the teachers wrote: is fond of reading of novels in class …

During my last two years at the school in Rhetoric I felt more at ease with the place (and with myself). Still «fond of reading novels» I gravitated towards like-minded friends who were interested in music, art and literature. I discovered T.S. Eliot and W.B. Yeats and Gainsborough and Van Dyke and Utrillo and Sisley and Beethoven and Bach and Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan. My life-long journey through the world of language, ideas, images, music and the senses had begun. The world was young and there was the smell of cut grass as we sauntered along the far boundary of the sacred turf of the first-eleven cricket ground –  remember, over there under the trees. There was a match in progress and every now and then came the proverbial sound of bat against leather, the clip of a late cut, the crack of a hook to the boundary or the faint click of the ball being edged into the waiting hands of the third slip – the white-clad figures leisurely enacting the day-long ritual, drama in slow motion. We were discussing, among other things, The Duchess of Malfi and the composition we were to write about the Elizabethan playwright John Webster. Occasionally we would study the game and clap ironically whenever there was any action – oh well played that man, jolly good off-drive. It occurred to me that then, that at the age of seventeen I was as clear-headed and bursting with ideas as I ever would be. I felt I could live forever. (I was wrong).  Ah, the confidence of youth (yoof) si la jeunesse savait. A few weeks later I emerged from that enclosed hot-house into the confusing, messy but more realistic outside-world.

ARMOUR - PAINTING BY THOMAS MILNER

My life is a canvas, once painted with broad free strokes of the brush with a bold design of colour and movement, now become crabbed and petty, crouched into one corner, which is then enlarged to fill the vacuum left by my lost physical freedom. Now and then the small things creep out from the shadows, from under the damp stones, tiny lizards slithering out silently to bask in the warm sun.

Time, my lord, keeps a wallet at his back, wherein he puts alms for oblivion.

 

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