I was one of those who would argue with him on the bus. It was here he honed the skills that have made him such a compelling and annoying political commentator. He was impossible to beat in an argument. And I'm talking aged 11 and 12. The arguments I remember weren't about Thatcherism. Those will have come much later when I was off being a teenage feet-staring box-room rebel and he was being a History Boy. Instead they were about Heath and Wilson, electricity black-outs, and entry into the Common Market. He was persistent, quick-witted, and so stubbornly right wing I can remember at least three occasions when my head exploded. One day a woman looked at us, much bemused. I said to her, “be worried, he'll be Prime Minister one day.”
He was passionate about Grammar Schools. Some of us were less so, even whilst being keenly aware of the opportunity it was affording us. His passion in favour made us more passionate in our opposition. In fact, he probably did more to politicise me than anyone. In particular, I began to conflate his views with the values of the school as a whole. And those were far from egalitarian.
Nationwide, for a few generations, Grammar Schools were essentially a giant experiment in social engineering. In addition, at our school the headmaster was undertaking his own particular social sciences project. One resembling the sorting hat in Harry Potter. The posh Reigate kids were always put in the same House, along with the kids of what we'd now call “pushy parents”, keen for their kids to be in the House that won everything (Doods). The village kids, the waifs and strays, the handful of single-parent kids were shuffled off into the losers' House (Underhill). Redhill kids were congregated somewhere else and so on.
At a stroke a supposed meritocracy was undermined. As it was by the obsession with rugby, which alone was responsible for much of the over-achievement in the Oxbridge Entrance Stakes. Naturally, I was a loser in both categories. I returned to the school to meet an old friend years later and walking around he said to me, “you know, if this had been a football school, we'd have been the main men”.
What else do I remember? The teaching was terrible. There were a few notable exceptions, and I'm happy to name them. Monsieur Harrald was very kind to me, Aubrey Scrase was an inspiration to thousands of kids (and is still there), and Mr Chesterton was someone I disappointed, to my eternal shame. But overall the teaching was hopeless. I doubt half the teachers would pass the most cursory OFSTED inspection these days. And I say this as an ex-teacher.
As for Andrew being gay. I hadn't known that at the time which is strange. For our school remains the gayest place I've been outside of Heaven nightclub. Tom Robinson's “Glad to be Gay” was practically the school anthem in my fifth year. The entire front row of my sixth form english class were high camp, some of them now minorly famous. “Hamlet, he's queer isn't he, sir?” remains to my mind a woefully under-debated insight.
So, it's fair to say our memories are at odds, right down to the number of the bus (424). Was I happy there? I cried when I got home after my first day there and enjoyed not one single day after. Did I make the most of the opportunity granted me? Did I heck. Did I thrive, was I nurtured, was I educated? Was I fuck.