City of London School and Me
My dad was a boiler-fitter and my mum was a book-keeper and we lived on a council estate, off the Essex Road in Islington. I don’t know where they got the idea of sending me to City, but I do remember going to the old school for the interview. It felt like another world. That big, imposing staircase, spiralling up on both sides of the huge lobby. The porter’s lodge. I remember thinking: “What kind of school has a porter’s lodger?” Everything seemed so grand.
City was an incredible place to go to school. Central London felt like the centre of the world. Fleet Street was still buzzing. You felt part of something. There were boys from high-flying families at City: in my class alone, I had the son of the then-Chancellor of the Exchequer, Roy Jenkins and the son of AJP Taylor, the historian. But I never had any self-consciousness about coming from a council estate. I never felt out of place. It was a friendly school. The teachers would always stop and chat. You always felt encouraged. It was a real community.
There was always plenty going on. I was in the chess club and the bridge club but my great obsession was Eton Fives. The master in charge was ‘Boggy’ Marsh, who was also was my form tutor. I had my Fives gloves with me at all times and would make for the court whenever there was a spare moment, playing at break times or in the school championships. I ended up playing for the school team and we even went to Eton and beat them at, literally, their own game: the result all hinged on the last doubles game and my partner and I got the City team over the line. I’ve still got my gloves, even now.
In the classroom, I enjoyed Latin and Greek: it could be fun, acting out little scenes in strange ancient languages. I loved science too and had notions of becoming a vet. But, after a Zoology degree at Cardiff University, I spent a year teaching science in a school in Wales, before moving into the medical supplies industry. I ended up being general manager of two of the biggest companies in the sector in the UK. I never regretted switching from teaching to industry.
When I had a young family, I was head-hunted for a job in France. We lived in Grenoble for five years. My sons went to a French primary school. We skied whenever we could. It was a big decision to go there when our children were so young but it turned out really well for all of us as a family. I think my time at City was partly responsible: not because I was great at French but because I always felt confident to try different things and was never discouraged if my first idea didn’t work.
To take my family to live in France was a bold move and a great adventure. I often think City nurtured a spirit in me that you could back your own decisions. The School didn’t just give us opportunities we may not have had elsewhere, it also gave us the confidence to embrace them.
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