In all the turmoil over Brexit I found a wonderful retreat in Betjeman’s Summoned by Bells. So much of his experience mirrored mine that it was quite comforting. His persecution by a dreadful nanny confirmed my experience that so many upper middle class parents before the war and even after it shuffled off their responsibility for their children to unsuitable carers. On the other hand, as I did, he loved exploring the beautiful area in which he grew up. When he went to school he suffered, as so many others including myself did, the bullying by his contemporaries for being different. In contrast to that he loved being able to roam free round his beloved Cornwall and my childhood visits to Cornwall laid the foundation of a lifelong delight so that even this year we are staying at a hotel which I first discovered when I was just eleven. The other place of freedom was university which he took advantage of so much that he was thrown out of it for failing his exams, while I came very close to that, getting a very poor degree while being an exhibitioner and in today’s world of competition I too would certainly have been asked to leave.
The poem ends with his bluffing his way to being a cricket master at a prep school and although his bluff was called he managed to survive more than a year while one of his colleagues was thrown out for driving over the cricket pitch. I too landed a teaching position at a cricket pavilion and found in the course of a year that I had no idea how to keep discipline. The last link in the chain was his connection with T.S. Eliot who was one of his prep school masters and to whom he much later showed his poems, while my wife and I, involved in the setting up of the T.S. Eliot Society, were able to invite his widow to the first ever annual T.S. Eliot Festival.