Quite by chance, I’ve just discovered that Sebastian Wood became the British Ambassador to China in 2010. Why should I be interested in Her Maj’s representative to the Middle Kingdom? Well, I went to school with him. We weren’t in the same class but we were in the same play. He starred as Puck in A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream; I was cast in the bit part of Snug, the Joiner. He was cream of the straight ‘A’ crop; I was middling in the could-do-betters. He studied hard; I hardly studied at all. He became a member of the civil service elite; I became a middle ranking municipal bean counter. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.
Our man in Beijing got me thinking about other boys I schooled with. Tomasz Starzewski is an internationally successful designer who’s done rather well dressing the rich and ridiculous. He charges top dollar for his top notch frocks. I remember being rather unkind about the ample curves of his puppy fat years. Kids can be cruel and I had an acid tongue. Tomasz began his path to profitable haute couture at a young age and, when he found out that I worked for Habitat in Chelsea, popped in now and again. It was his way of pointing out that he was on his way to wealth and distinction while I was working in a shop on the minimum wage. Revenge, no doubt, was sweet.
I was a lazy pupil and tended to focus more on my hormones than my homework. I’ve never much had an ear for languages (my persistent failure to acquire more than a few mispronounced words in Turkish is a case in point). During Latin lessons I made sure I always sat next to Mario Franz Xavier Victor Joseph Thomas Da Souza (Mario’s family came from Goa in India, hence the saintly Portuguese roll call). Our chalk-dusted old teacher’s style was lamentably predictable. Working left to right from the back of the class, he would ask each boy in turn to translate a single line from a passage. All I had to do was count the number of boys and the number of lines and get Super Mario to translate my line for me. It worked a treat until my abject failure at the end of year exams.
I last saw Mario (at about the last time I saw Tomasz) when I bumped into him in Kings Cross. I’d just been to an appointment at the Institute of Ophthalmology where a research professor had been fascinated by how I’d managed to contract an STD in my eye. Who knew? Not me. It certainly brought a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘It’ll make you go blind.’ Ah, memories.
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