Tuesday, July 7, 1998 Published at 14:47 GMT 15:47 UK
Something to put on your CV
David Garrido, 18 next month, had a conventional enough education until the day his parents spotted an advert for scholarships at Eton. His life was about to change.
Hmmm ... education. Well, I can safely say that up until now it has been an interesting and diverse experience.
I have only a few memories from my early childhood: my first day at nursery school in Chichester, where I couldn't stop crying - until I found the sticklebricks. In Mrs Morgan's class at Commonswood School in Welwyn Garden City we had to write our name 30 times in perfect handwriting and show it to the teacher, before she looked at it disdainfully and finally relieved us reluctantly of our painful torture.
It was there that I believe things really started happening. My parents had a BBC Micro computer with 32K of memory (how things have changed) on which they made us play educational games. At the age of seven I moved to Bourne End in Buckinghamshire and Claytons Middle School. Then before I knew it, I got my 12+ results and was off to the Royal Grammar School in High Wycombe.
Music became a major part of my life. I was playing piano, trumpet and guitar. I was also studying German for the first time, taught by the inimitable Mr White-Taylor, who led us in an almost ritual chanting of verbs at the beginning of each lesson.
As a result of his entertaining but effective teaching methods, German became a must for GCSE, along with the other core subjects - French, maths, English, English literature and science in one form or another. Despite what I had been told by a few people, the GCSE course was very taxing. It is not easy to juggle nine subjects at a time. But at this point, I was almost sure that I would stay on into the sixth form - until a certain public school came into play, that is.
The tour was stunning
My mum and dad had noticed a newspaper advertisement for sixth-form scholarships at Eton College. My first reaction was just to shake my head and walk away, but after a lot of persuading, I eventually decided to attend the open day. So there I was, on a cloudy November afternoon, in Upper School along with about 30 boys of my own age who were all wearing expensive Versace or Christian Dior suits, feeling so out of place in my jeans and jumper.
The tour of the school left me stunned. Completely stunned. Yet I was not about to change my mind. I didn't want to leave the Royal Grammar School. In any case, there was absolutely no chance that I'd do well enough in the exams to merit an interview, let alone well enough in the interview to merit being offered a place. But once again it was the persistence of my parents that changed my mind.
"If you do happen to get offered a place," they said, "we'll just reject it. And it'll be something you can put on your CV."
This seemed fair, so I went in for the exams - three in each of my chosen A-level subjects: French, German and maths. By this time - mid-February - the applicants had been whittled down to 15. I came back home expecting nothing else to happen, but a few weeks later I received a letter inviting me to interview.
There were now only five of us left, each having four interviews: three for each of our A-level subjects - and one with the headmaster, Mr Lewis. Frightening. He asked me questions such as: "How would you vote in the next General Election?" or: "If you chose three words to describe yourself, which ones would you choose?" It was not by any means a walk in the park.
Doubts creep in
Thinking that it was at last all over, I received a phone call from Mr Lewis himself towards the end of March, offering me a scholarship. For the first time during those last six months, a feeling of doubt crept into my mind. I took a couple of months to make my final decision: to the surprise of my parents, I asked them if it would be okay to take up the scholarship after all. With a total of 7A*s, 3As and a B in my GCSEs, I was off to Eton.
Now, what images does "Eton" evoke? Funnily enough, whenever I ask this question, the words "stuck-up", "posh" and "toffee-nosed" seem to rear their ugly heads with a disturbing regularity. These impressions must have derived from somewhere - there are a few Etonians who do possess these characteristics - but it is unfair to apply this to what is in reality a whole community. In my two years, I have met many diverse people, very few of whom actually are as many think they are. As a result this stereotype has, for me at least, been dispelled.
As it happens I settled in fairly quickly - Eton's house system is wonderfully apt at making a newcomer feel at home. I found that people are interested in you, not to play devil's advocate, but because they genuinely want to find out what you're like. There is obviously a social class gap between the average Etonian, product of either Ludgrove or Summer Fields Preparatory School, and anyone who goes to a normal secondary school.
This, however, has no importance. Eton judges people on their merits, and not, contrary to popular belief, on their money. The existence of schemes such as the sixth-form scholarship and bursaries that benefit a fifth of all Etonians is proof enough for what could be considered as a naïve, but is, I assure you, a well-informed assertion.
A place on the ladder
Despite this, I missed dearly all the things I had given up, some of which were irreplaceable. Everything was so different at Eton - the uniform, the timetable, even the language. Lessons became 'divs', teachers became 'beaks', homework became 'EWs'. I had never experienced anything like this. On a social level, I often felt out of place. My parents did not have the income to compare with my double-barrelled compatriots, but then my parents hadn't earned my place - I had.
While having to cope with a new school, and, to all intents and purposes, a new way of life, I also had to deal with the jump from GCSE to A-level. The College had its own self-imposed hierarchy to intensify the sense of competition that existed anyway. The King's Scholars (KS) were meant to be the most intelligent people, followed by the Oppidan Scholars (OS), then everyone else. You felt you knew how far up or down you were on that particular ladder.
German was a particular struggle as my beak was very disciplinarian but things soon started to change. It became my strongest subject after a six-week exchange in Bonn but the balance with French was restored after a month-long séjour in Rouen during the summer. As a result of Trials (end-of-term exams) I became David Garrido OS, and with a nice round total of 30 texts to read during the summer in preparation for Oxbridge, all was set for my final year.
The target was crystal clear - Worcester College, Oxford, to read French and German. The Michaelmas term was a nightmare. Six Oxbridge periods a week made it imperative that I plan my time very accurately, but I still found myself up on numerous occasions at 2.30am (despite my 11pm curfew) armed only with a cup of extra-strong coffee, as I struggled to finish yet another poem commentary.
At the end of that term I went to Oxford for two interviews in two days. I had a grammar test which I thought had not gone well, and hoped that the final interview itself would make up for it. After half an hour with two Oxford dons I left Worcester College in the freezing cold of a mid-December morning.
A week later I received a conditional AAB offer from Worcester, which gave me even more impetus to make every effort to get to Oxford. Not long to wait: I will know on 20 August how well I have done in my A levels.