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Wednesday, September 2, 1998 Published at 16:51 GMT 17:51 UK


Education

Advice from an Old Etonian

Eton: "Cold winters and boring weekends"

Prince Harry is starting at Eton, the world famous public school where posh children from rich families wear tailcoats and stiff collars. But is the school really like its cliché? BBC News Online's Dominic Casciani spoke to one old Etonian to find out what is in store for the young prince.

Were it not for dodging local lads trying to beat him up, shivering in the bleak mid winter or hiding from older boys intent on nick-naming him "Flower", Chris Millar might have had the time of his life at Eton.

Chris, 25, spent five years at the school before going on to Oxford. His abiding memories are all concerned with how he survived rather than jolly hockey sticks, and the stuff of Tom Brown's School Days.

His days there were characterised on one hand by excellent teaching and on the other by simply trying to avoid anybody older or stronger than him.

Chris, now a journalist with a regional newspaper, said that the entire experience was "slightly weird" - though he does say he carries no scars.

The first day at a new school is always daunting, but Eton and the prospect of meeting 265 other new boys left Chris "absolutely petrified".

The morning started with his parents escorting him to the school where he was then taken to his room, where he laid out his regulation school kit and put up his sole poster of a Pirelli girl.

'Frightening'

After the parents had been "shuffled away", the new boys just stood around, "furtively looking at each other", he recalls.

"The whole day was just quite frightening," he said. "You meet the Captain of the House, who is always more sporty than you, and the House Master.

"Then once your parents are shuffled away, the pecking order immediately starts - who you are, what you have done."

Chris predicted that Prince Harry would have few problems with his first day since he has already been prepared for life at Eton at his previous school - and of course his elder brother is there.

But he added: "One of the most important things is sorting out who has done what - who knows anything about girls, whether you've had a whiff of beer or tried smoking."

Strict dress code

One of the most unusual aspects of life at Eton is the uniform - made to measure and laid out in the room when the new pupil arrives.

While many schools do well just to persuade their children not to turn up wearing training shoes, at Eton the rules are strictly enforced - tailcoats, stiff collars and the famous Eton tie.

"The uniform is quite weird at first," said Chris. "But then you quickly learn that there is a special way of walking.

"You can't really run at all, you have to learn to scuff your shoes along the floor to get up any speed."

Then there are the infamous initiation ceremonies carried out by older boys. Though many of these practices have been stamped out, Chris was still a victim.

As parents leave their offspring in the good hands of the house master (Chris's mother was "in floods of tears"), the taller, stronger, fitter and altogether meaner lads move in.

Initiation

Pity any poor fellow who cannot pass the Colours Test of the house sports teams, says Chris. And lie in bed at night (the rooms had no locks in his day), dreading the moment when you are 'lamp-posted'.

Chris recalled: "There you are having a nice dream about your Labrador dog at home and then your bed gets up-ended by the other boys with you tied in the middle.

"And that was by no means the worst that can happen to you. You can get miserably teased. They called me Flower Millar because I was wet - I wasn't the sporty type so I was put down as some kind of urban sophisticate.

"My memories are of a bewildering hierarchy that you have to learn to be part of very quickly. The school even has odd names for everything - one lamp post was called the Burning Bush for some reason."

'Excellent teaching'

The worst of the experience - apart from the bullying - was the "cold winters and rubbish boring weekends".

The best of it? "

Leaving," Chris says. "And knowing lots of posh people," he adds sarcastically.

"I just didn't like it very much. Behind the tradition there is a lot of excellent teaching, many of these guys came from Oxbridge and they have amazing facilities."

So what's the advice for the young prince?

"If you want to smoke, do it during Chambers (the morning coffee break) because the teachers are not around.

"At Messing (afternoon tea) stock up to help you get through EWs (homework).

"Keep your head below the parapet and don't try to be controversial. Just smile a lot and don't, just don't be cheeky to any older boys."





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