The story behind the “Wolf/Sheep” cartoon.
There’s been talk of me going to Asia recently.
My parents weren’t rich, but growing up we moved around a lot, because of my dad’s work. So when I was 10 my folks sent me to a very old fashioned Scottish boarding school in Edinburgh, in order to provide me with some sort of continuity. I pretty much stayed there till I went off to university in Texas.
I was in Edinburgh last weekend, seeing old friends. All boarding school buddies; all in town for the weekend for one reason or another. Seeing them again brought back lots of memories.
Maybe one day I’ll write about my school days. It was a long time ago, but I still look back on it rather fondly, in its quasi-Victorian, other-worldly way. Nothing whatsoever like the quiet suburbs most of my American university friends grew up in.
One thing I liked about it was everybody’s parents lived somewhere else- Saudi, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Kenya, Bahrain, India, Nigeria, Singapore, Sierra Leone, The Bahamas, Monaco, Gibraltar.
Even though the British Empire had long since kicked the bucket, the expats could still be found pretty much anywhere the Brits had a former colony. Dressed in linen suits and panama hats, smoking Cuban cigars, getting sloshed on gin & tonic, watching the polo matches, working for some foreign multinational, or serving in the diplomatic corps or the military. This could have described most of our dads perfectly.
And when the children reached a certain age, we were all whisked off back to the motherland 8 months a year for boarding school. That’s just what happened.
The world has changed a lot since then, and perhaps what I’m describing seems a bit of an imperialist anachronism, like reading Kipling or Graham Greene. Still, in retrospect the thing I appreciate most about boarding school wasn’t so much a decent education (I wasn’t much of a student, to be honest), or the day-to-day mundanity of Latin, Shakespeare, Rugby, ‘Jerusalem’, fist fights, ink-stained hankies, cold showers and horrible food, but the horizons.
We all seemed to come from families who, regardless of privelege (or lack thereof), went off and did interesting things in faraway places. And most of us expected to go off and do the same, once our turn came. We left school at 18 knowing it was a big world out there- and we knew it from first-hand experience, not from watching MTV.
Not all the kids at the school boarded- there were also day pupils. You know, kids who lived in the ‘burbs and got to see their parents every day after 4.30pm. We never thought much of them. We saw them as pampered, boring, vacuous, provincial, materialistic little mall rats. And they in turn thought we boarders were all disconnected weirdos with strange accents. Close friendships between boarders and day boys was rare; both factions preferred their own.
Eventually we graduated, went off to university for 3-4 years, and then onto other things.
One chap I know installed satellite dishes on the roof of the Bagdhad Hilton for a major news organisation during the Gulf War.
One friend started a dotcom in Santiago, Chile.
Another friend is currently serving as a senior officer on an aircraft carrier for the Royal Navy.
I got a job in a large, Chicago ad agency for reasons that seem utterly remote to me now.
Other friends of mine live in places like Tokyo, Holland, Vancouver, Switzerland.
But not one of my old friends from school still lives in Edinburgh. Not one. A few are in London, but there are grumblings about buying houses and relocating to places like Costa Rica or Bulgaria.
So, welcome to the land of the British Expat. Where you feel like a stranger in your own country, where you only feel at home when surrounded by foreigners. That is the land I hope to be re-entering very soon.
The Land of The Wolf.