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A Good Education Is No Guarantee

14 June 2012, 09:32

It is reported that the new mega rich in China are starting to send their sons to England for their education. They favour the old institutions like Eton, Harrow, Rugby, Winchester, Shrewsbury, St Paul’s and Merchant Taylors. The super affluent in Russia and India have also fallen in love with the English Public School system. However, it’s not academic excellence the nouveau riche have in mind when they pack their boys off to boarding school. No, this is about gaining entry to the club.

What the English public school does so well is to foster an unshakable belief in the importance of tradition, comradeship and loyalty. A sense of superiority and entitlement is engendered and they learn how to comport themselves straight back, direct gaze, firm handshake – and how to recognise one of their own kind. Not to mention how to snub outsiders and exclude them from the inner circle.

In South Africa we have our own versions of Eton, Harrow and Winchester. Boarding schools like Bishops, Hilton and Michaelhouse were cloned from the original English model and have replicated several generations of highly influential men. The success of these schools at producing young men capable of making their way to a position of affluence and influence is undisputed. And it has little to do with individual excellence. On the contrary, it’s all about who you know, not what you know. Even a total moron is guaranteed an easy passage through life as long as he wears the old school tie.

Well, in theory. It didn’t work like that for Cedric.

“It was the system that killed him,” I said, as we walked to the car.

“It was his father who killed him,” said Cupcake.

“Kak,” said the other guy. “He killed himself.”

The other guy drove. Cupcake was front passenger and I sat in the back with Cedric. Cedric’s ashes, that is.

“That was fucking depressing,” I said. “Stop at the bottle store in Muizenberg.”

When we got to Sunrise Circle the hopelessness of our situation became apparent. The car park was empty and it felt like we were crossing the Sahara in a sand storm. At the beachfront the other guy didn’t even bother to stop the car. He just did a big U-turn and started back the way we had come.

“If I want my windscreen and paintwork sand blasted, I’ll go to a professional and get it done properly, thank you.”

“Park in the lee of the toilets over there,” said Cupcake.

We cracked open the frosties and sat watching the seagulls trying to land next to us

“You can’t go anywhere in Cape Town without some beggar comes hassling you,” said Cupcake. Why don’t these birds go find a job?”

“Or commit suicide,” said the other guy.

“He tried too hard,” I said. “Took it all too seriously.”

“Too much pressure from his father,” said Cupcake. “That’s what triggered his first breakdown.”

“They fuck you up, your Mum and Dad. Is that it?” said the other guy. “Only a loser blames his parents for his lack of success in life.”

“His father thought he was doing him a favour, sending him to a larney school,” I said. “He would have been alright if he had gone to a crappy, Model C school like the ones we went to.”

“You reckon?”

The first beer had dispelled some of the gloom, so we opened another.

“Hey, Cupcake,” I said. “Did you see how his father was checking out your footwear?”

“Ah, fuck him,” said Cupcake. “I’m wearing a tie, right?”

“:Yah, but Crocs? To a funeral?”

“So why ask us to scatter the ashes if he thinks we got no class? Why didn’t he do it himself?”

“In a wheelchair? How’s he supposed to throw his son’s ashes into the waves if he’s in a wheelchair?”

“Well, there’s no way anybody is going to bbe able to scatter ash in this gale.”

We sat watching the sand forming mini dunes on the expanse of gravel parking.

“You know what they say about the sewage system in Cape Town?”

We waited, wondering where this was going.

“They say that anything you put in the sewers will eventually end up in the sea.”

All three of us turned to look at the international dude marking the entrance to the men’s toilets.

“Not a bad idea,” I said.

“In one of his manic phases,” Cupcake said, “Cedric would have appreciated this.”

“A terrible waste, when you come to think of it,” said the other guy. “All those years of expensive schooling, and then four years at university. Not counting all the medical bills.”

I led the way with the urn and poured roughly equal portions of our friend’s remains into three toilet bowls. We took up our positions, Cupcake imitated a bugler and played the Last Post, and we then ceremoniously and solemnly flushed Cedric on his way.

Back in the car, we opened another beer.

“He’s better off where he is now,” said Cupcake.

“His life was hell on earth,” the other guy said. “He made a wise choice.”

“It just goes to show,” I said.

“Yeah? Like what?”

“Cedric’s story is a lesson to us. He has shown us the danger of succumbing to societal pressure and aspiring to a …”

“Hey, fuck you!” the other guy shouted, interrupting me. He started the engine. A big black backed gull had just come out of nowhere like a stealth bomber and zapped the windscreen with its payload of filth. It was time to go.

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