Sunday, 26 September 2010


Upper School, Chambers meeting

I am in a big room that predates me by over 500 years, lined up with busts of Eton’s most illustrious sons, on the wooden panels on its walls thousands of names proudly carved in heavy Latin script.

I am in the midst of a gathering of a hundred and fifty men (and some 10 women) wearing penguin suits and bowties and harrypotteresque gowns over that, who are all stamping their feet (the accepted form of applause at Eton) and the floor is shaking, in spite of the padded carpet preemptively in place. The Head Master is masterfully delivering one of his encouraging “well done” speeches, which I always enjoy listening to but the point of which I invariably forget the instant he is done. After his final and dismissive "thank you”, the volume in the room rises up from complete silence to a “fahfahfahfahfohfoh” crescendo like there was someone slowly turning a knob.

This meeting is supposed to serve a double purpose: both to hear important announcements by the Head Master and Lower Master and to conduct official school business with other beaks in the few minutes before and after that. Tradition dictates that if you want to speak to someone you have to hold on to his gown (which is why everybody has to wear one*). This is recursive; if someone else wants to speak to that person he (very occasionally she) will then have to hold on to your gown and so on. It is quite common to have chains of 3 or 4 people holding on to each other’s gown.

The meeting finished, everybody rushes off to their divs, some stopping by School Office to check their pigeon holes. Outside the main building, boys are waiting to try and get hold of beaks, most often because they have been told by those masters to “see me after Chambers”. They might have misbehaved or want a quiet word about something.  

CIMG4258-1It is an interesting experience, bizarre and slightly surreal like everything else around here, but once the novelty fades it becomes just a right pain in the arse. This happens every morning, 11:20 to 11:40, Monday to Saturday, and it is compulsory to attend. Us Language Assistants don’t have to be there on a Saturday, but it still means Mon-Fri I have to jump out of bed into a suit just to go loaf around for 20 minutes (bonus picture: me in a suit) and all I can think is: there go 20 minutes of my life I'll never get back.

Of course nowadays most school business is carried over email, which is quicker and better no matter how you look at it. So why Chambers then? Just for an extra bit of social atmosphere? Why compulsive Chapel for boys at 8:35am? Why the penguin suits and the black shoes? Why the gown-pulling and the foot stamping? Why beaks? Why the Wall Game**? 

There’s a saying around here, it goes:

“Ask not why, ask since when.”


* Except us Assistants, nobody wants to speak to us.
** Quidditch


Raul said...

Wonderful! "Ask not why, ask since when" seems apt enough and if anyone can do pomp and ceremony it is us Brits and right now it is all still do better than anyone. The pic is wonderful. How could you Dani it up and get away with it? s

Raul said...

all we still do better*

MasterMan said...

Lolz! It is a nice photo indeed, which is why I nicked if from LIFE magazine. I just photoshopped out the huge LIFE watermark. If you look attentively you can still find it. I hope their lawyers never come across my blog, or I'll have to deal with lots of pomp and ceremony for that one ^_^

DraXus said...

Welcome to harrrypotterland!!

(The captcha of this comment is "exopetru", it sounds like a magic spell XD)

Yiyi said...

I will read the blog later, but so far, JaJAJAja is what I did when I saw your photo.
Guapa la foto!
Congrats, mate!!