Old school ties

brighton col


The world moves on apace. And I bet you don’t have to be as old as me to think it’s going mad. The latest proof of that is Brighton College’s ruling that pupils of this exceptionally good co-ed independent school can wear the uniform of either sex. In other words boys in skirts if they so wish. Not so tricky for girls as many want to wear trousers (in my house they certainly do wear THE trousers).

We all know that being a teenager can be tricky, what with those raging hormones, acne, peer pressure and that’s before the bloody exam cycle. So God help a chap who opts for the fetching little number while in the quad at Brighton. And yes, before you point it out, he wouldn’t be the only fellow in that racy city to enjoy dressing like that…

Eton still insists on the trad topper and tails while Christ’s Hospital School is even more archaic with a Tudor uniform of belted long blue coat, knee-breeches and yellow socks, essentially unchanged since 1550. I was lucky at my school, nothing fancy: Jacket, trousers, cap and house tie. Ah yes, about that tie. When in the fifth form I got hold of an Old Collegians tie (to be worn by members of the old boys’ association) and took quite a fancy to it. Trouble is it was against the rules for a kid like me to wear it. I was duly spotted by a sneak of a prefect and reported to my House Head Prefect who in those days (1962-ish so not exactly Tom Brown) was allowed to cane offenders. I was called to his study where in front of an open fire was given a good thrashing. Extraordinary to think that nobody was charged with gbh or abuse or cruelty or some such but that’s how it was. I broke the rules and knew what to expect.

As it happens my punishment was delivered with apologetic charm by a chap who went on to bring some joy to me shortly after. (No, it’s not what you think). My assailant was R M Young, Roger Young, later scrum half for Ireland and voted one of the Top 100 Lions players of all time. Latterly producing excellent wine at his vineyard on the Cape.



As I may have said, I am a Paddy and very proud of it. Yesterday I was in Belfast for the day and it is a city I have always loved and in recent peaceful years have been able to proselytise about it, full of great restaurants, pubs, people and craic. But it does have its unfair share of eejits also. Like those who still think that life was better when bombings by both sides brightened up the day and when the Catholic population was kept firmly in their place. Thank God, times have moved on though some dim bird name of Ruth Patterson, an ex-DUP councillor, appears to be confused. Attempting to share her wisdom with the rest of us she says the Irish flag (the tricolour) has nothing to do with St Patrick and that he wasn’t a Roman Catholic, he was a Protestant.

Now please Ms Patterson, sit and pay attention:

1, St Patrick was born in Roman Britain, just possibly Wales, and was captured by Irish pirates and taken there to live. After six years he returned to Britain and then France where he studied (no Ruth, not for his GCSE). 

2. He did not drive the snakes from Ireland because there were none in this post glacial country. Well not then anyway. Latterly there have been plenty: Charlie Haughey, Ian Paisley, Mrs Iris Robinson, Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy and probably Bono. But the answer to the question on some TV quiz show recently “What did St Patrick drive out of Ireland?” is still not “A Morris Minor” which really was the answer given (possibly by Ms Patterson). 

3. St Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, that means all 32 counties, all four provinces and all its people, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and None-of-the-Above. The tricolour is the flag of the 26 counties of the Republic, the six of Northern Ireland usually fly the union flag. So the tricolour has a great deal to do with St Patrick though not everything.

4. Most important Ruth, my history lessons taught me that Protestantism arrived about 1,000 years after St P, an invention of that well known wife killer Henry VIII, a fine example if ever there was one.

Back to school Ruth and this time, must do better.




My friend Terry Manners and I lunched in The Crown Liquor Saloon, Belfast yesterday. If you’ve yet to have the pleasure go soon. It is one of the great pubs of the world, owned by the National Trust and restored to its former mid 1800s’ glory. Stunning stained glass and intricate tile work. Oak booths with strike plates for matches to light the fags you can no longer smoke and a total joy. It is the setting not surprisingly for many films but still a proper boozer, especially out of the tourist season. 

But it’s not the only terrific pub in the city: the Duke of York in Commercial Court near St Anne’s Cathedral is also the real deal though not as beautiful as the Crown. But I have happy memories of ‘Duke’s’ because it was there that as a young reporter in the mid ‘60s I went on a daily basis because it was next door to my first paper, the News-Letter. We all crammed into its small snug, not just us hacks but lawyers and judges from the High Court nearby. Some of the barristers were Unionist MPs including the future attorney general, lord of appeal and privy councillor Sir Basil Kelly, as establishment a figure as you could imagine. Serving our refreshments was a young, clean shaven and pally sort of chap whose uncle Jimmy Keavney owned the joint. He didn’t appear to be ear-wigging Kelly and Co, but he just might have been.

Two years later our friendly barman left for other opportunities. His name was Gerry Adams. Whatever became of him?

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