In England’s green and pleasant land?

“Did you learn this as school?” I would sometimes look up from my phone turn it towards my wife and glance inquisitively. She usually furrows her eyebrows and fills me on the details she faintly knows but it would usually be a “No”, sometimes a “Huh?” but most of the time it’s a “What is that reference I really don’t get it…” 

I went to a preparatory school in London situated in Chelsea when I was eight. Right in the middle of Knightsbridge and the consulates. Morning school drives involved calling out names of flags as we ambled along in London traffic, “Brazil, Austria, Spain..wait what country is that?”. 

The school is set in this type of Victorian townhouse with heavy doors and dust still on the windowsills. The dust was there not through the lack of cleaning, it was just that old. Names of the head boys (it was an all boys school) were hand painted in gold and heralded all the way before the Second World War or was it the Great War? The people that went to this school as my Ibu puts it, “You know very British”. 

Getting ready for school involved slicking back my hair (to a natural right side parting), wearing a blue shirt, fastening my tie and wearing itchy trousers. We would learn important subjects like Latin, play chess during lunch breaks and discuss Roman history during class. Woodwork and fencing were offered as after school activities. During class my Latin teacher (person who teaches the classical language Latin, not a person from Latin America) usually shared what incredulous thing another other preparatory school from the same post code did. ‘They don’t even tuck in their shirts”. He cautioned us against such miscreant behaviour as we continued to sound out Latin conjunctions.  

Break time revolved around discussions which schools we were preparing for as we tucked into our packed lunch. The preparatory school (prep school) was known for having an exemplary passing rate for students going to Eton, Winchester, St. Paul’s and Winchester. Which was a pit stop en-route to Oxbridge and onto an illustrious career in the City of London no doubt.

A prep school is usually a private or privately owned school that prepares children between the ages 8-13. The one I attended only had one entrance exam to admit only 39 pupils to join from the age of 8. This batch of 39 pupils moved up the years together, no other admittance for any other year group were permitted. It was a tough entrance exam – or at least I was told it was. Ibu recollects, “You were lucky to get into it.” My sister and I moved from the previous school we attended due to a principal not allowing my sister to puasa. So of course, I would move to an all-boys Church of England school. 

The title of this is taken from, “And did those feet in ancient time” by William Blake. One of the leading hymns during Friday service. The parish of St Luke’s Church would boom with the words, each syllable carefully enunciated. Teachers would be on the lookout for any slurring of words or changes to lyrics. This was sung – or as I did mimed by me when I was still attending the service. Once my parents understood a bit more about what Friday service was about, they said in the strongest terms, “It’s not for us”. I was only to mime singing and try not to inculcate the values of the hymn, before completely sitting out the service altogether. Soon enough me and the only other Muslim boy Kareem, sat out the Friday service. I often sat waiting catching up on homework I was supposed to complete for the Friday classes.