Category Archive 'British Public Schools'

29 Dec 2011

“Such, Such Were the Joys!”

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A great anecdote from Christopher Hitchens’ Hitch-22: A Memoir.

At Stanford, back in 1987, Christopher Hitchens was introduced by the egregious Edward Said to the estimable critic of the novel Ian Watt.

Watt pointed out the window to the large number of Japanese students visible on Stanford’s campus, and remarked thoughtfully: “I know it’s silly to say so, but it still makes me feel odd sometimes.”

[Ian Watt, you see, was ] one of the few survivors of The Bridge On The River Kwai, The Burma Railroad, Changi Jail in Singapore, and other Hirohito horrors that I still capitalize in my mind. He admitted later that, detecting other people’s reserve after returning home from these wartime nightmares, he had developed a manner of discussing them apotropaically, as it were, so as to defuse them a bit. And he told me the following tale, which I set down with the hope that it captures his memorably laconic tone of voice:

    Well, we were in a cell that was probably built for six but was holding about sixteen of us. There wasn’t much food and we hadn’t been given any water for quite a while. The heat was absolutely ferocious. Dysentery had begun to take its toll, which was distinctly disagreeable at such close quarters…

    Added to this unpleasantness, we could hear one of our number being rather badly beaten by the Japanese guards, with rifle-butts it I seemed, in their guardroom down the corridor. At this rather trying moment one of my young subalterns, who’d managed to fall asleep, started screaming and flailing and yelling. He was shouting: “No, no—please don’t… Not any more, not again, Oh God please.” Hideous noises like that. I had to take a snap decision to prevent panic, I so I ordered the sergeant to slap him and wake him up. When he came to, he apologized for being a bore but brokenly confessed that he’d dreamed he was back at Tonbridge.

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