King as boy

Now that the ludicrous whitewashing of the new king has begun in earnest, complete with lese majeste repression that will likely escalate on a grand scale, a reader reminds us of a recent article about the king’s time at a boarding school in Britain. We provide much of that story below, from The Telegraph, where is is behind a registration wall. If readers want all the details about the school, register for access. Some of the names were changed by the author of the original piece. Here we concentrate on the king as boy:

What it was like to board at Millfield School with the King of Thailand
Rupert Christiansen
4 December 2016 • 8:00am

… Millfield [was] notorious then [the 1960s] as the most expensive educational establishment in Britain and a mecca for sporting prodigies and the offspring of plutocrats who couldn’t pass legitimately into Eton or Roedean.

… [L]ife in Millfield’s boarding houses was in those days conventionally hierarchical, authoritarian and unreformed in its ethos, especially for the boys. A system of fagging was in place, and prefects could (and did) cane the juniors. There were no curtains or carpets in the unheated dormitories, the food was revolting and the lavatory paper hard. The regime was not so much spartan as brutal, and in some respects I remain scarred by the experience.

… [M]y dormitory mate, Mahidol Vajiralongkorn, succeeded his father to the throne on Thursday, trailing tales of caprices and extravagance that have made a him a figure hated, despised and feared.vaji-as-boy

Millfield made something of a speciality of educating foreign royalties – European, Asian and African. My recollection is that they received no special treatment. Some of them seemed perfectly nice and normal … and happy to take their place in an egalitarian atmosphere that to the school’s great credit was pretty much free of snobbery or racial prejudice.

Yet there was something of the pathetic outsider about Mahidol (as he was unceremoniously known), in the year above me. Tubby and clumsy, he suffered from one of the most violent twitches I have ever seen – one side of his face would seize up once every 30 seconds or so, as if electrocuted. At one level, he seemed to want to join in: he wore unassertive tweedy clothes, kept to the rules and played our games, even to the point of taking part in the house play – something classical, I forget what, where his brief appearance in a ludicrously revealing toga caused much snickering. But nobody really wanted him as their friend, and at every meal he sat himself next to the matron, the gaunt and censorious Miss Wilkins, who clearly found him a bore and stared blankly into the middle distance as he prattled on. Eating was his comfort: he guzzled compulsively, supplementing the ghastly institutional cuisine with Thai specialities and sweetmeats stored in a bottomless trunk kept under his bed. If he was in a good mood, you might be offered something, too.

He wasn’t clever, he wasn’t in any teams and despite a previous sojourn at a prep school in Seaford, his English remained imperfect and idiosyncratic. But what marked him most was his enthusiasm for the Combined Cadet Force, a Friday afternoon misery that everyone else loathed. Here, he so excelled in the meticulous wearing of kit, the parade-ground drills, the shouting and saluting that he was promoted to some sort of officer status, allowing him to lord it over the rest of us rotten long-haired pacifist slackers.

Like others whose sense of superior status is toxically combined with insecurity and isolation, Mahidol could suddenly drop his pretence of amiable normality and become a vile bully: indeed, his behaviour might now be described as bipolar. His joviality could quickly boil to manic pitch, and the dormitory would often be rudely awoken in the small hours by his sudden melodramatic cackling, as though he had just dreamt up a scheme of bloody revenge and mayhem on those who had crossed him. There were many of those, real and imagined: my friend Paul Latham, calm and inscrutable, was one of the few who knew how to handle him and win his respect, but anyone who showed signs of weakness or fear could be mercilessly pounced on.

This tendency emerged most creepily in his cat-and-mouse relationship with a harmless but gormless boy called Peter Crickmore, who idiotically hero-worshipped the then modish DJ Tony Blackburn (an old Millfieldian) and generally got on everyone’s nerves. Mahidol was weirdly mesmerised by Crickmore – patting him affably on the back and chortling cheerily at his fatuous attempts at jokes before savagely mocking, punching and pinching him.

A standard schoolboy tactic, one might say, but magnified here to the point of obsessive sadism. Crickmore was baffled and petrified by these attentions and would cringingly beg for mercy – “please don’t, Mahidol, please, please, please” – when the tide turned against him. Nobody dared come to his aid.

The more he whimpered, the more Mahidol taunted and sneered and tormented, giving his victim the occasional breathing space and claiming it was all mere good-natured joshing before piling it on again with more intense viciousness. No, this wasn’t standard schoolboy stuff at all, but a revelation of the psychopathology of human cruelty – the methods of the torture chamber – that I have never forgotten.

Mahidol quite liked me, I think: I made no trouble for him. “Chrishashern! Chrishashern!” he would whisper after lights out, in a tone combining menace with bonhomie, “when I am king, you must come visit me in Bangkok. I will give you very good time, a very good time.” I fear, however, that given the Thais’ draconian laws of lèse majesté, his idea of a very good time would not be mine, so I shan’t be taking him up on the invitation.

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