When I was in primary school my parents decided I should sit the scholarship entrance exam for Monmouth School. Then as now the private, single-sex boarding school was a bastion of convention, privilege and conservatism, in many ways the Eton of Wales. In Monmouth the male children of the upper middle classes and, like me, the aspirational middle classes were to be moulded into good Tories by those perennial masculinist obsessions of British rightwingers – rugger, cricket and mutual masturbation. From there they would seamlessly go on to snaffle positions in the prosperous professions as lawyers, doctors, administrators or bank managers, join the Freemasons and proceed to take up positions among Wales’ cadre of quasi-colonial governors modelled in the image of their English overlords. Even though I was blissfully ignorant of any of the political, social, historic, cultural, gender and class issues at stake, I instinctively knew that this was an exam that I must at all costs fail. And, at just 10 years old, I had the wherewithal, cunning and rebellious instinct to do just that, deliberately getting a number of questions very wrong while convincingly pretending I was trying hard. But I mustn’t boast. Suffice to say here that this was my very first stand, of many, against the values of my deeply Tory late father, and to this day I cannot shake off the opinion that anybody who unquestioningly follows in their father’s footsteps is at best a lazy coward and at worst a corrupt parasite.
Monmouth School for Boys, founded in 1614 and run by the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers (one of the ‘Great Twelve’ City of London livery companies), is still going strong, churning out generation after generation of mediocre conformists only very rarely interrupted by the occasional oddball gem – as a glance at the roll call of alumni reveals. Among the ranks of forgotten cricketers, rugby players and assorted bigwigs it takes three extraordinary gay men – Angus McBean (1904-1990), Victor Spinetti (1929-2012) and John Vassall (1924-1996) – to provide any noteworthy talent at all. Which isn’t really a lot to show for 400 years of expensive educational effort (current fees: £30,852 per annum) on the banks of the Afon Gwy. As for Monmouth School’s contributions to Welsh life, now don’t be silly. Reflecting the general gutting of Gwent by English colonisers, the town of Monmouth itself has also been largely stagnant for these past 400 years, and is famed for very little bar Monmouth Pudding – here is the recipe.
For reasons I can’t be bothered to work out, I reckon it’s time for a second fruity Monmouth dessert – counterintuitively in the depths of winter. You’ve heard of Eton Mess and you’ve experienced the British mess of the Old Etonian class warriors, well here’s an appropriately pauperised Welsh response that simultaneously mocks those ‘Welsh Eton’ pretensions:
MONMOUTH MESS – ANNIBENDOD MYNWY
250ml extra thick double cream
1 tsp sugar
2 ready-made meringue nests, roughly crushed
250g frozen mixed berries, thawed
1) Put all the ingredients into a bowl
2) Combine thoroughly
3) Eat at one sitting, like I’m doing now while typing
4) Try to burn off the calories when the weather improves