British International School Bratislava


In 2007, I began teaching mathematics and physics at this school in Bratislava. My son Paddy began attending in year 4 although he was ten years old. He had missed out on many years of education in Swaziland and could not read or write. He had probably only had a year of schooling. I was impressed that the school had been prepared to take him on. We lived a short walk away from the school in the northern suburb of Dubravka.

The school was staffed by a mixture of British and Slovak teachers. It was increasing in popularity and had a new principal. I taught mostly mathematics. The physics I taught was to the 11-14 age group. I taught HL mathematics for the IB Diploma too. The salary was excellent. The students were from many different countries. One of the biggest groups was the Koreans. The parents worked for Kia cars or one of the other Korean manufacturers that had relocated to Slovakia. I taught children from the UK, France, Germany, Slovakia, Russia, Serbia, Spain, China, the United States, Japan, New Zealand, Ireland, amongst others. I like to think that I made the lessons entertaining. I liked to try different learning styles and avoided formal lesson planning like the plague.

I loved teaching physics to the young ones. They were very interested in science practicals and we had a lot of fun. I designed a website for Key Stage 3 Physics. We built electric motors and we had great success designing model houses to see who could make the design that kept the heat in the most. I never enjoyed teaching as much as I did at this school.

Paddy and grandparents in Bratislava

In 2008, I bought a house over the border in Hungary. The idea was to save money on rent and buy an affordable home in the countryside. It was a 45 minute drive to work in the morning and really not at all bad. The house was in the sleepy village of Halászi. In 2008, the border controls came down and Hungary joined the Schengen area though it seemed that the Slovak police took about a year to realise this. I lost track of the number of times we were stopped crossing the border. For a while, we took an alternative but parallel route back home because of this hassle at the border crossing. Another reason for moving to Hungary was the overt racism that my son had received in Bratislava on numerous occasions. One on a crowded tram, a young man began making a monkey impression at my son. It was clearly directed at him. I did not react because when I get angry, I can lose control. I don’t like to do this. On another occasion in 2008, we were in a small supermarket called Billa in Dubravka and I could tell that my son was upset. I urged him to tell me what had happened and he did not want to tell me. In the end, he told me that a woman had pushed him out of the way. He pointed her out to me and I let her have it. Then there were the looks that people gave us. You may say that it’s just a look but I called it ‘the look of disgust.’ People stared. It was just rude. Paddy liked to ride his bike and I would not allow him to ride ahead of me in the park because I was concerned about his safety. He had been called ‘nigger’ by some youths in a park once, with me within earshot. Of course, unless we were walking close together, people assumed that we did not know each other. We were required to go to the ‘foreign police’ once a year to have our resident permit renewed. When I went the first time, the policeman at the desk looked at my son and asked if he had a passport. I felt like saying ‘No, I smuggled him into the country in a suitcase.’ I never experienced problems like this in my three years living in a village in Hungary.

The school knew of the difficulties I had but chose to ignore them and offered no support to me. When you are constantly faced with these difficulties, it has a detrimental effect on your psyche. When my son Paddy got into trouble. the school was not interested in taking into account the difficult background he had. They made no exceptions for him. They were just concerned about how the other parents might react.

I don’t want you to think that we had a bad time in Slovakia. The school was a very safe place and great for my son to grow up with. There were many lovely Slovak staff there who really went out of their way to help.

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Memories of Lewes Old Grammar School from 1979 to 1985


The headmaster at Lewes Grammar at the time was Roy Mead. He was a very authoritarian figure and ran the school how he saw fit. It was a small school and still is. There were only two forms per year with each form taking about 14 boys. It had a junior department on the other side of town and a girls’ school just a few doors down on the High Street. There had been a boys’ grammar school on this site since 1714. The school was founded in 1512 at Southover near Lewes. Lewes is the county town of East Sussex and is surrounded by the South Downs, the chalky hills that run parallel to the south coast.

I joined in the summer term of 1979 aged 12 years old. I was very shy and didn’t make friends easily. I was collected with about twelve other boys in a minibus driven by one of the teachers. I was so shy that at first, I waited in my mother’s canary yellow Ford Escort Estate for the minibus to arrive at my pick-up point near St. Johns Park a short walk from home. I’d had an extended Easter holiday because I had left my father’s house at the end of March where I had been living with my two brothers. I returned to live with my mother and stepfather of my own volition because I was being emotionally abused at my father’s house. The first day at my new school was on 8th May, being the day before Margaret Thatcher’s new parliament assembled for the first time. I had not spent much time with my mother in the preceding twelve months and I was upset and homesick for the first week or so. I fought back tears each morning before lessons started.

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What does forgiveness mean? Can we forgive when the person who caused the pain refuses any responsibility or any balanced discussion?

We can’t change the past. Brooding on the past is unhealthy however a certain dispassionate understanding of it can help us move forward. It’s fair to say that I have done my fair share of brooding.

I think what I found difficult was that the need for a relationship with my father meant that the obvious option of cutting off contact was not properly considered. It was my father who ended up cutting off contact with me however I wish that I had made that decision myself. I nearly did on more than one occasion.

I had group therapy for three years between 1990 and 1993. I don’t think that I found this useful because in my case, I ended up figuring out my problems on my own. We mostly sat in a circle with two facilitators,  staring at each other.

I had a lot of anger towards my father and was very introverted even as a young man. I had poor social skills and found making friends difficult. I seemed to irritate people when I spent a lot of time with them and I found this upsetting. I found studying for my PhD stressful and I vacillated too much. My work suffered. The constant interference by my step-mother in my personal affairs upset me. When I stayed with my father and step-mother, I could overhear them discussing me in their bedroom as the room I used shared a bathroom.

By the time I was twenty-six,  I still had not been in a relationship. I came out as gay in 1993 and told my father and step-mother first.  Though I found her suffocating at times, I respected my step-mother and overlooked or ignored her overbearing side.  We were having supper after I had been taken to the theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon and I told them then. My father was reading the paper and he pretended that he hadn’t heard. My step-mother said ‘Alan, did you hear what your son said’. She said this so loudly that the whole restaurant heard. We sat up late (me and her, not my father who was clearly unimpressed) discussing it. I would have said at the time that she was happy for me. I wrote a letter to my brother Jack in South Africa. He later told me that it was the best letter he had ever received.

I asked my step-mother not to tell her sons until I had had the chance to do so. She broke this promise and told her eldest who called me at home in Oxford. He was genuinely happy for me and we had a long conversation. I thought that she was supportive.

A little while later, I forget exactly how long, my father was sitting at the table in the kitchen and he said to me,’Old chap,’ as he liked to say, ‘please refrain from sexual relations with your step-brothers.’ Well, I was gob-smacked and insulted. I went ballistic. ‘Please don’t get upset old chap!’ he pleaded. Well, what the fuck am I supposed to do. He had just suggested that because I am gay, I’m going to start shagging my step-brothers who were at that time twenty and twenty-two years old. It was clear to me now what the mutterings of my step-mother and father had been behind their bedroom door.

With this family, you are always an outsider and treated like crap if you let them. My eldest step-brother Nick used to leave Post-it notes on the kitchen notice board telling my dad to mow the lawn that weekend because his friends were coming down and wanted to play croquet. He was treated like a servant.