THOU SHALT NOT UNCOVER THY MOTHER’S NAKEDNESS BY GEORGE HAYIM
George Hayim (30 Dec. 1920 - 2 Jan. 2011) was a wealthy Jew born and brought up in Shanghai, with a thoroughly cosmopolitan background. His memoir, Thou Shalt Not Uncover Thy Mother’s Nakedness. An Autobiography, from which the following extracts relevant to Greek love are taken, was published by Quartet Books, London in 1988. These concern his adolescence, when he was a pupil at Harrow, “England’s second most prestigious school”, which he attended between September 1934, when he was thirteen, and the first term of 1936, when he had just reached fifteen.
Describing his arrival at Harrow:
So here I was at thirteen: I knew that Smithson had peed, that Carris and Dennis used Brylcreem on their hair, and that was it. Sexually I’d only fiddled around with Dick [his elder brother] like many brothers do. [p. 43, …]
The first assignment new boys had at Harrow was their fagging duties. Fags were those new boys who had to take messages, run errands or work for older boys. One did private fagging for a senior, and community lagging for the committee of seniors. To get a fag, the senior on duty would scream out ‘Fag!’. If you were on duty that day, you had to run and stand there to be told what to do. Sometimes one would have to clean something or prepare toast for a senior. In winter there were wood and coal fires and seniors would have toast made for themselves, which juniors weren't allowed; though if they were clever they would hold the bread to be toasted on a long fork and then perhaps drop a slice into the ashes, take it out, shake off the ash, cut off the crust and hand the perfect piece to the senior, munching the ashy crust when the seniors weren't looking.
Sometimes two seniors would each scream out ‘Fag!’ simultaneously from different corners of the house just to torture the wretched fag. Having been forced to memorize practically the whole of the Talmud by the time I was three, and thereby able to pass into a scholarship from, I was exempt from public fagging, but not from private fagging. To be a private fag was to be a senior’s personal servant whose duties included cleaning the leather and brass he used during army officer training, which meant polishing belts and brass buttons until they shone. I didn’t mind being a private fag because I was already well on the way to being a masochist and Father’s domination had led me to seek slavery as a way of life. I enjoyed brushing the shoes and the buttons; it reminded me of those soldiers in Shanghai. I adored the smell of shoe leather and if I worked for a decent senior it was all quite a relief to be protected from the rest of life at school, just as housemaids and butlers feel protected against the hazards of the world outside. [p. 44; …]
Swimming was an exciting summer-term event and for some curious reason this was done naked. The pool was a lake in a field. We would all stand shivering and naked waiting for orders to jump in or not jump in. As English summers were notoriously cold it wasn’t all that much fun. There was a boy called Bill Lithgow, with corn-coloured hair, of typically good country stock, who ended up as Harrow’s cricket captain. Even at sixteen, Lithgow had such a staggeringly handsome muscular body that to look at hint was enough to make me hard. This embarrassed me so much I jumped into the water, which got me into trouble because you were only allowed to jump when you were told to.
The Head of our House was a man called Bostock, married to the daughter of the Headmaster of Harrow. He was a thin, pleasureless man with an inhuman dry voice and no one liked him. They also said he only had one ball. So when we went swimming, boys constantly dared one another to dive down and find out, but no one ever actually grabbed it. [p. 45; …]
So here we were, back at school, rugger, boxing and work. At the end of term, Suvretta Haus, St Moritz for skiing. There’d been the year Spike had belted me, the year that Gloria Swanson’s daughter – also Gloria - aged twelve, had fallen in love with Dick aged twelve, and the year the Kennedys were there. Suvretta Haus was very grand indeed. Unlike the Palace which catered for smart café society, Suvretta was a family hotel. This doesn't mean a nice little place where nice little families go; it was where families with millions went, taking whole suites and bringing their own linen as well. We ate in the hotel dining-room, but the hotel restaurant cost double. Curious, rather private people stayed at Suvretta, and on one visit the list of guests included a Russian ‘Theda Bara’ called Madame Gutman Herzfeld, covered in silver foxes and Brazilian diamonds, just as in the movies, who fed her cart, Natasha, caviar and later killed herself. I got friendly with a young Miss Citroën who was having an affair with a handsome Englishman called Percy Legard.
‘He is so . . .’ her voice dropped ‘. . . licentious don't you know?’
I didn’t know, so she told me. I never forgot the word. There was also an odd couple. A tall, white-haired Dr Mabuse of a man, who wore a monocle and looked unkosher, and his dashing young companion. People whispered when they passed. They nodded politely once to me.
One lunch-time I returned for my ski sticks, which I’d left somewhere, when the dashing young man, Axel Viale, came up to me.
‘I‘ve got your sticks, I saved them. Come, I'll give them to you.’
Like a little lamb. I followed him into his bedroom. Axel then pounced on little me, covering me with kisses, tearing off my clothes arid muttering in German and Danish. I didn't punch him on the nose and say, ‘Who do you think I am?’ or ‘Who do you think you are?’ He knew both those things. I burst into tears. I thought Axel Viale was wonderful but l wasn't prepared for rape . . . yet. He cooled down for about three seconds and then tried to bugger me. Although I’d been in love at school and done a few huggy things with brother Dick, no one, but no one had over tried that. I didn‘t believe such things existed and when he said everybody did it, I knew it was a downright lie. When I resisted he sulked.
‘All right then, I'll go down to the Palace bar and get a joy-boy,’ he said.
I heard people say that a certain person was a ‘so-boy’. ‘Is he “so?” ’ people would ask, meaning. ‘Is he homosexual?’ But I’d never heard about joy-boys. Oh, boy! ‘So-boy’, ‘joy-boy’! Perhaps I could go down to the Palace bar and get a joy-boy but, in fact, I couldn‘t. I was actually nothing but a temporary, unpaid joy-boy myself. It all ended on a friendly note. Axel asked Dick and me down to their villa in Barcelona. I wrote off immediately asking Father for permission to go. Father did not reply.
By the time I returned to school, I was in such an unsettled state that something was bound to go wrong. It all started on a sunny day. I was sitting in my room, a new pair of gleaming white tennis shoes beside me. These shoes were for the holidays and not for school, where only prefects were allowed them. l cannot think what madness made me decide to put them on and go out into the street. It meant certain death yet I did it. Perhaps I wanted trouble, perhaps I thought that with my huge brown eyes, charm and innocence, I could say, ‘Oh, I’m terribly sorry, what's wrong? Thanks for warning me,’ and get away with it.
Whatever it was, I tripped into the street, convinced I could and would get away with it. I think it‘s called ‘living dangerously’. The sun was still shining and there was no warning cloud as I left the House. Thunder and lightning followed almost immediately in the form of a posse of prefects, tall, white, handsome things their hard-blue eyes filled with rage. I found myself surrounded, questions and threats hurled at me. White shoes, Phil privilege, Phil beating, orders, criminal, marginal, rebel, communist, anarchist.
‘What's wrong?’ I cried. ‘We always wear white shoes in Shanghai. It's so hot in Shanghai. Have you been to Shanghai? If ever you go I’ll give you a letter to my Father. He'll look after you. I'm a Capricorn you see. Are any of you Capricorns’? I don't get on with Pisces!’ It was not going well. I tried something else. ‘What about Abyssinia? The Italians have invaded, you know. The Nazis are sending troops to Spain. I don’t know about white shoes. People are getting killed all over the world.’
‘Report to the Phil,’ was the only reply I got.
I had never taken an interest in the school customs and honestly didn't know what the ‘Phil’ was. Of course, I knew it stood for something important to do with sports. I tried to remember what it stood for: Phillip, Phyllis, Philistine, philharmonic, philanderer, philatelic, athletic, a Phil heating with a string of postage stamps? It was all a blur in my throbbing head. Suddenly, I was alone in the street, my shoes burning holes into my feet. What was my fate to be and who were these seventeen-year-olds to be allowed to cause me such fear?
The next few days were terrible. I could hardly walk. I had to steady myself by holding on to things. My throat went dry, I couldn’t eat. Frighteningly I went down to seventy pounds, then sixty, then fifty. The whole school stared. To start with they sneered, then the sneering stopped and was replaced by whispering. They'd avert their gaze and, by the time I’d gone down to forty pounds, they even looked at me with compassion. The world had become my jail, those people my jailers: doing their duty by strapping my hands to the arms of the chair, preparing me for the terrible moment to come. Someone would switch on the current and I’d go up in smoke. No one should be subjected to this, certainly not a nice boy like me. After all. I'm tender, loving, gentle and I didn't deserve such cruelty. I'd forgotten that I knew I’d been doing something wrong. This time Mother would have to do something. She could easily whiz down in her Rolls. Turner would pack my bags and they’d take me away forever. After all, when we'd had trouble in Baden-Baden, hadn't Grandpa arrived in a Zeppelin? I ran to the tuck shop to phone. Mother would come at once and save me. Oh, but hurry, hurry, hurry, or it would be too late. I was lucky, she was in.
‘Mother, take me away. They’re going to beat me. They’re going to torture me in front of the whole school. Take me away, please, please, show me you have a heart. Take me away! I implore you! I beg you, I've worked so hard. Please take me away! I can‘t stand it. I can’t! Please, please!’
Silence. I could imagine her sitting at her dressing-table calling the maid to bring her a nail-file. She wasn’t concentrating on listening. A long pause, then . . . ‘Daddy’ll only send you right back.’
Here she was, fiddling with some nail while her son was dying.
‘Help me, you’re my mother.’
She wasn't paying attention. She was busy with her nails. I left the phone booth and started hack to my room, walking erect, with dignity like Brian Aherne as the Emperor Maximilian of Mexico in Juarez when Paul Muni orders him to be executed. On the way home a lad I didn’t recognize ran up to me.
‘Wear two pairs of underpants,’ he said with a wink, and disappeared.
Later, another boy told me to put a piece of blotting paper there. Some boys showed concern.
‘Don’t use it pillow, they’ll notice.’
A ‘Phil beating’ takes place in a huge hall in front of the whole school. It is nerve-wracking to stand up in front of five hundred boys even if one is getting a prize, but to bend down in front of them and get six whacks across the arse is dreadful. I thought that although the pain would be terrible, it couldn't be worse than the mental torture of those hours of waiting. I decided to transport the whole thing into another world. I’d be a famous pianist giving this concert in front of everyone. Everyone would watch. I'd show them how well I could do that Chopin étude or the Mephisto Waltz. I concentrated on my star performance. It worked, but only for that second. I imagined the crowds clapping and shouting. ‘Bis! Bis! Encore!‘ I must have lost another ten pounds. The sea of faces, the groggy walk to the dais, the bending over and the six brutal strokes. The strokes seared through my pants like knives, but were bearable. Better than earache toothache or vomiting. When you vomit you want to die. This couldn't last long and it didn’t.
I can’t wanted remember what happened next. I just wanted someone there so I could lie in their arms and be comforted. But who? Bennett. Why not Bennett? I’d been doing Bennett’s private fagging, but how could I ask him that? I loved Bennett. He was so strong and handsome and had a deep, deep voice. I used to polish his shoes until they almost wore away. I bought the finest brown polish I could find to buff up the leather that officers wear. I am obsessive. How long could I go on, and how long could he go on not noticing? Finally, one morning it came out.
‘Why are you … ho hum … er … Why are you … well, I mean … all this trouble for me?’ asked Bennett, red in the face.
I stopped polishing the brass buckle, turned round slowly and gave him my ‘soft eyes’ look.
‘Because I love you, Bennett.’
‘Oh, I say.’
I’d got it off my chest. There was no more to be said. I put away his gear and left the room.
I spent most of the following day mooning around. I couldn’t sit from the pain from my beating. That night I lay in bed unable to sleep. At about 10 p.m. I got up, went to the landing and stood staring. I had worked out that Bennett’s room lay in a certain direction. However, between me and his room there was an immense boiler. I was staring through it. Not that the dammed thing was any use: everything in England is always cold. At that moment, who should creep up beside me but Bostock, the Housemaster, on his rounds.
‘What are you doing here at this time of night?’
I say nothing.
‘What are you staring at, boy?’
Then I thought – what the hell! I’d tell him.
‘I was staring at Bennett. I don’t want to do anything with him or anything like that. I just love him, that’s all.’
A curious look came over Bostock’s ferret face. Perhaps a tiny grain of human kindness? If it was, it was leaving him at that very moment. ‘Come into my study,’ he ordered.
Would he put his arms around me and call me ‘Silly Sausage’? He might say, ‘Today it’s Bennett, tomorrow it’s Gibson. Little boys are always getting crushes on bigger boys. Off to bed with you now. Good night.’
Instead, he narrowed his eyes, and he spat. Words came out with hate and venom: perverted, twisted, filthy, depraved … How could I be allowed to sleep under the same roof as his respectable wife? I couldn’t believe it. I absolutely knew I was terribly nice and something had just gone wrong. He sent me off with dire threats to my room. I made a decision. It took one second. Flight, flight, away, away to London to anywhere, perhaps to death. I only had a few pennies on me. Sullivan always carried money. I’d borrow a pound from him. I crept into his room, woke him. Sullivan lent me a pound.
‘Dick’ll give it back. I’m going. I’m going away. I’m going to kill myself.’
‘Better take two pounds,’ he replied and handed me an extra pound.
Two minutes later I was at the ticket office on the railway platform at Harrow Station.
‘London please, one.’
‘Single or return?’
Return? Return! Was she mad? Return to this?
‘Single.’ [pp. 46-51]
Hayim fled to London and attempted suicide, but was caught by the police that night and returned to Harrow, where, however, he was promptly told by the headmaster that he was being removed from the school.
 Harrow School Register 1845-1937, 5th edition, edited by J. H. Stogdon (London, 1937), Vol II 1899-1937, p. 309. His house was Rendalls.
 Hayim’s first term was also John Bostock’s first as a housemaster, since he was appointed such in August 1934 (Harrow School Register 1845-1937, 5th edition, edited by J. H. Stogdon (London, 1937), Vol II 1899-1937, pp. 339 & 349.
 Keith Anthony Marsland Bennett had been admitted to Harrow in the last term of 1931 and left in the second of 1936, one after Hayim, having been a monitor and in the Rugby XV, so presumably an athletic hero (Harrow School Register 1845-1937, 5th edition, edited by J. H. Stogdon (London, 1937), Vol II 1899-1937, p. 292). Later a Colonel, he was born on 25 November 1917 (Army List, 1938), so at the time in question, he was 18, while Hayim was just 15.
Comments of general interest will be collected at Letters To The Editor (some editing may be involved)
Helen 05 June 2020
Stories like these make me realize just how exotic English public school homosex truly is from my (2020 Anglo-American) perspective. So much of it makes no sense at all; I might as well be reading about some unknown people in Kamchatka. I simply do not understand the relations and reactions, the dignities and indignities, that the narrator takes as self-explanatory. The "Greek Love" evident in all this raw adolescence is fractured and animal, and vastly remote from the pedagogical, philosophical, and fraternal modes that coexisted with it.