When Robert Graves left Charterhouse School in 1914, the headmaster wrote in his report: 'Well, goodbye, Graves and remember that your best friend is the wastepaper basket.' (Charterhouse is the public school that was recently reported to be replacing its tuckshop with a branch of Starbucks, but in fact isn't.) Graves's first books of poetry were published a couple of years later: perhaps the poems made his ex-mentor feel abashed, if he even remembered making the remarks; or perhaps the poems only confirmed him in his opinion. Either way, the report itself would long ago have been consigned to the wastepaper basket, had it been right. It's been retrieved and uncrumpled most recently in Could Do Better: School Reports of the Great and the Good, edited by Catherine Hurley, and just out in paperback (Pocket Books, £5.99). 'The joy in reading many of the reports in this collection,' Hurley writes in the introduction, 'is discovering those that are spectacularly wrong as well as those that are spectacularly right.' Right or wrong, the rude ones are the best. Jilly Cooper's is particularly enjoyable; I'm not convinced Cooper didn't make it up herself: 'Jilly has set herself an extremely low standard which she has failed to maintain.'
LRB 23 October 2003 | PDF Download