The King’s School, Canterbury and Alan Watts

The King’s School, Canterbury

As Paddy makes plane the King’s School, Canterbury is fantastically old. It traces its foundation to the mission of St Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, who, as the story goes, founded the school concurrently with the Cathedral, and indeed the See of Canterbury itself, in about 597 AD.  The school open to this day, although it has become rather more progressive, and has since Paddy’s time admitted girls, and now likely permits hand-holding. In A Time of Gifts he notes his predecessors, Somerset Maugham and Christopher Marlow, two of the most famous old boys.  However he also notes his contemporary student at King’s – Alan Watts “a brilliant classical scholar who, most remarkable, wrote and published an authoritative book on Zen Buddhism – years before the sect became fashionable…”  This is indeed the case an Alan Watts, despite his premature death at age 58, remains an important figure in Buddhist scholarship.

Alan Wilson Watts

Philosopher and writer on Zen Buddhism

Born 6 January 1915 Chislehurst, Kent

Died 16 November 1973Mt. Tamalpais, California, United States

Educated at the King’s School, Canterbury

Happily, in his autobiography In My Own Way, Watts provides the following description of his relationship with Paddy at King’s, which closely mirrors the description we find in A Time of Gifts:

“The mores of Canterbury involved the deplorable principle that one should not form friendships with boys of a lower class, grade, or age than one’s own. I fought this system with fury because the only really interesting boy in the House was Patrick Leigh Fermor, and Irish lad about one year younger than myself, a romantic, a fine poet, a born adventurer, a splendid actor, and a gallant lover of women who, in sheer desperation, used to flirt with a dowdy blonde - one of the kitchenmaids - and who was gifted with an Arthurian and medieval imagination. We took bicycle ride and long walks together to visit ancient churches and pubs. We luxuriated in the landscape of eastern Kent, in circles of beech trees, in cedars, its rose gardens, and hop-fields. When utterly oppressed by the social system of the school, we would sneak off to Canterbury Cathedral-which, because of its colossal sanctity, could never be made out-of-bounds - to study the stained-glass windows, to explore the Anglo-Saxon crypt, or to read books in the serene and secluded garden adjoining the Cathedral library.”

Watts, Allan. In My Own Way: An Autobiography, 1915-1965. New York: Pantheon Books 1972, page 97