WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA – They’d warned me I’d be going to boarding school.
I come from one of these British families that have sent their children to boarding school for generations. I knew it was coming.
Still, my seven-year-old brain didn’t have any frame of reference for what it’d actually be like… (More below.)
Confined to the House
Greetings from West Palm Beach, Florida.
The virus rages outside… and here we are… confined to the house like everyone else.
It feels like the worst is behind us. I hope so.
As soon as it’s safe, we’re going to take a long drive around America and sleep in campgrounds.
I can’t wait to get on the road again… take pictures… and send you postcards from the road…
For now, we bide our time at Kate’s parents’ house in Florida.
My Time at British Boarding Schools, Part 2
This isolation has got me thinking about my childhood.
And yesterday, I started telling you the story about my time at British boarding schools. Part two is below…
By the way, let me know if I’m being too self-indulgent by writing about this stuff. Send me your feedback at [email protected].
I read everything you send me, even if I don’t republish it.
New York, 1983
My trip to British boarding school began in New York in 1983.
A couple of years earlier, my Dad had moved the family to New York for his work. My parents are both British. When they got divorced, my mother went back to London.
I was a second-grader at the local public school. I walked to school every morning with my friends, my backpack over my shoulders.
Like any good American boy, I wore ET, Star Wars, and Superman T-shirts. And each morning, we’d stand up and pledge allegiance to the flag before class began.
Thursday was pizza day. If we brought $1.25 to school, we could buy a slice from Villa Maria Pizza on Chatsworth Avenue. After lunch, we’d run around playing stuck-in-the-mud or freeze tag until it was time to walk home.
On the weekends, there was always a birthday party, with gallons of orange soda and loot bags.
But one day, my Dad told me to say goodbye to my friends.
They threw a party for me in the classroom and gave me a little book with a goodbye message from each of my classmates.
Then, my Dad and brother took me to JFK and put me on a plane to London. I traveled by myself as an “unaccompanied minor.” I was seven years old.
My mother picked me up at Heathrow and took me to her little flat in Earl’s Court.
The school had given her a list of everything I needed to bring with me. We went to a fancy department store called Peter Jones in Sloane Square and bought everything on the list.
Mum labeled everything with my name and number.
She sewed these little white labels that said “Dyson 103” into every sock, shirt, underpant, towel, face cloth, pillowcase, and duvet cover. She even labeled my stuffed animals.
If she couldn’t sew a label in, she wrote it in with a pen. It said “Dyson 103” under the tongue of my leather shoes. And on the side of my hairbrush.
A few days later, I got into my grey flannel uniform, we put the trunk in the car, and off we went…
Out of Depth
I was so out of depth academically.
All the other kids were writing in cursive and using these fancy pens that left ink blotches all over my hands. I was used to writing in pencil.
I wrote in large, badly formed capital letters. And we were studying subjects like Latin and Chemistry, which I’d never seen before. I was totally adrift in the classes…
I also wasn’t used to being ordered around. Or minding rules.
I had to eat what they told me to eat. Go where they told me to go. Be silent when they told me to be silent. And dress the way they told me to dress.
Then there were the bells. The whole school was organized around them.
They rang bells to wake you up. They rang bells when it was time to go downstairs for breakfast. They rang bells when it was time for chapel. They rang bells when it was time to change class. They rang bells when it was time to turn the lights out…
At one of the first lunches, they gave us mashed-up lima beans and peas. I couldn’t eat them.
The matron sat next to me, as I cried into my plate, and scolded me until I had finished. It took me so long to finish it, the rest of the school had left the dining hall long before.
I still won’t eat peas or lima beans to this day.
But the worst didn’t start until my third week there, when I threw a rock through a window and the headmaster beat me with a shoe…
Tomorrow, I’ll write about the beatings…
– Tom Dyson
In today’s mailbag, readers ask about buying gold in these market conditions… and how best to manage savings…
Reader comment: Like many others who have written, I have enjoyed traveling vicariously with you and your family. And, I thoroughly appreciate the education and perspective you have been providing on the market situation.
For those of us who have unfortunately not bought physical gold, would you buy gold coins now, at these prices and premiums, assuming you could find any? Or would you stick with gold stocks and maybe royalty companies or gold mining ETFs?
Tom’s response: This is a great question and a very important subject. I would personally not buy retail gold right now. The premiums are too high.
Instead, I’d buy a gold ETF and wait for the retail market (and premiums) to return to normal again (which it should do as soon as the lockdowns are lifted.)
As a rule of thumb, I won’t pay more than 5% over the metal content for gold.
Reader question: Several months ago, you wrote about your recommended method of buying gold. I’ve lost my copy of that message and would like to have you share your recommended method for gold purchase again.
I’ve read a number of your postcards during the last year or so and find them quite enlightening and thought provoking. I admire the tremendous respect and trust that you and Kate (and your kids) have in each other. Thanks for sharing your experiences.
Tom’s response: Did you mean this? Please note, I wouldn’t buy retail gold products like bars and coins right now because the premiums are too high. I won’t pay more than 4% over spot for gold. Hopefully the market returns back to normal soon so we can buy retail gold again…
Reader comment: You cannot believe how much hope and light you have brought to so many of us with your honesty. My husband is still working, and he is 81. We have invested heavily in gold and some silver.
I keep reading about the government taking our savings from our bank accounts, which we worked hard to save up. How likely is this? How can we put those funds in a safe place and still have access to it?
Tom’s response: They will steal savings through debasing the value of the dollar… and taxation, of course. I don’t expect we’ll see bank failures… not in this phase of the cycle at least. The only defense is to own gold and silver, continue earning an income (does your husband enjoy his work? I’d bet he does…), and be careful with your expenses. It sounds like you’re doing fine.
While others offer the Dysons camping advice… and give their take on the Postcards…
Reader comment: Take a tour of America? That sounds great! But really, sleeping in a tent? That’ll get old pretty fast. May I suggest that you guys buy a used pop-up tent trailer? A pop-up is still very tent-like and is easily towed by most cars.
For about the price of a 1-ounce gold coin you could have modern conveniences inside and not be sleeping on the ground (sand is the worst!). Compare it to the price of a nice new tent. I think you guys would love a pop-up.
Tom’s response: We just bought one! We paid $1,500 for it. I’ll post a picture as soon as we’re on the road again…
Reader comment: I’ve got to give it to Tom. This quote, "I would NOT be buying stocks at the current level. And I’d be expecting the bear market to come back any day for another big crash. Just saying." Just saying? LOL! You gotta love this guy’s way with words. As for me, I’m in his camp with the gold. And not buying stocks right now, or anytime soon if things keep going as they are.
Tom’s response: I say it like that because I don’t think it’s my place to be making short term predictions about the stock market. Sometimes I just can’t help myself though…
Reader comment: Your Posts are great. Can we talk about reproducing in Portuguese for Brazilians?
Reader comment: Well, I wish I had a husband like you. Kate is fortunate to have a husband who takes care of financial things!
Tom’s note: Thanks for all the kind messages! Please keep writing us at [email protected]. Kate and I find your notes very encouraging, and we read every one you send us.