11. Street and Bruton -2009
I had Barbara and Charlie with me for a while longer, until it was their time to go to Christ's Hospital. We managed
to buy a house in Street, for £10,000. I was able to put up some of the money from my share of the Woodbridge
a very kind and generous lady from the Woodbridge area gave me some thousands more which she had planned to leave me
in her will, and a small private mortgage made up the rest. I have been very lucky in buying my two houses just before
a surge in prices. The house in Street, whre I live still, is no 13, and I guess that is why it stuck on the market
and I got it so cheaply. It used to be called Haughton Villa, but thinking that a bit pretentious we ditched the name
and stuck to the number. It is a detached house, the last of a little row of private houses before the rest of the
street which were built as council houses. That may be another reason for the price. A plumber who put in our bathroom
at the time said our house would only ever be a £10,000 house because of the council houses next to it. When the
great council house sell-off came, all that changed. The house has a shared car entrance to the back, which does not prove a problem as the neighbours need it kept clear as much as I do. We had a kitchen, dining room and Drawing room downstairs, and three bedrooms upstairs, and bathroom. I write 'had' because I used my retirement lump sum from teaching to have it extended, and there are now four bedrooms, a better bathroom, and a bigger drawing room. We have lost the outhouses that we used to have. We have gained a garage, built by Charlie with help from friends and our neighbour. We have also lost the Aga, around which the family used to collect on winter evenings, and in which we made bread on Saturdays, and cooked all manner of meals, and flapjacks, which, since I tended to make them, we called Dad's Cookies.
At this time the MacDougall family loomed large in our lives. We had met them when we were in Woodbridge, while Colin was still alive, and had gone to supper with them. Colin and Sue had four children, like our own family, Forbes, Lindsay, Moragh and Eleanor (Dolly), slightly older than ours. Colin was killed in a car accident, leaving Sue with the children to care for. Since now both she and I were in effect sole parents, and we became very fond of each other, she moved down to Somerset and bought a house in Street. Lindsay was able to go to Wells Cathedral School, where Sue later taught Art for many years. Each family of course lived in their own home, but cooking meals was shared between us, and we used the Aga to provide baked potatoes, which we would put in a specially made bag and take down to Silver Road to add to the bacon joint and spinach for one of our typical meals - we were feeling very poor, and were very frugal - or they would come to our house when we had plenty of spinach beet from the garden, and we would have a similar meal here.
We had some more exotic foods, like nettles and dandelion. Nettles made soup. Dandelion gave salad and I made coffee with the roots, dried and roasted in the Aga. Our back garden has apple trees, a tall pear tree at first, which we cut down because the pears were poor and the starlings got them all, plum and damson and later a delicious self-sown greenage. There was also soft fruit, which we tried to protect from the birds. One tree that went immediately was an overgrown Christmas tree that has been planted out too near the house and left to shoot upwards. We have a cherry plum. In the early years it gave good fruit on one year in 3, but now it does almost every year.
We took part in the local church, swelling the choir numbers considerably. The Rector, Jim Judge, was very kind to me, and I had stayed overnight in the Rectory sometimes before moving to Street permanently.
When we were first in Street I was still teaching in Edgarley, and sometimes cycled over the Levels. I drove a Renault 4 at the time, one of two or three that I had on the trot. Sue very kindly bought me the second one. After a while the Head of Latin retired and I took over. The Chaplain moved on, and I took over. That meant a very full term. We had lessons on Saturday mornings, and with Sunday service each week I had no complete day off in the week. I was also singing with a Wells Cathedral School Choral Society, and developed nodes of the vocal cord, which I had surgically removed. I was off teaching for several weeks, and Sue took Charlie to stay with her while I lived on my own and rested my voice completely. Fortunately I never had any recurrence of the nodes, and have been able to sing and do public speaking and preaching quite happily. That Wells connection meant that I sang in Sea Drift by Delius, The Chichester Psalms of Bernstein (in Hebrew), and in a concert conducted by John Rutter. Once Yehudi Menhuin came to join the Wells violin consultant in a Cathedral concert including the Bach double. I was once invited to sing the solo parts of Pilate and was it Judas in the Bach St John Passion (or St Matthew, I forget) with the Wells Choral Society, which I did. I learned a great deal while actually singing alongside the professional soloists, and my last entries were, I think, much better sung than the earlier ones. It was mainly about taking the freedom to be expressive.
Sue and I made good friends with the assstant cathedral organist David Ponsford and sang in his chamber choir. When he left I took over. I conducted a choral and orchestral concert including the Mozart Coronation Mass, a trumpet concerto, the Psalm 150 and Procession from South America, and a little piece of my own in memory of Britten - Time and the Bell.
Edgarley's Director of Music Helen was the wife of the Millfield Director of Music, Geoff Keating. We became good friends with the family. Their son Graham and daughter were at Edgarley and then Millfield, very nice young people, tall, intelligent. Geoff was friends with The King's Singers. He arranged a setting of the weather forecast for them to Anglican Chants, which was one of their most popular numbers. He got them down to Millfield once, and Sue and I joined them in The Street Inn. It was hard to chat with them, because they were all so tall. But all very friendly. Geoff ran a series of concerts in the Milfield Music School, in quite a small hall seating perhaps 100. Now Millfield has a splendid new full size concert hall, but we liked the intimate little Music School hall. Jack Brymer came down. There was a performance of the Mozart 13 Wind. One of the staff gave a recital including Schumann's Carnival, a real experience for me. A violinist played the Cesar Franck Sonata, always a favourite of mine.
Various musical events in Edgarley like the carol service were very well done. There was a performance of Britten's Noe's Fludde, a work I later took part in more than once, at Bruton (when I made the ark) and Downend, when I sang Noah.
We had some interesting pupils at Edgarley. The richest were, I think, the Kashoggi family, who were fetched by helicopter to visit their dentist in Paris. The nearest I got to teaching a Kashoggi was to umpire a cricket game he played in. (Mr K went to jail later. I think he was an arms dealer.) I taught a nephew or other relative of the Marquis of Bath, no intellectual. One of the bright Latin pupils was Jon Bentley who is the head editor or producer of TV motoring programme Top Gear. He had the idea of an electronic metronome while a small boy - but I think others may have got there first. His mother taught English. Sean Connery sent his son Jason to Edgarley, and the very glamorous mother brightened the place up when she came.
Staff were able to use the swimming pool during the summer, and the children took advantage of that a few times.
My teaching at the time must have been pretty amateurish. The great thing was that the classes were small. The teaching hut that I used was one of a row of three, on one side of a kind of little courtyard with grass lawn in the middle, quite pleasant. For Latin textbook the head of Latin chose the old and very unimaginative Hillard and Botting, rather than the Head's preference, Wilding. The Head, Ben Rushton, told me that he thought queens and roses were more interesting for the pupils than defeating the Gauls. The argument that the head of Latin used was that Wilding printed grammar on the same page as the exercise, so pupils could get by without learning the grammar. When the head of Latin, Alan Salisbury, retired, we tried other courses, including Ecce Romani, which I found well-meaning but boring. Other users swear by it, I know.
I also taught Religious Education. The HoD there was a good Christian lady with strong ideas on how things should be done. My group never did as well in the exams that she set and marked as hers did, and I felt she didn't make her preferred syllabus and emphases clear enough to me. There was one bit she thought very important in the prayer of Solomon for wisdom, for example, that I never quite understood. In one RE class I had the daughter of the Millfield Chaplain, surname D'Eath. She was a disruptive influence. We did have some interesting discussions with the older pupils, including one about Life after Life, that influential book about near-death experiences. One girl told me an aunt of hers had such an experience after a riding accident, and instead of experiencing the tunnel and the bright light and the welcome, she experienced the beginning of hell. Could have been true.
As Chaplain I took a Sunday morning serivce in the little chapel over the road, Edgarley Chapel. In those days there was no pedestrian bridge leading there, so we had to stop the traffic for the boarders to cross the busy road. We had one nasty accident, not to do with church, but when pupils were getting into or out of a coach there. The bridge was put up after my time. We had a fairly formal service, with Helen Keating at the piano. I did try to make my sermons short and understandble, and I think probably succeeded, but the head Ben Rushton kept his own termly sermon until the children had got used to my more formal style, and then nipped in with something way-out. The one of his I remember was about grinding gemstones. He brought the grinding machine in to chapel and demonstrated how the stone reaches its beauty by going through a tough time of being battered about this way and that. He didn't mention the Milfield School motto, though it would have been appropriate. It's rather clever: Molire molendo, Heap up by grinding. Inspired by the name Mill - field. As Chaplain I was also responsible for the morning assembly, a fairly informal affair with staff giving out various notices; but we always had a proper Christian input. The pastoral side of Chaplaincy didn't happen much. I don't think I had the persona that encouraged small children to come and confide in me. That, throughout my ministry, happened much more with adults.
The deputy head of Bruton School for Girls, Wendy Coles, and her twin sister Mary, lived in Locking Village and were good friends of Mum and Dad, churchgoers and so on.
So when I had been at Edgarley for four or five years and was looking to teach at a higher level than prep school Latin, she smoothed the way for my applying to Bruton Girls' School. Still affectionately known as Sunny Hill,
The head was Miss Cumberledge known as Dizzy, a real character. I have written the school history under the title Gleam Flying Onward, where the details are. She interviewed me in her cubbyhole of a study and I also saw the two Classics staff who were both moving on, I was to be the HoD with an assistant, and I had no experience in secondary education. The two existing teachers obviously much preferred the other candidate, but Dizzy rang me late at night to offer me the job. Apparently she worked most of the 24 hours and her bedroom was crammed with work files and books.
My assistant was a young lass fresh from college, with slight problems in speaking in a direct human way, but she did OK and the girls grew fond of her. She did in fact move on after a few terms, and I had the pleasure of going to her wedding in Bristol later.
She and I did our best to keep the department going, but we must have made lots of mistakes. One of mine was to try to reproduce the sixth form I remembered from Monkton, rather than the exam-driven (even then) modern version. I got my colleague to teach a little Theocritus to an Oxbridge candidate.. Perhaps nothing else ott.
After her came Mrs Atkins the local vicar's wife, a wonderful lady of traditional build who had been in charge of the plane spotters of D Day and who did very well with the little ones.
The first time I faced a class of 30 it seemed a huge group, after the 12 at Edgarley. Soon got used to that, though. All who took Physics also took Latin, so there were two GCSE sets, the science group usually being quicker at Latin.
That nice arrangement came to an end, and we had to 'sell' Latin as an option for GCSE.`
One way of seeing that Classics had a high profile was our series of Classics Evenings. I got the idea from the Modern Languages department, who put on a nice, civilised German Evening, with songs and sketches and German refreshments. When I put on a Classics Evening, we went right overboard. We took over the whole school and gave headaches to the Deputy Head and almost everyone else! Every girl who did Latin - and it was compulsory for two years - appeared in something on stage, and the seniors did ambitious things.
Ann Atkins was great at keeping the girls occupied until it was their turn to perform, as was Anne Chapman later.
We usually put on a Greek play, shortened of course, but substantial. We did Sophocles Electra, Aristophanes Birds, Euripides Alcestis, and others that I shall perhaps remember. I designed the scenery for these. One time I built three or four three-sided towers with parts of different backdrops on each, so that a quick rotation of all three at once changed the scenery completely. It was an idea I pinched from Kent Opera.
For Electra I built the Lion Gate of Mycenae. For another play there were pillars made from carpet roll cores, with the temple pediment being let down from the ceiling. It was all good fun.
I tried to get GCSE groups to act out one of their set texts. Once there was a dinner party scene, all scripted from Catullus poems, fom the invitation through the arrival of the guests, to a scene of stealing napkins, and love and flirtation between Catullus and Lesbia. Another year it was a musical on the Death of Agrippina, Nero's mother. We were going to end with a flaming torchlight funeral procession, but the powers that be vetoed it on health and safety grounds. Yet another year it was a legend of a statue coming to life, as told by Ovid.
Lower classes didn't have to stick to anything on the syllabus. We had a great dramatic recitation of Macaulay's How Horatius kept the bridge. One group recited Godley's Motor Bus in chorus. One year a chorus sang my grammar songs, 'Puella', 'Qui quae quod.'
One of the memorable turns was by two 6th formers, one of whom was a beautiful young lady who found it hard to speak in public without a little bit of stammer. They performed the Death of Dido as a Mime, whch was a very authentic Roman thing to do. The girl who spoke well read the translation of Vergil, while the other girl acted it out. People found it very effective.
Anne Chapman, whom I've mentioned, became my colleague for many years, and took over a Head of Classics when I retired. She was and is a good friend and a good teacher, having qualities that I conspicuously lacked. Her classroom discipline was strict, but her lessons (as I disovered when I overheard one or two while fetching books from the bookroom attached to her classroom) were not lacking in laughter. She was as organised as I was disorganised, and as early in doing everything asked of her as I was last-minute. In fact I used to tease her about how early she wrote her reports, suggesting that she started before she had even met the children! I think if we had swapped places and she had been Head of Department it might have been an improvement...
Friends and allies on the performance front were at one time a formidable team of Elspeth Preller for Drama and Jonathan Palmer for Music. They are both highly talented people who could inspire the very best in the girls. Elspeth used to put on absolutely top quality plays, ranging from Lorca with a few actors to O What a Lovely War with a cast of thousands - as it were. Jonathan had a chamber choir that reached a rare standard. He wrote music, and gave us a new and lovely - if schmalzy - setting of the school song, The Gleam, that girls loved to sing. I was always glad to be asked to take some part in Jonathan's concerts and other performances, whether on the trombone or some kind of percussion, or singing. I remember singing plainsong in Murder in the Cathedral, which Elspeth put on in Bruton Parish Church. Great days.
I was at Sunny Hill for 18 years, so these memories are necessarily random.
When I first joined the school I was given my own classroom. Later Ann Chapman took over my room and I was a wanderer for years. Finally I got my own room again, and could set it up with my own equipment and furnish the shelves at the back with a library of my own books. So I had a good slide projector that projected onto a white-board. I could use an Overhead Projector to put prepared stuff onto the whiteboard, and add things on the whiteboard itself and rub them out. When we had an inspection this was commented on as a good idea.
I also kept a little museum of real Roman artefacts and replicas. I was able to show the class an amphora that I bought in Crete, a real pottery figurine of Aphrodite, a real Roman glass bottle, a real ring. And I had replicas that I bought in this country, Greece, and Germany. When teaching Greek vases it was good to be able to show the 3-d version rather than just pictures in books. I also had my music centre in the classroom, and sometimes experimented with suitably calming music as the girls came in for their lesson, and even as they did tests. One replica, that I bought in Carlisle Museum, was really there for the joke. It wasa rough stone head, which the museum told me represented the Genius Loci, the guiding spirit of a place; so I used to tell the girls that there is a genius in this classroom.
While at Sunny Hill I began to go to ArLT Summer Schools. My first Summer School was in the 80s at Chichester, and I went to that because it was jointly run by ARLT and official HMIs, (Schools Inspectors). I knew nothing about ARLT but thought that if official people were involved it must be OK.
That was the last time ARLT got government help in this way, so I'm glad I got to know them when I did.
I thoroughly enjoyed the week, which was run by Veronica Anstey. The person who really made me welcome and drew me in was Belinda Dennis, who I later discovered taught my sister Latin at Harrow County School. Belinda encouraged me and I think got me on to the committee in fairly quick order, if not immediately that year, then the next year.
Eventually I became such a habitue that they asked me to direct a Summer School myself, which I did in Exeter. It was an experience. I arranged demonstration lessons, the last demo lessons at a Summer School. The Oxford Latin Course was brand new then, and I got Maurice Balme to come and teach some local children, organised by the university teacher training college and coached before they appeared in public by John Hazel. I thought the lessons went well, but Belinda thought the teacher 'behaved badly' - don't know why.
I got Sue MacDougall to give a slide show on the Renaissance, The New Rome, and Colin Watkins from my school to talk about Roman bee-keeping. We had two HMIs there.
After that I kept hanging around until they asked me to be President. That was a three year stint. During my time we changed the name to leave out 'reform', but we kept the letter R, which is now de trop. I tend to type it in lower case, but it's an embarrassment.
I directed another Summer School in Chester, and the novelties there were a proper Roman dinner, cooked by and under the direction of an expert, and Prof Jonathan Powell staged a Cicero trial speech. My own lecture contribution was to present the A level coursework of one of my pupils on Women on Greek Vases, as a slide presentation. I think that this second Summer School was more successful than my first.
When I retired finally I took on the ArLT website and have spent many thousands of hours over the years getting it into shape.