Goodbye Mr Chips

Off to the Naval Club just off Berkeley Square. The lunch is to celebrate the century of a favourite History and House master. He has been dead twenty five years but twenty turn up. Good  food which is rare on these occasions and the club is full of pictures of dead heroes and battle ships which we no longer have.

There is the usual crowd, not least a group of us who were at school together in the sixties and these occasions are one of our main meeting points. Of course as  a senior City lawyer points out  this  bachelor teacher who called his pupils morons and threw things at them would today not only not be allowed to teach but might well  be in  prison. Instead here were a bunch of mostly successful old and middle aged men singing  his praises  and chuckling over all his idiosyncrasies. I give a three cheers for Mr Chips eulogy. History Boys all.

I have been involved with the Old Boys for thirty years. Like most voluntary organisations it spends most of its time wondering why its  not more popular and agonising over the lack of people prepared to actually do something on the committee. Despite  amazing efforts at laying on every kind of function, all over the world, only around  ten per cent of old boys and  girls are involved  with the Society. And that figure  has remained constant despite the most heroic and expensive efforts to widen the franchise/appeal. In fact some functions like the annual dinner ,once the main stay of the Society, seem to be going backwards.

As elsewhere  alternative attractions and the decline of public space and  the corresponding rise in private(and selfish) interests have had their effect. The old days when the old school tie  was the network were blown away by the winds of change in the 60s. There is not an old  school society in the UK that  is not suffering the same fate.

Until  1970 the school was a boys only . And yet  even today on a ratio of something like 8:2 men outnumber women at its functions-mainly dinners, lunches,drinks,sports days. The appeal of drinking  with others is socially and in fact ,something that  men at least publicly enjoy more than women. Men it seems with their desire to be in teams and belong to organisations find these functions more attractive and appealing.  It would also seem that the fact of playing sport at school where for a brief moment  you are representing your community makes the  memory of the school experience that much richer(for men).

Nevertheless despite these attractions only ten per cent of old boys have anything to do with the school on leaving. For most the day they leave the school , give or take one or two friendships, is the day they leave the school. There are even one or two definite groups of ex pupils who prefer their own get togethers rather than those organised by the Society. Many actively hated the place. In many ways the odd ones are,we, the ones that stay behind, the ones that get involved with something in their past. The searchlight must surely turn on us .

Of the friends of mine who regularly turn up at these events one thing is certain. The fact that a group of 5-10 friends turn up , is one of the reasons we all go.It is part of our friendship. It would be easy to say that what we have in common is that we all come from either geographically or emotionally fractured families and therefore school played a more central part in our childhoods than it did with others. Divorce and service abroad have, after all , been traditionally  the main recruiting  sergeants for boarding school. But it is not always that simple. One dedicated old boy actually ran away from school and was ignominiously driven back by his po faced parents.  But that hasn’t stopped him.over the decades, relishing in old school memories, friendships and get togethers.

In my case although my family was f*****, and  I enjoyed my time there,  for years I thought the old school was a antediluvian joke. To me university was where it happened, swapping tepid homosexuality for rampant heterosexuality, punishment for freedom, was the business. But an old friend ,ten years after leaving,brought me back  into the old boy dinner ambit  and  one drunken day I found myself on the committee where I have stayed for decades. Maybe as a freelance worker I liked being part of something stable. In a mild way  serving on the committee has allowed me to achieve some relative works which has brought satisfaction.

So the old boys will always attract only a minority. And given social and  economic trends  that minority may get even smaller. And for many its  an almost accidental relationship. For some its obviously the only place that will have them. School whether we like it or not, is (a long with many other experiences)part of our history ,memory and personality.

There are many who relish the old boys. The school needs its alumni for support in various ways not just financial-though this is increasingly  important. So the OCs are not going to go away.

One of the  memories I always have is after a committee meeting at the school coming out  onto the front lawn and finding a smartly dressed older gentleman.  It turned out he had  been at the school sixty years ago, he had spent his life working in some foreign clime, he was just  making a rare trip to the old country and he thought he would just pop in.

 Touching his youth, remembering long lost friends, hearing the echo of  innocence, freshening  his memory. Who doesn’t when passing near by the old family house make a detour to have a look? Its changed a lot since my day.




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2 Responses to Goodbye Mr Chips

  1. Anthony Browell says:

    Hi there Itwon’thurt.

    Thanks for the words. I could say very much the same about Wellington College, except I’m in Australia, and our annual dinner still persists in Sydney: there are about 20 turn-ups, including (now) wives and partners, and the odd female old-boy (Ms). Unfortunately, nobody from each of our eras is there as well, so it’s a collection of strangers, who become more well-bonded (uh, that word) each year. We no longer have the formal toasts, but we have a merry time. Cheers, Anthony Browell.

    From: itwonthurt Reply-To: itwonthurt Date: Friday, 25 October 2013 5:50 PM To: Anthony Browell Subject: [New post] Goodbye Mr Chips itwonthurt posted: “Off to the Naval Club just off Berkeley Square. The lunch is to celebrate the century of a favourite History and House master. He has been dead twenty five years but twenty turn up. Good food which is rare on these occasions and the club is full of pictu”

  2. Hello – it was good to be there and meet up with you and others again.On account of myopia (the eye man told me only a few days ago I have glaucoma) I failed to recognise Killik and he sat opposite me! My natural reticence kept me from saying hello which I regret as we were contemporaries. I should have done it out of simple good manners.
    What you have written has struck many chords in my memories of the place and my school days there. In the first weeks of my time at BRNC Dartmouth a fair number who had not been through the establishment way of things (boarding school and all its rigours) fell by the way side.
    I cherish the memories of the place and those I met there; I am not a committee man and support in other ways and realise now, far too late, that I missed many opportunities to sustain lifelong friendships or a unity of purpose that such a place often bestows on its pupils.
    I was not entirely blind (naive more like) to what went on but grew up very quickly afterwards.
    Such places are not for everyone but they have a role to play even in our present world and with its often fractured or disconnected existences. In many respects, the place taught me self-reliance , endurance and the effects gained by working together: teamwork.
    As for the teacher we were there to honour at the lunch – he was inspirational in his own ways of it ; we all contrasted that with the ways of others on the staff and learnt from. I await delivery of his book – reading it so long after his death and remembering his quest for research material to make the work a ‘true history’ of Admiral Rodney will make reading it a pleasure.

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