March 5th 2008
Letter from America via the Midlands
A Guide to some of the more unusual games and pastimes at Saint Matthias.
To a passing stranger some of the activities that went on at the College of Saint Matthias would have been, I suspect, incomprehensible and deeply silly, but to those involved there was often a strange and perhaps twisted logic. Here we have gathered together what may be a definitive guide to understanding the infantile and the ridiculous behaviour of, what were to become, the future pillars of society. We begin with Episode One, Bare arse against the..
St.Matts only became a co-educational establishment in 1966 and the authorities at the time said they didnt envision any problems with the intake of men apart from perhaps introducing metalwork and woodwork. By 1968 they were probably wishing they had also introduced a cell block, as the scourge of all things decent and respectable, the college rugby team were on the prowl. Led fearlessly by the likes of Dai Davies, Les Austin, Paul Campion, Mike Townsend, Geoff Dawes and John Jones to name but a few, they led the way in mischief making at college. Weekends were always a time for jolly good sporting activity but it was late into the evening after much alcohol had been consumed that the rugby club came into its own. 'Bare arse against the' became a staple Saturday night game. The rules went something like this, (although I stand to be corrected). A large group of blokes, some of whom were nothing to do with the rugby club but were just there for the crack, (strangely appropriate terminology), gathered together, usually in the JCR When suddenly a shout would go up. "Bare arse against the", there would be a slight delay at this point while the chaps readied themselves and the person who had bellowed this out thought about the next couple of words. "SIGHT SCREEN!" As soon as the words were out all of the men would dash off by the fastest route they could find to their destination. The fact that most of the assembled were slightly worse for wear made the sprint quite interesting with many tripping up and others hurdling over their fallen comrades. As they made their way on to the cricket pitch fingers would begin fiddling with zips and flies, and trousers would start to be dropped causing further mayhem as those who lowered them too soon also tumbled over. At last the winner pressed his bare buttocks firmly against the sight screen as the others caught up. Most of these also presented their nude rear ends to the object, despite there being absolutely no point, before staggering back for more beer. There were of course many variations on the basic game including, bare arse against the Principals Office door, and the croquet lawn. More interesting were bare arse against the night porter and bare arse against the groundsman. Poor old Gerry, I shall never forget that haunted and hunted look on his face as several large and very hairy bottoms descended on him.
We don't remember if there were ever any ladies derrieres, (they would probably be naked bottoms rather than bare arses), pressed against various parts of the college at these events, but it always seemed like there were slightly fewer ladies in the bar during these sudden male exoduses, (or so we were told). Perhaps there are even photos or, better still, cine clips of these frequent events gathering dust in some grandma's closet or cupboard. All it would take would be for one of them to be digitalized and put on YouTube and many a promising headship would come tumbling down in Sun coverage and subsequent scandal.
The great thing about such acts of moral vandalism is that there was, as far as we can tell, never any physical damage done, no one ever got seriously injured and absolutely no-one ever remembered whose buttocky skin had actually touched the chalky whiteness of the sight screen or whatever the target had been.
Stay tuned for future episodes of what we are almost, but not quite, too ashamed to recall and recount now we are upstanding pillars of society.
Ade and Tim
In my last Letter from America, which I thought was my last Letter from America, I began the episode with mention of leaving my car outside the college when I came for my interview. That car, I remember, was a black 1948 Morris 8. It cost £15 and lasted a good 15 months before I happily drove it to the scrap yard, in Eastvile, I think, where I received £2.10 for it. This was the first of a series of what I will call student wheels that I had throughout my time in Fishponds.
For some strange reason I dont remember a lot of the cars that other students had beyond Al Sopp's neat MG Midget so I hope the following tales will provoke fond memories of your own 2 and 4 wheel adventures while you were a student at St. Matthias. I dont remember the order in which I owned the following vehicles (I still refuse to pronounce the h) but I do remember that none cost more than £25.
Probably the most memorable was a Jaguar MK V11 that came into my life soon after the Morris left. It was big, grey, and had purple lights on the dashboard. I later discovered that someone had wrapped purple sweet wrappers around the lights to give them a seductive glow. I learned this when smoke started curling out from under the dash and I had to retrieve the wrappers quickly before everything caught fire. We could pile quite a few lads into that car for evenings out and sports events and I even drove it to Cornwall and back once.
VW vans figured large in my life at St. Ms having had two of them while I was there. The first, a silver one also took Barry Hayward and me to Cornwall early one Spring and we got caught in an incredible snowstorm going over Bodmin Moor. I still have some great photos of that van next to some of the abandoned tin mines. This was the trip when Barrys mom made us the largest Cornish Pasties I have ever seen. The second VW van, a red one was the one into which I put a new engine in the carpark behind the gym. We used that van to great effect one year when we drew up alongside the curb and bundled the Redland College rag king onto the side doors and sped away, He was later ransomed to add to the coffers of the rag week charity money we raised . I also drove that van to the Outer Hebrides to visit my brother who was teaching there. He's still there but has recently retired from teaching. While I was there we used the van to bring in his supply of peat for the year.
Another van was a 1958 Bedford Dormobile that I fitted out with benches along each side at the back so the football team could all travel together. We did it once and that was enough. It was so uncomfortable that the entire team arrived for the game sore and bruised from being shaken around so much. I think that van lasted less than a month and actually had to be towed to the scrap yard.
In between the cars I remember having several motorcycles, one, in particular, I wish I still had. It was a 1958 BSA Gold Star 500 cc which took me all over the place for the 18 months I owned it. Another was a BSA 650 with a sports sidecar attached. I remember taking my girlfriend at the time to London. Halfway there, she refused to ride in the sidecar any more and rode pillion for the remainder of the journey which made life interesting. I also had an NSU Quickly which must be the most euphemistically named vehicle ever contrived. I had to stop every ten miles and clean the spark plug to keep it going.
One of the most memorable cars was the two-tone green, 1958 Austin Cambridge that I owned during my third year at college. I am confident about the time I owned this one because I still have my Geography special essay (I think that's what they were called), in which the car figured in several of the photos I included in it. The topic of my study was the influence of the Mendip hills on the social and commercial characteristics of the local communities. This involved many trips to the Mendips in the Austin which never let me down. Part of the study involved leaving questionnaires for people in local shops in Cheddar, Burrington and other villages in the area. I remember some of the responses contained unprintable words. It seems, the locals were getting pretty tired of being studied.
The Austin featured in one of the more memorable events of those days. I had decided to take a trip with a friend to see my brother who was at University in Edinburgh. As was the custom I advertised the fact on the notice board and if anyone else wanted a lift to anywhere between Bristol and Edinburgh they were welcome to join us and share the petrol costs. The seats quickly filled up and we had a trouble-free ride to Edinburgh dropping people off at their destinations along the way. On the way back to Bristol we had just picked up the last person somewhere around Manchester and were making great time doing 85 mph down the M6 when there was suddenly a horrendous knocking noise from the engine. We limped off the M6 and made it to Crewe where we abandoned the car and took the train back to Bristol. I think we had to pool our meager resources to find the train fare for all 6 of us. It was a month before I towed the car home but it never did run again.Like many of us during our College days I couldn't afford more than £25 for a set of wheels but I never seemed to lose money. If they went mildly wrong we always seemed to be able to fix them on the cheap and if they went seriously wrong we simply drove them, or had them towed, to that great big carpark in the sky. When I graduated in 1972 and got my first teaching job I took out a small loan and bought a very cool Triumph TR4. That car cost me a fortune in repairs and maintenance and I think, within the first 6 months, I spent more money on it than I did on all my student wheels.
By the way, I currently own a 1991 VW Vanagon and a 1996 Mazda MX5 which have a combined 240,000 miles on them. I have never been one for new cars preferring something with a challenge. Perhaps I'm still a student at heart.
October 16th, 2006
The earth has circled the sun almost 35 times and made nearly 13,000 rotations on its axis since I graduated from St. Matthias, and as I approach the onset of sextogenarianism, before the end of the year, its getting harder and harder to mine my memory for new recollections not already mentioned in these pages. So, in case this is my last letter from America here is a sort of pen portrait of life at St. Matthias during the late 60s and most of the 70s when I was there first, as a student, and then later, as a resident advisor for two years.
I parked my car several hundred yards down the road when I arrived at the College for my interview in 1968 because first year students were not allowed to have cars. I had also shaved the night before to create a nice clean impression. This was the last time I saw my face, having worn a beard ever since. Two weeks after starting college we were thrust into primary school classrooms to see if we had what it took. I lucked out by being in a friend's classroom in Southmead. The third day I was there he told me to walk into the classroom after morning break, by myself, and say, OK everyone, sit down, be quiet, and look this way. To my utter amazement they did.
I remember being elected PRO of the college student body (was it the student union?); the Hut; Mr. Pennycad; a sit-in somewhere, although I cannot remember what it was for; Sunday night discos in the JCR, signing up for courses on pieces of paper pinned to the wall; no computers; education groups with Mrs. Husband; advising groups with Father Wills; Martha and Wilf in the dining room; the sunken lawn; the blue carpet; the guy who ran from one end of the college photo group to beat the camera as it panned and so appear on the photograph twice, once at each end; Pete Woodmans psychology class and using an EKG to discover that the bent female elbow was the most erotic part of the human body; fire alarms in Canon Kitson; Miss Graham; the fuss over not having a cigarette machine outside the JCR when half the student body smoked other forms of combustible material; Fred Wedlock; Rag Week; great friends and going out with girls; Dave Gowing, Don Kimber and Miss Chew; the Fiat 500 in the JCR; staking someone out on the croquet lawn for several hours with the croquet hoops; watching guys I had been drinking with the night before in the JCR leave Canon Kitson at 8AM the following morning when I was an RA; the bus that almost got stuck on a hump back bridge on a geography field trip on Exmoor; R.S. Peters and John Dewey; teaching practice in Chedzoy and the landlord of the local pub refusing to sell us pints of Cider because we would have to teach his kids the next morning; all night scrabble games; no computers; loons and bobble hats; girls in very short skirts; working in the post office at Christmas; summer jobs working on Motorway construction and working on fishing trawlers out of Stornoway; the Snowball; Spectrum; no cell phones; Sophie Williams and laying on my back on the floor and projecting my voice to the ceiling with my diaphragm; the carpark behind the gym where I put a new engine in my VW van; Friday night badminton and the wine parties afterwards; table football; the 3-hour B.Ed. exams; Alec Yirrell; Roger Adcock; special essays; mixed hockey games; placing a certain part of your anatomy against the cricket sight screens; the incredible Fishpond fog.
When I left St. Matthias with my freshly minted B.Ed. in 1972 I went work at Sefton Park Junior School where I had done my teaching practice. On the first day of term before school started the headmaster called me into his office and asked, Do you realize that if all 34 of those 3rd year pupils you are about to face decide, collectively, that they dont want to do what you say, there is nothing you can do about it? So I walked on to my classroom took a deep breath and said OK, everyone, sit down, be quiet, and look this way. And once again, to my utter amazement, they did. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Sporting Life at St. Matthias
All night scrabble sessions may not strike the average sports punter as a riveting outlet for the competitive spirit pent up inside most of us but I can assure it was. Hour after hour, sometimes over twelve in row, a small group of the lads would wile the night away in one of the rooms in Bishop Monk or CK. Competition was fierce, and some of the words were probably very questionable forms of the English language. For some reason there was always the need to play just one more game like it says on the potato chip bag, you cant eat just one oops, I mean crisp bag do they have that slogan in the UK? Never mind.
Believe it or not I still have the red and brown knitted bag that someone knitted for is to keep the letters in isnt that remarkable. Of all the souvenirs one can save of ones college days I saved a red and brown knitted scrabble letter bag. While on the subject of board games, I had a couple of good friends during my third and fourth years at St. Matthias who went to the University of Bristol. We were all into motorcycle and sidecar trials riding and had met while doing the post at Temple Meads during the Christmas rush, a popular temporary job just before Christmas every year. I remember starting out doing a delivery round of the flats in Henbury and then graduating to the cushy job at Temple Meads where you just flung parcels into the appropriate bags hanging from a metal frame. But I digress. Every Wednesday afternoon, Pete, John and I would get together at Petes flat in Caledonia Place in Clifton and play Buccaneer. It was a Waddingtons game, I think, and involved pirate cards which gave you a fighting crew by calculating the difference between red and black cards and then sailing around a board creating mayhem and collecting little treasures such as rubies, barrels of rum, and gold bars. We played this game every Wednesday afternoon for about three hours and drank home-made beer or wine and smoked interesting cigarettes. One afternoon we came to an impasse with the rules and so wrote a letter to Waddingtons, or whomsoever it was. asking for clarification. We received a reply within days saying that no-one had ever discovered the problem before and that they would be changing the rules for the next edition. I think they also suggested that we should all get a life but I dont recall. What I do recall was the fun, good camraderie and the incredible cheese and onion sandwiches Petes girlfriend Jean made.
Sports were a big part of College life for many of us. Most, of course, were of the more athletic kind and I remember playing hockey for the Saint Matthias mixed hockey team, (mixed in the sense of gender that is, 6 M and 5F). We were the St. Matthias ; what were we called? Anyone remember? As a team, we played in the mixed hockey league in Bristol and played the other colleges, Redland and Newton Park, as well as business and village teams such as SWEB and Upper Draycott: maybe it was the Lower one! Sometimes, the playing fields could only be used after the local herd of Jerseys had been removed which led to some interesting situations with the little white ball becoming embedded in something other than earth. The fields were also extremely bumpy and I have many a scar on leg, knee and hand from a sharply rising ball or a wayward hockey stick ricocheting from the top of a 100 year old mole hill. We always travelled in convoy in 3 or 4 cars to away games as finding the playing field often called upon all our collective global positioning skills without the use of the global positioning resources which, of course, were not around at the time.
There were also the fun parts like the changing room situations which were frequently just one small hut in which both teams, male and female, would get changed together. Everyone faced the wall; at least I think they did; I must admit I never looked. Even cars were used to get changed in if the host captain was unable to find the key to the changing rooms. After the game there were usually abundant refreshments especially if a member of the other team owned a restaurant, or better still, a pub.
Another sport I really got into at St. Matthias was Badminton. Every Friday the staff would play in the Gym until around 10 pm then have a quick pint in the JCR and adjourn to a nearby apartment, (I was an RA in Bishop Monk and later, Canon Kitson), to down a large 2 litre bottle of Yugoslavian wine. I think it used to cost us significantly less than a pound and I still have some of the corks, (same reason as the Scrabble bag).
There were many other sports at St. Matthias, of course, with Football, Rugby, Cricket and Table Tennis (!) probably being the big four. (Apologies to croquet and the many others I have omitted because I cant remember). But it was with hockey that my memories of the sporting life at St. Matthias were forged and every time I look at the scar on the index finger on my right hand I am reminded of those blissful, Saturday or Sunday afternoons in sunshine, rain, or occasional snow, of the late 60s and early 70s.
Every Friday throughout the second and third year of my four years at St. Matthias I, and several other Lads would dash madly from the Hut to the dining room bearing armfuls of Spectrums (or should it be Spectra?). Sometimes the ink would be barely dry as we tore copies from the hand-cranked duplicating machine and stapled them together. The Lads, by the way, were a group, (lads and lasses), who played soccer, and other games, that existed during the late 60s/early70s. Ade George, a Lad, now runs the St. Matthias Old Lags website at: http://stmatthias.moonfruit.com/ where you can read actual copies of Spectrum).
At the end of my freshman, er, I mean First Year I was elected PRO (Public Relations Officer) of the student union and part of the responsibility of that heady position was to turn out a weekly college newspaper using the most meagre printing resources, the most enthusiastic and, for the most part, unreliable team of reporters, and, as Jenny Cave so delicately pointed out in the last edition of the Newsletter, the most primitive of grammatical skills. (Wow, 8 commas in one sentence!) I'm sure Ken Smith was not the only faculty member who would pore over its pages with a red pen. When I took over as P.R.O., the weekly rag was called the Broadsheet and originated, I think, at Barrow Court. As such, it was full of news, well written, and very much the product of a good British Teacher Education establishment. When I started at St. Matthias in 1968, we, the Lads, represented the first year in which there were male students in all four years at the College so we took it upon ourselves to make sure that equality prevailed.
It didn't take us long to bring the level of correspondence, humour, presentation, article selection , political viewpoint, or any other attribute of a weekly news-sheet down to the level of our collective skills and egos. And what a level it was. As PRO I had the dubious privilege, and responsibility, of writing the editorial every week. This gave me license to choose whichever topic was all the rage at the time. This could be a political issue, a sit-in to protest something or other, a rag-week event or, as occasionally happened, a moral lecture on the sins of writing too many papers and studying too hard.
The Hut, at the far end of Canon Kitson, was the center of all this activity which would start Thursday night and end in a crescendo late Friday morning. There was a box somewhere in the college where people could leave articles for Spectrum but I don't recall there ever being many left there. I dont actually recall where the box was so maybe we never found it. I also used to have to check the W and B pigeon holes since I also went by the name of Blackmorris. (This changed to Bluechevy at graduate school in the US). Usually we just made things up to fill the pages. Ade George would pen some magnificent cartoons. He actually had to write them on the duplicating master which in itself was an art. Bert McLennan always had copious articles on the table tennis team's impressive victories over the visiting Chinese delegation and Kevin Kibbey would write blood curdling pieces about the St. Matthias football team's thrashing of the local police team. Similar articles about the Rugby Teams latest annihilation of the Redland College rugby team were often difficult to read if you were at all squeamish.
I wonder if Ken still takes a red pen to the Letters from America. At least my excuse now is that my wonderful British writing style of six commas, two semi-colons and a demi-brieve per sentence has been corrupted by the American form of writing in which one is allowed, maximally, one comma between each period. I wish I had kept a copy of each issue. If, by any chance you did, send them to Ade George who could copy them on his web-site for all to enjoy.
Isn't it funny how combinations of letters conjure up incredible images, ideas, memories or organizations, GT. HMI, TUC, OPEC, HIV, GTO, and GLE, all evoke images of one sort or another (the last two are US ones so they probably dont mean much to anyone in the UK). The JCR. The JCR; its like a word, the jayseeare. It just trips off the tongue even though its been 20-, 30-something years since any of us said See you in the jayseeare around 8.
The Bar Committee, Sunday night discos, table football, Weffy and Names-of are some of what made it such a central place in our lives for three or four, and for some quite a few more, years of our lives. I can still picture it. The french doors leading to the grassy area outside, the entry doors at each end on the same wall as the bar. The shutter that came down (boo) and went up (yeah) with that characteristic rattle and the sticky floor that stuck to your shoes. I dont recall there being carpet in there but there might have been. Its funny but I have almost no memory of ever being in there during the day time. Im sure it must have been open then but I dont recall anything that went on there during the day time.
While the Bar Committee always seemed synonymous with the Rugby Club during my four years, the Sunday Night Disco was the domain of the Lads which would have been the Football Club had there been such a thing. Of course, we had a football team but I dont recall it ever being a Football Club. I think Ive probably mentioned the celebrated DJs before but there was Ade George on the psychedelic stuff, Bert McLennan was Dr. rock and roll and I think I was Motown but I could be completely wrong. The main thing is that it was always a fun night where many relationships were forged, (and probably some terminated) many of which are probably still going strong to this very day.
Like many of us, I never really knew what went on in the bar committee meetings. I may have served behind the bar but I have much stronger memories of being on the receiving side. Was it XXX that was the favorite? Lager and limes and black and tans seemed to be popular, I remember. I never ran a bar tab, but I seem to remember some bar tabs being as much as a terms grant money.
Names-of was an incredible drinking game inextricably linked to Weffy Dawes who was the judge, I think thats what he was called. The game was never the same without him. Hands hovering over the knees as we felt for the right rhythm to begin. No smiling, smirking, losing the rhythm, weird looks or inappropriate behaviour. The list of rules was endless and their enforcement by Weffy was ruthless which, of course, was the whole point. A serious infraction was met with the call for a pint-in-one while more minor infractions required drinking but an inch of beer. The pint in one had to be consumed while standing on one of the low circular tables and was most entertaining if two people had to compete. I remember losing to Tish Brown one time and I downed my pint in 5 seconds. I used the idea, the Names-Of idea and not the drinking piece in my teaching as a class activity for many years after and every time I sat in front of a group of 3rd year children I chuckled quietly, if only they knew.
To the unitiated Names-Of was a group game where any number of participants sat in a large circle with a beer each. The leader or judge (Weffy) had absolute control and the game began with participants hands hovering and wavering above their knees. A starting person was chosen and the game began with everyone making two slaps of the knees, two claps of the hands and two clicks of the fingers in perfect rhythm; not too slow and not too fast. The two finger clicks were accompanied by the words 'names of' and then 2more knee slaps, claps and finger clicks this time with the name of a set of something like trees, of boys names, or cars or colors ( both uttered by just the starting person). The next person on the next two finger clicks had to come up with the name of a tree, boy's name, car or whatever set had been chosen. This traveled around the group but of course never got very far because someone would break one of the 543 rules and have to drink some beer. I wonder how many of us can trace kidney problems back to that game.
The table-football table was another permanent fixture of the JCR summoning up names like Mike Wenn, Nigel Seaton, and Barry Hayward to name a few. Many blisters on hands were forged on the handles of the football table over the years and legends were made.
And then there was the SCR. When I returned to the college as an RA in Bishop Monk Hall in 1974, two years after I graduated I automatically became a member of the SCR. And what a serene place it was. Even the letters SCR onomatopoeically bring to mind a far more decorous establishment. I used to get home to College from my teaching job at Sefton Park Primary School around 5 to 5:30 PM and head straight for the SCR for a glass of sherry or two before dinner in the dining room. The remarkable thing was that you paid for the sherry once a month by signing the book indicating how many you and your colleagues had consumed that evening. It was never more than 2 each for the 3 or 4 of us who would be there. And at the end of the month you got a bill. Can you imagine such a thing in the JCR?
I think we had a sit-in once in the JCR and I remember a Fiat car going in through the french doors but not going out again until the doors were removed.
But most of all I remember the good friends and the good times.
When I think of the thousands of hours I sat in lectures while pursuing the M.Ed. at St. Matthias it is unbelievably depressing how few moments I can remember with sufficient vividness to write about. Those I do remember have an incredible clarity about them which makes me wonder why they stuck and none of the rest did. It must have been something about certain incidents that welded themselves into my memory plate somewhere in the depths of my brain; I'm sure Pete Woodman could explain. I have decided not to change any names in the stories since I don't think any of the characters mentioned were innocent of anything, if your see what I mean.
The first vivid memory is of a Geography department field trip to Exmoor led by members of the Geography department. I think we stayed at an hotel in Woollacombe, was it? Anyway, one day we had all boarded the coach for a trip up onto Exmoor to view some of the local topography. This particular day out was led by Miss Tew who, I remember, always rode 'shotgun' next to the coach driver. The road we were taking wound its way up onto the moor getting narrower and narrower by the minute until we came to a narrow humpback bridge that brought the coach to a stop; the driver being concerned about grounding the underside of the coach on the middle of the hump. Not to be defeated by a small tyke of a bridge Miss Tew leapt from the coach saying that she would keep an eye on the underside of the coach to make sure all was clear. Well, it was from that direction but not from the stone wall sides of the bridge which left long scratch marks down each side of the coach. The funny thing was we had to return by the same bridge but no more scratches appeared on the bus on the return journey.
Another Geography Dept story involved Sefton Davis' wry sense of humor. One day, Ian Barrass, a geography student couldn't get to class and asked if Mr. Davis would mind if a tape recorder was left on the desk to record the lecture. During that particular class Sefton Davis drew and wrote on the black-board far more frequently than he normally did. He also used pronouns when he referred to the words and drawings in the board so that all that came out on the tape was phrases like 'while over here you see the main reason for the ." or " this is what I mean when I say this" while pointing to the blackboard.
Pete Woodman once challenged our psychology class to come up with a word he could not work into a joke. I can't remember the psychological principle of the class nor the many jokes he told but I do remember being incredibly impressed with Mr. Woodman's memory and joke repertoire. We were also introduced to the delights of the EKG machine and I remember marveling at the fact that a female arm held horizontally, turned up at the elbow and ending in a clenched fist was the most provocative part of the female
anatomy; at least according to the EKG machine.
Sophie Williams' dance and drama classes were always challenging. They also seemed so obliquely and yet so intricately related to the art of being a teacher. I'm sure it was in these classes that I first began to realize that teaching really is a performing art. One particular exercise the results of which I have used throughout my entire career, so far, involved us lying on our backs and projecting our voices up to the ceiling. We had to do this using our stomach muscle diaphragms and not our chests and it still works to this day.
I can remember signing up for classes on pieces of paper pinned to the wall in the corridor which seems so odd in these days of computer control. I think I can remember the advising groups but I'm not sure I can recall what we used to do in them; I think I was in Rev.Wills' group. I was in Mrs. Husband's education group but I also cannot remember what we used to do in those.
I do remember teaching practice though. My first one as a first year student was in a school in Southmead with a friend I had known before going to College. On my first day in the school I remember sitting in a chair in the staff room during morning break that belonged to a teacher who had sat in the same chair for 32 years during morning break. Not a good way to start. But a good way to start did happen several days later when returning to the classroom the teacher told me that I would go in first and settle the students down after break time. I was near panic having never done anything like this before but he said clap your hands, speak up, and say it like you mean it and oh what a feeling when it worked.
The next teaching practice took Barry Hayward and myself to a little school in Chedzoy. We lodged in the school caretaker's house for four or five weeks returning to St. Matthias at weekends. It was a two-room school house so we each had a class. One evening early on in the experience we went to the village pub for an ale or two and since it was the heart of Somerset decide to have a pint of scrumpy each. We informed the landlord of our intention only to be handed a half pint glass each. The landlord then told us that we would be teaching his kids in the morning and so needed to have our wits about us. From then on I think we did our drinking in the next village.
My final teaching practice was completed at Sefton Park junior school where I ended up teaching for five years. The highlight of that experience was helping to take 120 third and fourth year students to London for the week. We stayed at a hutted campsite in Sunbury and made several trips into the heart of London. Getting 120 children onto a tube train was easy compared to getting them off. We would just group them by tens with an adult spaced out along the platform where we thought the doors would open and herd them in when the train arrived. But once inside they would scatter to seats all over the place which made it remarkably difficult to get them all off. It was equally difficult getting them all across a road but somehow we managed.
As I think I've said before in one of these epistles the classroom experiences I received from the St. Matthias faculty prepared me well to teach children. Looking back it seemed to be just the right combination of theory and practice or, in the words (edited) of the immortal John Dewey, the development of one's 'inspired vision and executive means'. The current dogma of teacher education, at least in this country, seems to involve the pragmatic demonstration of identifiable competencies making the study of educational philosophy, for example, a thing of the past. Although I'm sure I didn't appreciate them enough at the time, I'm equally sure the courses by Messrs Pennycad, Peters, and Davis, et al, had a far deeper and longer lasting effect upon what I believe teaching and learning are all about than any of the other more pragmatic courses I took.
While attending a concert by Dougie MacLean, the accomplished Scottish singer songwriter recently, I got to thinking about the St. Matthias folk nights we used to have periodically. They were usually a mixture of local legends and home grown talent (or was it local talent and home grown legends?) and, I seem to remember, took place in a salubrious ambience of candle light and joss sticks. The problem is that, although I took part in most of them and even helped organize many of them, I can remember very little about them. Maybe it's because we always "had a few too many" of something or other. So, I enlisted the aid of Ade George that well known member of the psychedelic group that also included Jim Stevenson on flute and Sue Doyle on vocals. Remember Sue's rendition of Summertime? Truly an omen of the direction Sue's life was to take. (Sue is listed under the heading of "Famous graduates" of St. Matthias on Friends Reunited for her international work as a jazz singer). I do have quite vivid memories of their attire which was always very colourful and somewhat voluminous; capes and loons perhaps; and strings of beads?
For my own part I remember playing instrumental music with the late Mike Hughes who was a lecturer in classics and a demon fiddle player. We would play for what seemed like hours on end accompanying various folk dancers including cloggies and maypolers to name but a few. I remember one Sunday afternoon we were having an al fresco jam session in the park just down the road from the College when a young lady (not a St. Matthias student) was so moved by our music that she took off all her clothes, folded them neatly in a pile, and danced on the grass while we played. This was probably the only time in the history of folk music that it has been used to accompany a striptease but it was all very innocent though and quite moving actually.
I remember singing with the incomparable Dawn Acres; In My Room and Jet Plane being the "pieces des resistance" (to use Canadian French!). I think I also played a mouth organ in one of those harness things so I could play the guitar at the same time. I remember the excruciating pain that occurred every time my moustache got caught in it. It still happens to this day too but I've learned to stifle the tears and not to cry out.
Fred Wedlock, Keith Christmas and the Pigsty Hill Light Orchestra were regular performers. I think we even had Adge Cutler and the Worzels before Adge flipped his MGB in Chepstow and passed on to that great big Folk House in the sky. Both Ade and I wonder if the Elsa Nunn Ensemble ever performed at a Folk Night. We both remember Nick Turner's performances. Ade also recalls a story of EmCeeing one folk night and introducing Gordon Giltrap as a former member of super-group Pentangle only to find out later that Giltrap had left the band under unpleasant circumstances and did not wish to be associated with them. I also seem to remember singing a few Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkle songs as well as Scott McKenzie's "If you're going to San Fransicso". I think I had a flower and a cigarette stuck in the end of my guitar while I sang that one.
Here's one for the ages. Ade sent me the words to one of Fred Wedlock's finest:
"I'm lead fingers Wedlock and my story's seldom told, how I massacre folk music with a yard of german plywood and a capo. I do requests but just the ones that have two chords and disregard the rest, with Bert Weedon's help one day I'll be the best. Asking twenty plus expenses I came looking for a gig, but got no offers, just a come on from a groupie up in Clifton. I do declare, I was feeling rather randy so I had her then and there whey hey hey, herrr herrr herrr, herrr herrr herrr. I have sung the folk tradition with me finger in me ear 'cos half the tripe I'm singing I just can't bear to hear, it's a load of cobblers' , bar after bar to the rhythm of an off-key, British, one string thatched guitar lala la etc. All to the tune of The Boxer by Simon and Garfunkel.
If anyone has any additional memories I'd love to hear them. I seem to remember we were all very earnest about our folk music and really believed we had a "message" to communicate. I still continue to play music as I know do many of the other performers from those dimly lit and aromatic evenings. There are some neat photographs in 'Musical Lags'
TALES FROM THE HALLS OF RESIDENCE
For three years, from 1974 to 1977, I served my time as a Resident Advisor (I think that's what we were called) in first, Canon Kitson and later Bishop Monk. This state of affairs had come about because Jane Davey was retiring and was looking for a fine, upstanding, responsible person to take her place. Actually, I think she was really looking for a person who knew just about every trick to getting in and out of the halls unseen when they weren't supposed to be getting in or out of the halls. I actually felt a pang of guilt when she first asked me because I can distinctly remember hearing her voice from my hiding place inside some young lady of Canon Kitson's wardrobe. Anyway, for whatever reason I came to be there I enjoyed three wonderful years of patrolling the halls and corridors of those two great bastions of residential bliss. (It was actually fun to be living on campus. I did for all four years when I was a student except for a brief encounter with a "deficiency" flat above a shop on Fishponds Rd.. I think it was an opticians shop or maybe a butcher shop, a laundry or something similar. It actually made the residency rooms look like suites. I never really felt like I patrolled, it was more like keeping a paternal eye on things. I knew that people stayed all night in someone's room when they were not actually resident as I used to see them walk past my CK flat early in the morning on their way to work. I always assumed, of course, that being members of a C. of E. college they slept on the floor or in a spare room of some sort. (Just think, if one of you is reading this I might just remember who you are). I never really confronted anyone, as far as I can remember, but I do recollect handing out sage words of advice such as "Try not to walk past my window at the same time each morning just when I'm leaving for work" or "don't you think the overnight bag looks a bit obvious?" I have a feeling that there might have been some former students who really did take up permanent residency in their girl/boy friend's room although I don't recall actually finding someone.
The greatest bane of my life was the fire hose. For some reason it seemed to be great fun to discharge the fire hose into someone's room or down the stairwells. I remember the time omeone smeared some sort of unbelievably smelly horse liniment down all the stair banisters. Another time someone tied all the door handles together so no-one could get out. No, wait a minute, those are things that I did when I was a student, they sound like pranks perpetrated by the group known as the Lads.
It's funny, but I don't remember a lot of the things that went on when I was an RA. I can remember the Friday night parties in my flat after the faculty badminton evening in the gym. I think we drank Yugoslavian wine at 80p for a 2 litre bottle. I remember discovering enough wine bottle corks when I eventually left the College that I could have made a raft and floated to the US. I even remember a loudish knock on the door one Friday evening and one of the students asking us to keep the noise down because she was trying to study. Let's see, there were keys to be dealt with, meetings with the floor reps every so often and introductory meetings with all residents at the beginning of each term. I would love to hear from anyone who was in CK or BM when I was the RA with stories about what you got up to. I could include them in a future letter with the names changed, of course, unless you wanted to let it be known that you really were the one who.All the time I was an RA I was teaching at Sefton Park Primary School and I remember, with awesome clarity, arriving home at the college and most nights going straight to the SCR for a few glasses of Sherry with whomever was there. It was so civilized. You didn't even pay for the sherry at the time. You just signed the book with the number of glasses you had "bought" and you got a bill at the end of the month. I've tried to start similar schemes over here but they never have worked. I guess there really is a time and place for drinking sherry. One of the most remarkable things about my returning to college as an RA in 1974 is the effect it had on the rest of my life. I undoubtedly would still be in the UK if I had not received that call from Jane Davey because that is how I met the University of Illinois professors, who accompanied the US exchange students, who described, in great detail, the opportunities to be had at U of I in the U.S.. One, in particular, who later became my doctoral advisor and mentor, cut quite a dash in his genuine cowboy boots and hat. But what was truly amazing was what appeared when he opened a foot-long wooden box he always seemed to carry with him. It contained a bottle of Bourbon and two shot glasses. Now that really is traveling in style. I now have a pair of cowboy boots and a hat but I much prefer wearing my kilt outfit when the occasion calls something different. Do you remember how the American students would rush out and buy jars of peanut butter and bars of chocolate and eat them together, at the same time, by the mouthful, and actually swallow the concoction. I now realize that most Americans cannot survive for more than 24 hours without it.
Well, of course, I could go on. The more one goes on the more one can, so to speak so I'll stop here and wish you fond memories of your days in Canon Kitson, Elsa Nunn or Bishop Monk.
LIFE IN THE JCR
As I sit here at my computer in wistful thought about my memories of my four years hard labor, ahem, joyous study, at St. Matthias, as Phil has asked me to, on this the penultimate day of January 2003, my mind wanders effortlessly back to those halcyon days of our carefree youth and I ask myself "How much longer is this damned cold weather going to last?" Not one single day in January has the thermometer risen above freezing and for 21 nights it's been below 0 degrees F bottoming out at minus 24 degrees F three mornings ago.
So it's easy to conjure up those images of warm summer nights in Fishponds (why does that sound like an oxymoron?) outside the JCR, a beer in hand, a girl on one's arm, and a 20 page paper due at 9 AM in the morning. The JCR was the center of our world back then. The bar committee always seemed to be made up of rugby players - I always did find that curious. The Sunday night dances with The Lads, each with his own inimitable style and taste in music. I think I was the Motown guy, Bert was, I think, the rock and roll jockey, and, if memory serves me correctly, Ade played the new wave, psychedelic, avant garde type of music. I think. (Sorry Ade and Bert if I've erred here. I promise to get Phil to print a correction in the next issue if I have). I could well be wrong on that; the brain cells continue to die off at an alarming rate the older I get even though I do the crossword puzzle every day.
The JCR also acted as a garage one evening when we got, her name-is-on-the-tip-of-my-tongue's, (Juliet Hoskins' according to Vicky Onslow), Fiat 500 into the middle of the dance floor. I have a feeling she didn't know we were going to do that as she seemed quite upset when it would go back out through the same doors through which it had come. Maybe it's still there; I really can't remember if we got it out or not.
And then of course there was Weffy, God rest his immortal soul, and the game of "Names Of". Hands up all who remember how this game went. Hands hovering, slap the knees, click the fingers, and clap the hands while saying the name of something in the category of things determined by the last poor soul who goofed up. (I think that's the right order. I've been sitting here for the last five minutes trying it out and that seems to feel right. I even went and got a beer from the fridge (oops, I mean the rufridgerader) to make it feel right but it wasn't quite the same with a Molson). The idea was that one had to do the actions perfectly, and be perfect, in order not to be penalized. The remarkable thing is that the penalty was that you had to drink some beer you had previously bought in order to drink. (That doesn't seem quite right somehow - I guess you had to be there). Anyway, the game was never the same if Weffy wasn't there (did we ever play in his absence) because he was a master of master of ceremonies.
Remember hands held out horizontally and fingers fluttering to begin? No-one dared move the slightest muscle until the Maestro himself (or was it the namer of the category?). And then, on with the game. Straight face, concentrate, no laughing, smiling, smirking, giggling, winking, sneezing, sniffing, speaking, coughing or any type of twitch known to humanity. And of course, you had to be ready with a name when your turn came from around the circle as it always did. Sometimes the circle numbered twenty or more so if the person to your left started (it always went clockwise) you had to hope and pray that someone would goof up before it got to you. It's really hard to come up with the twentieth name of a color especially after n (stands for large number) pints of Courage (I'm a bit hazy about the type of beer. Was it Watneys, Wadworths, Theakstone's).
But it wasn't just a game of coming up with the name of something because of the way Weffy ran things. And it probably wasn't a game because there were no winners or losers. Often, long before, the last name of something had been thought of and presented in hand clapping rhythm, Weffy would spot a perpetrator trying to stop an itchy nose, or laughing at a fellow names-of'er's misfortune to have not come up with the name of a hitherto unmentioned British Prime Minister (although I don't actually remember the categories being quite that academic - more like girls' names or beer makers), or not paying full attention to what was going on in the game, and he would decide, after much thought, ridiculing of the offender, and encouragement from the rest of the circle to mete out the worst possible punishment, what was to happen to the poor wretch.
The worst possible punishment as far as I can remember, and I must admit to experiencing it many times (probably the cause of my later kidney problems and loss of memory, and heart problems. Hmmm, think I'll stop right there), was to drink-a-pint-of-beer-in-one. I had the record of 4.6 seconds for several weeks (or was it years? God I hope not) until I was beaten by Trish who downed hers' in 4.3 seconds. How we came up with the fractions of a second I don't recall especially as the chugging was conducted on the table accompanied by raucous singing.
And then there was the football table where I remember once scoring all six goals with the right had defender players - two of them I think. I always played with Barry Hayward (where are you Barry?) and I seem to remember we were sort of OK. I think it was Mike Wenn and Nigel Seaton who were The Team but I'm in the real umbra part of my memory now. There was once a 24 hour marathon for charity. The players raised lots of money and went through many boxes of plasters for sore fingers.
I could go on; so I will. "Bare backside (a shorter 3-lettered word was usually used) against the sight screen" was a cry that frequently went out towards the later part of the evening,but never when it was raining, to be followed by a rapid exodus of mostly rugby players unfastening their belts as they flew past Canon Kitson on their way to the cricket pitch.
Do I have the facts, names and events right? It probably doesn't really matter now and I certainly wouldn't change any names to protect the guilty. (Julia, I think her name was Julia; the name of owner of the Fiat I mentioned earlier. Maybe not)
When I started writing this I thought about being smart at the end by saying that I remember much more of the social life than I do the academic life, but that would be completely untrue. As I think I said in a previous letter, the education I got at St. Matthias has stood me in good stead through dramatic changes in the world of education.
Rose tinted classes? Perhaps. But aren't they the best kind?
I hope, I sincerely hope, we are not at war when you read this. Most people here don't want to be either.