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This page was last checked and updated on 14 April 2010 at 16:00

Reading this section all in one go while online will seriously damage your telephone bill if you are not on Broadband. If that is the case - i.e. you are not on Broadband - then you are advised to make a hard copy and to read it later. Unfortunately, at present that will require eight (yes, that`s right: 8!) – I repeat: eight pages - of A4 paper. And some people will seriously question whether it is worth it!

E & O E
This account of my life has been written by me from memory. If you find any facts to be erroneous, please let me know. If you are mentioned in it and object to what I have written, I will remove immediately the offending words on being asked to do so. I would not wish to cause offence to anyone - except, that is, Andrew Lloyd Webber - and I refuse to give a hyperlink to any information about him whatsoever - go Google!!!

I was born just after 1 o`clock in the afternoon on 1st February 1945 at Thorpe Hall, Peterborough. My mother was preparing to tuck into a plate of fish and chips for lunch, one of her favourite gastronomic delights, but my appearance left her sans fish and totally sans chips, a fact she never ceased to remind me of each week later in life when, every Saturday almost without fail, we would have the traditional fish and chip dinner from the local chippy in High Street, Old Fletton. My birthplace, I am delighted to say, is still standing, so it can one day be used as a shrine to my memory! It is at present in use as a hospice.

I was the second of three boys born to Hilda Margaret (née Chapman) and Dennis John Rooke. My mother was a hairdresser and had owned a hairdresser`s shop in High Street, Old Fletton, Peterborough. She gave up the shop to have children but bought it again later. My father was in the army and had risen to the rank of Sergeant. My elder brother was called David John and my as yet unborn younger brother would be named Alan Richard Andrew. David was born on 10th August 1941 and Alan would appear on 22nd February 1947. We three boys were privileged to have loving parents and had a generally happy childhood. Well, we didn`t always get what we wanted for Christmas but otherwise things were mostly ok! My two brothers, like myself, eventually took up careers as teachers, thanks largely to my mother`s reverence for that admirable profession.

My mother was the youngest of a family of six children born to Margaret (née Pratt) and Charles Frederick Chapman. She, however, was the only girl, hence the nickname the others gave to her: `girlie`. When I was born there were three uncles remaining alive, `Dobbin` (Herbert Samuel) having been killed in a road accident when only 19 and John Ezra having died of a heart attack at the tender age of 32. But during my childhood I knew well these three uncles - Bill, Dick and Harry - and their wives - Ada, Winnie and Lois - and their children - Martin and Linda; Janet and Susan; and John - as well as my other cousin, Rodney (Uncle John`s son), for we all lived in a relatively small area of south Peterborough and, more relevantly, often went to Granny Chapman`s house at 2 North Street, Stanground at weekends. So, the nine cousins, their four sets of uncles and aunts and my granny all saw each other often. Charles Frederick, by the way, my grandfather, had died in 1946. I never really knew him and certainly do not remember him. Nor, for that matter, did I know my paternal grandfather, John Thomas Rooks. He had died in 1918 of pneumonia - at least that`s what it says on the death certificate - he was one of millions worldwide who died in the influenza epidemic of 1918. For information on the different spelling of his name - a common occurrence, as family historians will know - please refer to my Family History page. When John Thomas died my father, his only child, was only nine months old. My grandmother, Louis Olive (née Jackson), remarried and I knew both her and her second husband, Raymond Bunyan, my step-grandfather, well.

But I am jumping the gun.

When I was born my mother lived at 131 High Street, Old Fletton, with her mother and father, but soon after, when I was two, we moved to a newly built house at 20 Shortacres Road where my mother and father were to live until their deaths in 1996 and 2001 respectively.

Here I grew up and attended the local Old Fletton County Primary School and, on Sundays, London Road Methodist Church (now rebuilt and renamed as Southside Methodist Church). A number of teachers at the school, including Mrs Hall and Miss G. Moore - the aunt of my future wife - had a considerable influence on me, but, as with many pupils at the school, the greatest influence was a man called George Alcock.

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`Geda`, as he was known because of his initials, was a remarkable man, a towering influence. He taught us in our Eleven Plus examination year and rumours of him would terrify us lower down the school. He had what to us seemed a very loud voice, which occasionally could be heard down the corridor. This only confirmed his reputation for being someone to be feared. Indeed, we remained terrified even when we were in his class, but what we also learned was that he was an inspired and inspiring teacher, an enthusiast; he loved learning and he loved children; he opened our eyes, ears and minds to so many things. Boys and girls who were taught by Geda were changed for life, for the better, and we never forgot him. Geda`s greatest interest was astronomy. Indeed, he was an amateur astronomer of no small fame: he discovered than five comets and five novae (exploding stars) - these “10 discoveries surpassed the achievement of Caroline Herschel …” - and has a minor planet named after him: (3174) Alcock. He would go out night after night into his garden in Farcet and look through his telescope, studying the heavens. Eventually his persistence paid off with the discovery of these extra-terrestrial bodies. Apart from being one of the twentieth century`s most successful amateur astronomers, a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and the Royal Geographical Society, he was also “a keen naturalist, ornithologist and geologist. In 1950 he discovered a section of Roman road.” Small wonder that all of this knowledge, expertise, dedication and enthusiasm was transmitted to us boys and girls. we were privileged to be taught by him and even at that early age, we had some inkling of how lucky we were. What an inspiration he was – a teacher of the `old school`.

Two important consequences resulted from my living in the Soke of Peterborough while yet attending a school over the border in Huntingdonshire. First, I had to sit a different 11+ examination from the rest of my class-mates. There were, in fact, two of us in the class who were thus separated: myself and a girl called Celia Moore. The day of the examination, when we two were put alone into an examination room together with the invigilator - and we deliberately sat at opposite corners of the room from each other, she being a girl, I a boy - that day was the first on which I can remember noticing the existence of the afore-mentioned Celia Moore, who later became my wife. The second consequence was that, as a result of my performance in the examination I eventually won a scholarship to Bishop`s Stortford College, an act that was radically to change my life.

Unknown to me, my parents had put my name forward for consideration for a scholarship based on the results of the 11+ examination. This scholarship had been set up by the Soke of Peterborough Education Authority. One of Peterborough`s mayors, Arthur Mellows, had a brother, Charles, who taught at Bishop`s Stortford College and they thought it would be a wonderful idea for the Soke to give an opportunity for a bright boy whose home circumstances might not naturally allow him to do so, to have a place at the fee-paying public school. One small political problem was, however, that they did not wish to be accused of causing slight to the `local` public school at Oundle. So a scheme was set up to award two scholarships, one to Oundle School and one to Bishop`s Stortford College.

I had to get a certain number of marks in the 11+ examination and then to attend interviews. There were eleven of us who gained sufficient marks in the exam and we all had initially to attend at Peterborough Town Hall for interviews with the Soke`s Director of Education, Leslie Tait. Apparently, on the day of interview, I wore a rather cool quiff at the front of my hair, together with a red check patterned bow tie and I prattled on inordinately about my love of natural history (inspired, no doubt, by Geda). Mr Tait was hooked and, soon after, the five successful interviewees including me complete with quiff, bow tie and short trousers headed off to Oundle School. I can remember nothing of this episode in the adventure, save the deflation caused by the arrival a few days later of a buff coloured envelope with a letter enclosed which informed my parents that I had been unsuccessful in my attempt to gain a scholarship at Oundle School and that Mr Tait would be pleased if I were to attend for interview at Bishop`s Stortford College - wherever that was! - some time in the not too distant future.

The rest is history. Mr A.N. Evans, Headmaster of Bishop`s Stortford College in his wisdom, saw fit to single me out for a scholarship and my fate was sealed. In September 1956 I would leave Mrs Hall, Miss G. Moore, `Geda` and Old Fletton County Primary School and go to pastures new to be a `scholarship boy`, a boarder, at `BSC`.

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As it turned out, my departure from the Soke was delayed. Some stomach pains in the summer holidays before I was due to leave led to medical tests and, eventually, a trip to Peterborough Hospital. Here, in glass-fronted wooden cases lining the walls on the staircase, were some human organs on display, soaking in formaldehyde. To an impressionable eleven year old suffering from stomach pains and slightly squeamish, it has to be said, they were unwelcome, grotesque, repulsive. I remember, over a period of nearly half a century, the nausea they induced in me. An inauspicious omen for my abdominal inspection! However, eventually - not for the last time in my medical history - I was let off: I was suffering only from a `rumbling appendix` and, after an extra two weeks` holiday, I set off at last for leafy Hertfordshire.

Arriving two weeks after term had started I was a freak, the newest of the new boys. But I soon settled in, got down to work, started learning wonderful new subjects like French, Latin, Biology, Chemistry and Physics and esoteric sports like Rugger, Hockey, Cricket. I found I could run fast and jump a long way into the air and over the ground. I also found that I enjoyed running a long way through muddy fields and over wooden stiles and gates. I was in my element. And then there was the Prep School Headmaster`s daughter. Miss Bond, for that was her name as far as we boys were concerned, must have been the figment of all our dreaming imaginations: she was divine, female - and totally beyond reach!

Unobtainable, too, were the girls next door. We could hear the laughter, the shrieks, the screams from these heavenly creatures, but sightings of them were rare. The tall walls that stood in between our outdoor swimming pool and the grounds of the girls` school saw to that. The only times we could see them in the flesh (oh, no, not the flesh!) were when we paraded - in crocodile fashion - on opposite sides of the road - and sat - on opposite sides of the chapel - in the pews for morning service. We became aware of them, softer, gentler, more giggly things. Being one of three boys in a family, I did not really know any girls then. There was Celia, of course, but I had left her behind before I really got to know much about her; and there were Linda and Janet and Susan, my cousins, but they were cousins, not girls. I didn`t really know what girls were for.

We also saw these creatures on Sunday afternoons when we went for `Sunday Afternoon Walks`. Attired in our straw boaters and grey suits with short trousers, we were allowed out in groups for an hour or two to get some fresh air. Some of the older, more hormonally adventurous groups would wander down to the Herts and Essex High School for Girls and try to catch further glimpses of these ephemeral creatures. Some boys, it was rumoured, were even meeting their `girlfriends`. Others, of course, were more interested in tobacco and sought out one of the many places to `have a quick fag`. But for the most part it was overheard voices, furtive glances across chapel or - if we were lucky - a peek through one of the holes in the wall that some other kind, inventive, desperate boy had excavated for us earlier.

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Actually, though I had `left her behind` I had become increasingly conscious of the existence of Celia. The day we both learnt we had passed the 11+ - a day other than and after that on which the rest of our class-mates had received the good news (or not) Celia and I were allowed home at lunch time to tell our parents. She walked on ahead; I followed some yards behind. We both lived close to each other, she at 16 Shortacres Road, I at number 20. In bringing up the rear, I was able to ruminate for some few minutes on this hitherto almost unknown creature. And a seed was sown. Later, one holiday, I started showing off when a crowd of us were in the (Shortacres) Road. We chaps, to impress the girls, would try to scale lamp-posts. It was not as impressive an undertaking as scaling the north face of the Eiger, but we chaps were the more chuffed the higher we got and the girls giggled a lot. One day I managed to get right up to the cross-pieces that jutted out from the main trunk of the lamp-post I had chosen to climb. As a result, I could hold on to one cross-piece with each hand and dangle my legs in thin air. This obviously impressed Celia, for she later agreed to `go out` with me.

Years passed. I passed the Common Entrance Examination and so was elevated to the Upper School, into School House `B`. Celia and I fell in and out of love a thousand times. Sometimes, apparently, my lamp-post scaling feats were not so impressive; at other times we could not live without each other. In between being impressive or a pratt (there were lots of Pratts in my family! – vide my ) I fell in love with Ruth and with Christine, even with Gwendoline. She later married a Headmaster, so obviously did much better for herself than she would have done with a mere Head of Department like me! Ruth was too good for me – at least, that`s what I thought! - and Christine`s Dad was leader of Peterborough Jazz Band. Had I stayed in love with her I might - you never know - have been a member of the band and followed a different career: Dad implied as much one day when I was chatting with him.

But Celia and I were always attracted to each other, like iron filings and a magnet .

`O` Level year arrived. I had taken Elementary Mathematics a year early. The next year the majority of `O` Levels were taken. The school wouldn`t let me take Physics: 13% in the `Mocks` was not a satisfactory springboard to jump off of from. My physics teacher was relieved. "You`re a bright boy, Rooke", he said. "You will go far - and the farther the better!" Why do teachers always have to be sarcastic? So I took eight subjects - and failed History. They were happy to let me in to the Sixth Form with eight good passes. I re-took History in the Autumn and passed, to make it nine. Later I passed Spanish, Use of English and General Studies, so eventually I came away with 12 `O` Level passes.

In the year before I went in to the Sixth Form, dear old Reginald Oakley retired and a new Director of Music appeared, with guns blazing. This man was something. I remember a conversation - no, that`s too two-sided a description - "Rooke," said Chris Bishop, the new man, "you and `Rodders` are going to do `A` level Music." Now, that was interesting: a) at home I was thought to be `the least musical` of my family, but this new chap had heard me play in orchestra practices - I filled in on the pianoforte for the instruments that we hadn`t got - and he had heard me singing in the choir and had spotted a talent; b) nobody had ever done `A` Level Music at the school before. Now there were apparently going to be two of us. `Rodders` was my mate, even though he was in a rival house, Robert Pearce House. Rodney Gerald Yorke Slatford, to give him his full name, was a good musician. He played the `cello like an angel, so we thought, and he was taught by Arnold Ashby and he lived in Cuffley where the houses cost money! Well, what could I say? "Yes, Sir," I said. And there was no more to be said.

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We `did` `A` Level Music on four single lessons a week. Well, it was not an academic subject, was it? and it was not a sport, and there were only two of us, so we were lucky to get that much time allocated. `Rodders` was great on performance; I was happy as a sandboy with analysis. Somehow, essay writing did not frighten me, for which `Rodders` was grateful. He even called me 'Aders', for which expression of friendship I was grateful. Chris Bishop appeared somehow never to notice the similarity in our essays, for which we were both grateful. I eventually took four `A` Levels, including Music twice: after two years in the Sixth Form I took Music, French and German and got grades B and two Cs; later I took English and re-took Music.

I stayed on for a third year in the Sixth Form since Chris Bishop thought I could try to get into his old college at Cambridge University. Well, what a sensation! It was bad enough when my elder brother David got into Nottingham University to read Mathematics. Not many kids went to university in those days and certainly none in our road had previously done so. He was the talk of all the neighbours. And then I got into Cambridge University. Well, that was something! And, you lads and lasses of today, look back in this autobiography a little and you will see that I got in with a B and two Cs. Try that nowadays and see where you get! I expect that Chris Bishop’s connection with Gonville and Caius College had something to do with it and he may have pulled a few strings but I always like to take the credit for the fact that I came out after three years with an honours degree - and one that would qualify me for extra pay on my annual teaching salary.

But I am gun jumping again!

I had two attempts at getting into Caius. First I entered for the Commoner’ s Entrance Examinations. That was a disaster! I was told that, were I to go away for a year or so and to learn something about Music, they might consider granting me another interview. But - at the moment - fat chance of a place.

Well, that was like a red rag to a bull to me. I took the challenge seriously and studied with a fury. Luckily I was allowed to concentrate solely on music and when I went up to Cambridge University to try again, I got somewhere.

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I sat for a Music Scholarship. This was an insane idea: I had no chance of a scholarship. But I did gain a place. I sat Music papers, did translation papers (French, German, Latin, even a little Spanish and Russian), played the piano and had the privilege of rehearsal time and performance on the organ of St John s College. We were told about its glorious trumpet stop (for which Michael Tippett wrote a wonderful part in his Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis - and we were heavily warned by George Guest, Director of Music at St John s College, not to waste too much practice time trying it out. Like Oscar Wilde, though, “I can resist everything except temptation” (Lady Windermere`s Fan) and I think I probably spent 98% of my time listening to its fabulous sound coming to me from elsewhere in the chapel. No wonder my performance the next day went badly but I had enjoyed making a splendid noise! And my piano performance could not have been much better. Two lecturers were doing The Times crossword, two talked (at least in whispers) all through it, one – David Willcocks - was opening a parcel of music. No doubt they had all summed me up in an instant: `very less than average`! If I got in for any reason at all, it was probably because of the interview. I cannot remember at all talking about music, not only because the interview was with the Admissions Tutor not a music lecturer, but also because I was asked what I enjoyed reading. Well, up to the age of 16 I did not read much at all. Indeed, I missed out on most of the childhood books, such as Alice in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows and Winnie the Pooh. But when I became sweet sixteen something in my hormones made me start reading books avidly and I discovered the beauty of elegant prose and the perfect precision of poetry. My favourites were T.S. Eliot, Gerard Manley Hopkins, W.B. Yeats, Graham Greene, Aldous Huxley, Shakespeare and C.P. Snow. In the interview I prattled on about all of them but the Admissions Tutor was especially interested to discuss the Snow-Leavis controversy, which had recently raged and wanted to know my opinions on it. I gave him them at length - and gained my place.

Well, if I did not gain it that way, it must have been because the night before the interview I slept with the score of Britten’ s ‘War Requiem’ under my pillow. This work had just appeared at the Coventry Cathedral Festival of that year and had been broadcast. I heard the broadcast and, like many others, I was immediately knocked out by the piece. On arriving in Cambridge for my interviews, I bought the score and perused it avidly. While asleep with it under my pillow, its inspiration must have permeated my brain cells. Somehow, this time, I did something right!

Curiously, I was, however, completely unaware of another masterpiece commissioned for that festival: ‘King Priam’ by Michael Tippett. Indeed, I do not know whether I knew Tippett’ s name then, though that would all change very rapidly. Indeed, I am delighted to say that, years later, I was privileged to meet Sir Michael on many occasions, to attend a number of world premières of his music, to get his autograph as well as a postcard from him in response to a letter I wrote - and to see and hear many of my Cambridge contemporaries in performances of his works: Andrew Davis and David Atherton conducting and, most treasured of all, one of my greatest friends from Caius, the baritone Alan Opie, who appeared as Hector in ‘King Priam’ at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

But, the gun jumper strikes again.

Having successfully penetrated Cambridge University’ s thick stone walls and captured my place at Gonville and Caius College for October 1966 I spent the rest of my time at Bishop`s Stortford College really enjoying myself. The Headmaster, Peter Rowe, an Old Stortfordian, decided that now I had been successful in gaining a university place, a timetable of only four lessons per week was not enough to keep an active, intelligent adolescent male out of mischief. So I was told that I would be taking ‘A’ level English - in two terms! Yes, Sir!!

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It was easy! - just reading books and writing essays - a doddle! In the summer I got grade B. Oh, and I took ‘A’ level Music again, with the scholarship paper, and got an Al; so perhaps I did know something about the subject after all.

Actually, in my first English lesson, reading a set text, one of the Shakespeare plays (`A Midsummer Night’ s Dream’ or King Lear’?), - I can`t remember which - sitting at the back of the class I started dozing off with my chin in my hands, gently drifting into sleep and my hands gently drifting apart until my head suddenly slipped and banged noisily on to the desk. Everyone turned around to stare at me. I recovered as quickly as possible, trying to pretend that it was not I who had made the noise, but Mr Beaufoy, our English teacher (lovely name, lovely man), with great wit, just gently said, “Nice to have you with us, Rooke!”. Embarassment I could have died of!

I fell asleep at school on two other unfortunate occasions. The first was when I was practising the organ in the school chapel one day. I was dead lucky in my third year in the Sixth Form after I got in to Cambridge University because I had an enormous number of free periods and I used them to practise the piano and the organ. I regularly used to practise for six hours or so a day. The result was that I was probably at that time a better keyboard player than I have ever been since. In my final concert at school I was able to play the first movement of Beethoven’ s Pianoforte Trio no. 1 in C minor, Op. 1 No. 3, the first movement of Mozart’ s Pianoforte Concerto No. 19 in F major, K. 459 and the organ part of Britten’ s `Rejoice in the Lamb’, a performance that was favourably commented on by John Langdon, the current King’ s College, Cambridge organ scholar.

But, to return to my incurable somnolence. On that day in the chapel I had to be woken by Rodney Slatford. I had fallen asleep during a practice session and was making a fair din with the organ by resting my head on one of the manuals while I was sleeping. I had also missed the start of an ‘A’ level Music lesson with Chris Bishop and Rodney had been sent to find me - an easy task considering the noise I was making! Maybe he thought I was snoring a bit loudly! The other memorable occasion was when Michael Gough Matthews - who was my pianoforte teacher at Bishop`s Stortford College and who later became Professor of Music at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and then Director of the Royal College of Music - took me and a couple of other boys to a concert in London in his car. It was probably the Wigmore Hall, though I cannot remember precisely. I sat in the front and feel asleep during the journey. Embarrassed on waking, to realise that I had not been conducting intelligent conversation with Michael and my peers, I apologised profusely to him. He was very kind - as always - and told me not to worry. “I take it as a compliment to my driving”, he said.

Which reminds me: I went one day to his house some time after I had left school, I believe. While I was there he told me the story of Cadenza, his black cat. Apparently she had an excellent way of waking him up every morning, for he had some valuable porcelain on his bedroom mantel-piece. The cat would climb on to the mantel-piece and start to move the figures towards the edge. Michael, apparently, always woke up in an instant and managed to protect his cherished figures!

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I have always found it easy to fall asleep, a habit which is the only thing I share with that odious woman, Margaret Thatcher. Like her, I need little sleep, but catch up at odd moments, especially when I am sitting down in cars . . . buses . . . . trains . . . . . lectures . . . . . lessons . . . . . . . concerts . . . . . . . . zzzzz . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .!!!

Actually, talking of Peter Rowe and my final concert at Bishop`s Stortford College, there was an interesting little episode which occurred in the weeks running up to the concert in the spring term of my final year. Having excelled myself in my second year in the Sixth Form, I had been fortunate enough to play for the First XI Hockey team on a regular basis under the coaching of C.I.M. Jones, who was, like the Headmaster, P.W. Rowe, an Old Stortfordian. But in my final year at school my prowess faltered and I was demoted to the Second XI – it must have been all that hard work trying to get into Caius! With this big concert coming up and, I may say, without immodesty, realising that if I were to have an unfortunate accident while playing hockey for the school, then the concert would have some rather large gaps in it, considering all the solo parts I was playing, I made an early approach to the master in charge of the Second XI to see whether I could be excused from playing on that Saturday afternoon of the concert. He said that he could not make a decision himself (did not want to take the responsibility?) and would have to speak to Mr Jones. Some days passed. I told Chris Bishop what I had done and he entered into negotiations. Eventually I learned that it had reached the Headmaster’ s office - important matters, you know, a rebellious musician who considers tinkling the ivories more important than playing for the school in a game of hockey! Whatever next? Well, in the end I was ‘sent for’ - hauled out of an English lesson to see the Headmaster. I was told in no uncertain terms that I could not be released and that I would have to play for the (Second) XI. I was not happy. Politely, but unwisely, I said that I was not going to play hockey, whatever happened. The Headmaster became serious. “In that case, Wooke”, ( - he could not pronounce his `r`s - ) “I will expel you.” This was really serious. Oh, no it wasn’t, I thought, with flashing wit: I shall be leaving school soon in any case, so it makes little difference. “If you expel me,” I said, “I shall leave the school and come back and play as an Old Boy. (Ingenious idea!). The Headmaster’ s face darkened; he rubbed his chin. “Well, Wooke”, he said again, “if I expel you, you will never darken the doors of this school again.” “Oh, well,” I thought, “that does put a different complexion on things.” So I played. And the Headmaster came to watch. You should have seen his face when I was hit on the nose by a hockey ball. My glasses broke and, being acutely myopic, I could not see a sausage, let alone notes on a page of music. I certainly could not read the music for the concert that night. So I was taken to the opticians and they fixed me up with a temporary pair of spectacles. He was lucky, that Headmaster. I did have the accident which I had suggested might happen, but it was a minor one and the outcome was satisfactory.

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He would not have been so lucky if the accident which occurred a few days later had occurred that Saturday afternoon: in the middle of the next week I was playing in a practice game and one of the thugs from opposing team decided to use his hockey stick as a bayonet. He dealt me a severe blow in the right kidney and I felt severe pain! I had to be taken to hospital and the Headmaster, bless him, came in the ambulance with me! I think his conscience was pricked!

My kidney bled for a week or two but eventually the bleeding stopped and I didn’t have to lose it. The first night I was in the hospital - in the men’ s ward, with all the old men coughing up their guts and making other indescribable biological noises - the kitchen managed to provide me with a lovely meal: kidneys on toast, one of England`s greatest national dishes and one which normally I love! But I turned it down this time, actually: remember, I am a sensitive, squeamish boy! All in all, and despite the food, I was in hospital for three weeks and missed some of my Easter holiday. When I did come out, my Mum and Dad called for me and we went back to school to pick up some of my stuff. At one point I tried to mount three or four steps rather too quickly and nearly fell over. My legs were a bit wobbly after my being bed-ridden for three weeks.

Another silly episode occurred in ‘prep’ once. This time I got caned. ‘Prep.’ was the period of the evening when all the boys in the House would be seated in rows at desks in the Common Room to do the homework set for that night. A master supervised us and we had to sit in complete silence. At least, that was the theory. One night, however, I had finished all my work; actually, I did not have much to do. My mistake was, instead of reading quietly as I should have done, I started to communicate with the boy at the next desk on my right. I whispered something to him and I got caught. The result was that, later that night, I had to go in dressing gown and pyjamas, to the Assistant Housemaster’ s study. He was Derek Blackwell, a member of the Oxford family of Blackwells. The story was that he had run away at an early age to join the army and had been disinherited by the family. Certainly, he had a guardian in Oxford This guardian was currently Professor of Gynaecology at Oxford University. and I was invited to his house one day when I was at Caius - Derek had kindly thought to lend me a clavichord he owned, an instrument which would enable me to practise at all times of day and night since it was so quiet. My brother David and I went over to his house in Oxford to collect the clavichord.

While we were there, we were given a meal, which included, amongst other things, some lovely raw bacon. I suppose these days it would be considered completely fashionable to serve such foreign fare, but in those days such things were virtually unheard of. I rather liked it, but big brother David didn`t. He expressed his repulsion afterwards in the car going home! Maybe he`s grown to like it these days: I must ask him some time!

But, back to the flogging: I entered Mr Blackwell’ s study and I think he told me that this was going to hurt him more than it would me; I`m not sure. It was certainly an indignity and I felt very sore about it! I still do!

I enjoyed my years at Bishop`s Stortford College. Most of the time it was great. Occasionally I got homesick, especially just after parents - and, later, a girlfriend - had visited for the day on a Sunday and then departed for home. Other Sundays, when they were not visiting, we would have to write a letter home. Regular letter writing like this improved our literary communication skills enormously.

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At school I enjoyed the opportunity for partaking in sports. Hockey was my favourite game and we were very fortunate to be coached by C.I.M. Jones. He was a member of Southgate Hockey Club and had played in the England hockey team in the Olympics. He later became Headmaster of Bedford School where my two sons, Nicholas and Jonathan became pupils later under his Headmastership. I was also good at athletics and captained the school in the Upper Sixth. That year, at Sports Day, I won a large number of events including both track and field. This was most opportune since my mother, as maternal parent of the Athletics Captain for that year, was invited as Guest of Honour to present the winners with their cups and to give a speech. She gave a very proud speech and it was obviously a red-letter day for her. Later, in the garden at 20 Shortacres Road, we had our photo taken, together with all the cups that I had won.

I also enjoyed cricket but did not excel at it. I cannot say that I enjoyed Rugby football. I used to hate the physical aspect of it and the muddiness of it. I actually did quite well at it because, whenever I got the ball - I played on the wing - I would run like hell in an effort not to be tackled. In fact, it was only years later that I learnt that the object of the game was to score a try, not just to avoid being tackled. No, seriously, I scored quite a few tries. But it was really my downfall because one day, when it was wet and muddy, I followed my usual routine of running like mad when I got the ball - and don’t forget: I was the boy who held the school 440 yards athletics record! I scored lots of points. But that was not the point. The boys in the opposing team, annoyed at being beaten but more annoyed at the fact that I had managed not to be tackled and therefore still had, unlike them, a clean pair of shorts - if not boots! - decided to teach me a lesson and grabbed me and dumped me in a water tank. I was furious! They knew, of course, that I hated water - and that’s another story.

Bishop`s Stortford College was renowned for its prowess at swimming and water polo. Its facilities were excellent and it boasted both heated indoor and outdoor swimming pools. On arrival at the College, I was a non-swimmer. Indeed, I hated water to the point of having a phobia about it. I could paddle in shallow water, that wasn’t too bad, but, if the water came above my waist, I began to hyperventilate. And I loathed getting water on my face. Well, non-swimmers at Bishop`s Stortford College were letting the side down, so they were given a half an hour swimming lesson each morning before breakfast. I hated these lessons. And I think I should at least get a mention in the Guinness Book of Records because I went and suffered this hell for seven years - and I still can’t swim!

The only thing more hateful than the swimming lessons was the cold baths in the mornings. Every day, when we got up, we had to go into the communal bathroom to wash. We also had to take a dip in a bath full of cold water, all of us, one after the other. It was very bracing, not to say unhygienic! Later in my school life, when I became a monitor, I used to turn a blind eye to the boys who dodged this ordeal. And I certainly dodged it myself then. No wonder I never became a school prefect!

One good story to come out of these years is the one concerning Peter Szilagyi. I suspect that the story has `improved` with age, indeed it may be apocryphal for all I know, but it is firmly entrenched in my memory, so here it is. Peter was a great bloke, a native Hungarian who had fled Hungary in 1956 following the invasion by the Russians. He joined us in the Sixth Form, in 1961. By then I was sleeping in School House `B` dormitory, which meant that about 30 beds were ranged along the sides of two walls. It was great fun! Sleep-talking, sleep-walking, snoring – nothing got missed! We were lorded over by the monitors and school prefects – and also the Housemaster (Alan Potts) and the Assistant Housemaster (Derek Blackwell). The monitors, however, were the ones we came into contact with most – and by contact I mean physical contact: we would be `slippered` if we mis-behaved, which meant being spanked on the backside by the monitor using his slipper. When I eventually became a monitor I developed the art of kicking my slipper off and aiming it at the recalcitrant boy who had earned my displeasure so that it (the slipper) flew down the `dorm` and made contact with his (the boy`s) backside some forty paces away – quite a skill! I rarely missed and if I did the boy was lucky to get off without being hit and he usually returned my slipper with grateful thanks and a big smile!

However, returning to Szilagyi: he was very slow at getting washed ready for bed at night. We were supposed to get ready for bed at 9.30 p.m. (Crikey! How times have changed!) In those days we always went up for bed at 9.30 p.m. when we were 16, 17, 18 years old; a bell was rung and up we went. Only the monitors and prefects were allowed to stay up later – and they had to be in bed by 10.30 p.m. When I later taught in schools, I would frequently be informed by pupils of quite tender years (13, 14, 15 – girls as well as boys) that they stayed up as a matter of course regularly until 11.00 p.m. No wonder they looked so dozy in class the next day – and they did.

I digress. Peter had great trouble washing. He was so finickety, taking ages to make sure he was spotless all over. Perhaps it had something to do with having to flee Hungary, I don`t know. Whatever it was, he was always late for bed. We were all supposed to be in bed at 10.00 p.m. No, we had to be in bed by ten. If not, we would be harassed by the monitors, slippered even. Lights went out at 10.30 p.m. This, of course, was for the senior boys. The junior boys were in bed even earlier and would usually have a story read to them by the member of staff on duty. I remember one member of staff, the Housemaster before Alan Potts – can`t remember his name, but I will one day and post it here – he used regularly to read to us stories from Guys and Dolls by Damon Runyan. They – and he – were very entertaining.

Oh, yes, Peter Szilagyi! Well, when he did eventually get washed ready for bed – which was always, I mean always, after `lights out`. he would come to the dormitory doors, open them quietly but wide – they were double swing doors – stand there for a few seconds while we all tried to stifle our mirth (knowing what was coming!) and to make sure that he had a full audience - and then run furiously towards his bed, which was on the left hand wall, half way down the dormitory – my bed was on the opposite wall at the other end – and as he did so he would chant: “Pitter, patter, pitter, patter, wee, wee, wee”! It was brilliant! He was, by the way, a great hulking fellow of a lad, big, strong, played Rugby football like a maniac - and no one argued with him ever! Well, I said he would run furiously down the dorm towards his bed – and then jump on it. It was a great trick and had us all in hysterics. When in bed he would then cheerily say “Goodnight, everybody” and we would all try to stop giggling in case the member of staff on duty heard the noise and came in. It was the highlight of the end of all our every day. Wherever you are now, Peter, `Thanks, mate`!

I said he would run furiously down the dorm towards his bed – and then jump on it – well, that was true – until the night we removed his bed . . . .

A a a a a a a r r r r r g g g g g h h h h h h h h h ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Good trick, that!

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Eventually I left school. I remember those days with fondness. They were mostly good; I learnt a lot, made a number of good friends, was taught by a number of excellent staff, not only the ones mentioned already but also Mr Davies, who taught German wonderfully well - I really enjoyed it and still do - and Walter Strachan, who taught French and introduced us to Henry Moore and W.B. Yeats and who ran a poetry competition and who opened our eyes and minds to so much. And the facilities were wonderful. It was a great education and paved the way for what came later. The only thing missing was girls! But freedom beckoned and I was ready to go after being there eight years. In any case, Cambridge University, the height of excellence, beckoned and I was keen to respond.

Being up at Cambridge University was wonderful: away from not only parents but also house-masters! I know I had been a boarder for the last eight years and so largely beyond my parents’ direct control, but they had had superb deputies in the staff of Grimwade House and of School House ‘B’ and these had kept an ever-watchful eye over me during my apprenticeship. It was a strict regime, not exactly the ‘prison’ that many boys claimed, but nevertheless a regime with a strict code of conduct, enforced rules and enforced discipline. At Cambridge, in contrast, there was a great amount of freedom and I relished it.

My time there was not without problems. In the second year, in particular, I suffered some degree of mental anguish which eventually led to counselling and the prescription of anti-depressants. But in general I thrived.

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