Another visit to long lost E school on Sunday, this time to attend the presentation of a farewell gift to SH, excellent headmaster, whom I met in the improbable venue of Rothschild’s Bank. Neither F nor T wished to come with me. Weak as I was, this was something of a physical challenge though I do not find driving difficult.
Because of the depth and rootedness of the memories, their restoration is always somewhat emotional, even sad. I walked by the upper pond, not feeling up to the walk to the lower one, admired the blossoms and lotus pads and longed to sit down. Rounding a corner, there appeared miraculously a bench with a brass plaque to a former bursar. I sent to F a photo view of the main building from this vantage point by SMS.
But I was not alone. On the far side of the pond, making a circuit in the opposite direction to mine, came a figure whom I greeted as he drew close. We made small talk about the reconstruction of the hut nearby, but he wanted to talk more. It turned out he was Brigadier D, former chair of governors and currently president of the Association, the old boys club. His manners were exquisite and his polished black shoes shone. He had left E in the year in which I was born; it turned out that I was only the seventh oldest old boy present that day. He wanted to know,
"And what did you go on to make of your life?"
His own son had gone into the army and was currently in Iraq, from where he reported cautious progress. The brigadier had driven down from the Highlands of Scotland, where he farmed, the economic uncertainty being mitigated to some extent by his army pension. He wakes up in the morning, he said, and looks out down the valley of heather and forest and feels for what it must be like on the M25.
S had introduced me to a 12-year-old boy called Tom, who had alleged interests in history and politics, though we did not get very far with these. Nevertheless the second and third time we ran across each other, his eyes shone with affection.
At four there was tea on the terrace, but I sat gratefully on a stone promontory. A lady gave me to select from a tray of sandwiches and then offered to bring me a cup of tea. I realised how frail and elderly I must appear. “Certainly not,” I refused gratefully and procured a cup for myself.
The culmination of the proceedings was a simple outdoor service. The choir sang an anthem and the Bishop of P gave a short colloquial sermon. His name was familiar but he must have arrived at E the term after I left. Perhaps he had an older brother. There were many microphones and an electronic keyboard, but how little has changed really. Everyone I spoke to was really pleased with the school and kept saying how lucky the boys were to be there.
How lucky, indeed. And how lucky I had been, amidst my family turmoil, with question marks hovering continually over the payment of my school fees, to be one of the precious darlings. I said to a mother sitting next to me that “everything important happened here”. When she was surprised by this, I explained that I meant the foundations upon which all later learning must build.
The open air Christianity was not too embarrassing. Some of the boys looked a bit glazed, as is usual. The sermon was short and personal, and not hearty. I could not believe that all the parents were free from the sort of jaded scepticism which is the norm. But how wonderful that the heart still beats in the centre of the body and that all the bifurcations, which now include science and computing, all emanate from this constant inspiration.
From a notebook entry for 3rd July 2008