Foxhole Reminiscences - Charles ‘Baz’ Bazalgette - April 1999
I have been threatening to write down my Dartington reminiscences for years. Somehow I missed David Gribble’s trawl for contributors to ‘That’s All, Folks’, and even its supplement. In any case, this is miles longer than his regulation length so it couldn’t have be published there. The quandary remains therefore how to publish it, or whether to bother at all. I am doing so on the web, by the good offices of Nick Price, because I think, or at least hope, that enough people who were my contemporaries, or who attended Foxhole at any time, will be reminded of these or similar memories and will therefore enjoy reading this. I have been quite candid but it has never been my intention to offend. If anyone thinks I have been unjust, unfair or inaccurate I would like to know and to have the opportunity to put things right.
|I would love to hear from anybody with whom I was at Foxhole, or indeed anyone else who would like to communicate with me. I am now living in Alberta, Canada and can be contacted by email via email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org or at PO Box 566, Athabasca AB, Canada T9S 2A5, if snail mail is your medium.|
Having spent five years at a beastly prep school, appropriately named "Wallop", where I was caned unnecessarily often by a headmaster who obviously didn't mind doing it, I was supposed to get a scholarship to Lancing, that boys public school in Sussex, originally founded for the sons of Anglican ministers, which was where my father and grandfather were educated. My father later confided to me that, as a tall hairy Canadian surrounded by snotty blond little English boys, he had an absolutely awful time there, withdrew almost completely into himself and only had a few friends, who were as ‘foreign’ as he was. Funny he should wish me to share this enjoyment in my turn. However, his chosen career as a horticulturist was helpful to me in two ways. Firstly, as we had no money I could only go to Lancing if I got a scholarship, which I managed to fail convincingly enough not to be seen to have taken a dive. Secondly, my father had spent part of his horticultural training at the Dartington Hall gardens, which seemed to qualify me for 'Elmgrant' as the son of a former employee. So I escaped the awesome spectre of public school and came to the relative paradise of Foxhole.
As a thirteen-year-old, coming for an interview, I made the journey alone by train from Woking to Totnes, where I was met by the splendid Dick Kitto, just about enclosed by what to me seemed a fairly cranky little old car, but which was probably a valuable antique. I was bowled over by the friendliness and informality of Dick and of everyone I met, though somewhat shocked by their lack of reserve, and remember wondering if this was in fact a school rather than a sort of extended family. I met Hu and Lois who asked me what seemed harmless questions which presumably established for them my psychological profile and was then handed over to Isabel Cabot who gave me a room for the night in Blue and Green. I confess I was too overcome by everything and in extreme shyness retreated to my room as early as possible with a book lent to me by Isabel, which I am sorry to say I never returned. It was "Sweet Danger" and it started me off on Margery Allingham. Huddled in my little bed after lights out I periodically heard irreverent falsetto chants of "Michael Ba-a-ailey, Michael Ba-a-ailey" whenever Michael was heard on patrol in the corridor. Little did I know then that this was the man who would later be my tutor and fail absolutely to instill in me anything but a revulsion for all things mathematical, though I grant that this was not totally his fault. If he reads this he may be amused to know that I have just completed thirty years in the computer industry, and I've never met anyone else in this game who, like me, doesn't even have 'O' level maths or who can proudly point to 'O' level biology as the nearest thing they have to a scientific qualification.
When I arrived at Foxhole at the beginning of my first term there was no room in the main building [of course, White House hadn't been built yet] so about a dozen or so of us were installed at Curry’s old home High Cross, where we stayed for I think two terms under the housemothership of the wonderful though fiery Marina Rodriguez, of whom I later became very fond when I moved to Red and Yellow. I well remember her strident cries of "Up Time!!!", followed shortly afterwards by an even more insistent "BRRREAKFAST TIME!!!" which would shatter our slumbers. I shared a room with David Purley which was just across a small verandah from Marina's, so I think we got it the loudest. David had many qualities but sensitivity (at least at that time) was not one of them, whilst I was quite the opposite of him in every way imaginable. However, we got on well enough and both I believe derived some benefit from our friendship. He had a record player which he attached to a timeswitch so even before the bellows of Marina it would suddenly start "The Wanderer" or "Runaway" or "Sixteen Tons" at full volume - a sure recipe for pre-breakfast paranoia. I hated pop music.
People I remember (I think) being at High Cross at that time were the Schneier sisters, Heather Crompton, the Norwegians Turid Benetter, Trudi Dahl, Esther Olsen and Mattie Christiansen, Joe Hackett and Paddy Neustatter, possibly Chris Floyd and later the dear departed Jenny Davies, who came there for peace and quiet (not achieved) while studying for 'A' levels. Then there was the indulgent Nurse Smith, who used to cover for Marina's night off. On these nights there was sure to be bedlam upstairs which she seemed deaf to, even though several of us would usually shin noisily down the drainpipe past the room where she was sitting on our way off on some nocturnal foray.
David and I were given the euphemistically named "Gardens" for Useful Work, and indeed on the first day we were lulled by such horticultural tasks as tying up chrysanthemums. My father having spent a life in horticulture, although the interest had not yet permeated to me, I nevertheless thought this a Good Number. The true horror of our situation became apparent on day two when the redoubtable Les Markham introduced us to Mike, who looked after the chicken house and the piggery. There was a moment of amusement on the first day when a chap brought a trailerload of manure and dumped it on Les's cabbage patch. Les gently chided the fellow in his jocular Yorkshire manner: "Wot the BLOODY 'ELL, dumping that BLOODY SHIT on me BLOODY CABBAGES….!!". To return to the henhouse, our job was first to scrape all the droppings off perches and ledges and do general chicken-housekeeping. This seemed not too bad, though Mike was a sadist who liked to make sure as much muck as possible was thrown over us and even forced down our necks. Then we were permitted to muck out a couple of pigpens, with further opportunities for getting shied with poopie kaka. There was never time to shower or change clothes after these tasks as they often took longer than the allotted time, so we ponged mightily and, rather like the father-stabbers and mother-rapers in "Alice's Restaurant", people "all moved away from us down the bench" and conspicuously avoided sitting near us in class. It can't just have been Dave's ebullient personality. In typical bravado style, Dave volunteered us for "Gardens" for the following term too, although it was recognised that new recruits ought not to have to endure more than one term of shit-shovelling. That next term I twigged, because David appeared with a nifty new blue boiler suit, which however caused him to be pelted even more than before.
I managed finally to persuade the Useful Work Boss, the in-fact-sympathetic-beneath-the-managerial-exterior Jenny Davies, that something less malodorous would be more congenial, especially for my classmates, so I was moved to the boiler room, shovelling coke to fuel Ernie's boilers. At least I was able to do this alone and at my own pace. When this palled I told Jenny I had had two inguinal hernias in the previous few years (true) and therefore shouldn’t be lifting (false), so I think I next moved to the library, which was more like it, especially as my co-workers were all girls. I recall spending a non-achieving period doing "bees", where the hive was never quite prepared or the necessary swarm never found, so that I never in fact encountered any of these furry industrious creatures in a professional capacity. There was a stint with Bob Penn in forestry. At some point I spent a couple of terms working for Dick Kitto in the school office. I also spent some time working for Tim Moore in the music rooms, which included regluing the neck on to Emily, the double bass, following an attack of the falling sickness. Now and again there was a little gift, left by a stray cat with musical tendencies, to clear up, but after "Gardens" I was of course well qualified for that. My métier in my final year, much reviled by Dager and Tait as a sinecure, involved hoovering the common room, which, as long as I missed breakfast, which I usually did, I could complete in about ten minutes just before nine o'clock.
My first tutor was John Dunbar, a kind and pleasant man to whom I could not particularly relate. Having said that there were few adults I did relate to. My father presented me with all of my school reports when I was twenty-one, including a large wad of correspondence, expressing concern about my lack of application, my evasiveness, my anti-social behaviour and my general unfathomability. I was certainly very wary of adults and felt threatened when they tried to question me about my well-suppressed innermost feelings, neuroses and thoughts. John was forgiving but disappointed when I unkindly and illegally borrowed his Dormobile in the middle of the night, breaking the gear selector, so I had to drive it round the estate in first gear. My partner-in-crime Roger Collingbourne and I spent many hours raking out weeds from between the courtyard paving-stones in penance for that and other misdemeanours. These took place during what I will term my Difficult Period.
Most of the problems which triggered my antisocial behaviour resulted from being deserted by my mother at the age of four, but I had so successfully suppressed all the traumatic effects of this that although I was an outwardly cheerful and bright child I was in fact completely lacking in self-esteem, direction or assertiveness and suffered bouts of depression. All of this meant I found it almost impossible to concentrate or take much interest in work, or in planning my future. It is unfortunate that almost nobody on the staff was able to understand how to approach a child who found it impossible to communicate on a personal level with adults, or that the Childs, being psychologists, were not able to help me more. That is not a criticism of them - I probably didn't appear as disturbed as some of the kids there who did get some form of professional help. Many years afterward I sought therapy myself and it helped me to exorcise these neuroses and banish them forever - entirely transforming myself and my life.
Having touched on 'crime' I had better come clean and get that subject over with. Apart from the van incident and being rather farcically caught trying to pinch five bob from Magda's pocket money box I don't recall doing anything actually illegal, though I suppose the manufacture of explosives is not the pursuit of your average law-abiding citizen. Let's start with explosives, now that I've mentioned it. There was a craze for explosions, in which I enthusiastically joined, so that after a time any bang heard round the school was followed by a general accusing shout of "Bazalgette!". [I never understood why, but in my previous school, where surnames were the norm, I was known to most people as ‘Charlie’, where as on arriving at Foxhole, where the opposite should have been the case I was always addressed as ‘Bazalgette’ or ‘Baz’]. The explosions mania affected only the male population, and not only the more mischievous of us - many of our finest scientific brains (not of course including mine) were brought to bear on the problems of rocketry and ballistics. The experiments were tolerated by Hu and the science staff as rocketry was considered good practical science, and they even drew up safety rules. The fatal flaw in all this was that the only propellant easily available was a mixture of sodium chlorate weedkiller and sugar. This compound does not burn cleanly, and quickly clogs the tube of any rocket it is used to propel, resulting in a vast explosion. The rocket scientists never solved this problem or even achieved lift-off, although the very inventive David Macdonald (affectionally known as 'Cyril' for some reason) told me that a lightweight rocket he had designed whizzed across the gym roof before the inevitable explosion. However, to me and various like-minded pioneers rocketry was but a filmy mask concealing our main purpose, which was of course the manufacture of bombs. It was a miracle that nobody was injured during this period. From sodium chlorate I graduated to more interesting explosives and it is only thanks to the fact that I did not adhere too closely to the correct manufacturing processes that I did not vaporise myself and others while vainly trying to make TNT, nitroglycerine and fulminate of mercury. These all required ingredients which the chemists and hardware stores of Totnes were unable or unwilling to provide us with, although I did manage to convince a sceptical pharmacist that I needed saltpetre for curing ham and potassium permanganate as a mouthwash. No, the chemistry lab was the obvious target, so I carried out several evening raids, shopping list in hand, to gather the chemicals I needed. Stephen Chitty accompanied me on one such outing, which involved climbing out of a window, standing on the sill of the laboratory window, which was adjacent but at right angles to it, and slipping the sash lock with a knife in the normal way. On our return route with the spoils, Steve pushed the lower sash back down, and as it passed the lower bar of the upper sash his fingertips were pushed up by it, leaving him with no grip. He fell two floors on to some pipes beside the boiler room but fortunately only sprained his ankle. Another time Johnny Feld and I were in his room and having mixed the hydrochloric and nitric acids in a large test tube and added the glycerol, which as everyone knows is supposed to produce nitroglycerine, we were gently agitating the mixture when it bubbled over on to Johnny's table. At this precise moment Lois walked in without knocking and said: "Oh, I hope that's nothing dangerous!" We of course assured her that it was quite harmless. After that I believe I decided that such experiments were too much of a risk, though whether from Lois or incendiary death I don’t recall. They therefore fizzled out.
Except, that is, for one last major achievement - the manufacture of The Great Cannon. Firearms were frowned upon at Foxhole, so Hu's attitude to artillery was unlikely to be as encouraging as it was to rocketry. There had been little work done in this field apart from banger guns - a piece of piping would have a lighted banger dropped down it followed quickly by the intended projectile. It was risky actually to hold it, and I remember Charlie Brown telling me that someone had a barrel split and wrap itself harmlessly round their finger. My associate in this venture was Charles Stuart-Robinson, with Tom Woolner as scientific advisor. (I first came across Tom at my very first school - Knowles Hill in Newton Abbot, where I remembered him as a tubby little boy of five with a shock of wavy red hair. He had by now become a giant with a shock of wavy red hair). We found a length of thick seamless brass or bronze tubing of 27.5mm diameter in the metalwork shop. This we plugged and encased in a very large block of wood, covered with steel sheeting. We took it into the woods, rammed in a small charge of sodium chlorate, wadding and a chunk of thick steel rod and aimed it at a tree. We were gratified to see a large smoking splintery hole appear in the trunk, after a deafening report and a mighty recoil. Tom extrapolated the muzzle velocity from these test results, and estimated the probable range as several miles. To test this theory we decided to shell the school farm. The sloping field below the farm was selected as the launch site, visible from the new art block. Following the shattering discharge which must have awoken almost everybody in class a really satisfying pall of smoke drifted across the field, just like a scene from "Waterloo". The farm, which we had checked to be unoccupied at the time, sustained no gaping holes, so we had to assume our projectile had passed right over it and embedded itself in the hill behind.
I think that concludes this rather lengthy section on explosives, except to note the other impressive quality of sodium chlorate which was as a smoke pot. Dave Purley and I placed an enamel plate piled with the stuff on the gallery of the gym whilst the unfortunate Estate badminton team were playing and lit it. Within thirty seconds the entire building was filled with dense white smoke and play had to be suspended until it cleared. To carry on with this section on misdemeanours - maybe it would be better to intersperse some less hair-raising anecdotes - the other two main nefarious activities were Going Out At Night, and Raiding The Larder, and sometimes Both At Once. GOAN was something of an obsession amongst a hard core of the school population, whilst seemingly of no interest at all to the majority. Of course some people Stayed In At Night and got up to activities which were equally, or perhaps more, frowned upon. The more harmless version of GOAN would involve walks in the moonlight, and The Hall Gardens and especially the churchyard were favourite spots. I did this alone a few times as well as with others and it could be really creepy especially on a wild and windy dark night, without a torch of course. I unfortunately never saw the Grey Lady who was reputed to haunt the church tower. Midnight feasts, although more associated with school dorm novels, must have happened a lot, although we got plenty to eat during the day. A few of us took some straw bales into the woods, built a shelter and had a barbecue in the rain once. Midnight swims were popular, and I was brave enough to swim naked at night whilst too shy to do so in the early morning. However, houseparents were well tuned to the sounds of shouts and splashing so it had to be done silently.
We had a poker school which used to meet at night in the tower room above the entrance hall, which was just large enough to hold a table and twelve chairs and was also more conventionally used by us for X Group English classes with June Ottaway. It was important to dress for the occasion - smoking jackets and white cloth caps were preferred but some of us had to improvise. Peter Adler looked cool in dark glasses (I at least had one of those green celluloid eyeshades) but he soon discovered that his temporary losses were due to the ease at which others could see his hand reflected in his shades, so they had to go. The other players were usually Dion Alexander [he and Peter called each other "Fiend" while Dion and I were mutually "George"], Richard Oliver and Charlie Brown. The house rules included a ‘no shuffle’ clause which suited Peter and Dion who could count and remember cards and thus knew what and when to draw. Others like me, who couldn’t, won less than they did. I did pick up some of the steel nerves needed to bluff quiet well though. These sessions quite often went on all night unless punctuated by visits from Tim Moore or Roger Tilbury. The latter used to like to creep about at night with a torch, trying to catch people out, and I in turn used to stalk him, several times catching him in the beam of a very powerful signalling lamp I had borrowed from Peter Clarke. He never seemed to find this game as amusing as I did.
Another nighttime activity requiring a little more daring was Scaling The Roof. In its more dangerous form this involved circumnavigating the courtyard buildings along the roof ridges. Being naturally cautious and rather scared of heights I used to 'walk' myself round in an astride posture, though Purley, being entirely fearless, used to walk along the ridges as if out for a stroll. Scrambling round the chimneystacks was equally difficult for everyone though. A few of the angling fraternity, about which more later, used to go fishing, or more usually poaching in the Bidwell, under cover of darkness, one or more of us usually managing to fall, or be pushed, into the water. If you carefully shone a powerful torch into the shallow water it might pinpoint a dozing trout, which might stay still long enough to be gaffed or speared. The night was usually a time to carry out practical jokes, such as carrying cars into the buildings or hanging the school skeleton in the library, for the amazement of all, and the annoyance of some, in the morning. The Austin Seven was still a popular motor car amongst the staff and some of the pupils. It was light enough to be carried by a determined party of footballers. In attempted emulation of a previous feat when Anne Connell's car had been carried up the main stairs and on to the gallery of the dining room (later the common room and now sadly all roofed in), a group of us decided to carry the Austin 7, belonging to Keith the biology teacher, into the courtyard, and to install George, the hapless school skeleton (who I suspect had more such outings than his dignity required) in the driving seat, embellished with a cheery notice saying something like "Keep Death (or maybe Keith) Off The Road". This seemed like a funny idea to us anyway. As this was a rather public place and the chances of detection seemed foolishly high we agreed solemnly beforehand, all for one and one for all, that nobody would run if we were seen and we'd all stay and brass it out. We had achieved nearly all of out objective, and Stephen Forrester was just lifting George into the driving seat when his legs fell off (George's I mean, Forry was fine). Except that at that moment Tim Moore, whose room was above the main entrance and who had obviously heard everything, was spotted by all of us except Forry, coming out of a doorway. We all of course scarpered, leaving Forry holding the baby as it were. Tim ambled up to the car and sociably said, as only Tim can: "Good Heavens, Stephen, what ARE you doing?" The rest of us were too far off to hear his answer, but I think we all reappeared and rather sheepishly carried the car back to its parking spot, returning the grinning George to his lonely cupboard. Another escapade with our bony friend was conceived by Stephen Chitty and myself. We decided to hang him from the long ceiling light fitting in the new library; accordingly we designed a sort of inverted coat hanger to suspend him from and could then, standing at one end of the gallery, slide him along the rails out of reach with a broom. I was on Library useful work at the time so could see at first hand Mac's reaction to this outrage. He stalked out into the courtyard and bellowed: "KEITH!" Keith and a few biological helpers rescued George by placing a ladder across the gallery and unsteadily crawling out along it. I didn't feel like explaining the easier method we had used. Another such practical joke which I was asked to help with was turning all of the library books back to front. Mac was not pleased, and closed the library for the following day, as he could not know what order the books now were. We turned them back again the night after. Our method had been to turn them over, half a shelf at a time, so they were quick and easy to turn back without disturbing the order.
One night escapade which was a bit different was when Peter Hamshere suggested a drive round Dartmoor. His father Jack had a lovely old Jaguar, but unfortunately it had been condemned because of a crack in the chassis. Pete wound it silently out of his father’s garage with the starting handle - a favourite method then of moving cars without help - and drove it to the bottom of the school drive, where I met him. I still recall the sight of that car gleaming in the moonlight. We went for the spin and then he returned the car to the garage in the same way. It’s hard to imagine he was not heard.
I’m getting rather bored with describing these nighttime activities, and suspect the reader is too. It’s a sure thing that I will return to the subject later. It also makes it look as if this was my main priority, but in fact it was just one of the forms of spice added to a time which was for me full of interesting activity, although most of this could not be described as academic. When I first arrived at Foxhole at the age of thirteen I had had a good classical education already, and had reached Common Entrance standard. I was best at Latin, which impressed Lois so much that I was entered for ‘O’ Level and passed it in my first term - this was not with ‘set books’ but purely with the ‘unseens’ and translations version of the exam. I immediately found myself in Lois’s X Group Latin class, with some of those Older Girls, who probably found me insufferable. They included Jenny Davies, Jane Murfitt and Anna Wilson. Apart from Latin, though, I hardly shone. French was with John Harries at first, and then with Albert Horel [aka Hervé LeHelloco]. I was a real trial to him because I absolutely refused to read the set books [this peculiar form of rebellion or whatever stunted my progress in Latin, German and English as well - it’s a miracle that I ever passed any exams but not surprising when I didn’t]. I regret very much not working at French because apart from affecting my exam results it must have been so frustrating for Albert so see so little reward for his efforts - in fact I liked him a lot and he deserved better treatment from me. In my first year I did almost all subjects - French with John, History with Ted, English with Malley, German with Magda, Maths with Mike Bailey, Science with Jack Hamshere and Biology with the impressive but fearsome Margherita . I think John Dunbar took Geography but don’t remember too well as I think I rarely went. The novelty of cutting classes was one which I had to get out of my system so I revelled in the experience for a time. It was sheer bad planning to have built the school so close to one of the best fishing rivers in the West Country, so fishing often prevailed over classes. I seem to recall it was quite early on that I was permitted to give up a considerable number of subjects, such as Physics, Chemistry, German, Geography, History and even English, although I picked up English and German again later. It was my attitude which was wrong, not my ability to learn, but anyway that was how things turned out. For my Latin ‘A’ Level set book studies I was turned over to Mr Jones, who was brought up from the Grammar School. He was an old-style latin teacher, much like the one I had at prep school, but it was a slog as he could only schedule his visits on games afternoons, when I would much rather have been playing cricket. We even sometimes sat outside on sunny days and I found it torture wrestling with Virgil and Tacitus while my mates were at play. I just scraped through the exam, which I obviously wouldn’t have without Mr Jones.
Once I had resumed German, as I needed another ‘A" Level, I found myself the only one studying it so was individually taught by Gribble. We had classes in his room and they were fun, although as he said in a report: "We never got quite as much done as we should have". He used to prepare sentences for me to translate, such as "When one is ill one has green cheeks" or "The Emperor must not feed his army with farmers’ feet" or "When the dog bites the cat the cat shrieks - that’s life". We had jokes about ‘fleissige biene’ - industrious bees. I learnt enough to pass ‘O’ level, at the second stab. After that it was ‘A’ Level work with Roger Tilbury, and more unintelligible set books like ‘Der Schimmelreiter’ - full of the dialect of Schleswig-Holstein, "Die Leiden des jungen Werthers" - quite the drippiest thing I ever read in any language, "Tonio Kröger" - that was OK but finally "König Ottokars Glück und Ende" - I knew I was doomed.
For French ‘A’ Level we had a small group with Albert consisting of myself, Peter Adler and the vivacious Diana Nicholls. Anyone who knew us would realise that poor Albert had a handful. I particular recall Albert mildly asking Di to translate a passage from ‘Pauvre Bitôs’ and her retorting theatrically: "Are You Mad?" I myself again found the set books unintelligible, so just scraped through that one too.
In English ‘A’ Level, with June Ottaway, classes were great fun, and I even read one or two of the set books, but not enough to prevent me from failing the exam. We did King Lear, which was much harder than the previous year’s Hamlet, but of course I’d dropped English for that year. I knew Hamlet almost by heart, because it was the school play that year. I played two roles, an unnecessarily mincing Guildenstern to Dion’s equally camp Rosencrantz, and, by way of contrast, after Gilly’s dispatch, a very Devonian, shaggy and atonal First Gravedigger, with Paddy Neustatter as my assisitant. I overacted and scene-stole shamelessly and had a wonderful time. Many people thought the production a very moving one, and there were certainly some excellent performances, with Penny Child as Gertrude, Roger Tilbury as the King, Peter Adler as Hamlet and Simon Davies as Polonius. One of many funny moments was at the moment of Hamlet’s death, when Piers Rogers as Horatio, instead of saying: "Now Cracks a Noble Heart", said ‘craps’. Most of the audience probably didn’t hear this clearly, but the corpse could be seen quivering with laughter.
Now that we have strayed into into the theatre we had better stay there for a while. The first production after I arrived was ‘Patience’, which I was not at all involved in and which probably benefited as a result. Fiona Nicholls played Patience, and I very much admired her and her voice. I recall one shattering moment for her when she thought she had been called for an encore for her best song and hadn’t, so she reappeared on the stage, was unnoticed by Tim, and had to walk off again because the next number was starting. (Flo sang jazz too, and later I very much enjoyed being her piano accompanist.) Joanna Parfitt brilliantly played Jane, substituting a double bass for what was I think meant to be a ’cello in her solo scene. The two poets were splendidly played by Constantin de Goguel de Toulouse-Lautrec [for obvious reasons always known as Gog] and Peter Adler. Gog of course went on to make acting his career. ‘The Skin of Our Teeth’ was I think the next play, but I don’t recall understanding it that well. After the arrival of David Gribble, whose burden it was for a while to try to teach me German, the Famous Musicals could be written, with Tim penning the music and Gribble the story. I still remember some of the wonderful songs with pleasure. The great thing about them was that they were designed so that there were roles for as many children as wished to take part. The first of these was ‘Crime and Blandishment’, a ‘cops-and-robbers’ which nevertheless had many jokey references to the previous ‘Patience’. I had started to play the trombone by then and found myself in the small orchestra for this production. The next year it was ‘Venus Unobserved’, which I thought was brilliant, especially the double-sided rocket ship designed by Mike Bailey and his production team. I played General Bazooka, in a uniform borrowed from an army camp near Newton Abbot by June Ottaway. We went there to be fitted and collect them and I wore mine on the car journey home, saluting everybody. Quite embarrassing to think of it now.
One production I recall was an odd piece with Sandy Matthews and Peter Adler as a White Hunter and his bearer [I think]. This was played in the round and in one scene Sandy gave Peter a cigarette, which incidentally he lit first at the wrong end. When the lights went out at the end of the scene several impecunious smokers made a mad dash for the stub, clashing with oaths in the darkness.
I wisely for the most part didn’t often get involved in the school orchestra or choir. The only concert I did play in, I was doubled up on the trombone with Nicky Marshall on horn. At one point Nicky missed a line in the score and I couldn’t read it anyway, but fortunately it was one of those free-form pieces and nobody except Tim noticed. In the choir I was a bass and sang with Pete and Dion. They were going through a serious Marx Brothers phase at the time [we had just shown ‘A Night at the Opera’ in the film club], so that one spiritual came out in Chico Marx style: "Good-a News-a, Chariot’s a-comin’". We managed to do some damage to ‘Haste thee, Nymph’ too.
Music which impressed me then, and still does: Hearing Sister Rosetta Tharpe booming round the courtyard - she played a mean guitar solo too. Pianists like Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Oscar Peterson, Errol Garner, Thelonius Monk. Leadbelly. Scott Joplin’s piano rolls. I used to listen to the Jazz Scene and Radio Luxembourg on an ancient, caseless, valve radio.
I thought 98% of the pop music at the time incredibly wet and am only now slightly more tolerant. Nostalgia is a terrible thing.
My main musical passion as far as playing was concerned was also jazz. The institution of the ‘Session’ was a very long-standing one it seems. There were two types, ‘live’ and ‘dead’, the latter being accompanied by records, which in my earlier years were mostly Duke Ellington. Later, when the Twist came along, pop in dead sessions replaced jazz, to my regret. The other good thing about the earlier times was that the main dance was the ‘Foxhole Creep’, a variation on the Boston Two-Step which itself was infinitely variable. The best thing about it was that you could actually have physical contact with your partner. Live sessions depended on the band of the day deciding that they wanted to play that night. The main band was a brilliant one, consisting usually of the late Lionel Grigson on trumpet, Tim on piano, Roy Godson on bass and Sandy Matthews on drums. Lionel played in a Clifford Brown style I suppose, and the group generally had a bebop sound. The second-string band was just starting, later to take over when the main group members left. I was irresistibly drawn to it. On my arrival all I played was a banjolele, but I was no George Formby. With the encouragement of the multi-talented David MacDonald I started on the guitar and banjo, so we fleshed out the rhythm section of the junior band, which consisted of Bowen Crallan on trumpet, Peter Adler on clarinet and then tenor sax, Tim on piano, Brian Easterbrook and then Rich Oliver on bass and Norman Clarke on drums. I was teaching myself the piano at the same time, and soon started on the trombone too. When I first tried this I didn’t have the correct mouthpiece so used a trumpet one instead, which made an amazing sound though the harmonics were uncontrollable. I soon developed a blistery scab on one side of my upper lip so carried on playing on the other side. When another blister appeared on that side I just played in the middle. Pete Hamshere was a talented drummer who sometimes played with us, although his style was more suited to a big band - we thought drumming should be rather downbeat and restrained. Charlie Brown taught himself to play drums and played with us, as later did Norman’s brother Peter. Tony Seaton played some numbers with us on clarinet. Gribble played great bass and sang too. His amazing piano style was irresistible and I learnt a lot from him, playing duets and jamming. After Bowen left Pete Adler and I were the main soloists and I think we enjoyed playing together a lot. The best time I could think of on a Sunday was to start playing around after lunch in music room number seven, or to join someone already in residence [naturally I’d made my own key to the terrific Steinway baby grand in there]. We’d jam away and more players and hangers on would drift in, a bit like a slower version of that scene from ‘Hellzapoppin’’. Eventually it would sometimes develop into a fully-fledged live session, sometimes without Tim, who usually liked to be asked, but would occasionally turn up having heard the funny noises.
Tim was ahead of his time in his mode of dress, usually sporting shirts, ties and jackets in many bright colours. The rest of the nation started to catch up as the Sixties progressed. He had innumerable unlined silk jackets which looked very cool and comfortable. If the weather was cold he would arrive wearing up to three of these, peeling them off one by one as the room heated up. All these things, together with the cigars, the huge briar pipe in which he used to smoke the stubs, and his wonderful voice and sense of humour, must uniquely identify Tim in the memories of generations of Foxholers. He always said what he thought, particularly at choir rehearsals, where after a particularly miserable effort [never from the basses of course] he would exclaim in amazement: "But…that’s Terrible!" I was delighted to see when I saw him at the recent reunion that he is just the same, although, now in his seventies, he looks more prophetic than he used to.
Returning to the jazz group, after a pleasant reminiscence about Tim, who must have seen so many of them come and go; if a live session was to happen someone in the band had to have the idea and go and ask everyone else if they wanted to join in, or at least to make a quorum. Bowen seemed quite often to need persuasion, and Pete and I always knew how he felt by his response to: "Fancy a sesh tonight, Bo?". "Could do…" meant Maybe, "Could do, yes…" meant Yes and "Dunno, fuck…" meant No. The band was really on the stand, so to speak, for the end-of-term dances, where we had to provide the music. We usually thought up a fancy stage and costumes and I enjoyed organising the programme, which was useful experience when I found myself planning dances and other functions later in life. I loved these dances, especially the Christmas one, and although it meant I spent much more time on the bandstand than on the dancefloor I didn’t usually mind that too much.
The band occasionally played outside the school, usually at wildly unsuitable locations like village fetes, where Tim’s genteel big band arrangements were cheerfully ignored. In later times we got together with some guys from the Art School and had good gigs with them at Hall dances. Our crowning achievement was I believe when Nicky Marshall acted as impresario and booked us to appear at a Grand Variety Show at Galmpton, near Brixham. We should have known. We were billed as The Beats. We shared the bill with two not-so-Spanish dancers, a chap who sang ‘We’ll Gather Lilacs’, several hairy lads who danced to the Sugar Plum Fairy in tutus and rugby boots, one or two monologues and the Sunday School singing something unrecognisable. We ended both halves, and when we ripped into The Saints at the end I could see a poor old lady at the front cowering away with ears covered.
Of course, sessions, and to a lesser extent dances, were a very good place to start a relationship, especially if like me you weren’t any good at chatting up girls. It was easy and fairly harmless to gauge your mutual acceptability by dancing close and smoochy in a darkened room. I adored women and always will, and after a boys prep school and very little exposure to girls it was a very pleasant shock to find myself surrounded by them. For reasons which I have already described I was painfully shy and inhibited, and of course inexperienced and just plain scared of sex. Of course, the fear of pregnancy had been well drummed into me, so I thankfully accepted this as a good excuse for avoiding serious sexual encounters. That is not to say that I didn’t desire them, and I usually managed to start relationships of a sort, but they usually fizzled out pretty soon, because I was incapable of providing the emotional or sexual satisfaction which a partner expected. Emotionally I was still a child, and I had not the slightest idea how to behave in a relationship, or what to do or say or expect. The fear of rejection also kept me from trying much in the way of overtures. In other words I was as mixed up as many teenagers, but more than most. I had various love affairs, especially later, but mostly the girls I really fancied weren’t interested in me. I understand that there were cases when the shoe was on the other foot too. I think naming names is unwise. I had good friendships with girls though, and was more secure in relationships with them as people rather than being under the ubiquitous peer pressure to treat them just as sexual objects.
The games and sports we amused ourselves with were very varied. I wasn’t a footballer but enjoyed hockey. My speciality was the right wing, which needs a good centre half like Eric Boothby or Dion to be fed the ball. It’s much easier to pass to the left wing. On receiving the ball I would hare up almost to the corner flag and then, to avoid being tackled, belt the ball as quickly as possible knee-high to the back of the D. Of course, usually the forwards hadn’t managed to get themselves there in time so it ended up on the cricket square. Alternatively, my pass would injure whatever unlucky defender happened to be standing in the way. I once managed to get Jenny Bates on the ankle twice in one game. I think it was her first game too. She was sweet and forgave me. I tried defence once, but my clearances were regarded as more of a threat to life than those in the Highlands. (I have learnt some History since I left school).
Cricket was the team game I really liked best, although I wasn’t that good at it. I wasn’t too fond of fast bowling, probably since being hit on the nose at about the age of ten. I did like to hit the ball, though, so as long as the bowling was slow or medium and not too accurate I would belt it, defence not being in my repertoire. My favourite shot was the lofted on-drive, and I remember once being miffed after hitting a good one, and not seeing a fielder there, standing at the crease expecting a boundary, when Dion detached himself from a conversation in the pavilion and picked it up. My bowling was a bit erratic but my spinners and tweakers secured some good wickets. One moment of shame was when Chappie came out to the crease and my first delivery slipped somehow and turned unexpectedly into a daisy cutter which hit his middle stump. His look of pain and outrage I have never forgotten, and I hope that he is smiling now as he looks down from Heaven. I hope I can also be forgiven for saying that the bowlers I most liked facing were Tom Merrington, who pitched the ball just right for my one-foot-forward-and-drive style, and Dan Grove, who bowled a good off-break but at least once in each over would overpitch it and present me with a toothsome full toss. I least liked facing faster bowlers who pitched the ball up, though, like Dion, who was very accurate, and Pete Hamshere, whose stinging yorkers filled me with dread and gave me a few bruises before I was inevitably bowled. I sometimes was called to play in the school team, probably in times of ‘flu epidemics. The first time was at Newton Abbot Grammar School, where the pitch is on what seems like a thirty degree slope. I came in low down the batting order and faced a few balls at the lower end but because of the slope the all bounced way out of reach. Fortunately, Howard Markham was there too, so he soon struck the winner. It was probably my greatest performance. Another extraordinary match was at Teignmouth, where the pitch, on top of the cliff, although seeming to be grass was actually composed of slate chips. This meant that the ball would bounce in a completely unpredictable way. They also had a lethally fast bowler so I was pleased to get caught out before I could get injured. I was a quick fielder close in and liked the slips or silly point or short square leg. On the other hand I couldn’t throw for toffee so was not good in the outfield.
I played a lot of badminton, for which we were coached by Reg Todd, who despite his age would effortlessly cover the court without working up a sweat, while we rushed about after the shuttle. I partnered Pete Hamshere at doubles, he playing back and me at the front, which worked quite well. Reg met a tragic death, but was a charming man who loved fishing and encouraged me to tie my own trout flies. There were various games in the gym, such as football and hockey, and I seem to remember riding crash bikes and even a motor bike round it too. Then there was the Monkey Game, a variant of ‘he’ or ‘tag’ which involved setting up all of the gym equipment so that you could get all round the gym without touching the floor, which meant you were ‘out’. There were other outdoor games too, such as the craze for ‘tree riding’, which involved climbing as high as possible up a sapling and then throwing your weight sideways so that you ‘rode’ to the ground as the sapling bent over. We used to climb the quarry too. I slipped off a ledge once, about halfway up, and was hurtling down towards the sharp-looking rocks at the bottom when I managed to grab a small tree which saved me. We all made crash bikes with large rear sprockets and small front ones so they were very low geared. The parts were often cannibalised from other people’s bikes. We rode them through the woods, into the swimming pool, through the houses and up and down stairs. One day I was riding up the steep path beside the ‘other’ playing field without quite enough impetus so that I fell off backwards and landed on a sharp rock on my coccycx. I could hardly move for over a week. If it snowed we hurriedly built sledges and made skis. This time my sledge rolled and I got water-on-the-knee, which sounds like a market town in the Cotswolds, but causes your leg to look like a sausage. Otherwise, unlike many of my friends, I never hurt myself or broke any bones, and haven’t since then either.
When I was allowed to move into the main school from High Cross I went to Red and Yellow, and there I stayed. I had one of two downstairs rooms on each side which also had a glass door on to the courtyard. It also didn’t have a sink or built-in cupboards so it was about the shittiest room you could have. What made it worse was that people used it as a short cut, even when I was actually in residence. So I managed to get to what remained My Room for the rest of my time at Foxhole - the middle one of three facing out towards the woodland which ran along the back of Red and Yellow, with a view down over the ‘other’ playing field by the swimming pool, which is now all sadly a carpark. I remember that I had trouble waking up in the morning so bought a very loud tinplate alarm clock which I placed on the windowsill behind my head. I still slept through it although it woke my neighbours who would express their displeasure in various ways. These long-suffering neighbours, for most of the time, were Richard Oliver at the end and John Scarman on the other side. Opposite were Peter Adler, Stephen Chitty, Chris Floyd and later, I was recently reminded, Brian Lockett (aka Kipper). It was a congenial location. Marina was again my housemother, and it was an institution that some of us gathered genteelly in her room before bedtime for tea and biscuits. Tim usually put in an appearance too.
I became friends with John Scarman, who was something of a misfit at Dartington but in his own rather classy milieu socially adept. He was a keen naturalist who had a pet crow for a time, which he used to take for bike rides, perched on his handlebars. He also collected specimens of each of the twenty-odd British bumblebees and always had cases of spiders in his room, one of which, a large female garden spider, he encouraged to feed on his own blood. His parents had a house at Salcombe and a boat we used to fish from and they introduced me to golf, from which affliction I am now, after a long time, happily cured. We were dead keen, so back at school we played as well. There was a small patch of grass on the parapet outside our rooms which made an ideal tee. We would drive off from there, to land as far as we could get it into the playing field down below. The second shot was from there over the lane into the public playing field, and thence over the evergreens on to the school football pitch. The object was to get, in the fewest shots possible, to the cricket nets at the far end by the school entrance. I recall that Wilf was displeased to find the occasional divot had been chopped out of his beloved cricket square. The last time I saw John he had a rose nursery in Shropshire.
I have held off for a long time talking about our various misdemeanours, so I must talk about the escapades of The Lads. These comprised, at various times, Bowen Crallan, Norman Clarke, Richard Sharma, Federico (Freddie) Reyna Jr., Stephen Forrester and others whom I may have forgotten, but who formed, like me, part of a larger brotherhood of miscreants. I liked Freddie, although he left quite soon after I arrived. He was of course a gifted guitar and cuatro player like his father, and for him romance and music were inextricably linked. He took up the ‘cello apparently so he could share a class with the lovely Jessica. One night he suggested we serenaded the blonde bombshell Seyna Sonnichsen. At least he serenaded while I strummed along behind. I told her later and she said: "Well, why didn’t you wake me up so I could hear it?" Somehow the magic might have been lost I felt. The Lads held the monopoly of crime and were the acknowledged masters of Raiding The Larder. As this was the target with the maximum appeal and kudos it was well protected, and in fact rarely contained much that we would have wanted to eat. Nevertheless it had to be raided periodically.
The most daring larder raid that I remember being involved in would have shamed Raffles. The kitchen block was on the ground floor on the left of the main entrance, so access was to be gained through the window. This consisted of a large sash with nine panes, screwed and bolted, and with iron rods threaded through the glazing bars. They sawed through the central rod, scraped out the putty in the middle pane and removed the glass. Being small and light, I was then lifted bodily and threaded through the hole, to land somewhere inside in the dark. I don’t think there was anything to steal but that didn’t matter much. I squeezed out again and the window was re-puttied and the rod replaced. I did notice a trapdoor in the floor inside, which led to another scheme. We became keen on the service tunnels which ran beneath all of the house corridors and to various places at each wing of the building. They contained wiring, pipes and vacuum tubes, and were of a nice comfortable size for crawling. As we mapped out these tunnels we found one came out halfway up the wall of the metalwork shop. However, we had at least two other easier methods of getting in there. One evening I suggested to Dave Purley that he might like to try getting by tunnel to the larder and of course he was game. We brought along a big Swede, Ulv Quarzell (Susie’s brother). This was after the new dining room had been built and the servery remodelled. We prised up a trapdoor somewhere and went underground, heading in the direction of the kitchen. Dave went first, followed by Ulv and then me. After crawling for some time Dave found a solid-looking trapdoor in the roof, so hoping we had at least reached the kitchens he tried to push it up, but he couldn’t move it so he enlisted Ulv’s help and they both applied their considerable muscle. Suddenly it lifted, followed by an unbelievable crash and clatter. This trap was in the tiled servery and one wheel of the large stainless steel trolley containing all of the school cutlery had been standing on it. The one thought then was escape, particularly as somebody with a torch was already rattling the servery doors. Dave leapt out of the hole, closely followed by Ulf, who paused only to trip on the edge of the hole, and then me. We ran through the kitchens, flung up the nearest window and ran off into the night, giggling uncontrollably.
There were even trapdoors in one or two bedrooms, so it should have been possible to raid the larder completely unseen, by tunnel, but it all seemed a bit like hard work. In any case, the easy answer was to have a key and just walk in. The locks, at least in the older part of the school, were all Hobbs three or five lever mortise locks. A master key would open most of them, so there was a brisk trade in these, either stolen or manufactured. The larder had a special key, seen by a few only, made in the shape of a cross (perhaps to ward off the ungodly). Someone even got close enough to grab it for a moment and make a crafty impression in a slice of bread and butter. We tried to make one from this, and also by ‘smoking’, which involved blackening the key blank with a candle flame and trying to turn it - the levers were supposed to be outlined in the soot, showing you where to file it down. Surprisingly, nobody seemed to know how to actually ‘pick’ locks, although there used to be a locksmithing book in nearly every public library telling you how to do it. I suppose we never spent enough time in libraries. As far as keys were concerned, it was discovered that there was a cupboard in the upstairs office which contained all the keys in the school, so it was only a matter of time before we had a key made for this. We were even able to unlock the safe but found nothing interesting inside. After that, making keys lost most of its charm for us.
One funny incident, at least to me, was when I returned for a reunion to the school in about 1976. We were billeted at Aller Park. I heard a noise downstairs during the night and turned on the kitchen light to discover Bowen creeping suspiciously about. "Hi, Bo," I said, "Couldn’t resist raiding the larder again?" He gave me an old-fashioned look.
I did learn to force cupboard doors and drawers and return them to the locked state without marking them, so my time at Foxhole was not completely wasted. My favoured tool for this was a large London-pattern screwdriver which I would borrow from the woodwork shop. By this method I secretly retrieved my confiscated airpistol from Hu’s desk drawer.
A practical joke I’m not too proud of was actually I think Steve Collingbourne’s idea although he asked for my help to execute his plan so it was I who did the awful deed. It was a cheap trick and too simple to do. I was doing Useful Work in Dick’s office at the time, so had access to the typewriter. In fact, we opened the unlocked window of the office one evening so anyone could in fact have done it. We forged a note to the C Group, purporting to be from Hu and Lois, inviting them to the Postern for tea and a short tutorial that Sunday. We put this on the noticeboard on Friday evening and took it down on Sunday morning. The C group arrived en masse and completely unexpectedly and the poor Childs had to entertain them, which they did with fortitude. Later Dick assumed I was the perpetrator and I didn’t deny it, but as I never heard anything further I guess that he felt he’d better not rat on me to the Childs or I’d have been dogmeat.
I confess I also stuffed a potato up Hu’s exhaust pipe once. After some huffing with the starter it shot out with a loud bang.
Pete Adler and I decided to play the piano for twelve hours without a break. We chose a Sunday and started at 8 am, with the two pianos in Number Seven swung round so they were side by side. We had secured some sponsorship beforehand. Every half hour we changed pianos to relieve the tedium, but our hands never left the keyboards until 8 pm. The last hour was thrilling - the room was heaving with people and we played faster and faster until the time was up. The story got into the newspapers and a prospective parent called Lois and asked, "Is This The Sort Of Thing You Encourage?"
None of my sponsors coughed up.
I have just recalled the last run of the Ashburton Flyer. This engine, known as Bulliver, was in fact one of my earliest experiences since I had been born in Ashburton and we used to be taken to see it, and its driver, Mr Cartwright. There are many tales of this train, such as going back when someone had forgotten their sandwiches, and the one about the cat that lived in Ashburton but liked to visit Totnes every day, returning by the afternoon train of course. If it wasn’t sitting on the platform they would wait for it. Anyway it came to our notice at Foxhole that the service was to cease - probably another victim of the railway enthusiast’s favourite bogeyman, Dr Beeching. We arranged to be there but decided to go to a jumble sale in the village hall first. Here I purchased a .22 rat rifle for 3d, which seemed too good a bargain to miss. Of course, I had to take it with me on the trip, hiding it under my armpit with a mackintosh over the top. At our final destination, Lionel and the jazz group were playing, the flags were out and the newspapers were in attendance. David Purley, in typically modest style, had himself photographed swinging out from the side of the train, brandishing the rifle like a brigand, which must have caused Western Morning News readers some head-scratching when the picture was published.
It is not clear to me why I have waited so long to talk about fishing, which after all was one of my main interests, but now seems to be the time. We had a fairly small fraternity, mainly consisting of Charlie Brown (i.e., John Martin Baldwin Young), Roger Haworth and myself, with Gordon Stout and Eddy Pearce earlier on. We would get trout licences every year and catch the occasional salmon, or rather Haworth (R.H.) did. I certainly didn’t manage it and am fairly sure Charlie never did either although RH caught two that I remember. One I landed and despatched for him and it was a worn out old kelt which was inedible, but the other was a fine fresh-run one. The largest fish I got was a sea-trout which I caught by hand. Vanessa Martin mentions the incident in ‘That’s All Folks’. Mike Bagenal was taking his English, or more probably Humanities, class on a trip to Hembury (or was it Denbury?) Fort. At the bottom of the hill there was a little bridge over a stream. Charlie looked over the parapet and could see this tail, which belonged to a large hen seatrout, trapped in a little pool under the bridge. He shouted to me and I ran down and grabbed the ‘wrist’ of the tail and together we carried it up the bank and despatched it with Mike’s starting handle. I fried it in cutlets at Mike’s house (High Cross again) and it fed a lot of people.
We caught a lot of trout by rod and line but also tickled a lot in the Bidwell, which is in fact easier than most people think, although it needs a bit of practice. Any stream where there are good rocks and crevices for the fish to shelter under is good. You need to know the likely holes and then feel in each one gently. If you touch a fish and it doesn’t move immediately you just slide your hand up to the head, grasp it around the gills and lift it out of the water. Occasionally you get a nip from a trout or an eel. Once I learned to tie my own trout flies we all started doing it, and we produced many fanciful patterns, occasionally needing to raid the henhouse for materials. In fact I caught most of my trout on the ‘garden fly’, i.e., a worm. Worms weren’t allowed in our fishery before the first of June, so we had to use spinners or fly. Charlie and RH had a secret wormery behind the logshed, so I used to raid it until caught in the act by RH, with much invective. After that they grudgingly allowed me to share. I will always associate the smell of ‘ramsons’ (wild garlic) with fishing on the Dart. ‘Folly Island’ was full of it and you had to trudge through it to get to the water. Some kids chewed it too, if they had no need of friends. I once almost caught an otter there. I was spinning, and as I was pulling my home-made devon minnow out of the water it caught in some rushes. I jerked it free so that it flicked up in the air and this otter, which must have been following it in the water, leapt straight out of the water after it, right in front of me. There were usually salmon somewhere in the river, which would sometimes leap out of the water with a loud splash. Of course, if you were spinning you would immediately cast your bait hopefully in that direction. One day Charlie and I crept up unseen to where RH was fishing and were watching him for a while when we had the idea of throwing a large log into the middle of the river. This made an impressive splash and we saw RH spin round and cast towards it, before he spotted us there, laughing and gave our ears a blistering.
After a marathon fishing expedition on a Saturday or a Sunday we’d get back ravenous, usually just before the canteen closed. We’d pile up some of everything on our plates - this was known amongst the ‘brothers of the angle’ as ‘a heap’.
Of course Dartington would not be Dartington without the Cott Inn. In those days it didn’t seem to be a problem with the landlord if we went for a drink and I was never challenged. It was different if a staff member was there of course. The first time I went it was with The Lads, and we drank halves of cider. This was scrumpy of course and it sold for 8 1/2d for ‘rough’, 9 1/2d for ‘sweet’ and 9d for ‘half and half’. We had to finish each half in one gulp, accompanied by increasingly wild toasts. After nine of these we were as pissed as rats and staggered queasily back up Shinners Bridge hill to Foxhole, variously peeing and puking. Another evening I went for a few beers with Purley. It must have been just before Foundation Day because there was a large marquee in the playing field. We amused ourselves by running up the roof and repeatedly sliding down it, convulsed with giggles but burning our elbows more than somewhat. The Cott was occasionally the venue for more formal occasions, in that Tim sometimes felt like a good meal in the restaurant and would kindly ask one or more of us, usually jazz group members, to accompany him. These were great evenings and we enjoyed the best of food and wine, brandy and a cigar. From this I developed a taste for these things, and one term Charlie and I found ourselves on an earlier train than usual down to Totnes. We passed the journey very pleasantly over a good meal and a bottle of Mèdoc.
I wasn’t a big drinker but quite often used to go out with someone or other for a quiet pint at the Cott. And if you couldn’t use the Cott for any reason there was that convenient lane opposite which led straight to the Queens Arms, which nobody else went to, though I ran into Les Markham there one evening and we talked fishing. There was a piano in the lounge bar and I was tinkling away on it one night when the landlord came over and said: "Any evening you want to play in there, whatever you’re drinking we’ll keep it topped up". As I was always short of money this was OK with me so I went there and played at least once a week. However, one night I was playing there when a coachload of Darby and Joans turned up and flocked into the lounge bar. Once I got them into a playable key I could just about follow the old songs they were singing, and anyway I knew some of them. The fun started when a dispute arose about what they should sing next, so then there were two opposing factions, one at either end of the room, with me in the middle, trying to drown each other out with different songs. This was an accompanist’s nightmare but it didn’t seem to matter and everyone seemed to be having a great time. Then Martin, (of course nicknamed Paddy) a local Irish character, appeared and was asked to sing a song. He turned to me and said curtly: "County Down!" Actually I sort of knew it, but it still took me several choruses to get the chord sequence right. I was confidently starting another heartrending chorus when I noticed he had stopped singing. Still, I’d be ready for the next time.
Having got to this point in this long narrative I found I had managed to get down most of what I remembered and realised that nothing further was chafing to be excreted on to paper, if you’ll pardon the semi-unintentional lavatorial allusion. However, in the following weeks, as I expected, additional itches were to surface, and were scribbled on any available scraps of paper, often in the middle of the night. Now that I have stopped even these jottings and allowed a month to pass I have to assume that there are not too many more and that once they are added the work will be complete. However, a typical such list says such things as ‘The Golden Terror’, ‘Cyril and hypnosis’, ‘Goliath’, ‘Copper Dray’ and ‘sneering’. What the devil are they? Actually I do remember, but I can’t now incorporate these snippets into the main body without upsetting the flow so will append them in a fairly random way as I plough through the lists…
The Golden Terror was an all-in wrestler who used to come to the Totnes Fair with Mickey somebody-or-other’s boxing booth. We all loved going to the fair of course, trying our luck with the dodgy sideshows, the dodgems and nauseous rides like The Whip, and then going to the boxing booth. Mickey would gather a large barracking crowd outside his tent with his graft: "Nah, Gemmun, any Sport who can stay in the Ring wiv This Boy [indicating a useful looking black boxer] fer Two Rounds will win Five Pounds!" There would be several such bouts to start the session, once we’d all paid our two bob admission of course, but the Main Event was the arrival of the Golden Terror, a large paunchy man with curly orange hair everywhere and long sideburns. A Sport, we were told, had come forward and offered to fight him for Twenty-Five Pounds, or some other stupendous sum. The said Sport turned out [always] to be a seven stone weakling who would proceed to throw the Terror all over the ring, finally running off through the crowd as if lynching were imminent. Of course, he was a plant, and we would see him as we left, having a jovial chat with the benign and chuckling Terror behind the tent.
Cyril, as I have already mentioned, was David Macdonald, and there must have been no more enquiring and ingenious mind that David’s in the school at the time, which is what stimulated me to see what he was up to and to help him in some of his schemes. We shared a love of music of course, and almost started a trio, with David on guitar and me on piano. He had some good records too, such as those by Leadbelly and Josh White, and arcane boogie pianists, most of whom seemed to have some defect, like Cripple Clarence Lofton, Blind Lemon Jefferson etc. One of David’s experiments was in hypnosis, though my only involvement was as a subject. Vicky Frank was very susceptible and he could hypnotise her easily, especially after he had implanted a post-hypnotic suggestion. These experiments were very interesting and as far as I know had no ill-effects. He also read about such things as escapology, spiritualism and fakirs and went through a period of threading safety pins through his skin, a habit which I had NO wish to participate in. I could see the pit full of burning coals was next on the horizon. He knew lots about photography and I learnt much from him, including the use of the stroboscope and making sepia prints. When he left he spent an interim year working as a studio assistant for Clifford and Rosemary Ellis at the Bath Academy of Art at Corsham. I know he made a brilliant impression because the following year I went in his place and he was a hard act to follow. In fact I only lasted two out of three terms before I was politely asked to leave. My work there wasn’t bad but I obviously didn’t shine like David. It was also noted that I was spending too much time in the Women’s Hostel after closing time, which was Against the Rules, even if I was mostly just drinking coffee and arguing about religion with the assistant housekeeper, who was a blinkered and devout Catholic. To return to David, one of our end-of-term parties required fancy dress and he conceived the idea of going as Goliath. This meant making stilts with wellington boots nailed on the bottoms which he strapped to his legs and I helped him practice walking in them without falling over. Then all it needed was a long robe made from blankets and a beard made of horsehair from an old mattress, and he made an imposing seven-and-a-half-foot figure who walked off with the prize.
Tom Larsen was one of my favourite people, although I started on the wrong foot with him. On one occasion I was sitting in a loo cubicle in the gym when Dave Purley hauled himself up the side and looked over, disturbing my reverie. I thought I’d repay the compliment and decided to hoist myself up in the same way, when I thought Purley was in the cubicle. Instead I met the baleful gaze of Tom. He never said anything about it. I always went to Tom with sports injuries, such as a fingertip impacted by a cricket ball. Although I wasn’t much into gym myself, when he advertised judo classes I applied. There were seven girls and me in the class. I always had to fight with Tom of course. The girls lost interest over the next few weeks so for the rest of the term there was just Tom and me. The moment I entered the gym he would pounce upon me and force me backwards, saying menacingly: "I’m attacking you - what are you going to do?" so that I had to try to throw him although I was much too tentative and unaggressive to try very hard. Rather than judo as a sport he taught me self-defence, and some very dirty tricks, none of which I have ever had to use. I know that lightning reflex is still there, of course!
Copper Dray was the local constable and the only run-in I ever had with him was unwittingly to choose the road outside his house to light an unofficial bonfire because we had arrived after the official village one was but an ember. He only remonstrated with us though. He did make enquiries about who was shooting in the woods above the Textile Mill around the time we were doing our cannon experiments. Chiefly he was regarded as a worthy adversary by those who would ride their bikes to Totnes at night without lights, in that he had very long legs and could ride his copper’s bike like the wind. I’m not sure if he ever caught any of the miscreants, fear adding its own impetus to their legs.
Sneering? Dion Alexander and I could both sneer by curling up one side of the upper lip in a horrible manner. We would have contests, sneering in turn until one of us laughed. It was always me. Dion was much better at keeping a straight face which was why he usually beat me at poker.
There was a craze for trolleys, made from a crude framework and bicycle wheels, usually without tyres. Steve Chitty and I had one which we irreverently called Magda Bum’andle as it was made from a box with Magda Baumann’s name written on it. We would ride it down the school drive and negotiating the bend was always a challenge. Eventually it came to grief when we were both aboard and had to make a sharp turn on reaching the lane at the bottom of the drive, collapsing the wheels. The best trolley that I remember was a product of The Lads which had real tyres and cable brakes and two long planks across the front which made it resemble a bi-plane. Through these planks at each side was a bicycle fork and wheel, surmounted by half a handlebar. These cranks were joined by a rod which you could steer with. The front was so high that it was on the level going down even a steep hill, which was just as well because they took it up to the top of the hill by the entrance to the Hall Gardens and rode it all the way down to the Postern. They were very lucky not to meet anything.
Smoking was fairly common when I was at school and I did it as much as my scant resources allowed. I don’t remember any drugs at that time, except for a package covered with Arabic characters which Pete Adler said he had been given by some Egyptian. We thought it was grass so Rich Oliver and I smoked it, but with no effects whatever apart from a nasty cough. It was probably herbal tea.
The lady who used to do the language oral exams was called Mrs Rowley. She spoke French with a very English accent. Peter and I shared a joke about ‘Madame Rowley’ - whatever you said in an oral was greeted with a languid: "Ah, oui, Adler [or Bazalgette in my case] c’est très interessant, ça". She had a German version too, of course.
The need for alcohol prompted several DIY projects on my part. I tried to make potato wine at High Cross but added a cupful of what I thought was sugar, to find it was salt. With Brian Easterbrook I raided the kitchen and pinched all the available sugar to make another batch of potato wine. As a hotplate we used the little kiln which Gillermo, Margharita’s husband, used to use for firing the ceramic beads he made. Fortunately we forgot about it and the potatoes were completely dried and burnt - otherwise we would have added the sugar. As it was we were almost lynched when there was no sugar for peoples’ cereal at breakfast time but at least we were in a position to avert slaughter by returning it. I made about a thimbleful of awful ‘whisky’ one evening by borrowing a glass distillation tube, a retort and a length of rubber gas tubing from the lab and boiling up beer over a primus stove in my room. It wasn’t worth the effort.
One night I was standing by the school gate enjoying the eerie moonlit scene when a strange craft like a partly collapsed weather balloon passed hissing over the school buildings. It may have been a balloon but there was no wind so I don’t understand how it moved so quickly.
Parked outside the library one day we found a discarded bookcase which we decided to use as a boat in the swimming pool. Its qualities as a craft were limited in that when you got aboard it would fill with water and sink in about three minutes. It was therefore used for casting adrift whoever of the female persuasion we louts could capture. Eva Ernst was the first castaway, but managing to look both pathetic as well as gorgeous she was rescued before she sank too far. Jenny Davies was another victim but, after being set adrift showed her mettle by resourcefully stripping off her outer clothes and throwing them to the bank before going down with her ship. I guess nobody was going to rescue her while a striptease was going on.
I was at Foxhole during all of the extensive rebuilding projects such as the new [but initially leaky] dining room, the new library, the assembly hall and White House. This meant that we had plenty of mechanical toys to play with after our builders from Staverton had finished for the day. Dumper trucks were our favourites, and for a time there were even two thoughtfully left on site so we could have races in the woods. This was frowned upon by Ray Lance, who did his best to make sure that the builders locked away the starting handles. However our use of the dumper trucks continued unabated, so a puzzled Ray called me into his office to accuse my of having my own starting handle. This I strenuously and virtuously denied for about five minutes until Ray, exasperated, asked: "Well, if you haven’t got one how do you start the dumpers?"
"We use the one from the concrete mixer."
I contributed various stories to ‘Chanticleer’, the school magazine, writing Boy’s Own spoofs under the name of Wizard. Roland Miller took over the editorship when he arrived at Foxhole and I served on the editorial committee. We were a bit stuck for contributions for one issue so I suggested a boring story competition. We received several entries although I am ashamed to say that I mistook a story by Robert Lewis for one of them - sorry Robert!
Aldermaston Marches were the thing to attend in those days and I went on three of them, or rather two and one third. Dartington was always well represented and it was an opportunity to meet up again with ‘Old’ people after they had left, like Lionel, Crall and Nick Johnson. There was always music and singing. Sandy Matthews brought a snare-drum and played it almost constantly, leading to an alternative slogan - "Ban The Drum!". He played a solemn beat as the march passed, otherwise silently, up Whitehall and it was very stirring. One thing which could not be tolerated by us was the segregated, YHA-style accommodation in the schools along the route, so an advance party was always despatched to reserve a mixed room for our group.
The teashop at Shinners Bridge was an institution, and the place to indulge oneself if one could scratch up enough for a coffee and one of their amazing meringues. Peter Adler caused raised eyebrows by asking for marmalade, and there was much cheerful banter with Eileen, who used to call us [or rather Peter] ‘The Idle Rich’. I learned later that there were two pupils, who shall be nameless, who used to burgle the teashop, craftily removing receipts from the till to the value of the money they stole. Neither of them needed the money, by which you will deduce that neither of them was me.
One day I was sitting in Ann Grigson’s room with Roger Collingbourne and the idea emerged to disguise me as his Italian cousin. I stuffed a pair of pyjamas into the shoulders of my suit and we used Anna’s eye pencil to draw a moustache and long sideburns. During our tour round the courtyard making Italian noises several people surprisingly seemed to be taken in by this act although Lois said waspishly that I’d been looking too much like a little spiv lately - as I normally wore the habitual scruffy jeans and sweater I found it hard to fathom what she was getting at.
There are probably more old school friends than I know of who are now no longer with us. David Purley, of course. I followed his career with interest and was not in the least surprised when he became a racing driver, or that he flew a stunt plane. He was full of life and relished every moment, but the thrill of speed was like a drug to him. Even at school he managed to get permission to have a motor bike, so he bought a souped-up Triumph Tiger Cub. After he left he returned for a visit in a highly-tuned Anglia and we nearly bought it when he decided to overtake someone on that twisty bit outside Harris’ bacon factory. I tried halfheartedly to contact him a few times later but never quite did so. Maybe just as well - it might have been me in that stunt plane with him. I still wished I’d seen him again though. Shortly after we arrived at Foxhole, David got to know Anna Grigson and some of her friends and introduced me to them too. Anna’s côterie at that time consisted of Sally Downing, Miriam Adler and Anthony Belton, and they had a small area cordoned off in one of the attics where they had a red shaded table lamp and a record player, where they played Eartha Kitt records. We also told stories, read poetry and read ‘The Woman of Rome’ to each other and felt very dissolute. Anna was much admired of course, and had no shortage of suitors who were much more interesting romantically than me, although we became friends. Anthony was always into art and antiques, and I remember him buying things in local jumble sales which he sold to antique shops in Torquay. Years later I ran across his marvellous antique shop in Kensington and we renewed our acquaintance. As I was working not far away we had lunch a few times. I was saddened to arrive at his shop some time later and find it closed up, with a notice pasted on the window advertising a sale of his large art collection. In my conversations with him he seemed nostalgic about Foxhole and seemed to wish that he had married and had a family, but that was not to be for him. Also amongst the dear departed is my half-brother Justin Kimber, who was at Foxhole a little after me, with his sister Kate. At the age of nineteen he was in a car crash and he and his girlfriend, another Kate, were killed. They were returning from the Grand National. Justin was a skilful but careful driver. The witnesses were two blokes in Cortinas who just happened to know each other and the suspicion is that they were racing up a hill and happened to meet Jus but it could never be proved. They just said they saw him run off the road. His death was a heavy blow to us and particularly to my mother.
One of the problems many of us around my time have had to wrestle with is whether Foxhole had any future after Curry left. The Childs arrived shortly before I did and I entered a school which was mourning Curry’s departure and resentful of the new heads. The Childs were in a no-win situation although they did not endear themselves by trying to segregate the bedrooms and banning daytime nude bathing; these were symbols - they were charged, we understood, by the trustees with the task of making the school more acceptable to the outside world and making it pay its way more. The villains of the piece were said to be the trustees, and I was surprised to find at the last reunion how strong the feelings of resentment still were towards them. One of the trustees however, Michael Young, was much admired, and was instrumental in my getting a place at Foxhole. It is easy to see a battle between the educational idealists [who encompassed everything from the practical to the dottily liberal], and the hard-nosed bean-counters. In my opinion the school was so innovative and influential in the educational world that it should have been protected at almost any cost, and certainly should not have had to suffer the indignity of being hung as a maligned dog. Unfortunately in this world economics is king.
It was of enormous benefit to me to have gone to Foxhole, and though I was a headache and didn’t achieve anything like my potential I wasn’t ready for that until much later (if at all!). It didn’t stop me having a perfectly satisfactory career in the I.T. industry, and sharing a successful antiques business with my new wife. I am grateful that I was allowed to stay on as long as I did, despite my lack of academic achievement. I learned a great deal about people and about respect and love and friendship. The most important thing a child needs to learn is honour, and respect - for everyone and everything. As it happens I haven’t had children of my own and when I was younger didn’t feel mature enough to cope with them anyway. Now although I am starting my second marriage I think it’s too late in life to start a family but I certainly don’t regret that at all. So I don’t feel too qualified to talk about education from the parent or teacher’s viewpoint, except to say rather glibly that if it were possible, and it’s by definition impossible, for everyone to be able to go to a school like ours the world would be a much better place.
© Charles Bazalgette, 1999