MEMORIES FROM THOSE WHO ATTENDED FRIENDS' SCHOOL, SAFFRON WALDEN

Mulligawtawny

Memories are like mulligatawny soup in a cheap restaurant. It is best not to stir them.’
P G Wodehouse (not an OS!)

Anonymous: all my memories are embarrassing so I’m not sure that I want to prompt recall from anyone else.

Guess who?

‘Things that were hard to bear are sweet to remember.’
Seneca

Giles Norton: I have refused steadfastly to go back to FSSW; I hated so much about the school administration and the bastardization of Quaker ideals. Strange really how they managed to **** up such a great premise  and such a great environment.

Huw Kruger-Gray: “These were the happiest days of our lives”. Discuss. Oh, how that final word “discuss” on one of those aromatic old school exam papers used to fill me with dread. I far rather would try (usually vainly) to recall facts and figures, than actually to try to formulate and then to express any real opinions. Anyway, at Angus’ suggestion, I will try to now and, for what it is worth, here are my own thoughts:

It is my opinion that the nature of the school changed dramatically after the retirement and later sad death of Kenneth Nicholson. His replacement, who came to be our collective nemesis, complete with that “pink” visage, “squeaky” voice and “new, liberal” ideas about education, altered completely the nature of the school and none for the better, I consider now. I wonder what became of that tape which I recorded secretly of him berating some of us for skipping off in to town, to go to the “Squinting Cat” that day? Certainly, I departed (well, actually, was “asked to leave”) with long hair (which I have most of, still), a meagre collection of mediocre O-levels and little real hope for the future, as well as almost no social education. Fortunately, my somewhat limited academic abilities were recognised and re-kindled subsequently by a wonderful lecturer at a college, allowing me later to enter university and eventually leading to a successful(ish) career in the bio-medical sciences, for my sins.

So, what did I bring away with me from my years at FSSW, then? Well, most significantly, more emotional scars and personality disorders than I would care to measure. The incessant and ceaseless bullying to which I, as an easy, feeble, skinny and defenceless target, was subjected throughout my time at the school, reduced me to an insecure, introverted, neurotic, subsequently drug and alcohol-abusing, nervous wreck and it has been only relatively later in life that I truly have been able to over-come these obstacles, enabling me to begin to realise some of my potential. Indeed, I did not spend my pre-school formative years having to fight for my social survival on the violent city streets, but was raised in the relative tranquility of rural East Anglia, which left me ill-equipped to deal with those bullies who had trained in combat at the academy of the urban street corner. I never shall be able to forgive these animals for what they subjected me and other weaklings to, as well as the school authorities for doing so little to prevent all of this from taking place, despite repeated pleas from my parent(s) for them to act. For me and others, there was the additional stigma of being a “day brat” to deal with also, which did nothing to help matters. However, unlike Giles, I was not in a position, alas, to have my wounds soothed away in the delightful-sounding company of one of those several girls for whom I secretly nursed feelings of desire. Ah. Mind you, now…

Some other random memories: being kicked out of the “Railway Fiends” for being caught with cans of beer on a train by “Para” during a society trip to see a shunting yard. Riding my first motor-cycle (a BSA Bantam) around the school basket-ball court and later my second one (a Triumph Bonneville) secretly down from the school to the town Friends’ meeting house with no helmet and getting caught by the MOD [since that time, I have owned some thirty ‘bikes and currently have a new custom-built Harley-Davidson Softail and a vintage Norton Commando, as well as having Private Pilot’s Licences, scuba diving certifications, etc. to keep me busy]. Having to wash mud from the floor of Centre Corridor, after being caught with muddy shoes from a mass breaking in to the derelict water tower and reservoir. Setting fire accidentally (honest) to a desk during a maths lesson. That stupid so-called “Little Red School-book”. That famous (“Oz” magazine) “Rupert the Bear” cartoon. Columns. Puni. Sports (including the infamous “Chapman football”). Yuk! So it goes on and on.
Ceri Fell [Jones]: I am compelled to make contact after reading Huw‘s moving tome. I guess I feel lucky not to have been too badly scarred by FSSW, no doubt due to the fact I’m female and was a day brat. I don’t consider my school days to have been the best of my life either, I think I coped by staying on the edges of school life. I agree totally about our “friend” JC Woods, who’s famous comment “I haven’t made it Summer yet”, on seeing Kyrkos take off his jacket, still makes me laugh. He was a weak little man. Apart form Nick Fell, who I married, the only people we’re still in contact with are Stuart – his brother, and Mike Kyrkos. I had no desire to return to school for this reunion, but morbid curiosity is beginning to take over, after all we all spent many years together, there must be some connections. Best wishes to all.

Simon Colbeck: A minor humiliation (see Music) and one I can laugh about now but there were many worse that I suffered, witnessed and probably inflicted.  Despite the liberal ethos and absence of corporal punishment it was a fairly brutalised existence in which weaknesses or eccentricities were often savagely punished while benign ignorance or indifference reigned among the staff and probably many of the parents. Were ‘day brats’ more likely to suffer because they were resentfully assumed to enjoy the unconditional affection and reassurance of the families they returned to each evening? Did their parents assume that by sending them to a Quaker school they would be spared the rough treatment they might get at the local state school? I don’t think many of the boarders knew much about urban street corners but some of them knew how to fight (physically and verbally) to make a foothold on the unknown planet their parents had banished them to. And, with no parents there to rage at, scapegoats were in big demand.

So, I reckon Huw has done us a favour. Many (most?) of us have reason to celebrate eventual survival as well as fond and funny memories of our years at FSSW.

Richard Le Mare: – you may, or may not, remember me – I was at FSSW but two years below you [1975].  I stumbled across your www site page.  It looks a bit like the alternative or honest persons / survivors page.  Here, if you want it, is my contribution.

I can’t remember a lot of ‘good’ stuff, I remember being bored, and kicking a soccer ball a lot!  I remember grovelling through the undergrowth going to look for someone’s dope plant.  I remember spending a lot of time at the Wagon and Horses and Gate – I can’t imagine how we ever got served, but we did, and served quite a lot on occasions.  I remember hitching back from Cambridge so drunk that the first car just pushed us out and drove off abandoned beside the road.  I remember being made to stand in the corridor by Capell for talking after lights out, and then him coming up behind me and hitting my head so hard it jarred forward hit the wall very hard. I remember being what I now consider to be bullied by that other games teacher Chris Smith because I hated rugby and got bored with cricket.  His antics certainly haven’t made me enjoy them any more since then. I remember being forced to wade through ‘No Boats on Bannermere’ in those English reading classes, taking probably whole term whilst everyone else had done it in two weeks and being openly criticised by Gillett about my reading speed.  I’ve hardly read since!  Yes, I do remember Zigger Zagger and enjoying it!!

After having survived several of the worst years of my life I have never been back to Essex since John Woods asked me to leave the campus when I went to visit friends after I had actually left.  Whilst I enjoyed the many different jobs I had after I left over a period of about 20 years I had problems settling or making lasting and meaningful relationships.  Then fortunately, through the ‘Eye loves” column of Private Eye, I met the best friend I’ve ever had, Ali, who I married and we moved to New Zealand. For once in my life there was some meaningful guidance, help, support, encouragement and direction.

I feel happier to be as far away from the dreadfully unsupportive, unimaginative, un-nurturing and uncaring environment of FSSW as I can be. Now I am happy but not because of FSSW, in spite of it. I most certainly won’t be any where near the miserable memories it will rekindle at the reunion in September. To all those that go, have a great time.

I remember being miserable at the start of each term for ages.  Feeling fortunate that I wasn’t bad at sport, because I wasn’t much good at any thing else.  Hating that bloody cold swimming pool.  Those damp cold dorms.  That public bathhouse.  Those doorless bogs – I still hate going into ‘public’ toilets.  That effing awful food and the rest.  And as for ‘squeak’, well he was as supportive as a clip less suspender and as aware as a dormant aardvark.

Undoubtedly some did have a riotously good time. As I implied I had a riotously awful and unsuccessful time. I learnt what it was to be drunk and hung over, I learnt what both tobacco and dope were about, I learnt what it was to be lonely and independent and I became ambivalent about failure, all before I was 17! (I left with 3 grade 6 O levels – English, woodwork and geography!).  And no one seemed to care or even notice. I am sorry to hear that Huw has such awful memories, but I can sympathise. Guess what?  Like Huw, things have eventually turned out ok.  I’ve done a fair bit of cycling, some racing (160kms in 5hrs 30min), run a few ½ marathons, a full marathon (3:23), was a moderately good rock climber and got 2 degrees, the first one 6 years after leaving (there was a fair bit of educational catching up to do, and still is) and now enjoy my work as a radiographer. However, Ali and I still think the environment sapped what confidence I had out of me. I’m sure my environment disturbed me.

Imagine how some of us would have done in a supportive environment!!

I am interested to find this message board and see what others say and feel. In a funny way I am reassured that I am not alone.  I hated the darn place and have had contact with only one person since 1974. (In fact I don’t think I’ve been to Essex since!).

Angus Willson: I don’t agree that it was an unsupportive environment – I think we shared a lot together. Sure, kids can be cruel. It was a remarkably liberal experience combined with the usual institutional absurdities of community-based life. It needs to be seen in both contexts of the confused grimness of adolescence and the social changes of the late sixties and early seventies. Now I’m into the history project I said it shouldn’t become! At a personal level I don’t think anyone wants to be a teenager more than once. I can remember events at school which seemed like parts of ‘Lord of the Flies’ crossed with ‘If..’ but generally the staff were very tolerant and understanding of our constant pushing of the boundaries. I don’t read that as uncaring. Ceri‘s story (above) about declaring it to be summer is funny, but don’t most authority figures say ridiculous things at some time or another. Haven’t we all, as parents, managers or whatever?Simon‘s questions about the different perspectives of day scholars and boarders are important in understanding the relationships between individuals and between communities. I think, through these experiences, we learned about the nature of society. And there is always another point of view, For instance, one of our year said they enjoyed the freedom of school because they had such a repressive home-life. More views welcome!

‘They were the best of times, they were the worst of times.’
(Charles Dickens wasn’t an OS, either.)

Reader Feedback

One Response to “Mulligawtawny”

  • Simon Colbeck says:

    The stuff on this page has continued to resonate with me over the last 8 years in a cathartic way. Memory is inevitably selective, fitting some kind of narrative that works to make sense of our lives rather than providing a merely objective factual account that everyone can agree with but noone really cares about. They need stirring or they fossilise us!
    By the standards of the time and by comparison with other boarding schools, FSSW was a liberal, possibly even caring environment but it was definitely brutalising too. My horror at the idea of sending my own children away at the age of eleven brought this home to me. Even if the staff had all been the kindest altruists they could never have hoped to compensate for the loss of the daily reinforced love and attention that any averagely nurturing parent provides. I have a powerful memory from the first year that illustrates this:
    Every Sunday afternoon (regardless of the weather as far as I remember) we were obliged to go off the grounds for a walk or a run. I had gone for a run on the standard cross-country course with two other boys and was nearly back when we passed a group of fourth year boys including one who decided to show off to his mates by pushing me into a ditch full of stinging nettles and then pushing me back several times as I tried to climb out. Purely by chance the sole ‘Master on Duty’ intercepted me as I whimpered my way into the changing rooms back at school. I was terrified of the consequences of ‘sneaking’ but he persuaded me to tell him how I came to be covered in nettle rash and grazes. He said he was going to deal with it and marched off. It seems this incident was the final straw (among others of which I knew nothing) and the perpetrator was “asked to leave” (expelled). So this kind of brutality was firmly dealt with. However no teacher ever spoke to me further about the incident, not even the Gibson housemaster John Gillet. I only knew by rumour that the expulsion of the guilty party was connected to me because his mates (who included my dorm prefect) made menacing remarks about what would happen to me for having got RB expelled. I lived in fear of some vicious retaliation for weeks if not months. It never came in any tangible form but it made my life a misery. I can only assume that teachers were completely oblivious to any emotional impact on the victim beyond the immediate visible signs. What psychological self-protections do children find to survive such an environment? Its a question I have spent a lot of my professional life on and I’m still puzzling over why I never told my parents. But maybe I can thank FSSW for making me a social worker…

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Official websites

The FSSW school site has been removed.
Old Scholars
School badge

More Pannage

Subscribe via Email

Enter your email address to receive notifications of new posts by email.

Recent comments

Bookmark and share

Share |