Saturday July 2nd 2016
Last year Andy suggested that we organised a weekend to celebrate the fact that it has been forty years since the long hot summer of 1976 when we took our ‘A’ levels. I was keen to do this, not so much to remember my ‘A’ level year, which I don’t consider to be my finest hour, but to celebrate our enduring friendship. As part of the weekend, I contacted Angela at the Old Brightonians office who kindly arranged to take us around the buildings.
Since I left in 1976, I had only been to the school on one occasion, when my brother was married in the chapel in 1979. I was aware that quite a lot of change had taken place, as two of my nieces attended the school in the ‘90s.
Angela met us and our (long suffering) wives at the front gate and for the next hour and a half showed us around beginning with the very impressive memorial statue to the 149 boys who lost their lives in the First World War. This was of particular interest to us, since Andy and I had just returned from the Somme commemoration at the Thiepval memorial in France. Moving on from there we saw the new Music Department. Gone were the line of old, rather cold wooden buildings with the slightly out of tune pianos – instead a superb modern facility with fantastic acoustics and retractable seating area, overlooking the cricket pitch.
We stood in the Music Department, and tried to take in the immense changes that have taken place over the decades and it soon became obvious to us that the school we were now viewing was a million miles from the one we remembered in 1976, yet strangely familiar. It was like meeting an old childhood friend in their adult years, they exhibit familiar characteristics, but they have matured and come of age. In 1976 the school was considered to be an average public school, but within fifteen minutes we could easily appreciate why it is now one of the top schools in the country and been voted the UK’s Independent School of the Year.
I was particularly pleased to see that the Music School now contained a Percussion Department. I pride myself in the thought that I was instrumental in its inception, as in 1973 I asked to having drumming lessons, the first ever in the school. To the schools credit, they arranged a peripatetic music teacher to visit just for me. I only wished I had been present when David Gilmour opened the department, for a long time Pink Floyd fan, that would have been a dream come true.
Leaving the Music Department and the still unchanged science block we walked through what had been the back quadrangle, a small piece of tarmac that we used as a parade ground for the cadet force. This now houses a very smart café, a fact that will bring a smile of delight to the faces of those who had to endure the Monday afternoon ‘square bashing’ as cadet ‘drill’ was known. However, I only appreciated the scale of the proposed plans for the school when I saw the demolition site that was the old swimming pool. I will be very interested to see the new underground swimming pool and sports complex.
I held the swimming pool in great affection, since my brother and I used to swim for the school team. Mr Dykes the swimming teacher, known affectionately as ‘Doddy’ Dykes, used to smoke a pipe and would walk slowly back and forth the length of the pool whilst we did 100 lengths, just to warm up. The effect of this was that the right hand lane of the pool used to taste of tobacco! On some occasions there would be a problem with the chemicals in the pool and once or twice the swimming team would find that their training had resulted in their hair being tinted a green colour.
Visiting the chapel, which is completely unchanged, Andy and I reminded ourselves that we only got confirmed for two reasons. Confirmation classes were held in the Chaplin’s house on Walpole Terrace. Our lower sixth year of 1975 was only the second year that girls had attended the college, and conveniently the dozen or so girls were housed under the watchful eye of the Chaplin. The second reason was that walking back to Bristol house after confirmation classes; it was possible to stop off at the bike shed near the pavilion for a cigarette.
The Maltings Building seemed unchanged, except for the notable absence of the sixth form bar. The 1970’s were a different era, and underage drinking whilst discouraged, was tolerated.. Certainly the boys in Bristol house would sneak out after ‘prep’ and go for a drink at the local pubs, often still in our school uniform, and then have to climb through a basement window on their return, which could be tricky depending on the consumption of alcohol. In 1975 the school decided to open a sixth form bar, run by the students.
Officially its purpose was to instill a sense of responsibility in the boys, in that they had to manage the running of the bar. However, I suspect that the Headmasters rationale was that it was also a way of ‘managing’ the drinking habits of the borders.
It was a partial success in that it was easier that walking to the pub, however it was open to abuse. Purchase of beer (for the boys) and cider (for the girls) was by token, bought from the housemaster and limited to a pint and a half a week. These tokens were naturally bought or swapped on a thriving black market. In addition, stock taking of the beer held in the bar was never taken seriously, and on a few occasions a keg of beer could disappear in one evening.
We were delighted that Angela had enabled us to visit the old Bristol House, now sadly amalgamated with School House, our deadly rivals. Bristol House viewed themselves as the ‘rebel’ house (with good reason I suspect) and saw School House as ‘the swots’.
What a change! It is hard to put into words how the building has been transformed from the rather basic accommodation of the 1970s into the swish modern and stylish rooms of today. Even the basement, which used to be dank and dingy (and smelly) is unrecognizable from the past.
Fortunately for us, some things haven’t changed and we were able to easily find our old studies, and recreate the pose of an old photograph, even if we aren’t quite as thin as we used to be!
Of particular delight was to be able to locate the skylight on the very top floor. Now bolted down for obvious safety reasons, we used to escape through the skylight and climb over the roof tiles to the haven of a flat room above the entrance of the school. Here unseen from the ground, it was possible to sunbathe in peace during our ‘A’ level revision. It was after all a very hot summer, so revision either took place here or on the beach!
Later we headed into Brighton and Alana joined us for a meal where we continued with the reminiscence! After supper Alana, Andy and I had a couple of drinks in local pubs that we used to frequent.
We finished the weekend with brunch on Sunday in Shoreham. The whole event has been a great success and we have decided to do it again in ten years time!