When I got word that Rich “The Rock” Davis was to be over from Canada for a short while in mid November, I thought I’d probably miss out on the resultant gathering. I explained to John Eltham that I only had the one available evening throughout the period on offer.
But this was one of those occasions when the timings went fortuitously. Not only could I make the appointed day, but it transpired that Nigel Godfrey would be visiting from New Zealand and that Paul Hamer would be visiting from an even more remote and obscure corner of the Great Dominions; Southampton.
Indeed, also by happy chance, Paul Hamer’s earlier engagement in London was in Paddington, within spitting…well, in truth, walking, distance of my flat.
So Paul and I spent an enjoyable couple of hours late afternoon catching up at the flat; it’s only been 37+ years. Chat was interspersed with the odd business call and a short baroq-ulele recital by yours truly, before we journeyed across London to join the others at the Walrus and Carpenter.
It ended up quite a large gathering this time, with a few people I hadn’t seen for decades; in particular Justin Sutton (peering from behind Perry Harley in the above picture), with whom I chatted at some length at The Walrus, plus David Leach, who arrived towards the end of the Walrus session.
I was also graced by a brief audience with Sir Nigel Godfrey at the Walrus and Carpenter. I had always thought that his gong was for services to the beauty pageant industry. I hadn’t realised that he is actually “The Right Reverend Sir Nigel Godfrey”, presumably honoured for clerical services to the New Zealand laity.
Nigel explained how irritating it is for people, like himself, who wish to use multiple titles, that on-line drop down boxes tend to offer only “The Right Reverend” or “Sir” but not “The Right Reverend Sir”. A tad first world, that problem, but I hope I looked suitably doleful and I audibly sympathised.
Once the Rajasthan eating session was in full sway, Nigel also chimed in with a story about a near-disaster with window-leaning and errant train doors on the journey to school, back in the day, before the health and safety brigade quite ludicrously took such character-forming matters out of the hands of school-children. The resulting conversation about such disasters (real, near and imagined) was in the worst possible taste and those of us who were laughing should be thoroughly ashamed of ourselves. Really.
I shall also delve into my diaries as soon as I get the chance to recover some other memories of train journeys to school (with Justin Sutton, Andrew Levinson and Rupert Jefferies) and also at least one teenage adventure with the Levinson siblings, coincidentally very near the scene of this evening’s “crime” – the old Billingsgate Fish Market (just across the road). For the latter, I have photographs.
Everyone seemed to be in good form and good spirits; as usual the evening flew by. I should also mention Phil (one of John Eltham’s colleagues, top left in the final photo above) who joined us again this time and is excellent company. Also a thank you to John Eltham for organising, as always.
Plus a massive thank you to Perry Harley – it was great fun sitting next to you again this time, Perry – even more fun watching you deploy your accounting skills so diligently and indeed so very many times over, to avoid successfully the dreaded bodmin, ensuring fair play and fair pay.
Ahead of the performance, I went to Don Pepe, where several of Rohan’s friends, but none of the Alleyn’s crowd other than me, were gathering; on my recommendation.
Nick Primmer appeared to be the ringleader of that group; a really pleasant bunch of people. (When have I ever met unpleasant people through Rohan?) We ate light – just a few tapas between us – we hadn’t allowed much time. Then we navigated an inverse Bodmin (everyone wanted to overpay) before heading towards The Cockpit.
I joked that Janie’s and my visit the night before for the jazz – click here – was essential reconnaissance for Rohan’s evening. Strangely, it did help, because approaching the theatre from the north-west side, you need to climb a rather unusual staircase/walkway, which I think the others might have missed but which I realised must be the right way from the previous night’s loop round the estate to get out.
So we were in good time…
…but perhaps Rohan wasn’t. At least, he seemed in no rush to start. We waited for one or two latecomers, getting our number up to perhaps 30 people. Then Rohan said, “I have one or two things to do, so I’d like you all to discuss in pairs the question, ‘what is your favourite song?’, before I start.”
Of course this was a ruse to warm us up.
I was sitting next to John Eltham and Ben Clayson. We decided to break the rules and work as a trio. We quickly concluded that it is impossible to name one favourite song. John suggested that we name a current favourite, or perhaps the song that is occupying our minds most of the time at the moment.
I chimed in with, “in that case, for me it must be Innsbruck Ich Muss Dich Lassen, the Renaissance song I am currently trying to work up to performance standard on my baroq-ulele for the forthcoming Gresham Society soiree.”
That pronouncement seemed to put an end to the conversation in our trio for some reason. Heck, it is a love song, you know? Still, as John said afterwards, “only Ian would say that his favourite song of the moment is a 15th century song.”
Fortunately, around that conversation-stopping moment, Rohan decided that we were all warm enough, so he started his performance.
The performance started with Rohan computing that he (and therefore all of us of a similar age) have probably listened to about 10,000 love songs.
Rohan then takes us on a journey through his own coming-of-age and rites-of-passage, using a few well-chosen love songs to illustrate his stories.
I’m tempted to describe it as a sort-of autobiographical cross between a Bildungsroman and Desert Island Discs. But that sounds like a prelude to damning the piece, whereas it is my intention to praise it very highly indeed.
Not that Rohan’s piece is as tight and polished as Every Brilliant Thing…yet.
Anyway, the record in Rohan’s head for his first kiss (and therefore the first record he played to us on the evening) was Heart Of Glass by Blondie.
Rohan explained the Triangular Theory Of Love through the use of Toblerone, so I think that means that the advert I recall saying “do you love anyone enough to give them your last Rolo?” should really have been a question about your last piece of Toblerone.
While Rohan handed around the Toblerone to the audience, a riot broke out.
No, the riot wasn’t a scrap for chocolate-based food amongst a feral, hungry audience; but something seemed to be kicking off on the local estates around the theatre.
Meanwhile, Rohan pressed on. Say Hello, Wave Goodbye by Soft Cell for an unrequited love episode…there’s a lot of 13th Century troubadour material on that subject, Rohan, if you would like me to dig some out for you…
…and a couple of left-field choices which, very strangely indeed, also coincide with my own coming-of-age stories:
I don’t know whether Rohan’s piece brought floods of memories to other members of the audience to the same extent as it brought such floods to me, but I have now written some 3,500 words of memory pieces since the show in order to capture those recovered memories while they remain fresh in my mind.
Like any good Bildungsroman, Rohan returns to his adult self and thoughts of his parents at the end of the show, with their favourite song, Moon River, proving that you can’t keep a good love song down; be it 56 or 532 years old.
By the time we’d cleared up the room, only a few of us retreated to The Globe pub, but a delightful small group of people it was. A very substantial police presence protected us for the 200 yards or so between the theatre and the pub. Many police in high viz flak jackets felt a little more robust than the theatre’s security; the solitary figure of John Eltham with a label/badge which reassuringly read “security”.
Ollie Goodwin and I were the last to leave the pub, although most of us left roughly at the same time.
When I got home I felt hungry. All could find easily to hand was a croissant on the breakfast bar and some salami in the fridge. I thought the croissant was most apt, given that I had finally met Croissanita that evening:
But the last word should go to Ollie Goodwin, who has e-mail circulated the following review, which in many ways says as much in 11 words as I have said in 1000:
This piece will resonate with everyone who has ears and genitals
Perhaps this illustrates the popularity of Rich “The Rock” Davis, who was visiting from Canada for the first time in a while and around whom the event was planned. Organised by Johnny Eltham – who else? – based on an original idea by David Wellbrook.
Or perhaps the high turnout was simply relief that, for once, our guest of honour visiting from the great dominions was not Sir Nigel Godfrey.
The plan was…the usual. 7.00pm Walrus & Carpenter, 8.30pm Rajasthan curry shop. I was fashionably late again this time, arriving just before 8.00, with no real excuse other than getting bogged down in whatever forgettable thing I was doing late afternoon.
Another glorious weather evening so everyone was drinking outside the Walrus and Carpenter. I got a chance to chat with Rich on arrival; also Paul Driscoll and Perry Harley. The conversation soon got to Brexit and how Britain is increasingly starting to resemble Weimar Germany. Soon after that I was tapped up for the drinks float.
The drinks float is a great idea. It discourages late arrival – the price is fixed – £20, not ℛℳ500,000,000 in case you were wondering – and if those arriving late, like me, don’t drink their portion, the remainder of the drinks float becomes a bodmin-avoiding contribution towards the dinner. You can tell that some fine economic brains have got to work on this one over the years.
Soon enough, Johnny Eltham commandeered two or three of us to form an advanced party to seize vital territory in Rajasthan. This we were able to secure without bloodshed or unpleasantness. In fact, the Rajasthanis greeted Johnny like an old friend and welcomed us to the downstairs area, which to all intents and purposes became our private room for the rest of the evening.
By my reckoning fifteen of us sat down for dinner; Chris Grant, David Wellbrook, Ben Clarkson, Martin Cook, Simon Ryan, David French, John Eltham, Ollie Goodwin, Paul Driscoll, Rich “The Rock” Davis, Paul Spence, Nigel Boatswain, Perry Harley, Steve “Peanut” Butterworth…and me.
If you are struggling to imagine what this gaggle might look and sound like, struggle no more. David Wellbrook shot a nifty ninety second vid while no-one was looking and posted it on Facebook – it is embedded and viewable below:
I had no idea that I wave my arms around quite as much as that. It’s a miracle that I don’t send food and drink flying.
As fortune would have it, I was sitting near Steve Butterworth, Perry Harley, Paul Spence and David French – all of whom are people I either haven’t seen in ages or didn’t get to speak with properly on previous occasions. It was really good to catch up with them properly after all this time. I had a brief conversation with Paul Spence about nuclear power, which led to this recollection and Ogblog post about Ringroad revue – click here.
Returning briefly to earlier in the evening…although I was late, I was not the last to arrive. Chris Grant and Nigel Boatswain turned up after me. Soon after their arrival, Johnny Eltham came up to me and said, “have you seen what Nigel is wearing? That jacket…those trousers…they look like a pyjama suit…you’ve got to write about it on your blog”.
I explained to Johnny that I don’t notice what anyone is wearing, so any sartorial references on the Ogblog would, to the regular reader, e.g. Janie, quite obviously not be mine.
“Oh that’s easy”, said Johnny, “it was David Wellbrook who spotted it and asked me to tap you up”.
“Ah yes,” I said, “as long as I make that point, all will be explained. I’ll need to take a photo of the outfit with my iPhone, though, it almost defies description.”
As the evening wore on, I was surreptitiously asked a couple of times when I was going to take the photo. Johnny even offered to provide cover, pretending that I was taking a group photo while in fact taking a photo of just Nigel and his pyjama suit.
I quietly suggested to Johnny that Nigel, as an Apple bigwig, would probably have the savvy to know what sort of photo was being taken with an iPhone (other brands of smart phone with camera are available) and in any case I would only blog a photo with Nigel’s explicit consent; I certainly don’t want the full weight of Apple’s legal department on my case.
“Just leave it with me”, I said.
So late in the evening, I told Nigel he had won a sartorial award for the evening and asked if I could take a photo for Ogblog. He giggled and said yes.
A few minutes later, as Nigel and I parted company at South Kensington tube, I thanked him once again for the photo and assured him that he would enjoy the blog piece. “Oh gawd, what have I done?” was Nigel’s reply.
Formal school alumni dinners are not really my kind of thing, nor are they Janie’s kind of thing. Indeed, both of us have managed to reach a fairly ripe (if not actually old) age without ever having attended such an event.
Until this event.
This event was going to be different. Why? Because Chris Grant was the President of the alumni club this year and he wanted to make the event different. In any case, you turn up to events like this to support your friends when it is their gig.
I explained to Chris that I don’t do weekend stuff without Janie, but that notion only reinforced Chris’s view that this year the dinner should be different and that he would actively encourage people to bring their partners.
To add to the “making it different” motif, Chris engaged Rohan to write and perform a short monologue for the pre-dinner reception. Chris also asked David Wellbrook to act as Master of Ceremonies for this additional feature.
The long and short of it was, I ended up being a bit of a cheerleader for the event amongst our generation – although it was naturally down to John Eltham to act as gang-leader for those of us from our era to book and sit as a gaggle.
We’re On Our Way
It seemed strange arriving at the school gates with Janie, but we had the good fortune to run into John Eltham and Steven Butterworth as we were walking in. The pre-dinner function was in a new Edward Alleyn Building, which didn’t exist when I last visited the school, many years ago.
Our rabble-rousing had born fruit, so I chatted briefly with several people from our era; David French, Paul Driscoll, Nick Jarmany, Nick James, Tim Moulson, Tim Church and several other people at that reception.
Rohan’s short monologue was good fun. A meander around the theme “South London, Nah Nah Nah”. The talk included some navel-gazing around the word south itself. Should it be pronounced “sarf” or “sowf” rather than “south”, for example. Is it merely convention that south is shown below north – after all, the world is a globe? Rohan’s conclusions or central theses (I am truly bigging up this talk, aren’t I?) were that:
South London is an edgy underdog that deserves our affection and support, even if some of us have long since migrated north,
we Alleyn Old Boys (at least the cohort from our era) formed exceptionally strong bonds of friendship which have kept us together and/or brought us back together across many decades and in some cases vast geographical spread.
Rohan teased us throughout his talk about a blue joke that David Wellbrook wanted to tell, much against Chris Grant’s better judgement. Rohan then nearly told the joke through audience participation, but concluded that South Londoners do not need to be told the punchline of the joke; they are edgy enough to work it out for themselves:
Then across to the school dinning room for the dinner. It seemed strange to be fine dining in that place, all done up to look sprauncy. Chris had chosen a very imaginative meal, based around curry, to symbolise the friendly informal meet ups that invariably end with a curry.
But this was a posh curry-based meal. A starter of slightly spicy scallops, enough to tell you that the meal was posh, that being the first of three interesting courses. Then cheeses, then coffee and petits fours. A well posh curry-based meal.
There were several toasts, speeches and club business in-between, mostly based on the traditional/regular/formal format of the club, I suppose.
Janie and I were honoured and indeed privileged to be seated next to Sir Nigel Godfrey. Sir Nigel, apparently, has recently received a gong for services to the New Zealand beauty pageant industry.
Sir Nigel was wearing his Broach of Honour with pride that evening, but sadly he seemed to keep it covered up whenever Daisy was nearby with her camera. Perhaps he thought she might swipe the bauble if he left it unguarded even for a moment. How does he know that Daisy is such a scallywag?
Daisy was also sitting next to Mr Wellbrook, who had been Master of Ceremonies earlier. I asked Chris Grant, “what did Daisy and I do to deserve the honour of sitting next to Sir Nigel and Mr Wellbrook?”, but I think Chris must have misheard my question, because he merely said, “there’s always one short straw”, which seemed to me to be an answer to an entirely different question.
Then Chris Grant made a short but touching and excellent speech, continuing the themes of edginess and especially the theme of enduring friendship.
The audience was then subjected to the Headmaster’s Savage response…
…correction…I never was much good with grammar, I should have paid more attention in English lessons…
The audience was then subjected to the Headmaster, Dr Savage’s, response. Dr Savage seemed keener on the friendship theme than the edgy theme. That is understandable really. Can you imagine the mischief that might kick off in the school and end up with pupils sent to the Headmaster’s Study, only to get the phrase thrown back by the miscreant, “but Sir, you told us that it is a good thing for us to be edgy”?
Dr Savage spoke very well and quite wittily, although I did think he missed a golden opportunity to pun on the pronunciation of Suffolk (from whence he hails) and Southwark, the borough in which he now heads a school. After all, the two place names, at least when pronounced by a native of the latter, are indistinguishable. (I think he might have been trying to make such a joke, but he got a bit confused and mentioned Norfolk, for seemingly no reason.)
In short, Savage is a talented speaker who prepares diligently, but he lets himself down at times through hurried delivery and under-rehearsal of the humorous lines. A-, could do better than this.
We thoroughly enjoyed our evening. Janie found the company delightful, both the old boys and their wives/companions, such as Lenneke (Chris’s partner) and Emma Jane Moulson. Similarly, I enjoyed chatting briefly with those two and at greater length with Victoria (Oliver Goodwin’s partner) as well as chatting with old school friends.
My only regret is that I barely got a chance to chat with some people I would have very much enjoyed catching up with properly, such as David French, Paul Spence and Nick Jarmany. Perhaps next time, although I hope our next time is a less formal gathering.
Next morning, there was no respite. Daisy and I got up to play tennis in our usual Sunday morning slot. Half way through the game, I realised that I had subconsciously donned a purple top and a purple bandanna. Purple. The Cribb’s House colour. Steeled by my renewed sense of tribal purpose, I naturally went on to win the set.
THE LONG HOT SUMMER OF ’76 – RECOLLECTIONS OF A 14-YEAR-OLD WITH SPECIAL APPEARANCE BY A LUNATIC FRENCHMAN
It was a stormy Thursday afternoon (are there any others?). Me, myself, and three others who shall remain nameless (Chris Grant, Ben Clayson and Kevin Blythe), were chortling over Paul Hayes’ Freudian slip from earlier. He had inadvertently called Miss Lynch “Mum” and we were marvelling at how well they had kept their relationship secret and for so long. All six of us were amazed at the audacity of the lad and thoughts were now turning to the identity of the father. Bob Skelly, Percy Kingman and Mrs. Barden were put forward for consideration but we were unable to agree. Each candidate received five votes and so we were at stalemate. After much deliberation, we opted for the time-honoured tie-breaker of rock, paper, scissors and as you might have expected, it landed on tails. (Doesn’t it always?) So, decision made, Dave Stretton it was then. Let’s face it, he must have inherited his cool from somewhere.
But I digest. To our gullible Frenchman: It was around this time that Chris used to import young French boys for his amusement and this particular lost soul went by the name of Gotier. He had, I believe, been imported once before, so having met us now on more than one occasion, really ought to have known better. However, we all found ourselves down at the swimming pool. It was a natural hangout for those of us who liked to swim and play water polo and seemed even more appropriate on what was quite possibly a very hot day. Gotier was sweating profusely. I think he knew what Chris had planned for later. He kept muttering strange French words under his breath. “Baguette” was a particular favourite of his I seem to recall. Anyhow, one of us happened upon the anarchic idea of enticing Gotier to jump into the swimming pool fully clothed, and on the strict understanding that he then had to travel home with us to Beckenham et les environs completement mouille.
“How much shall we offer him?” asked Clayson. “How much do we have on us?” asked Blythe. “Are you sure this is a good idea?” enquired Grant, forever and to this day our moral compass. He perhaps felt that if there was any dampness involved it should be of his making and no other. “Yes, it’s a cracking idea,” I chipped in. “And let’s make him cry Vive la France as he goes under.”
We gathered our resources and came up with the tidy sum of £4 and a few pence. We approached the hapless Gotier with our proposal and having explained to him that with exchange rates being as they were at the time, that £4 and a few pence was uncommonly generous, he agreed.
And so the stage was set. I was elected to distract Harry Whale and Alan Berry, who at that precise moment were taking it in turns to slipper a 12-year-old, whilst the others were assigned the arduous task of pacing out Gotier’s run up. And then the moment arrived. With a Gallic scream of “Un, deux, trois, allez…!” Gotier was off, legging it poolwards as if he had not a care in the world. He leapt, he might even have somersaulted I honestly can’t remember, and there was a mighty splash followed by the gurgled incantation of “Vive la France, Vive la France.” Let’s give the boy his due. He did not let us down. Good for him. Only honourable Frenchman I’ve ever met.
Gotier was duly rewarded with his £4 and a few pence which he kindly used to buy us Maynards wine gums and Coca Cola down by Herne Hill station.
To this day, that incident (which is 100% true by the way), is my most vivid recollection of the Summer of ’76. That and being arrested for shoplifting in Millets.