The ReunionA Gentle Drama in 4 Acts. Synopsis.Act 1: Scene 1:
A gorgeous modern space with views over the old school and Devil’s Peak too. The Mitre. 3 noisy latecomers arrive having failed to read their invitations properly, think they are the first there, only to find the welcoming speeches just drawing to a close, they stumble up the stairs yattering away to arrive next to the speakers looking out at a sea of half remembered faces some seeming to say, ‘Shut up you’re late’ others smiling broadly in greeting or frowning quizzically as they try to work out who the bald bloke with the moustache is alongside the unchanged Trevor Torrington and the beaming Chris Anderson. Much jovial hilarity ensues as the speeches stop – they said Mike Bosman’s was as excellent as his running of the whole weekend would prove to be – and all recommence greetings with 21st
century man hugs replacing the handshakes of ’78 and even ’08.Act 1 Scene 2:
An elegant and vast classroom of an alcoholic’s dreams in the same complex, each desk set with 5 double shots of different whisky. The geographer’s earnest and oh so thorough lecture is slowly drowned in its subject matter as discipline fades, the smokers slip out, the talkative talk and life soon rolls on back to a continuation of Scene 1. Thanks so much Dr Tim Rideout. After much more hail-fellow-well-met those with partners leave first, Nick Thomatos whisking his Juliet away before anyone got any ideas, and Gregory Brooks his Pamela likewise, and as ever those with plans for much more fun leave last. A few are seen trawling the whisky lake left behind. We are all friends, even some who weren’t, or the quite a few who can’t actually ever remember meeting in their 5 years of college together.Act 2
The Memorial Chapel. A sunny Friday morning. Soft remembered bells catapult the middle aged minds back to ’78. Boys pour in dressed for the sports field, but reassurances of “drought uniform” quell critical mumbles. The Chaplain welcomes the class of ’78: Aah, the voice a blast from the past. It’s Bob Commin, the ancient of days is filling in. The service inspires, the cacophony of the hymnal delightful and all too soon its over.
Then the ‘78’ers tour, expertly led by Paul Murray, kicks off. It’s not a Chapel, but a Basilica; not an Altar, but a Baldachin …and on the fascinating insights flow, the crowd now interested, in a way they would have found unimaginable 40 years ago. Cleansed and inspired, they move on to the Molteno library, John White re-enacts his inaugural speech for “Mouthpiece”, a speakers’ corner started by our own Lap as they pass through the small arena. His apposite subject then? “The value of going to a school like Bishops!” On past the library, books there still, but more a meeting place of digital learning.
In Paul’s History classroom, they momentarily drift back to a previous era only to be launched back to the present by Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” projected via Facebook. A far cry from listening to him on Basil Bey’s magnetic tape recorder.
The tour conjures up countless anecdotes of classroom antics. Rich Stirzaker articulates his passion for Geography with a wisdom that would delight Trader Hunt. Pete Williams reminds us how Molly’s classes began daily with discussion of an excerpt from a newspaper. How Mike Fisher measured success by seeing how far his Citroen could freewheel from above Groote Schuur to Liesbeek Parkway when returning from the Classical concert at City hall. How Mr Mallet would deftly aim his penknife blade between the nervous fingers of the boy who neglected his Latin homework. How suitably patrician was Mr Allanthwaite, the very opposite of Odd-Job with his love of bicolour. Of the wondrous articulations and gesticulations of John Gardener, the acting prowess of Brian de Kock and much more.
Gone: the squash court (‘O me Miserium’ cries Jonathan Thompson); the shooting range, the bike shed (smoking room). All make way for so many Dayboy houses!
On the Range Rugby field they are introduced to the panoramic spectrum of development. Pre-prep, hockey fields, OD Union, Woodlands Pavilion, Dayboy houses. And finally , the realisation why we learn geometry: from the top of Devils peak, through Jameson hall at UCT, through a tiny hole in the wall in the OD union, through the middle arch of School House quad to the Founders house clock, is a geometric line that was deliberately aligned when designing the buildings. Who knew?
And from that peak they slip down to sport. Swimming, water polo, cricket, basketball, Reg Briggs’ climbing wall and yes, squash too, all gathered now in a campus down near the tuck shop. Gone are pikkies and 5c packets of chips. Now they wallow in fair trade heaven and dither over latte vs cappuccino vs flat white. So this is what modern day parents pay for.
Then to stand on the Founders terraces, imagination challenged by the proposed Bishops 175 developments, Lap distracted by memories of a first romantic ‘score’ while sitting on the very same bench, while others gaze over the Frank Reid and remember other sorts of scores and races run.
They never get to White House, so they tease Mike Boehmke and John White about its relevance. But Strap taught them nothing if not resilience; they march on unfazed.
And it ends where it all began, amidst William White and Herbert Baker’s Founders. Did builders ever envisage a boy’s desire to climb to the top of things? And thus Thommo getting stuck astride the pitch of the roof as he tried to reach the clock Tower and the names emblazoned in takkie whitener wherever rafters are left exposed, or Lap and Za scaling the soaring apex of the chapel the better to carve their names in the lead?
And as the stories get retold, all conclude that this is a school dear to our hearts and a tour every 40 years evokes sensory experiences, delightful memories, and an inexplicable feeling of wellbeing. Act 3 Scene 1.
The terrace of the Harbour House, Constantia Nek, overlooking the vineyards sloping back to suburbia in the distance. The same crowd, but shorn of partners and supplemented by a few dozen more middle aged men (which implies death aged 112 so maybe we are well past middle. Sorry ‘bout that).
Almost all respond to the dress code of ‘Black and White’, with a white shirt and black trousers, as in some subconscious homage to their school ‘charcoals’. A few, thank goodness, led by the Travolta like Richard Sauerman, wear black T shirts instead of white, but none, thank even more goodness, the white trousers so fashionable back in their long ago day. Stayin’ Alive is what they’ve done mind you, a surprising number still ridiculously slim and fit and youthful looking. Simon Black and Peter Williams look like they could take to the Piley Rees in blue the next morning, Mark Burton-Moore too, though I fear he’s not on his first set of hips, knees or shoulders. It was a long and glorious career though. And Malcolm Brown, well maybe he’s more ready to take up his late father Ulick’s bellowing role on the side-lines; Coll Macdonald too.
But if white trousers aren’t back, big hair is: Andrew Whitaker and the Star Of The Whole Show, Canberra’s Richard Stirzaker, both looking just like the prof in Back to the Future, though Richard is actually a real life one of those, educating Africa’s farmers in water conservation through proper use of technology. Google him and realise how unworthy your life is.
The crowd ebbs and swirls, as does the recognition. The elegant Lawrence Rose and the urbane Anton Kohler chat to the seemingly deeply content James Green and Gary Knipe, while Dudley Wilson lectures on the Banting Diet like Moses to the Israelites and his namesake Ian makes another crowd roar with plumper laughter; and Brian de Kock and Bob Commin and Robert Worthington-Smith hold forth elsewhere, the later accompanied by his lovely librarian Mum, Sonia, surely the sweetest of all the 70’s staff. Niall Smith our saturnine and dinner jacketed host welcomes us all before being drawn into careful debate as to the changing role of womankind – dangerous ground, elegantly traversed. We are wiser nowadays. It’s a happy scene, and one well lubricated either by our brewmaster Tim Godfrey with his lovingly kegged craft ales, or by our unfailingly giving leader Mike Bosman and wines created by ODs Rands RIP and Jordan.Act 3. Scene 2
The restaurant through the French doors as the irregular crowd shuffles in, all shouting and trying to sit next to the most entertaining, the Nick’s, Badminton and Baikoff lighting upon each other with relief. The Founders farming set (though only Duncan Barry could be called that; and his is a racehorse stud which is surely too cool a thing to be called a farm), of him and Huxter, Cawcutt, Wolfswinkel and Pentz, demanding house wing photos and gathering in the reflective John Day and Jonathan Thompson and John Mackie, newly back from the near dead, all leading the way, as Founders itself once did of course, jus’ sayin’.
And then the photos of all 5 houses taken, it’s time for a classy feast of a dinner and buckets of the delicious Chocolate Block. How nice it is to have old school mate restauranteurs Niall. Thank you. Then a vast rolling conversation of was it 56 Parts? James Green, Charles Schelpe, Dave Aldred, Willy Elzinga, Chris Ibell in their more measured way, Greg Symonds, Ken Findlay, Clive Torr much more loudly and Oh! Martin Luyt, mimicking Alanthwaite’s Pliny as he and Lap recite miles of it while others weep with laughter. And there at the back as enigmatic as ever, the sturdy Neil Uys. We did all 12 years together Neil and I and he’s not sure he’s recovered yet.
And that conversation, between all these almost old men flows every which way, and all the way from 1970’s adolescent reminiscing through 40 years to #metoo, which, if you think about it might be the furthest a conversational journey could ever travel.
And eventually most mostly stop making sense, though maybe not the cool and calm Richard Todt, and Patrick Toy, and even the ebullient Brian Robertson is talked out, and all seem happy to just fade into the night having properly re-united, without pomp or pretentiousness. Except for the Sea Point clubbing crowd of course. They have miles to go before they sleep. O tempora, O mores.Act 4
Sunday evening after the Argus Cycle Tour. Another vinous courtyard, this time at Simon’s in Groot Constantia, and a smaller gathering, many with partners. Mike and Sabine offer up more fine wine and chat outside, this time the girls too remembering their own school days and the boys’ intrusions into their teenage serenity. Hah! Time for much longer talking, eventually interrupted by the call to two long tables and a random sitting and Peter Williams’ delightful address. All power to you, fine soul.
Craig Raubenheimer and his Madilyn, Willy Elzinga and his beautiful daughter Lauren, Richard Day and his Bev, Nick Badminton and I and Richard and his gloriously named Yay yatter away learning and telling, while down the other end, my Alison is far happier with Symmo and Malcolm and Margie and Peter and Viv Williams than she would have been with me. Alison you understand, not Viv. Viv I’ve always thought, since we danced once in ’76, would have been happier with me. Or was that Renee. The English have it right you know, never sit next to your partner at a party. S’true.
Mind you our Americans have it right too, John and Tammy White and Mike Zietsman beaming benignly from the top of their billions at us all, gently delighted to be back amongst the real. And all the while again the good food and wine and conversation flows in another rekindling of commonality, interrupted only by Rupert Hill’s taking of hundreds of 70’s instamatic style blurrily atmospheric photos. They’ll make us smile as our lives roll on down the hill.
And then it is time to fly. For some of us a long, long way. See you in 10. Deo volente.Epilogue
But no matter the distance in time or miles,
or the many not there (the fools)
or the sadness of Mair – do you remember his Hendrix?
and Keay of the toothy grin
and Neukomm, our tragic genius, our fault?
And Penny, ‘78s answer to Wilbur Smith
and Jolly – Jock – whose infectious chuckle made it to the 30th
, but not to the 40th
and Lindy de Kock too, the prettiest girl in our once world;
No matter all sorrow,
our friendships have grown closer,
our rootedness stronger,
our respect for our raising wiser
and our fondness for others, and thus ourselves, deeper too.
A fulfilling time. And an absolute hoot.
Floreat Bishops, Floreat the ‘78s.