[From The Barrovian #139]
I was at King William's College for two years only-1884-1886, Like many boys I was anxious to finish with school days and I chose to go to an office rather than to a university. This is not the, occasion to express views as to whether going to a university means waste of time ; there are many cases where it is, but the boy who does well at his school exams., and stands high in his form should not, I think, seek to go into business, or take up his life's career, until he has got as high in his school as he can reach in normal time. The 'Varsity may then follow for such.
For many years I had promised myself a visit to my old school in the Isle of Man, and the opportunity presented itself in September 1924. although not in term time unfortunately. Thirty-eight years interval might well have brought more changes than I found and have rendered memories more indistinct than they proved to be.
The toy railway train from Douglas took me right back at the outset, and Castletown, I'll swear, is not altered by a single stone or brick, The Castle is perhaps in better preservation than it was forty years ago, when it was used as a prison and instructed visitors dropped tobacco to prisoners working in the yard below, and the predecessor of the present courteous and humorous guide might not, it was said, be interrupted in his historical statement without serious risk of his having to begin all over again !
The shore road to the College appears to be unaltered, and the smell of the seaweed there is as delightfully pronounced as it used to be. Smells recall memories and associations more vividly I believe than sound or even vision. What recollections are aroused to some men who went through the war by a single whiff of chloride ! Of course one smells seaweed at any seaside place, but the distinctive quality of that ' Mona Bouquet' on the Castletown College road is dear to me. Let me finish with smells by admitting that ever since I left King William's College I have associated some of the class rooms there with a particular and cherished odour. I can generally recall it. I think it is composed of generations of ink deposits, mixed with disinfectant, or whatever was used by old Kelly and his staff for cleaning the floors at week-ends. During my recent visit to the College I spent some time in the best remembered class rooms, sniffing in the same old stink, and I've recharged my batteries and filled up my smell tank for another spell of years.
The main building has, I think, had its roof raised, and this accounted for my inability to locate a dormer window, with a loose bar, out of which I was thrust in my pyjamas one snowy night to meditate upon the folly of disrespect to some hefty fellows of which charge I had been judged guilty.
I wonder if the way of boys has altered. My first term at King William's College was not a happy one-or, to be accurate, the first half of that term. One or two evil spirits can exercise a wide and demoralising influence, and the small boys of my day were for a time subjected to quite a lot of senseless and purposeless bullying. It was not until a little fellow was so knocked and kicked one Sunday evening that he fainted, that the climax came. It was wise of the Masters to entrust the matter to the prwpositors, and I well remember the fight on the following Sunday between the chief bully and a red headed sixth form hero, who, with precision and leisurely thoroughness 'wiped the floor' with his adversary, before a crowd of boys, large and small.
The College building has grown much since my day. Then there was no swimming bath, no junior school building, no armoury, no theatre, none of these excellent and well fitted technical shops with plant, including a motor chassis and an aeroplane engine (a little difficult to-day to visualise the period when the aeroplane and motor car were not in existence) and the ' Gym ' was on the ground floor, as I understand it is to be again some day. The new premises now in progress shew that the programme of extensions is a big one, and the disappearance of tin shanties and the completion of the Quad will make the back worthy of the front.
The school War Memorial is a fitting tribute to the Old Boys who fell. Their names and example will live so long as tradition, duty and patriotism have any meaning.
The Chapel seems but little changed, although, of course there are a few more mural brasses and tablets, and a new organ is in process of being erected. My memory went back to the many services I attended. Even to us boys the identity of the Sunday preacher was a matter of some moment-we listened with interest to some, but Lord ! how dull were others. I remember one hot Sunday when the worst of the `others' was droning out his uninspiring discourse, a boy fell forward in a faint, and was carried out. Another. and probably his also was a genuine case, succeeded, and the joyful commotion occasioned when the casualities reached five was only brought to an end by the hurried conclusion of the service. I believe a hundred boys were quite prepared, at any inconvenience, to faint in the good cause that day.
The masters of my day have, alas! all passed away, the Principal, Dr. Hughes-Games-a fierce but just deity before whom no boy exactly desired to stand for correction-Mr. Heaton, Mr. Jenkins. Mr. Trafford, called " Budge "-why I do not know,-Mr. Pleignier; to name only a few. Really a jolly decent lot, assuming the relationship between masters and boys -often determined by the boy-to be natural. I know I wish I had been a little more considerate to some of the masters who were anxious to teach me so much more than I chose to learn.
I remember one master who used to honour two or three boys by an occasional invitation to join him and his family at tea on Sunday evenings. It was not an exhilarating occasion, and the home made cake was as heavy as lead. I recollect being forced to take a second large slab, and, even if I had had the will, I could not have eaten it. With great cunning I tipped most of the piece on to my lap and threw it under the chair of one of my host's children. It was discovered on the floor and, notwithstanding the child's protests, he was subjected then and there to mild corporal punishment, while I preserved an air of pained interest. I had always disliked that particular child !
Perhaps my greatest disappointment during my recent visit was to find that the two 'tuck' shops had disappeared. The soda and potato scones with brown sugar and butter obtainable at the little shop over the steps and across the road, and the sausages provided by the other " Mother" residing in the row of houses facing the sea on the road to the town. I had so much wanted to eat one of these scones again. But I had one little bit of luck ; I found my initials on a class room table, well and truly burnt in.
I had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of the present Principal-Canon E. C. Owen-and I was much struck by some statistics he gave me as to the number of boys at the College from 1913 onwards. Over 300 now as compared with 200 in my day. The war years must have been difficult, and the pluck of the boys (and their parents) in facing the danger zone- when German submarines were known to abound, shews a spirit to be proud of. Canon Owen also gave me some particulars of the successes of College boys in modern languages, and I was very pleased to learn that so much attention is given to a qualification so important in these days. I know of no greater asset for any boy or young man than a capacity to speak fluently at least one foreign language, be it French, Spanish or German. I don't count Manx.
One other point I meant to enquire about was the facility afforded for learning to sing and play the piano or other instrument. No boy who has not got a natural talent in this direction should inflict upon himself, and others, the acquisition of any musical expression. But if he has the talent no boy should neglect to cultivate it. There is nothing ' sloppy' about music, and to play or sing, even passably, is a gift twice blest ! The day I left the Isle of Man happened to be the first day of the new term, and, as I walked from the station at Douglas to the boat, I met crowds of College boys just landed. They had had a roughish crossing, as many faces shewed, and I remember how beastly sick I had sometimes been, especially if I was bound for the Clyde in winter time. The steamers in those days were small and slow. I remember one fellow used to be sea sick immediately he got on board the steamer, even if the boat was high and dry in the harbour. That boy allowed his imagination too much licence.
Let me conclude my rambling memories by saving that pride in one's school is good. It is one of the prides that last.
LESLIE COUPER. London, October, 1924.
Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received
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