Sitting in the waiting room, on my
bi-annual visit to the dentist, I usually like to browse
through the magazines, which are usually the up market
variety, e.g. Tatler, Country Life, The Lady etc. But on
my most recent visit, these were no longer available, so I
was left with outdated copies of Hello and OK magazines,
purported to represent the trials and tribulations of what
is euphemistically known as the "A list".
However, after a short while I
quickly came to the conclusion that most photographs and
articles covered birds, brides, babies and BAFTAs, not to
mention the Beckhams, so the term ‘B list’ would seem far
Alongside I saw a new addition to
the literature: a shelf full books which had been left by
fellow patients, and which could be purchased by giving a
voluntary donation to the local hospice. Naturally there
was quite an assortment of reading material but I selected
on a book written by a 91-year-old in 2013 on the many
social and economic changes throughout his lifetime.
The book, with the fascinating
title of ‘Harry’s Last Stand’, was described by the
publisher as "a lyrical, searing modern invective that
shows what the past can teach us, how the future is ours
for the taking". Harry, or to give him his full name Harry
Leslie Smith, was born into poverty in Barnsley,
Yorkshire, his early years being spent through the Great
Depression followed by the Second World War.
My initial reaction was “not
another grumpy old man bemoaning his fate”, but realising
that much of this era was during my own lifetime, I
decided to make a donation, had the drilling and the
filling, then left clutching my new purchase.
The book? Well, I was not
disappointed. Albeit at times political, it provided an
interesting read covering many of the years through which
I had lived, brought back many memories and was at times
very thought provoking.
The section on education, or the
lack of it available prior to WW2, covered how Harry
educated himself without any formal training, and without
the advantage of the successive Governments in the 1950s
who introduced evening classes and adult education, along
with the correspondence courses which were then becoming
available in the private sector.
This proved not only thought
provoking, but brought back memories and made me question
my own schooling; who actually taught me the "Three Rs",
the basis of all learning. Undoubtedly this came from my
formative years at Sarah Robinson Infant and Junior school
in Crawley. It was during those war years, when teachers,
all female, coped with the constant threat of the Air Raid
Warning Siren, when lessons were interrupted but continued
with classes crouched under desks until the ‘All Clear’
Siren sounded, whilst preparing us for the notorious, long
gone, 11-plus exam. Then future education and employment
rested entirely on how you performed on the day: not a
very satisfactory way to decide one’s future.
Having passed, the natural step
forward was Collyer’s Grammar School in Horsham, which was
regarded as one of high standing in terms of achievements.
We all have our own memories of
our time at Collyer’s, whether a high- or under-achiever,
lessons and values learned there remain with us forever.
Perhaps my generation were
fortunate: jobs were aplenty, CVs had not been required,
the mere fact that you could mention Collyer’s Grammar
School in your application letter was enough to ensure
that you were at least were called for an interview, even
if not given the position. Such was the esteem in which
the School was held; not only by local employers but by
the community at large. I am pleased that this reputation
has been carried forward over successive generations, and
continues to this day.
Now, I find myself being proud and
honoured to be appointed as President of the OCA for the
current year. So far, I have been fortunate to represent
the Association on two occasions: at the Carol Service and
Prizegiving functions. I can only admire the exceptionally
talented students who are carrying on the tradition of
Collyer’s education at the present College.
Finally, it would be remiss of me
if I failed to mention my predecessor Stewart Mackman for
his Presidential year, and all who have gone before him,
together with all the members of the Committee, who ensure
that the OCA continues to flourish.