Good grief.. where to start? I suppose the beginning is the traditional place, so I'll try that.

My first memory is of watching my parents driving away down that long drive, leaving me, a very frightened 12 year old, in this God forsaken place nearly 200 miles from home. That was at the start of the Summer term in 1962 (coincidentally Pete Ashmore's last term). Since passing the 11 plus (remember that?) I had spent two terms attending the local Grammar School, actually more often, NOT attending the local Grammar School! So the child psychologist recommended boarding school, and in particular, Wennington. As the local authority was paying, my parents thought it was a great idea. So there I was, watching their Hillman Minx disappear into the sunset. Don't read into this that I blame my parents, in fact in retrospect, it was the best thing they ever did for me, but at the time……

It was such a strange place. There was a weird uniform of maroon blazers and green corduroy shorts. It had bedrooms with lots of beds and bathrooms with two baths. For an 'only child' in the early sixties, it was a bit of a culture shock. Calling teachers by their Christian names took a lot of getting used to, and there were far too many obscure customs and procedures for a 'new boy' to take in, all at once. And, there were GIRLS!

I used to write letters home almost daily, pleading to be 'rescued'. My mother kept all these, and in later years we used to re-read them together, with mixed emotions. Then one day she got a letter from me that said "I have a new freind. His name is Auther." (I couldn't spell either! That is exactly as I wrote it.) and from that moment my pleading letters reduced, and I started to settle in, to become a Wenningtonian. Unfortunately, and despite the undoubted effect he had on my life, I cannot remember anything else about Auther, sorry, Arthur, not even his surname.

Once the initial shock had worn off, I must have settled into the routine, as I have very few memories of my first two or three years at Wennington. I remember that the wrenching away from home at the beginning of term got less painful. I remember that actually the school holidays were a bit strange, because I had no friends at home, they were all at school, and consequently disappeared all over the country in the holidays. We didn't have e-mail in those days! I remember the cold winters; the totally inadequate boiler which consumed tons of coke, and produced about a kilowatt from the radiators of the boys dorms, with their 10ft ceilings and draughty windows.

By the time I was 15, life had changed. I had been given the job of 'Workshop Aide' by Frank Burgess (more later), which meant that I was entrusted with a key to the 'Temple', as I viewed the wood and metal workshops. I was also put in charge of the swimming pool chlorination and filtration plant. I'm not quite sure why this was, but it did wonders for my understanding of 'ph values' and 'star/delta motor starting'! I was also a bit of a photographer and I remember that we had a dark-room in one of the old outbuildings, where water ran down the walls, and there was a constant battle against mould. The light was kept out by strips of old carpet nailed to the edges of the door. Later still, I remember the construction of the new Science block, and Theatre and again I was let loose in the Theatre control room, with its array of plugs, sockets and Variac transformers, (see inside back cover of 1966/67 school magazine, and, I've just realised, page 130 of 'Energy Unbound'. Yes, that's me!). This was obviously the start of what was to become my profession as an electrical engineer. Another example of this comes to mind. You remember those little study cubicles in the sixth form room, well I decided that I wanted to run a kettle in mine. In the absence of a power circuit, and with what I thought at the time to be remarkable initiative for one so young, I plumbed a 13amp socket into the 5amp lighting system. Needless to say, every time I fancied a cup of coffee, the fuse blew and all the lights went out. Easy, I thought, and replaced the fuse with a nail. It wasn't until the wiring started to smoulder that my deed was found out. Kenneth was, to say the least, not best pleased with my actions. Well, I suppose it was a wooden building!

I move on to what are perhaps the most important memories of Wennington, the people. It is very strange. I have studied the staff lists in my faded and dog-eared copies of the School Magazines for my years at the school. Some of the names I remember vividly, their appearance, their voice, their mannerisms. Of others, I have no recollection whatsoever. Extracts from my School Reports are shown in italics.

Kenneth and Frances Barnes - Many memories of Kenneth and I'm afraid very few of Frances. To pick a few of Kenneth's … Him always seeming to have a hammer or a screwdriver in his hand. I think the school would physically have fallen apart without him. Him standing in front of the notice board with his head forced as far back as it would go, trying to read the notices through the bottom bit of his bi-focals. His performance as Obey's Noah, complete with wristwatch, glasses and Clarkes sandals. Him hurtling around the dance floor, dragging some poor unsuspecting sixth form girl in a furious waltz. But by far the most important, the enormous respect he enjoyed from all the staff, and (most of) the pupils. A respect that it seems was not, as I understand it, enjoyed by Brian or Fred, for one reason or another.

Frank Burgess - Frank was like a father figure to me. I was a practical sort of kid, and to be given unlimited access to the workshops was like heaven for me. He did tend to live life on another planet, bless him, and I do remember that we used to take the mickey out of him by walking round holding our index fingers up in the air. This was not the rude gesture it may appear these days, but was caused by the fact that with monotonous regularity kids (and Frank) chopped the ends of their fingers off with a chisel or a saw of some other lethal weapon in the workshop. His first instruction was always to hold it above your head to stem the bleeding. He also nursed me through 'O level' Technical Drawing, which I managed to pass. But it was the use of the workshop that made me eternally grateful to Frank. I still have numerous artefacts around my house, fashioned in that hallowed emporium.

John Swift - I think John's title was Estate Manager, and was probably not a person known to many of the pupils. But again, I warmed to him. He was an immensely practical engineer, and I used to hang on his every word. He was also the ultimate 'nice bloke'. I don't think he ever had a bad word for anyone. He also had a Land Rover, which I thought was really 'cool', (but I don't expect 'cool' was in our vocabulary in the '60s, other than to describe the temperature of the dorms). I am now on my fourth Lanny, and love them to bits! One of his outstanding performances was the removal of a 30ft steel girder from the top of the house, using two pine trees in the form of an 'A frame'. I hear you say "What a sad person!", but to a budding young engineer like wot I was, this was the stuff of dreams. I hope that if John gets to read this, he will remember me. I'll always remember him.

Frances Young - (What was I saying about the stuff of dreams?…….) Fran was the Matron in the Courtyard block where I was a Dorm Leader. She was young (not only by name!), blond and attractive, and she would entertain some of us older kids in her room. No, hang on, I don't mean THAT sort of entertain! Just coffee and the Beach Boys. She was actually far more interested in the Biology teacher than us testosterone fueled adolescents. But she was a great friend, and for that I am grateful.

Roger Gerhardt - What a star! He actually managed to teach me enough conversational French to both get me through 'O level', and enable me to order the odd beer on my more recent sailing trips to France. I was also honoured to be allowed to operate his huge Ferrograph tape recorder. In fact, I actually bought one of my own from his supplier in Harrogate, which I owned until about 3 years ago, when I donated it to a theatre in Gloucester. (Summer 1965 - Chris is beginning to translate with dependable accuracy. Would that the Muse inspired his spoken utterances with greater fervour!)

Dennis Blacklock - My main memory of Dennis, is his appearance. Fairly rotund, thinning hair, small glasses and a moustache. I also never remember him wearing anything other than a collar and tie, sports jacket and grey trousers, (constantly being heaved up over the paunch). I seem to recall that this 'uniform' was worn, even when he piled a load of us into his van (I think called 'Jonquil' from the sickly yellow colour of the inside), and took us off for a weekends camping in the Yorkshire moors. The names Pateley Bridge and Great Whernside come to mind, sleeping in huge army tents and drinking water from a spring. On the edges of my memories of Dennis is a lady called Pamela. I think they were married eventually, but to me, as a kid, she seemed so much younger than him. He did manage to coach me through 'O level' Maths, with a struggle.
 Louis Jones - What a lovely man. But really, the prospect of teaching me how to paint, or produce pots… he was on a loser from day one. I don't think any examples of my art work survived for more than three hours after it's production. Unfortunately, some of my 'pots' did get back home to Mum, and were displayed proudly. When she passed away 8 years ago, and my Dad and I were clearing out the house, I was finally able to destroy the evidence of my failed artistic career. (Summer 1962 - He paints in an original way…)

Ken Jones - This bloke scared the **** out of me! He was huge, Welsh and taught Geography (that was ok), and P.E. (definitely NOT ok). I was not into sport. I didn't mind the odd tennis match, swimming, even hockey (but only because we got to play with the girls), but football, rugby, athletics and cricket… forget it! (Summer 1965 - There is little one can say except that he has concentrated his energies on tennis and swimming, almost to the total exclusion of athletics and cricket.)

Brian Hill - Really he sort of floated around my life at Wennington, occasionally trying to instil knowledge of the great and the good in English Literature and I'm afraid, failing dismally. I really am quite glad that I had left, before he took over the helm. He was an academic, and, I have to say, a thoroughly nice man, but certainly not a 'leader of men', let alone kids. (Autumn 1965 - There have been occasional good signs, but victory is not yet assured.)

Marie Claridge - I'll bet that's got a few of you scratching your heads. She was the diminutive School Secretary, and as such was responsible for issuing the mail from home, and train tickets at the end of term. As such, I thought that she was the best thing since sliced bread. Thinking about it, it was probably before sliced bread.

David Rothwell - This poor guy was on a loser from the word go, with me. History and Latin, I could not relate to. I have hardly any memory of Mr. Rothwell, but feel that the following History report sums up our relationship perfectly. (Summer 1965 - Has slipped downhill somewhat. His comprehension of the subject appears to be nil.)

John Chapman - My response to the teaching of this aforementioned Biology master seems to have been in inverse proportion to our mutual interest in the young blond matron. (Autumn 1962 - A very good term's work indeed. Keen and interested. Summer 1965 - Chris has ambled pleasantly through the term. Has achieved little but has remained interested. Should drop the subject at 'O level'.) I rest my case!

So, what was the outcome of all this effort put in by these fine people, and many more that I can't actually remember? Well I took two years to get 6 'O levels', (well sort of 8, except two were the same). English Lang. (twice), Geography, Maths, French, Physics and Technical Drawing (twice). I never made it to the Upper 6th and 'A levels'. However, in the afterlife I went on to gain an HND in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, and subsequently survived a 30 year career in the Electricity Supply industry. I resigned from this reasonably responsible £30k job two years ago, as I could not cope with the stress and appalling management, introduced since privatisation.
But back to Wennington for my final few, rather obscure and random memories. I remember being promoted to Acting Head Boy in my last term or two. I'm not sure why, but have a feeling that the previous incumbent was 'asked to leave' for some reason. There was one wonderful benefit from this post. You will remember that this period of the sixties was the era of the mini-skirt. Kenneth had decided that only a certain amount of young female thigh was acceptable, although I think he actually quite enjoyed it. I can't remember the value, but it was measured in 'inches above the knee'. And it was my job to monitor this, before the Sunday Evening Assemblies, complete with ruler and quivering hand. It was far more than a lad of my age should have been subjected to. Although, I actually enjoyed it even more than Kenneth.

I remember the filming of the BBC TV programme about the school. I remember seeing Duke Ellington live at a concert in Leeds, organised by Roger. I remember the woods, where we used to retreat in moments (or was it hours?) of stress. Pine woods, with 'stinkhorns', fallen trees, and dens. I remember the Sunday 'bike rides', our only chance to escape the confines of the school, complete with 'packed lunches' provided by the kitchen. I remember singing Handel's Messiah in Wetherby Church. I remember Bonfire Nights, when the kids could chase and 'beat up' the adults. I remember sneaking into Wetherby Racecourse, and standing at the rail at the finish of a race, (the only time I've ever been to a race meeting in my life.).

I remember my parents taking me out to 'The Angel' in Wetherby, when they visited during my last year. "Would you like a drink?" said my Dad. "Thanks, I'll have a Newcastle Brown," I replied. He was only slightly put out by the fact that his 17 year old son actually knew what a Newcastle Brown was!

And I remember my last day, or rather, evening. Like many older kids, I had stayed on, to help clear up the place after the hoards had left, along with the then Head Girl. Let's not mince words, I fancied her. Ok, I knew that she had a boyfriend, or, as I think the term was, 'was a couple' with another guy. Still there was her and me, so I thought I'd go for it. I stole a bottle of wine from the staff room, I think my only act of theft in my life, apart from the odd pen, and Post-it-pad, from work. Having lured the young lady into the Lower sixth formroom, we proceed to demolish said bottle. However, as soon as I hinted at any further fraternisation, she very firmly, if slightly drunkenly, told me to forget it, as she was intent on being faithful to her boyfriend. So I forgot it!! The story of my life, really. As well as a hangover the next morning, I also got a bollocking for nicking the wine.

So to sum up my feelings about Wennington, it certainly had its ups and downs. I think, probably, that at the time, the 'downs' won, but after 30+ years reflection I feel that the 'ups' have it! It was an amazing place. It was a place of contrasts. The appallingly cold winters and the wonderful warm summers. The huge diversity of the students, from rich Americans to LEA funded kids like myself.

I really do feel that it made me a far better person than five years in a red brick grammar school in Worcester would ever have done.

Chris Perks,
Worcestershire, 2001.  

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