Wennington School weekend at P.E.T.T.

Toddington, Gloucs 28—31 May 2004

From: Stuart Humphrey

Friday ~ about 2.30 pm.

I arrived at PETT, having followed Pat’s directions faultlessly. Weather pleasantly warm and sunny but not too hot. Found my way round the side of the building to the "front" entrance and saw Sam Doncaster, Pat Mitchell and others inside and deep in conversation. Waited for a lull in the discussion to be introduced to Andy Peers & Jonathan Adamson (whom I’d not met before) and Tom James (whom I remember very well from school days but failed to recognise at first — it’s been 45 years since we last met!). Greeted old friends Sam and Pat (with whom I have kept in touch). Gave Pat a big hug and was told off by Sam: "put her down — you don’t know where she’s been". I said, "I think I can probably guess".

Tom James on Computer

Introductions and greetings over, we moved on to some of the important business — getting something to eat. Some of us had brought packed lunches but had not stopped on the way to eat them, There was also a vast quantity of other food (and liquid material) for the rest of the weekend, which was stowed in one of the fridges and on the kitchen table. Tom was volunteered to be the operator of the industrial dishwasher and given driving instructions (this was a strange machine rather smaller than a domestic one but working in about a tenth of the time). Then there was accommodation to sort out. Jonathan (who was skint) made his own arrangements with a tent on the back lawn. Pat had tentatively suggested (somewhat to the alarm of some of us) that the single people could double-up. However, that idea was soon laid to rest when we pointed out that some of us snore (or make other disturbing noises) and we each chose our bedrooms. The accommodation block is well appointed, with around a dozen double rooms, several bath-shower rooms (the showers having a force comparable with your average car jet washer!), a small kitchen and a sitting room.

Domestic arrangements duly sorted, we began to tackle some of the day’s business. The archivist, Craig Fees appeared and was introduced to us. Tom had already got stuck into generating a computer database for cataloguing and cross-referencing all the bits and pieces of material we had to hand. Craig produced a quantity of transparent plastic envelopes, into which the photographs were to be put, with a serial number written in permanent marker on the back. This was done in a totally random manner, each picture (even the numerous duplicates) being separately bagged — the idea being to identify them positively using the database. Other material included copies of the school prospectus and annual magazine, a senate minute book from 1958 and some of Kenneth’s notes from Sunday Assembly lectures. On and off, we busied ourselves with looking-out, filing and collating all of this stuff for the rest of the useable day.

Helen Kirkup (formerly Ruth McColm) was next to turn up. She and I met in the junior school and went all through the senior school together, remaining in contact until 1979. We resumed acquaintance last year, so I went to greet her; giving her a peck and a squeeze. (Something I’ve noticed, incidentally, is that Wennington people can be rather reserved about huggy greetings — must have something to do with the strict code of etiquette we observed during our school days). She asked, "Where’s Sally?" I replied airily, "Oh, I’ve left her..." Then, seeing the look of confused embarrassment on her, and other, faces I hastened to complete the sentence: .... .at home to do her own thing." Pat had earlier tried to persuade Sally to come, since there would be other non-Wennington spouses present — and we had discussed it — but it’s not really very easy for them if they don’t know everyone and they can get awfully bored. So it was the right decision for us. A little later, Ernie Thomas appeared bearing another hugebox of photos etc. and three disposable barbecues. I gather that he had been detailed to do this. He had some other engagement to go to so, having discharged the greater part of his responsibility, he only stayed a short while. Later still, Richard Newton came. He lives quite close by so, at the end of his working day, he had removed the farmyard muck from his person, tidied-up and joined us.

 We ate a cold collation assembled from the various goodies that folks had brought along and nattered, and nattered and prattled away until around midnight, when several bottles of red wine were transported to the hostel-block sitting room and the main building was shut up for the night. Helen and Richard had already gone home by then. Although I was one of the younger people present, I’m afraid my system doesn’t function well after pumpkin hour and I took myself off to bed. I did hear voices burbling for ten minutes or so but soon lapsed into slumber and no doubt regaled the company with my rhythmic nasal rumblings.

 

Saturday ~ about 8.15 am

Woke to a cloudy sky and gentle drizzle, but still pleasantly warm. Subjected myself to a vigorous whole-body massage under the powerful shower and made my way across the yard to see what I could manage in the breakfast line. (Sadly, there is a curious feature between the buildings, comprising a flagged path surrounding a rectangular gravel bed with a raised lip. This was formerly a swimming pool, which had to be filled-in to satisfy health & safety regulations!). Happily, I found I was by no means the last to appear and I joined the company in a leisurely meal of cereals, toast, fruit and coffee. I gathered that the previous night’s discussions had gone on until around two or three.

Paddy and Lydia on computer

Craig came in to open the archive room soon after ten (he had agreed to make himself available throughout the weekend, even though it was his bank-holiday). He brought with him his 11-year-old daughter, Enla to help. We carried on bagging up the photos until we had done all we could. Then it was somehow decreed that Samand I would set up the copy camera rostrum to digitise a pile of pictures, which Kenneth had mounted up for exhibition. Sam seemed to think that my training and experience in photography should be beneficial. Be that as it may, I am totally clueless when it comes to digital cameras. And then, when you do this sort of thing under the auspices of a professional setup, the equipment is all to hand. So, although we had the luxury of a camera rostrum, things like lights, focussing bellows and the means of holding the original flat without reflections were missing, so we had to do a deal of "cobbling" to get it to work. The first big problem was persuading the camera not to switch itself off every half-minute, with the loss of its settings! The up-side was that it worked well in low light levels, so moving the setup close to a north window provided sufficient light for our purpose. It was actually quite an interesting exercise and seeing the old fellow’s (KCB) artwork was new to us. A cartoon he drew for Ian Sellar’s (Hoots’s) leaving showed a side to him which had not hitherto been apparent.

 

Helen returned around midday and also Paddy and Lydia Butcher. They busied themselves scanning the magazines. At some point, John, Denise and Katy Pentith joined the group. That evening we had the barbecue, at which Andy largely officiated with the cooking (and very well he did too, having brought a "proper" barbecue, as well as using the disposable jobs). The rain had cleared around mid-morning and conditions were really just right. We were joined again by Richard and also by Sue Hooper, who had worked in the kitchen in the 60s. Craig came for a while with his wife Fiona, daughter Enla and son Thomas. The latter part of the evening was spent watching "The Video" — a compilation of sequences from the 16mm film which Kenneth shot (and on which he had overlaid a rough-and-ready commentary) and some material from later reunions. The idea was that we would turn down the commentary, fire-up a video camera and sound recorder and get the input from the group discussion. It didn’t actually work very well. He had assembled the material in a strangely disjointed way, making it difficult to follow and, interestingly, a sequence he had shot at the "morning dip" had been cut out and then tagged on later. There was a lot of discussion over this question: how morning dips would be impossible today and whether one should be concerned about Kenneth supervising the dip and filming— a fascinating foldback effect on our social perspectives. Once again, discussions continued well into the night with the consumption of more red wine. Old deadbeat here retired to his virtuous couch.

Enla making copies

Sunday ~ 7.50 sharp.

Woken rudely by the piercing sound of the fire alarm. Sauntered out to join the company of other nightwear-clad figures staring perplexedly at the control panel in the corridor, some frantically pressing buttons to no avail. We were fortunately rescued by a man (nothing to do with our group) who was camped in the field and understood the system. A little time to overcome the shock was needed before going to breakfast. A fairly good day was spent continuing the tasks we had previously set ourselves. Sam and I attempted to digitise the photos, which Tom had entered into tbe database but it was a drop in the ocean in terms of the total volume. One amusing sidelight occurred over a picture of Galina Lazarides whom, as it turned out, all of us blokes who knew her were rather in love with - it provoked a lot of lively discussion. There was still plenty of food left to make a good stir-fry supper and more energetic discussion ensued. We covered every topic over which social issues rage: war, homosexuality, freedom of dress for religious orders and, of course, foxhunting. Since Katy and Jonathan took the "pro-hunt" stand against the rest of the group, the argument grew quite heated.

Monday 31st, about 8.00

Felt reasonably refreshed on this our last day. Weather again very good. Took a masochistic high-pressure shower and sauntered over. Tom was ensconced at the cooker, turning the eggs and bacon which were left over into a really scrummy breakfast. He also announced that he was about to clean the dishwasher and that all further washing-up would be manual. Took our time eating and decided that we had completed all the work we reasonably could so we’d go for a walk before having a light lunch and leaving. We cleaned the place thoroughly (to be sure we would be welcome in future) and I got out my map (I was the only one who had one). Sam muttered something about preferring to use the 1:25000 scale but nevertheless took it and also took charge of the expedition. At this point, we realised that the Pentith contingent was missing. Had they already left? No, their cars were still there. While we were sorting out boots, they drifted in looking rather bleary eyed. (They were not the "Earley" risers one might expect — which just shows you can’t judge someone’s character from their postcode!). They would love to join us on the walk but wanted some breakfast first. We did get away eventually and enjoyed a very pleasant stroll on footpaths through fields and farm tracks. The map only let us down once and not really seriously.

And that’s about it. We had our lunch, made sure again that we’d left the place spotless and left. It was a good weekend.

Thanks go to Craig for giving his time, to Andy for the BBQ, to chefs Tom and John and to Pat and Sam for organising the weekend and bringing what was required for breakfasts and lunches.

Ps. Sam and Pat volunteered to take the bottles to a recycle point. I counted around 30 (and the milk came in plastic containers).

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