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Sunday, 2 November 2008

"The past is another country"

A happy old fool at the Chequers in Slaugham, enjoying a gathering of 38 of us who'd been at Ashfold School long ago. I've borrowed a school cap, its badge showing our three Houses - Lions, Griffins and Dragons. I'd left Birmingham on the 0600 train, cycled from Euston to London Bridge, arrived at the remains of the school grounds near Handcross at 1015, having pedalled up the long hill from Balcombe Station. The weather was dreich. From a beech-sheltered rendezvous off the Horsham Road, groups of us strolled the grounds of the old school, sharing memories, recognising hints of the past despite transformations of land and buildings, before gathering at the pub, continuing conversations started fifty years ago.

[17/01/11: unknown error - this small film no longer shows, its URL has disappeared and been replaced by a repeat of the link in the first sentence of the indented para below.]
We'd recognised one another in seconds - sighting features, recalling inflexions - relaxed in each other's company, chatting like sparrows, gathered to celebrate - by being happy - the character of Ashfold's headmaster - Jim Harrison - and the family of teachers he recruited. Later I found - on the internet - Edward Fox's memories:
At eight, I was a border at Ashfold School near Handcross, also in West Sussex. It was run by such kind, brilliant, eccentric and wonderfully English staff. Miss Ticehurst, who was known as 'Tishy' and taught music, was one of the great teachers. The headmaster was James Harrison. If there was a caterpillar on his lettuce, he would eat it, to teach us not to be dripping wet.
This get-together - first of its kind - was proposed only three weeks ago, intiated by a class mate, mainly coordinated by 'Cyprus Sue' at the other end of the Mediterranean. [Mr Chips - about a public school rather than prep of course and much earlier, resonant on a theme of long association "..a long time ago...yes...a long time...things are different now" ~ extract] Later, Brompton folded in the boot, I was given a lift to Eastbourne Station, with a stop for tea and cakes and more conversation. At 1900, a ticket seller, called Patricia, seemed to take genuine pleasure imparting, through a glass screen, the news that 'reduced Saturday services' meant our rail system couldn't get me to Birmingham that night. ("Sometimes a good day needs a piece of crude punctuation" said the classmate who'd offered a room for the night). Despite his kindness I wanted to get home. Rain and wind increased, puddling the dark platform at St Leonards. I waited an hour for a train, having heard from Lin - checking the internet and phoning my mobile - I could catch a coach from London or take a room at a hotel in Kings Cross ("five left at £29"). Once aboard a trundle-train to Charing Cross, in company with a clutch of Saturday night police in yellow tabards, readying for post-Halloween passengers expected to join a returning train from Battle, I grumbled to a young woman on her way to Aldershot. She was in the middle of custody litigation over her five children, one of whom was about to be a mother, making Charlotte a grandma at 34. I censored my vexation at our railways as our separate tales unfolded. She showed me photos of her sons and daughters. I showed her a picture of me with a jackdaw on my head. "Thanks for your company" I said, as she got off at Waterloo, "Good luck with your life." From Charing Cross concourse with police, security and PCSOs warily circling tipsy screamers, I cycled swiftly along wet Whitehall, past the House of Common down to crowded Victoria Coach Station, to hurry aboard the 2300 bus home - the young driver, firmly but politely, rejecting a swaying man who wanted a seat to Brum ("See how you feel later. There're two more to Birmingham tonight") - arriving at Digbeth at 0140, pedalling happily through chilly driving rain to home at Handsworth at 0200 - a long happy day for one who avoids reunions. "Cup of tea?" "Yes please" One of our oldest e-mailed on Sunday: '... a great day and it just showed how much the old school means to us! It was amazing to meet up with people I probably hadn't seen for 58 years but also amazing that we picked up the friendships straight away.' I found an old School Report signed off by Jim Harrison when I was 9. When the children were young I found a very small slug in my lettuce one day and ate it, to show off a little, and show them that a slug in a salad wasn't the end of the world. They thought I was silly but amusing. Could I have learned that long ago? Like the prayer we sang at evensong - its first line the school's motto * * *
I'm writing in connection with what should be the final stage of our campaign, going back over ten years, to see new playing fields and eighty allotments laid out beside the new houses built next to Handsworth Park, as part of the developer's 2004 S106A with Birmingham City Council (see earlier posts):
Dear Cllr Brom VICTORIA JUBILEE ALLOTMENTS It was good to see you the other day at PC Nigel Smith's retirement event at the Tennis Club in Handsworth Wood. You mentioned that the VJA and the future of the Section 106A on that site was on your list. You will recall that when we (including Basil Hylton, you and Cllr Hussain) met Alan Orr, Constituency Planning Officer, on site on 22 May this year he said things should be starting to move by this August. Birmingham City Council's website claims that: 'In Handsworth, the final phase of development of the former private Victoria Jubilee Allotments will soon be underway. This comprises the complete restoration of an allotment site of 80 plots and is expected to be completed during 2008.' (but although you can find an allotments page on the BCC website various links are on 2/11/08 returning error 500 messages) The current financial situation with its potential fall out for the population of the area may be a reason for delays, yet it should also bring greater urgency to plans for new playing fields and allotments. Kind regards, Simon. Handsworth Allotments Information Group
And a few day's later:
Dear Cllrs Brom, Hussain and Brown and Mr.Khalid Mahmood MP, Any news of progress on the future of the VJA? I attach an air photo that I find rather troubling in terms of the incursion of building or at least hard surface into the area reserved for green space under the S106 Agreement between Birmingham CC and the developer. Compare the layout agreed by BCC Planning Committee with a recent air photo . Kind regards, Simon Baddeley
Adrian Goldberg at The Stirrer says he'll run this - he's been very helpful in the past, ditto Nick Booth who'll reference via Podnosh on the Grassroots Channel.

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