God, in whom I don't believe, has been kind
to me. Well He didn't exactly give me Ciprianni looks, but He gave me a fair brain and I've
always been warm, reasonably well clothed, had a full belly, comfortable lodgings - and He
did save me from marriage. Oh, there was a brief hiatus in this good fortune when He made me
an Apprentice but He made up for that later by ensuring early retirement from work then
tending to tedium - and with enhanced pension to boot!
With free time on my hands I began to think about earlier times (as do the unworked
ageing) and wondered if I should try and contact old buddies (?) with the possibility of
having a reunion. I pondered this for some time.
What was the point of a reunion? You've not seen, or been in contact with, those folk
for near 40 years so why bother having a reunion? It's not as if we'd fought together in the
war - hell it was only three years of an imagined purgatory mildly relieved by illicit beer
in the Windsor and fumbling unrequited sex in Worlebury Wood. Indeed, was I the person to
organise it? - me the spotty faced, big eared, callow youth with a liking for Beethoven and a
strong dislike of calculus and all things involving teams? Perhaps the pariah of the Entry?
No! No! Better leave it to the entry leaders, the dynamos, the bounding extroverts, the
Thompsons, the De Soyzas, the Craigs, et al. They were the people to do it. And in any case
it's going to cost money and you know how mean you are
* * * * *
Satan, in whom I do believe, has been unkind
to me, for after more than twelve months shilly shallying he tempted me into deciding to
search out the whereabouts of those old buddies, whispering seductively in my ear "Just
get it started Peter: do perhaps a couple of reunions, then let those dynamos of yesteryear
come in and take the thing over". The old devil!
Fumblingly, as in Worlebury Wood, did I set out, only this time to try and find folk. I
see I wrote the first letter on the 18th November 1992 to SSAFA at Shrewsbury requesting
search tactics. Got no where really until I saw somewhere that an R Cooper was organising a
36th (Halton) Entry reunion: as he was local I phoned him on the 1st Feb 1993 and his advice
was sound. What was needed was a list of names - say the pass out list.
On 22nd February I wrote to the station commander at Locking requesting a list of names
for the 75th entry. I heard nothing. Then, on 30th April I was summoned by ringing phone from
my bath by a bloody F/O John Hall who told me about a S/L Joe Holroyd who was setting up the
Locking Apprentice Association and I should contact him. In my half naked state (just like
Worlebury Wood) I was not thinking(?) straight and forgot to ask Hall about a list of names
and later assumed that such lists were clothed in the secrecy of official Acts.
I went to the first LAA meeting in '93, met Dave Young and Brian Carpenter, and then
went off on holiday walking the Pyrenees from Atlantic to the Med. - marvellous, I recommend
you all do it before you're too old! After that I put a few adverts in various periodicals
which Mike Gentry and Tony Adcock amongst others responded to and through them got a few more
Really the breakthrough came from Neil Castle (76th) - he told me that pass-out-lists
were not veiled in secrecy and a few days before Christmas 1993 he sent me a copy of the 75th
list. Using BT Directories, and taking the funny names from the list, my first success was
Tory, JR, - and he was only the second Tory I had phoned! There's power in these lists,
thought I, and soon challenged Castle that I'd identify 40 addresses for my entry before he
did for his. A pint of beer was to be the prize. And I won and Castle still hasn't paid, the
swine! [I am so glad that Mike Collier wasn't searching out the names for the 76th at that
time: he is very thorough and has been known to check out bones in charnel houses in an
attempt to identify "lost" members]
Having found one or two addresses I would then send to those people a copy of the
addresses of those found, and a copy of the pass out list, and ask them to search their own
local phone books for the remaining names on the list. But I soon had to stop this for
telephone directories of say "Hampshire" spilled over into say "W Sussex"
and angry people in W Sussex were telling me they'd just been phoned by someone (from
"Hampshire" presumably) asking if they were John Bloggs, sometime of Locking.
So then began the more solitary slog (footnote
1). There were then 108 BT phone books: it was a labour - and not of love. I would take
about 10 or so names (with initials - very important) and go through the directories, noting
down numbers and phoning them in the evening. I soon learnt that it was best to start with
the directories covering east of a line from the Wash to Southampton for that was, and still
is, where most people now live. But for some names I might have to go through all 108
directories but when that happened the search was usually unsuccessful.
I then spent a day or two in Birmingham Central Library looking at NZ, Australian and
some US phone books but with no success. But this was getting too much. Then a librarian (at
Birmingham, I think) told me that the Australians had just put their electoral registers onto
microfiche. So I drove to London and put the car into a park, not too far from Australia
House, which I knew well from frequent visits to the Festival Hall during the '70s and early
80s. I had to wait a bit at Australia House because some guy was using the microfiche but
when I could use it I soon found several Clarks, TB. I returned to the car to find that
parking fees had risen considerably since the early '80s - £11:50 I seem to remember!
Anyway I wrote to all the Australian TB Clarks and next thing I knew was Terry phoning
telling me De Soyza was there, and Birnie and Price too, and that Mike Somerville was dead.
By which time (mid '94) it was necessary to divert attention to arranging the first
reunion at Weston-super-Mare....
* * * * *
Has it been worth it? I don't know. Probably.
You see I have a theory that life is basically boring and that we have to occupy our time to
make life interesting. This is the curse of human intelligence and I often wish I were just a
cow in some sylvan Somerset meadow quietly and happily munching the cud and looking bemusedly
at frenetic humans trying not to be bored. [Now I feel that Terry Clark won't immediately
agree with this evaluation of life, he finds it exciting - but then he's always doing things,
and that is why he's not bored. Ditto Bernard Leighton]
It was interesting - I had written 'good' first, but 'interesting' is truer - meeting
the folk at Weston (and at Cambridge, Ironbridge and Rettendon) and they seemed so much nicer
than I remember them (footnote
2) . [There now! Was I a pariah or was it rancid imagination?] Mannerisms,
stances, looks which people have, and which I'd completely forgotten about were what I found
interesting for as soon as you saw them they said that's Joe Craig, that's Gordon Needham,
that's Noel Thorpe. At 16, at 17, we were the man we see at 60. Frightening, really, that we
don't develop, that we are what we were; fatter, balder, more wrinkled, impotent
(footnote 3) maybe, but really
still the same.
And I suppose since taking on this thing I've re-widened my friendships: I enjoy the
company of John T, Alex G, Bernard L, Brian Francis and Ken Snape - don't often see many
others. Well, at least I think I enjoy their company. Perhaps I don't really? Perhaps I just
like spending the time driving over to see them, filling in those boring hours, not living
like a cow. Perhaps.
PS Since 1994 I've not really tried to find many other addresses. If the number of
addresses found seems wondrously large then, coyly, I must proclaim it is not by my efforts.
Mike Collier - remember him, the bone man? - insists on letting me know the addresses of
those who failed to pass out with us and who passed out with other entries. But now the team
of JAP (footnote 4) are
fiercesomely searching for those unaddressed names to make 2003 golden reunion just that more
fulfilling. Perhaps? Perhaps.