Home Thoughts from Abroad, with apologies to Mr Browning.
1815 is a year deeply etched into the record of history; for events great and small. The pivotal defeat of the little Corsican which eventually removed Napoleon Bonaparte from the European scene. The births of countless sons and daughters to the nobility and the humble cottage.
Yet it is a year with much more personal links for us all. Earlier than 1815, a small group of men met in the north of England. Vastly different men in both temperament and purpose. Men with a philosophy diametrically opposed to that of the self styled French Emperor. These men were peace loving and sought ways of serving their fellows, not dominating and ruling them. From their aspirations Brookfield was born.
It was five years since the writer’s previous OS Saturday and half a score times that span since the one before. And for the record, a dozen times that since his ultimate GM, and those pensive farewell adieux, and an occasional au revoir. Thus his knowledge and even less his experience is far from comprehensive. However being present was not just an awakening, a re-focussing of distant hazy memories, but often a reliving of events or shards of events dredged from the middle of the last century. The hair colour may have changed, or had most evidence removed, the girth may have gently expanded and the height seemingly shrunken. But the intervening years were obliterated with a single comment.
In this special year the chairman welcomed those present, with the apologies and greetings.
Then followed the roll call of those whose links with Brookfield were finally dissolved. The names solemnly, yet fittingly, intoned amid the gripping but familiar silence. But these names were those of people, real men and women. However it was not as feeble elderly invalids that they were remembered but as virile teenagers. With mud-spattered shorts awaiting the outcome of a scrum with one eye on the opponents’ goal line. Or a young girl who’s immaculately brushed hair framed a blushing face as her eyes caught those of the favoured boy; across a crowded room, and somehow you knew, you knew even then…… Yes they were more than a sadly compiled list. They once had zest, vigour, life and singly or in a group they flickered across the memory’s retina. We will remember them.
The AGM minutes will appear elsewhere and is outside the range of this report. Then there was Arnold’s masterly coverage of the first 100 years, or there or thereabouts, of the life of Brookfield. Few would have thought that that life would appear alongside Waterloo and achieve that century sharing the news with Gallipoli. But such is life – and death. The report was comprehensive and yet left the listener eager for more. Will someone be commissioned to report on the second hundred tragically truncated though it was? The nineteenth century revealed names and dates. The twentieth should remind us of those real people more clearly delineated as the years roll on. Our form mates, our teachers; both groups loved, disliked (never hated) or tolerated. That was us. Soon please as the ranks of would-be compilers inevitably shrinks.
Ah, but what of the gaps? The empty chairs? Those we recall with as much affection, and even love, as the ones with whom we met? Many have featured in that solemn annual memoriam. But others for reasons we cannot fathom, no longer have an interest or contact with all that is left of their school days. Do we forget them? Do we not approach the Week-End with the hope that this year we might meet again? Might be given the opportunity for just a few memorable minutes to relive the magic of shared schooldays and more? Memories that still live as precious as ever, but seemingly buried beneath a thickening self-imposed layer of time.
The group photograph. The procession behind the absent goal posts. Brunton Park a gleaming green. How long since several of us sat together in that same grandstand for quite a different reason, in garb appropriate to that occasion.
What about the food? What about the meals? Well I didn’t attend just to eat!
The presidential address, also reported elsewhere, was to this writer much different from the customary recollections, humorous and otherwise, of school life in a particular half decade. Tony Ferguson provided a thought-provoking analysis of that structure, that creation, that environment we knew as Brookfield. The Brookfield Foundation. Education was not just instilling the ability to learn tables, recite a sonnet, replicate scientific experiments and learn something of our fascinating unique planet, locally and it’s history and geography. Brookfield offered that and more, much more; an unique experience, an extended family, brothers and sisters bonded in timeless relationships, a timeless childhood. Building character.
Finally Malcolm belatedly bewitched us with tales of high finance, of railway stock and rolling stock, of bankers and philanthropists. Quakers all. These were supplemented by men of different makeup who haunted the Solway coast alert for the interfering excise officer. Mr Peter Ostle provided tantalizing fragments of history just the other side of the law. So successful were the Beeby coastal antecedents that the watery area around Allonby was rumoured to be renamed the Beeby Sea. This it was felt could cause future confusion. But the hour became late, the questions muted as questioners quitted the mental Solway and sought the real raining carpark. The tide was out.
Warwick Snowball (1946 - 53)