Details of the elections for Officers, Members and Ex-Officio Members of the Association that took place at the 2015 AGM are available at Events> Annual General Meeting
The School Leavers of Summer 2015 become the latest cohort of Past Pupils of St Benedict's School; The Old Priorian Association now warmly welcomes them as Old Priorians.
We do hope that today (13th August 2015) has brought you the exam results that you deserve and a fulfilment of your hopes for the future after you leave St Benedict's School.
As is now our custom, The Association, represented this year by the Assistant Administrator, Richard Baker (OP 1959), Tamlyn Worrall (OPA Council Member and School Development Director) and Tara George (School Development Officer) were present from 7.00am on “Results Day” to ask our new intake to provide us with their email and mobile contact details. In return, each new OP was given the much sort after OPA Mug for which, we hope in the years to come, they will find great use and that it will remind them of their new status!
We warmly welcome the new cohort of Old Priorians, joining us on leaving School in Summer 2014.
We do hope that today (14th August) has brought you the exam results that you deserve and a fulfilment of your hopes for the future after you leave St Benedict’s School.
As has become customary, the Association, represented this year by our President, Mary Keal (OP 1983), the OPA Administrator, Tsungayi Mhizha and the Assistant Administrator, Richard Baker (OP 1959), was present from 7.30am on “Results Day”. On this occasion we ask our new “intake” to provide us with their email and mobile contact details; for the first time this year, in return, each new OP was given an OPA Mug for which, we hope in the years to come, they will find great use and that it will remind them of their new status!
On Saturday 24th May 2014, Fr Tony Brunning (OP 1958), a Cathedral Chaplain at Westminster Cathedral since 2008, celebrated the Golden Jubilee of his Ordination (23rd May) with a Celebratory Mass at Westminster Cathedral. Below is the Homily that Fr Tony gave at the Mass. Concelebrating with Fr Tony was Fr Bill Wilby (Chaplain to St Wilfred’s Convent, London) who will be celebrating his golden Jubilee on 19th July.
This Golden Jubilee Mass is offered in thanksgiving to God. God is the focus of our thanks. We thank God for being who He is. He describes himself in our first reading from the prophet Hosea, ‘I was like someone who lifts an infant close against his cheek’. This is the God who offers the invitation to the priesthood. No amount of human effort or wishful thinking can produce the positive response: Yes, unless God chooses to offer the invitation. Today Fr Bill and myself say ‘thank you’ to God for inviting us to be priests.
So where does the invitation, the vocation, the calling, come from? To answer that question I cannot speak of the priesthood in general so it has to be a deeply personal explanation. For me, a priest is one who witnesses to the compassion of Christ in what, in human terms, are the most hopeless situations. God communicates through his co-creators. For me that was Mum and Dad. The seed of my priesthood was sown in me, albeit subconsciously, at a very early age.
It was sometime after my ordination when I began first to realise this. My mother, for the first time, described to me what she remembered happening on the saddest day of her life. With instinctive foreboding, she knew why the policeman was knocking on the front door on a warm summer day in August 1940. He broke the news that my father was dead, killed in an air raid on Biggin Hill Air Base where he served as a trainee meteorologist in the RAF Volunteer Reserve. It was hardly unexpected as it was in the middle of the Battle of Britain but a terrible shock nonetheless because you never think it will happen to you. The policemen at once departed, his polite offer of help declined and the neighbours, a gentle, elderly couple next door, took care of two tiny children, my sister and I, so that my mother could grieve at home alone. A little later the curate visited. He was from our local Catholic church where I had been baptised some three months earlier. There was nothing he could do. He simply embodied the compassion of Christ by his presence. In fact, next morning, he offered Mass for my father’s soul, on reflection, an act of infinite compassion… but there were no practical arrangements of a funeral to help with. As older people will know only too well, there are no individual funerals for those who die in war. Only the horrific experience of body identification, followed, at a later stage by the burial of the remains, such as they are, in a simple but impressively dignified, war grave. In retrospect, the seed of my vocation was sown in those circumstances.
Ultimately, the person who offers you unconditional love is the person who helps you most to love God and to respond to that love, and that person was my mother, though, knowing my inadequacy as no other, she argued with God, so she told me, about his wisdom of putting the idea of being a priest into my head in the first place. Her support, however, both before and after ordination, is undoubtedly the main reason that the grace of God has preserved me in the priesthood these fifty years. We believe that death does not sever the bond of love so, beyond the grave she is still supporting me alongside my father who also loved me unconditionally but was given such a short time to show it.
As I grew up, I was well served by the three influences on which the seed of a religious vocation traditionally thrives: Catholic home, parish and School. Being an altar server at an early age was particularly significant for me. At first I was forbidden to serve the parish priest’s Mass. He was so ancient that, on transferring from a kneeling to a standing position, he needed a pair of shoulders to lean on and mine were neither broad nor strong enough. They were, however, when I was still serving as a teenager, but by that time, the parish priest was dead. So it was the curate, whose early weekday Mass I regularly served, who inspired me most. He was neither demonstrably holy nor heroic, but quietly loyal to, and totally absorbed in, the early morning Mass and at any other time of the day could be relied upon to visit the homes of those in any trouble or need. (I grew to understand that spiritual need is more painful than material need.) In some ways, he anticipated the recent words of Pope Francis: The priest as shepherd absorbs the smell of the sheep by being available to and by identifying with, the wounded and troubled sheep of his flock.
Since those early days I have been influenced by a whole host of priests… Just look around at the concelebrants on the Sanctuary. Thank you for the inspiration of your example… and you are but a tiny fraction of the priests whose support continues to inspire Fr Bill and myself on our continuing journey of priesthood. Too many to name… but I beg this exception… and cite Fr Michael Hollings, who died 17 years ago, as the priest who more than any other, helped me, at least, to enter the mystery of the priesthood of Christ.
You may think that his book ‘Living Priesthood’ published in 1977 is a bit dated now. It is, in fact, a timeless classic. But it wasn’t anything he wrote or said that inspired me – simply that he shared his priesthood with me. He was parish priest of St Anselm’s Southall for eight years. It was my privilege, for six of those years, as curate or if you like assistant priest, to be invited to share his understanding of the priest as servant shepherd of the people of God. Sharing in this priesthood of availability was simply the drama of the Incarnation: coping with a whole variety of persons demanding tea, sympathy and much besides at all hours of the day and night. It reminded me of the man selling bibles outside a cinema showing ‘The Ten Commandments’. His placard read: you have seen the film – now read the Book. If he had been selling copies of ‘Living Priesthood’ the placard might have read: you have seen the film – (which included life and death, farce and horror in every imaginable form) – now you have experienced for yourself the drama of living priesthood, you don’t need to read the book! I am eternally grateful to Fr Michael Hollings for sharing his priesthood with me and encouraging me to share my priesthood with him.
It would be the worst case of ‘clericalism’ if I said that only priests influenced me in the fulfilment of my vocation to the priesthood. Religious sisters of a whole variety of communities have greatly inspired and supported me along the way, not least of which are the Missionaries of Charity with whom I celebrated a regular ‘soup kitchen’ Mass whilst engaged in full-time hospital chaplaincy.
If, in giving thanks for fifty years, we were to limit our appreciation to priests and consecrated Religious, we would omit a huge number of people whose friendship has been a great influence, inspiration and support to our priesthood. A friend in need is a friend indeed! As vulnerable human beings, Fr Bill and I have always been ‘in need’. Thanks be to God for so many loyal friends.
Jesus says in today’s Gospel reading: now I call you friends…because I share with you all that the Father has given me… I give myself to you. The saying: ‘We give the little we can – God gives the rest’ are words describing the priesthood and attributed to St John Vianney, the Curé d’Ars – the only parish priest proclaimed a saint simply for being a parish priest!
Some people have said to me, ‘Oh, you have given up so much to be a priest’. I would rather say, it is not so much what you give up as what you exchange it for, for God says :- ‘You give me your time, I’ll give you my eternity. You give me your humanity, I’ll give you my divinity. You give me your death, I’ll give you my life’.
Yes, I have given a little, but thank you God, for the wonderful bargain I have received in exchange.
It is with great pleasure that we announce that John Lindley (OP 1959), now aged 73, will be making his debut for England Over 70s in a 3 match Mini Test Series against Wales, in Wales, from 6th to 12th September 2014 with the squad of 14 players based in Newport for 6 days. England Cricket Kit will be worn & there are Trophies to be presented to the Winning Side and all the Players.
The matches will take place on three different Club Grounds: Sudbrook CC (Sunday 7th September), Usk CC (Tuesday 9th September) & Croesyceliog CC (Thursday 11th September); all matches start at 10:45am. John has been selected to represent Somerset, the County in which he now lives. The format for these matches is that used for the Over 60’s and Over 70’s in “The Seevent” National 60+/70+ County Championship: 45 Overs per side, 9 Overs per Bowler and Fielding Circles. One New Ball for each innings.
John is still playing League Cricket at Ealing CC every Saturday, this being his 60th playing season for the Club. John has written recently of Steve Walker (Staff 1946-1974, RIP 1974):
Steve was a great man, he launched my cricket career at St B’s and indeed I owe a lot to him for my love of the game and everything that goes with it. Something that many probably don’t know is that he also launched my career at Ealing Cricket Club. Steve helped there with Colts coaching, alongside two Senior Players of the day who formed the Colts Section in 1955. Steve umpired the very first Colts match away against Finchley CC Colts – the Ealing opening bats were John Lindley and Kevin Freeman (OP 1956) and we won by 8 wickets chasing about 120. I got 52 not out (then a batsman more than a bowler). At Ealing Steve was a regular 3rd XI player, nothing special but always around to help other players and the youngsters. That was his trademark. I’m sure he would have been delighted to know, that at 73 I have finally “made it” v Wales in September. I shall certainly think of him before I bowl my first over in an England shirt.
It has been posted out to all OPA Members
This edition has been produced in the new style introduced last autumn – we hope you like this change in style – please let us have your views
Madam President, Fr Abbot, Abbot Emeritus Francis, Ladies and Gentlemen
From the Smallest Beginnings
In this day and age of great technological advances, if one seeks advice from the internet about what makes a good speech there are many gems of advice to be found: A good speech has three parts: the beginning – “tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em”; the middle – “tell ‘em” and the end – “tell ‘em that you’ve told ‘em”. Or a good speech is like a bride’s gown, short enough to provoke interest and resting on just two good points. Perhaps the best advice may be that given by Gilbert Harding to the Twenty Club at School in 1959 – the notes for a good speech can be written on the back of a postage stamp! – I don’t think my efforts tonight will follow any such advice too closely; I shan’t be divulging any “state secrets”, but I hope I can stir some memories in you all. Remembering that rules and advice are given for the guidance of the wise and the obeyance of fools, I shall try to do my best in my allocated time. I must ignore the requests I have received from many of you here tonight to “remember to mention so-and-so” – I wasn’t aware when I accepted the Association’s invitation to be their Guest of Honour, that Guests of Honour were assailed with so much advice on what to say and so many “requests” for a mention of this, that or the other, especially in my case, events associated with the CCF, but perhaps that is a hazard of being at the end of 2249 and email@example.com! I am perhaps going to disappoint you all!
How many of you can remember what you were doing over 66 years ago? Most of you here don’t have that span of years behind you yet, so it’s an irrelevant question, but I do and I was about 6½ years old then. With my twin brother Anthony (here tonight) we were taken by our parents to a “Big School” in Ealing for interview and entrance test; I can only remember one small point about the occasion – that great Headmaster, Dom Bernard Orchard was interviewer, examiner and final arbiter all rolled into one; he set the “entrance exam himself” and I remember distinctly a simple problem of numbers: something like 3 X 4. I had no idea what the X was (we must have done simple multiplication at nursery school using a different notation!) and I clearly remember looking across to Anthony sitting close by to see what he had made of it! Did I cheat in my entrance exam to St Benedict’s? If I did I hope that I have made amends for it since! Anyway we both passed and so in September 1947 I started my life at St Benedict’s, a life which has continued almost without break, for well over six decades.
Well, what of School days; they were happy and provided I polished my techniques of avoiding most things sporty, they were good; four years in the Junior School passed I suppose insignificantly as did two years in the Middle School and then six years in the Upper School. We coped with a proper black pitch, covered as it was in black cinders, as a playground, School lunches in a “tin” refectory, sited roughly where the Cloisters’ Hall is now, – lunches which in the just post-war (that’s WW2!) period managed to keep us fortified for a long afternoon’s work and probably defy all comparison to the excellent lunches provided by today’s in-house catering department. Those lunches did give me a taste for institutional rice pudding, probably made with water rather than milk and which today seems to have totally disappeared from the School menu. If the Headmaster and those members of the Board of Governors here tonight can bring any influence to bear, then please have “School Rice Pudding with Jam” re-instated! When one was promoted a prefect in 1958, the Refectory was also home to “Prefects’ Tea” daily at 4.30pm with wads of bread, marge and jam and cakes – most welcome after a hard days “learning and prefecting” and before a long journey home on the underground; we were indeed privileged! A large tin hut also served as our gymnasium – held together by flakes of rust, totally functional and probably a lot more fun than the state of the art Gym we have today – mind you “health & safety” hadn’t been invented in those days. In the senior school most of my extra-curricular (another modern term!) activities were devoted to the CCF where I managed to rise to the rank of Staff Sergeant in charge of the Signals Section. For the last three years of my CCF cadet service we were joined in the Contingent by a new young officer 2nd Lt B. Nickerson; known to most of you here. I am delighted to see the way Basil, since he arrived in 1956 has supported and continues to support, now with his wife Clare, everything about St Benedict’s. In the sixth form I had studied the physical sciences at A/L especially developing a joy in Chemistry and all the “stinks and bangs” it had to offer; in those days we had just three laboratories, Chemistry, Physics and Biology; it was in 1958 as I was finishing my last year that the Science block as it is now, was built – a great expansion for the sciences! And so after twelve years as a pupil it was time to move on to spend three years at Bristol University reading for a degree in Chemistry.
It was during my time at University that I became convinced that I wanted to teach. I had no plan to return to St Benedict’s and as I was finishing my degree in 1962, I signed up for the new PGCE which was just coming into place. In May that year the then Headmaster, Fr George Brown, who knew of my wish to teach, wrote to me saying that in September he was making a junior appointment in the Chemistry Department – was I interested?. His advice – “A fortnight in front of real pupils in the lab will teach you more about teaching than any course. And so it happened: I cancelled the PCGE and accepted his offer of a teaching post at St Benedict’s, which was to last the whole of my working career.
And so what can I tell you in the short time that I have tonight about my paid working life at St Benedict’s; the Chemistry, the IT, the sport (oh yes that did feature in a very small way during those 38 years!), and of course the CCF. Chemistry teaching did change dramatically over those years: the exciting became less so and the routine became more proscriptive. We went through phases of “combined sciences” and even for three years tried to get to grips with the “Nuffield Chemistry” that was being pushed in Schools. It was in my Chemistry classes in the early eighties that girls “began to appear” as a regular feature; I did not believe in discrimination so I had no “problem” in always teaching them using their surnames, just as one did the boys – they were of course “Honorary Gentlemen” and seemed to thrive on it. I’m not sure who was most nonplussed on the occasion when one year they presented me with an “m.c.p.” tie as a Christmas present- I still have it; thinking quickly, I took the wind out of their sails and on the spot thanked them for their kind gift of a tie from the Manufacturing Chemists & Physicists Society – pupils will accept an awful lot if it is told them with a straight face! I’m delighted to see some of “my Honorary Gentlemen” here tonight and I’m sure that Daly and Sheehan are none the worse for their experiences. In case you are wondering mcp: Male Chauvinist Pig. By the early 90s chemistry was becoming the poor relation of the sciences and I must admit I was becoming less charmed with its teaching. However “rescue” was at hand.
Up until 1992 there had been no Information Technology teaching in the school; a few staff and perhaps a larger number of pupils “dabbled” with early computers, but there was nothing formal; personally I had dabbled from the early 80s with the Sinclair and Amstrad machines (who remembers the ZX81?). In 1992 the then Headmaster, Dr Tony Dachs, asked me if I would be prepared to move sideways and start up Information Technology teaching in the school; I explained that I was only an “amateur”, but he had confidence that I would cope and the addition of a couple of specialised training courses would see me through! So it was we started with a small IT Centre of 12 teaching machines and a single server all in the same room – my goodness look at the ITC facilities in the School now, both teaching and administrative and one really sees the meaning of a minimis incipe. It gives me a little pride to feel that I helped start it for real at St Benedict’s.
As I mentioned earlier I am particularly “un-sporty” in the physical sense. But none-the-less I did manage to leave my mark on Sport at St Benedict’s in two spheres. One summer (I forget the year!) the Games Staff were so short of colleagues to take cricket at Perivale on a Wednesday afternoon that Basil in desperation and as a last resort, asked me to go down to Perivale and supervise thirty or so pupils who had opted to take cricket and could not be left to their own devices! To cut a long story short, my talents as a cricket umpire only lasted for three weeks, although I must add that they were still short of umpires after my demise! I had arguments with “higher authorities in the cricket sphere” about white coats (I didn’t seem to be allocated one), a small piece of plastic (I wasn’t sure what this was for – it turned out to be a bowler’s marker, but again not allocated) and the “wet weather programme” – a rather more senior umpire had to come down to the bottom of the lower field where I was “in charge” and order 30 drenched individuals back to the pavilion after I had insisted on going on in the pouring rain: a little rain never hurt anybody and I wasn’t going to lose any time in my moments of glory as a cricket umpire at Perivale.
My other contribution to sport at St Benedict’s was as scorer for many years for the Staff Cricket XI; scoring didn’t seem too complicated a mathematical process and there was a sheltered score box out of wind and rain so what better way to socialise with ones colleagues before, during and after these regular summer evening matches. We even went on tour to the West Country were my sporty colleagues tried to improve my skills in ten-pin bowling, but alas! – I don’t think the pub’s indoor bowling alley suffered too much damage.
And what of the CCF. This of course was a great passion for me for 29 years as an officer, finally retiring in 1991 as a Lieutenant Colonel (the highest rank attainable to CCF officers), commanding the School CCF for the last 13 years, when I felt that it was time to hang up my boots and let the next generation of younger officers take over full command.
Let me start at the beginning. At summer camp 1962 in Sennybridge as a raw 2nd Lieutenant who just joined the CCF and knowing very little, I was appointed Camp Orderly Officer for the day: all went well until the evening when, whilst I was sitting in the officers’ mess after dinner the phone rang – the orderly officer was required down at the cadets’ NAAFI where a disturbance had broken out! Heaven help me! So down I went to be greeted at the door by two of our own cadet under officers saying: “Don’t worry sir, we’re with you all the way”. I must say that to this day I remember how that bolstered my self-confidence and I managed to cope with the situation and calm things down in the NAAFI. So once again after 52 years let me say thank you to those two cadets for their support that evening; they are known to many of you and each in his own way has made his mark on St Benedict’s – Under Officer William Twist and Under Officer Christopher Patten; I wonder if the Governor of Hong Kong or the Chairman of the BBC ever realised that he and Bill Twist, played an important role that evening, by offering their support, in my wanting to make a go of the CCF in an officer role – I was sure it would be fun!
The Uniforms changed from Battledress to Lightweights & Pullovers; the weapons changed from the .303 rifle to the GP Rifle, the Bren to the GPMG; the radios (38s and 18s) were updated and then on most occasions actually worked well. Blanco lost out and was never seen again! Arduous Training became Adventurous, probably because of “Political Correctness” – I’m sure in its arduous guise it was certainly adventurous as some of you here tonight can confirm; Ten Man ration packs (which contained the best loose leaf tea you could get anywhere on the civilian or service market) became 24hr ration packs Many changes but all I’m sure for the good and the important thing was that the government of the day felt that the Cadet Force Movement was well worth the expense and made a valuable contribution to the education of young people, not just as potential service recruits, but as future members of the country’s work force who might just remember what a SMEAC was and how it might be applied to a non-service work situation in life.
Well what about girls in the CCF I hear you say – they can join the CCF now. Well, of course! That’s the way things have changed over the years and not for the worse (or maybe not for the better!) – who knows. In my time as Contingent Commander there was a murmur of “why can’t we join”. Even when MOD gave general approval my approach as Contingent Commander was “over my dead body”! It was not an appropriate activity for young ladies or even honorary gentlemen! So there were no girls in the CCF in my time. But the powers that be have played their trump card: not only do girl cadets now thrive in St Benedict’s School CCF, but they have appointed a lady officer to Command the CCF at St Benedict’s. I do wish Captain Nicky Woodroffe every success in her venture and hopes she derives as much enjoyment from the CCF as I did.
And so in 2000 at the age of 60 possible retirement loomed on the horizon and although I could have taught on until I was 65, I felt it was the right time to go; teaching as a career was changing rapidly and I wasn’t sure that five more years would be of great benefit to me or more importantly to others. A teacher’s pension after 38 years wasn’t going to be too bad financially so why not hang up chalk, mouse and all the other paraphernalia of school mastering and live out the rest of one’s life “free of bells”. Except I hadn’t bargained for the OPA!
The Association has been part of my life since leaving school in 1959 when I joined, paying the princely sum of £5 for Life Membership. In the early days I would attend the Dinners, Reunions and not being adverse to “politics”, the Annual General Meetings; I would even spectate at some of the OP rugby and cricket events. In the mid-sixties I was invited and elected to join the Council as an ordinary member, but soon to be “elevated” to the position of Assistant Treasurer with special responsibility for Membership. So I made my contribution as an Old Priorian, but work with the CCF especially as I had become Contingent Commander in 1978, became more demanding and so in the 80s I took a break from OPA work.
In the early 2000s, despite the dedicated hard work of many OPs, the Association was going through the doldrums and it became obvious that something serious needed to be done about its administration; after a lot of hard work by the then President, Joe Kearns, the School stepped in and offered the Association facilities within the School – an office, telephone, computer and perhaps most valuable of all some part-time help from one of the Trust Office staff. So it was that Margaret Moore became Administrator of the OPA, retiring this year after over a decade of devoted service. Of course once the facilities were there, OPs start to make use of them and Margaret’s OPA workload increased considerably beyond the initial specification. At the 2003 AGM a volunteer was called for to help Margaret with her work for the Association. Thinking that a couple of hours work a month might be rather fun and keep me out of mischief and certainly having no fear of running a computerised OPA system, I raised my hand and so the ex-officio position of Assistant Administrator was born! Eleven years later I’m still a fixture in the OPA Office, although now I usually work one day a week even though it is a “late” start at 9.30am and knocking off about 3.30pm; when the workload of events demands it (eg The President’s Dinner – yes! even as your Guest of Honour this year I still did the Administration!) then it’s sometimes two or even three days in a week that will find the office manned. Telephone calls, emails, newsletters both electronic and printed, circulars etc all emanate from the office for the hopeful benefit of members of the Association. And I’ll be back in the office next week to deal with the post Dinner survey that we shall be sending out! So please respond!
I must stop for I can see the President giving me that “shut up Baker and sit down” look. It has given me the greatest pleasure to talk to you tonight and tell you a little about the experiences of one rather antique OP in his association with St Benedict’s at Ealing. We are all Old Priorians here tonight and we each have our memories of School – the good times of which I hope there were many for each of you; and the not so good times – and for each of you, like me too, there were those occasions I’m sure, not many I hope, when we just wished “it would all go away”. Thank goodness St Benedict’s stayed!
We survived and surely that is what life is all about. Remember – Life is lived forwards but understood backwards. In our experiences of life we should not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around us in awareness. Please – Do not walk behind me, I may not lead; Do not walk in front of me, I may not follow; Walk beside me and be my Friend – Friendship is surely one of God’s greatest gifts.
My Friends – Please rise and drink a toast with me to: ST BENEDICT’S AT EALING
Father Abbot, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen.
In 1981 London held its first ever marathon, 6747 people took part; the first episode of Only Fools and Horses was broadcast to what was termed moderate viewing figures and Peter Sutcliffe admitted to being the Yorkshire Ripper. Riots erupted around the UK; the SDP political party was created; the ZX81, the first home computer, was launched by Sinclair Research, Chariots of Fire was released in the cinemas; Bobby Sands died whilst on hunger strike at the Maze prison; Shergar won the Epsom Derby; Brian Robson became Britain’s most expensive footballer in a £1.5 million move to Manchester United; Salman Rushdie published his novel, Midnight’s Children; The Human League’s Don’t You Want Me and Adam and the Ants Stand and Deliver were both No 1 for five weeks; Peter Crouch, amongst others, was born and Princess Alice, the longest living grandchild of Queen Victoria, died aged 98.
And I started my sixth form education at St Benedict’s School.
I vividly remember walking in through the Orchard Hall entrance off Marchwood Crescent to, what can only be termed, a barrage of verbal abuse. I have never wanted to be a stand-up comedian or politician but I, very quickly, knew what it was to be heckled. You must bear in mind this was about 8.30 in the morning of my first day at Benedict’s – I did wonder what I had done coming to this school!! Bizarrely the next event was the parading of the girls on the stage before the whole school in the Orchard Hall, incredibly embarrassing but I guess that way everyone knew who we were, in case the skirts and whiff of perfume were not enough to give it away. 1981 was the year that St Benedicts made a concerted effort to have more girls in the sixth form – there were 11 of us in lower sixth. We were also the first year to wear full school uniform. I had a rather uncomfortable visit with my mother to the boys’ school uniform department in Peter Jones, where the poor ever reddening young male assistant refused to measure me for my blazer. I have to admit that I had not worn a boy’s jacket before and in fact I never did manage to do up that blazer due to the buttons being on the wrong side!
St Benedict’s had had girls in the sixth form for a few years but we had arrived on a grand scale, however, it did seem that the school really wasn’t ready for us. Sixth Form games, as now, was on a Wednesday afternoon and we could go home, a privilege that a few of the less sporty boys wished they had. I loved playing sport and decided that I would go down to Perivale and play tennis. I think it quickly dawned on the sports staff that the field was not meant for girls. I had to change in the groundsman’s outside toilet which was round the back of his house. This had no light, so I had to leave the door open so I could see what I was doing but it did have a flushing toilet, a sink and a concrete floor – so who was I to complain. That first afternoon I happily played tennis and then watched the first fifteen play. Later on I was chatting to John Delia outside the boys’ changing rooms, nearly gassed by the smell of Brut wafting out from them, and he was heard to utter that it was all very well me being down here on a sunny September day but he bet me that I would not be there when it got cold and rainy. I am proud to say that I won the bet and did not miss a single games afternoon and watched nearly every first fifteen match – this was of course helped by the fact that within a few weeks I started going out with Paul Hoban, a member of the team!
I very quickly realised that if I was to survive my time at St Benedicts I would have to get involved in school life, with others I set up a netball team, I helped out with school plays, I was asked to join the editorial committee for the Priorian magazine and perhaps most importantly I actually sat in the sixth form lounge. It was a daunting place to be but it was fun. I have clear memories of quite often being ‘the look out’ – the teachers seemed loathe to tell a girl off. Perhaps the funniest time was whilst a darts fight went on – thank goodness for the padding in the shoulders of the blazer is all I can say! I doubt very much that Health and Safety would allow a darts board anywhere near school nowadays. Anyway I must have done something right because Father Anthony, the then Headmaster, and the legendary Mr Stuart, my tutor, asked me if I would like to be a Deputy Head Boy. It really did not occur to me at the time that that was a weird title to give me – I was more worried about taking a position away from a boy who had been in the school for years when I had only been there for one. It was an absolute honour to be selected and I can confirm that I managed to never take an assembly – a privilege that often befell the Head Boy and his deputies. It was not long after taking office that a few of us were taken for a day to the Hillingdon Dry Ski slope in preparation for our ski trip. Thinking about it now it probably was not the best idea to go off to the pub at lunchtime, not tell anyone, let alone asking permission. Rob Banathy, a fellow Deputy Head Boy, and I both got a Saturday morning detention following an incredibly scary and uncomfortable meeting with Second Master Basil Nickerson. I would like to apologise now for not thinking of the bigger picture.
Today St Benedict’s is a very different place to thirty odd years ago, it is now fully co-ed from Nursery to Upper Sixth, there are 1094 pupils enrolled, of which 346 are girls. It is constantly progressing and adapting to changing times. I understand that Ealing Council has approved plans for two major projects at the school, a planned investment of £12 million, benefitting both Junior and Senior School. As I am sure most of you are aware facilities at the playing fields are fantastic – there is even under floor heating I am told and the smell of Brut has been replaced with that of Lynx and Impulse. Girls are no longer an add-on, an after-thought – they are equals.
And so I come on to explain the essence of St Benedict’s – or rather I can’t. I can’t put into words what makes a Bennies boy or girl – what it is about this school that produces a well-rounded, good person time and time again. Maybe it is that everyone has their place and are valued, maybe it is that some are given that much needed second chance, maybe it is that everyone is accepted – rugby player or not – or maybe it is the fact the Rule of St Benedict’s is embedded throughout the community – those qualities of perseverance, stability , hospitality, obedience and humility. The ISI Inspection report of 2012 mentions that the pupils are well educated in line with the schools aims, and the Benediction mission of ‘teaching a way of living’ permeates throughout school life. Pupils show respect for themselves, for others and for the world around them and are learning ‘how to live’. They enjoy excellent relationships with peers and adults alike and their spiritual, moral, social and cultural development is outstanding. The school provides a family atmosphere in which pupils feel safe, included, secure, well known and valued. In fact I would say that despite the challenges the school has and will continue to face, Bennies boys and girls are still being produced and the core values, the essence of St Benedict’s, remain unchanged. And for that I am glad. I am grateful that I attended St Benedict’s; some of my best friendships were formed in those two years and I urge you, as Old Priorians, to continue to support our school. The educators of today are facing ever greater challenges. Did you know that in 2010 the top 10 in demand jobs did not exist in 2004. Current teachers are now preparing pupils for jobs that don’t yet exist, using technologies that have not yet been invented, in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems. It is estimated that 4 exabytes of unique information will be generated this year – that is more than in the previous 5000 years. It is predicted that by 2049 a £1000 computer will exceed the computational capabilities of the entire human species. St Benedict’s, therefore, faces great challenges and we, as Old Priorians, should do all we can to help and encourage the pupils and staff to meet the these head on and enable future OPs find their place in our ever changing world.
In 2013 Pope Francis became the 266th leader of the Roman Catholic Church; Argo won the Oscar for Best Film; Willcomm announced the development of the world’s smallest mobile phone weighing just 32g; Bill Gates became the world’s richest man with a fortune of $72.7 billion. Justin Rose won the US Open; The British Lions won the test series in Australia; Andy Murray won Wimbledon. Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks was the bestselling e-book; Welsh footballer Gareth Bale moved to Real Madrid for a world record transfer fee of £85.3 million. Robin Thicke’s single Blurred Lines was No 1 for 4 weeks; The European Space Agency revealed data indicating that the universe is 13.82 billion years old.
And I was elected President of the OPA.
It is an honour to be part of the wider Benedict’s community and I will do all that I can to support this great school. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my predecessor Paul Fagin for all his hard work in hauling the OPA into modern times and I am already indebted to the wonderful Richard Baker, who works tirelessly for the Association, we would be lost without him. Thanks also to Chris Cleugh and Catherine de Cintra for their continued support of the OPA. And I thank you all for being here this evening and supporting us.
Ladies and gentlemen, I ask that you charge your glasses and be upstanding and toast The School. – The School!