Sunday, March 16, 2014

Winchester College Society 50 Years On Dinner

School, Chapel and Chantry Cloisters
The Winchester College Society held a 50 years-on dinner in School on 15th March 2014. In fact it was for the leavers in the 1963, 1964 and 1965 years and about seventy people attended. The Warden-Elect, Charles Sinclair and David Fellowes presided and Herry replied for the old boys.

Sixes played in Meads
We watched Sixes being being played in the afternoon (OTH v Commoners) and attended Compline in the Chapel before dinner.

Compline in chapel

The Dinner

The Dinner guests
For more photos from the day, click the heading
Warden-Elect, Gentleman,

What a pleasure to be back in these hallowed halls again, and this time amongst people who are no longer trying to turn you into a muddy pulp on the football field. But to get my first inconsequential point in early, doesn't the irony of the name ’Winkies’ rather wear off after a while? Can we not find another name for it? I suggest something like ‘Posts’ or even possibly ‘The Hot Game’....

It’s very good to see such a good turn-out of old friends here, though recognizing some of them has been a problem – and I’m sure that’s mutual, but as we approach our 70th years, we should hold to the old prayer: ‘God give me the senility to forget the people I never liked anyway, the good fortune to run into the ones I do - and the eyesight to know the difference’. Actually, I ran into very few timesome Widmerpools in my time here, but am reminded of the story of the two men who had hated each other at school and ran into each other again 40 years later on the platform at Waterloo Station. One had become an admiral and the other a rather portly bishop and both were in full fig. Seeing the admiral, the bishop called out: ‘Tell me, station-master, what time does this train get into Southampton?’  To which the admiral replied: “Madam, in your condition, you shouldn’t even be travelling.’

Now if I have anything remotely serious to say about the school tonight, it is about character.  I’ve always believed strongly in the old idea that ‘The purpose of education is character’ - and it was interesting to see its history examined in a recent edition of The Trusty Servant. The concept of course comes from Plato’s ‘Republic’, which brings it somewhat closer to home, that having been part of the life’s work of the headmaster in our time, Desmond Lee, though he is perhaps better known to this audience for his pretty daughter, Polly! Though I believe good character to be substantially inherited and imbued from our parents, it must also derive from our schooling – particularly from the fundamental moral character of the school and the qualities it instills in its pupils. And I think that the school in our day did instill a decent moral character – and I’m sure still does. I won’t attempt to define good character tonight, but surely the quality of not dipping one’s hand into pots of other people’s money ranks high. I’m sure that no OWs have been involved in the current FOREX and LIBOR scandals – and even past excesses such as baby syndicates’ at Lloyd’s. All such ‘opportunities’ must be passed up with lofty distain. And don’t get me started on the moral corruption of American-style bonuses. In our day all you expected was a ‘well done’ from your senior partner, and to be offered a monetary bonus might well have been taken as an insult. Bonuses were something offered to the builder to get him to finish one’s house on time.

But of course, it’s too easy to be righteous about other people’s character and morality. I am reminded of the two bishops having a drink together at the Athenaeum and discussing modern morals. One says to the other, ‘I never slept with my wife before I married her, did you?’ to which the other replied, ‘I really can’t remember old boy. Remind me, what was her maiden name?’

Now, I think we can all agree that it helps develop your character to face some adversity in life, but leaving your prep-school, where you were probably top dog, and being surrounded by larger, stronger, faster and cleverer people than yourself was undoubtedly a ‘good thing’. You also learned to your chagrin that those who were especially bright were more often than not bloody good athletes as well. So any childish notions of fairness got trampled on pretty quickly too. I wasn’t especially good at the principal sports, being small for my age until about 16, and so coxed eights on that narrow ditch the Itchen Navigation, but I became quite good at tolling, and was taught a valuable character-building lesson in the year that I was fancied to win the senior steeplechase – I think the same year that the great Nick Ward-Jackson enlivened the sport by completing half the course on a fine grey. Anyway, I was cantering home and acknowledging the roars of the crowd, when Simon Beloe, who had trailed me all round, pounded up and overtook me on the finish line. I will only say that we are friends to this day, so I must have learned something, even if when I speak his name it is usually in the same sentence as the word ‘swine’.

Of course you go on learning further character-building lessons throughout life. We must now all be grandfathers, and learn much humility from our grandchildren. I particularly like the story of the little boy who asked his grandfather if he would make a noise like a frog. ‘Why?’ asked his grandfather.  “Because’, the little boy replied, ‘Mummy and Daddy say that when you croak, we can get a new car’.   

That brings me rather too neatly to the Goddard Legacy Society, the relatively painless way in which we can all ensure that as wide a number of future generations as possible can have their characters developed by this marvelous school, and I join the Warden-Elect in urging us to take advantage of it before we croak.

I now invite you all to rise and drink the toast ‘Stet Res Wiccamica’.

Herry Lawford (G. 1959-1964)