The funding debate
The following debate, on lottery funding of the activities of the Wennington School Association, was conducted between October 31, 2011, and June 4, 2012, mainly through firstname.lastname@example.org. On the latter date, I left the group.
October 31, 2011: Me to Sam Doncaster, of the Wennington School Association:
“Lottery funded”?!!! John Woods¹ wouldn’t approve of that. But joking aside, taking money from a lottery is almost as bad as taking money from British American Tobacco. The fact that gambling is now part of the “fabric of society” doesn’t make it okay. Ultimately, any (pragmatic) argument in favour of it will fail if subjected to ethical scrutiny. (See http://www.christian.org.uk/html-publications/nlottery.htm ) And that means, I’m afraid, that any argument in favour of profiting from the proceeds of it will also fail.
1. John Woods, a member of the Society of Friends, taught history at the school in the late 1950s.
October 31, 2011: Sam Doncaster to me:
This is Sam, not Pat (we cannot be fagged to go through all the hassle of changing email addresses etc etc so lots of Wenn people seem to assume that I am the author of Wenn stuff.)
I wonder if you have any idea, from the lofty heights of your NZ eyrie, the extent to which the National Lottery has infiltrated itself into the British way of life? I was going to say “psyche” but that might have been a word too far.
I am afraid that “ethical scrutiny” never gets a look in these days of our brave new world.
Perhaps the most telling voice is the blessed Steve Bell in the Grauniad;
Whilst I (and Pat) have never contributed in the slightest way to any of the Lottery based enterprises, it would be foolish to deny that their funding has done a lot of good things — I shall not attempt to list them because to do so would be boring. I have never approved of the concept, not for any of the usual reasons (as voiced by the God-botherers of this world) but mainly from a more pragmatic, Yorkshire-canny, tight-wad, set of values commonly expressed as “a fool and his money are soon parted”. Or “if you want ‘owt for nowt, do it for thissen”.
We suspect that without the funding from this branch of the Lottery (Heritage), the archive at PETT would not now exist in its current form and, hence, all the Wennington stuff would merely be sitting on a dusty shelf — actually not dusty since it is in true archive conditions, but Craig et al would be unemployed. You may have a rather jaundiced view of Wennington/KCB etc but, from the point of view of one who is interested in “progressive/alternative” education and its various metamorphoses into areas such as “therapeutic communities”, I firmly believe that the work of the archive as a resource should not be down-played! It is just as valid a resource as any Uni. library or the British Museum — just because it has to rely upon sources of funding, the origins of which you and I may disapprove of, does not diminish its own intrinsic value.
November 1, 2011: Me to Sam Doncaster:
Actually, the situation is more or less the same here. Casinos, Lotto, scratchies, gaming machines… You name it, we’ve got it. And needless to say, there are innumerable “worthy causes” that benefit from the Lottery Grants Board’s largesse. A lottery can, indeed, do good; but to do good it must first do harm — by further impoverishing the already poor (who are the main buyers of the tickets). That’s the main ethical problem. I mentioned the tobacco industry in my first email because I was one of the handful of people who, in the late 1970s, launched the campaign that eventually led to a ban on smoking in all enclosed spaces — with the exception, of course, of private homes and vehicles. At that time, as we sought to cripple the industry, we ran into exactly the same arguments. “Our soccer/badminton/tiddlywinks club would collapse without the support of Rothmans,” was a common plaint. But as far as I know, all these organizations were, over time, weaned off tobacco money. Such transitions can be made, if there is enough public pressure to force a change in official policy. I would suggest to the British Government — and, to a lesser extent, to the New Zealand Government — that the billions of pounds/dollars wasted on waging futile, endless war in Afghanistan and elsewhere (in violation of the Nuremberg Principles, by the way) be diverted to the worthy causes in their respective countries. I don’t accept that my “jaundiced view of Wennington/KCB”, or of Britain itself under the likes of Blair and Cameron, is relevant in this instance. There has to be a dispassionate approach to issues of funding, and recognition that some arguments proceed from positions of principle while others proceed from positions of questionable expediency. And I think the old boy himself would have agreed with that.
May 25, 2012: Me to email@example.com:
My understanding is that those who ran Wennington School were opposed to lotteries on ethical grounds. I called John Woods, who taught history at Wennington in the late 1950s, and asked him what he thought. He agreed that the acceptance of lottery funding was “perturbing”. I can’t imagine John Macmurray, the professor of moral philosophy who chaired the board of governors, saying: “Yes, go for it!”
May 29, 2012: Craig Fees, PETT archivist, to me:
I am a non-Wenningtonian who always looks forward to Archive Weekends and visits from Wenningtonians because of the depth and vitality of debates, the practical which is almost always at the end of the theoretical, and the independence of self and thought which seems to characterise Wenningtonians, or at least the ones I’ve met. There is almost a kind of “Oops, there’s a Buddha on the road, let’s kill him” approach to things, or, perhaps less metaphorically, “Let’s challenge, debate, argue, disagree, agree…” with dot dot dots because I run out of enough words. Are there Wenningtonians who would be prepared to rest with what Kenneth or Frances, or John Macmurray thought; or to use their views iconically? My assumption, which could be very wrong, is that all
of them, and Brian Hill and most of the adult members of the Wennington community, would say: “Here’s what I think. Here’s why I think it: Now, what do you think, and why?” My impression, never having met them, is that they would hope and expect their students to listen and incorporate, but also to outgrow them.
My personal view about the Heritage Lottery Fund is coloured by what it enabled us to do which we would not otherwise have been able to do: Which I tried to capture to some extent in the Final Report on the project, and which in some respects is captured more effectively in the Project Brochure. Both required a great deal of time, thought, reflection and effort to produce, so I don’t intend to recapitulate them here: They are available at http://www.otherpeopleschildren.org.uk. In my preferred world, the Heritage Lottery Fund is not needed, because good works are not only their own justification, but are also recognised and fully supported as a natural part of the Social fabric; my experience so far is that my preferred world is as real as any other, but in the end is only one of many possible worlds which exist in competition, some far more astutely than others.
My personal feeling about the plaque is that it is not there to commemorate or celebrate the thinking and beliefs of Kenneth or Frances or John Macmurray or anyone else in particular; but to celebrate and commemorate something of which they were fountainheads, but which has a life and flow which doesn’t belong to any one member of the Wennington community and diaspora, and which is still very much alive: There is no other reason to celebrate and commemorate it. As long as there is independence of thought and vigorous disagreement and agreement; and as long as people are inspired to believe in what is possible and to learn from past mistakes and good experience through Wennington and Wenningtonians, it will remain alive. But of course they first have to know about it; and then there has to be the experience available to learn from. The plaque is designed to signal the former and point towards the latter; using a brief phrase within parentheses which enough Wenningtonians taking part feel is right enough to go with, having had discussion and debate beforehand.
May 30, 2012: Roger Dingley to firstname.lastname@example.org:
Let’s be grateful that the funds were available for the work that Craig and PETT have done for us. If it were not for them, the documented history of Wennington would be non-existent and the documents probably residing in a landfill dump by now.
I am concerned that the relevance of PETT and HLF to Wennington is not clear and the prominent use of their logos in the body of the plaque is too dominant. Could they be reduced and make room for a bit more text explaining their role.
May 30, 2012: Dick Jones to email@example.com:
My guess is that the pragmatism that informed both principle and practice at Wennington and that got it from 1940 to 1975 would accommodate the current situation. Unless John Macmurray kept his money under the mattress, I imagine that he, like us today, had to accept that at various points of processing his income would pass through the hands of the arms dealers and the human exploiters. We all do our best, but absolute moral impeccability in a complex and contradictory world renders us invisible.
MY NOTE: Macmurray was never one to run with the herd, as he showed during World War I. That point aside, one is in no way responsible for what others do with money long before, or long after, it passes through one’s hands. All one can do is take money from ethical sources and spend it in ethical ways — and hope that others will endeavor to do likewise.
May 30, 2012: Me to firstname.lastname@example.org:
It all comes down to whether you are going to act according to principle or according to expediency. Ultimately, the views of Barnes¹, et al., are peripheral to this issue. I mention the strong opposition to gambling among (many? all?) of those who ran Wennington School mainly because it’s highly ironic, to say the least, that the school is now being memorialized by the proceeds of gambling.
The only argument to be addressed is the one advanced by all proponents of the acceptance of lottery funding: “That, without it, we could not do what we are doing.” In your particular case, this may or may not be true. It is true, however, that other recipients of funding from dubious sources, such as tobacco companies, were able to find other sources when they were forced to do so (in New Zealand, at any rate). Necessity is the mother of invention, I guess.
I oppose the acceptance of lottery funding by a school association in much the same way as I oppose the acceptance of Coca-Cola funding by the American Dietetic Association, and the acceptance of McDonald’s funding by a range of public health programs. No doubt the recipients of the latter types of funding also claim they couldn’t manage without it. Indeed, that is precisely what the respective donors want them to say.
Like the tobacco industry before them, all these enterprises thrive by making themselves (apparently) indispensable, and by clothing themselves with the respectability that comes from their fostering of “good causes” — causes that, in many instances, their other activities militate against.
The case against the National Lottery is one that hardly needs to be stated. All such lotteries promote themselves through false/misleading advertising, and prey upon the most vulnerable members of the community. They further impoverish the already poor, and act as an engine for the transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich. For as the Jubilee Policy Group noted in 1993, they have a “tendency to fund projects which tend to be of benefit to those on higher incomes”. In a related observation, the policy group said: “…it is hard to believe that those benefiting most from this scheme will not be those most able to afford the true cost of the services provided”.
During my conversation with John Woods, who went on to be headmaster of the Friends School Saffron Walden, he said he believed a number of Friends’ schools had decided not to accept lottery funding “on principle”. It was good to hear that at least a few people in “broken Britain” still adhere to some sort of standard.
1. Kenneth C Barnes, the school’s founder and headmaster.
May 31, 2012: Craig Fees to me, via email@example.com:
My problem with this discussion is that you do not seem to be asking questions, to which you do not feel you firmly know the answers; and you do not seem to be asking yourself “What do I really know? And does it really apply fully in this situation? What do I know of this situation?”
Even if you are ultimately right, that makes it almost impossible for me, personally, to know how to respond. An open discussion — in which everyone taking part asks themselves the questions being asked of them; challenges themselves, and what they know and think they know, and also what they believe; and comes out changed, even if their answers look the same as they did going in — I understand the value of. One where you are invited to either Confirm or React, Agree or Disagree is not the kind of discussion I see the point of (with apologies to my mother for the split infinitive). Nor does it seem to me to have been the style of discussion and debate which the core adult team at Wennington were encouraging — although I’m not a Wenningtonian, and could be wrong. But that is my interpretation for example of what Brian Hill says in one of his Sunday talks:
There are two kinds of discussion: the patient conversation of those searching for truth, and the bitter quarrelling of those with opposite points of view. You can if you like call the first cooperative inquiry, and the second fiery debate. We live in a world of fiery debate; I happen to prefer cooperative inquiry. I hope that you will join me in this, though I warn you that in doing so you will join a small minority,
a dwindling minority.
Wennington itself is, of course, a dwindling minority; which makes each member of it additionally valuable for someone like me, who is an outsider.
If you were to go through your email with a fine-tooth comb, would there be any point at which you would stop and find yourself saying: “Actually, what I’m assuming or stating here may not be the case.”? The problem with health research funded by tobacco companies, or closed research by company scientists in the pharmaceutical industry, is that it is exceptionally easy to overlook the questions or experiments which might cast doubt on an invested point of view. We’ve seen any number of miscarriages of justice in which the belief and certainty were so strong that alternative possibilities weren’t investigated, much less considered. All the way through the HLF-supported project, not least because of some pretty fierce questioning from the Wennington direction — but not just from there — we found ourselves questioning our assumptions, our practice, our motivations, our fundamental nature as an organisation. Have you read the Final Report I wrote? It isn’t all there, except perhaps by implication: But it was written to be read by those who read carefully, as well as by those who don’t have much time.
But then, which of us knows how much time we have?
May 31, 2012: Me to Craig Fees, via firstname.lastname@example.org:
Sorry, but I don’t want to get into tortuous epistemology. Let’s just say that I detest national lotteries, and anything that enables them to launder their image. I’ll leave you with a quote from Orwell:
“They were talking about the Lottery. Winston looked back when he had gone thirty metres. They were still arguing, with vivid, passionate faces. The Lottery, with its weekly pay-out of enormous prizes, was the one public event to which the proles paid serious attention. It was probable that there were some millions of proles for whom the Lottery was the principal if not the only reason for remaining alive. It was their delight, their folly, their anodyne, their intellectual stimulant. Where the Lottery was concerned, even people who could barely read and write seemed capable of intricate calculations and staggering feats of memory. There was a whole tribe of men who made a living simply by selling systems, forecasts, and lucky amulets…”
and a quote from George Curry, of the Christian Institute, with reference to the National Lottery:
“Surely Christians cannot turn a blind eye to the insidious rewriting of the moral code of our land. Let us be under no illusions, that is what is happening.”
I guess that, in the final analysis, I see lotteries as an indirect means of social control, along with sport, pageantry, junk television, and celebrity gossip. Just another thing to keep us preoccupied while the surveillance state goes about its dirty business.
Have a McHappy Day
June 1, 2012: Dick Jones to email@example.com:
There is, of course, much in what Alan has to say as he takes us to task for supping with the devil. And as best I can — most of the time, at least — I try to ‘keep my bosom franchis’d and my allegiance clear’. But alongside my fellow ethical combatants I live in a complex world of half-truths, compromised moralities and diluted values. My son attends a state primary school that teaches him about a god in which I do not believe and I don’t protest. Tomorrow my son will join in the diamond jubilee celebrations on behalf of a royal family that I would willingly see disinherited and he’ll wear a cardboard crown made by his mum. My two daughters attend a private progressive school that is inaccessible to the large majority of families for being prohibitively expensive because as my partner is Head of Art we get reduced fees.
But, for my sins, both schools are excellent and I want my children to be happy and fulfilled. I could withdraw all three kids from an educational system that in the one case serves the needs and priorities of a class-based, exploitative, hierarchical social order and in the other depends upon incomes generated by capitalistic enterprise and home-school them. But I want my children to be happy and fulfilled and both quotidian practicality and the available evidence indicate to me that their current situation is achieving this.
Just one example of the moral pragmatism by which my partner, my children and I live our lives. There are others. I watch programmes that Alan would undoubtedly condemn as ‘junk television’ and I enjoy those that correspond to my taste with the same wry circumspection and willing suspension of belief that have been applied to Punch and Judy and countless other low-brow entertainments down the centuries. Notwithstanding my belief that its players at the highest ability level are paid obscenely inflated salaries, I enjoy televised football. In spite my atheism, I get pleasure from the pageantry of the Sikh festival of Baisakhi, which the Sikh community in my local town celebrate with a parade each April. And if ‘celebrity gossip’ sometimes reveals the hubris, cant and fundamental vacuousness of the species and what they represent, then bring it on.
None of which personal testimony either justifies or condemns the decision to use Lottery funding to gather and collate the matter, formal and personal, of the school that we all attended so long ago. But maybe it does suggest that we lumpen celeb, soap and soccer followers are not quite as witlessly amenable to the machinations of the surveillance state as Orwell suggested in 1949 and Alan believes now. Yes, perhaps we should debate the issue and examine alternative sources of funding. But let’s recognise that to try to steer a course straight and true through the multitude of ethical cross-currents and whirlpools that prevail today will absorb more individual and collective energy than this small group of Wennington survivors can manage. At some points there will be trade-offs made because we live and function in real time within a real place. The best we can hope for is that we are able to moderate the worst associations with that venal world.
In the final analysis, we all desire very much indeed that the spirit, character and memory of that ethically compromised but ultimately inspirational community of which we were all a part shall be conserved long after we’ve all passed. Inevitably, however, our endeavours to achieve this continuity will involve us in the very acts of pragmatism that ensured the community’s functionality during its lifetime.
Alan, I envy both your moral certitude and (I assume) your capacity to apply its dictates stringently to your day-to-day life. Struggle as I might, I’m afraid it’s more than I can manage.
MY NOTE: Dick Jones is being disingenuous here. He knows that, ever since Juvenal railed against “bread and circuses”, entertainment has been used to divert/distract the (potentially restive) populace and keep it under control. In Japan, the tea ceremony was used in this way, as was the Yoshiwara — the “floating world” of dance and dalliance. Do I, for that reason, oppose the drinking of tea and the passing of time in congenial company? Where education is concerned, I think one’s decision to send one’s children to School A rather than to School B is a policy decision rather than an ethical one.
June 1, 2012: me to firstname.lastname@example.org:
“…we lumpen celeb, soap and soccer followers are not quite as witlessly amenable to the machinations of the surveillance state as Orwell suggested in 1949 and Alan believes now.”
And what, if anything, did we do when they abolished habeas corpus and started snatching people off the street and dispatching them to “black holes” in the American gulag? A few weeks ago, I wrote a letter to the local paper (where I used to work) deploring the passage of the (NZ) Search and Surveillance Bill, which effectively abolishes rights that, as I pointed out, go back centuries, if not to Magna Carta. What was the response? Unsurprisingly, there was none. People aren’t concerned. Not only is there no “fiery debate” (see Craig Fees’ last post), there is no debate at all. Of course, I am not opposed to sport (or to the other distractions) per se. I am, however, disturbed when I see their importance grossly exaggerated. When habeas corpus went down the gurgler (in the US) in 2006, my paper reported the news in a “brief” — a one-paragraph item in the briefs column on Page 4. Yet on the same day, it allocated three or four entire pages to sport. And the situation, as far as I can see, is the same in other Western countries. How many Americans are aware of the implications of HR347, which has been described as “an updated version of the Law to Remedy the Distress of the People and the Reich”? How many people in Britain have taken the trouble, as I have, to acquire a copy of Gareth Peirce’s “Dispatches From the Dark Side”, which documents the British Government’s “collu[sion] in a whole range of extrajudicial activities”, including rendition and torture?
I probably wouldn’t have said anything about the association’s reliance on lottery funding if, as I have said, I had not been struck by the irony of it. I was also irritated by the logo — the cocky smiley face with the crossed fingers, which seems, to me, to symbolize the triumph of the meretricious. I simply don’t want to see that face if/when I visit “the hall” again, just as I don’t want to walk down the Divan Yolu in Istanbul and see the “golden arches” of McDonald’s. I appreciate efforts to preserve the past — I have a similar preservation project under way at http://hourglassera.com — and would be more supportive of the association’s endeavors if I had a higher regard for Barnes’ writings. But let’s be honest: this is the most dreadful, pedestrian stuff. He is not well-informed, even on the subject of Christianity, and he appears to know little or nothing about how the average German experienced the rise of Nazism. I still remember how livid Eric de Quincy was after one of Barnes’ Sunday-evening homilies, in which he touched on the subject of World War II. “Kenneth knows nothing about war,” Eric snorted. And he was right. Hill was just as bad, but in an entirely different way, being full of high-flown sentiment that, alas, was often devoid of substance. His advice, as quoted by Craig, is not good advice for anyone going out into a world where, unfortunately, the adversarial system prevails. I would not have saved our local park from development by adopting Hill’s wishy-washy approach. I saved it by hiring a barrister and by taking the Government, as represented by the Ministry of Works, to court. Likewise, I would not have got my daughter into hospital, when she developed schizophrenia, if I had not been hardheaded, even brutal, at times. I could go on, but I won’t — except to say that when I had to raise funds to pay my barrister I went from door to door throughout the district, telling people who I was, what I was doing and why, and then asking them for a financial contribution. In the end, I raised more money than I needed and gave the surplus sum to the local soccer club.
June 2, 2012: Dick Jones to me, via email@example.com:
Alan, welcome as you are here, I’m unclear as to why you’ve chosen to come amongst us. Your blistering contempt for Kenneth Barnes and Brian Hill (so intense that you’re unable to utter their given names) alongside your readiness to invoke the ethos of the school in criticism of the Lottery funding issue are confusing. For better or worse, that ethos was by our time at the school pretty much in its entirety a compound of the personal convictions of these two men. With occasional incursions from the outside world, it was through the regular transmission of their ideological principles that the philosophy of Wennington School was articulated and absorbed during nearly a quarter of a century.
What puzzles me is from what source your readiness to point out our hypocrisy springs if it’s not from the body of proposed principle and practice that they communicated to we children and adolescents back in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. Surely, however flawed, contradictory, outdated and plain idiosyncratic aspects of that corpus of belief were, the very fact of their being shared and thus presented for debate was of enormous value. I have to state that I had little affection for Kenneth — in fact, I clashed with him frequently — whereas I held Brian in very high regard. But nearly 50 years on my own beliefs and convictions and the sometimes robust civil and political actions that they have inspired me to owe as much to the internal discourse that Kenneth’s ethics provoked in me as they do to the more direct influence of those presented by Brian.
I venture to suggest that this experience of Wennington as a crucible of enquiry and exploration that has influenced my personal development profoundly ever since will be shared at least in part by many others. Clearly not you, though, Alan. Which, I repeat, begs the question as to the provenance of the moral fervour behind your invocation of Wenningtonian principles in criticism of the Lottery funding if it’s not to be found anywhere within the dialectic arising from the synthesis of Kenneth Barnes’ and Brian Hill’s oft-stated beliefs.
June 3, 2012: Me to firstname.lastname@example.org:
Not sure I did choose to come among you. Who put me on your mailing list? Actually, I followed the Wennington convention, re the use of first names, until 2007, when a former scholar wrote to me at some length about “the dismissive arrogance of Barnes”. Then someone else wrote to me, saying he was “fed up” with the inadequacy of the “official” Wennington site, and also referring to KCB as “Barnes”. Made me wonder: Why are we using this man’s first name, as though he was someone we remembered with affection? And having decided to use “Barnes”, rather than “Kenneth”, I decided to extend the practice to other staff members, though in most cases I have used both names — as in “John Woods”. “Moral fervor . . .?” Oh, not really. I’ve spoken in strong terms, as I always do. But my animus, really, is for the American imperium and its contemptible lackeys. Whenever I think of Britain today, I remember Churchill’s remark about the Italian jackal “frisking up at the side of the German tiger with yelpings not only of appetite . . . but even of triumph”. If you want to research the “provenance” of my position, insofar as I have a position, I suggest you subscribe to the Information Clearing House news service ( http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/ ). Read every article for about a month, and you will start to get the picture. Please feel free to delete me from your mailing list.
June 3, 2012: Craig Fees to me, via email@example.com:
This is one of those email groups you have to choose to join. You and Dick were among the first, back in November, just after the group was formed.
Changing tack slightly: Do you know Jonathan Adamson? He may have been at Wennington later than you, but he has also done some amazing things — barring a successful appeal in the Supreme Court by the developer involved (which seemed unlikely when Jonathan talked about it a few weeks ago), he has helped to save the village green where he lives, despite not having the huge sums needed for legal fees, and relying on building a community consensus and support. He has done and continues to do similar things for the environment, creatively, from a position of intense principle, and often outside the box. An intense critic of the Lottery and anything touched by it. A strong critic of Kenneth Barnes (there are actually a surprising number of people who had difficulty with him, and/or vice versa).
I do wonder whether that intense grounding in principle, combined with a profound sense of personal/community responsibility, a non-conformity — or, rather, an intense individual integrity — , a belief in “Yes it can be done”, and considerable practical imagination, creativity and resilience in assessing and addressing social or other problems which many of us would shy away from, even if we saw them — sorry for so many words — is one of the ways in which “Wennington” is expressed?
How did you come to be there?
June 3, 2012: Me to Craig Fees, via firstname.lastname@example.org:
Well, a person has many formative experiences in his life. After I left school, I went deep-sea fishing in the North Atlantic. I then did some social work in northeast¹ India with a United Nations-associated organization. Later, I stayed at Sivananda’s ashram in Rishikesh — a few years before the Beatles made the town briefly famous. My next stop was Australia, where I clipped tickets on the Melbourne trams for two years. I then went to Japan, where I worked with World War II veterans from the other side for 10 years. After coming to New Zealand, I became involved in the Islamic movement and worked for a few years as a reviewer of history books for the Islamic Foundation in Leicester. I have been to Makkah and Madinah, and been through all the rituals of the Hajj. I have also spent some time in Turkey, visiting masajid and madrassahs from Edirne to Ani. So Wennington School was only one of several influences. The world being what it is, I have been forced to take several legal and quasi-legal actions. I think my toughest adversary was the tobacco industry, which I took on in 1978. Eventually, the national petition seeking recognition of the worker’s right to a smoke-free workplace was in my name. I was all set to go to Parliament, to testify before the select committee, when the Government announced it would legislate, and the fight was over.
I’m sorry I had to say unkind things about Brian Hill. He was a nice man. I believe he meant well. But he was also a person who could let you down, sometimes badly. After I left school, we corresponded for about 25 years. He and I were both occasional contributors to Howard Sergeant’s quarterly poetry magazine, Outposts, so we had a few things in common. But as time passed, I tired of his habit of issuing empty assurances, making promises he didn’t (or couldn’t) keep, and failing to acknowledge receipt of gifts I sent to him. And one day, I’m afraid, my patience ran out. As I said, he was short on substance. Even now, I don’t know whether I was really one of his friends. Perhaps I was just a bit of a nuisance.
No, I don’t know Jonathan Adamson. Not too many people like him around these days.
1. I should have written “northwest” India. My work camp was in District Sikar, Rajasthan.
June 4, 2012: Pat Mitchell to me, via email@example.com:
Sam Doncaster and I have been following the correspondence between you, Craig, and Dick, with interest, incredulity, and sadness, and notice that you have not responded to Craig’s question “How did you come to be at Wennington?” Perhaps there is something to hide?
Being in the same form as you for four years we find it hard to understand that the smiley faced, larder thieving, binge organising Alan Ireland was, seemingly, so desperately unhappy, and that you now can’t find anything positive at all to say about the school, or any of the staff. Do we ex-pupils and classmates also fall into the category of those who must be referred to by their surname? Many will say that they couldn’t get on with Kenneth, or that Brian seemed rather distant, or that the school did not meet their needs, or that they were unfairly treated (Sam was thrown out two terms before his A-levels, which could be said to have affected the rest of his life) but even those people do have some appreciation of what the school was about.
As for your description of Brian being a “nice” man. Alan, Brian would be extremely disappointed in you. We well remember him teaching us that the word “nice” was to be avoided at all costs when writing essays.
June 4, 2012: Me to Pat Mitchell, via firstname.lastname@example.org:
Something to hide? You know that it’s all there at http://wenningtonschool.com. Did Brian Hill really say that? It sounds, to me, like something that pedantic high-school English teachers used to say (and possibly still say). No one is the custodian of the language. We don’t have an Academie Francaise. If I want to use a vapid word, I’ll use a vapid word.