THE GENERAL

AUTOBIOGRAPHY 29

He was known to everybody, staff and pupils alike, as The General. What his real name was I have no idea. He was a man in his middle to late fifties when I arrived at the school in 1959. He had a wiry mop of white hair. He was always on his bike ferrying messages round the school. This was a distance of a mile or more from Old School House in the centre of Holt to the Sanatorium, which is nearly in High Kelling. I think my friend Bill has a photograph with The General lurking in the background, holding his trusty bike.

His name –or nickname – was of course derived from his job title, which was general factotum. He may have done other odd jobs, but his principal occupation was the delivering of packages around the campus – in other words the school postman; for this he rode his bike. It was the complete opposite of Stuart Webster’s cycling style, which was very upright and leisurely. The General crouched over his drop handlebars and inserted his feet into the toe clips on the pedals before racing off. In fact I don’t think he went that fast, but he certainly gave the impression of speed. In the days before the arrival of mobile phones his was a valuable contribution, keeping the widely dispersed members of the school in contact with each other.

There were plenty of other non-teaching staff around the school. Just after I left the catering was centralised and contracted out, which meant that all the houses lost their cooks and kitchen hands, and no longer needed their kitchen gardens. That must have reduced the numbers of inside and outside domestic staff considerably. Tosh was our man at Farfield whose responsibilities included looking after the kitchen garden, tending the rhubarb patch, carrying hods of coke for the boiler and cutting the two grass tennis courts we possessed in Farfield. The better of the two courts, with a fence round it, was reserved for the housemaster and his guests.

At Farfield we had a maid who was only about my age, or  even a year or two younger. She was a pretty girl who helped prepare our meals and swept the passage ways while most pupils were elsewhere working. I however, being in the sixth form, was quite often in my study, when she would tap at my door with her broom. . . Even now she is recalled by my contemporaries with a certain amount of glee. ‘G’ now works as a masseuse at Richmond upon Thames, but back in the 1970s she had a career as a topless model in Men Only and Mayfair. Scantily clad doesn’t really describe her state of dress adequately; indeed ‘clad’ and ‘dress’ are not the words to use at all. She also starred in a number of films, thrillers and those of a mildly pornographic nature.  By then of course she had long gone from the sleepy little Norfolk town to the bright lights of London life.

Then there was Harold Cooke the lab assistant and his younger helper the Boy David. Harold Cooke had spent the war years as a Japanese PoW after the fall of Singapore.  There were other people about the place who had a rather more sedate and conventional career path. There was an elderly man whose name I never knew who looked after the boiler in the Chapel; what his other duties were I don’t know, but he must have had some because the chapel boiler would not have absorbed him totally, certainly not in the summer. Then there were the groundsmen who would cut the grass with a mower pulled behind a little red Massey Ferguson tractor.

Miss Quibell was our house matron whose job was mainly looking after the laundry. You would expect it to have been looking after the boys’ health but this was not so; minor ailments merely needed plenty of fresh air (and there was no shortage of that) and serious complaints were dealt with by Sister or Dr Elliot at morning surgery in the San. The dirty washing was sent off every week in wicker laundry baskets to the Fakenham Steam Laundry. Our grey socks were tied together with tapes which our mothers had to sew in before we left home. Every item of clothing was marked with our name on Cash’s tags which also had to be sewn in. Quibell’s pastime and abiding pleasure was golf, which she would play with Stuart Webster and Jimmy Dodd. (They were my art and French masters respectively.) She was a broad-shouldered woman who had a hearty golfing swing I imagine.

JOSEPH MASON

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

joemasonspage@gmail.com

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One response

  1. and was got rid of because she played more golf than tying up laundry bags and tippled regularly. Bill.

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