Neville Jones was a Junior School teacher at Gresham’s throughout his career. I remember his dwelling in the living quarters attached to Old Kenwyn, a block of classrooms by my time. I was taught by him during my time at Crossways, one of the two junior school houses. I cannot remember anything about his lessons. I can picture him very clearly; you will have look at the photo to the left. He was married with a young family – a few years younger than me – when I arrived at the school in 1959.
Mushy Hughes wasn’t a Junior School teacher, at first anyway; however, the term after I moved on to the senior school he took over as housemaster at Crossways. Thereafter he was naturally very involved with the junior school, but he still taught Classics to the seniors. He taught Greek to my friend James Oxley-Brennan. James was a very good Greek scholar, but by the mid sixties he was the only pupil who still studied the subject; when he left after taking his ‘O’ levels it was dropped from the curriculum. It was no longer taught at the school and, as far as I am aware, it has never been revived. James has become a leading light among learned circles in Norfolk, but his subject has nothing to do with speaking Greek; rather he is the editor of the local Industrial Archaeology journal. Even when he was at school his passion was steam engines.
I cannot remember being taught by Mr Hughes; I can only remember being taught Latin by ‘Gosso’ Mosley. That was because his lessons were an opportunity for him to produce puns, an activity in which I too participated. I was good fun, but not perhaps conducive to learning fourth declension nouns. At the time I was in the top set for Latin, but at the end of the year I was demoted to a lower set, when I may very well have been taught by Mushy. Unlike Mr Jones, Mr Hughes was unmarried, and remained so throughout my time at school. He died within the past few years, and I am sure that he remained a bachelor to the end. I need hardly explain that Mushy was his nickname; his real name was (I think) Michael. I am sorry if you feel that I am getting rather forgetful as the years pass.
My lasting memory of Mushy was his taking a group of us teenagers on holiday to Eastern Europe in 1965. He was not entirely single-handed in this enterprise, having as his deputy another young master, a teacher of mathematics called Graham Smithers. Nonetheless it was a formidable undertaking, going behind the Iron Curtain with more than a dozen schoolboys.
I discovered that I had lost my travel card (with which those of us without passports were issued) when the train pulled up at the Czechoslovakian border crossing. With his tall frame and rather snooty look – his nose was permanently in the air – he was nevertheless imperturbable. In due course I found my card – I had left it as a bookmark in the history book I was reading – but when I told him he was equally calm. Incidentally this haughty appearance was misleading; it did not represent his character, which had no hint of arrogance about it.
Somehow he seemed to have enjoyed the sightseeing on the holiday, and with a Czech acquaintance he even organised a visit to the opera for us. He cannot have been pleased when several of us absented ourselves from the second half of the performance, but only a slight frown crossed his brow when we informed him of out intention to leave. The good boys remained to listen to act two of Verdi, while we naughty youngsters were planning a trip to the Prague nightclubs, where I discovered the delights of a gin fizz. In Communist Europe we could get away with almost anything; they needed our hard currency. Back in the West, in Austria, we were put firmly in our place. There was no alcohol for sixteen year olds there.
You will not associate a vibrant nightlife with the dark austerity of the Soviet Bloc, and you would be right, as far as the local population was concerned at least. But for overseas visitors there were establishments reminiscent of what I imagine 1930s London was like. There was no music on the night I remember, but on Saturdays there might have been a small Jazz band playing in the background. Shady ladies would entertain their clientele at the bar. It was a bad thing that I did, but I am glad I went there instead of listening to Aida; that delight is still available to me, should I want it, but the Communist era and its drinking dens are lost in the distant past.
All this is only obliquely relevant to Mushy Hughes. I continued to study Latin, even after leaving school at university, but our paths did not cross after that Easter. As our party pulled into Waterloo we left Mushy and Graham Smithers and rushed off to our various homes with scarcely a goodbye.