Weather Forecast

Cannot get Mashonaland East location id in module mod_sp_weather. Please also make sure that you have inserted city name.



Reminiscences of Peterhouse 1957-1962

When I first arrived at Peterhouse it was from a Government School in Salisbury, and I had not spent much time away from home. The whole arrangement was somewhat alien, and there were several practices that seemed to be totally unnecessary, like wearing special clothes for the evening meal. My mother was from New Zealand where English traditions were probably more common than in England, but which was in something of a time warp as I found later, but that did not prepare me for what I thought was a strange custom, in summer anyway.

However, I was there to stay, so there was nothing for it but to knuckle down and come to grips with the procedures however odd I thought that they were.

The first days seemed to be designed to be difficult just for the sake of it as I had a timetable for classes, but no-one seemed to know where the classrooms were. That seemed an unnecessary and strange way to manage anything, and I thought it was some ritual to allow the old hands to be superior. It turned out that everyone in the school, even the old hands (pupils and teachers) were subject to the same problem. New classrooms had been built during the holidays, and the whole lot renumbered, but the numbers had not yet been put on the rooms, so no one knew what was happening. I think that from that experience I developed a suspicion that nothing was as it seemed.
Anyway, in thinking back to those days, it seemed easiest to just brain dump the various images that came back to mind.

The Houses
I started out in Grinham, which was brand new. It was spartan, as there really was no need for comfort. I had not slept in a dormitory before, and that was an interesting experience, as was the seeming impossibility of fitting all my possessions in one locker. The lockers had two doors, the top one opening on to one compartment, and the bottom one on to three compartments. The problem with the compartments was that they were so high that of necessity things had to be piled on top of each other, making retrieval of anything in particular an interesting exercise, usually resulting in a pile of stuff on the floor that had to be jammed back in a hurry. Getting up in the morning was a particularly hurried time as the wake up bell went at 06:00 and we had to be at our desks by 06:15, having had a cold shower and being dressed.

Grinham has electric fans for heating, which were more expensive to run than expected, so there were not always allowed to run when it seemed cold.
In those early days, the desks of us younger ones were in a communal 'prep' room. Later we graduated to Toyes, which helped the problem of finishing off the dressing process as long as one could avoid the prefects.
It was cold in winter!

Later when Founders was built, I was transferred there, so becoming a founder member of Founders.
Founders had a steam heating system which was erratic, but it was allowed to be on more than the electric fans in Grinham, but it made a very load clanking noise at times. They did provide one source of entertainment as the pipes that went across the rooms could be hung on and swung from.

Meals were taken in the main hall, which changed its name depending on the circumstances, from Dining Room to Chapel until there was one, and also doubled as a place for watching films. The food itself was not memorable, good or bad, but there was a degree of suspicion that when broccoli was served it had been extended by the addition of khaki weed.
There were two notable events while I was at Peterhouse, which came back to mind. The first was an interesting reflection on the effects of a 'strike' or withdrawal of labour. When I first went there, there were people in the kitchens making the meals, and another other set that delivered the food to the table. The food came in copper bowls about 8 inches across, which had an aluminum liner with a small air gap between them to hold the heat, or cold. Anyway, one day the waiters decided not to turn up for work, so to get around the problem, one boy from each table was sent to get the bowls, and in due course to take the used plates back. This process made the whole meal time so much shorter that the 'waiters' were no longer required.

The other was a table collapse. The tables seated 4 on each side, sitting on forms without backs, then had one additional seat at one end. This was for a supervisor, e.g. a prefect. The first tables to be made were incredibly solid (and horribly heavy which we knew all about when they had to be moved to the side of the hall for some reason). A later set of tables were of much lighter construction, and unfortunately their legs were not very sturdily attached. A table that I was on was getting very wobbly, so we reported the problem several times but nothing was done. Finally, as we got up after one mean the legs fell off one end, and when the end of the table dropped to the floor all that was left shot off to the other end of the hall. Fortunately there was not much left. I think there was suspicion from the top table that the event had not been entirely an act of nature, but we couldn't possibly comment on that! The tables were fixed shortly afterwards.

The food that I remember most, other than the broccoli stuff, probably because I don't get to eat it these days was Zambesi Mud which was a quite palatable chocolate desert, and of course Mealie Meal pudding. I think we had it more as a desert and as Sudza. We used to put butter (on the one day a week that happened) or margarine which was a particularly solid variant.
As a light relief, some of us used to make 'candies' for sale. We discovered that by adding powdered milk to boiling melted sugar, then at the last minute adding sherbert produced a very nice crunchy sweet. We could sell that at quite a bit more than the cost of the ingredients. Maybe that should be claimed as an education in how to be an entrepreneur.

There were three sets of clothes, called No 1, No 2 and No 3.
No 1 was the dress uniform. This had to be worn every evening, for Sunday Chapel, and whenever outside the school grounds, particularly if in Salisbury. The uniform consisted of white shirt, grey flannels, very blue blazer, blue tie and a grey hat. Shoes were also required, but I don't remember what colour. Probably black, and of course they had to be properly polished and shiny. When I first went there the hat was the only allowable headgear to wear with No 1 uniform, but later the hat requirement was dropped, and since there had to be headgear the cap was allowed. The tie presented some difficulties when I first went there, but major difficulty came with the shirt collars which were stud attached.
When a bunch of boys was allowed to go to Salisbury, it was usually to some event where there were other schools represented. When the purple of Churchill, and the bright red of St. George's were together it looked like a pageant. At least we from Peterhouse didn't have to wear boaters!

No 2 was the learning uniform. It consisted of khaki shirt and shorts (no tie thank goodness) and khaki stockings, and of course shoes - brown I think. The real bane of our lives with this ensemble was the garters and garter tabs. Both of these, but especially the tabs had a mind of their own and were for ever disappearing. The basic idea of the tabs, as they were colour coded, was to allow teachers to easily identify which house boys were from. There were supposed to be two tabs showing on each side, with two points of some prescribed shape showing. When one tab set disappeared, it was possible to avoid the complete absence of tabs by cutting them in half. Unfortunately some teachers took great delight in detecting that transgression at every opportunity and dishing out some punishment. Others were much more easy going, and accepted that such things did happen, and that it was not the major issue of having no tabs.

There were strict rules on the length of shorts. They had to be 3 inches measured from at the back of the leg while kneeling, with not much leeway. This did cause some annoyance for parents as it was very difficult to buy clothes for growing boys that could last more than a few terms with such tight parameters. Fortunately, for the parents, being too long was less of a transgression than being too short.
No 3 was the general sport uniform (there were more specific uniforms for cricket, rugby etc.). This one was really just white tee-shirt, and white shorts. Optionally tackies could be worn, but they were not compulsory.

In the early days school trips would be taken in the school open backed Bedford trucks. They were not comfortable to sit in, so standing was usual. These days such things would be against the law, at least n New Zealand. If the weather was cold, there were covers for the top and the sides, which also hid the boys from the view of the driver, and, more importantly, the supervising teacher, so there was some smoking along the way.

Bush Fires
When the veldt got on fire, there was no question that it had to be contained and extinguished as quickly as possible. On one occasion, a few days after term start, we had a new teacher recently arrived from England. As soon as the smoke was seen, the class got up and went off to the fire. The teacher, who hadn't heard of such things as bush fires, was almost apoplectic as the class left. It must have been a dangerous activity as the fires swept through very fast, and at times we were attempting to beat it out with branches from trees which were very keen on burning. I don't remember anyone getting burnt, but there were times when I could feel the skin on my face drying up. By the time the fire was out, the school trucks were mobilised, and they returned the boys to the swimming pool to cool, off. If we had been wearing No 2s we took them off, but if it was No 3s, we were into the pool clothes and all.

When I first went there, there was one small swimming pool up near the Rector's lodge. It really was not big enough for the numbers, so it was great when the bigger one on near the lower fields was built. I think both pools had rudimentary filtering systems, but they were generally filled with green water and frogs. The school lake was always tempting, but was totally out of bounds for swimming because of the parasitic diseases.

Entertainment by means of radios and television (not that there was much of that in the country) was strictly not allowed. We were there to learn first, and play sport (for those who could) second and, it seemed, to enjoy it third. Plays and musicals were staged, and I thoroughly enjoyed working on Martin Graham's productions, the spectacular setting for Hamlet being most memorable. I worked with Anthony Holderness on the lighting for which we had two huge towers to mount the spotlights. We had to get power from the classrooms as the open air stage didn't have any of its own, and had to join several cables together. I don't suppose we would have got away with that if we had been in Salisbury! We did have to do a rapid repair job when we wired the cables up incorrectly at one stage, and blew several fused while generating a huge bang. It was on a Saturday afternoon and we to sort that out before anyone noticed.
As it was a boys only school, inevitably some boys had to play girls, for which they were teased, of course.

There were several floods while I was there. I think that because there was either no rain for long periods, or there were regular short periods of rain, any major downpour was not catered for until it had demonstrated what the draining need was, and where it should be. The main boiler room got flooded once (being below the surrounding ground that was perhaps inevitable) which meant cold showers and no heating for a few days. That vovelty wore off very quickly!
While the chapel was being built, there were nearly two disasters. While the walls on either side of main door at the end of the nave were being built, they formed coffer dams. As they filled up with water, they started to bulge. Fortunately they did not self destruct as the water was let out in time, but we rather hoped for something spectacular. The other was a more interesting event to observe. The huge stone walls on the sides, that are essentially free standing, depended very much on the stability of their foundations. Some of those walls, on the administration block started to lean towards the admin block as one side subsided. I don't know how they straightened them up, but we thought that we were going to be for in an interesting pile of rubble. After that, in the boring moment in chapel, I used to look at the beams and wonder whether they were just supporting the roof or whether they were also holding the sides together.

The Chapel
When the chapel was finished, and after it had its electronic organ installed, the pomp and circumstance ramped up somewhat. We had 5 archbishops there for one service, Dr Fisher who was Archbishop of Canterbury at the time (and his son Charles was senior master at the time) and the archbishop of Mashonaland was there and at least one from South Africa. Lots of Mitres were seen.

Unfortunately the electronic organ was in the habit of developing bad notes. John Hodgson was adept at transposing hymns and other musical material on the fly, and could avoid the bad notes once they had been found.
Fred Snell used to give John Hodgson a rest at the daily chapel (on Wednesdays I think) but although competent at reading the music and playing it in the normal manner, he was not so good at the transposition. Horrible noises would appear randomly in hymns, and of course the boys thought that this was hilarious. Fred also had quite short legs and they used to slip off the foot rest and randomly strike a pedal - usually in the most silent periods of a service. Once again, that was considered hilarious.

Some of the teachers that arrived from England were somewhat naïve about the realities of the tropics. One of the flooding episodes caused the row of classrooms closest to the science block to get a large amount of water in them. This was cleaned out before classes started, so it was just a bit damp. However, the cleaners left the hose behind. I am not sure how it was done, but once the teacher was on his podium, the water started to flow. We must have known as we kept very quite and just lifted our feet, but in due course the teacher found himself on an island. Clearly it could not have been us - but we may have had the idea and prompted someone else to do it.

I was happy to do athletics, as I was able to do the longer distances, like 880 and mile, and the steeplechase, which I think was 7 miles. The steeplechase provided an opportunity to delve into things that would not otherwise be available. We needed to be able to know how the races were going, and as we didn't have helicopters or mobile telephones, it had to be done by having watchers stationed at strategic points and reporting back to base. Radios left over from WWII were used for this purpose, and of course they had to be tuned and tested, and of course while this was going on could standard radio signals - at least that was our story and we stuck to it.

Non-academic activities
The academic side of life did not present me with a major problem. No doubt I could have been more diligent at schoolwork, but the school environment provided opportunities for other activities which I enjoyed. By the time I got to the last year, the various privileges about (later) lights out time, and (later) getting up time, and being out of the house in the evenings could be used to further other activities. A number of projects were embarked upon to provide interest in our lives.

Radio Service
As a result of having the radio equipment for the steeplechase, we were able to have radio equipment for our own entertainment. Our Toyes had a bench, a desk and a cupboard and a bookshelf, and it was panelled in wood. By wiring the panelling we had a signal going to each seat that was invisible unless you knew what to look for. Two small holes in the panelling went through to the wires. By sticking the two connector pins of simple earphones into the holes we could pick up the radio, and we kept them in place by leaning on them. If anyone in authority came into the room, it was not obvious what we were doing, and if we sat up the earphone just fell away out of sight.

Alcohol was of course not allowed to be brought on to the school premises. The rules did not, however, explicitly say that it could not be manufactured although that was implicit. The food served usually included fruit of some kind each night. By taking the appropriate food out of the dining room, and by borrowing flasks and piping from the science department we were able to set up fermenting stations to produce fermented concoctions. It was amazing what used to turn into alcohol. There were a few horrible experiences when the plumbing got blocked up and half fermented liquid got pumped all over the desk and seat of the poor unfortunate person. Once the half fermented liquor which did not have much alcohol initially hit oxygen, it went decidedly off very rapidly. Fortunately there was a sink in our room, so it was logical that we also had cleaning materials. We usually never used them, but they were put to good use in one of these emergencies. The biggest problem was restoring books to a reasonable smell, and unsticking them.
That entertaining period came to an end when the science department started to find it difficult to function, and had to initiate an amnesty to get its equipment back.

Illicit trips to Marandellas
As my family lived close to Peterhouse in later years, I was also able to get access to a car. This was of course not allowed in the school rules, even when dressed in # 1 uniform. On Sundays, when we were supposed to be on outward bounds, I and my mates used to go home and get the car, and go off somewhere (not necessarily to Marandellas). We were dressed pretty obviously in No 3s, so there must have been people that knew. One day we had a great laugh as we drove down the Boulders drive, and were hailed by some small PH boys who asked for a lift so we picked them up. They kept calling us Sir, not knowing who we were or where we came from.

One memorable day we were going along the road to Marandellas, and to our horror we saw Fred Snell's red and grey Vanguard coming towards us. In a panic I said 'duck' and the passengers, all ducked while still barrelling along the road. To my horror, afterwards, I realized that I had ducked too. Fortunately we didn't hit the Rector's car, which would have been embarrassing. Our car was bright green and as noticeable as his, so I often wonder whether he knew who it was, or whether he just didn't notice a car going along the highway without a driver.
There were some serious activities, largely centred around the Science Society

Folliott Fisher and I used to read the New Scientist and Scientific American, and one (or both) of these excitedly reported the invention of the Hovercraft. We had done the usual rounds of making model 'planes and this seemed so much more worthwhile as an activity. We studied the theoretical designs, and worked out how we could make a model Hovercraft as long as we could get the materials.

Essentially, a Hovercraft is a big engine to make lots of air, and a skirt to direct the air in the right direction underneath. I realised that a vacuum cleaner engine mounted the other way round would make a suitable source of air, and it so happened that I knew that we had an old Hoover vacuum cleaner at home whose motor was rapidly failing due to a worn out bearing. I also knew where I could get hold of a roller bearing. I figured that if I could get access to the science department lathe, I could replace the original bush bearing with a roller bearing, and we would have a resucitated motor. So, I offered the use of the motor for the project, and negotiated with Dr James Milford for use of the lathe, and for a small piece of brass that I could turn into a fixed bush to keep it all tightly bound together.

The next step required a leap of imagination, which came to us when some new plastic bowls were delivered to our house washroom. We reasoned that if new ones had been delivered there must be a stock of old ones somewhere. In due course we found where they had gone, and (officially) got some. It is probably not feasible to describe the design in words, so suffice to say that we managed to create a sort of vehicle that suspended itself on a cushion of air. We used a variable output transformer from the science department (officially), and were able to demonstrate the principle of the Hovercraft to parents on open day. As that had to be done on a table for best effect we were a bit worried that it would self destruct if it ran off the edge of the table, but it solved that problem for itself by sitting down on its skirt abruptly as it went over the edge and lost pressure.
So, a win-win situation resulted - impressed parents in general, and for mine in particular a mended Hoover vacuum cleaner.
We called out invention a Hoovercraft. We had to dismantle it, but I believe that if I looked hard, I may be able to find the design drawings such as they were - if anyone is interested.

Computer Technology
As part of our Higher Maths classes, which were taken by John Greenacre, we somehow ended up starting on a project to build a demonstration computer. Mr Greenacre managed to get several relays and uniselectors from some friend or acquaintance in Salisbury. The theory of programming was not too difficult and that side was handled by John Dawson and others whose names I have unfortunately forgotten). I ended up with the task of making the paper tape for the program. Again, the science department lathe came to the rescue.

By replacing the switch wheel off the uniselector with a wheel of the right diameter, and inserting pins in it radially, a way of moving tape could be set up. The tape was, I think, accounting machine tape, i.e. it was about two inches wide. It is not very strong paper, so the holes could not be too close together. With one line of holes for the sprocket feed, that left room for three data holes. Each time a row of holes was lined up ready to be sensed, contact had to be made, then the tape could be moved on to the next row. There had to be synchronization between the timing on the uniselector that moved the tape, the sensing cycle which then had to switch off its current to avoid spurious effects from bounce on the contacts.

Clearly with only three data holes, the scale of a calculation was not great or useful other than as a demonstration of the idea, but it did (often) work. We had the great advantage that none of the people that we were demonstrating this to had any idea about computing, so we were able to cover up the misbehaviour. We would ask for a simple addition or subtraction from the watchers, and then we would process it. For example if they said add 2 and 3, we would tell them that 2 was represented by 010 in binary, and three by 011. We were careful not to say what the answer was supposed to be in binary. We would feed in the two values, do the mechanical feed of the paper tape, and the result would come up on the light display. It should of course have come up as the binary for 5, i.e. 101. It usually did, but even if it did not we could quickly say 'there you see the answer is 5' and clear the display.
The value in the project was in the experience of programming, then the experience of creating something that could drive it automatically.

There were other things that I was involved in during my school days, but I think the ones above cover the general good memories.

Anthony Fletcher
12 August 2004

You are here: Home The History Memories Memories 1960-69 Reminiscences of Peterhouse 1957-1962