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30 October 2007

Death of a fine teacher - Ken Cripps

I took this rather fuzzy photograph surreptitiously from the back of the classroom when I was in the 6th Form of Kingston Grammar School back in the mid-1950s.

Mr Cripps (or "Sir" as we were obliged to call him) was one of the finest teachers I ever encountered in the whole of my schooldays. He taught English and Latin. He was small in stature and quietly spoken and yet had an innate ability to maintain discipline. I knew of none of my classmates who would dare challenge his authority, or even say anything bad about him in private.

I was therefore saddened to learn from yesterday that Ken Cripps had died .. at the age of 98! I shall always remember him with affection and gratitude. Nicotine addicts will no doubt rejoice in the knowledge that Ken lived to be 98 as a regular smoker (he gave up the habit when he was 83!)

Here are few points from an obituary appearing on the website:

* * *

'Uncle' Ken Cripps, arguably Kingston Grammar School's best-loved teacher, died on October 23 at the ripe old age of 98. He taught for 27 years at KGS, finally hanging up his mortarboard in 1971, but his legend grew in his long retirement, when he kept up with scores of former pupils.

He also maintained his links with the school, becoming one of its principal benefactors. A new staff common room was named after him, to recognise his “major and enduring contribution to the school”. It features a bronze bust of Ken.

John Elvidge, chairman of the school governors, explained: “Of the many former teachers at KGS who live on in the memories of past pupils, students and parents, we do not know of anyone who is held in higher esteem by so many.”

Ken Cripps, who lived in Anglesea Road, Kingston, was born on April 27, 1909, in Horley, Sussex, where his father, the Rev Henry Cripps, had been pastor of the Baptist church since the start of the century.

After attending grammar school in Hertford, Ken went on to teacher training college, eventually joining the staff at KGS during the Second World War, where one of his early tasks was taking charge of the evacuation of pupils as Kingston – home of the Hurricane fighter plane – had become one of Hitler’s key targets.

Ken specialised in English and Latin, developing a teaching style which Bernard Pratt described as “combining a friendly, non-intimidating approach with an ability to keep order”.

However, it was his enthusiasm for overseas trips and London outings which really endeared him to pupils. Visits to West End plays gave many boys (the school was male-only in his day) their first experience of theatre.

He led annual trips to Paris for more than a decade, and took charge of an ambitious rail expedition to Leningrad and Moscow during which, in an obscure Soviet station, he left the train on which the group was travelling to buy everyone sandwiches from a snack bar, only to discover that the locomotive had left the platform without him.

He had to take an express to catch it up later in the day.

* * *
I was a self-obsessed, neurotic, depressive teenager in my final years at school, and I remember once Ken Cripps set our class the task of writing an essay about our present lives and how we saw our future. Mine was pessimistic to such a degree that Ken Cripps took the 5-mile bus ride to my home one evening and had a long conversation with my father about my state of mind. (Incidentally my life turned out very differently to the one I had foreseen in my essay.) I mention this little incident as a small example of the degree to which Ken actually cared about his pupils.

God bless you Ken.

27 October 2007

Remembering Spike Milligan

Instead of writing today about things that make me angry or sad or excited, I feel like indulging in something that just gives me simple pleasure. One of those things is reading to my five-year old grandson.

Yesterday I found myself reading a story for children written by the late, great, Spike Milligan. Spike was my comedy hero from the days when he introduced British radio listeners in the stilted and austere 1950s to a totally new, anarchic and surrealistic form of humour with The Goon Show.

Spike had many faults as a husband and father (how many of us are any better?) and suffered throughout his life from bouts of incapacitating depression. He was a manic depressive, or - as we like to say these days - suffering from bi-polar disorder. But I think his illness contributed to his genius.

The story that held my grandson's attention yesterday (and made him laugh frequently) was the story of the Bald Twit Lion. How can one improve on the opening paragraph to this story ..

Once, twice and thrice upon a time there lived a Jungle. It started at the bottom and went upwards till it reached the monkeys, who had been waiting years for the trees to reach them, and as soon as they did the monkeys invented climbing down. Most trees were made of wood, and so were the rest. Trees never spoke, not even to each other, so they never said much (actually one tree did once say 'much' but nobody believed him), they never said 'fish' either, not even on Fridays. It was a really good Jungle: great scarlet lilies, yellow irises, thousands of grasses all grew very happily, and this Jungle was always on time. Some people are always late, like the late King George V. But not this Jungle.

The story continues with the account of Mr Gronk, the lion who roared so hard all his hairs fell out, and his own flea had to leave on account of there being nowhere to hide. All the other lions laughed at him, until a crow suggested to Mr Gronk that he should get all the other lions to shave off their hair so they would all look the same. They were persuaded by the assertion that if they didn't shave, their legs would fall off. Unfortunately this made all the other animals laugh. (One monkey laughed so much he fell out of his tree and krupled his blutzon.)

To cut a 12-page story short, the lions were saved by a holy man called Daniel who came along and explained he could be trusted because he was once locked in a den of lions and none of them bit him and the audience asked for their money back. He made wigs for the lions by snipping hair from sleeping gorillas, sticking them to pieces of rag, then glueing them to the lions' heads with nails. Because Mr Gronk had caused all the trouble in the first place he was left out, cried for 40 days and 40 nights and suffered from lakes on the knees; to make things worse there were ducks on the lakes who kept him awake at night. Their quacking drove his knees deaf. In the end, God came to Mr Gronk, proved he was God by knowing that 2 x 2 = 4 and gave him back his beautiful black mane. He was so happy he married a Roman Catholic giraffe and lived happily ever after until the next day.

Spike Milligan said the following in an author's note: "I am of the opinion that children are not just small homo sapiens - they are an entirely different species, with a secret world that only very perceptive adults have any real knowledge of. I have. Lucky me."

If you stumbled across this Blog today, I hope it raised a smile or three.

21 October 2007

Beaten but still proud

Well, we got to the Final but last night we didn't manage to hold on to the Cup. South Africa, the team that gave us a good drubbing a few weeks ago, beat us again and walked off with the Cup.

But this time our meeting with the South Africans was different. When they beat us in the preliminary stages with a colossal 36-Nil score we were a ramshackle bunch that deserved to be beaten.

Following that, we got our act together, and became a team to be reckoned with. Nobody suspected a few weeks back that we would ever get to the Final, but we did, and last night we gave the Springboks a run for their money, losing by just 9 points (15-6). We left France disappointed, but with our heads held high.

14 October 2007

Rugby World Cup

Last night had me sitting on the edge of my seat in front of the TV as England defeated the "old enemy" France. What a game!

Who would have thought a month ago when we were trashed by South Africa (36-Nil) that the squad would have pulled themselves together so spectacularly that we would find ourselves in the Semi-finals.

And now we are in the Final, with a chance to hang on to that World Cup that we won back in 2003. At the time of writing we don't yet know who we'll be up against - Argentina or South Africa.

Can we expect to see Jonny Wilkinson's left boot on e-Bay some time soon?

03 October 2007

Inside Bush's Brain - not a nice place

George W Bush has vetoed a Bill aimed at increasing health care for children in the USA. It had bipartisan support in Congress, but Bush has said, "I happen to believe that what you're seeing when you expand eligibility for federal programs is the desire by some in Washington, D.C. to federalize health care. I don't think that's good for the country."

Representative Rahm Emanuel, a Democrat of Illinois, said "Today the president showed the nation his true priorities: $700 billion for a war in Iraq, but no health care for low-income kids."

I agree with Emanuel. Moreover, I should like to ask - precisely what is so wrong with the concept of Federal Health Care?!

The man is a disgrace. Thank God the American people have only got to put up with him for another 16 months.