Being the President of CAOKS is a lot more fun than anybody who has not done it would imagine.
During my term of office I have been invited to a variety of events, one or two of which I would not have considered had I not been specifically invited or pressured into attending. I would not previously have considered an invitation to play snooker, for example. Nevertheless, last November I found myself obliged to take part in a snooker match against the Grammar School Old Boys; even worse I was required to lead the CAOKS team into battle against the old enemy; to be first on court, as it were.
It was not, of course, the first time that I have led the School against the Grammar School; sometime around the middle of the last century I did so as Captain of Rowing but that was at least a sport in which I had demonstrated a measure of competence.
Snooker, on the other hand, was a sport I last saw (I will not say ‘watched’) on a black and white television in the early ‘70s and therefore I had neither understanding of nor sympathy with it. It is difficult for the casual reader to imagine then the sense of unbounded joy and surprise that accompanied my firing a blue ball into one of those little nets in the corner of the table even though, as it turned out, I had thereby lost 6 points due to having potted the wrong ball. I lost but the team won; so that was what mattered, I suppose. (It was rather different in rowing in that if I lost so did we all). What struck me more was that it was a really good social occasion and a lot of fun.
I would certainly always have been inclined to attend the Association’s London Dinner but had not previously done so due to a variety of constraints. On this occasion, however, the inclination was more a compulsion and so I made the effort to get over from the continent for the event. It was an excellent evening with a great dinner, good location and above all, such inspiring company. I chatted to OKS I had not met since they or I had left school and indeed I met legends from the past I would never have spoken to when I was at school. The age range was remarkable too, the oldest having left the school in 1949 and the youngest just last year!
I recall we had a table full of recent leavers and current London University students to add zest to the occasion. Thanks are due to Alan Vallance for a fine feat of organisation and for bringing together such a congenial crowd.
The Headmaster was kind enough to invite me to attend the Leavers’ Cathedral Service and Prize-giving at the end of the summer term. I was impressed by the atmosphere, as indeed I had been when I attended the school as an inmate. I found it a great improvement to hold the commemoration service and prize giving at the end of the school year rather than in the middle of the autumn/Michaelmas term, as had been the case in my time at the school. The high point of the afternoon was certainly the speech of the Headmaster’s guest, Jane Hawking.
Between the ages of eight and eighteen, I never failed to be inspired by the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols on the last day of term just before Christmas. To my surprise, in 2015, there were two services, one in the afternoon for the Junior and Infants’ Schools, and one in the evening for the Upper School. It used to be the case that we ran a joint carol service with the Queen’s School.
In those days we always sang the last carol, “Adeste Fideles”, in latin. We schoolboys were always amused by the contrasting pronunciation across the cathedral since we used ‘classical’ whereas the Queen’s School used ‘ecclesiastical’ pronunciation; their soft consonants seemed to dominate across the nave. Of course, we knew our way was right, even if their pronunciation really sounded much better. I must say I still prefer the last carol in latin; it sounds so much more learned and it scans better.
This year the two services were rather different largely due to the contrasting lighting. The rays of the low afternoon sun shining through the stained glass on the west and south sides lent their ambiance to the Junior’ and Infants’ service, whereas those that ‘choreographed’ the Upper School service made ample use of the darkness to enhance the drama of the entrance by candle light of the choir and clergy. In fact at one point it looked as though dramatic effect had dominated over practical considerations, as the lights remained off a little too long and the congregation was unable to read the words and so join in the last part of “Once in Royal David’s City” with the accustomed gusto. We struggled for a few lines before normal service was resumed and we got back on track. The choirs and soloists in both services performed superbly.
To wind up this “what a good time I’ve had” section, I must mention the drama productions to which I was invited. Actually, there is a bit of Shakespeare coming up at the beginning of March, but I want to mention the performance of Mel Brooks’ “The Producers” that I attended early last year. Quite apart from the quality of acting and production, which were excellent as we have come to expect, I was amazed, at one point, to see a squadron of King’s School boys and girls dressed in Nazi uniforms, goose-stepping across the stage singing “Springtime for Hitler”. I remember nervously looking round the auditorium to see if anybody in authority had noticed what was going on; I doubted permission had been obtained in advance. My reaction was, of course, the instinctive one of somebody that had grown up under the Canon Harvey and Arthur Munday regimes! Perhaps I should explain: the story required that the play ‘The Producers’ were putting on should be in bad taste; and they succeeded admirably. You can see the film on
YouTube if you want to know more, but it is not as good as the KS performance! It is difficult for me to think of the last time anything impressed me as much as that performance.
Besides enjoying myself I have tried to do something useful with my time in office, namely to reengage with the School in the matter of alumni relations. About five or six years ago there had been attempts to define structural changes such that CAOKS would in some way combine with the School. That particular démarche did not succeed. In my experience organisations are a lot better at creating structures than they are at making them work. Accordingly we have ignored structural aspects and have made a start at working together to make use of what each does best. The school has far greater administrative and financial resources and has the organisation to connect with students in their final year. CAOKS on the other hand has a long tradition, 150 years, attracts a wide following, contains individuals that would willingly help younger OKS in their careers, and has a good system for keeping old boys and girls in touch with one another.
We have reviewed the programmes of events that have up to now been run by the School and the Association separately, and have seen little conflict. The two dinners held in Chester, the CAOKS event in the Town Hall across the square from the old school and the Founder’s Dinner at the school (which I enjoyed immensely), seem to me to be events of quite different styles, which can both thrive, especially given that they are jointly promoted.
The excellent London Dinner that I mentioned above and the HMS Belfast event the School has organised for April 22nd are entirely different events that we can promote under a single ‘CAOKS’ alumni banner. There will still be, of course, the local Chester events run solely by the
Association. I will add that the School has been very helpful to Paul Consterdine with the production of the CAOKS Newsletter, engaging, at its expense, a graphic design consultant to help us redesign the format and presentation.
Finally, I would in general like the level of (friendly) sporting competition between OKS and School to be enhanced. In particular, I would like to see the resurrection of the rowing races against the school VIIIs that used to be held in the evening of the Wednesday after Henley. It was a great opportunity for the finely honed school crews to have a bash at scratch crews of top quality university, club and maybe even GB rowers.
We must see what we can do!
David Wilkes. CAOKS President