Characters were endemic to this place, most of them as mad as March hares, Masters, boys, and a vast array of assorted hangers on. However, some were not, b’lieve it or not and made a welcome relief to this rather insane place. I am a trite hard pushed to remember them though albeit some stand out. Enos Todd (Gaul House master), well he did, Enos that is. Ray Suttle, deputy principal, and Milner House master. Milner pictured left. His wife, Doris, a terrible witch, but by Plumtree standards quite sane and normal, and I have to add my old nemesis, and Grey House master and first team cricket coach, Lubbe Robinson. J.B.Clarke our esteemed new Head Master, old Jim Beef hisself, sadly, has to get the nod as well. Aye, I’ve knocked on some terrible doors I have. Paddy Marshall, Hammond house House master, where only two men and a dog lived, boys who couldn’t get into the main houses but wanted to be a part of this great school. Why, quite frankly, puzzles me? Anyway, Paddy had a voice which when reaching crescendo was still barely audible. Funnily enough he coached sensational Plumtree School water polo teams who were the talk of the country. Harold Westood of course, exceptional English teacher but I already have a piece on him. I’ll throw in Gike Gountain, diminutive French teacher as well out of an act of kindness. I left the best till last. Eric van der Westhuizen, very good looking man and ace rugby player. Cool, calm, and collected, and a breath of fresh air in this place. Stay tuned as I try to tell some excerpts about these Characters of Plumtree School.
Directly opposite to Grey House, laterally right of Grey. That’s left of the photo of Grey as underneath. Grey also left of Llyod and our walk (form 4) and above to the dining hall (sprogs, form 4 and under had to walk the long way around down through the bottom end of Grey.) . Form four and above through the avenue right (left) of the pillars. God help you if you were running late and tried to make a short cut dash across the lawn. Garth’ssssssssssss Morewood’sssssssssssssss, celebrated Llyod house master, and him of the sibilant voice. His greatest pastime was trying to catch Grey house lads doing this. It was always when you thought you had made it, when a terrible voice could be heard sounding, “Moor’ssssssssssss, come here.” And then of course two strokes with the cane, damn old snake.
So there one has an idea of the four main houses of the school. Milner top left at the beginning of the piece. Llyod, then Grey, then followed by Gaul, house of goody goody gumdrops and two shoes. Hammond still pending, but it worked as, although you resided in Hammond you were attached to Milner, Grey, Llyod, or Gaul. In other words that was your sporting house.
Characters, and who to begin with? Old Jim Beef, celebrated Headmaster did assembly every morning and after the introductory hymn, began this with his favourite prayer. In all my time there he never once changed it, so even die-hard hoodlums such as Diggiden Buffee knew it off by heart. Now even though old Jim Beefs surname was Clarke (how English), he had an Afrikaans accent. Diggiden was always taking him off whilst JB was intoning the prayer, Diggiden saying sotto voice, “if on a sprrrrrrrrrrring night I was walking, and Gggggggggggod(d) was standing therrrrrrrrrrre, what is the prrrrrrrrrrrayerrrrrrrr that I would say? This is the prrrrrrrrrrayerrrrrrrrrr, oh Lorrrrrrrrrrd and masterrrrrrrrrrrrr of this night of sprrrrrrrrrrrrrrrring.” Shame, poor old Jim Beef could never catch where the subdued laughing was coming from and we were hard pushed to keep it subdued. More on him later.
Gike Gountain taught French. That’s just our nickname for him pronounced with very gutter-al ‘G’, as in Afrikaans and Jim Beef speak. Now he was a lovely bloke but he took an intense dislike to our particular class, quite why, frankly, eludes me? However, I think it began with this? An adjudicator came out from the Department of Education to look at how we were being taught French, at this great place of learning. Gike was on his most impeccable behaviour trying to impress but secretly shitting himself. He asked me to read a passage out of our set book. In those far oft times I was an incredible mimic and could take off any accent, apart from the fact that I was the best reader in the class. Well I was. Gike then, thought, what a great way to impress the adjudicator. However times were tight, so there were not enough books to go around the class and we had to share. I was sharing with Mont Surgey. So the great read begins, but, little did Gike know, that although Mont was a well known goody goody two shoes, he was in fact a bit of a devil. Oh ye of little faith. So I commenced the great read. Mont then became annoyed with my impeccable rendition and action was necessary. Said action consisted of running his hand along the page I was reading and blinding me with Science like. What you can’t see you can’t read. When Gike’s forehead gave in with a troubled frown, Mont took his hand off the page and I carried on, and so on and so forth. Eventually Gike screeched, “stot (stop) dis, stot dis at once.” Shooting daggers with his eyes in my direction. Was it my fault? He then changed his tact, stopped the enthralling read and began writing on the blackboard frogging away all the while. Help came from another well known location, Ken Drummond of Llyod house fame. Now in those days television was new and there was a programme on it called ‘Firebird’, or something. The
characters were little wooden puppets, without the strings. It dealt in outer space akin to the modern ‘Stargate’. The good guys had a weapon which when the trigger was pressed shot out a beam of light, and when this hit the bad guy he was killed and became invisible at the same time. Riveting stuff? The weapon made a sound like, when the trigger was pressed, “voora, voora,” then when the target was hit, “bweep, bweep.” So as our French master was writing on the board (left handed), and with his back to the class, Kaunda Drummond stood up shooting and sounding, “voora, voora, bweep, bweep.” Then before dear old Gike turned around with, “WHO WAS THAT?” Kaunda had sat back down again in mute silence. Oh dear, poor old Gike was at the end of his tether. Throughout all this time the adjudicator sitting in the back left of the class, hadn’t smiled, grunted or said a word, except to jot a few things down on his notepad. Obviously he had just come from the school Gif ford all you’ve got lads, or possibly, Morphlea (Northlea), where this type of tomfoolery was considered kindergarten stuff?Luckily the end of period siren sounded and class ended. The long and short of all this is, Gike, got a triple star rating as a French teacher, which just goes to show eh? I silly you not. A few weeks later our class was last period before lunch. Gike, was finishing off with a class before us of sprogs and obviously had enjoyed teaching them. He had forgotten who was next on his timetable, and was saying to them ‘just let me look it up quickly’. Some of us lads waltzed in at this precise moment with, “bonsieur Monsieur.” Gike looked up and his whole face fell and in the most passionate voice I ever heard said, “oh no, I HATE THIS……….BLOODY CLASS.” It’s nice to be loved ‘innit’? And this put us in fine fettle, so maybe he should have kept quiet? Anyway I got to know Gike well when he was our first team Hockey coach, fine lads, with none other than Mont Surgey as captain. Goody goody two shoes had paid off in the long run. Qu’est-ce que c’est que ca.
Raymond and Doris.
And now, the dreaded Suttle team, scary stuff indeed. Ray taught Latin, amo, amas, amat, and was another frightful disciplinarian with a pair of those old fashioned black spectacles which one seldom sees today. Despite this he was a sportsman of note and was one of Milton schools most celebrated of all time. That’s dear old ‘Schmilton’, home of some celebrated well known genus who had a habit of being a bit tight with a few bob. Schmilton being Bulawayo’s biggest school. And here he was as deputy Head Master in the wild. How could this be? Believe it or not I got on very well with Ray, you see, the thing is about him, is that, although being very strict he was also very fair at the same time. I can vouch for this with my strange record at this pest hold. So here I was writing and being taught English, Latin, French, and Afrikaans amongst many other things. Obviously I was destined
for the arty farty lifestyle which somehow passed me by, oh lo, alas. As to fairness, I missed assembly one morning being held up at the sick bay. Oh Lyn baby. So when I got back to the quad asked one of the lads what did they say in assembly. Suttle filling in for Jim Beef wanted to know who had left Orange peel in the Beit Hall during last nights debating society meeting? So I moseyed along to his office and told him the above adding, “as to the Orange peel, it was me.” So he said to me, “I admire your honesty, so bend down, you know where.” Which I did, and he lightly rested his cane on my lily white ass and moved it up and down twice very marginally and said, “now get out.” Is it any wonder I liked Ray? He also was my under 15 B cricket coach, I, having been dropped from the A’s due to my school record. What’s that got to do with cricket? Anyway Ray was bowling to me in the nets, what today would be known as ‘fast, slow, medium,’ or something equally ridiculous. He bowled me a bouncer which thudded into my rib cage and I was trying to brazen it out albeit in mortal agony. He came toward me with ‘flinty’ eyes and told me to roll up my shirt. Having done so I asked him “why?” To which he replied, “so I know where to aim next time.” Of course when it was his time to bowl again he let fly with a bouncer which I promptly hit out of the park. Ray was ‘beaming’ and stood there clapping. You got to box very clever like innit? The moral of the story? Don’t give little Spook an idea of what your next ball is going to be. Shame, poor old Ray was married to Doris, who was not bad looking ‘a tall’, but, was a battleaxe of note.
Characters, did I mention them? Now Doris was one of only two woman teachers in a boys only school, the other being Gammy Gray’s wife, and of course dear old Felix Westwood of music fame. However much as it saddens me to admit this, they had,
‘Characters’ written all over them. It isn’t easy being a female teacher in a boys only school, especially this one. The secret was, imposing your will IMMEDIATELY. So when one was late for class, Doris made a great show of slowly taking off all her rings, which were vast and varied, after all witchcraft is a splendid thing. She then grabbed the classroom broom (brush), made an elaborate show of taking off the head, and was left with the long handle with which she beat those of us who had come in late to class. It was a sight to behold, as she took a run up and then let fly. Shame, she was red in the face and breathless after the strenuous exercise. For old hands like me, it was akin to, being beaten with a feather duster. What is it about twinkling turquoise eyes which woman find irresistible? Doris took a shine to me teaching English and Geography accordingly. I almost always sat at the back of the class. Five or so minutes later she would say, “Moor, how many times have I told you I want you to be somewhere where I can see you? Now come up here.” So I walked up to her desk. She then made me kneel on the floor by her chair. Grabbed the lobe of my ear with her perishing long fingernails, and every time she asked a question which someone else got wrong, she would pinch my ears. Perishing sore it was too, well, a lot worse than her broom handle beating. When all is said and done, I actually took a real shine to both these Characters. Sadly, Ray was offered the Headmastership of Prince Edward school in Salisbury, capital city of the country, which he took up, and Matabeleland and Plumtree lost two of their finest citizens. It was a real feather in his cap, Prince Edward being one of the finest schools in the entire country. Is it any wonder then, they needed a Matabele to run it right? So the next time I saw Ray and Doris was when Plumtree first team cricket was playing Prince Edward in a two day game. Naturally there was a great tumult and the crowds were vast, such was Plumtree’s fame amongst the Salisbury chicks. Just before tea on Sunday afternoon and the game could swing either way P.E.’s last batsman was in. Dave Alers bowled a bouncer which the batsman hooked. Spook Moor then took a once in a lifetime running, diving catch which ‘electrifried’ the crowd, and the game was ours. Chicks who earlier in the day wouldn’t have given him the time of day were now giving him the glad eye. Such is fame? So leaving the field and approaching the tea room, Ray, although headmaster of P.E. was beaming at his former protege, amabo, amabas, amabat, and I mean beaming. Doris went and ruined it, didn’t she always? When she suddenly boomed out in a voice like a foghorn which stopped all traffic in Salisbury. ” AAAH, SPOOK, I SUPPOSE YOU THINK THAT MAKES UP FOR ALL THE WASTED YEARS?” She throws back her head and laughs in la di da voice.
TSUH. As a ‘metter of fect’, yes. Shame, there is Peter Dick, Plinth Jedward captain and crying into his cup of tea, repeating all the while, “how could I lose against Plumtree, should I have brought in a leg slip for Spook?” No mate, you should have made some bleeding more runs, or at least taken some wickets?
Which leaves us with Eric. As mentioned, a breath of fresh air, so very hard to pinpoint faults, if any. To cut a long story short, he was our second team cricket coach, how odd, seeing as he was an ace rugby player. Then again these Afrikaans people sure had the hang of ball sports. He had arranged for us to play the Indian school Founders, their first team, and this was ground breaking
stuff. That’s just the way it was in those days. We were in a meeting in his classroom discussing this, and he was busy asking us if anyone objected to this? We didn’t apart from one Afrikaans lad who almost crying, found this, morally wrong. As mentioned, that’s just the way it was in those days many, many, many, years ago. However, a few good men were trying to change this, bravo Eric. So anyway we were sworn to be on our best behaviour, and the great day arrived. Founders won the toss and elected to bat. Joe Smooth Cutter, was our opening bowler. The Founders opening bat had the most unusual style. He also had one of those classic hoity toity Indian faces with an aquiline nose. He played his shot, then glancing all the while at where the ball landed, tucked his bat under his arm, and took three or four steps to the right. I have never seen anything like it, then, or since. Joe Smooth and Spook were consequently hard pushed not to burst out laughing from the first ball and everyone after. Tea came as a welcome respite. Groovy, orange juice (which was unheard of at Plumtree), in a plastic glass. Unfortunately the glass reeked of ‘scully and lye’ (curry and rice.) There were also a few chippatti’s as hors d’oeuvres. So back onto the field. In the case of all classic opening bats this chap had seen off all the fast and medium bowlers, so it was time for a change. Ges Bester our off spinner was brought into the attack. Now Indians are well known cricket lovers and there was a vast crowd watching, after all it was ground breaking stuff. Suddenly, their opening bat, lashed onto a loose ball by Ges, and put it out of the park for six. The crowd erupted and went wild with excitement, “clazeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee, beeeeeeeeeeautiful, let’s have another one.” This was just to much for Joe and Spook who couldn’t help but laugh. Eric, never reprimanded us either, although he never cracked a smile. Sadly it goaded the opening bat into some rash shots and he was caught going for another big hit. However his job was well and truly done. I honestly forget the outcome of the game as it was a long time ago. However I never forgot or regretted being a part of this.
There’s no business like show business?
The end of the third term always coincided with the Variety Concert. The director this year was a new broom, none other than Eric. A few of us lively lads wanted to do a skit on the teachers, and Eric was playing hard to get on this. We had an English
teacher who had just written a book about Lobengula the Matabele King and named it, In Pursuit of the King. We wanted to do a skit on this involving the teachers and pretending Jumbo King (our mate), had run away from school and the masters were after him, hence, ‘In Pursuit of the King’. The problem arose in, I wanted to start with old Jim Beef the esteemed Headmaster announcing it in assembly, but, Eric was not too keen on pulling the piss out of the head. He had no problem with the other teachers however, including the author known to all the boys as, ‘Poof O’Reilly’, courtesy of wearing his shorts half way around his neck. Slowly, surely, we reeled him in. After many rehearsals the great night came about. Backstage, we were nervous, however, Lung Cowper playing the part of Doris and wearing one of her dresses and a blonde wig made us laugh. By sticking his leg (only) out from one of the backstage curtains, and slowly and provocatively, rolling the dress up. We nearly died laughing, by gum, it was a hairy leg as well. Cue. The curtains rise and Jim Beef (aka Spook) is announcing the great runaway in heavy Afrikaans tomes. There is a shocked muttering from offended parents and Jim Beef not even breaking a smile. Was Eric right? We needn’t of worried as Geoff Sedgewick then came on as Poof O’Reilly, and brought the house down. Old Jim Beef nearly fell out of his chair laughing, after all he who laughs last laughs loudest? We took them all off, Kaunda Drummond was Don Fudge, and I was one of many, mimicry being my forte. Without a shadow of a doubt it was the gig of the night and everybody loved it, even Doris. But Geoff Sedgewick needs a repeat, it was a virtuoso performance. We had so many curtain calls when finished that old Jim Beef had to intervene and voetsak the lot of us. Some of the more fuddy duddy parents were still muttering about it when the show ended, but, for the boys it was the hit of the year. And Eric had been vindicated placing his faith in us and his rating in the school became near on impossible to beat. And so ends this piece on Characters of Plumtree School and I trust you were entertained? Altogether now, there’s no business like show business like no business like show? I mean School.