Category Archives: people

‘The Atmosphere Man’


You know who I’d love to meet? Andrew Salkey. I already mentioned him way back when I wrote about Black History Month way back when. Salkey was our student in the 50’s and then went on to be a novelist, poet, journalist, broadcaster; a significant figure in Jamaican literature; it probably be easier to say what he wasn’t. And I also can say that he would be a great person to know. Sometimes I come across things he wrote for different Marjon’s publications where his wry humour was often employed to make excellent observations about contemporary life. I would say even more: I maintain that Andrew Salkey was an early post-colonial writer. Case and point: ‘The Atmosphere Man’- a story published in College magazine in 1957. It was no doubt inspired by his own experiences. The story shows a moment in a day of an employee of a coffee bar, that we assume is Salkey himself. This bar was set-up to create an ‘exotic’ atmosphere and Salkey was expected to be, in a way, a part of the furnishing. As a black man, he was to make his white clients as if they were visiting some distant part of British Empire, where a ‘local’ black man would serve them coffee. He is told by his employer not to be caught with The Times by the patrons because a black man pursuing intellectual endeavours would ruin the illusion. The story itself is a short but brilliant insight into the mindset of colonialism, a time capsule for outlook that is absurd for the modern sensibilities, yet it held on for so long nonetheless.
Well, I’m too late. Andrew Salkey died in1995. I’ll never have the pleasure of meeting him which is a great shame as he must have been a fascinating person to talk to.


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Accidental Meeting

A few weeks back we have been out to visit the Naval Heritage Centre in Plymouth for their open day. It was a visit full of exciting discoveries and wonder as their collections are quite beautifull and interesting, all concerning naval history and the life of ships and people who were involved with the navy. The greatest attraction was a visit to HMS Courageous, which allowed me to complete one of my dreams- to see how a submarine looks from the inside (the answer is, of course, ‘awesome!’).
But that was not all. Among the objects put up for a display was a small clipping of a document with an illustration by C. W Bracken. Bracken was one of our students in the years 1887-1888. In our collection is a book by him, ‘A History of Plymouth and Her Neighbours’. The book was first published in 1931 so it is far from a proper material to study, even with the additional last chapter that was added after the war and carried over into new editions. Still, it was funny to see that at one point, even respectable professionals thought that the area of Plymouth was colonized by Egyptians, I’m not even joking: ‘(Plymouth)…had its origins not from the ubiquitous Phoenicians on their tin-seeking expeditions, not from immigrants from the adjacent continent, but from Egypt…’
Egipt or not, we were quite surprised with W.C Bracken hanging innocently on the wall of the Naval Heritage Centre, like it was waiting for us to see it. We would love to have a copy in in our collection.

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A small ripple in reality

I’ve always said that Marjon has its fingers in many pies. It has ties to many people, direct or indirect. Leo Tolstoy, Arthur Sullivan, John Ruskin. All those people were in one way or another influenced by Marjon. But it takes a small newspaper clipping to realize that the reality itself was influenced by it. The clipping itself, dated 1.11.93 marked as being from Evening Herald is a mini-article. It mentions someone reading Caroline Fox who was a Cornish diarist that was recording memories of well-known people. Fox mentions Coleridge and his aims to bring the education to the poor. But that’s not all. The article’s author(who sadly is anonymous right now) says: ‘It lead, according to the writers, to the institution of Anglican lay readers, who are, of course, members of the laity who can take many of the services.’
Boom! You live in a reality where Marjon changed the face of the Anglican Church. How is that as food for thought?

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When the students are gone


Social realism doesn’t have the best of reputation due to its history of being used as a propaganda tool. But sometimes social realism is just life that happens around us and the art is there to immortalize it. Take this photo of Marjon cafeteria. I assume its in the Chelsea site, before the move to Plymouth. Just look at this moment: when the students are all gone, the three cafeteria workers are sitting down for a break and a chat. One is clearly enjoying her cigarette, when the only places that it was forbidden was the hospital and the church. The second seems to be engrossed, perhaps in what the third one is saying. The students may be gone, but the life of a school goes on. Too bad I don’t know who took the picture because I wish to know more about it. Do you know who took it? Were you the one that took it? Tell me all about it.

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Here is to the best loudmouth

I dig in the archives so much and go back into so long ago it makes me feel as old as an average mayfly. But then I am a part of that story too, and so are the people that were in my class.
With the influx of the sport-related pictures came those that were made while I was a student. I remembered that, although we were humanists, we also had some people that were very involved in sports. I tried to find them, but I had little luck. Either I misremembered or they stopped playing before the pictures were taken. But then I stumbled across one face I will never forget. That girl in the black is Charlotte Hook, one of my classmates.

Here I often share memories of people that I never knew, memories that belong to other people. Now let me share memories of Charlotte, because we are too part of Marjon’s story.
She is the most magnificent loudmouth you have ever seen. Usually I am annoyed by loud people, but I was never annoyed by Charlotte. She’s just this person that brings energy with her everywhere she goes. Charlotte is also a professional Scooby-Doo impersonator. She’s a mistress of everything that is zany and goofy and I always was envious of that.
I remember when we were on the Writer’s Retreat in Boscastle. I can still see her sitting in her trademark hoodie, with her hair sticking out like a nest of copper wire, and playing board games with the exuberance of a small tornado. We were all used to her volume, but after one especially explosive exclamation, somebody finally said: ‘Charlotte! That’s REALLY loud!’
Oh Charlotte, never let anyone to shush you! I do hope you google yourself sometimes, so I can tell you: never change.

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Singing Over a Cockroach

There are many stories in the archives. Stories of great deeds, even if they were never recognized in the wide world. Stories of great minds, the thinkers and the doers. Stories of ideas, great and small. But the stories I enjoy the most are stories of student’s hijinks. Today’s story is from the memories of N. S. Curtis, who was a Marjon student in the years 1931-34. He later became a teacher and a principal of Landsdownre Boys’ School, Linwood Boys’ School and Soar Valley Community College. We have many of his things, including a blazer, a tie, some exercise books and photos. But the most interesting for me are anecdotes from his time in Marjon. One of them seems to me like an absurdist sketch.
The food in Marjon at that time was far from perfect. In fact it was really basic and plain. One day, after dinner, the boys were served rice pudding. Instead of it being completely plain, there were raisins in it. That was something unheard of. But the joy was short-lived as somebody found a cockroach in the pudding. The offending insect was put on a plate and passed to the teachers’ table, to the attention of the principal. The principal himself rose from his seat, ordered Non Nobis to be sung and the meal ended. Many boys were absolutely convinced that the cook knew of the roaches infesting the pudding and added the raisins as a camouflage. As for me, I can’t get rid of the image in my head of the whole school singing a hymn over a body of a dead insect resting on a plate:-)

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Filed under humour, long time ago, people

Lost to interpretation

If there is one thing that I have learned since my arrival to the archives is that very often you can follow the reasoning of people from the past. You see who they were and what they did and why it was important to them. Take Kay-Shuttleworth. He was a doctor-> he saw what poverty did to people-> he didn’t like it-> he had an idea how to fix it. It’s logical. You can follow the process.
Not so with Fawnthorpe. Fawnthorpe was a student of St. John’s and later he became the principal of Whitelands College. This college was a school dedicated to training of female teachers. Hmm, a guy trained to teach boys is a head of school training girls. Well I suppose they couldn’t make a woman headmistress back then, the monocles in all the England would be in peril if they did. Ok, what else is Fawnthorpe known for? A little book called Household Science: readings in necessary knowledge for girls and young women. So the guy who trained women to be teachers also wanted them to be domestic goddesses?
Photo1077But the oddest thing in all this is the Whitelands College May Queen Festival. It all started with Ruskin. Yes, THAT Ruskin. Among many great things that he was, Ruskin was weird. He held very bizarre view concerning feminine purity and innocence. I suspect that the world still suffers because of these ideas. Faunthorpe was Ruskins friend and admirer and following these strange perceptions, he Ruskinmayqueenorganized the May Queen Festival, where a girl would be crowned as a May Queen. It was a celebration consisting of pageants, dances, processions, fun and games. An enormous amount of preparations go into these. There were elaborate dresses made especially for the girls and each one would be presented a golden cross, to tie this festival’s pagan origins to the traditions of Christianity. This festival is celebrated to this day, even that since 1985 it is allowed to choose a King instead of a Queen. It all looks pretty and fun, a venerable tradition if I ever seen one. But I can’t help being weirded out by the roots of it all- one man’s inability to see women as they are and creating an elaborate ceremony based upon it. So, what was with you Faunthorpe? How did Ruskin roped you into it all?
So how do you interpret Fawnthorpe? An enlightened educator or a relic of outmoded thinking? A co-conspirator to other man fantasies or just a guy that wanted to use the occasion to do something nice for young women under his care? I admit that I don’t know.

Pictures are from Whitelands College May Queen Festival by Malcolm Cole

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