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News > Archive > On Returning to WBS

On Returning to WBS

Berwick Coates observes,Old boys who return to West Buckland after forty or fifty, even sixty or more years, generally notice two things: one, that a lot has changed; and two, that quite a lot hasn’t.
School Archivist, Berwick Coates
School Archivist, Berwick Coates

The latter of the two is perhaps, no surprise. After all, you could not do away with the solid, unchangeable front façade, which, over 150 years after its construction, still looks, from the road, pretty jolly sensational – the sort of façade which, you like to believe in your fantasies, every country independent school ought to look like.

By the same token, they would find the rugby field familiar, the quad, the tennis courts, the Exmoor – oh, lots more. And, naturally, the weather. That hasn’t changed since Adam and Eve.

But, my word, they would notice a great deal of other new things too – sights, sounds, smells, tastes, activities, and attitudes.
Sights? The new buildings, some as obvious as one gets out of the car (as opposed to arriving after a two-mile walk from Filleigh Station) – ‘blocks’ for everything – Science, Arts and Drama, Boarding, and of course, resplendent in its cathedral vastness, the Sports Centre.
Sounds? Female voices in ‘new’ games like rounders and netball; practice for the jazz band; rehearsals for the chamber choir; and, even as we go to print, the clank of scaffolding and the chug of diggers at work on the new library, studies, classrooms, and the much-vaunted boarding accommodation.

Smells and tastes? We have come a long way from the food which one old boy described to me as ‘universally grey’ – two hot choices for lunch, a salad set up with a dozen dishes to dig into , and a ‘pasta bar’ (with a name like that, one almost hopes for a glass of Asti Spumante on the house with the ravioli). To say nothing of an Aladdin’s cave of a tuck shop. Hardly grey now.

Activities? Golf, camping, public speaking, speech and drama (and a regular mopping up of prizes in local competitions), full-scale productions of major musicals, living in snow caves on holidays, abseiling, skiing, star-gazing. A far cry from a chancy film show on a wet Saturday evening, dependent upon a rackety 8mm projector.

What has appeared since those old boys left? One scarcely knows where to begin: little crocodiles of nursery pupils, gum shields, laptops and ear-plugs, computer games and texts instead of conkers and marbles, and the new trinity of the modern world – Google the Father, Amazon the son, and Facebook and Twitter, the Holy Ghost. Worship still goes on; it’s just the deities that are different.

One example will have to suffice. Old boys I have spoken to have often mentioned the prevalence of bullying. Some admitted that nearly everybody got bullied, in one way or another, at some time or another. Well, no school could ever claim that it had eliminated bullying. But I bet that West Buckland, fifty years ago, did not receive, in an inspectors’ report, the compliment that it was far ahead of most schools of its type in the level of the care and respect that its pupils showed for each other.

A change worth noting, I should have said. And a change that one would not see, hear, smell or taste. But if you kept your antennae out, you would sense it.

Berwick Coates

About the author...

Berwick Coates was educated at Kingston Grammar School, and read History at Cambridge. Since then, he has been at various times an Army officer, writer, artist, lecturer, careers adviser, games coach, and teacher of History, English, Latin, and Swahili. He has published nine books, ranging from A-Level History and popular history to memoirs, humour, cartoons, and light verse.

He has taught every age and every ability from primary remedial to Oxbridge entrance. He has lectured to audiences of all ages and backgrounds, on subjects ranging from Alexander the Great and Hannibal, through medieval and early modern history, to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

His latest book is a collection of fifty views of Christmas (illustrated by himself), entitled 'The Perfect Christmas Present'. He has also written four historical novels and one modern one. He is at present finishing a book of teaching memoirs.

A range of Berwick's books are available to purchase on Amazon 

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