Stories of the Common Room
John Hawley's Memories

Stories of the Common Room

by Mr. John Hawley

Most pupils are fortunate enough never to see inside their school’s staff common room. Just occasionally, a pupil is asked to carry in some books and you can hear the excited conversation with their peers as they go happily off down the corridor.

St Nick’s common room was long, thin and cramped, rather like one of the old train corridors, and painted garden green. Charlotte Stammers, Doris Fulljames and Margaret Scott used to occupy chairs almost opposite the door and greet staff as they entered; I think one of them used to knit. I recall Margaret Scott warning me darkly that all was not as it appeared on the surface in the common room and, considering how dusty the surface was, it was just as well! There was the usual kettle and an array of chipped and dirty mugs breeding a rare variety of botulism. A cupboard on the right as one entered housed the school’s one and only Hewlett Packard calculator. I seem to recall that, in 1974, this had cost £75, which is about £500 in today’s money. Today they give them away with the cornflakes.

There were daily announcements from the Head and other staff at break. Dr Watson would always knock before entering the common room, and Miss Hornsby did the same at Haydon, a practice that is, sadly, no longer observed by today’s Heads. A daily lunchtime activity was a bridge foursome that took up a central table. The players were usually Ralph Birch, Donald Plenderleith, David Rayner and Bill Hodgetts. As a newcomer in 1974, I tried to break into the group but found it very difficult, mainly because I had never played bridge before though, even now, twenty-five years on, am not very good.

Actual staff meetings were rare, usually only one a term, and these were confined to Heads of Department only. There was a book kept by the Chairperson of the common room recounting every funny common room incident and every double entendre. One of the entries relates to Karla Potton, who got exasperated with directory enquiries and shouted "No, ‘S’ for Siegfried!". The book survived into Haydon days but was, I think, done away with by the new regime. A staff dinner was held near the end of each summer term at which the Chair of the Common Room would give a witty speech. I recall David Dixon’s as one of the funniest and Roger Lewis’ as one of the longest. I am pleased to say that I avoided any Common Room Committee position for the whole of my twenty-three years at the school. Eventually the dinners were thought a bit elitist and they were replaced by trips on Thames and even functions in the common room itself. We knew how to enjoy ourselves!

St. Nick’s common room was no different from others of the time; there were ashtrays, and talk of pupils abounded. Who had just been caned, how many and for what? There were the characters and those who hardly ever darkened the doors. No member of staff was ever allowed to get above themselves and there were the standard put-downs if one tried. The common room can be a cruel place!

Taken from the old website - available on the Links page


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