St Chad's trip to The Netherlands
This was a pure holiday visit with perhaps an element of cultural experiences. It was organised by Vic Gray with Lynne Chipchase (later Mrs. Mays) and myself along as ‘minders’.
It did not begin well. We were to travel to France on the first leg of the trip by hovercraft from Ramsgate to Calais. It was journey that normally took 35 minutes. Due to the weather we took over an hour. At one point we had waves breaking over the craft causing the captain to admit that if he’d known what conditions were like mid-channel he’d never have started out. Not surprisingly everyone was feeling a little the worse for wear except for Robin Pennell. He sat in the lower cabin calmly munching his way through his packed lunch! He can be seen in the video walking along with David Hill who went on to become a teacher at Lansdowne School.
Bad as it was crossing the Channel, worse was to follow. Once disembarked and through customs we found that the coach we were expecting wasn’t there. Frantic phone calls to the tour company revealed that the coach we were expecting was stuck at the Belgian border as the driver had forgotten to bring the necessary papers with him. Eventually a French coach was found to take us to the border where we were transferred to the coach and driver that stayed with us for the rest of the visit. It was a very tired party that arrived in Valkenburg to find the hotel that was to be our base for the week.
One more surprise was waiting for us. Having got the kids allocated to their rooms and bedded down for the night, we were awakened just after midnight by the arrival of a school from East London. I shared a room with Mr. Gray and our sleep was disturbed by the door being flung open and loud voices complaining that, “There are two geezers in our beds!”
The new arrivals were on a football tour and the St. Chad’s party were much amused by the discipline techniques used by their teachers. Every morning there was a queue outside their teachers’ room as they lined up for punishments earned during the day. Of course, we were much more civilised and subtle as well as I’ll come to later.
Several visits were arranged for the week and a couple are worth mentioning in a little detail. The first of these was to a safari park. I mention this for one particular reason. One of the party, Andrew Maynard, had his glasses snatched by a monkey when he got too close the cage. Eventually they were recovered though well chewed. Why was this special? Andrew after he left the ‘Academy’ finished up in Iraq where, in the first war there he was held as part of Saddam’s human shield.
The second illustrates that we should have heeded the omens that on this trip coaches and water do not mix. A highlight of the visit was a river trip through the Rhine gorge from Remagen to Konigswinter on one of the scheduled cruise vessels that ply the Rhine. The boat was running about ten minutes late when we boarded at Remagen and we settled down to enjoy the views of the castles and vineyards. Mr. Gray was a mathematician and had calculated the length of time before we were due to arrive at Konigswinter. However, he had left out of his calculations German efficiency. Some ten minutes before the time he reckoned we were due to arrive at our destination I noticed quite by chance that the name of the river stop as we pulled in was our destination. We had made up time. A moment of panic ensued as Miss Chipchase and I rounded up as many of our party as we could and got them off the boat. Lynne even stood on the gangplank to give us a little more time until a burly German crew member picked her up and unceremoniously dumped her on the landing stage. The boat departed with Mr. Gray and five kids still on board.
Now we had a problem. The tickets and arrangements for this trip were fast disappearing out of sight up the Rhine. The coach was waiting for us on the other side of the river and a ferry was needed to get there. With no tickets we had to pool all the cash we had to pay the fare. Once reunited with the coach we faced another problem. The coach driver was a very charming and cheerful chap but he was Flemish and spoke no English, French, or German. Somehow we had to explain to him that we needed to go to the next river stop where we assumed that Mr. Gray and the rest of our party would get off. Eventually, with a lot of gesticulation and speaking English very slowly (it always seems to work!) and after consulting a board that had the river stops displayed we set off for Bonn which we had decided was the next stop. It took us a good thirty minutes to make the journey and find the stop. When we got there and found no sign of the missing group.
One has to remember that these were the days long before mobile phones were commonplace and we were completely out of touch with our missing group. Once we’d had a long think and discussion about what to do next we decided to have another look at the map of the river stops. It was then to our consternation that we found that we’d misread it the first time. The next stop was a small town diagonally opposite from Konigswinter and about half a mile downstream. So, it was back on the coach and another half an hour battle with the rush hour traffic leaving Bonn. When we arrived we found a rather disconsolate group sitting on the pavement patiently waiting for rescue. Fortunately, they had had enough sense to stay put and wait for us to find them though it was later admitted that they were beginning to think that this was looking increasingly unlikely and that they had better save themselves.
Briefly I must mention a few other highlights. We were in the Netherlands the night that Ajax played Inter Milan in the European Cup Final. The hotel owner locked the doors for the occasion and insisted in plying Mr. Gray and myself beers followed by schnapps chasers while we watched the game on television. We were both feeling very fragile the next morning when the coach arrived to take us on the planned outing for that day. It didn’t help that our friendly coach driver had brought with him celebration cigars that he insisted we lit before setting off.
I mentioned earlier that we were a little more subtle in our approach to discipline than that used by the teachers of the East London school we shared the hotel with. We allowed the kids some freedom in the evening to explore Valkenburg. In practice there was at least two of us out and about with them to keep an eye on things whilst one stayed in the hotel to keep an eye on those who chose to stay in. One evening the girls decided to give John Lowther a make over. He was dressed in skirt, blouse and heels, made up and sent out into the street. The first we knew what was happening was when he burst back into the hotel complaining that the local boys were trying to date him. As I said, subtlety works so we sent him back out to fend for himself.
I suppose that there was a happy outcome for John. On the trip he and Janice MacPherson found each other. They can be seen holding hands in the video and later, once they had left school, married.
St. Chad’s pupils usually are shock proof, but we did have one brush with the law that left them white faced and very quiet. We ran into a road block following a bank robbery. The coach was stopped and boarded by police armed to the teeth with sub-machine guns at the ready. With the search completed and on our way again, the coach was very subdued for several minutes.
The homeward journey to Calais was nearly a repeat of the outward one. We were running a little late and the coach driver, though he had the correct papers with him this time, was concerned that he might not have enough fuel to get to Calais and back into Belgium. For some reason, in these early days of the European Common Market as it was then, foreign coaches were not allowed to refuel in France. Fortunately, he was persuaded to take the risk and we got to the hover port just in time to catch our flight. So ended a trip with very many happy memories that I’m sure both staff and pupils thoroughly enjoyed.