From Our Own Correspondent

In our email newsletters sent in October and November 2020, David Stewart invited Eastbournian Society members to send in their thoughts and reflections in the manner of the BBC Radio programme From Our Own Correspondent. We had a variety of responses from around the world reflecting on the pandemic and the unusual times in which we have found ourselves. Edited highlights were published in the Old Eastbournian 2020; the original longer versions are carried below. Our thanks go to all those who contributed.

Jamaica

Richard Downer (Blackwater 1960-62), written on 5 October
Jamaica has a population of about 3 million and, up to 5 October 2020, had recorded 6,895 Covid-19 cases (0.2%) and 120 deaths (1.7% of cases). The situation has been managed very well by the government and it was re-elected on 3 September. Tourism obviously has taken a hit as the country shut down towards the end of March and reopened gingerly in August, but there are effective controls. Personally, I moved from the tourist centre of Montego Bay to a farm in the hills in the middle of the Island, far from the madding crowd and where it is nice and cool. My wife and youngest son are in Los Angeles but I am unable to travel there until it is ‘safe’ given age and consequential dangers, but thank goodness for WhatsApp!

Norway

Chris Ennals (Powell 1956-60), written on 5 October
As OE representative for Norway since 1968, I never thought early this year that a virus far off in China would prevent me from visiting the College and my home town of Eastbourne, where I grew up for the first 20 years of my life. But I was suddenly requested to return to Norway by my travel insurance company, if I was to be covered for cancellation expenses, and thus missed out on a week's stay just before the first lockdown in the UK. I was looking forward to visiting the College again.

After the College, I read Law at Trinity Hall Cambridge. As it turned out, I was more or less the last guest there before the lockdown. The founder in 1350 was William Bateman, Bishop of Norwich and chief negotiator under Edward III with the papal see exiled in Avignon. He founded Trinity Hall to replenish the ranks of the clergy versed in canon law decimated by the Black Death a year or two before.

This spring and summer I have tried to find out more about the consequences of the Black Death in Norway and England, reading the epic novel Kristin Lavransdatter penned by Sigrid Undset, who won the Nobel prize for literature for her deep knowledge of medieval Catholic Norway. I have visited a number of early churches in southern Norway. By the time I visit Trondheim Cathedral next year, let us hope the appropriate vaccine will be found, as the fairly low number of infections here in Norway has begun to rise in a second wave.

Sweden

Philip Groves (Wargrave 1954-58), written on 6 October
At 70+ I am one of the world's supposedly most vulnerable citizens for Covid-19. What affects me most is the mental stress of not being able to escape from Sweden, should I want to. I can't cross the Øresund bridge into Denmark; I can't drive or get a train to Norway; I can't take a ferry to Finland or Estonia. And while I have no immediate plans, I can't even fly to the UK if faced with two weeks' quarantine on arrival. Although free in practice, its feels like I'm 'doing time' while the restrictions last.

Spain

Michael Weston (Wargrave 1958-63), written on 7 October
Lockdown means lockdown. Stay in your house, flat or farm. Do not go out. These were the headlines for lockdown in Spain. In a society that historically has played fast and loose with rules, the various enforcement agencies – Policía Nacional, Guardia Civil, Policía Local/Municipal – sprang into action with vigour. It became reminiscent of Spain under El Caudillo (General Franco) where public discipline was enforced without humour and without any discretion. Police were everywhere – at roadblocks, on the streets, in urbanisations, even inside gated communities. Walking outside one's property was banned except, curiously, a sole person walking a dog was allowed within a radius of 100-200 metres. One person of a household, but not more, could go to the supermarket with the likely result that the police would stop one, ask to see the shopping and the receipt to determine that it was not an outdated one. Therefore, husband and wife would go out separately with each doing half the shopping! Dogs have never been walked more as each member of a family took their turn to avail themselves of escape from lockdown! Rumours abounded of persons lending their dogs to others with police examining the dog's 'chip' to determine if the walker was the owner!

There was no daily exercise outside, no shops were open (save supermarket, chemist and bank). For those living in flats, perhaps multi-generational, perhaps several to a room, and with no outside space, the three months of strict lockdown were tough, really tough. Relief when it came saw different age groups allowed out at different times of day. Unfortunately, initially, the old were awarded the hottest time of day! That got changed.

Some people from Madrid, where the virus was out of control (and, as I write, it still is) escaped the lockdown there by travelling at night when police seemed to be absent, and turned up in our rural neighbourhood. This was not appreciated as they brought their virus with them. Alas, three of them died. They did infect some of the neighbourhood, but none of them perished.

Fast forward to now, we are allowed to do most things. We have to wear masks when outside in the street, when in shops etc. and everyone does, whether because of a sense that it protects others or on pain of being fined or both I know not. From my parochial perspective, the single issue now is the inability to stage choral concerts – the choir that I run is only just being allowed to rehearse provided we maintain several metres distance between us. Many of our choristers, some of whom are of a 'certain age' are reluctant to do even that. Performances are a long way off.

The good news is that we, friends and family are all still well and intend, by taking sensible precautions, to remain so. The new normal will mean avoiding unnecessary travel and closed spaces where a lot of people are congregating. May you all keep safe.

Israel

Ian Kemp (School 1954-57), written on 8 October
It is said that 'truth is the first casualty of war'. It can now be said of the Covid pandemic. We have been exposed to endless opinions by eminent medical experts from across the globe only to have them contradicted by other eminently qualified experts. The result: the population is confused, as indeed the politicians seem to be, credibility suffers and dismissed by significant sections of the population with many of the public going their own way. Here in Israel is no exception. The culprit in all of this is the press itself, in the US, UK and here.

Guilt again can be clearly levelled at the press (but seldom is) which reports according to their political inclinations and their networks. The US Presidential election is a classic case. It has less to do with facts but more media prejudices. Press bigotry and impartiality has gone the same way as truth. Perfect example of this is the bigoted global media against President Trump who it seems is fashionable to hate. Most networks in the UK, and US especially, totally ignore what Trump has accomplished (Fox News the exception). Trump has done more in three and half years than recent Presidents have achieved in their eight. Examples being, the recent peace agreement with the UAE, Bahrein, Israel with more to follow. A shake up in NATO for delinquent members to pay their share, a revitalisation of the US military and the Veterans Administration including that for ex-US servicemen (of which I am one). The long overdue withholding of funds to the Palestinians used for terrorism by their leaders but leaving the civilian population of Gaza to suffer. This is to name just a very few of the President's accomplishments. One should rejoice in the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement which threatened not only Israel, the ME but Europe whose actions remind me of 1939 and the infamous statement of 'Peace in our time', now mirrored perfectly by the EU. A wise decision by the UK public that we exit from the EU, cut ties and regain our independence. The UK will become stronger, more productive and free of EU interference and their absurdities. President Trump, not the typical politician but a business man, had also achieved increased employment domestically, greater productivity, a growing US economy (until Covid) in spite of the previous President. The Global TV networks CNN, Sky, BBC, to name but a few, would gloss over the President's successes if mentioned, then only through gritted teeth, or spun in a negative light. The one media exception to the press vilification and biased reporting against the President is Fox News. They, and it seems they alone, can distinguish 'right from wrong' and exercise common sense and foresight. If, in the seemingly more likely event now , President Trump is not re-elected it will be a dark day for freedom , peace, the world economy.

India

John Hislop (Powell 1953-58), written on 9 October
Such sad news about David Winn, who rendered so great a service to the College. We overlapped at the College and I can remember him from those days. Makes me thank God for every extra day he gives me, as I see so many of my old acquaintances at the College, and even those much younger, pass on. My wife and I have so far managed to escape the clutches of the dreaded virus by being very careful, though we have missed coming to the UK this year. Hopefully next year will be a better one.

Norfolk, UK

George Eve (Pennell 1950-55), written on 13 October
As someone born in 1937, I became very used to deprivation at a very early age and also to doing what I was told and more importantly when! When the invasion was at its greatest risk, I was evacuated without my parents to North Wales, we had no sweets, oranges or bananas, meat was rationed and we made do with cast-off clothing from older siblings. I had the ignominy of wearing my sister's cast-off knickers, that was shame in itself to a four-year-old, but pale pink was the final insult! School continued uninterrupted and, not quite eight, I went away to school, some 130 miles away from home. A hard regime where one learnt again to obey orders without question! The war ended shortly thereafter. All of these were good lessons learnt at an early stage in life and, reasonably well behaved, I entered the College in the early 1950s. All my early life I am sure was a good grounding when the pandemic arrived, as I had lived through the polio and flu epidemics. Up to 1954 rationing was still with us but we survived without complaint. As a result of the deprivations brings one to 2020 and my comments are as follows - Common sense has gone out of the window, the ability to do what you are told has vanished, pessimism has replaced optimism and the ability to admit you have never made mistakes is a thing of the past. The press reporting has been abysmal, led by someone called Laura who if faced having to listen to WSC in the 1940s announcing the plans for the invasion of Europe, would probably have said all the right things at the beginning ending with gloom and doom stating as a conclusion 'of course it will never work'. The young students who are fined £10,000 for holding illegal parties, complain the fine is unfair! The parents at primary schools make impossible demands of head teachers, when all they are doing is obeying the law and blame the government for any decisions they take which affect their convenience! The opposition in government continue to criticise, making cheap political points! Having lost the last election by a crushing defeat, I doubt they would have coped any better.

Eastbourne, UK

David Stone-Lee (Reeves 1957-60), written on 8 November
I joined the College in 1957 being enrolled into Reeves House with the most excellent and genuine housemaster in Ralph Simpson, known as George, and his artistic and delightful wife Diana. George taught art and metalwork amongst other things and I got to know him best in metalwork classes where he instructed me in the fabrication of small bore copper tubes made from flat strips of copper with seams joined using flux, solder and a feather and destined for my diesel engine equipped model boats. Unfortunately George left the College after I had only been there a year. He used to go shooting with Beefy Howell and Robin Harrison and I remember one Sunday before evening chapel spying a swan hanging up in his garage. Rumour was that it was a stray shot!

Like many fortunate people the first lockdown didn't really bring any hardships with its wonderful weather and having a garden in which to enjoy it. I also had in the garage my 1950 Lagonda drop head coupe for which I had completed a 12-year nut and bolt restoration 15 years ago and, being in need of a new challenge, a project not yet finished on which so far I had only worked on for nearly ten years. I am not a fast worker! So with the garden tidied up during the first month of sunshine I didn't feel too guilty as the weather deteriorated in spending quite a few hours fettling in the garage.

My new project was an incomplete rolling chassis from a 1940 Alvis 12/70 saloon which I intended making into a 'hillclimb special' suitable for entering Vintage Sports Car Club events at Prescott and Shelsley Walsh. I had by now completed the chassis including modifying the chassis cross members to enable the engine to be moved further back and lower down. Once the new position of the engine in the chassis was known the size and position of the radiator shell and engine bulkhead could be established. The road springs were altered to cope with a much lighter body and all the ancillary chassis units including the differential, shock absorbers, steering box, gearbox and brakes etc. were stripped and renovated ready for reassembly. The engine was modified including new white metal main bearings, racing con rods with shell big end bearings, high compression pistons, cylinder liners and camshaft with a sportier modified profile together with renovated cylinder head assembly. I finalised my thoughts on the shape of the body and driving position relative to the clutch, brake and accelerator pedals and built the framework to which a professionally made aluminium body skin was added and painted.

There were obviously many other bits and pieces completed before the first lockdown kicked in, leaving the seats to be upholstered, dashboard instrumentation finalised and snagging list completed. The engine was started up for the first time and then rough tuned before I embarked on a very tentative test drive. Once we are out of the current Covid restrictions I have to get about 500 miles on the clock before final engine tuning can be attempted and I can really see if I have achieved my original objective. There is no escape now from tidying up the garden ready for the winter and my 'jobs to do list' in the house!

London, UK

Patrick Davidson-Huston (Reeves 1977-82), written on 9 November
I doubt that anyone who can remember me from Eastbourne College would position me in the 'arts'; however the evidence is there. The programme of a Reeves House play called Trelawny of the Wells and a photograph of the cast of The Pajama Game are proof. Thirty nine years later I found myself five years into a new career in the vibrant and thriving UK theatre industry. Until:

12 March 2020 – Governor Cuomo orders all Broadway theatres to close. One show we are interested in, SIX the Musical, has to cancel the opening night and party with three hours' notice.

16 March 2020 – Boris Johnson orders all UK theatres to close late that afternoon. Many of our projects instantly cease to exist including Habit of Art starring Matthew Kelly, starting a twelve-week UK tour that very night at the Devonshire Park Theatre in Eastbourne.

I write this nearly seven months later. Never before has the entire theatre industry closed. Those of us in the live entertainment industry remain confident that demand will be there when we can return but the ongoing silence is shocking.

London, UK

Tishy Nugee (daughter of John Nugee, Headmaster 1938-56), written on 6 December
Reminiscing about a chance encounter some years ago – and a word of advice:
You see, it was like this. I came out of Covent Garden to catch the tube to go home (the deepest lift shaft in the whole tube network, I am told). I was aware someone had also got into the lift so I turned round and there he was. Of course I knew him, he had just been singing the main part in my favourite opera Il Trovatore. Wonderful Verdi. Anyway, I could not speak. I got lockjaw. I wanted to say 'Mr Domingo. May I offer you a beer?' And I got lockjaw.

Advice: Never have an ‘If Only’. It lasts a very, very long time.

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