Tuesday, 15 April 2008

School misery (4)

Richard Marsden and Stephen Meyer. They were to become my school chums.

Richard was eccentric, to say the least. He came from a fairly prosperous middle class family. At one time his father bought a little grocery store in my neighbourhood, on the corner of Victoria Parade and Whitehall Road. I suspect that the store was a “time filler” for Richard’s Mum. It failed dismally.

Richard affected to be a Jehovah’s Witness. Later he joined a N-zi Party in Great Britain. He once tried to rape me.

In due course, Richard committed suicide.

Stephen was a different kettle of fish. His parents were Jews who’d escaped from Germany in 1939. Stephen was/is very bright, and he lives in retirement in Shropshire.

I loved to be in the Meyer home.

Dad, Martin Meyer, was a bit taciturn, but always gracious to me. He was the only Kosher butcher in Bristol.

Mum, Greta Meyer, was a total sweetheart. I will never forget her gentle accent, and her all embracing hospitality. Nor will I forget my sense of wonder as I watched her light the Shabbat candle.

Stephen and I have stayed in touch by mail through the years, and we were able to get together in Shropshire in 2006. It was amazing how many memories we had in common.

Why Richard, Stephen and me? ‘Twas because we were each on the religious fringes of English society.

Richard claimed to be a Jehovah’s Witness.

Stephen was Jewish.

I was a member of the Plymouth Brethren.

And each of us was bad at sports.

Sports were my nemesis (bitter enemy) at Fairfield.

And the school religion (yes there was school religion) was vaguely mainstream Protestant.

We began each day in the Main hall with a School Assembly, presided over by our redoubtable Headmaster, J. P. Stewart.

I remember that we sang a Christian hymn, and had a reading from the Christian Scriptures.

J.P.S. might give an “ethical” talk and so far as I can remember, we said the Lord’s Prayer.

Stephen Meyer and the two other Jewish scholars were exempted from this act of “Christian” worship.

As for me, the “born again” Christian - well, I was sceptical about the whole affair.

But I loved the singing. Especially I enjoyed the rich harmonies in the tune “Contemplation” , set for the school hymn (yes we had a school hymn), with a text by the Deist, Addison.

And I hope that it will be sung at my funeral.

Music was a bright spot in my bleak Fairfield life.

More about this later.

Here is the text of Addison’s hymn.

When all Thy Mercies (Joseph Addison)

When all Thy mercies, O my God,
My rising soul surveys,
Transported with the view, I’m lost
In wonder, love and praise.

Unnumbered comforts to my soul
Thy tender care bestowed,
Before my infant heart conceived
From Whom those comforts flowed.

When in the slippery paths of youth
With heedless steps I ran,
Thine arm unseen conveyed me safe,
And led me up to man.

Ten thousand thousand precious gifts
My daily thanks employ;
Nor is the last a cheerful heart
That tastes those gifts with joy.

Through every period of my life
Thy goodness I’ll pursue
And after death, in distant worlds,
The glorious theme renew.

Through all eternity to Thee
A joyful song I’ll raise;
For, oh, eternity’s too short
To utter all Thy praise!

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