Jonathan


 

My first encounter with Peter, a tall, lean, scholarly guest in a Cambridge blazer, was in January 1978 at a pre-Term 1 dinner party hosted by Mark Bishop, Headmaster of Cranbrook School, Sydney. He was new, as I was. Over the years he came and went with the seasons, coaching senior cricket teams, teaching English, conducting holiday cricket camps, tutoring in the Boarding Houses and supporting the school´s diverse extra-curricular activities. I got to know him well, as did many other colleagues, students and families. This was because he was outgoing and convivial, challenging and humorous, quite strict and, at the same time, good with difficult or tear away kids. And also because Bishop´s Cranbrook `Family´ was an interesting and pluralistic community with a very engaged and talented staff, whose strength Peter was quick to recognise. Cranbrook, in the Eastern Suburbs, of Sydney - the `bush´ - became the seasonal counterpoint to Millfield, Somerset, England - the ‘counties’ - and he came to love it here, buying a house and embracing the Australian `ethos´.

I would like to sketch some memories I have and point to some qualities of character he possessed. He was open, generous, witty, often gregarious and supportive of others in times of crisis and tragedy. He admired creativity, individualism, idealism and professional involvement. He disliked self-indulgence, wishy-washy liberalism, especially the Neo-variety, cronyism, self-serving phonies and ‘Yes men‘ of every hue. He demanded commitment and self-discipline from his charges. If he felt you weren´t doing your best or had broken a promise, he could be critical, angry, even scornful. As his father said, he could be difficult. Sometimes I saw him prickly, moody, unjustly cold to some people. I also saw him careless with others´ property (a kind of impractical insouciance) and his own (I could give many examples).

I want to redress an imbalance in the commentaries of some journalists and other tabloid drivellers. The positive qualities should be reiterated, and loudly, to drown out the carrousel-like litany of sins like secrecy, solitariness, dark demons, to name some. Charges made before any cross-examinations, public inquest, forensic evidence! And sent around the globe at the touch of a digital button!

So I will enlarge on his `large´ qualities with a few anecdotes. I remember he loved getting colleagues and friends together, spontaneously on Friday nights at small ethnic eateries (... just come to the ... at 7pm ...) in Paddington, Woolloomooloo, Bondi. He avoided Double Bay like the plague. Often they were fledgling restaurants with small menus, laminate-top tables and house wine by the carafe, drunk from water glasses. Once in ‘Paddo’ we were around 20 people arguing about sport, books, art, politics and life in general and very quietly (not secretly!) Peter paid the bill of well over 200 dollars. Saying no big deal - even though someone had stormed out early, having crossed swords over, I remember, Maoism.

His Saturday stews which were legendary around the Boarding Houses - were relaxed, come and go, convivial affairs. Most colleagues and students would sit on the floor in the absence of chairs. Peter needed no luxuries. And I would reply with a roast of lamb.

He was also generous at training. He would bowl to younger teams as well as his own, and at me. And then he would be bowled to by the same! He helped coaches like me to coach and to sniff the battle with delight. He was generous to introduce me to Vic and Anna Marks and to the Somerset team in the player’s room at Trent Bridge and to the post-match drinks with legends like Richards, Hadley and others. Peter had played well that day, facing Hadley doggedly. Another memory I remember is his taking me to the commentary box at Bellerive Oval, Hobart, to meet `Blowers´, whom I had long admired as much for his lyrical descriptions of the southern Derwent River area, as for his cricket talk.

Peter, while talking with authority, was also a listener and curious to learn more, music included. He saw the parallels between cricket and music, their demands of a sound technique, of constant practice, of absorption, of surgical analysis and impassioned inspiration and that indefinable, mysterious something - genius. And he was aware of how fragile and unforgiving of mistakes both are. I´m sure he had read Neville Cardus. I remember that in return for his offerings of Marley, Dylan and the Stones, I socked him with Bach, Beethoven and Brahms symphonies, Schumann, Elgar (Nimrod and the cello concerto) and Sibelius (symphonies 2, 5 and 7) and Rachmaninov. We discussed form and themes and atmosphere and in Beethoven and Brahms the sonata form and the emergence of triumph from struggle.

Literature was crucially important for him. Anytime at all, he would start discussions and ask opinions. Shakespeare for him was like Bach for me, and we would discuss Austen, Conrad, Orwell, Koestler, Sassoon and Owen. I would see him on weekends, on and off duty, walking around the school in T-shirt and shorts with bare feet and later straw hat, with a copy of `A Man for all Seasons´ in his hand. He would quote his favourite lines, usually the ironic ones. And often he would ask a boy what he was reading at that moment and then talk about it. As with other common friends, Peter introduced me to Tom Sharpe´s comic novels. 

He also organized theatre visits. In 1984 roughly, it was for 15 or so pupils and teachers to the Stables in Kings Cross. The play was `Essington Lewis - I am Work´, which he raved about. He preferred modern and non-main stream plays in small theatres. He also came to House and School drama and was supportive of stressed-out pupils and teacher-directors. I remember he was amazed at John Purnell´s production of the musical `Oliver´ with pupils and staff, as well as the full fancy-dress party in 1985 or 86. Both were, for him, a culmination and affirmation of Mark Bishop´s Cranbrook. (alas, soon to change, as Peter also experienced).

Another positive aspect was Peter´s sense of privacy - which in a media-crazy world was nothing more than English reserve, traditional propriety and discretion - oops, what does that mean? - combined with an awareness of how the gutter media operate. Also he had a respect for the privacy of other people. I remember that once he played a game of tennis with Viv Richards on the school´s tennis courts at 6 a.m. one weekday. He didn´t tell anyone, because if word got around, hundreds of boarders would have come down to watch. He told me well after the event, which speaks for his modesty and his reticent sense of privacy.

Of course there were some negatives I noticed, but they were fairly harmless, even ridiculous. I saw him furious at school negligence in not thanking Kerry Packer for donating thousands to the school for cricket nets. I saw him angry with smug tutors and slack students. I saw him angry with himself! But I never heard of him beating a pupil in all those 8 years, although it was permitted up to 1986. A tongue-lashing was enough. (It was rare at Cranbrook, anyway, compared to other schools, particularly the Catholic ones). Also, I remember him being aloof towards people he didn´t know or want to know, and not being very adventurous when it came to new constellations of people. He was not really interested in nature or its protection, or in saving whales or in bush-walking, or in visiting mainland Europe for non-cricketing reasons.

He was also often careless in his own writings. I think here of his frequently funny and picturesque vignettes of friends and colleagues when he let a too glib insouciance intrude to the point of distortion, although things could be partly true. Peter was usually well-meaning but he wouldn´t let strict historical accuracy stand in the way of a good story that he could dine out on!

Back to his `largesse’. His Bondi house, his preparation for his philanthropic visions of community oases for talented, poor students to be given `a fair go´, at his expense, under his conditions. Visions which did not always go to plan. I used to visit his house in South Bondi up to the end of the nineties. I forget the precise last time I saw him, as my base has been Hamburg since 1996. His house was a buzzing example of communal living, full of cricketers, friends, ex-Cranbrookians, neighbours popping in and out, no worries mate. I remember one Summer calling out through an old screen door - the front door was usually open or unlocked. All doors and windows were open, to facilitate ventilation along the long and narrow hallway and back rooms, on to which he had added extra rooms and a covered but open patio. I remember the smell of cooking, the sound of Dylan, the warbling of birds in the tall trees at the back. I could whiff the salt from the ocean. Peter´s house said ’Welcome, friend and stranger’.

So I think he deserves better than he got. At least a proper inquest with a higher standard of applied justice. I´m no lawyer but I was taught that one untouchable rule of British law was a person is innocent until proven guilty ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ in a court of law. So let justice get on with it!

These were just a few memories I have. Many others have many more. I would like to see a book where writers and friends contribute, writers from England, Oz, India, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, West Indies, England and every place on planet earth where his very special virtues were and are appreciated.

One favorite line of Peter´s I recall had to do with a school report. Unfortunately, I can´t use it in my French and German reports because it doesn´t translate so easily, it runs...`His English comprehension is good, but he understands nothing´.