A trip down memory lane: returning to my old school after 19 years

On this weekend just gone and having read details of a game of cricket celebrating 150 years of the school I decided to head up to my old school, Ipswich Grammar School for a look around and to watch some cricket. I had a dual motive of wanting to test out my new camera which was also a good enough reason to head “home” to Ipswich for the afternoon.

After a quick swing by the old school grounds I fast remembered that some years ago IGS had moved their playing fields to a purpose built facility a little away from the main school. What an impressive facility it is too: a far cry from the days when I was proud to don the red and white of my school in battle on the sporting field.

This is a not a blog post though that is either an advertisement for the school nor an exercise in “back in my day”. Rather I was so struck by the memories that flooded back during my trip to the school that I had cause to ponder not only the silliness of not having been back in so long but also the importance that any institution of education has on the development of young men between the ages of 13-18 and more to the point the teachers and mentors who form part of the faculty of said instituions.

Chatting to the coach of my 16B cricket team who is now the Sports Master and the coach of my 13A cricket team (and before that the Shell Shield U12 team I played in) now retired, who I am happy to say both remembered me, brought back memories of some of my happiest times: not just of my formative years but of my life.

Before I move on here I must declare that I was not one of the popular kids at school, I was not a sports star though I played in mostly A teams and I was not a genius though once I realised I just had to work harder than most to succeed my marks improved. I was just a run of the mill 13 to 17 year old growing up in a private school. I say this only to give context to remarks that follow and not in any way to colour your opinion of this post.

Some of the memories that came back to me put a smile on my face and others made me shake my either in bewilderment at why I had not seen any of the players in said memories for nearly 20 years or embarrassment at how generally awkward I was back then.

From my first interview as a knock kneed and very slight 11 year old with the old headmaster, Mr Ladley, through catching the train with my mates for the first time on day 2 of grade 8 through to becoming a school prefect (obviously not a popularity contest that race) and basically having to beg for a date to the school formal, I have come to realize on reflection that those experiences at school were experiences that led me to be the person that I have become.

Now there is obvious good in my experiences and how they moulded me because I have retained the hard working culture that the school expected of its students as well as my life long love of sport that grew from a slight crush in the beginnings of grade 8 to an all encompassing love affair by the end of grade 12 on the fields of IGS. The undefeated 16B cricket season of 1993 under the watchful eye of Mr Grieve made me realize how much I love winning whilst not making the A team that year taught me on the one hand not to count my chickens before they hatched and how to make the best out of disappointment.

My life long love of reading for meaning also is a direct result of my time at the school. It took me until grade 11 to realize that there were about 50 kids in my class who were smarter than me and that if I wanted to get good marks I would have to work harder and read every single word of every single book suggested by every teacher.

Of course, any institution of any type that one spends 5 years in will also mould some negative traits as well in people: that is just human nature. As a, then, very skinny young man who grew 8 inches in the first semester of grade 11 and had a complexion best described as pepperoni pizza like, I certainly developed a shyness, particularly around the opposite sex, that no amount of school dances or going to netball fixtures could fix. I am a naturally reserved person with new people which I think came from having the same group of friends for 5 years at school.

Probably the thing I remember most though, and the thing that moulded me into the person I am today, was the personalities of the teachers and how they dealt with their classes on a daily basis. I remember Tommy Chay, the senior master and my chemistry teacher, seating me next to a rugby superstar repeating grade 12 in his class so we could be lab partners. We were chalk and cheese, or more to the point, very popular (him) and unknown (me) but we got on well. It took me another decade to realize that Tommy was hoping that I would help my lab partner focus on his work and that my lab partner would help me come out of my shell a bit. He was right on both counts and the rugby star and I are still friends to this day.

My maths teacher in grade 12 and final cricket coach at the school was great bloke called Ray Swan who showed me you can be passionate about both the academic and sporting and mix both together in a balanced way. He was direct and honest and I thought he was an absolute legend.

Mr Grieve I mentioned before was my coach in the 16Bs and was also a PE teacher. As someone who then was about 70 kgs dripping wet and very self conscious I will forever be thankful to Mr Grieve for making me captain of that team and giving me a free reign to run the team tactics. This gave me a confidence I had never had before in myself. I was delighted to talk to him on the weekend and reminisce about that 16B season.

Finally I was very close in my final year to a teacher called Barry Gray who, although he had never taught me, had coached me in cricket and I was fortunate enough to be the class prefect for his form class of grade 8 students. Baz taught me it was ok to have fun but at the same to you always had to respect the people around you while you were having said fun.

If I end up being half the man and mentor that these fellows were to me during the course of my career I will be a very happy person.

That said, this blog is not just about being self indulgent and just talking about my past. My trip to my old school made me think about the fact that we all have important mentors in our lives that rarely, if ever get honoured for the work that they do on a daily basis to make the people under the care or charge better members of society. They are the unsung heroes who teach, who coach and who counsel.

So that being the case I am going to finish this post by setting you a challenge dear readers: if you have had a mentor in your past that has impacted on your life, seek them out and thank them. They are the unsung heroes of day to day life and am sure they will say that no thanks is necessary but I am equally sure that the act of saying thank you will have a positive impact on them as it will you.

In closing, I am so happy I made the effort to go back up to my old school and take a trip down memory lane. I can’t believe it took my 19 years but I will back again soon: if only to watch some more cricket because lets face it, there can never be enough cricket to watch!

Shumpty’s Favourite Places: a cricket field … any cricket field

I know I committed a while ago to writing about my favourite places on this blog and it has been remiss of me to keep up this part of the blog.

I was asked today by one of my friends to name the places where I am most at ease.  Bizarrely, my immediate thought was that I was most at ease on the cricket field when I was playing.  That got me thinking about some of the places I had played the game and it made me realise that a cricket field, any cricket field, is one of my favourite places.

Cricket is a game that I revere: I have played it, coached it, umpired it, watched it, studied it and written at about and a cricket ground is the church as which I worship the game that I love.

When I was playing the game the first thing I did every time I got to a ground was take a walk around the boundary and take in the surrounds, then I would walk out to the pitch and get a sighter of the conditions.  The smells of a cricket field were a comfort for me and relaxed me before crossing the boundary rope to play: the freshly cut grass, the white paint used to mark the creases and the mixed aroma of suncream, “deep heat” and Juicy Fruit all combined to make me feel like I was at home.

One of the best places on earth: a cricket field (Allan Border Field)

I was fortunate enough as a player to have the opportunity to travel up and down the coast of Queensland, through New South Wales and to New Zealand to play cricket and all of those aromas and sites were essentially the same.  It would be fair to say that one of the great allures of cricket grounds for me and one of the reasons I was always at ease was that consistency.

I associate some of my fondest memories of childhood with time spent on cricket grounds. I remember fondly (among other memories):

  1. My first six at Ivor Marsden 2 in Ipswich off an off spin bowler called Doyle in Under 16’s (I was a late bloomer) and my dad yelling from the side line to “get my head down” … I got out next ball.
  2. Captaining the Booval Cricket Club Under 14s to victory in a final against the North’s team led by one of my best mates John Ruscoe on the old concrete pitch at Timothy Maloney Park in Ipswich.
  3.  Taking 5 for 5 in a game in Toowoomba at the Downlands School as part of the Ipswich Grammar School under 16Bs and then spending two hours waiting for the bus to take us home to Ipswich because the game was over within the first hour.
  4. The first time I ever cramped up after playing a game of cricket in Cairns after opening the bowling for South East Queensland in an under 14 state title and having a laugh with my team mates when I had to be carried back to the team bus.

My favourite field to play on was the old Ipswich Grammar School No 1 Oval.  I did not get to play there much as the season I was in grade 12; the confluence of a wet Queensland summer and a 1st XI coach who did not think I was any good (he may or may not have been correct) meant that I can only recall playing there twice but to this day I don’t believe I have played anywhere better.  Surrounded by a white picket fence with turf nets and gardens at one end and over looked by one of the school’s two boarding towers and the music school with an amphitheatre of stairs on which viewers could sit I remember it being just the best place to play cricket I could think of.  The grass was like carpet, the pitch was always true and you could sit right being the bowler’s arm and watch the play.  I loved the joint and wish I had have played there more.  I also loved sitting around and talking to the other guys in the team.  It will not surprise that I was far from the most popular guy at school and it was only during those times watching, training and playing cricket on No 1 Oval that I felt like I was “part of the gang”.

Aside from the odd comeback here and there to play with mates, I have not played competitive organised cricket since I hurt my back as a 19 year old.  I have compensated for that by becoming a vociferous watcher of the game.  Be it an international game, a state game or a local club game I try to sit myself behind the bowlers arm and watch the play.

I have not missed the first day of the Brisbane test match since 1999 and if I have my way I will never miss one till I die.  I often try to go to Queensland Bulls Sheffield Shield games on a Sunday and just watch the play for hours and if the stars align and I am in Ipswich on a Saturday I try to find out where my old club is playing and go along for a look.

To this day, the ‘Gabba is my favourite ground to watch cricket.  It was my favourite ground back when the dog track still ran around it and it is my favourite ground now.  I remember being on the hill when Carl Rackemann took the catch that won Queensland its first Sheffield Shield in 1995 (to this day my parents think I was at Uni) and I was there for Steve Harmison’s first ball to second slip in the 2006.  There is no better place to watch cricket in my view that high in the stand at either end of the ground behind the bowler’s arm.  I could, and have, sat there for hours just watching the game.

A cricket field, any cricket field, is one of my favourite places, not just because I love cricket but because at a cricket ground I feel completely at home.  Now all I have to do is bide my time until September, for cricket season to start so I can get back to one of my favourite places.