Time in a Bottle

13 May 2010: 3 years 8 months on . . .

Successive classes of Grey matriculants know the routine well. On the last day of their final year at High School, they attend the Valedictory assembly. It finishes with the hymn “For All the Saints” and nowadays they then step out onto the lawn in the memorial quad for the first time to chant their sport war cry – “Give us a G … Give us an R …Give us an E … Give us a Y …

And, then, that moment which has been in the making for twelve years – the walk ‘neath the Tower, past the Rector’s office, through the entrance doors, and into the tree-lined avenue. On that day, the avenue is also lined on both sides with family, friends, teachers, pupils and well-wishers – all coming to say farewell to yet another class of Grey boys. They wind their way from the school to the Old Greys’ Club where, as the newest Old Greys, they have lunch with their fathers, and then head off into the big, wide world.

Every year, in the first week of May, these successive classes of Grey men return to the school for the annual Reunion weekend. The “big” formal reunions are those who have left school 10, 25, 50 and 60 years before, and for some, it is the first time that they return, after having left so many years before.

But, from the other classes they also come – 19 year olds and 89 year olds. And this year saw hundreds of Old Greys, including the 20 year class, return from the farthest corners of the globe to experience the concerts, the sport, the functions, the camaraderie, the friendships and simply to see the old school yet again.

The programme starts on Wednesday with the Selley Concert in the Feathermarket Hall. Golf is played on Thursday morning, in the afternoon, the Old Greys play rugby against the Old Old Greys and in the evening, 500 men gather in the Feathermarket yet again to reminisce at the formal Dinner.

Friday morning sees the old boarders return to their home, the Meriway (Merideth and Way) boarding house, for breakfast. Then assembly in the De Waal Hall, a tour of the school, lunch at the Rectory with the Rector, and – at four – the cadet parade, the Trooping of the Colour, complete with military band resplendent in their Reds (this year under the watchful eye of Student Officer Sean Lunnon).

In the evening, hockey is enjoyed and then each class organizes a separate function at a separate venue. Saturday sees all return to watch rugby and hockey (this year Grey played against Wynberg Boys’ high and scored decisive victories in most, if not all, the games). Saturday evening sees separate class functions where tired, weary and worn out Grey men take leave of each other yet again.

And, so it was, that at 3pm, last Friday afternoon, squeezed between the lunch at the Rectory and the Cadet parade, we found ourselves in the Rector’s office. We, being the current Rector, Neil Crawford, ex-Rector, Dieter Pakendorf (my boss when I taught), four Old Greys from the Class of 1985 (25 year vintage), a photographer and I, an ex-teacher of that class.

The sense of occasion was overwhelming. The purpose was serious.

 Twenty five years ago, in 1985, when those Grey boys walked ‘neath the Tower, they handed Rector Pakendorf a handmade wooden casket. It had been made by one of them in the woodwork class. On it, a brass plaque with their names engraved (they prefer to remain anonymous) and locking the casket, a small padlock. Their instruction to the Rector was to put the casket in safe-keeping for collection upon their 25th anniversary return to the school.

In the ensuing years, Rector Pakendorf was replaced by Rector Simpson was replaced by Rector Crawford. But, the casket remained in the Rector’s walk-in safe for 25 years.

And, it was removed when Rector Crawford received the phone call in the week to have it ready to be opened on Friday afternoon.

There we stood around the casket. Each 17-year old Grey boy had taken a key for the lock. Not one of the 42-year old Grey men had remembered to bring the key! Mr Anton Scholtz, the senior hostel master, was called in to bring a bolt cutter, and the cheap, small lock was cut open.

The casket revealed its contents – a key to the lock (!),  red-waxed sealed envelopes and a 25-year old bottle of whiskey that was now 50 years old!

The letters, written by each of the boys, were read by each of the men: their thoughts on leaving school and their hopes and wishes for the next 25 years (one of them was not present, and another read his letter in his absence).

And, then the big moment! The bottle was opened and a wee tot poured into the glasses over the expectant blocks of ice. The glasses were raised and a toast proposed to The Grey, to friendship, to time in the bottle and to the next 25 years.

Ah, yes, it was a very good whiskey!

Extra Special Times Extra Special Scotch


(P.S. A new bottle of whiskey has replaced the old. The casket has been locked. It has been returned to its place of safekeeping to be opened at the reunion in the first week of May 2035, when those who will still be here, will return to The Grey for their 50th reunion.)

See Rector Neil Crawford’s comment below.

If I could save time in a bottle
The first thing that I’d like to do
Is to save every day
Till Eternity passes away
Just to spend them with you

If I could make days last forever
If words could make wishes come true
I’d save every day like a treasure and then
Again, I would spend them with you

But there never seems to be enough time
To do the things you want to do
Once you find them
I’ve looked around enough to know
That you’re the one I want to go
Through time with

If I had a box just for wishes
And dreams that had never come true
The box would be empty
Except for the memory
Of how they were answered by you

But there never seems to be enough time
To do the things you want to do
Once you find them
I’ve looked around enough to know
That you’re the one I want to go
Through time with


2 comments on “Time in a Bottle

  1. Fantastic, Ed! What a moment it was – an emotional experience as the men read out their letters written 25 years ago. On the Saturday afternoon they returned the casket into my safekeeping and the Rector(s) to follow – it is once again safely housed in the office strongroom. An additional plaque has now been attached, which reads : 2010 – 2035 – Quinque Juncta in Uno. All in all a fantastic and wonderfully successful Reunion Week and Weekend – and what a pleasure and privilege it is to be associated with so many incredibly supportive and loyal Old Greys. Best wishes.

    • Congratulations you guys on a great idea and for seeing it through.

      You bring back memories of how we left Grey way back in 1950 etc, not quite the same way but happy/sad memories all the same.

      Well done for thinking of Grey. May you live to repeat the idea in 2035. Cheers, MTD 1947-50 (Way House).

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