Craig Probart’s tribute to John Royden Clarke

Ex-Pupil of mine Craig Probart (Old Grey and BODA: 1988) has asked me to post the following tribute to John Royden Clarke on my blog site. I am humbled and honoured to do so:

My father was also a boarder and he had an exceptional memory in that he could recite the roll call list of his hostel until his death at the age of 50 – all of about 150 boys. (This didn’t stop him from forgetting to pick up the Luckmans on leave-out weekends though – on more than 1 occasion). This left an impression on me and I decided that I wanted to memorize something like this myself.

Luckily it happened real easy – one hot January morning in 1982 John Clark and I sat on the back of my dad’s Archie Tractors Fiat bakkie and I was on my way to check in at Grey Junior for the first time. John asked me if I was going to cry, a question I didn’t understand because this was one of the most exciting days of my life. On the trip to PE John gave me all his tips on how to beat the hostel system, briefed me on the teachers that I would encounter and shared all the wisdom that he had picked up over his years as a boarder. When my dad dropped me off at Warring Lodge he saw a golfing acquaintance of his – Dave Emslie – who was a hostel master. His ‘handover’ was something that I’ll never forget – “this is my son, if he’s naughty, moer him”. (I said that he had a good memory, not that he was eloquent). John’s advice only helped for about 2 weeks, because that’s how long it took before I got moered by Mr Emslie.

Then it was off to high school and introduce said life-time memory. I think that if I tried I couldn’t forget the 1984 1st team. As a standard 6 boy, these guys were true legends. I think that even Ted Pote would agree, even if it meant him watching the games in blue laces for the 3rd year in row. As newboys in the hostel we were required to know all first teams off by heart, but for this was not something you had to practice.

There was Dean Barclay who was the hard man in the scrums;  Channon and Charlie Hobson made up the rest of the front row and the 2 of them were monsters in the tight loose. Charlie Hobson came in as a replacement and soon showed himself as to the manor borne. Thanks to him I became quite good at cross country because I was forever running to Westbourne Road to buy either Camels or peroxide.

Then at lock there were 2 boarders – Grant Griffen and Colin Dix Peek. Anyone that went to Grey in 1984 and 1985 will know Big G and his bare right foot. Colin was the grunt in the scrums and played good rugby for ‘Saders for a long time after school. The loose trio was probably the biggest reason for their success. Grant Ford with his no-nonsense approach simply owned the loose ball. Mike Carswell probably has a claim that he was the original Iron Mike and I’ll never forget him sitting in the stands in his 1st team jersey watching his team beat Grey Bloem as he was unable to play because he was in the SA Schools Team.

Then, the captain – Fischer. This guy was immense – somebody that every standard 6 looked up to. All I can remember of this guy at school was rugby (and pole vault) related. I don’t think that I ever saw him in the school corridors. Only on the sports field. Peter Barclay at scrumhalf was everything that a flyhalf needed to look good. And Frank Ghast was good. Very good. He used to have so much time that when he kicked the ball he looked quite bored. The results were usually very good too.

Peter Fensham was a full back/ come 1st centre that could really move and his pace and eye got things happening. Lots happening. Nobody will forget Jason Venn. I think that chiropractors have made good careers out of fixing bodies that Venn tackled. Then, on the wings, another boarder team – Brian Salty Solomon and Adrian Puffy Purdon. These guys made the most of the opportunities that came their way and if memory serves, Salty scored the lone try against Grey Bloem that year.

 Adrian was big and quick and ended up playing for EP at #13 (as did Jason). In the last line of defence there was all 6ft4 of Barry Gong van der Vyfer. This guy was rock solid, but the game that he played against Grey Bloem that year was his finest. I guess standing behind Jason Venn all year taught him something because after 10 minutes of him crash tackling the G/Bloem centres over and over they were not all that keen to play anymore.

This was quite a team. They lost the first game of the year to Queens, Daryl Cullinan more specifically, and then went through the rest of the season unbeaten. There were over 5000 people at the 1984 Grey Bloem game. Now, that’s something worthwhile remembering, but it was too easy, so one day in class I heard something that was absolutely irrelevant to anything that I would ever need – the 5 influences over the way a plant grows. Even to a 15 year old boy who is taught to learn whatever is in front of him this seemed useless, so I vowed that I would never forget it – Geotropism, hydrotropism, chemotropism, thigmotropism and phototropism.

Now, I’m within a decade of 50 and John’s sad passing has brought that very close to home. I don’t remember meeting John because in Alexandria families were integrated (as they tend to be in small towns) and I was probably in nappies when our paths first crossed. My earliest memory of him was at the Alex golf course when I was really little and that he had what seemed to be about 100 pretty sisters, and some of them were even blond. I will remember his death though, and I have no doubt that up in heaven someone’s saying “Howzit Condom” and John replying “hey boet, wasn’t it beautiful watching Puffy steaming down the touchline?”

Rest in Peace John, “a sad loss of a fine friend”.