On Pat Clarke’s Retirement (2008)…

Friday 19 November 2010: 4 years 2 months on …

In my last blog, I wrote that I had written to Pat Clarke from England on the occassion of his retirement from Grey Junior School.

I wrote that exactly two years ago, today! This is what I had to say:



19 November 2008


Dear Mister Clarke


I am sitting here in The Miner’s Arms, a pub in the northwest of England, writing this letter to you.

In the corner, a fire is burning and outside it is 7°. Through one window, I can see the green hills of Cumbria dotted with white sheep. Through the other window, I can see the cold brown waters of the Irish Sea.

 In front of me, there is a pint of Guinness on the table. Across the table, an Old Grey Boy, now a man of 40, and one of your many ex-pupils with memories of you and a story or two to tell!

As the father of two sons who have also passed through your hands, this scene encapsulates my memory of you:

Mister Clarke, the teacher of Grey Boys.

 I shall remember the smile on my son’s faces when they came home and, with absolute glee, informed us that they were going to be in Mister Clarke’s class! Then, there was the even bigger smile when they came home and told us (and showed us!) the blue stripes of the school crest emblazoned across their NOUGHT.  Despite the pain, they were now paid up members of Clarkie’s Clan!

Then there was the sadness, when you told them that the government had informed you that no longer where you going to be allowed to paint blue stripes on Grey boys’ noughts!

There were days when home discipline went out of the window because, what mom and dad said did not count – Mister Clarke said it was like this or like that and, after all, he knows everything!

The stories they brought home, all authenticated and verified by Mister Clarke himself, put the scriptwriters of Hollywood to shame…

Then, there is you, Mister Clarke, the celebrated national sportsman, as the sports coach of Grey boys.

 I see you bringing that tall frame of yours down to the one metre level of your under 11 rugby team or cricket team, showing them how best to scrum or bat or bowl. I guess that’s how best to sum you up – your unique ability to bring yourself down from illustrious heights to the level of your young charges.

These magnificent green hills and cold water that I see remind me of one of your other attributes – your love for the outdoors.

Mister Clarke, the hunter!

Whilst this here is a far cry from your beloved hunting trips in the dry Karoo, I recall that your streak for the outdoors even had us as fathers having to go on your much anticipated “father and son” camps.

The Pajero’s, BMW’s and 4×4 Mercs leaving the tar roads of Mill Park for the very first time and being scratched by the Karoo thorn bushes on those forsaken tracks, just to get us into the 40° remotest part of the Camdeboo in order for us fathers to bond with our sons.

I think you deliberately ensured that we never camped near a water supply. That was just to force us to sit and tell stories around the campfire with you under the magnificent Milky Way and Southern Cross, and to drink the brown and green bottled water that was always in supply!

Which brings me to this Guinness on this table… well now, that reminds me of so many other stories! We have experienced that the beer often makes the dividing line between fact and fiction become less clear.

But, when it comes to Clarkie, is it fact or fable or folklore or fiction?

Did the train to Bloemfontein really lurch that hard to cause you that nasty hand injury? When I took you home late after the Old Grey dinner- was it really a minor stroke that temporarily paralysed your left leg? When you wander off at night to the bottom of the garden to talk to the pixies, is it really their little red lamps that one sees glowing in the dark … ?

Whatever, Mister Clark – Pat – as we sit here in England, we will continue telling the Clarke stories, and I’m sure, that all of you in Port Elizabeth tonight, will have many a story to tell, too.

 Despite you physically being gone from the school in the future, the stories will continue for years to come.

I am indeed very sorry that I am not there tonight, but I look forward to having that Pint with Pat upon my return.

As a parent, and on behalf of the many grandparents, parents and all the Grey Boys who constitute Clarkie’s Clan, I thank you and I salute you.

As one pensioner to another, I welcome you to the Retirement Club! Together, we will now be able to spend our mornings scouting out pensioners’ specials, from the obligatory pub lunches to your subscription to The Herald – remember, no longer provided gratis at the hostel!

We know that the salary and retirement package of a teacher is not the biggest, but your reward is a monument that you have built over the years – the Old Grey  sitting across the table from me, and all your so many ex-pupils now dotted over the four corners of the earth that you love so much.

So, here from the Irish Sea,

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind always be at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

and rains fall soft upon your fields.

And until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

Regards, best wishes and good health to you and to Mary Anne in your retirement.

From (and like all your pupils, I, too, carry a nickname given by you)


PS  I know that you’re pretty shy of the women and really don’t like doing this, but please give my wife, Pera, a hug from me!

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