STORIES FROM THE HILL 6: RELIGION
Those of you who are film buffs will no doubt have seen “Sliding Doors” (1998) and “The Butterfly Effect” (2004). They both share a common theme and show how our future direction in life can hang on a single personal decision as we approach a large fork in the road. My big moment took place in the spring of 1979. I was in my post graduate year at the time and had to make a choice between representing London University in the end of season 5 day British University Students Federation football tournament in Belfast and going on a cheap holiday at the Christian venue of Lee Abbey.
Normally football would win hands down. On this occasion, however, I had a strong sense of providence (or fate if you prefer) and opted for the estate student working party in North Devon.
One of the first holiday makers I met was the then Warden of Kingham Hill School, who I subsequently got to know better as the week progressed. At the end of the week he told me to get in touch with him if I hadn’t got a teaching job by the end of the summer term and he would see what he could do. As things turned out, it was he who got back in touch with me, early into the summer term. He was looking for someone to cover the teaching duties of a chaplain during a year-long interregnum and asked if I would be interested. My projected teaching career as a Sociology teacher was about to change.
Children’s entertainer and magician, Harry Kazzam, is well known in our neck of the woods, as he used to live in St Austell. He still puts on summer shows in Truro every year. Many Hillians will know him better as Andrew Dauncey (Plymouth & Norwich 1975-80). I hooked up with Andy last summer and filmed part of his act together with a piece to camera that he did for me.
Andy recalled a number of stories, but, for the purposes of this video, I have largely majored on his personal take on Chapel and RE at KHS. Why wouldn’t I? We’ve not actually confirmed it, but I think Andy must have been in one of my two 5th year classes back then.
I was a young, wet-behind-the-ears teacher and found one of the groups really challenging. David Shepherd who taught the same classes English didn’t encounter the same issues with them. That’s experience for you!
I recall one day turning up for a lesson to find the class already in my room. One of the boys had changed “Virgin Mary” on my blackboard to “Vagina.” Eventually one of the Coats twins owned up and, by way of punishment, I got him to write out the whole of Romans chapter 1 in a detention and complete a three mile cross country run with me at 6am the following Saturday. I remember the surprise on the twin’s face as he worked his way through, what is now viewed in some circles as a controversial section of the Bible. He was also knackered by the run.
I owe a great deal to my short but significant time on the hill. The seeds were well and truly sown as a future career, vocational RE teacher. It’s been a great privilege and a pleasure to have served in 6 different state and independent schools in Surrey, Bexley, Bedfordshire, Cornwall and of course Oxfordshire. The discussion-based (and, at times, somewhat outrageous) teaching style that I developed over over the years, was well and truly birthed at KHS.
In the video Andrew says “we questioned constantly and not always in a good way because sometimes we were being obtuse … but I never remember being punished or made to feel that we were wrong by questioning it [the Bible] …. we were allowed our own opinions on things, even if we were making it up to be awkward.”
I have news for Andrew. I eventually developed a devil’s advocate style of teaching that enabled me to ask all sorts of risque questions and make politically-incorrect arguments to engender lively and heated debate. I would occasionally hear from the Truro School Head of Sixth Form of complaints that she had received from my students. “Do you know what Mr Huckle said…..?” but she dismissed them, as I had the biggest reputation in the staff room as a “wind-up merchant.” “Are you sure that you’ve not heard him arguing the alternative view before?” Well, yes!” the student would answer. So teaching has been great fun for me in the main.
The other formative experience that Kingham afforded me was the filming. “A Year in the Life of Kingham Hill School” (1980) – which can be viewed on the first blog of this “Stories from the Hill” series – was my first first ever documentary, albeit on Kodachrome super 8mm movie film. My last, school video travelogue was made in 2016 – “Truro School Football and Rugby Tour of South Africa” ( Piran Films You Tube Channel https://youtu.be/dvabJN_0DQ8 ).
I often ask myself the question “where would I be now had I not decided to go to Lee Abbey 40 years ago?” I really don’t know. One thing that has eluded me and that I am sure of though is that I still want to visit the Emerald Isle. So, may be, just may be, there is a Hillian out there living in Ireland who would be willing to share his or her “Stories from the Hill” to camera and welcome a visit from yours truly. Please get in touch if that is the case.
The Happiest Days of Your Life (1978)
Featuring Andrew Dauncey, Roland Casewell, Michael Pontin and Andrew Adonis
Next video: STORIES FROM THE HILL 7: 21ST CENTURY BOY