Tag Archives: St Olave’s School

On the Move

Peter Batten is amazed by what he’s discovered about Oliver Sacks . . .

These three words form the title of one of the most famous English poems of the 1950s. It was written by Thom Gunn, who went on to spend most of his life in the United States. He became a well-known resident of San Francisco.

Recently, I was surprised to find the same three words used as the title of the autobiography by Oliver sacks-london-motorcycle-388Sacks. You may remember him as the author of a book which became the successful film ‘Awakenings’ or of the best-selling collection of essays, ‘The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat’. I was even more surprised to see on the book’s cover a picture of a young and handsome Dr Sacks seated astride a motorcycle (pictured). Continue reading On the Move

Peter Batten

Brighton resident Peter has been writing articles for The Whistler since 2011. It’s time we found out more about him…

DSCN9065He celebrated his 80th birthday in July last year. He has been married twice and has 5 children. He has a degree in English Literature, a master’s degree in Adult Education and is a qualified Russian Interpreter.

Some of his earliest memories are of London during the Blitz of WW2. His family come from the Isle of Dogs, an area which was heavily bombed. From September 1944 he attended St Olave’s Grammar School in Southwark, where he played in the first Cricket XI.

Peter dreamed of becoming a professional cricketer, but he was not good enough. He was developing a strong interest in the Arts. In 1952 he was offered a place at Jesus College, Cambridge, which enabled him to develop his understanding of literature. This increased during his National Service, when he trained as a Russian interpreter.

After Cambridge he worked for the London County Council before becoming an Adult Education tutor at a Village College. He was able to enjoy the link between his work and his interest in Literature.

His next move was to Stevenage, where he was one of the first lecturers appointed to teach ‘Liberal Studies’ in technical education. By 1965 he was Head of the General Education Department at Chichester College. He became involved in the life of that city and served for several years on the Gala committee. In his final career move he was the first Principal of a purpose-built Adult Education College in the London Borough of Sutton. This was very rewarding work but after 10 years he clashed with the College Governors about Adult Education Policy. To resolve this he was given a golden handshake which he still enjoys.

In the early 1980s his life changed completely. His marriage broke up and he met his second wife, Nikki. Financial security freed him to work as a free-lance lecturer and a jazz musician. In fact, Peter had been leading a double life since the 1950s. During National Service he argued with a friend who played Doris Day records every evening. Peter insisted on playing records of his own. He had been introduced to recordings of Jelly Roll Morton by his English teacher, so he went out and bought one. He was hooked. Soon he was buying a jazz record every week. He moved on to King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, and a whole collection of jazz greats. He was obsessed. His home today contains an enormous collection of jazz CDs. He talks about jazz, writes about jazz, lectures on jazz. He is totally obsessed. Worse was to follow: he became a jazz musician. He had years of piano lessons as a child. As his obsession grew he tried to play jazz on the piano, but failed. He needed an instrument which made fewer demands on his fingers – perhaps the trumpet. He bought an old brass band cornet and found he could get pleasant sounds almost immediately. Soon he was playing scales and simple tunes. At university he played in student bands and in 1957 was in the Cambridge band which won the English Universities Jazz Contest. As his working life began, he played trumpet and cornet in many different styles and bands. He felt he had to play at least once every week, although he was only an average player.

Peter is not being heralded for his age, his musicianship or his love of jazz alone. He has had to overcome several health problems. The photograph shows him holding his throat. That is because he has a hole through to his windpipe to enable him to speak – the result of cancer of the vocal cords which, 37 years after he first put the cornet to his lips, forced him to give up playing. He has had a quadruple by-pass and is minus most of his sternum, thanks to a post-operative infection. His ribs are held together by some clever plastic surgery. Despite all this he still exercises regularly at Ralli Hall and finds time to write for The Whistler.

Larger than Life

Peter Batten muses about Art…

James Middleton was a large man, large in size and large in personality. Once a Cornish rugby player, he won an MC in World War I. At St Olave’s School in Southwark he was my Art teacher.

It was my good fortune to meet him at a time in my life when I needed a role model. Also, I was beginning to discover what interests in life I might enjoy. Without ever showing feelings of self-importance, he possessed a quiet confidence and dignity. I soon began to admire his talent. As a founder member of the Wapping group of artists he spent most of his spare time painting the many ships and barges to be seen along the Thames near St Olave’s. [A few schoolboy jokes were made by the obvious pun connecting his size with “Wapping”] Above all, he taught me about Art. Because I had so much respect for him, I felt that Art must be something I should learn to admire and enjoy. He told us about various schools and periods, always with practical illustrations. I vividly remember his imitation of the stained-glass-like paintings of Rouault and his demonstration of the way in which a modern portrait painter might start to develop a painting. By the time I left school I was making regular visits to London’s many galleries.
Continue reading Larger than Life