Last Friday I spoke to a local Men's Meeting which gathers men from different churches in the area. It was a delight to meet up with several friends. My talk focused on the significance of pivots in our lives. Those moments when something unexpected happened - we met someone, circumstances suddenly shifted, or an event occurred which in retrospect was a changing point. A pivotal point. At the beginning I mentioned that recently I had to write about my life as a Baptist minister and how that forced me to reflect on such moments.
And I admit this setting with a local audience allowed some self-indulgence. I chose two pivotal points. The first occurred in 1961 when my father moved from a church in Gloucester to Cambridge. As a sixteen year old I found myself at a new school - the County - now Hills Road Sixth Form College. My school career in Gloucester had been uninspiring, as was my academic record. But suddenly I was plunged into a completely different ethos.
Because I had failed Latin and French O levels the Head Teacher, Mr. Eagling, told me to retake them and the Deputy Head, Mr. Laing, offered to teach me Latin at lunchtime. As soon as I mentioned these names heads nodded with smiles of recollection. This is what I meant about the setting allowing self-indulgence. Several men had been there around my time. Actually, one man said he failed both Latin and French and the same thing happened to him!
They also laughed at my mention of some characters there. Martin began the same time as me and sat behind me. I thought we might be friends as newcomers but that failed totally. Later when I read his autobiography did I see just how much Martin Amis, son of Kingsley Amis, truly hated the County. A year below me was Syd Barratt of Pink Floyd fame. A delightful charismatic figure he was a brilliant artist and our paths happily crossed when I did A level art.
But it was two teachers above all: George Barlow (history) and Peter Bryan (geography) who set the nods and smiles going. Peter gave me a passion (that's not too strong) for physical geography. For the first time in my life I was captivated by a school subject, and the field trips to Wales and Yorkshire. To be able to look at landscapes and understand the influences on their formation just thrilled me. So strong was my focus that Peter said I should study with one of the leading geomorphologists, Bruce Sparkes, at Jesus College, Cambridge. It's an extraordinary pivot that took a fairly disinterested schoolboy into genuine passion for a subject on a surprising journey......