Memories

The “Bash” Saga

Written by Dr Michael Arnheim

Dr Michael Arnheim, who now lives in London, England, was a member of the KES Class of 1960.  He is a Barrister, Sometime Fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge,  and author of 22 published books to date and was previously a Professor at Wits University.  His Wikipedia biography may be found here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Arnheim

I was not yet 12 years old when I first arrived at KES.  All of us new boys were herded together on the tarmac outside the library to be welcomed to the school by a figure perched high above us on the overlooking wall.  This figure was not the Headmaster but the Vice-Head, “Bash” Bicheno, who was acting Head that Term.  “Bash”,  as he was always affectionately known (he even referred to himself by that nickname!), was a vigorous man with steel-grey hair, a determined stride and a staccato delivery, who had by that time already been a teacher at the school for more than 25 years. He somehow combined an air of authority with a certain jaunty informality.

A few weeks later while walking in the quad I was picked on by a prefect for not wearing garters and having droopy socks as a result.  As punishment I had to write a six-page essay on “Why I must wear garters”.  My father, a doctor, was amused. He told me that wearing garters was actually unhygienic, causing constriction of the blood vessels, and suggested that my essay should be on the dangers rather than the benefits of wearing garters.  As the overweening prefect had not stipulated a particular size of page, I wrote my essay on the dangers of garters on the smallest notebook paper I could find.  The prefect was not amused and told me to report for a caning – a power that prefects had back then.

Instead of obeying, I immediately went to see “Bash” in the Headmaster’s office.  “Bash” was not averse to corporal punishment himself, and had reportedly administered  a caning to the future famous golfer, Gary Player, for bunking school to play golf, with the admonition: “You’re not going to make a living by chasing a little white ball into a hole.”

But “Bash” was a great believer in fairness. He made it clear that in my case the prefect had overstepped the mark, and my penalty was duly revoked.  After that, the prefect would glower at me whenever our paths crossed, but he never tried to exert his authority over me again.

Although “Bash” was not one of my teachers, he stood in for my Geography teacher, a little New Zealander called Ormandy, on two occasions. ”Bash’s” ability as a teacher was such that I can still remember those two lessons, both of which were on the calculation of the Vertical Noonday Sun, or VNS.

But “Bash’s” popularity with the boys had less to do with his ability as a teacher and more to do with his puckish sense of humour and his one-upmanship over the Headmaster, the rather formal and ponderous St John (pronounced “sinjin”) B. Nitch. “Do you know why my room is directly above the Headmaster’s office?” Bash would remark. “It’s so that I can keep tabs on him.”  And with that he would lean out of one of the large sash-windows in his classroom and call out, “Nitchie, Nitchie!”  Needless to say, there was no response.  Similarly, whenever “Bash” came to address the school at assembly he would ostentatiously pick up the microphone and move it to the far end of the table, to show that his voice was strong enough to carry without such namby-pamby aids.

“Bash’s” one-upmanship may well have cost him the Headmastership on Nitch’s retirement two years later.  It caused “Bash” great anguish, as he had given 28 years of dedicated service to KES, latterly as Vice-Head and as Acting Head on several occasions.  A year later he left to take up the post of Vice-Principal of Sir John Adamson, a school which, whatever its merits, was not in the same league as KES.  He never became a Headmaster, but served his new school conscientiously as Vice-Head, retiring at 60, then staying on for another five years despite suffering from leukemia, and dying a year later.