My name is Rory Fraser; I’m fifteen, and a relatively gangly member of The Churchill’s Hall fourth form. Last year I was at Winchester College and so coming into a new school and being able to compare it to an ‘elite’ academic boys’ school has been an interesting experience for me. The comparison I am glad to say favours Shrewsbury immensely, for I feel it is a far better habitat for me.
I always remembered my previous summer terms as being rather long and lazy, spending most of my time wandering about in a sunhat or being very bored. Shrewsbury has had none of this, the summer term has started with a plunge in the deep end after the gentle breaststroke of the holidays, and there has not been a moment to lose!
Monday began with the customary, ‘I can’t go on’, and the mirage that I had been in the garden lounging about and wasting time but 24 hours before was rapidly disappearing into the recesses of my memory. Before I knew it I was sprinting about - tie flapping, hair flopping and totally out of breath. My society’s hour was taken up by a play rehearsal for the junior school play where keeping a straight face whilst trying desperately to remember my lines seemed to dominate the rehearsal. After lessons with only five minutes to return to the house, change and meet for A-leagues, I jumped into my cricket gear and strode out onto the pitch with my fellow Churchillian A-Leaguean comrades. Ridgemount were our opposition. We fielded first where I must admit I spent a lot of time looking thoughtfully at the grass and then pretending not to look surprised when the next over came! I was in the second pair and marched onto the crease determined not to embarrass myself. I scored a very tactical six runs – mainly focusing on not facing the balls whenever possible, as ordered by our captain. Churchill’s was victorious, and I was glad I had been part of it, ‘the day we beat Ridgemount’!
Tuesday began with an as ever eclectic tutor period with Mr Sheppe, where we discussed a range of topics from the Middle East to the Muppets. It was my Hunt run day, a part of my feeble plan to keep vaguely in shape over this term. We got a minibus and sped off into glorious Mynd, whilst at the back holding up the customary tradition of debating important schoolboy issues. We spent the afternoon scampering over majestic hillside like mountain goats, and could see for miles in all directions, down into lush pasture and up into deep purple heather (whetting my appetite for next year’s Hunt training).
Wednesday, (after having been to chapel where The Revd G.Dobbie’s hymn choice as ever gave us a boost to the morning) was my first experience of exam leave where I got extremely restless after about ten minutes and resorted to actually working. That afternoon in athletics we were preparing for the Saturday’s County Champs. The session involved sprinting and hurdling. However due to a lack of hurdles on the track at the time we had to imagine them, so any passerby would have witnessed a couple of Salopians randomly jumping into the air whilst sprinting for no apparent reason!
By Thursday I was in full revision mode, superglued to my desk with my ‘thinking cap’ on. However my roommate did prize me off my desk with some difficulty for another play practice, which yet again wrenched me abruptly from science to something rather beyond Shakespeare!
Friday. Firstly I went to the prize giving ceremony practice where we were instructed as to what we should do that evening. I had also been asked along with some other Churchillian friends to take part in a recital for some future Salopians that evening. It was going to be a day of careful, masterful planning! At five thirty I arrived in the chapel fully ‘suited’ and ready to recite my chosen poem, Cargoes by John Masefield. Mr Case gave a small introduction with customary panache and before I knew it I was standing in front of an audience of expectant looking faces. I allowed Masefield’s genius to echo around the chapel, although I almost kicked myself later for forgetting to bow! Five minutes later after a signal from Mr Case, I along with two other prize winners power-walked to the Ashton Theatre. The theatre was packed with parents, governors, teachers and all the dignitaries of Shropshire, met by an effusive Mr Fanning. Pupils lined the front rows, for once dressed immaculately. The theatre had a certain aura, which must have been that of academic excellence. In the centre of the room was the shining pile of newly-bound books illuminated by the spotlight.
There was a prize for every imaginable subject donated over the school’s long history. Not only were there academic prizes, but also theatre, sport, art and design. This really characterises Shrewsbury, a place where everyone can seek, find and achieve their goals if they’re passionate enough. Finally my prize loomed into view, The idiosyncratic McEchran Prize, for which I had given a talk on Cargoes earlier in the year.
My name echoed out and my fellow prizewinner and housemate Theo Simmons and I strode out into the light. Mr Cropper busily getting the right books for the right people, handed Sir David mine, A Shropshire Lad, a cliché maybe, but wonderful poetry nonetheless. Sir David eyed my book approvingly, shook my hand enthusiastically and over the sound of the applause said something along the lines of, “well done”. As I returned to my seat I tried very hard to put on my serious yet happy smile, and at all cost tried to avoid breaking out into an enormous grin.
Following the prizes, Sir David made a speech. One which I think definitely will go in my top ten speeches list; it was all that a speech should be: not too long yet not brief, academic, funny, serious but giving the invaluable advice to us all, that true success comes from the values you pick up ‘osmotically’ from being at Shrewsbury. However it is your choice as to whether to use those values to the full. There followed a very crowded reception in the 6th form Common Room, by this time I was extrememely hungry and spent most of the time trying to eat a supper of canapés without looking suspicious and trying not to get under anyone’s feet. I also spent a lot of time standing about pretending I was doing something constructive so as to avoid looking like I knew no one there, until I got into a lengthy conversation with Mr Schutzer-Weissmann about religion which took up the rest of the evening. That night as I returned to house over top common, I had discovered another side of Shrewsbury – pomp. I felt so stimulated that I had to immediately involve myself in a serious game of house football to calm down.
What Saturday had in store for me was seemingly on a different planet! I woke up to sun shining through the window, how ironic. It was the dreaded day of the county champ’s athletics competition in Telford; I put on my worn sports kit and packed my bag for the day. At 9:50 the bus passed through the school gates, leaving the homely Shrewsbury behind us. In typical Salopian style arriving at Telford the Shrewsbury team which had left earlier were to be found sunbathing on a bank. In my first race, the 3000 metres. I achieved a comfortable third place. Later however was my real challenge. Sadly the good weather did not hold out. Less than half an hour later a huge storm burst. However the show had to go on and the no nonsense Salopian attitude prevailed. At the appointed time of our races we still marched out onto the track in shorts and vests without the slightest complaint, for Hunt runners it made us feel sort of at home. My problem was that my next race was three hours later. So I passed the time under a hawthorn bush doing my chemistry revision, oblivious to the pouring rain beyond. The 1500 metre steeplechase loomed in to view; for those of you who are unaware of this pastime, it involves running 3 ¾ times around a track whilst jumping over metre high solid wood barriers, one of which had a metre deep water jump on the other side – which had been topped up by the weather.
I remembered that my Scotsman-ship and sportsman-ship were at stake, so I braved the torrents and set foot on the starting line. The gun went and the first barrier came into view, not knowing how to get over one was an issue but I improvised and tried many methods. After a gruelling race during which I would have appreciated armbands and a snorkel, I realised I had won, and was now apparently the county champion. In the end it was a really successful day for the school on the track with Shrewsbury winning 32 medals including 10 golds!
Sunday morning was no exception to the week, chapel choir beckoned and at 8:45 all basses and tenors reported for an emergency rehearsal. We rehearsed for an hour then ‘cassocked’ up and seamlessly glided up the aisle guided by a Benedictine chant. The service went well and the hymns were uplifting against the pattering of drizzle on the window. Brunch followed where a steaming hot chocolate spread good cheer amongst weary choristers. I then paid a visit to the library to pass time and looked at some ancient texts after a deep conversation with the librarian over the Clarendon Commission. A play rehearsal followed soon after with much merriment. Finally at three o’clock in the afternoon I collapsed into my bedsit, rang my mother to confirm to her that I was still respiring, and spent the rest of the day indulging in a Dad’s Army fest.