Friday, 11 May 2018

Crowlink, a Magical Location for School Journeys: an Appreciation by Ken Noakes - Review



I may never again review a book by another writer to which I am as personally attached as this one. Crowlink: A Magical Location For School Journeys - An Appreciation By Ken Noakes is not just a fascinating venture back to an age of innocence for those of us who as children were part of the experience. As a retrospective it serves also to remind us that that innocence was shared, in some degree, by the adults in our company back in those far off days and indeed by society itself.

At 56 pages, which includes over forty fascinating illustrations, it is in fact a booklet rather than a book. That is ample enough to do its job, which is to recount the experiences of the author as a young primary school teacher - first at Worple Road School and then at Isleworth Town School - on the annual educational trip for pupils, in their last year before splitting up and moving on to their respective secondary schools, to the rural hamlet of Crowlink, hidden in a remote valley in the Sussex Downs.

As one of the Worple Road pupils who attended this annual event, at the age of ten way back in 1972, this work was always going to hold a special interest for me (I even get a mention at one point as one of those who still has his project folder, relatively intact and in safe keeping). Ken Noakes was my class teacher that year. I thought he was quite middle-aged at the time, but he must have been in his very early twenties.

RITE OF PASSAGE

For primary school pupils at Worple Road (and presumably for those later at Isleworth Town) Crowlink was the culmination of seven years of learning and development. When you got to the fourth year of junior school, which followed on from three years at infant school, going away to Crowlink was your rite of passage. Excitedly, we all brought in our £1 a week to school (plus £1.50 insurance) to get our yellow card stamped, and once the whole £9.50 had been forfeit we were booked on the coach, and nobody was going to stop us.

So much for Crowlink, what about the book? Well the book is, as the title suggests, an appreciation of all that was wonderful about the week spent at North Barn, the Holiday Fellowship Guest House, a rather grand building surrounding a small but well-kept lawn which stood at the end of a track which, for its greater part, was accessible only on foot and via a cattle grid. Heading out from the building the track became progressively larger until it was almost a road, with vehicular access, and further down still was a pond.

The author very much has the advantage over me, because whereas I visited Crowlink only once (well twice, my father actually drove my family and I down there the week before to recce the place), he had the benefit of returning year upon year with a fresh class of youngsters to relive the adventure and exploration. And one senses from the book that the whole thing was indeed something of an adventure to him and to his fellow teachers too, almost as much as to the pupils. His task in compiling the book, of course, was to diarise the various visits and outings undertaken by the children whilst flitting between the classes and the years (and two schools), merging the best of all into one narrative whilst steering clear of repetition.

FAMILIAR NAMES

One of the hazards of reviewing a book which brings back strong personal memories is of course distraction. One is instinctively given to reminiscence when reading of familiar events, which is naturally compounded by the fact that many of the names which appear throughout the book are well-known to me. For that reason I read it twice in quick succession, once for the trip along the proverbial Memory Lane and the second with the purpose in mind of trying to look at the work objectively. And my objective conclusion is that the magic of this book lies precisely in its quality as a marvellous reminisce - not just for those of us who went to Crowlink with Worple Road or Isleworth Town, but for anyone at all of a certain vintage who looks back with fondness to a simpler age bestowed with the mixed blessings of less regulation and more trust.

What I like most of all about the book from a creative point of view is the way in which three stories run coterminously yet at the same time quite distinctly. The first is the story of the South Downs and of the various local attractions and places of interest visited by the parties of school children and their teachers. The second centres on North Barn, on what it had to offer the children and the sheer buzz of being domiciled together for a whole week within its confines, free in most cases for the first time in their lives from parental authority but under the watchful and protective gaze of their teachers. And the third, and by far the most important, is about the children themselves - their emotions, their interaction with each other and with their teachers, their thirst for knowledge, their reactions to their unfamiliar surroundings, their development, their response to their first taste of (albeit well-supervised) freedom, their imaginations, their joy.

LUCKY LOCAL GENERATION

In my novel The Best Year Of Our Lives the main characters are just a little older than the Crowlink holiday children, but they will have been through some of the experiences, and felt some of the emotions, that the young pop-pickers of that lucky local generation were given the opportunity to taste. Indeed I wouldn't be entirely surprised if at least one or two of them had been there themselves. There is a faultless seam of magic which begins in contemporary reality and later sadly fades into memory, but remains unbroken nonetheless. Crowlink is still a part of me all these many years on.

Oh and did I mention that it was a well-written book? It is - spaciously laid out, generously illustrated, kind on the eye. But also it combines good ordered structure with humour and heart to make for an easy and enjoyable read. Second nature, I guess, for a school teacher!

Crowlink: A Magical Location For School Journeys - An Appreciation By Ken Noakes is available at £6.95 including postage and packing. Contact kennoakes77@yahoo.co.uk to order a copy.

5 comments:

  1. Love this review Phil, sounds like a really fun school trip.

    Michael L.

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  2. What a well written review Phil...Summed it all up for me..x ��
    Teresa (Tee) Marsden

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  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  4. Delighted with this review Phil. Much appreciated coming from a fine writer as yourself.

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  5. Thanks everyone for the comments. Some great feedback here and elsewhere.

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