I left home in Kota-Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia in July 1965 to begin boarding school at Bedales School in Petersfield town, Hampshire county in the south of England at the age of fourteen and Adam Raven was one of the very first Bedalian that I befriended. In June 2006 I received sad tidings of Adam’s death by e-mail from Mary Denhlom who as Adam, was another of my Bedales classmates. Later news from other Bedales classmates would dribble in on the internet and I learnt that it transpired Adam passed away due to heart failure while on a Mediterranean cruise accompanied by his mother Susan Raven (nee Kilner); and the cruise ship later docked at Barcelona Spain where an autopsy was carried out by the Spanish authorities.
As I sat in my office at home in front of my desktop some 6500 nautical miles away from Mary Denhlom who was at her home in London when she e-mailed me the sad tidings of Adam’s passing; memories flooded back of an English evening in 1965 soon after I had arrived for my first day at school as a thirteen year old new Bedalian and an English morning in 1969 when I boarded my last school train out of Petersfield leaving Bedales School at a ripe old age of eighteen years and as an Old-Bedalian.
My first school trip to begin boarding school at Bedales began in late July 1965 when chaperoned by my mother we took a midday 3 hours flight from Sabah Malaysia to Singapore. After a 3 hours transit we took an evening BOAC Boeing 707 flight out of Singapore and I watched the sunset as the Boeing 707 climbed out of Singapore and the city lights below began to twinkle in the twilight. I stayed up for the whole 22 hours which stopped briefly in Delhi and Rome and I watched the sunrise before reaching Heathrow London early in the morning at local Greenwich time.
My mother and I spent July and August in London and we stayed with my cousin Jenny Lee on my mother’s side in her Flat 1a 53 Fitzjohn’s Avenue, Hampstead. Jenny as many young ladies from the commonwealth came to London in the sixties to pursue a vocation in the post-war beginnings of the National Health Service and was studying and working as a nurse in one of London’s West borough General Hospitals.
My Aunt Ann who was my father’s sister was also living in London at the time, studying in one of London’s Secretarial Colleges on Oxford Street and she was free to go shopping with my mother and I for my winter and summer clothes, school uniforms and a school trunk from a list of Oxford Street Department Stores provided by the Bedales School Bursar. And then my mother and I joined the obligatory sightseeing tours of London, Stratford on Avon, Windsor, the old Battersea World’s Fair Fun-Park and watched the Sound of Music at the Dominion Cinema and Theatre at Tottenham Court Road at least three times.
As an English Indian summer that we were enjoying drew to a close, my father flew up from home in Kota-Kinabalu Malaysia and joined us for the last week of August in London. After my mother and father left for home I moved to a bed and breakfast in Holborn near my Aunt Ann which was living at the YWCA at Russell Street for the first couple of week in September. Soon around mid-September found myself on a train from Waterloo Station heading for Bedales School in Petersfield Hampshire with my strange new life stored in a brand new school truck.
It was September in 1965 and delivery of postal mail in the British Isles just took a night and a morning, while mail within the Empire took 3 to 4 working days and if a letter was posted outside the British Empire perhaps an additional week would be needed for delivery. To ring home I had to book a call with London’s telephone international exchange centre twenty four hours ahead of time and await their connection at an appointed time. I was on my own for the first time in my life and far far away from parents, family and home.
My first impressions of Bedales were of the warm waning rays of sunlight of an autumnal English evening striking at a low angle on cold red-bricks walls of the school buildings and a chill in the evening air heralding the approach of an unfamiliar winter season to come. Loneliness was yet to sink in as the contradiction in everything being so old but each was a fresh experience to me kept my curiosity alive until evening “Jaw” (which is the moniker for evening school assembly).
I had built up a growing apprehension of school life in Bedales as the result of my intense preparatory work for a life in a British public school, reading “Tom Brown’s School Days” and “Just William” which jarred with the culture shock of a novel West Indies accent on the Queen’s English when I took the London Underground on the way up to Bedales. However everything around me at Bedales soon banished my great expectations of a Britain garnered from my reading of popular school boys’ books widely circulated in the British Empire of my childhood in British North-Borneo.
Looking back to those brave early years, it is a good thing that Malaysia didn’t enjoy television at that time. I had landed in a Great Britain of “Coronation Street”, “Steptoe & Son” and “The Back & White Minstrel Show” and if “Little Britain” had been aired at the time, I might have turned around immediately at Heathrow Airport at the first very peculiar native greeting of relief; “Oh! You speak very good English”.
I met Adam Raven in Bedales’s main covered school “quad” that first evening at Bedales right after our first evening school assembly and we played ping-pong on a table that had been placed in one of the two fives courts which were at the north-east corner of the “quad”. His immediate friendship and kindness took away the utter contradiction of departing a still colonial commonwealth member country and arriving in a post-empire Great Britain.
Later that evening while still in a state of shock, perhaps at the sight of the long corridors in the boy’s dormitory which were lined with heating pipes from a Edwardian era reminding novice Bedalians of what a British prison could be like; Adam Raven, Jason Mitchell and a boy straight out of the tropical sun, jungle, beaches and surf of a commonwealth North Borneo all half naked and wearing totally inappropriate sunglasses ran around the boys dorm screaming at the bare light bulbs “it’s hot, it’s hot, it’s so hot”. For us, the Bedalian camaraderie of the moment stayed with us long after we left Bedales to the remains of our days and loneliness never visited me as Britain became my new home.
It was earlier while playing ping-pong in the quad that Adam first proudly showed me the scars on his chest which was the result of open-heart surgery he endured as a young child. Later I was to think that Adam’s heart had been broken in more than one way along the way to growing up and it is no surprise to hear that his heart was yet to be returned by the Barcelona Spanish coroner’s office (or so his obituary notes).
I was to find that Bedales School has a well earned reputation to prepare each child individually to develop intellectually as independent and self-reliant and it is this enigmatic individualist quality in Bedalians that is cause for us all to grow away from each other as Old Bedalians. From reading Adam’s obituary in the Independent sent to me by Tim Crocker, I am happy to learn that after school Adam gained success and recognition in the art world, and lived his independent individualist life reaching heights as a celebrated painter and in achieving his personal aspirations would be a life well lived that any Old Bedalian could have hoped for. However I remember Adam most for his kindness as a Bedalian.
I remember playing rugby with Adam in our second and first fifteen. I remember his dancing with a unique individualist twitter of his feet on Friday nights in the class common room. In all my time at Bedales I never heard Adam say an unkind word of anyone. At a time when owning a racing bicycle provided an elite membership to the Bicycle Shed, Adam’s simple kind gesture of freely letting me his Italian light weight racing bicycle to get “fish and chips” from Petersfield town and to speed back to reach school before evening “Jaw” is my fond recollection at this time.
I met Adam for the last time briefly at our year’s first reunion 17th June 1995, just over 10 years ago at Bedales. We looked at each other perhaps a little more shy than at our first meeting in the school quad not such a long time ago. I remember well the stage set for our year’s reunion that began on a misty morning near the school visitor’s car park, and faces and voices appearing out of the gloom as a cast of players from the past. For a brief moment we were Old Bedalians and then as the billowing veil cleared, we were Bedalians again.
From that occasion, I have a photo taken by Quentin Phillipps near the school administration block with me standing with Adam Raven, Jason Mitchell, Richard Spearman, Jonathan Strange and Phillip De Barry. This picture captures a moment in our independent lives as Old Bedalians and assured as Bedalians is framed next to my desk in my office in Kota Kinabalu Sabah Malaysia
In his free-minded individualist paintings, Adam Raven leaves his “Work for the Weal of all”
Farewell to a good hearted kind person.