GUYANA: Education: Learning (or not) at Queens College – By: Geoff Burrowes

  By: Geoff Burrowes

I can still hear the roll call “Ali, Applewhaite, Barker, Beharry, Beharry, Burrowes…..” to which we each replied “Yes sir”. After these many years I can’t remember all the boys in the class.

Queen’s College logo

The classroom was brightly lit and we each sat behind our desks in neat rows facing the master who sat at a table at the front of the room under a large blackboard. The classrooms were large and pleasant with a row of windows on the North side looking over Thomas Road, providing light, breeze  and sometimes distraction, when something funny was going on outside.   

We had a number of different form masters over the years after Miss Lynette Dolphin in prep form. They included Mr Narine, a pleasant slim gentleman who rejoiced in the nickname “Cato” Mr “Breezy” Ayre, Mr Potter an older gentleman who had taught at QC for many years and who was greatly respected by the boys as was “Bogus” Pilgrim.

“Bobby” Moore who was one of my favourite teachers because he had a deep love of BG history and taught it to eager boys who had had enough of Peel, Pitt and Disraeli but still had to satisfy the English history requirements.  I was a bit of a pain in class and “Bobby” shied me with a blackboard cleaner which I managed to dodge and it squarely plunked the boy behind me. In the concern that followed my offence was fortunately forgotten.

Some of the other excellent teachers I laboured under and who taught me well in spite of my own sloth were Mr Yansen who was fondly referred to as “Yango”, a tall wide-shouldered man with a wide smile and infectious laugh, an excellent teacher who had a thorough knowledge and understanding of Creolese expressions as well as many other subjects of great interest to young boys with inquiring minds. Mr Rock, a Barbadian with a deep love for the game of cricket.  He taught us Latin and his one Achilles heel was his great love, cricket, and he could easily be led into  discussions about Ramadhin and Valentine or Christiani and Bayley by wicked boys who were not as excited as they should have been at conjugating Latin verbs.

Mr. “Eddy” London who was about five feet tall and had been a renowned cricketer in his day and who taught with flair, excitement and passion. One day he was teaching us geography. He got so excited that, although he was not a big man was very athletic and with a spring leapt up on to a desk. I will never forget, as he taught us from the desktop, that Rotterdam is one of the largest inland harbours in the world

And my classmates:

Johnny Applewhaite was a gentle giant, always by far the tallest boy in our class.

Leonard Ali, also tall but not as tall as Johnny, was always well regarded by both teachers and classmates. His dad was a butcher in La Penitence.

The Barker boys were sons of one of our chemistry teachers “Bup” Barker and were generally quiet and well behaved.

Chico Beharry and Neville Beharry were not related and also looked very different. Chico was son of Minister Edward Beharry, a Georgetown boy, very sophisticated and popular. Neville was a country boy, a good student and very pleasant in demeanour and got along well with all of his classmates.

Walter Rodney was pleasant but serious and already at that age politically conscious! Gary Ramprashad who was a natural leader and hugely popular. Freddy Ganpatsingh whose dad had a pharmacy in New Amsterdam and who was tall, handsome and well-liked, Shek (Charlie) Yong Hing, my friend, whose dad owned and ran Yong Hing’s Supermarket at Camp & Regent Streets. Orson Forbes who, though not that big, was a ferocious scrapper and not to be trifled with. Orson’s dad was a District Commissioner and they lived in Berbice, where Orson returned after school. Gordon Sankies was a big kid and though not particularly aggressive became a Judo Champion. Bertie Wills was a very pleasant young man from Plaisance, a good student who was well liked by most people in our class. Ron Sahai was quiet and friendly. Alaister Chemlo was from one of the sugar estates, I think, Diamond on the East Bank. He and I were friends for the short time he was at QC.

I mustn’t forget Cookie. His full name was Vaughn-Cooke and he and I were also friends. Winston McGowan, an intelligent, friendly boy was tall and slim and got along well with everyone There was also Morro, Morrison who should really not have been in General but was there for some reason I couldn’t understand. It might have been because he was quiet and didn’t push himself.

It’s important to understand that the boys from the countryside had to labour under adverse conditions such as no electricity and therefore had to study by candle or lamp light and those who travelled in by train each day had time constraints that we from Georgetown didn’t have to cope with. Yet they often excelled academically! They deserve  to be admired for their industry!

My parents never pushed me hard at school and since I didn’t enjoy, or indeed know how to study I was always among the bottom three or four in class. That is until the headmaster Mr. Sanger Davies summoned me into his office and told me that if I wanted to stay at QC I would have to improve my grades. Thoroughly cowed I improved my grades significantly but after that half term they dropped back to dismal and I think Sanger then pinned me as a no-hoper and didn’t exert any more energy on me. I visited his office enough any way for too many detentions in a week!

I was also struggling to make it in on time for general assembly at the beginning of the school day and generally turned into the QC driveway, out of breath, just in time for assembly. We lived halfway up Brickdam from Camp street so I rode down Brickdam with the breeze behind me, passing Brickdam School and the Cathedral on the corner of Camp and then past Bostwicks Drug Store, Lall’s Camp Street Bazaar, across from Holder’s Bakery, then past Blue Light and Searchlight Dry Goods stores and on the other side of Camp St the old fashioned Sue A Quan’s Grocery with concrete bridges over the gutters and wide awnings. Kwang Hings, Yong Hings Supermarkets and  Royal Bank on the corner of Camp and Regent Sts., Kissoons,  large and modern with the furniture displayed though large glass display windows. Pumping hard, against the stiff breeze, past Sue A Quan’s Winery at Robb St and at Church St, the squat, graceless, dark brown Water Works pumping station across the road from the large wooden Ursuline Convent Building and on the other side of Camp St,  Dr Kerry’s elegant three storied  wooden house with the jealousied windows and the balcony on the second floor of the tower.

Camp St split then with an avenue running up the middle with big spreading trees shading the avenue pavement. The breeze got stiffer at that point and we riders had to pump even harder.

Past Christ Church school, the Georgetown Club and Shanta’s on the corner of New Market St.  At Lamaha and over the Railway Line, Camp St. again became a single road, I remember there was a quaint white and red water wheel in front of the Technical Institute, then Portuguese Club with its netball court in front of its graceful white wooden building. On the West side of the road was a police inspector’s house and the tall yellow barracks of the Police and the stables of the Horse Guards. Swinging right into the driveway of QC with the tall three storied school on the left and the master’s houses on the right, sweating from the  ride and out of breath, dropping the bike in the rack and running up to the hall on the second floor, just as assembly was starting.

Assembly started with a prayer and a hymn and I remember that one of my favourites was “All things bright and beautiful.”. This was followed by the school song “Laude Gratemor Scholae”. I enjoyed this part of Assembly as I loved to sing. After this we filed out, class by class and went to our classrooms to begin the serious business of the day – shaping our young minds to meet the challenges of life.

I was not that smart but I had a smart mouth and that often landed me in detention. In QC we had a rule that if you had two detentions in the same week you had an extremely unpleasant interview in the principal’s office. I was not smart enough to avoid the second detention and had those visits more frequently than I liked. However not as often as “Cocky” Willock. I think, if there was a record for canings Cocky (Colin) would have broken it time and time again!

One of the Fourth Formers, also a habitual offender visited the principal’s office one afternoon after school and being experienced in the painful punishment, he was wearing two pairs of pants to cushion the blows. Sanger, who was also experienced, quickly realised this and said “You think you’re smart eh?” and pulled out a pair of thin gym shorts whereupon the boy said “I aint undressing before no white man” and Sanger replied  “Take these to the cloak room next door and change.” The boy did not return and when Sanger opened his office door, he found the gym shorts hanging from the door knob. The boy, who shall be nameless, became celebrated throughout the school and I’m sure whatever retribution he had to face must have seemed worthwhile!

In Prep form we were taught to sing by our Form Mistress, Lynette Dolphin. She was a sweet lady, who loved music and played the piano beautifully. Sweet as she was though she took no guff from us boys and we respected her. I enjoyed one song she taught us about regimental sepoys in India singing to their elephants. It went”Aya aya aya twist their tails and go.

Achi achi achi oyntant bachelo” It was bright and upbeat and we roared the chorus enthusiastically! We didn’t enjoy as much doleful songs like “The lonely ash grove” but we sang them anyway to please Miss Dolphin. She thought I could carry a tune well enough to sing in the school junior choir, which was conducted by the principal Mr. Sanger Davies who didn’t realise that as he led us he would spray fine spittle over the boys in the front row. We jostled to make sure we weren’t in the middle of the front row. As one of the smaller ones that’s exactly where I often ended up! We took part in some music festivals where we climbed on to the stage at the Plaza Cinema,  which, during the day was not as magical as it was at night. We did quite well but my wife Norma, whose Ursuline Convent choir also took part says it was not because we were so good but because of the influence that our principal had with the judges. That’s one of the things we agree to disagree on!

I was by no means a model student of the fabled boys school and I didn’t enjoy the learning process that much, apart from Geography, History and English Language, Literature and Art but I found out after that the grand old lady had prepared me very well for the world into which I was now embarking. Not only the scholastics but also the honour, teamwork and integrity that QC boys learnt. It’s now a co-ed school but I’m sure the girls who now learn there emerge as well prepared as we were.

“Laude gratemor scholae, nostre conditores!”

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  • Lloyd Blenman  On 03/25/2021 at 7:13 am

    Nice memories by Geoff Burrowes of QC

  • jaugustinyahoocom  On 03/25/2021 at 12:48 pm

    This is wonderful writing – the route to school, naming all the familiar stores and streets. How the sun shines on happy memories!

  • detow  On 03/25/2021 at 4:56 pm

    Geoff I was with you all the way to the end of your post but became a bit confused when you added the Latin at the end which translates (assuming that I remember my Latin) in English as ‘praise gratemor school, our founders’. Please advise who, or what is gratemor.

    • baileyff  On 03/25/2021 at 5:26 pm

      Latin Words
      Laude gratemur scholae
      Nostrae conditores:
      Disce, nam iubent, ludo
      Et labore mores.
      Corpus sic tibi sanum
      Sana mens servabit.
      Reginae Collegium
      Sic honor ditabit!

      Divae nos Victoriae
      In fide vivamus:
      Nutricem Britanniam
      Rite diligamus!
      Sic nos patriae virtus
      Discentes fovebit:
      Reginae Collegium
      Sic du florebit.

      Scire nos monet vitam
      Disciplina patrum:
      Splendide mori docent
      Nos exempla fratrum.
      Lux Dei discentium
      Corda illuminato!
      Reginae Collegium
      Ista laus ornato!

      English Words
      Praise and thank we godly men
      Who, at our foundation,
      Did decree that work and play
      Should be our salvation;
      Strive must we with hand and brain
      Ne’er the twain dissever-
      Wooing wisdom cheerily-

      Sacret text and hold theme
      (Jesu! To Thy glory!)
      Ancient lore and names of might,
      Wealth of word and story,
      Great deeds shared from age to age,
      Courage failing never.
      Link us, Britian, long to thee-

      Ruthless war on blood-soaked fields
      Claimed, afar, our brothers;
      Shrieking shell and creeping cloud
      Saw them die for others:
      Ours the guerdon and the crown
      Of their high endeavour-
      Dead, they held our lives in fee-

    • geoffburrowes  On 03/27/2021 at 12:26 pm

      I was one of the boys who led Mr Rock down the cricket pathway instead of taking Latin seriously as a result I don’t know a ‘gratemor from a gratemur’
      If you enjoyed the story I’m rewarded! I’m looking forward to meeting you!

  • wally n  On 03/25/2021 at 6:38 pm

    My buddy took me to play table tennis at the Oxford University’s gym, during the break I was reading the posters on the wall, similar stuff REMEMBER YOU ARE A MEMBER OF A DISTINGUISHED UNIVERSITY (Paraphrasing). Did it work? my friend bright as hell, but really a nice guy, maybe subliminal motivation made him so successful.
    Whatever it takes,whatever.

  • detow  On 03/25/2021 at 6:53 pm

    My failing eyes deceived me and I saw gratemor instead of gratemur.

    Thanks for a wonderful post with the names of many people, places and things in Guyana that I had forgotten after more than 60 years away.

    Not having been given the chance of attending the prestigious Queens College I was relegated to gaining my secondary education at the privately owned Guyana Education Trust and Chatham High schools. Although we lived in the city of Georgetown we were so poor that we had to do the same thing as some from rural areas, and that is to study by lamp light. My younger siblings were spared this indignity since, by the time that they arrived we, the older ones, were working and able to contribute to our house hold income.

    Life was not easy but all of our struggles paid off big time as all six of my siblings, and I fared extremely well in life after Guyana. We are also blessed with longevity as all seven are still alive and kicking, three in Canada, three in USA and one in England.

    As the Jeffersons would have said, we moved on up to the East side.

    Keep writing my friend. I will remember the coffee date once Covid has relaxed its hold on us.

  • And you have to promise to review them all

  • dazahusain  On 01/22/2022 at 3:17 pm

    What years were you at QC?

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