On Saturday 28 January 2012 Lawrence Sandston Rickard (or “Prof” as he was affectionately known) passed away, or “shuffled off this mortal coil” as he was fond of saying.
He was my Form 2 teacher at Hereworth School. The last of the dinosaurs in terms of prep-school teachers, with an incredibly gruff manner and not one to spare the rod (though I somehow managed to avoid this experience). He was very proud of the history and traditions of Hereworth School and was himself a pupil there in what must have been the 1930s.
There were a number of us who held him in high regard and to this day quote each other “Prof-isms” and recollections, a few of which I’ll share now.
My first direct encounter with Prof was after being selected for the “Colts” cricket team. Prof had a complete collection of the Wisden Cricket Almanac and an encyclopaedic knowledge of it. I learnt a couple of important things about cricket (and life) at this delicate juncture in my development.
As you commenced your run-up to bowl he would bellow “Hating the batsman’s guts, Curtis?” – “Yes, Sir!” would be the reply. And a noticeably more challenging delivery was made.
After reveling in one’s success upon hitting a six he would frequently annul any boundary made off the next ball accusing you of being “drunk” (or “staggering around with your guts hanging over your knees”). On occasion he would allow it if one made a proper cricketing stroke but by-and-large it was a reminder to play every delivery as it came and not get drunk on a single triumph.
On Losing The Ball
Prof had his name given to a small patch of native bush adjacent to his beloved Colts cricket pitch. ”The Cow Is Stuck!” was the call he made when the ball was belted over the boundary into the bush and we’d all madly run to find it.
On paying attention
He was very fond of reading to us, classics of course from Dickens, or H.H Munroe (Saki). Sometimes it was, for many 12 year olds, hard to keep attention focused on the story and he would occasionally stop to ask a question about what he was reading. I remember Russell S.R not being able to answer and Prof declared to the class “You turn all the pretty colours of the rainbow, Russell” – cruel? Probably. No wonder where I get my sarcasm from really is it.
I was caught out myself, idly balancing a piece of thistle down (a ‘fairy’) on my hand during one such reading. Prof simply stopped reading. Took his glasses off. Gave them a thorough cleaning and sat staring at me with incredulity until I apologised.
On Answering Questions
His questions often carried with them lavish prizes, none of which were ever delivered if I recall. ”For a pair of seaman’s boots” or “For a case of Glen Fiddich” or “For a complete collection of Jane’s Fighting Ships” – a little obscure admittedly but fascinating to a young boy nonetheless. A common cry was “Saddle the Horse! The innkeeper has been struck by lightning!” – to this day I have no idea what that means but it often followed a surprise correct answer from the most unlikely of boys.
If one’s attempt at answering the question (often in Latin) was wrong he was known on occasion to put on a pained expression and scrabble madly at his desk drawer, and after managing to open it, he would pull out a bottle of pills, shake some into his hand and desperately swallow them while mopping his brow with a handkerchief. Then he’d calmly ask someone else to answer.
On Being Struck With A Ball
One of my Dad’s favourite Prof stories (Arthur Curtis – he was Principal at the time) took place under the dormitory block where we often played cricket with bats and tennis balls at lunch time. Some lad did a beautiful cover drive which caught Prof fully on the back of the head as he walked past. He immediately fell to the ground and lay there motionless. A stunned silence fell over the group of boys who were sure they’d all killed Prof. When a brave soul or two managed the courage to approach the pole-axed body he immediately got up and simply walked off without saying a word.
The Upstairs Staff Room
It was a tradition passed down from old to young boys, a dare that would involve sneaking up the stairs in the old building to the upstairs staff room where certain staff had writing desks. The dare was to open the cupboard on Prof’s desk and reveal a bottle of scotch which he kept therein. To this day there’s a bottle of scotch under my desk too.
On Feeding the Axolotls
I vividly remember him coming to the “headmaster’s house” where we lived on the property, Dad answering the door and Prof asking “Is Curtis J. P in?” I crept up the stairs wondering what on earth Prof would want with me “out of hours”. He was to bestow on me a great honour. I was to feed his beloved Axolotls while he was out of town. He had supplied me with Scotch Fillet steak to feed them. It had to be cut up and waved in front of them as if it were alive and they would suddenly lurch forward and snatch it from the tongs I held.
An Unforgettable Character
He inspired in me from an early age a great passion for science, discovery and learning in general. He was in equal measures ferociously scary, and brilliantly funny. His ill-fitting, old suits and Marylebone Cricket Club tie remain etched in my memory. I was a bright kid, the kind that generally did very well under him and I learned a great deal.
I still fondly recall how he explained how I would know when I had worked out the answer to one of his puzzling questions:
“Curtis, it will hit you like a slap in the guts with a wet spade on a frosty morning.”