Cockleshells and Winkles have been the names of our two Sunday School groups. We would meet in church and ‘bowl’ down to the village hall for our activities. By ‘bowl’ I mean some of the children would run, rather too headlong at speed for my peace of mind, to be at the village hall before Vicky and me. Since the village hall has been refurbished, their conspiratorial aim has been to try to crack the four digit code for the key box. They have never managed that, but their optimism was a wonder to behold.
Our activities were on Christian themes, albeit sometimes obscure, but always we hoped they were interesting and fun. They ranged from: learning about the exterior and interior of our church, which included a climb up the winding, dusty belfry steps to see the church’s wonderful birdcage clock, to studying the parables, with children writing some fantastic modern versions, such as the good Samaritan being a rich Arab who rescues a white man who was visiting the church, and being taunted by skate boarding, stoned grungers, to the ten commandments, when we wrote our own eleventh commandment: to be stewards of the earth for future generations, to gluing cotton wool sheep in the Winkles group, to illustrate the parable of the lost sheep, to decorating Easter biscuits with so much icing in such lurid colours as could trigger a medical emergency in the less robust, to, on particularly sunny days, bouncing on the trampoline for joy. Joy being in the Bible too!
When I talk to people about being a Sunday School teacher, I am often conscious that a variety of stereotypes spring to their minds, not all voiced. As I sit writing this about Sunday School, I want to say that Vicky and I are not saintly, nor boring, nor insomniacs up early on Sunday mornings, nor in want of anything else to do, nor Bible thumping. We have just had the best of times with a lot of interesting, lively, and at times, very funny children and young people.
Numbers for Sunday school have dwindled as the children have got older and moved on, as they must. After 20 years, we don’t have children for Sunday School. In tribute to them over the years, I devised a quiz for my readers, which may be the children and young people now grown up, or mums and dads, who are in truth, more likely to be reading this in church or in the village newsletter. A year on from the quiz, I have caught up with where they are all now. It has been fantastic to hear about them and their achievements.
It feels like this is a really fitting piece of writing by which to remember Sunday School and the young people who made it such fun. I hope they enjoy reading this too.
- Who played Mary in an early Nativity play and instead of riding into Bethlehem on a donkey, was unceremoniously wheeled to the Inn in a pram with a pink plaster cast because, a director’s nightmare, she had broken her leg in the weeks before the play? Hannah Pike. Hannah went to York University and did a degree in Psychology. Hannah now works as a special needs teacher, with a lead specialism in autism, in a school in Maidenhead. In 2018, Hannah married David and they live in High Wycombe.
- Who could look angelic and was able to roll his eyes, presumably to heaven, to such effect that he made everyone laugh and so never ever had to answer the questions put to him in Sunday School? Teddy Catling. Teddy is currently studying Mechanical Engineering at Nottingham University.
- Who could carry the most number of bourbon biscuits in one hand, and later went on to ring bells for church and design our mug, celebrating a centenary of bell ringing? Fearghus Raftery. Fearghus studied Architecture at Oxford Brookes University, going on to do his Part 2 at the Architecture Association in London, after which he started working as an architect. He is currently doing his Part 3 at the Architecture Association, whilst working full time.
- Which two children did guest appearances as Mary and Joseph one year, looking so tanned, they were very convincing and where had they been? Lara and Fraser Olender. They had been in Athens. After completing her International Baccalaureate in Sydney, Lara went to Canterbury University and did a degree in French and Musical Theatre. She then worked for Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s company, the 'Really Useful Group’ for four years. She is now in Colorado for the ski season. Fraser did the European Baccalaureate at the European School, and then went to Buckingham University to study Spanish and Psychology for his degree. He works in London as a booker for Premier Model Agency and is due to be part of the crew on a yacht in the South of France this summer. So more suntan!
- Which two children played David Beckham and Ryan Giggs in the play, ‘We are clean out of Frankincense’? Robbie and Teddy Catling. So good, we could imagine them with fame and fast cars.
- Who was able to answer more questions about ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’ than anybody else, child and adult? Yasmin Gilders. Yasmin is currently studying Human, Social, and Political Science at Cambridge University. She has a special interest in working with vulnerable people. She is involved in the Cambridge Homeless Outreach Programme.
- One day when we were finishing a Sunday School, someone asked what we would be doing the next time. Who was it who got excited when I said we would be doing the parable of the ten virgins, and ran into church to tell waiting parents we were doing the ten vikings next? Joe Johnson. Joe went to Abingdon and Witney College trying out courses in Forestry and then Motor Vehicle Engineering. He now works for TNT. Joe lives with his partner, Seana, her son Aidan, who is four years old, and their daughter, Rose, who was born in September 2018. Congratulations to Joe and Seana on their lovely family.
- Who challenged the play script one year, questioning the gender of the roles given, and ended up playing a very creditable sister of the prodigal son in ‘The prodigal son comes home at Christmas’? Rose Poyser. Rose is in Year 11 in D’Overbroeck’s School and is getting ready to sit her GCSEs this summer. She is hoping to do history, economics, languages and maths at A level. She enjoys debating Brexit with friends and reading feminist authors.
- Who had lots of suggestions for roles in the play, and managed his disappointment over not being spider man? Khalil Gilders. Khalil is studying chemistry, history, and politics at A level. He is keen to study politics at University. He loves playing the piano and the guitar. He also enjoys martial arts.
- Who decided in a dress rehearsal, her role was a grumbling chambermaid in the Inn, to announce that she wouldn’t be playing that role in the play, "from now on I am going to be Barack Obama’" Emily Poyser. Emily is in Year 9 in D’Overbroeck’s School. She teaches ballet on Saturday morning and gets paid for this. She is sitting her intermediate exam soon. She has choreographed a ballet show for the Ballet school. Emily also works as a volunteer with the animals at Cogges Farm Museum.
- Who used to correct our football facts and won the competition, one particularly warm Autumn, to swat flies in the village hall and get the greatest number of blood splats on a rolled up play script? Robbie Catling. Robbie went to Warwick University to study maths. He now works in coding for an IT firm in Witney.
- Who always wanted the red felt-tip pens so much, that whenever we did colouring in, there were never any in the tub, they were all concealed about his person? Christopher Wilson. Chris did a degree in Civil Engineering at Swansea University. He now lives in London and works as a Civil Engineer. He continues with his music, he sings and plays the saxophone, piano and clarinet.
- Who was really great at learning his lines and projecting his voice as a shepherd in a play, and still looked handsome while wearing a tea towel on his head? Harry Martin. Harry is in Year 7 of Bartholomew School. He likes science, is sporty, plays basketball and rugby. He plays for Witney Rugby Club too. He is a member of Sea Scouts and loves sailing in the summer.
- Who played a very stroppy youth with a hoodie in the play ‘Excuses, Excuses, Excuses’? Joslyn Beadle. After A levels at Henry Box School, Jollie did a degree in History at Warwick University. She is now a trainee with Lloyds of London and enjoying life in the city.
- Which initially quiet boy put on a great performance as Dermot O’Leary in ‘The X Factor Final at Christmas’? Toby Thompson. Toby is settling in to Year 7 in Woodgreen School, and reserving judgement about the experience! He plays football on the wing for Ducklington football team and rugby at the Witney Rugby Club. He has played rugby for the school Year 8 team.
- Who fell to the floor in a dress rehearsal and declared, "I can’t go on", but was revived from his heap on the floor by a Mars bar and went on to do really well? Oliver Soames. Oliver is now in Year 8 of Bartholomew School. At school, he enjoys geography, ICT, and is a member of the school’s Korean Club, where he learns about the Korean culture and language. He is still an enthusiastic member of Scouts.
- Who got to sit on the font as a punk angel, who was also playing squash in European championships and secured a university place doing Geology? Julie Peachey. Julie did a degree in Geology at Royal Holloway University after which she worked on the oil rigs. If you meet Julie, ask her about the training to survive a helicopter crash, a most memorable scary account! She went on to work for a GeoTech company for a time. She is now working as a Business Manager for NeuroBio, a company looking at finding a cure for Altzheimers disease. Julie lives in Witney and is now looking to buy a house with her boyfriend.
- Who watched Rev. Stephen Bessent leaving the service before the end, as he had to go to do a service in Cogges, and commented, "see, even he thinks it is boring"? Thomas Raftery. Thomas studied English Literature at Trinity College, Dublin. He went on to work as ‘public enemy number one’ (his words) as a banker, leaving to do a law conversion course. He now works as a corporate lawyer in London.
- Who had the smallest handwriting of everyone and wore Rupert check trousers that we all admired? Eleanor Beadle. Ellie has a love of art and literature. At University, she did a Fine Arts degree, followed by an MA in Publishing. She now works as a Production Designer with the children’s book publisher, Usborne, and she is living in London.
- Who wouldn’t rehearse unless he could also commandeer the brush in the village hall and sweep the floor for the duration of every rehearsal? Toby Kneller. Toby is in his second year studying a degree in music technology and production in Devon. He loves living in Devon.
- When we learned about the Israelites in Egypt and the reaction of Moses who killed an Egyptian who struck a slave, and wrote a note as Moses for his mum, "since I don’t want to die, I am leaving. Hope to see you soon. Moses (he who has a beard)." James Wilson. James went to Plymouth University and did a degree in Economics. He works for Office Team as a Margin Manager, making sure buyers buy and sellers sell at the best prices. In 2018, he married Katie, who works as a Geography teacher, and they live in Eastleigh. They both play music.
- Who said he was practising for his part in ‘Thank you’ by eating biscuits, and showed us he could fit a whole penguin biscuit in his mouth - very impressive!? Isaac Kneller. Isaac is studying at Exeter University for a degree in the Liberal Arts with a combined Masters and a year abroad. He is specialising in foreign modern languages with English literature as his minor subject. He is currently on his year abroad in Vienna, where he works in two schools teaching English and continues to play his cello in an orchestra there.
- Who did by far the best drawings of the ten plagues of Egypt, who went on to do media studies at university - we saw her talent first? Katy Kneller. Katy studied illustration at Southampton University. She is 25 years old now and lives in Oxford in supported housing.
- Who isn’t in plays anymore, but stands in when people are sick on the day of the play, sorts out props, and helps with lost property, and only complains a bit!? Seriously... thanks. Meadhbh Raftery. Meadhbh studied Psychology at Leeds going on to work as a teacher’s assistant at a special school for autistic children. She went on to work as a therapy assistant in an adult acute stroke ward in the JR Hospital. She has just changed her job to work in adult mental health in Littlemore Hospital.
- Who stole the show as the faithful and amazingly well-behaved dog of the farmer, who was the father of the prodigal son and his sister? Luke Thompson. Luke is in Year 4 in The Blake School and looking forward to going on his first school residential trip. Luke is learning the acoustic guitar. Like his brothers, Luke plays rugby at Witney Rugby Club.
- Who came back to take the part of Mary in ‘The Nativity Goes Electronic’ saving the day and, as Mary, stood up to a pushy Sky reporter when the paparazzi gathered following news of the birth of Jesus? Beth Johnson. Beth went to Keele University and did a degree in Bio Chemistry. She now works for Audley Travel. She lives with her partner, Tom, in Madley Park. Beth makes attractive and interesting jewellery, so look out for her at the village fête and the occasional sale evening in Lymbrook Close.
- Who thinks that hell is parsnip soup, and which adult agrees with her? Emily Poyser and Rev. Nick Pike. How we ended up with this meeting of minds about parsnip soup in church eludes us all. Must have been to do with the work on the parables, which was never dull!
- Who was the most convincing, brooding Simon Cowell in the play about ‘the X Factor Final at Christmas’? Ben Thompson. Ben is in Year 9 at Woodgreen School and is about to choose his GCSE options, he thinks he will do history, French, graphics, and business studies. He plays rugby for Witney Rugby Club in a flanker position.
- Who kept calm when her wings drooped in the pulpit and went on to be a very credible angelic presence with a particularly cute picture of a lama on her jumper? Valerie Soames. Valerie is in Year 6 in Standlake School. She loves doing art and craft activities. She excels at English and creative writing.
- Who knew more about planes than any of us and came back and made a last minute appearance as the vicar in a play, saving the play on the day, and impressing Rev. Andrew Sweeney who thought he could use him as a ‘stand in’? Matthew Chirgwin. Matthew went to Surrey University to study Computer Science. He is a Software Engineer and now works as a Team Leader for IBM in Winchester. He has taken up running marathons.
As you can see, there are many great memories from Sunday school. They are truly impressive young people. Vicky and I count ourselves as lucky to have been very briefly in their lives; it has been our privilege and our pleasure. Anne Peake and Vicky Steemson