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   Jefri Ruchti


Jefri Ruchti

House: Clive/Fletcher/Junior Day
Years: 1963-1967

I arrived at Prince-o for 3rd Term 1963, the last before Independence, son of an American diplomat assigned to Nairobi. I was always a day student, first in Clive, then in Fletcher on its founding. I took O-levels in 1964, and A-levels in July 1967 immediately before leaving, having switched from the Cambridge to London syllabus. I was made prefect in Fletcher, and became first Head of House of Junior Day (Junior Fletcher) on its founding with Mr. Pullan as inaugural Housemaster.

Clearly, I was not in Kansas anymore. I had never attended a single-sex school. I had never worn a school uniform (knee sox?). I had never attended a school where physical punishment was accepted or tolerated (reform school maybe?). I had never set and waited table for hordes at lunch ("trades": winds that blow steadily north and south of the equatorial zone?). I never had to worry if I was walking on grass. I had never liked school much anyway. Now, I was not only intimidated, I was terrified. I quickly decided to be as absent, as out of the way, as invisible as possible. This would prove difficult to do.

I was a new boy, starting in the off-season. I was American. I was skinny and self conscious. I was lousy at sport, inclined to swot, imaginative, sensitive, easily intimidated. I was a round peg in a square hole, but stubborn enough (or too proud, or too stupid) not to sand off my own edges. Clearly there was a prescription for the boy I was supposed to be. I remember him from my first day: Milton. He was both Head of House in Clive and Head of School. He seemed to be at least 25, mature, dynamic, self-assured, a first in every sport even those played at the same time, admired by all, exuding confidence. I was not at all sure I wanted to emulate him, but at any event I was too scared to try. Courage was wanted, but my supply of it was limited.

There was, of course, the language issue. Beyond the usual "toe-may-toe/toe-mah-toe" business, there were words like "biro". What the heck was that? When I asked for an "eraser" on my first day at school in technical drawing, I was informed that "rubber" was the correct word (strange, I always thought a "rubber" was a condom). So silence, to the extent that it could be, seemed wise (especially in prep, in class, in chapel, in the library, in...).

Then there was the uniform. I was a skinny kid; those were baggy shorts. I realized years later they must have given me shorts intended for Bill Miller. His legs, passed down in direct line of descent from the Baobab, could have filled them and made them look smart. Samji, a prefect at the time had the appropriate (?) comment: "what is that Ruchti ... a dress?". I decided that the formal uniform grey slacks were better, my legs safely concealed. We didn't get to wear those often.

In those early days I realized there was a certain cache to being in Clive or Scott. We were housed in the main quad, not up in those remote areas to the north. That wasn't so bad. Maybe I could survive. At least I wasn't a border.

Sport. A definite problem. They seemed so defining, so important. Third term was soccer or cricket. I hadn't played either, and didn't want to start. The soccer players all seemed semi-professional: best avoided. Cricket seemed a likelier, if bizarre, alternative. Safe to say, as time went by, skiving-off games was the best athletic strategy I could devise. I began compiling my list of excuses. In this regard, the San was extremely helpful. The sympathetic nursing staff were usually ready to send me home when they saw me coming. I was such a regular and reliable customer.

Swot. It was clear to everyone: Townsend was in a league by himself; the rest of us were after the crumbs. I focused on the arts curriculum, leaving the sciences and math as peripheral as possible. Mr. Newling, liked by many for his great sense of humour and his bull terrier, never seemed to warm to me. I think he mistook my frequent absences as evidence of lack of character, rather than fine-tuned survival exercises. What I did learn came in literature classes: Messrs. Atherton, Hogge and Brown. I remember, in the Lower 6th, going slowly through Anthony & Cleopatra with Mr. Hogge. He doing most of the reading, from the individual monograph of the Arden Shakespeare, newly published. It was revealing of him and of ourselves, a new face on what the school was, or could be.

Throughout my days at school there was one oasis: the art room. The Harrington/Wilke art room actually could have been in a school, in an environment, I had previously known. It was a little chaotic; there was some ad hoc conversation and banter (tolerated). No one had anything to prove in that environment, really. Anxiety, and one's guard, could be lowered a bit.

It was a strange fate. After being in Fletcher, lying low, I was made a prefect. Me. It must have been some mistake. Or, statistically, the pool of available senior boys was shrinking? Anyway, there I was, one morning, pulled out of the ranks to stand in front of everyone in the Quad. And then, shortly thereafter: school prefect. OK, sure, it was a junior house, but I still had that crown on the sleeve of my blazer. What a cosmic joke. The invisibility strategy had gone awry, had been thwarted. I was now to be a role model. I started smoking. Fortunately, Junior Day occupied the north wing of the San, so I felt right at home. But I had to supervise and participate in games, teach soccer and hockey skills. Me? And, I had to be responsible for discipline. There was one boy who was always talking in prep. He had repeated warnings. He was the first boy I ever had to have caned. Shortly thereafter. Mr Pullan, as Housemaster, had to meet with the assembled parents of the boys of Junior Day to address the issue of "prefect brutality". My journey to the dark side was complete.

The memories of secondary school are so vivid, and so confused, are they not? In those years, no matter what school, in what place, in what time, life is anxiety and joy. Most of us pass through and emerge into the rest of our years. We are who we are, but no one passes through unscathed. During those years, there are those few friends who accept us for what we are and who do not worry about what we are not. Luckily, I had those, both at Prince-o and in the small American community in Nairobi. Bryan Norton: my peer all the way through, the essential component of my day-to-day life; my friend. Mike O'Connor, whom I last saw in London in 1967 on my way home. George Hawkins, fellow prefect in Junior Day. On the American side (and in Prince-o also): Martin Stabler, Rob Kneller, Alan Akers.

In future additions to this page, I will muse a little on names and faces my memory is now stimulated to recall. They surface now in unexpected ways and combinations, mostly with simple curiosity. For instance: what ever happened to the Manderfield twins? Strange that I should remember them; never friends.
I am grateful to Mike Rose for his detailed report in his pages; the great motorcycle era continues unabated. Bryan Norton was right: the Yamaha 250 I had (did I get it from Greg Becker?) was way to big for me, and for a first bike. I never had any trouble making it go, it was just stopping that proved (repeatedly) to be a challenge. Plus, my gifts at vehicular mechanics ranked right up there with my athletic prowess.
Some things never change. I am now up to a heavy-weigh 150 pounds, but less weight isn't so bad on older types, I find. I still say "Keen-ya", not "Ken-ya".

I hope to hear from any and all that knew me. I also encourage those who have not written for the site to do so, beyond the basics. I cannot believe that scrolling down the list of names, looking at the old pictures, does not create a cascade of memories: some pleasant, some less so. Commit them to paper. Whatever you feel, you are not alone.
Also, knowledgeable readers of my time, do not hesitate to send corrections or additions to the facts (or fictions, if you so consider them) above, so that I may incorporate them into future editions.

On leaving school in 1967, I returned to the USA and to the University of Wisconsin (Madison). I was there at the height of the radical crest during the anti-Viet Nam period. That was good. There were 15,000 women at the University. That was very good. I majored in English Literature. After receiving the BA in 1971, I did graduate work at the University of Chicago. I am an ABD (all but dissertation). About 1975 I rediscovered art, and it has really never let go. I had a twenty-year career in publishing, with Oceana Publications (now a part of Oxford University Press), a specialist in international law, just north of New York City. Since 2003 I have returned to my art exclusively.

In 1978 I married Leigh Whiteman, the love of my life and the light of my days. How is it possible that I found her? I treasure her more than words can possibly say. I love her now more than ever. How can that be, when I loved her from the first day as much as I possibly could? We have two children: a daughter, Blake (aged 26) and a son Graham (19). We have a granddaughter, Kyla, (aged 3) with a grandson Robin (newborn).

I live in Guilford, Connecticut, USA.

(Registered - 19th April 2008) (Updated - 30th July 2008)

If anyone wishes to contact Jef, please e-mail webmaster@oldcambrians.com to obtain his contact details