Arthur F. Powell OBE Memorial Celebration, 14th March 2009
Welcome by Mr Frank Powell
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. I would like to thank you all for being here this afternoon on behalf of my mother Julia and my brother, Charles and sister, Paloma, as well as my own.
We have asked you to join us here to pay tribute to my father’s memory and to celebrate his lifetime.
My father had a very varied life: he was a student of Fine Art; an accomplished pianist; a war-time pilot; an idealistic and radical undergraduate; he was an adventurer who decided to leave his country when he had enough and then, for the rest of his life, he was a teacher.
He taught English in Italy and in Spain; in classrooms and on the radio. To anonymous listeners in the Eastern Bloc and to aspiring Spanish diplomats in Madrid.
When the time came to find a secondary school for us, his children, he shunned the options available in the Madrid of the late sixties. Instead, courageously and slightly fool-hardily he chose to create his own island of freedom and excellence and named it after another island: the birth-place of modern democracy and Human Rights: Runnymede. The rest, is history.
We have invited five of the most important people in my father’s life to share their reminiscences of him with you this afternoon.
Music was my father’s great love; we have chosen some of his favourite pieces which will be played to you by members of our community: pupils, parents and teachers.
Dr Charles Powell
My father was never an easy person to fathom, and being his son I’m probably the last person who should attempt to give you an account –objective or otherwise– of what he was really like.
Nevertheless, in the few minutes available to me, I wanted to share a few thoughts with you about the things he believed in, the things he enjoyed, and the things that mattered to him most.
I have always thought of my father, first and foremost, as an intellectual. In case you think that I’m paying him a belated compliment by saying this, let me remind you that, while here on the continent of Europe this is a term that has almost exclusively positive connotations, in Britain this has hardly ever been the case, at least not amongst the general public.
Interestingly, my father didn’t do terribly well at school. (Perhaps I shouldn’t be saying this in the presence of pupils past and present, including of course his own grandchildren!) My feeling has always been that he had very little time for the subjects that made up a very traditional academic curriculum in the late 1920s or early 30s, and was always much more interested in the abstract ideas and concepts that he was only able to explore later on in life.
This probably explains why he always had a soft spot for bright Runnymedians who weren’t necessarily very successful academically: the often artistic, invariably undisciplined types who drive teachers spare but later blossom into sophisticated, worldly adults.
Like many other intellectually-inclined people, my father had a tendency to believe that knowledge is best derived from thought, rather than experience. He was the sort of person who almost prefers to read about a place, rather than actually visit it. I think this is best illustrated by his reading habits: although as a young man he consumed quite a lot of poetry (largely, I suspect, with a view to impressing possible girlfriends), in later life he mainly enjoyed works of non-fiction, and only rarely talked about the novels he had read.
Had he been able to lead a different life, my father would probably have been happy to dedicate himself to studying Philosophy. His library at home reveals his life-long interest in the history of philosophical thought, a subject he briefly taught some fortunate 6th formers at school (myself included), and in particular the study of religious beliefs. He never identified with any particular religion himself, but was always respectful of those who did, and never ceased to be intrigued by the fact that religious beliefs have inspired much of the best architecture and music ever produced by man.
My father’s undying respect for the beliefs and values of others was one of the defining features of his personality, and it explains his visceral dislike of racism, xenophobia, chauvinism and distinctions based on social status. My brother referred earlier to the notion that, in my father’s mind, Runnymede was akin to an island; an island, I would add, where children would learn to reject prejudice and intolerance.
Many people throughout the world identify these liberal values with what is best about Britain. My father fought for his country in the war, and was happy to have done so. However, I think he felt that British society in the 1950s was not quite living up to its promise, and had become somewhat drab, predictable, and even claustrophobic. This probably explains his decision to move abroad, as well as the fact that he never regarded himself as a typical ‘expatriate’; indeed he always did his best to avoid those Englishmen who live elsewhere as though they were still back at home.
Of course this is not to say that he wasn’t grateful for having been born British. To borrow a line from actor Hugh Grant in the film ‘Love actually’, how could he not be proud of all the things that this small but proud nation has given the world: “Just think of Shakespeare; Churchill; The Beatles; Sean Connery; Harry Potter; David Beckham’s right foot; David Beckham’s left foot, come to that… ”
On a more serious note…
To be honest, I think my father probably loved Italy best, and he often reminisced about his early married life there with my mother. He never forgot the view of the bay of Naples from their terrace, with the island of Ischia reflecting in the Mediterranean, and Mount Vesuvius looming menacingly in the distance.
Having said this, my father was also captivated by Spain very early on, and never ceased to admire its architecture, its landscapes, its overwhelming blue skies, its people, and its language.
As an accomplished linguist, he took great pride in his knowledge of the language and the breadth of his vocabulary. I can still picture him now, sitting next to me in the car, the last time I drove him to one of our Sunday family lunches. When we drove past a freshly white-washed wall that caught his eye, he turned to me with his eyes half-closed and whispered “impoluto” (meaning immaculate, or unblemished), as if rolling the word about on his tongue and tasting it in his mouth.
As my brother intimated earlier, my father was a man of many parts, and I have probably over-emphasized some to the detriment of others. He was always quite relaxed about these things, though, so I hope he will forgive me.
I would like to conclude with a poem by Joyce Grenfell, whose famous radio monologues my father greatly enjoyed. It’s called: Life goes on
If I should die before the rest of you,
break not a flower nor inscribe a stone
nor, when I am gone, speak in a Sunday voice
but be the usual selves that I have known.
Weep, if you must; parting is Hell
but life goes on, so sing as well
Mr Anthony Blake
It is a great honour for me to be asked to speak on behalf of Arthur’s English relatives
Four of us relatives have flown out from England to this memorial. With me are Arthur’s cousin Yvonne, my cousin Richard and my wife Marion –and we are so glad to be sharing the occasion with you.
Arthur was the youngest of three children in a family who lived at New Malden –on the outskirts of London. His father was initially a barrister –and later a Stipendiary Metropolitan Magistrate– and he had a brother –Leslie– Richard’s father– and a sister –my mother– Joan –both no longer with us.
I am indebted to Yvonne and her sister Moira for their recollections of those early years. They would spend Christmas together at Arthur’s parents’ house, and often go on holidays together –which in those days, before package holidays, meant Margate– or –if they wanted to go overseas, it was to Shanklin on the Isle of Wight. How things have changed! But above all, the cousins’ recollection is of a very happy family.
Yvonne particularly has a recollection of one Christmas when she was very small. The family wanted to create a bit of excitement for their young cousins. Arthur’s father –my grandfather– dressed up as Father Christmas and they persuaded Arthur, probably aged about 13, to dress up as a fairy. Yvonne really believed that he was one –until he picked up a poker and spoke, which broke the spell for her!
Arthur had a great love of music –something he had inherited from his mother’s side of the family. He was sufficiently enthusiastic that his father bought a grand piano –which I remember took up a big space in their house at New Malden. When his father died, he left this piano to Arthur in his will, and such were Arthur’s fond memories of this piano that he paid to have it transported to Madrid, when it would probably have been much cheaper to have bought a new one here!
His time at school was not the most successful part of Arthur’s life. My late mother, like the rest of the Powell family, was a good story teller, and I don’t know if is true that Arthur failed every exam he took - but it didn’t go well, which is maybe very surprising bearing in mind his incredible achievements since then. But I guess that even in those early days, Arthur was learning that the conventional teaching methods of the day were not necessarily the best, and he was forming his own views as to the best ways of teaching. In which case you could say his schooling was very successful!
In any case, after Tiffins, he decided that he would like to go to art school. His father was against this idea - art schools were often thought of as “dens of iniquity” –but Arthur got his Uncle Leslie, Yvonne’s father, to support him– and he was allowed to go to the Wimbledon College of Art.
The Second World War came at an important stage of Arthur’s development. He was only 15 when the war started, and although his parents’ house had an air raid shelter, his mother had great trouble keeping him inside, as he wanted to see the planes and the air raids!
And it was his love of planes that led him to volunteer to join the Air Force when he was old enough. As with many young men of that age –a rebel streak was developing– and Arthur volunteered to be a rear gunner in a bomber, which was just about the most dangerous job you could have. But mercifully they realised his potential and he was sent over the Atlantic to train, and although he was never involved in active combat, my mother told me that he was once in a plane which lost engine power, and Arthur miraculously saved it from crashing at the last moment. When I asked Arthur about this, he had no recollection. Whether it was his modesty, or my mother’s imagination, I don’t know! I suspect Arthur’s modesty.
After the war, Arthur resolved to work really hard. His rebellious phase continued, he had learned by then that languages were his forte, and he studied Russian, which was not the sort of thing that conservative British people did at the time.
It was around that time that –as a young boy– I have my first recollection of him, as a tall, bearded, blonde man –who was very handsome (or so my sister said!).
There was the question of where he should live. His father was a strong character –and did not always approve of everything that Arthur did, which I think Arthur found a bit trying. I wouldn’t say Arthur didn’t get on with his father, but I think he decided he would get on even better if they lived in different countries! He decided to work in Italy and Spain.
And so, for many of us in England –Arthur was the far off son, brother, uncle or cousin. He and Julia would come over every year to recruit, staying at the Spanish Club in London, and they would always try to see the family when they were there. And the visits were always enjoyable. Speaking as a nephew, I found that he would speak to me, not as an uncle, but as an equal. He was always interested in what we were doing.
He had a dry wit, which he inherited from his father, and which he brought out from time to time when family relationships were strained. He loved having visits from his English relatives, but he could never persuade my father to come to Spain, which made him rather sad, and my father’s excuse was that there was still a lot of England he wanted to see! And from time to time, Arthur would sidle up to me and ask “Has your father seen all of England yet?”!
One of Arthur’s qualities was his generosity. Those of us who came to Madrid were entertained most generously and unselfishly. Particularly after his retirement he gave us a lot of his time, and we were well looked after. It made us feel very humble.
He was such a modest man, too! It was only when many of us came to Madrid that we realised the enormity of what he had achieved with Julia in creating and developing the school. In England we have a joke, that behind every successful man is an astonished woman! Not so in this case. We are only too aware, as a family, that if Arthur had not met and then married Julia in the 1950’s, he would have not been able to do what he has done.
But it is as a person rather than a headmaster that his English relatives will remember him. His charm, his wit, his generosity. We shall miss him very much, and, speaking personally, I am proud to say –Arthur Powell was my uncle.
Professor Edgardo Tito Saronne
First of all, let me apologize for my English, which is not up to Runnymede standard. Moreover, I am terrified by official speeches: I will therefore simply relate informally a few episodes which concern our common friend. Nothing sad about him.
On my desk, in the house where I live, in Italy, I have three snapshots: one of Arthur Powell in a formal suit, holding his top hat in one hand and his decoration in the other hand; another photo shows Arthur shaking hands with the Queen; the third photo shows a close-up of Arthur and me, talking together and smiling. The connection among the three pictures is evident, but more than one of my visitors asked me whether I am really acquainted with Elizabeth Ⅱ!
Arthur had the opportunity to meet my first late wife a couple of times and to get to know her fairly well. Some of you may know that he had been working in Italy during several summers, planning and delivering English courses for the Italian radio broadcasting. It was during one of his visits to my country, that Laila and I met him in Genoa and he invited us to have lunch together in a small village along the coast –right on the beach. At the time, Laila and I had had some difficulties because of what I would call “induced jealousy”. We were staying with my parents, who had a foreigner as a paying guest. This young man had been courting my wife (who was an exotic beauty) in what I thought to be a rather innocent way. Besides, I blindly trusted Laila. My mother, however, thought that I should act “manly” in the Italian way: jealousy as a social duty. In order to appease my mother, I forced myself to explain the situation first to the young man and then to my wife –which created a certain tension among the three of us. Although Arthur did not know anything of all this, he immediately understood the situation and acted as a mediating angel between Laila and me. It turned out that he knew that foreign young man. A few weeks later Arthur wrote me a letter from Spain explaining that he (the young man) thought I did not care enough about my wife and he had wanted to be provocative towards me. In any case –Arthur reassured me– the young man was almost certainly gay! I believe that Arthur liked my wife very much. Recently, one of his sons reported that he saw Arthur crying only once in life: when Laila died in a car crash.
Although we had met in Naples, we actually became friends when we all (Arthur & Julia and I) moved to the north of Italy. Their first son was about two and Julia was expecting her second baby –what everybody called then “la Paloma” and turned out to be Charles! Because Julia was feeling very tired, Arthur and I went on frequent walks in the surrounding gardens with little Frank Manolo. If he fell asleep (which happened normally) we had a chance to talk about politics, philosophy and religion. I was then very shy, so it was mainly Arthur to do the talking and I used to listen and learn. At times he would talk about his own life experience. In spite of our very different social origin, I decided that he would be my living model. I admired him very much and very much wanted to be like him. I even decided that I would become a teacher of Italian abroad and I would marry a foreigner –which I did! Julia thought that it was unrealistic to start a career as a teacher of Italian abroad, but the burning desire to emulate my friend helped me. At the time I was a Catholic and a believer. Arthur made an agnostic of me. He lent me his personal copy of Bertrand Russel’s History of Western Thought. Above all, Arthur taught me to think with my own head.
My first memory of Arthur goes back to Naples, when he was at first a teacher and then the headmaster in a small school of English called the English Institute, of which his wife Julia was the secretary. He was tall, thin, light and agile. He had long thin English hair. At the time he still used to dress in a dark British-fashioned suit, completed by a waistcoat of the same type and colour. Julia was at the same time affectionate and somewhat authoritative towards him. Once –I remember– he was at the bottom of a corridor talking to some students and I was talking to Julia by the school office. For some reason she called him,“Cielo!”, and immediately he ran up to us, almost dancing and ending his run with a little slide, like boys do.
He was about as tall as I am, but in spite of that I felt as if he was much taller. It took me a long time to overcome this sort of awe I felt in relation to him –but this was my exclusive problem. He was kind and gentle, always smiling with his eyes and only slightly with his mouth.
Arthur was my teacher of English. As I said, I was very shy (I still am a bit – too late to change!). In the same classroom there was a Neapolitan young man, exuberant, manly, extroverted. He spoke English with a terrible accent and he made a lot of mistakes, but he always had an answer to any question posed by Arthur. Once I must have said I envied him. “Envy him?” said Arthur “Bold at thirty?”. At times he was lapidary. Some time later he confessed he had been attracted by my “reserved, ascetic, bearded personality” (his own words).
Arthur as a teacher was calm and pleasing, always kind in listening to questions and objections, always precise in giving answers, never abrupt or ironical. His arms were so long that he could write on the blackboard without standing up from his chair. He was so relaxed that one day his wedding ring (with which he was evidently playing) fell on the floor and rolled all over through the classroom till it stopped in the opposite corner.
Because of the respect I felt for Arthur, I would never have dared being friendly to him –or dream to be his friend– if it were not for Julia. Friendship between Julia and I was immediate, because of her being a woman, extremely friendly and frank. Also because she talks laughing, with a very pleasant Spanish accent. It was exclusively through her that Arthur and I became friends. As far as I am concerned, he was –he is– my best friend ever.
Julia was authoritative to everybody, although everybody liked her. One day she suddenly decided that I should act as a character in a short play. I was terrified at the mere idea of such a thing. Moreover, I soon discovered that my partner-to-be in the play (I should be Jack while she was Jill) was the most attractive girl in the school, a red-haired green-eyed beauty, very Neapolitan in character, cheeky and with a constant impulse to laugh at everything. Julia said I couldn’t possibly refuse. I had a try, but I was soon discouraged and practically abandoned the scene. Julia had Arthur invite me home for lunch. The play script was lying there on the sitting room table, waiting for me. Jill also came to have lunch with us. Arthur call me by Christian name for the first time and said I shouldn’t be so silly to let the play down. They were all nice to me. It was the dawn of my self-confidence and the beginning of our friendship. The play – thanks to Julia’s direction –was a success.
Together with some good results in my academic studies, my friendship with the Powells marked –as I said– the beginning of my self-confidence. I must say that thanks to them I began to grow up.
At the time Julia was expecting her first baby, Frank Manolo. I was at the church when Manolo was christened. His godfather was a Catholic Englishman of Italian origin, a very kind-hearted and cultured man. “I am sure” said Arthur “that he will never interfere with the lay education I intend to give my son… However, had he not been chosen as a godfather quite some time ago, I would have liked you to be in this role…” A couple of years later I was in Madrid the godfather of “la Paloma”, i.e. Charles Tito Powell.
I met the Powells in the late fifties. Beginning with 1960 our friendship was for the most part epistolary. (The Powells settled down in Spain and I –after Charles’ birth and christening– left for Egypt, where I spent several years.) I still have all Arthur’s letters and remember most of what I wrote to him. I remember writing once to him that I considered our lives as “moving on parallel orbits”. I should have said that I was his satellite. I wanted to be like him in everything –excepting, of course, our different nationality and social origin.
I touched this fact with my finger when I met Arthur’s father during one of my long stays in England. Strangely enough, Mr Frank Powell senior, did not intimidate me as much as did (in the beginning) his son. He was a magistrate and used to take me to court with him at King’s Cross. He had been very strict with Arthur and probably wanted to make up for this, being kind to his son’s good friend. He often invited me to lunch and once he took me home to meet his third wife. I must mention that at the time I was staying with a cockney family, some very good people and eventually friends of mine for life. When I entered the garden of Mr Powell’s house, a party was going on. Mr Powell formally introduced me to his wife and to everybody else as “Arthur’s friend”. I bowed slightly and said… “Cheerio!”
While I was in England, the Powells went to visit my family in a small town not far from Milan. Given the importance of the characters (especially Arthur, whom my mother had met in Milan and who had greatly impressed her for his distinguished look and ways), my father, who was an excellent cook, prepared for them a very special meal, starting the preparation even the day before. I had warned my family (i.e. my parents, my aunt who was living with them, my sister and her fiancee) that English people are always very punctual, so that they should make sure everything was ready in time. At one o’ clock the dinner was on the table, ready to be served, while all the family was sitting in the sittingroom, anxiously waiting for the guests. At one thirty, my father began to be nervous. No trace of the Powells. At two o’clock, my sister’s fiancee –who is very much attached to habits– began to be hungry and ate some chips and salted biscuits. My father objected to English punctuality, but my mother reminded him that Mrs. Powell was Spanish. At three o’clock a phone call came at last: the Powells had mistakenly gone to Torino (150 km from Milan), catching a fast train which did not stop in Novara (our hometown). Of course Julia blamed it all on Arthur, who did not pay attention to terrestrial events. At last, shortly past four o’clock they arrived by taxi. Arthur, all in grey with a hard grey hat, was holding Frank Manolo fast asleep in his harms. Julia was looking very pretty in a pink dress and was smiling at last. Everybody (except my sister’s fiancee who was no longer hungry) greatly enjoyed the dinner and everybody liked everybody else, although Arthur found my father “un poco pesado”.
I was back in Italy when the Powells definitely moved to Spain. Separation was sad for everybody. By the way, I had applied for a teaching job in Cairo, Egypt, and I was waiting for an answer. The perspective of a journey to the East was the only factor that soothed pain for my friends’ departure. Anyway, it was a dramatic departure. I accompanied them to the airport and tried to be useful in little menial jobs, such as seeing after the suitcases: in fact Julia, was waiting for her second baby and Arthur was quite busy with “terrestrial” worries, such as checking timetables, counting money, verify that passports were in order and the like. All of a sudden, “Alitalia” (our glorious air company) announced that the flight to Madrid was cancelled, probably because of some strike or a failure in the plane engine. Julia, who at the time, was quite depressed because of her life in Milan, fell into despair. She started crying and urging Arthur to find a solution. Arthur moved around in all directions looking very pale and quite uncertain about what to do. Finally, he went to a telephone box. I followed him and saw him placing his briefcase on the ground, then repeatedly and nervously dial a number and finally getting as angry as an Englishman can get. He then came out of the box and said triumphantly: “I got it! We are leaving in twenty minutes with British Airways!…” When they were about to pass the checkin, Arthur realized he had lost his briefcase. You can imagine Julia’s reaction. Arthur came back running and I started running behind him, without really knowing what to do. Fortunately a policeman had found the briefcase. At first, though, he refused to hand it back to Arthur, because he wanted him to identify himself first. “But my papers are in the briefcase!” said Arthur in despair. At that moment a shout came from Julia: “Cielo, the plane is leaving! Hurry-up!” The policeman then surrended. Arthur seized his briefcase and reached Julia running. We didn’t even have the time to say good-bye: Julia kept on crying. Arthur had taken little Manolo in his arms and was trying to soothe Julia. At the last minute – when they were already behind the barrier, Julia turned back and said angrily: “Maledetta Alitalia!” unwillingly confounding the name of our glorious air company with the name of my country. The policeman looked watchful. “We could have been arrested” wrote Arthur a few days later “for oltraggio alla nazione!…”
Strange as it might seem, Arthur introduced me to bullfight. Being an Italian, I was very prejudiced about it. As Julia once said, “gli italiani tengono per il toro”! Besides, my father being very enthusiastic about bullfight (he had seen illegal corridas in Biarritz and San Sebastián), I was naturally against it. Moreover, having lived in England for quite a while, I was influenced by British animalism. In 1960, while I was in Madrid waiting for Charles Powell’s birth, Arthur bought me a ticket for the bullfight. It was a horrible experience, the six bulls being mansos and the corrida being a real butchery. “Never again”, I thought. However, in that period the famous Dominguín reappeared on the bullfight scene after years of absence. In Madrid the expectation was great. Arthur, again, insisted that I should give bullfight another chance. This time what I saw was an absolute triumph: death mixed with bravery, grace and real art. Ever since, I have watched dozens of bullfights. Arthur explained me everything useful to understand it, suggested good literature about it (included Hemingway), signaled good arenas and good toreros in the surroundings. He made me into a bullfight fan. Liking or disliking the corrida might be questionable: it is probably as cruel as eating lamb or keeping a bird in a cage. What is important here is that Arthur taught me to subordinate judgement to knowledge and understanding. Most people who condemn this “Spanish cruelty” do not know anything about its meaning and rules. As I said a little while ago, Arthur taught me to think with my own head.
While I was in Prague (I believe in 1966) I offered to translate into Italian a book by Arthur concerning the theory of teaching English as a foreign language. The book, which had still no title in the original, was issued in Milan in 1967 (the year of Prague Spring) with the title Didattica della lingua inglese, Metodología dell’insegnamento linguistico. Arthur sent me a printed copy of it with the following dedication:
I hope this book is worthy of the high opinion you have of it – and thanks again for your help, not only in putting it into Italian, but encouraging me when most I needed encouragement.
Your friend, Arthur – Madrid, 1 marzo, 1967
Arthur Powell – my model – also needed encouragement! I had never thought of that, but, I guess, that was his human side. Not only he was great, but he was humble, too.
Somebody might object that, if Arthur’s life and mine were so “parallel”, I should have achieved something of what he has – namely a decoration by the Italian President if not of the Queen! True. I already mentioned that although Arthur and I were about the same size, I always felt he was about a foot taller than I am. This attitude of mine should really mean something.
There are other reasons for our difference. Up to a certain point in my life I kept on stepping in Arthur’s footprints: I became a teacher of Italian abroad and a theoretical linguist, I married a foreigner (actually I married two, one after the other), travelled the world, moved in the same environments, learned the same languages. However, our nationality and social origin were different – as it is now clear to everybody here. Also at one point the course of my life changed suddenly: my beloved Egyptian wife died in a car accident and I remained alone with my child – aged four – who had survived the crash. I had to leave the US, where I was making my career, and had to start all over again. Being forced to go back to Italy, put me on a different, oblique orbit. I ended up as a Slavonic philologist and now I have even retired. Am I trying to find excuses for my limited success? No, I am not. My life has been a success in the sense that I have always done (I am referring to my work) what I liked to do, with curiosity and passion. I still do. In this sense, Arthur has influenced me during all my life. It was him who showed me the way and convinced me that happiness is mainly doing what intrigues us, what gives us the opportunity to learn and understand more. How many times I thanked him mentally for guiding me into this direction! I still do, now, because I owe him so much.
Mr Emilio Casinello
A menudo es difícil explicar la importancia que una persona ha podido tener en la vida de cada uno. Es obvio que los que han sido alumnos de Runnymede College tienen una idea clara de por qué Arthur Powell ha podido influir en el curso de sus decisiones vitales o por qué sus consejos y presencia durante su educación guardan una importancia crítica en el aprendizaje de vivir. Pero cuando hace unas semanas Charles Powell me dijo que su padre había fallecido la forma en que me afectó y la intensidad de mi desconsuelo tenía –para mí mismo- un cierto sentido misterioso.
Con Arthur Powell me encontré cuando ambos éramos jóvenes adultos, a comienzos de los 60. Me llevaba una docena de años, y formaba pareja profesional con otra persona singular, Peter Garret, en una academia de idiomas especializada – la academia por excelencia- que preparaba a aspirantes a diplomáticos para la prueba de inglés de la otra angustiosa fiesta nacional: el intimidante rito de las oposiciones. En el imaginario popular de la época, todos los ingleses –en la España de aquellos años, encerrada, castiza, provinciana, aún sin orear–, todos, eran especiales, pero, parafraseando a Orwell, unos eran más especiales que otros. En aquellas clases, en Hileras 4, en aulas estrechas y de marco general surrealista –impuesto por la irracional fórmula de un concurso que pretendía eliminar antes que escoger, y donde podía ser más importante el vocabulario exótico que la sintaxis, Powell se acercaba a sus alumnos desde una cordialidad retenida, muy anglosajona, sin énfasis innecesarios, pero que transparentaba genuino interés humano, arropado por un suave sentido del humor, nunca hiriente en las correcciones de los errores de aquellas tortuosas traducciones inversas.
Yo estaba en una situación fuera de lo común, recién llegado a Madrid de un largo exilio mexicano. Mis posibilidades de ingresar en uno de los cuerpos superiores de la Administración española eran más que exiguas, dada la inclemencia de la época, al ser hijo de socialista cuyo padre aún tenía prohibido pisar tierra española. Creí detectar en Arthur Powell una cierta simpatía subterránea, y un punto de compasión por quien tanto se esforzaba por aprovechar sus muy pedagógicos consejos y lecciones. Iniciada una cierta familiaridad, llegué a comentar que los rencores de los pequeños pueblos –por los que negaban la entrada a mi padre– podían ser desmesurados y debí mencionar que ese pueblo manchego, donde yo había nacido, era Socuéllamos. El asombro de la coincidencia fue mutuo: que Julia, su esposa, fuera de ese mismo Socuéllamos –un pueblo improbable– reforzó una complicidad previa entre un liberal inglés expatriado –culto, de una ironía infaliblemente afable– y un hijo del exilio español. Mi reconocimiento por aquella cordialidad y la confianza en mi mismo que aquella cercanía me inspiró, no tiene fecha de caducidad ni de vencimiento. Puede en parte explicar que persistiera en el empeño y que, contra todo pronóstico, sacara las oposiciones. Por cierto, en compañía de otros dos alumnos de Powell que llegarían a ser Ministros de Exteriores, y que luego tuvieron y tienen hijos y nietos en este Colegio.
En todo caso es un hecho que la buena nota en idiomas promedió para evitar mi descalabro y explicar mi éxito. Así, entré en una carrera que tiene una dosis elevada de costes ocultos, entre otros su naturaleza nómada y errabunda. Y así, inevitablemente, dejamos de vernos cuando yo desaparecí de Madrid destinado a escenarios africanos. Justo cuando Arthur Powell, con Julia, fundaban Runnymede. Me llegaron noticias primero a Addis Abeba, después a Dar es Salaam, de amigos que llevaban sus hijos al Runnymede, y yo me preguntaba como era posible la hazaña precursora de hacer funcionar un colegio laico, anglófono y liberal, categorías las tres pecaminosas –en distinto grado, pero pecaminosas– en la España de aquellos años. La única explicación acertada parece residir en que ya en esos momentos la dictadura, como aseguraba un corresponsal del New York Times, estaba templada por la anarquía.
No voy a fingir mi conocimiento del Runnymede. Pero sí sé, habiendo conocido a Arthur y Julia Powell, que este Colegio, relacionado subrepticiamente con la Carta Magna (los censores de las dictaduras desprecian lo que ignoran –que en buena hora desconocen), conecta con la pedagogía y métodos de la Institución Libre de Enseñanza, y que – como la Institución – representa una reforma imaginativa y creativa de la enseñanza, libre de dogmas y rebelde ante las imposiciones de los poderes eclesiásticos y políticos. Cumplieron así los Powell en la educación una función de magisterio similar a los hispanistas, anticipándose a una demanda social que hasta entonces se desconocía a sí misma. En aquellos últimos años de los 60 una legión de Powells no hubiera estado nunca de más. Me alegro muy sinceramente de que la estirpe –sus hijos Frank, Charles, Paloma y sus nietos, una combinación de ADNs manchegos y británicos que a la vista está que ha dado excelentes resultados– continúe entre nosotros.
Estos paralelismos con la Institución Libre de Enseñanza, que representó un soplo fresco en la pedagogía y la educación de los españoles de finales del XIX y principios del XX, corriente y libertades que truncó la tragedia del 36, es una parte de las conversaciones que se quedaron pendientes –esta vez para siempre– con Arthur Powell. Me doy cuenta ahora que ese reencuentro se fue posponiendo por culpa de una ficción en la que fui a dar, convencido que de alguna forma mantenía la comunicación con el padre –mi maestro de hacía cuatro décadas– a través de su hijo, al coincidir con frecuencia en escenarios madrileños comunes: Charles desde el Real Instituto Elcano, yo desde una inesperada segunda ocupación laboral en el Centro Internacional de Toledo para la Paz.
Llega un momento en la vida en que los años no se cuentan de más en más, sino de menos en menos; cuando los días antes que agregarse se descuentan. Llega un tiempo en que uno es cada vez más lo que ha sido. Y uno ha sido lo que ha hecho. Y es entonces cuando con insalvable frecuencia se hace balance y se tiene conciencia–inevitablemente melancólica, a menudo dolorosa– de lo que no se ha hecho, de lo que se ha quedado sin hacer. Permítanme una cita. Decía Tierno Galván, un viejo profesor senequista reencarnado en Alcalde madrileño, que hay recuerdos de decepción y recuerdos de esperanza; de los recuerdos de decepción tendemos a olvidarnos; de los de esperanza tendemos a traerlos a nosotros y actualizarlos. El recuerdo y la memoria de Arthur Powell tiene hoy para mí un inesperado, indescriptible influjo de esperanza. No puede haber mejor legado ni mejor regalo, y es consolador que de una ausencia pueda surgir algo valioso. Influjo que en la más modesta de las medidas espero poder compartir con sus amigos, con la comunidad de todos sus discípulos y alumnos de este Runnymede, y –si ellos me lo permiten– con Julia y con todos sus hijos y nietos. A ellos mi agradecimiento por haberme invitado a estar hoy aquí y permitirme añorar en voz alta aquellos tiempos pasados con alguien tan único y especial como Arthur Powell. Gracias, de verdad.
Mr John Cabrera
One Saturday morning, forty years ago, I was chatting, as I often did, with Arthur (Mr Powell, as he then was to me), at El Trébol –an equestrian centre. At some point, Arthur said to me, a propos of nothing, You know, Lord Palmerston (a nineteenth century British Prime Minister), once said, ‘The Schleswig-Holstein question is so complicated, only three men in Europe have ever understood it. One was Prince Albert, who is dead. The second was a German professor who became mad. I am the third and I have forgotten all about it.’
He was always like that. Full of ideas or stories, sometimes humorous, sometimes serious, but always educational. I can remember many of the moments I first learnt something from Mr Powell. Even something as simple as the correct way to spell a particular word. I can remember specific instances, what Arthur was wearing, where we were standing or sitting, often over lunch with the Powell family.
Arthur told me that, as a young man, he had been a communist, but his thinking evolved and he became greatly impressed and persuaded by the work of John Maynard Keynes, in resolving the Great Depression of the 1930s. And, in my last conversation with Arthur, over the phone, last December, I said to him that, once again, the world was turning to his great hero for a solution to yet another economic catastrophe. Arthur was pleased to hear that and I think it is fitting that, at the time of his passing, the beliefs Arthur shared with Keynes may once again rescue us all.
Arthur knew many things. He was the wisest man I ever knew. He had a tremendous sense of fun. He was a superb pianist. When we were at José Rodríguez Pinilla, Runnymede’s very first location, I have fond memories of hearing Arthur’s playing cascading down the stairwell. It was often Chopin’s Funeral March and it lent an eerie atmosphere to the school. But, Arthur also had a light touch. He once taught me the words to a Frank Sinatra song, “I couldn’t sleep a wink last night”. Don’t worry; I’m not going to sing it.
Moving to Runnymede was an initially painful transition for me. I had previously spent five years at the American School of Madrid and had, at least culturally, become very American. British ways seemed alien to me. But Arthur and Julia understood this. And, with love, they guided me through my three years at Runnymede. Their love has sustained me all my life. I return that love in equal measure. And, I am not alone. All of us here are bonded together by love.
Life will never be the same again. I miss Arthur more than I can express.
Some of you may remember a show, we put on one Christmas. The show was a review and we struggled to find a name for it. Arthur came to the rescue and called it, “The Runnymede Revels”. You can see the words to the Runnymede Revels song on the school’s website. And, don’t worry, I am not going to sing that either.
However, as my last gift to Arthur, I want to conclude with some of Prospero’s lines from “The Tempest”.
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.