I greatly believe many of us are predestined to lead certain lives. Looking back on my time at Truro School there are many old friends who are examples of this philosophy: Berry, who was always dissecting mice, and who is now a plastic surgeon. Dean, who is synonymous in my memory with poisons and smells in Chemistry lessons – I met him years later on the Cornish Riviera train en-route to Paddington, and I learned that he was a research scientist at Porton Down. A boy who disappeared from school, who was expelled for taking and driving away cars on Wednesday afternoons and leaving them out in the countryside… I later met him at a reunion: he had returned to Truro and had bought up the local Taxi business.
But how to find such a pattern in my own life? How to link my current life with my school days?
Back then I was a late developer, with no hair on my lip and still singing treble aged 17, when all my friends had girlfriends. It was tough then, but I was ageing more slowly than my contemporaries, and now I still feel young and can dance all night at Boom trance festival in Portugal.
But Truro School…yes, 10 formative years of my life. As my peers will agree early memories become clearer as yesterday’s memories don’t stick.
I was packed off to Treliske at the age of 8; what a wonderful time we had, building camps in the woods as the poor day boys had to traipse home every day. We hunted for golf balls and sold them back to the owners. Brown shoes, black shoes, tuck, name-tags with your laundry number, long trips by a Western National bus on Sundays for cello lessons in Redruth, knowing that I had done little or no practice the week before.
The food was pretty boring; butter was unknown, not because of health reasons, more I guess because of the cost, but on Sundays a treat, a more ‘buttery’ form of margarine, but the taste was disgusting.
I remember one Christmas, returning after the holidays and proudly showing off my Mamhod toy steam engine to my friend John Sawle which had cost the grand price of 50 shillings, only to find he had bought a massive, flat-bed steam engine from the local gas works in Truro for the princely sum of 2/6 pence! John later built the Trevithick replica steam locomotive which now dangerously puffs up Camborne Hill at the Steam Engine Rally.
I remember seeing strange flickering lights in the woods from our dormitory windows after lights out, and, fearing robbers or aliens, taking the extreme decision to call the master… then so embarrassed we were to be told it was the reflection of our forbidden torches on the windows.
Then on to Main School, a popular destination for boys who had failed to pass the dreaded 11 plus exam, but who needed to get into a grammar school and whose parents could afford the fees for a second chance to give their sons a decent education.
Our year was a tough one; our group was not so well balanced: For a start, no girls; no chance to grow up seeing them as friends rather than creatures to be viewed at a distance. Who were my classmates? Well, a few like me whose parents had not had such a good education themselves, and who thought that Public School was worth the financial sacrifice they had to make. Then there were the ‘difficult’ boys, or the boys whose parents were going through divorce, (not socially acceptable back then), who were packed off to boarding school while things were sorted out. There were also boys whose parents worked overseas in Cable and Wireless, and of course the Scillonians, separated from their home by miles of stormy sea. But generally we had a great time at Main School, with dedicated teachers and good friends.
The food was still as boring as before, ‘lowlights’ being scrambled eggs served in square chunks and bacon with bristles on it, but the baked beans were the best I’ve ever tasted. We tried to improve our rations; a pot of beloved Marmite in the napkin box, and chips, (no fish), on Wednesdays in Truro. However, I took the ‘alternative food’ idea too far one day when I discovered a patch of wild garlic in a bog on an afternoon walk, and carefully smuggled it back to teatime to share with my mates, (no takers) and then in the evening finding I was an outcast because of my evil breath, given a bell, and told to intone “Unclean, unclean”.
The interim years. Well, I left Truro at 18, as I was destined to go into the family furnishing business, established in 1893 by Grandfather, and now still thriving in the 4th generation as Eastofhere in Chapel Street Penzance, run by my daughter Polly. I had a couple of years as an apprentice in Plymouth at the most prestigious furniture establishment in the South West, Charles Harding of Mutley Plain.
I was seen by the shop staff as a bit of a toff, coming from a public school and being the son of a ‘shop owner’ and I was the target for some gentle leg pulling and take downs. One memorable occasion was the annual staff party, that year held in the Art Deco hotel on Bigbury island reached by a long and winding coach trip. The culture at that time was very much a drinking one and soon the shorts were slipping down our throats. I noticed my friend Denis was being particularly generous topping up my glass! It was only after a mad dash down the cliff for a freezing dip in the sea, and a quick sober up, did I realise I was being lined up for an embarrassing situation. After that the drinks quietly ended up in the aspidistra. Back on the coach at the end of the outing, I lit up my pipe, totally allowable back then, with a foul Navy cut plug tobacco and proceeded to smoke out the entire bus of staff and their partners by way of retaliation. The coup de grace being my arrival at work the following morning on time and without a hangover.
Then to college in London before taking over the Penzance wing of Whites Furnishers, when I was 22 years old.
In my twenties I was deep into Am Dram, serious stuff, Chekhov and Shakespeare until I developed a phobia for remembering lines… and later the fun of Pantomime, following in my Dad’s footsteps as Dame and Ugly sister and then Marlene Dietrich in ‘Cabaret’.
I was married, a few times, and I’m blessed with 5 fantastic children and 5 grandchildren (so far).
Later I joined the Golowan band which leads the Penzance Festival on Mazey Day. As a cellist carrying my cello around the streets, I must have been bad, because they soon offered me the job of leading the band with a stick, top hat and whistle – a character I modelled on the New Orleans Jazz band funeral leader in ‘Live and Let Die’, a role I enjoyed for 15 years and now sadly miss.
In my Forties I got into Scuba Diving through my old friend Fred Buckingham. Penzance is at the far end of the line and a long way from the ski slopes and other adventures and I was beginning to feel hemmed in. But there’s so much pleasure on a weekend to jump in a RIB and set off round the coast to dive on shipwrecks and see the wonderful garden under the sea which requires no weeding! But also with winds, tides and often seasickness, it was quite hard-core so now just the shallow, gentle, warm water dives of the Mediterranean suffice.
Cars and motorbikes: My first vehicle was an Austin 8 ex-army staff car bought for 17 quid. My mate Graham and I drove it to Le Mans and then around the track, by mistake, the night after the race finished. It was the only car I ever sold for a profit – 55 pounds, 4 years later! Then there were the Morgans, the hand-built ash-framed sports cars; 3 of those, of which more time was spent under them than in them.
In my 50’s a holiday in Goa and adventures on Enfield motorcycles led me back to Cornwall, a nerve-wracking UK bike test, and a dangerous obsession with Norton Commando motorcycles, powerful vintage bikes, the 750cc version of which nearly killed me. On one Sunday afternoon ride around Penwith, on a ‘b’ road approaching Lands End, a moment’s lack of concentration found me sailing through the air and then reported in a 999 call as a ‘dead biker at the side of the road’.
It turned out, after a brief spell in hospital that the worst injury I had received during the accident was a nasty cut on my foot because my right boot was missing. The boot was found at the scene of the accident, jammed between my bike and the Saab I had crashed into. The police later informed me that had my boot zip had not been broken, I would not have flown free and I would have been crushed.
In 2000, heading for retirement (as I thought) I was asked to join a glacier walking holiday in Austria, but I turned the offer down on the basis that I was now getting too old and creaky. But there was a new guy in town, 3 doors down in Chapel Street, Penzance. A ‘Yogi’ had moved in, and as the old man of the Street I gave him a neighbourly knock on his door to welcome him to the street. I was sucked straight into a 6 a.m. Ashtanga yoga practice, and after a week of those I realised I was actually up for a glacier walk, and what an amazing holiday that turned out to be!
Soon afterwards, my partner at the time joined me ‘on the mat’ and the following year she took off to Goa to start a yoga centre. I retired from being an Interior Designer/shop owner and joined her there, and to avoid being a colonial-style bar propping gin drinker, I trained as a masseur; deep tissue, Ayurvedic, and body-walking style. A couple of winters later I was introduced to the life-changing techniques of floating people in warm water and built the training centre WatsuGoa.
Five years later at 63, whilst in Israel to do an advanced water-training course I met the love of my life in a water meditation, and after many emails and heart searching we decided we had to be together so we jumped off one of life’s cliffs and ended up here in the Mediterranean.
Now in my early 70’s, I find myself living on the ‘White Isle’ of Ibiza, with my wife of 6 years, running a ‘water therapy’ centre which we built ourselves, (www.watsuibiza.com), taking singles and couples into a body-temperature, pure water pool and floating them. We call it ‘Floating into Bliss’. I’m also working as a guide for ‘Walking Ibiza’ for whom I lead groups of locals and tourists through forests and down 300 meter high cliffs to secret fisherman’s coves. When I’m not working, I’m converting a 40 year-old Mercedes camper van for a trip around Europe.
I started this trip down memory lane by thinking about the paths we take in life and the idea of pre-destiny. Trying to connect my life now with my school days. And I’m not sure that I can. But I am sure that if I’d been more organised and got that bootstrap fixed that I’d now be dead. And I am sure that if I’d said ‘No!’ to my first yoga class that morning in Penzance that a different Roger White would now be somewhere living a much less energetic, much less happy life. It’s never too late to completely change paths and live with more soul, and you never know what’s going to happen next!