Memories of the Early Years of Saturday School

By Diana Himsworth

A year after I joined the Philosophy School in Durban, Lawrence and Margaret Stretton established a Saturday School for children between the age of 4 – 12.

My own children attended, and I offered to assist.

My duties were to put out chairs, count pencils, tidy books and at exactly 10 am to serve tea, fruit juice and home made biscuits.

There was supposed to be a roster for baking biscuits but my name never seemed to budge from the top of the list!
I got very good at biscuit baking!

The tutors were from the Senior Group. They all gave unstintingly of their time, love and knowledge; and introduced the children to the finest art, calligraphy, Sanskrit, singing songs of praise, geometry and age appropriate philosophy material.

Most importantly the children were brought to a point of stillness throughout the morning, as a tool for life, and as a reminder of their own divinity;
and, just as importantly, they learnt to serve with dignity, in small ways, as the years rolled by.

I  remember reading to the younger children from a book called ‘The 5 sons of King Pandu’ – at the end of the morning. It was a glorious book.

A highlight of the Saturday School year was a weekend away – either to Umgeni Valley Ranch in Howick, or the Kamberg Valley.

The latter was facilitated by a friend Felicity who ensured that no child got lost whilst we walked in the mountains;  who ensured that the children swam in the safest part of the river; who found us all a place to sleep in a house built of straw – carefully spelling out the hazards of fire;  and who introduced us to a cave full of astonishing bushman paintings (see photograph) as well as the Eland who were out and about in abundance.

And I remember so clearly that every parent would be waiting outside 200 Montpelier Road to receive their child/children upon our return… was EVER late.

Another highlight was Christmastime. Leonie Downing, our music teacher, put a lot of thought into this celebration. The children sang like angels – which always surprised the parents, and touched their hearts.

And it wasn’t only the parents who were surprised when Lester Allen appeared out of the upstairs window at tea time dressed in a Santa suit, armed with a bag of gifts; who walked confidently down a sloping roof, effortlessly climbed onto a ladder waving at the children as he descended –  with his HO HO HO never faltering.

The weather was always beautiful on this day.

As an aside…..
Lawrence, Margaret and Erica Allen have journeyed on; Leonie is now well into her her 90’s – living near family in JHB.

Lester and I find ourselves in the same retirement hotel. We wave to each other at mealtimes – very strict Covid rules in place at this time.

Felicity remains a VERY good friend. She still flies her hot air balloon whenever possible – and repairs others;

The children who formed the original group are now in their 40’s and 50’s. Many remain in contact with one another.

Some are joined at the hip!!