Lectures at School
One of the best things in the senior school was the fortnightly lecture in the hall. Sometimes the speaker was one of the staff. More often, it was a visitor with a special subject; all kinds of windows were opened for us. We had Stephen Jack, a BBC repertory actor. He had tremendous presence, and fascinated us with a variety of dialects and readings in which he brought out to the full the magic of words. A man from the Smoke Abatement Society, talking of how the smoke and fog and grime that we took for granted in cities could be made to vanish - we saw his vision come true thirty years later. And a little bubbling man with a goatee beard, from the Esperanto Association: he made it sound easy and delightful, and a lot of us bought his threepenny books on the international language.
The lecture, which we all took most seriously, was the one on modern warfare. The prospect of the next war was every bit as terrifying as it is today. We were told about poison gas, which the Italians had already used in their war in Abyssinia, and the destructive power of high explosive bombs. The speaker described protective measures, but we had no difficulty in imagining cities devastated by aerial war. About the same time, the cinemas showed H.G.Wells's Things to Come: civilisation itself all but destroyed by these kinds of weapons. It was 1936 or -37, and the war was only three years away.