19th Old Boys Dinner
8th November 2014
Sometimes the greatest moments come along when they are least expected. Like a long-running soap, you keep coming back to meet a cast of characters that have grown loved and familiar over time yet still have the capacity for surprise.
It was a chilly and breezy November evening as we gathered in the impressive new school, Old Boys of St Ambrose and Old Girls of Loreto, and Peter Riley launched the 19th SAOBA Dinner with an impromptu failure of the lighting system. Tony Harper, still buoyant from Warrington Town’s famous FA cup glory the previous evening, said Grace.
Table drinks were ably served by a team of St Ambrose VI Formers planning their 2016 Rugby Tour to South America (Chile, Argentina and Brazil). Louise and her staff from Francs had laid on a fantastic Beef dinner with Curried Parsnip Soup starter and Apple Crumble and Crème Anglais dessert.
We found ourselves about to say farewell to John Kennedy in his role as our founding Chairman, who announced his retirement after organising an incredible 19 dinners. Surely for SAOBA this was a Ferguson-like achievement.
And then we had Bernard Stafford – apparently back from the edge of life itself. At last year’s dinner Bernard had sold his entire stock of SAOBA ties and announced his retirement as Tie Man, stating, “I’m nearly 79…if I drop dead who’s going to come round and collect the Ties?”
Sometimes words can come back to haunt a man. In January Bernard was struck down with a very serious heart attack. It was touch and go. As he described, thanks to the skilled care of the medical and nursing staff at MRI, support from family and friends, together with Bernard’s seemingly indestructible tie-selling DNA, he somehow pulled through, and after some weeks he made it home. By September he was making plans to sell a new stock of 109 more top-quality Peter Saville designer silk SAOBA ties. And now he was back, with possibly his greatest ever offer,
“One tie for £15, two for £30, or four ties for £60!”
Peter Riley expanded on the real reasons that Bernard had been able to keep prices down for nearly 20 inflationary years. “Here’s your tie from 1996, and here’s the 2014 version!”
Peter Riley introduced the headmaster Mr Michael Thompson with the story of what really happened with the Art Room water leak, and Michael showed great character and resilience in recovering from that to deliver a balanced and funny response.
The banter went on as Mark Gallimore gamely stepped up to demonstrate his illuminated buckets for possibly the last time. As Peter Riley described, Mark started off with just a cardboard crisp box way back in 1996. Since then he has carefully developed his unique Raffle and Bingo Buckets, adding electronic lighting, and reaching his peak with flashing lights a couple of years ago (possibly a world first?).
Mark, close to exhaustion after nearly 20yrs service, handed over the baton to his successor, Adam Mitcheson, our new Gamesmaster. Adam had of course had been selected by a lengthy interview process, and his contract is binding until 2032.
Adam energetically conducted the Stand Up Bingo and the Raffle with the help of new 21st century technology (a revolving drum!) and two lovely assistants (“Are you still at Loreto?”) and we saw the further development of the Riley-Mitcheson double act. Could they be the new Reeves-Mortimer of local comedy?
Lots of people won things. Marie Mitcheson (Heads and Tails), Scott Middleton (a tie!), Tony Dixon (Stand Up Bingo), Simon and Bruno Quiligotti (Ringway 4 ball), Anna Kennedy (San Carlo voucher) and John Kennedy (Roy Keane book). Quite a lot of it was generously donated or auctioned in support of the Rugby Tour. The room swelled with goodwill. When we got to the final raffle prize, a SAOBA tie, and it was Bernard Stafford’s envelope that was pulled from the drum, it brought the house down. What could anyone say? True to the night, Bernard would not accept the prize, which was raffled off at an extortionate price, again to support the tour.
John Kennedy gave his last closing address as SAOBA Chairman. He has served for the better part of 20 years energetically leading this Association and his work was recognised by a full standing ovation and resounding three cheers. Vice Chairman Kieran Charleson stepped up to receive SAOBA’s £250 donation on behalf of the Jenny Domville Appeal. He described the connection of this charity to Loreto and St Ambrose. Jenny Domville was a former pupil of Loreto who died from Blood Cancer at the age of 21, two years ago. This Appeal in her name raises money for Leukemia and Lymphoma Research. With our personal and family connections to the schools we are proud to support this work and to remember Jenny Domville’s name.
It was time for Peter Riley to close the formal proceedings and then, all too soon, it was approaching midnight. Many took their carriages home, or for those energetic few the road led on to the beckoning bright lights of Altrincham.