Farewell Peter Haskins

The following article is not Peter's obituary, but a piece written upon his retirement from Blundell's in 1995 that appeared in The Blundellian.

Peter HaskinsIf you can hold your own when all about you
Are wanting much, and seeking it from you;
Can answer - knowing well that many doubt you
"This thing I have not got, or cannot do";
Can deal with constant plans, and having fixed a course.
Can cope with masters' whims, which flog a willing horse.
If you can fill in every blessed minute
With some most urgent task that must be done,
Yet serve the School, and eveiybody in it, Why then, at least,
you'll be a Caterer son.

Peter Haskins was born in Wales, in Abeitillery. After school he became a student of Mining Engineering. This he abandoned to become a Fireman on the footplates of the Great Western Railway from which he, by his own admission, "got the sack" for a hilarious incident, the details of which I cannot possibly reveal! In the circumstances, he opted for a career at sea. During his service he served with HMS Illustrious, HMS Vigilant and HMS Austell Bay, in the last of which he spent some happy days in the West Indies and had the distinction of having his appendix removed in Bermuda. Such exotic experiences were followed by a spell on HMS Whitby on Fishery Patrol duties, based at Rosyth on the east coast of Scotland. Like many before him, he made periodic forrays into the neighbouring town of Dunfermline where he met a young press photographer called Pat, whom he promptly married and carried off to sunny Gibraltar where he served at HMS Rooke as a Contract Messman.

It was here that his future in catering was to begin. Whilst at Rooke he was invited to be one of the first in a newly formed Catering Branch. After a short spell at HMS Raleigh, he returned to Scotland to Faslang on the Gareloch, where he acted as Catering Officer on the submarine depot ship, Maidstone. During this time, he was responsible for the provisioning of submarines and ensuring that all was ready to put to sea, involving duties on board the submarines themselves. From there, it was on to HMS Diana in the Far East followed by HMS Tyne (and more submarines). He retired from the Royal Navy as a Chief Petty Officer in 1971 and arrived at Blundell's in November of that year. But enough of the history lesson. I give you that to lend some perspective to the career of someone who has been greatly respected and deeply loved by generations of pupils and staff alike, I can claim no credit for his appointment. It was another former sailor, my predecessor Colin Beale, who recognised Peter's obvious qualities and appointed him as Catering Manager at Blundell's. What a stroke of genius that was! By the time I arrived at the beginning of 1974, Peter was already well ensconced in his job. I came, I saw and I was impressed. At least here was an area that needed little bursarial attention. I recall going to Bursars' conferences and listening to the seductive charms of contract catering. It seemed to me that, despite the significantly increased costs involved, many Bursars had decided to adopt that route because "it got rid of the hassle of catering problems" I looked at our operation here at Blundell's and came to the conclusion that I was a very lucky chap. There was no hassle and that there was no earthly reason why I should follow the crowd.

Peter demonstrated a unique blend of grit, humour and personality which endeared him to all with whom he came in contact. But in a Caterer that is not enough. There must also be expertise, and of this there was an abundance. Peter knew, of course, all about "portion control". It was simply that he chose to interpret that technique in a way which gave satisfaction to his "customers". I know that the reputation of Blundell's with visiting teams was widespread amongst our sporting competitors. The word went out, and it always seemed to me that we were providing more than we received. That was a plus and reputation seemed more important to me than a few extra pence in the till. Peter was on the way to becoming something of a legend in the world of West Country schools.

So, the food was good. But Peter's expertise extended beyond the mere considerations of the menu. He ran a happy staff with a curious blend of dictat and compromise. He was not always his own master. There was the "healthy eating" campaign. We spoke about it together many times. How to be gastronomically correct whilst giving the First XV the sort of man-sized meal needed to fuel their endeavours. Somehow he managed to keep everyone happy.

But to Peter, most important of all were the pupils. I think it is fair to say that in a pastoral role he excelled. On those who offended he could be hard but, despite all the many frustrations he had a wonderful ability to talk to young people in their own language and not a few reading this will recall his warmth and his humanity. It is not surprising, therefore, that at every Christmas Supper he was given the sort of ovation that stems from true appreciation.

But there was yet another side to Peter. Peter the impresario. From time to time there came the "big occasions". Portion Control and Healthy Eating were consigned to the back seat. Here was an opportunity to show just what he could really do. You will travel a good way to dine as well as at the table prepared by P.S.H. Governors' lunches, VIP Dinners, OB lunches and, splendidly, the annual Club Room Dinner.

This is all too much I hear you say. Didn't he ever get it wrong? The answer is, not often. Let me leave you with a few snippets, unconnected jottings which, to those concerned, will bring back a memory and undoubtedly a smile or two. A trail of knives and forks leading to the Fives Courts (where were the spoons?), a car in the Dining Room, the juxtaposition of the Dining Hall and New Big School, the unintended double rations for the RAF Section, the Ben Nevis steaks and the officers' "comforts" and the lingering memory of Boeuf Wellington. For all these, and a great deal more, we are indebted to Peter Haskins. We didn't deserve him and we owe him a tremendous vote of thanks for a job well done, and, most importantly just for being "Peter".

We extend the warmest of good wishes to him on his retirement.