Katharine Jasinski
Katharine Jasinski
Old Bedalian 1978

Bedales was the backdrop to Katharine Jasinski’s childhood some time before she actually arrived at the school. Her father, William Agnew, having previously been Director of Music at Repton School, moved his family to Steep in 1967 on accepting the same role at Bedales and Katharine herself initially joined Dunannie.

“My parents decided to send me to Littlefield School in Liphook for three years, which I loved. During the holidays though, we would often go into Bedales, use the pool and so on, and I got to know some of the staff particularly well, of course, so there was always a sense of belonging there. Eventually, it was decided that I would join Bedales in Block 1, during the early days of Middle School. My parents were very friendly with the Head, Tim Slack and his wife and Kate, so I already knew their daughter, Caroline, whose year group I joined and who became my closest friend. I think that was the reason why I left Littlefields a year early, to be in the same block as her, and I was consequently very young for my year and maybe struggled a bit to find my feet to begin with.”

Music naturally played a big part in Katharine’s life at Bedales. “I always felt that I had a lot to live up to with my father as Director of Music,” she reflects. “He was a charismatic figure and I wonder now if I didn’t sit back and bask in his reflected glory to some extent! I never questioned it at the time but looking back, I probably didn’t achieve quite as much as I should or could have. The piano was my first instrument and I then wanted to learn the flute but was dissuaded by Dad as he needed more cellists in the orchestra and consequently got me to play the cello instead! I never really had my heart in it and eventually derived more pleasure and satisfaction from playing timpani and percussion in school and university orchestras. I suppose despite the positives of being a staff child there were also some disadvantages! I think there was also a minor but underlying element of anxiety present, particularly given the nature of my father’s job and the fact that there was a lot of performance involved, and I was often fearful of things going wrong! But there were of course a lot of very happy memorable moments – singing in performances of Britten’s War Requiem in Winchester Cathedral with massed joint choirs of Bedales and Winchester College, a music tour to France at the end of Block 3, Parents Day concerts in the Quad, singing the madrigal Draw on Sweet Night in the Sunday Choir on the steps of the Library on a perfect summer’s evening, and playing in performances of Phineas Finn, a musical that my father had written whilst he was at Repton School.”

I always used to stay late at school for evening activities, whether it was doing pottery or weaving with Anne Mills, or opera appreciation evenings with Cecil Irwin, and I always felt fully involved in school life


If music was central to Katharine’s extra-curricular life at Bedales, she was also filling her time with numerous other activities. “I always used to stay late at school for evening activities, whether it was doing pottery or weaving with Anne Mills, or opera appreciation evenings with Cecil Irwin, and I always felt fully involved in school life,” Katharine says. “I was very lucky that Harriet Heslop would give me the opportunity to board at Steephurst when there were spaces and I used to do this quite a bit, particularly later in my school career, and I really enjoyed that. There was always a lot going on and such a wide range of opportunities at Bedales – I think of camping trips to Salcombe in Block 2,  Dartmoor in Block 4 and the infamous potholing expedition with Don Spivey, spending ‘After O Level Week’ with five friends in the Brecon Beacons, the buzz and excitement of the annual Le Mans, heralded by those unforgettable opening bars of Also Sprach Zarathustra!”

As a gifted linguist, who studied French, English and German at A Level, it is entirely appropriate that Katharine should single out George Bird as one of her primary classroom mentors. “I had somehow managed to fail my German O Level, maybe in part due to the fact that I had spent such a large part of my O Level revision generally learning Virgil, Catullus and Pliny off by heart for fear of failing my Latin and disappointing our formidable Latin teacher, Jessie Sheeler,” she explains. “I have to point out that George had not actually taught me up to that point, but he seemed to believe in me, set me a lot of extra work over the summer holidays to make up the lost ground and was generally a huge influence on me in my sixth form years. I wouldn’t say that I was ever fully relaxed around George, mind you – he could be pretty scary! An occasion when I forgot my homework and he absolutely let rip and made me cycle home to fetch it is firmly etched in my memory! John Batstone was another who was cut from the same cloth; I wasn’t always the most confident of children and it was only later in life that I realised how great the impact of the teaching at Bedales had been on me. The introduction to a wonderfully wide range of literature, George and his German lieder, the reverence for the written word – all of those came to me from Bedales. Looking back, I can also remember the sense of mutual encouragement and respect amongst peers, as well as the relaxed easy-going relationship with most staff members, all of which I probably took for granted at the time.”

The prospect of the end of her school days filled Katharine with something approaching trepidation, as she freely admits: “I don’t think either my siblings or I wanted to leave Steep at that time,” she says. “Dad left Bedales the same year as I did and moved to France but for me, leaving and going on to Exeter University was like leaving the womb. Even our home had been a sort of extension of Bedales where Bedalians seemed to come and go freely, enjoying my mother’s flapjacks and her always warm welcome, and at least initially I was extremely homesick at Exeter.”

The feeling passed, however, aided perhaps in part by the presence of a few Old Bedalians at Exeter. “It was always good to see them around on campus and made it all seem a bit more familiar in the early days,” she says. “In the end, I had a great time studying French language and literature with Spanish as a subsidiary subject, had my year out teaching in Normandy and returned for a final year at Exeter. The big question was what I was going to do next. In 1983, there wasn’t really very much by way of careers guidance available and I had no desire either to be a teacher or a secretary, which seemed to be the default suggestion! I thought about retail management, took a job at Laura Ashley in London but was uninspired and finally decided that I needed to get back to France.”

I wasn’t always the most confident of children and it was only later in life that I realised how great the impact of the teaching at Bedales had been on me


It would prove to be a significant decision. While working with the French Travel Service in Najac in south-west France, Katharine would meet the man who would become her future husband. The die was cast. “I did go back to London to do the dreaded secretarial course which actually was rather good fun, but I missed Pierre, went back to France to be with him and spent the next few years going backwards and forwards between France and the UK, dabbling in a few different things, including setting up a photography business in Villefrance-de-Rouergue and working for the Reader’s Digest European Editorial Office in Paris,” Katharine recalls.

“Pierre and I got married in 1987 in Steep Church and then moved back to Paris, where I worked as an Executive Assistant at the International Association of Universities for five years, an NGO created after the Second World War under the auspices of Unesco to promote international cooperation and understanding amongst senior academics,” Katharine continues. “It was an interesting job, we were based at the Unesco headquarters and I enjoyed the wide range of colleagues and nationalities I interacted with there. Part of my role consisted of helping to organise conferences at universities around the world, so there was quite a bit of travelling abroad for these and it was a genuinely bilingual role that I enjoyed a lot. In hindsight, I was probably silly to have left it but I was ready for a change and we had always spoken about mixing our lives between the UK and France.”

It was back to London where Katharine started work at the American Institute for Foreign Study. “A year later, I discovered that I was pregnant and the very next day, I told my employers and immediately lost my job,” she remembers. “Looking back now it seems very shocking and it shows what a different world it was in 1993. It seemed sensible at that point to return to Paris and I settled down to raising two wonderful daughters. They were happy days, immensely fulfilling, and I still consider my children and the people they have turned out to be as my proudest achievement.”

I think my Bedales self would have been impressed and quite amazed by my ability to persevere


Katharine and Pierre would ultimately separate and in the year 2000, Katharine finally returned to the UK with her daughters. “We settled in Exmoor, where my parents were then living, and the children adjusted to the British schooling system, going to the local village school and later gaining places at local independent schools on academic grants and bursaries,” she explains. “I needed to start earning a living again, of course, and it was now that I started life with the NHS, initially working part-time in the local medical centre at Dulverton summarising and coding patients’ clinical records. The difficulty at that stage was trying to square the circle with family life; I wanted to become a midwife so I undertook an Access to Higher Education course and then enrolled on a midwifery degree in Bristol, but had to eventually pull out due to the complicated logistics and time pressures that are involved with being a working single mother.  Whilst I was totally committed to raising my children, who were my absolute priority and focus, the restrictions of single parenting and the lack of affordable and decent childcare options certainly impeded my career path!”

As an administrator, medical secretary and waiting list co-ordinator for a number of years in hospitals in Taunton, Bristol and latterly at the Royal Devon & Exeter, Katharine has had a bird’s eye view of the everyday trials and tribulations that come with working in the NHS: “I find working in a hospital strangely exciting and I am fascinated by how all the small parts of a hospital come together and function together. I love the feeling that I am, in a small way, contributing to the functioning of this big machine,” she says. “The patient contact and the sense of satisfaction one derives from helping people, often at vulnerable times in their lives, are great. I also love the sense of purpose and busy, sometimes exhausting days and I am in awe of the dedication and expertise of the clinical staff, both consultants and nurses. However, from an admin point of view, there is at times an underlying inefficiency within the system that can be frustrating.”

The last few years have been far from straightforward for Katharine but she is not one for complaining. “I think my Bedales self would have been impressed and quite amazed by my ability to persevere!” she laughs. “Without the ups and downs, I wouldn’t be the person I am today and I should in all fairness point out that I had a remarkably carefree childhood. My Bedales school days, for example, now seem to me to be this rather enchanted time. I feel quite an emotional intensity about the school. There have been a few events and reunions that I have gone back for and I should probably try to return a bit more often but maybe there is a part of me that wants to preserve all my wonderful memories of the place exactly as they are now!”

The past, then, remains a precious place to Katharine. What are her hopes for the future? “Well, I won’t be retiring any time soon but I would like to find time to discover new places, see a bit more of the world, and wouldn’t rule out living abroad again,” she says. “And if I were to meet the right person along the way to share that with then that would be a bonus.”

Katharine was interviewed in Summer 2019.