Monday, 3 February 2020
Headmaster's Blog #50
I have been looking out for glimmers of spring, or more accurately, evidence that the winter is coming to an end. Walking between the two games of football yesterday afternoon on the lower pitch by the back drive and the Swimming Pool pitch, it was lovely to see the bright, white strikes of snow drops. However, I concluded that these weren’t glimmers of Spring, rather a beautiful and extreme element of the washed out palette of the winter, and this winter in particular. Thank goodness for some snow drops, but is white a colour? That said, on Saturday it was wonderful to see some blue sky and a level of light absent for the last few months, but it came with a certain rasp and edge that did not suggest that the birds and buds should stir their stumps. Roll on something new in the seasons.
This is, I am conscious, rather a down beat start to a blog, and I cannot pretend that personally I am not feeling fidgety and a bit bored, and dare I say it, slightly irritable, or at least, impatient. Luckily, and this has been true throughout my time at Abberley, the children in the school seem impervious to the constraints of the weather or the wider context of the geo-political machinations to which we are subject. They live much more in the moment and take their pleasures from what is in front of them. There is much to be said for this philosophy, though I don’t suppose for one moment that they do it consciously. Still, they can teach us much – ‘Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings..’
It has been a real treat to see the pupils as thoroughly involved in school life as ever. This was especially true at the Removes and Shells Speech Competition final the week before last. The range of subjects and the quality of their delivery was excellent. I learnt a great deal I had previously no idea about during that 45 minutes – I love originality and believe we need to give more opportunities to pupils to demonstrate theirs and cultivate it; the DT Workshop and the Art Room are just two obvious places here at school were this is plain to see, but the woods, the IT Rooms and creative writing lessons offer scope too.
I have also been loving the football and netball on display this term. Both of these are great games to watch when played quickly. This takes skill and confidence, but when this is the case it is exciting to observe. The mud notwithstanding there have been some excellent games both at Colts and U13 level. Goal-keepers are a tremendous breed of person – all courage and unafraid to be different, right down to the shirt they are wearing. I know that football gets a bad press, but it is one of the few team games we play that is not dominated by its laws or rules. The Premier League is doing its best to defy this fact by the introduction of VAR, but compared to rugby and cricket, where the most important person on the pitch is undeniably the referee or umpire, rather than the fly half or strike bowler, football is a game which is free-flowing and a canvas for the players to demonstrate their skill unchecked by too many subjective judgements. In fact, I have developed my own conspiracy theory recently, which is that VAR has been introduced, not to eradicate poor or difficult refereeing decisions, but to make the business of watching and following football more entertaining. After all, premier league football is about entertainment and is a commercial exercise. VAR on one level has been a farce, but on another, it has given the pundits and the audience something new to debate, has added a new element of tension, an extra factor to enrage or delight. I honestly think that someone somewhere has deliberately looked at the extra dimension technology has brought to test match cricket and consciously brought it into football to improve the entertainment levels.
This begs the question of why we do sport at school, especially prep school. Is it to entertain the parents, our customers? I am sure it didn’t start that way. It was about giving the daily routine of the pupils some variety, encouraging fitness and health, promoting team work and the ability to follow rules and judgements that one might not always agree with, giving opportunities for developing leadership and resilience. But in those days, as I mused on the edge of the 3rd XI pitch yesterday with a parent there supporting her son, parents didn’t really come to watch games; just a thought.
I had to miss the concert on Friday evening, much to my disappointment. I heard that it was fabulous, with many individual performances that demonstrated a depth of talent one doesn’t expect at this age. What is more important in life than the creative process? It seems to have an intrinsic worth lacking in most other activities. Well done to those performers and those who have worked with them to get them to that point.
The other feature of the last couple of weeks has been Corona virus. I think that needs a blog (a bug blog) all to itself. I will restrict myself to saying that it has ballooned as an issue in no time at all and I fear that we are not near the end of that story yet.
We have just had an uplifting Candlemas service in Chapel and how well timed! The choir and music was outstanding and just the antidote to this dark and damp winter that I needed. It has made me think that perhaps a long, gloomy autumn and winter has been ‘normal’ historically and that the Christian church recognised the need for some spiritual optimism and light-heavy symbolism. It has certainly worked with me. Chapel looked simply beautiful as it was lit with candles (real) and an upbeat service was concluded with the blessing of candles, which were then lit and spread among the congregation. Thanks too to Paul Kilbride, the head of Old Swinford Hospital, for coming to give the address, who articulately elaborated the message of light: a cleansing light of hope amid the darkness, that shines through above all.