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Image by Acuration on Wikimedia CommonsIn my last post I enthused about Peter Parker’s 1986 book – “The Old Lie” – the subject of which is the generation of young men who left England’s public schools to fight – and in many cases to die – in what became known in its immediate aftermath as ‘The Great War‘.

Parker’s thesis is that in great part the nation’s apparent excess of enthusiasm to go to war in Europe in the early part of the twentieth century arose from illusions whose roots lay the attitudes emanating from England’s great public schools. To understand why this should be the case he chooses (as might we also) to look back into the nineteenth century to determine how it was that these schools came to embody the ethos and ideals whence such notions arose.

Of the drivers for the widespread reform of the public schools that was effected during the nineteenth century two in particular are pertinent:

The first such was the influence on these schools of Thomas Arnold – head master of Rugby School from 1824 to 1841. Arnold’s avowed aim – of producing a “school of Christian gentlemen” – was to be achieved by the inculcation of his values of piety, discipline and high-mindedness into an elite coterie of upper school boys (Arnold has frequently been credited with the invention of the prefectorial system) who would then act as his instrument in shaping the younger boys, for whom Arnold personally had little time. So successful was this approach that as the ex-members of his Rugby elites spread out into the world (along with acolytes amongst the Rugby masters who subsequently applied for posts elsewhere) other schools rapidly adopted Arnold’s aims and methods.

The second driver was the Victorian policy of expansionism. As the Empire grew so did the need for the ‘right sort of chap‘ to enter the nation’s service in the administration of its far-flung territories. This (along with a slowly increasing militarism in the public schools which eventually found an echo in the extension of the Officers’ Training Corp (OTC) thereto) led to the espousal of values that promoted both a local and national patriotism – for house, school and country (in that order!).

It is perhaps in the nature of such establishments that these new values (new at least to the public schools!) were quickly subsumed in the mystique and self-mythologising which has long been their stock in trade – much of it based on Classical virtues and ideals (remembering of course that for the longest time such schools taught little other than the classics!). For the young adults in the sixth forms of these schools the notions of ‘good form’,’ playing the game’, ‘keeping a stiff upper lip’ and so forth became the mark of the man. By the time the continent slid inexorably into the cataclysm that was the First World War a generation of such young Christian gentlemen were eager to put their new-found values – and themselves – to the test… in the service of their (house, school and) country (still in that order!).

To understand how it was that influence of these developments within elite institutions spilled over into the outside world – touching those for whom an education at such an establishment was never an option – it must be remembered that the social structure of nineteenth century Britain was utterly hierarchical. Those in positions of influence and power still came largely from the upper classes that the public schools had been created to serve. Young boys of middle and working classes were encouraged to follow the example of their ‘betters; with the public school ideal being promoted as the quintessence. ‘The ‘school novel’ became a successful and popular genre and glowing articles in periodicals aimed at young men espoused the values and virtues of public school heroes much as did later ‘comics’ with sportsmen, explorers and astronauts.

The social hierarchy naturally extended into the armed forces. Officers came from privileged backgrounds – enlisted men did not. Though there might be a germ of truth in the widely held critique of the British infantry as being “Lions led by donkeys” (sent to their deaths by incompetent and indifferent leaders) and it is certainly true that some of those in positions of command did remain safely many miles behind the front lines, this was certainly not the case for the junior officers who led men on the ground.

Parker makes the chilling point that whereas the mortality rate for all Britons involved in the conflict was a little under 12%, for public school educated officers it was more than 17%. The eager young subalterns (armed only with a service revolver and wearing a distinctive uniform) leading their troops over the top presented all to easy a target for the German snipers, who were well aware that without the leadership of their officers the British infantry was literally headless.

At this remove we can but study the histories; or perhaps more appropriately to read the poetry, written by the young men themselves once disillusionment set in as the conflict progressed and the extent of the lie became apparent.

Many of these young men, however, went to their tragic deaths with no opportunity to gain such enlightenment.

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Image by Roger McLassus from Wikimedia CommonsI have recently finished reading Peter Parker’s 1987 book, ‘The Old Lie‘ – which is helpfully subtitled ‘The Great War and the Public School Ethos‘. I came to it – as happens with many of the tomes to which I am drawn – through a reference in another book, though I can no longer recall the details of that volume nor the context in which it referred to Peter Parker’s book.

For those perhaps unfamiliar – should such there yet be – the title refers to Wilfred Owen’s first world war poem, ‘Dulce et Decorum Est‘ – which ends:

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori
.”

The Latin quote which Owen brands ‘The old lie‘ is by the Roman poet, Horace, and translates thus:

It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country

It is necessary also to understand that the public schools of the subtitle are those of England and Wales, which are pretty much the antithesis of public schools anywhere else in the world. As Wikipedia informs us:

A public school in England and Wales is an older, student selective, fee-paying independent secondary school which caters primarily for children aged between 11 or 13 and 18. The term “public” should not be misunderstood to mean that these are public sector schools: they are in fact private sector. Traditionally, public schools were all-male boarding schools, although most now allow day pupils, and many have become either partially or fully co-educational.

Public schools emerged from charity schools established to educate poor scholars, the term “public” being used to indicate that access to them was not restricted on the basis of religion, occupation, or home location, and that they were subject to public management or control,in contrast to private schools which were run for the personal profit of the proprietors.

The Clarendon Commission of 1861 – a Royal Commission set up to investigate the state of the nine leading public schools in England – concerned itself with seven boarding schools (Eton, Charterhouse, Harrow, Rugby, Shrewsbury, Westminster and Winchester) and two day schools (St Paul’s and Merchant Taylors’). The ‘Public Schools Yearbook’ was published for the first time in 1889 – listing 30 schools – and by 1902 the publication further included all schools that were members of the Head Masters’ Conference (HMC).

Given that to obtain a commission in the armed forces at the turn of the twentieth century it was necessary to be wealthy, to be well educated and to come from the ‘right’ background it is little surprise that the great majority of the junior officers in the service at the start of the war had been educated in these schools. As the war progressed many more of them joined up directly from school and, even when the numbers required for the ever swelling force argued a widening of the constituency, this was achieved by offering ‘temporary’ commissions (for the duration of the war only) to those from the middle classes with grammar and independent school backgrounds.

The eagerness with which many Britons rushed to war in 1914 is widely recognised, and perhaps none were keener than those who had recently left – or were about to leave – England’s public schools. Even as the war progressed and the full horror of modern mechanical warfare became apparent there was no shortage of young men who believed that this moment in history was just that for which they had been born, raised and educated.

Just why these young men should have been so intoxicated by this zeal to serve and even, perchance, to die for their country is the subject of Peter Parker’s book. I will delve further there-into in a subsequent post.

My particular interest in this subject? I spent greater part of the last two decades working for two of the schools listed above and have many colleagues and friends who gave their service to the others.

 

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Image by MykReeve on Wikimedia CommonsThe weekend just passed saw the occasion of the one hundred and sixty third University Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge on the Tideway in London. Long having been a follower of the event (at which for entirely spurious reasons I always cheer for Oxford) this year’s late start – determined naturally by the tides – meant that I was able to watch the BBC coverage of the race live from the other side of the world. It was a good tight race which Oxford deservedly won, but they were pushed all the way by the heavier Cambridge crew.

I must confess to a twinge of nostalgia whilst viewing the race. The school by which I was employed immediately prior to retirement lies on the banks of the Thames on the Surrey side of the boat race course. Reference thereto is made habitually during the BBC race commentary, particularly in years in which some alumnus of the establishment is himself taking part in the contest.

The TV coverage this time around afforded a fleeting glance of the ongoing building works at the School, showing it already to have been transformed from the place that I knew to somewhere considerably more remote. Such things are – of course – ever thus…

The best way to watch the Boat Race – by the by – is probably by staying at home and following the TV coverage. An event that takes place at reasonably high speed over a four mile course gives little opportunity for involvement on the part of the spectators who are actually present – and unless they have had the foresight to have provided themselves with some means of following the commentary (by radio or on the InterWebNet) they stand little chance of knowing what transpires whilst the competitors are out of their sight.

Those of good fortune might find themselves invited to a gathering in one of the buildings that flank the river. Should the hosts have provided large screen TVs, a copious supply of ‘Harry Champers‘ and what Canadians call ‘Appies‘, one can amuse oneself by getting gently plastered whilst following the build up to the main event – rush out onto the balcony to watch the eights fly past – then back in again to see how it all turns out in the end.

My best viewing experience – however – came about back in the late 80s through having a dear friend whose sister was that year the cox of the Oxford boat. My friend – being a lady of ferociously single mind – determined that we would watch the race from beyond the finish line – in the boathouse at which the Oxford crew would disembark after the event. She swept past the security proclaiming that she was the cox’s sister and we camp-followers stumbled along behind crying “We’re with her…!”. We watched on the big screen as our friend’s equally ferocious sister bullied the Cambridge cox out of the race before rushing down to the foreshore to cheer crew and cox as they landed in triumph.

Happy days!

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Free image from PexelsThose familiar with my oeuvre may perhaps be accustomed to my occasion panegyrics in praise of one or other of the BBC’s splendid drama productions – ‘Parade’s End‘ back in 2012 for example – or the more recent ‘River‘ of last year. Should you be one such you may be wondering (if you have nothing considerably better to do with your time) why I have not likewise registered my approval of the wondrous adaptation of John Le Carré’s ‘The Night Manager‘ which approaches its culmination this Easter weekend on BBC1.

I has indeed been remiss of me not so to do.

It would be fair to say that the show is in need of no such puffery from me or – apparently – from anyone else. Viewing figures started high and went up from there. This is one of those occasions on which both the BBC and the viewing public get it splendidly right. This is one classy production – based on a typically strong Le Carré novel but given an update and polish that not only takes nothing away (something of a rarity in itself) but in fact adds quite considerably.

Money has clearly been spent on this Anglo/American co-production – and spent in a way that makes this viewer at any rate purr with pleasure. The writing is precise and spare, the direction and camerawork would not be out of place on the big screen and the acting is sublime.

There is no getting away from the fact that the English public school thespist ‘mafia’ – out here yet again in force in the shape of not one but two Old Etonians – currently appears to pretty much have the monopoly on the cream of the TV and film roles going. Many commentators see Tom Hiddleston’s expertly judged performance as the brooding hero Jonathan Pine as nothing less than a Bond audition. He is – however – given a serious run for his money by Hugh Laurie’s ‘worst man in the world’ – Richard Onslow Roper – from whom it is difficult to drag one’s gaze. Add the wonderful Tom Hollander and Olivia Coleman to the mix and one is blessed with a heady brew of a cast.

It can only be a sad indictment of the failure to invest adequately in the state secondary education sector in the UK – not to mention the ideological interference in the running thereof – that so many of the new breed of actors have as their backgrounds the rarefied atmosphere of the public (UK sense here) schools. Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Harry Lloyd, Rory Kinnear, Henry Lloyd-Hughes, Benedict Cumberbatch, Damian Lewis, Dominic West, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rosamund Pike, Rebecca Hall, Emily Blunt… the list goes on. Of course these schools have wonderful facilities and can recruit teaching staff from the top drawer, but there is more to it than that. Whatever the reason, the top independent schools in the UK (as most likely in Canada and elsewhere also) ascribe an importance to the arts that is no longer the case in other parts of the ‘system’.

Flame off!

Anyway – though it may seem a little late to be recommending ‘The Night Manager‘ at this juncture do remember that it is an Anglo/American production that has to date been only seen in the UK. It will doubtless be appearing on a streaming service near you ere long.

Don’t miss it!

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ADN-ZB Mittelstädt 19.8.82 Berlin: DDR-Doppelvierer im Training für die Weltmeisterschaft im Rudern- Als Titelverteidiger sitzen erneut im Boot Schlagmann Martin Winter (vorn), Uwe Heppner (dahinter) und Karl-Heinz Buss:Ert (hinten). Neu hinzugekommen ist Uwe Mund (3. v. vorn). Achtung! Bitte offizielle Nominierung am 20.8.82 beachten!Jolly boating weather,
And a hay harvest breeze,
Blade on the feather,
Shade off the trees,
Swing swing together,
With your bodies between your knees,
Swing swing together,
With your bodies between your knees.

The Eton Boating Song

I have of late been thinking about my mother. This is not unusual for the time of year – she died six years ago at the end of February and her birthday fell within the first couple of weeks of March – but so to do does tend to leave me a little wistful and reflective regarding life’s strange twists and turns.

The regular reader might well at this point already be scratching his (or her) pate and wondering what this could possible have to do with the Eton Boating Song. That is, indeed, a good question – the which I will endeavor straightway to answer.

Before the war my mother was in the Sea Rangers and – I am pretty certain – rather enjoyed rowing, though I don’t know to what level she practiced it. As with many things that one thinks one ‘knows’ from childhood this may turn out to be a ‘false’ memory, but of one thing I am certain – on a number of occasions she expressed regret that I had not taken up rowing whilst at school. She was clearly somewhat enamoured of the notion of having a son who ‘rowed’.

My Alma Mater was a grammar school in north Surrey which was also my father’s school. It was – and remains – a good school, though it is now co-educational which it was not in my day. Whilst certainly not one of the ‘great’ rowing schools it has always been there or thereabouts. The school has its playing fields – complete with boathouse – on the banks of the Thames and it takes the sport seriously. The alumni include at least one Olympic gold medal winner in the shape of James Cracknell, of whom the school is understandably proud.

Much to my mother’s dismay I declined to join the boat club. I was a fairly stringy kid at that age – fast enough as a sprinter but without much in the way of upper body bulk. I have always considered myself far too much of a lightweight for such a physical sport. Besides – the rowers had to turn out for training at six in the morning – in all seasons! Since I lived a good hour’s journey from the school that meant getting up at an ungodly hour regardless of the weather – or of the fact that it was still the middle of the night! The final straw was that the master in charge of rowing at the time was the sort of petty tyrant fairly prevalent in grammar schools of the era. I had already had several unpleasant run-ins with him and I didn’t fancy making myself a target in yet another area.

Previous posts on this journal do attest – however – to my enjoyment of rowing as a sport. I was fortunate enough to work at two institutions which can truly be considered ‘great’ rowing schools – one of which built its own rowing trench (later used as the venue for the London 2012 Olympics) and the other of which is the current holder of the Princess Elizabeth Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta.

In light of all of this I like to think that my mother would have been looking down from god’s elastic acre on Tuesday last with a smile on her face. Had she done so she would have observed the Kickass Canada Girl and I – in the company of a couple of elderly (but most impressive) expat Englishwomen from the Victoria City Rowing Club – taking our first outing on Elk Lake in a quad scull!

How this came about is of itself something of a saga – featuring a conversation that the Girl had about rowing at a Burn’s Supper with a gentlemen who knew one of these redoubtable octogenarian athletes and who put her in touch with them. The ladies were marvelous… unbelievably fit and most wonderfully patient with the couple of complete novices. I don’t for a moment suppose that sculling in a four looks easy and I can assure you that appearances do not deceive. Balance – co-ordination – the ability to perform a sequence of contradictory actions simultaneously but independently… I was expecting muscular pain and shortage of breath. What I got was mental agony – from trying to stop my conscious brain from impeding the required subconscious rhythm.

Will we try it again? We may well do. For those brief moments when the four of us magically became as one and the boat flew across the water the sensation was magical – so who knows!

I think mother would be pleased!

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Afternoon in Naples - Cezanne“A human being would certainly not grow to be seventy or eighty years old if this longevity had no meaning for the species. The afternoon of human life must also have a significance of its own and cannot be merely a pitiful appendage to life’s morning.”

Carl Jung

In the final part of my brief series on the subject of home-sickness posted in the run up to Christmas last year I concluded that the malaise to which I had briefly fallen prey that November had been caused in the main by feelings of a loss of significance – a lack of purpose – and of the concomitant confusion concerning my place in the world. I further opined that the topic of ‘significance’ was itself… er… significant and that I would needs return to it in some future disquisition.

Now seems as good a time as any so to do.

As noted in the aforementioned post my emigration to Canada was not the only important event with which I was occupied last summer. I had also reached the end a forty year career in education. I consider myself to have been massively fortunate to have had the opportunity to work in two of the UK’s leading public schools (public in the English sense here) and I felt toward the end that in my primary career in IT (primary in the sense that it was that for which I was most highly rewarded) I had gone about as far as I could go. I had acquired something of a reputation amongst those peers whose opinions I most respected and had little need to prove myself further.

The English public school is an ancient and complex beast – particularly those amongst their number that focus on boarding. These institutions have fashioned an uniquely self-contained and multi-layered culture which incorporates not only the academic, the sporting and the artistic, but also their own individual ethos and mythology. Some go so far as to insinuate into the English language their own vocabulary.

Those who work for these august bodies can choose to hold themselves aloof from such aeon-aged Weltanschauung – or they can cheerfully subscribe thereto. It will surprise no-one that I opted for the latter course, throwing myself into as much of School life as was feasible for one who lived several hours’ drive hence.

I was also for a decade a resident (being joined there in ‘mid-term’ by the Kickass Canada Girl) of a small village in South Buckinghamshire – the sort of rural idyll in which everyone knows everyone else’s business in rather too much detail. I by no means ranked amongst the luminaries (and there were a fair few of them!) but most of them knew who I was.

I served the village for a number of years as secretary to its cricket club. To those for whom the notion of ‘village cricket’ stirs thoughts of amiable amateurishness – or perhaps summons up images redolent of bucolic quaintness – I should point out that within the appellation itself the words ‘village’ and ‘cricket’ get equal billing. Whatever the standard of the play and the good nature and friendliness of the participants, membership of such a club does expose one to all of the pressures and pomposities attendant to rural politics and personalities.

This whole slightly convoluted explication is by way of an illustration as to how the structures that I had (mostly) sub-consciously adopted to support my life in the UK had successfully furnished me with a sense of belonging – a sense of purpose. I knew my place. Nothing out of the ordinary in that, of course… we all do pretty much the same. Reaching the end of a working life can, however, lead to a dislocation from this sense of place as, of course, does moving to a strange country. Doing both at the same time virtually guarantees it and having to start afresh to rediscover one’s sense of worth from scratch can be intimidating. In my case one of the side-effects was my brief bout of home-sickness.

As might be determined from those pre-Christmas posts my response to the malaise was to indulge – as is ever my wont – in a little navel-gazing. Interestingly the topics to which I have alluded above were not the ones that featured most strongly in the resultant retrospection.

Those that were – however – must wait for next time.

 

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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidI have made mention more than once in these ramblings of my intention – be it sooner or later – of owning a boat. So to do has long been an ambition of mine and it would be frankly unconscionable to live on this verdant coast but not to indulge my piratical fantasies around and about the Gulf Islands.

For a potential corsair I am, somewhat disconcertingly, really rather on the cautious side and I certainly won’t be making tracks to the nearest boat dealer until I have a good idea as to what I am doing. That – of course – means study!

As it happens one cannot in any case operate a small craft in Canadian waters without being appropriately certified. The Pleasure Craft Operator’s Certificate (PCOC) must not only be acquired before setting forth but must also be carried at all times when on the water. The test that one must pass to gain this qualification is straightforward and is mainly concerned with safety afloat. Helpfully it may be studied for and taken online should that be one’s preference.

With a typical desire to be thorough, however, I decided that I wanted to do more than just cover the basics. The next level up includes (though is not confined to) the study of maritime navigation the ‘old fashioned’ way – eschewing such modern aids as GPS. Naturally that appeals to my old-school nature.

Fortunately courses covering all such matters are conveniently provided by the Canadian Power and Sail Squadrons of which – as befits an island city with water on three sides – there are no less than five within the Greater Victoria area. The website for the nearby Brentwood Bay squadron was the first to allow me to book a course online (some shaky web design on other sites!) and I quickly signed up for the PCOC course and a Boating Essentials course – to be given at a nearby school.

The PCOC was rapidly dispatched within three sessions culminating in a fifty question multiple-choice test. Being of a certain age I had not previously sat an exam of this form and I was dismayed at getting an answer wrong simply because I misread – through trying to hurry too much – the responses on offer. As the pass rate for the PCOC is a mere 75% this mattered not a jot, but there was pride at stake (mine!). I now await delivery by post of yet another vital credit card sized piece of plastic.

The Boating Essentials course will occupy me for the next two months and looks to be good fun. I have thus far discovered that once learned – courtesy of my Boy Scout upbringing – one does not forget how to tie knots!

If only the same were true of all else in life…

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image“Never ruin an apology with an excuse”

Benjamin Franklin

I have been corrected regarding a lexical matter by a much valued Canadian reader who is also a very dear friend of ours and – in particular – of the Kickass Canada Girl.

Our correspondent correctly points out my repeated – nay, habitual – misuse in these posts of the word ‘peninsular‘ for ‘peninsula‘.

She is – of course – absolutely right!

The Oxford English Dictionary gives us this:

“The spelling of the noun as peninsular instead of peninsula is a common mistake. The spelling peninsula should be used when a noun is intended ( the end of the Cape Peninsula), whereas peninsular is the spelling of the adjective ( the peninsular part of Malaysia).”

Since my usage of the term is normally as an abbreviation for the Saanich Peninsula‘ the spelling should clearly be that for a noun. The fact that the OED offers in mitigation that this be a ‘common‘ mistake is absolutely no comfort whatsoever. In a blog which prides itself on its enthusiasm for language (if not for its learning) there can be no excuse for such sloppiness.

I am only mildly surprised that my error had not already been pointed out to me by someone from my educational background, given what sticklers they are for accuracy. When I started at my penultimate school I had – as an early task – to write a five year IT plan for the governors (known there as the Fellows) in justification for the really quite considerable sums of money that we were proposing to spend on infrastructure. After a couple of weeks hard work I presented for comments to my boss – the Director of Studies – what had by then grown into quite a volume. He ignored the content entirely but corrected a couple of instances of contentious punctuation. ‘The Fellows‘ – he observed – ‘would notice such things‘.

With regard to my Canadian orthographist I did wonder whether I should argue the toss on the matter, noting such oddities as the legend that I spotted on the back of a local youth’s sports’ apparel which read “Peninsula Soccer” (is that not strictly an adjective, mayhap?) before deciding that such a course of action would simply be somewhat graceless and instead offering my humble apologies, congratulating my tutor on her perspicacity and promising not to do it again.

 

My brother – incidentally – who is currently designing us a new kitchen (a task only marginally complicated by his being resident in the UK) has replicated in his scheme a feature of the current kitchen… a peninsula!

He won’t thank me for pointing this out, but guess how he spells it…

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IMG_0534As previous postings to this online journal (here and here) attest I have been a not altogether irregular attendee at the premiere event on the English rowing calendar – the Royal Henley Regatta.

My previous school won the trophy for school’s VIIIs – the Princess Elizabeth Cup – a year or so before I joined them in the late 90s and have indeed taken the prize on several further occasions since I left in 2005. They did not – however – do so whilst I was in post there. Given that they are the only school in the land to possess their own rowing trench their repeated success comes perhaps as little surprise.

My most recent school – though winners in the past – experienced mixed fortunes at the event during my time of employ there, and I never saw them reach the final.

Until this year!

It seems entirely fitting then that – just two days subsequent to my retirement from the School – the first VIII met in the final of the Princess Elizabeth our closest London rivals and favourites to take the trophy. You will have gathered by now from the tone of this post that a famous victory was won and everyone with the slightest connection to the School is now over the moon with joy!

Heartiest congratulations to all concerned!

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Image from PixabaySummer term at the School started yesterday…

It need hardly be repeated that – for one member of staff at least – this term will be unlike any other. It is not merely my last term at the School – but my last term anywhere!

Retirement is a big deal. Retirement and emigration in one fell swoop is an even bigger one. There will, doubtless, be plenty of opportunity on future occasion to dwell at length on the emotion and intellectual chaos that will almost inevitably be the outcome of pursuing such a rash, if delightful, course – and you just know that I will avail myself of that opportunity. It is not – however – my topic for today.

Having spent my entire career in education – both higher and secondary – I am in consequence well used to that particularly perennial rhythm familiar to those whose years are divided into academic terms.

Since the age of five my annual round has comprised three concentratedly intense and well defined trimesters separated by welcome periods of recovery. When at school myself – and when later at college – such hard-earned breaks actually were holidays, rather than simply the much-needed respite from the demands of academics that has been a feature of my working life since. It will surprise the gentle reader not at all to discover that – at the School – such exeats are – in the splendidly anachronistic tradition of public school terminology – designated ‘Remedy’!

I am grown so accustomed to this familiar rhythm that I fear that life post-retirement without such a framework might take some getting used to. The ebb and flow of the academic year is – for those who choose such a life – part of the attraction.

Academic terms are simultaneously tense, exhausting and strangely exciting. So much happens in such a brief period that the senses can be quite overwhelmed. It is very much the norm for all staff in schools such as this to become heavily involved in a wide range of extra-curricular activities, and those who complain that teachers have a cushy number, blessed with long and undeserved holidays, should remember that a house master at a boarding school – for example – is pretty much on duty for eleven or twelve weeks on the trot, twenty four hours a day and with the bare minimum of time off throughout that period. Staff not in house might have things slightly easier, but will still probably find there to be little opportunity during term time for a life outside the school.

This is not – you should understand – a complaint. As I have indicated, this life and its associated rhythms really are most attractive, for its variety as much as for anything. By the end of the summer term I may not much care if I never see another boy as long as I live but, after a measured, low-key, methodical and rejuvenating summer break from their presence, the place is only too ready for their return.

The Kickass Canada Girl is wont to extoll the virtues of Costa Rica – the climate of which blessed country supposedly varies nary a jot from a steady 72F throughout the year. This is – so she claims – her perfect temperature! That is as maybe but – as I will argue whenever the topic is raised – I much prefer that we actually enjoy seasons. How can one truly appreciate the glories of the summer if one has not had to endure at least some winter? Spring and early summer are my very favourite times of year because I love to see nature reborn after the vicissitudes of the autumn and winter. The seasons’ cycle does – after all – reflect the circle of life.

I clearly have a preference for a perennial routine. The varied Victorian climate looks pretty ideal to me, and I have no doubt that we will rapidly fall into a regular rhythm – rugby and trips to warmer climes in winter – cricket, boating and the great outdoors in summer – the familiar round of pagan festivals…

I am – all too clearly – a creature of habit!

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