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Last Updated: 17/01/2017 11:12:40
Mothers bring children into the world, fathers get to give them away apparently. In my case, I walked a Russian Doll down the aisle over the Christmas break. By which I don’t mean a gorgeous model from Moscow (although she was every bit as beautiful). I mean that as we processed towards the altar, I had a whole cluster of people on my arm. Other guests saw the sole friend or family member that they have come to know. But I didn’t just escort the confident and capable young woman that my daughter is today. Nested inside her were all the versions that I have witnessed since the day she was born.
The chortling baby, the mischievous toddler, the tomboy, the belle of the Ball; all still there, walking beside me. So too the stroppy adolescent, the rebellious teen (fortunately quite deeply buried now). Daddy’s girl, who would tromp along beside me in over-sized Wellies collecting pine cones, refusing to admit she was tired. And more recently, the courageous recipient of a gruelling medical procedure, treatment for a wicked disease. Yes, they were distinct stages of her life so far, but to me they were indistinguishable from the new bride that others saw that day. If I am guilty of worrying about her as if she was still a child it is because, in my eyes, that version of her remains within.
Our children will grow to be adults, where others will take them as they find them, at whichever stage their lives intersect. Those who come to know them well, colleagues, friends and partners, may see transformations as their character or circumstances change. But only a parent knows all of the secret layers within. Like the matryoshka, the nested Russian dolls, your child will always contain the countless smaller, earlier versions of themselves.
Not surprisingly, most of the versions parents remember existed during childhood, when they were in our daily care. When the decisions we made; schools, lifestyles, boundaries, expectations, all influenced their early personas. Some versions were cute, some excruciating. No wonder teens can’t wait to get away from us, knowing the awkward phases we’ve witnessed (and our propensity to recall them at the most embarrassing moments). At least when a child leaves home they can craft their own completely independent versions of themselves in private.
We are prone to seeing children as a work in progress. To a degree, that’s what they are. Every challenging phase passes, becoming just another inner layer of the adult they eventually become. So too does every joyful age remain enshrined inside them, a font of later happiness and success. Reason enough to make our early influence in their young lives count. To affirm the triumphs, challenge the wayward steps.
But take it from the father-of-the-bride, your child will be many people in your life and each stage should be savoured in its own right. Pre-Prep, Prep or Senior years, wherever your child is in the School at present they are, right now, a complete version of themselves. A version that will endure for the rest of their lives. Enjoy it for what it is. Then one day, when they are independent and thriving in the world, you will find a moment to stop and unpack the phases of their life thus far and marvel at how perfectly they all fit. Be warned though, just like peeling back the layers of an onion, it can bring a tear to the eye.
Dear Father Christmas
Last Updated: 09/12/2016 14:54:47
Dear Father Christmas
It’s been a while, I know. Coming on for 45 years in fact, since I last wrote to you. Nothing personal, I never stopped believing in you. It may have had something to do with your failure to deliver the Star Wars Space Hopper in 1971, but I’m over that now. Mostly.
I’m writing now with my Christmas wishes for 2016, although I realise that you may be extra busy this year. The demand for extra boxes of tissues in America will be a burden and Brexit could make importing a sleigh full of toys to the UK more challenging. Still, I would like to ask for the following:
450 packets of Plasticine
Do they still make Plasticine? I remember it as the stocking-filler to which we returned once the batteries in other toys ran flat. I still recall how the petroleum smell seeped into our fingers. The way the rainbow colours of the sausage-strands bled into each other as we spent countless hours giving shape to our imaginings. Simply, it was a gift which encouraged expression. Allowed us to give shape to our thoughts and model how we saw our world. So this Christmas, please give a block of Plasticine to every junior pupil at Bromsgrove. Help them discover the capacity for creativity which resides in each of them (and that play doesn't always require a screen).
I'd like to ask for a mirror for every adolescent at Bromsgrove, but not the normal bathroom variety. I need you to find special mirrors which only reflect truth and block out insecurities or social stereotypes. Mirrors which show teenage girls their true beauty; mirrors which offer boys an image of themselves as confident young men. Could you also wrap up some of those multi-faceted mirrors, like the sort you see in fairground attractions, which reflect back a thousand impressions of the viewer? Then let our teenagers stand before a kaleidoscope of themselves, understanding the infinite possibilities of who they might become.
I'm going to let you chose individual gifts for our senior pupils. The only rule is that they can't be cash, vouchers, IOU's or promises. Give each of them something real, something personal. I worry daily that we are letting our children grow up too fast in this high-paced world. No matter how quick they are to claim their independence, inside every staunch young adult who professes to be disinterested in Christmas remains the child who once knew the joy of unwrapping a gift chosen personally for them. So could you arrange at least one present for each senior that reacquaints them with the excited anticipation of being a kid on Christmas Day?
Sounds expensive I know, but don't worry, none of them actually need to work. In fact, they must all have stopped or be running slow. I'd like you to deliver one to every Bromsgrove parent, as sneakily as you can, so that as the Christmas holiday unfolds they lose track of time and truly relax with their children. If you can't find enough broken watches, a few smartphones that can't connect to the work server or some email software that freezes after 6:00pm would suffice.
Last order, one for each colleague at Bromsgrove. They don't have to be big ladders. Just high enough for a teacher to climb above the daily mountain of teaching/coaching/tutoring/mentoring/counselling/marking/planning to see how much they achieve every day. Just high enough for them to glimpse the extent of their influence as it radiates out beyond the Bromsgrove gates.
Maybe you should leave those gifts in their classrooms, so that every now and then they can look out over the heads of those seated immediately in front of them and survey, ranging across the years, the countless other young people to whom they have given guidance, encouragement and self-confidence.
Likewise, I'd like all of our support staff to get a loftier view of how greatly their own dedication and loyalty to the School affects us all for the better. Help elevate every Bromsgrove staff member this Christmas, that they might see the true impact of their vocation.
And as for me? The truth is, I don't really want for much this year. The last echoes of the Chapel choir. A glass of mulled wine and a Holroyd Howe mince pie will do nicely. I’ll leave some out for you.
Last Updated: 31/08/2016 10:21:36
Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome aboard Bromsgrove Flight 2016/17, shortly bound for Academia. As the Captain has advised that we are shortly about to depart, we would like to run through a few tips to help you make the most of your journey. Please pay attention, even if you have heard this safety briefing from your parents endlessly over the holidays.
School rules require you to listen to all instructions given by your crew. That’s because they have made this journey many times before and know the route. They will be coming through the cabin regularly offering complimentary advice, support and encouragement. Please help yourself to as much as you like.
In the event of an emergency, your crew will be there to assist you. Failure to understand quadratic equations, German tenses, or covalent bonds can sometimes occur during the journey. In these instances, it is important that you stay calm and do not attempt to exit the aircraft mid-flight. Trust that you are in safe hands and all turbulence can be overcome. Even if an oxygen mask doesn’t drop down in front of your face, remember to breathe at all times.
In preparation for take-off, please place all baggage well out of the way. Unfounded fears, pointless anxieties, social dramas and family feuds are only going to impede you as you travel towards academic success. Stow them away, keeping the aisle in front of you clear and free of anything that may trip you up.
Now is also the time to turn off all digital devices. These may be used again during the year, but sparingly and preferably only to assist your journey. It’s not true that using your smartphone will cause the plane to crash, but it is likely to annoy the pilot.
Do we even need to remind you that this is a non-smoking flight? The service is also alcohol free. As you will be travelling in close confines with other passengers also heading for first-class qualifications, we ask that you respect all other aspects of their learning environment. We have no tolerance for disruptions that may pull us off course.
Sitting still and studying for the entire duration of the flight is not good for your health. We suggest that you get up and move around regularly. Sport, performing arts and service activities are available at all times. But please do always return to your seat, especially when our flight path takes us through assessment and examinations.
Finally, we invite you to buckle in and prepare for the term ahead. The journey is likely to be intense, but we will be landing again before you know it. Arriving at your goal will be worth any discomfort en-route. Bromsgrove has an impeccable record for getting people where they want to be and the forecast for your final destination is excellent. Thank you for choosing to fly with us.
Song Sung Blue
Last Updated: 27/06/2016 17:28:50
The post-Brexit playlist reads like the soundtrack of a bad RomCom. “I will survive” sing the Leave campaigners triumphantly. “If you leave me now, you’ll take away the biggest part of me” lament the Remainers. “You can go your own way” sang the massed choir of Europe. Or perhaps that was “Hit the road Jack, and don’t you come back no more no more”.
Whatever tune you were humming the morning after, it’s probably not surprising that it was a break-up ballad. For all the theoretical economic, geopolitical and demographic arguments beforehand, on the day of the actual verdict it suddenly felt very personal. And emotionally charged. A torrid and often undignified battle had ultimately pitted almost exactly one half of the nation against the other. Yet once the in-fighting ended and the dust settled on Friday morning, the reality of splitting up with our partners of 40 years began to dawn.
As the world reacted, there was a discordant note of xenophobia on the airwaves too. The carefully crafted lyrics “we may not like the EU, but we still love Europe,” sounded a little flat to some across the Channel. “It’s not you, it’s us.” we promised. Hmmm. Breaking up is hard to do.
As with any split, my concern is what do we tell the children? What message from the nation’s leaders, but more immediately and importantly, what reassurance from Bromsgrove School? In a word, stability.
We pride ourselves in nurturing a tolerant and inclusive place in which to learn. We are a community which not only accepts, but actively encourages, a broad cross-section of cultures into our classrooms and boarding houses. Our International pupils are an integral part of who we are and our British pupils are richer for their presence. In February, the ISI Inspectors called our School “a model of harmonious coexistence.” Young people from almost 50 nations live together and thrive here. Every single one of them is enriched by that diversity. Experiencing a multitude of cultures prepares them perfectly for the globalized futures they face, wherever they may live. In my view, it also simply makes them better people.
So my refrain to our pupils this week has not come from the Taylor Swift catalogue of separation songs. Instead, I return to a favourite source; the Gospel of Saint Bob the Dylan.
“To preach of peace and brotherhood
Oh, what might be the cost?”
We don’t know the cost, but whatever the implications of Brexit over coming years, the anthems of many nations will continue to ring at Bromsgrove. Long may our coexistence remain harmonious.
Last Updated: 14/06/2016 10:12:06
The thing that worries me most about Brexit is what it may do to the price of tractors. My one-man mission to champion tractor ownership will be dealt a blow if they become more expensive.
Every family should have a tractor; they are an antidote to every ill of modern life. I’m talking about an old tractor, mind. Not today’s monstrosities, that shave both hedgerows as they barrel down country lanes, forcing you to perfect your reversing skills for 5 miles. It’s not really a tractor if it’s the size of a small ocean liner, with more gadgets than a Mars lander.
No, I advocate an old clunker. An early Nuffield, Fordson, or Massey Ferguson. Something notoriously hard to start. An engine that needs to be seduced before it turns over. And then, when it finally does play ball, at least one essential part that jams, shears, or simply falls off. Requiring a mandatory two hours to repair. Once fixed, journeys are still measured in hours, if not days. You need to take a packed lunch just to go to the mailbox.
I had an ancient Kubota for eight years. Despite the stereotype, a tractor is not essential kit for a New Zealand school principal (but it’s not bad for credibility). For the first three years, it was nothing but a source of frustration and wasted hours. Until I had a Zen moment and realized that tractors are God’s way of slowing us down. When glacial speed of travel is beyond your control, you have no choice but to relax. There’s no text-driving on a tractor either; the thrumping vibration of a diesel engine renders all digital devices useless. Nothing to be done but sit back and take in the world. No choice but to contemplate the sky, ponder relationships, devise plans, dream.
Once I understood the true purpose of tractors, my life became richer. With the slasher on the back it could take me five hours to mow a paddock. Six on a good day. Time whiled away, unravelling the coils of my working world. Better yet, my daughter perched in the bucket up front, dangling legs brushed by meadow grasses as she wove endless daisy chains.
Every parent should own a tractor. Especially those unable to give themselves permission to slow down occasionally. Even the self-importance of being a Headmaster can be worn away by the hypnotic pulse of pistons. If you need an excuse to lift your eyes from emails, a reason to gaze at a real cloud not the virtual one, climb onboard. Microsoft didn’t make the only Outlook; there’s a pretty good one to be had from a tractor seat.
The effect works on children too. A few years, later that same little flower girl learned to drive on the tractor. It cost me a few shrubs and the odd fence post, but she’s a safer driver for it. She’s also resilient, a fixer; breakages and stoppage don’t phase her. My son is an artist. A painter, unafraid to spend long periods alone in his own mind. I’d like to think tractor time taught him not to fear what we find when we venture into our thoughts without an iPhone to save us.
So, seriously, consider investing in a tractor. It lengthens childhood, curbs teenage impetuosity, and refocuses adult priorities. Plus, it would take an awful lot of pressure off the School carpark every afternoon.
And if that’s not an option, at least try and engineer a change of pace over the coming Summer break. May time stretch as you change gear and reconnect as a family.
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