Blazing your own trail and reading alone the hooftracks in the summer powdered dust

Last week I was away from School for a couple of days which meant that I missed a truly outstanding performance of Blood Brothers. It was fantastic to hear such wonderful reports from staff, parents and pupils alike. There were standout performances from our superbly talented young performers and I am delighted that our new Head of Performing Arts, David Newell, was able to attend. The Arts Festival continues this week and the success of the festival is a tribute to the indefatigable spirit that currently pervades the drama and music departments. Do come and join us to sing Mozart’s beautiful Requiem on Saturday afternoon.

This week, we are focusing resolutely upon the future. As we put the finishing touches to our Five Year Development Plan, I am very grateful that support and guidance from Council ensures that our School is well positioned to meet the challenges of the future. Consequently, we will soon be in a position to share our plans with the wider school community.

I spent last weekend at Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park where I attended an education conference organised by HMC. Cumberland Lodge is an educational charity that endeavours to empower people through dialogue and debate. Those fortunate enough to attend debates, retreats, seminars and workshops within its beautiful grounds have the opportunity to engage in some serious reflection – free from the intrusions of modern life. The lack of Wifi made me reflect upon just how much I have allowed my life to become governed by work emails; especially over recent months. For the first time in many weeks, I felt a fleeting sense of tranquility and after a brisk walk through the glorious parkland, I sat down in one of the lodge’s beautiful drawing rooms and became lost in my thoughts. With only the comforting tick of the Grandfather clock to keep me company, I reflected upon the distant past.

The room was bathed in sunlight and the beautiful pastoral view framed in the lodge’s window was not at all unfamiliar given that for the first six years of my life I lived in the shadow of Windsor Great Park. Home was the sleepy commuter suburb of Lightwater and I knew little of the world beyond this rather idyllic corner of the Home Counties. My father was a lecturer at Brunel University’s Runnymede Campus in nearby Englefield Green. As a small boy I loved visiting the college; particularly on open days, when the design students would show off their creations. A sanctuary for red squirrels and rhododendrons, the grounds of the campus have long since been sold off for redevelopment. Rising early last Saturday morning, I thought that I would take a quick trip down memory lane before the day’s proceedings at Cumberland Lodge got under way. As I approached the imposing gatehouse I was accosted by a burly security man from Oracle Homes who informed me that access to the sight was strictly prohibited. His gruffness served to jolt me out of my nostalgic turn of mind and I started to reflect upon how change can make all of us feel anxious and upset. Each one of us is a fierce custodian of our own memories.

Change does not always feel like progress

My father died with inexplicable suddenness on 23rd May 1983. I was six years and 11 days old and life was never the same again. The loss of a parent is not something that one ‘gets over’ and I know that, as a family, we took many years to adjust to a new reality which, initially at least, seemed so unfairly diminished and so sadly incomplete. Thirty six years later we are still adjusting, still learning, still remembering and still loving.

On Tuesday last week it so happened that our second daughter Caitlin was six years and 11 days old. The significance of this day was not lost on me. Consequently, I really wanted to be at home to scoop her up from School and hold her close – if only to reassure myself that, together, we would get past this auspiciously fateful date. Instead, I found myself alone and back in a part of the world which I instinctively associated with sadness and loss. Shortly after my father’s death we moved to Essex and so I never really made my peace with this corner of Surrey and Berkshire. For me it has always been viewed through the distortive prism of childhood loss.

Nevertheless, last weekend ended up being an unexpected and affirming journey through the landscape of my childhood. Finally confronting the past felt unthreatening and, ultimately, restorative. I had been wrong to avoid returning for all of these years.

Sometimes, it is the vulnerability which arises from loss which provides us with the strength, courage and compassion necessary to support others. For me, the life experiences which followed the loss of my father became absolutely pivotal in the formation of my own educational philosophy and it has undoubtedly served to shape me as a father, husband and son. We choose to work in education because we are motivated by the desire to ensure that all children fulfill their potential and enjoy learning. We want our children to be happy but we acknowledge that life is far from perfect and that, inevitably, they will face challenges well beyond our control. So whilst we should encourage them to face the future with a sense of joyful excitement and real hope, we must, at times, ever so gently, prepare them to face potential adversity.

I would like to finish by sharing a poem I once heard read by the wonderful Irish poet Bernard O’Donoghue. As you will have gathered, I allowed myself to become a little consumed by the significance of Caitlin’s precise age last Tuesday. Similarly, for Bernard, the day he outlived his father (who had died at the age of 52 whilst attending a football match in Cork) seemed to conjure up complicated feelings.

The Day I outlived my Father

Yet no-one sent me flowers, or even
Asked me out for a drink. If anything
It makes it worse, your early death, that
Having now at last outlived you, I too
Have broken ranks, lacking maybe
The imagination to follow you
In investigating that other, older world.

So I am in new territory from here on:
Must blaze my own trail, read alone
The hooftracks in the summer-powdered dust
And set a good face to the future:
At liberty at last like mad Armaut
To cultivate the wind, to hunt the bull
On hare-back, to swim against the tide.