In praise of the ordinary!

Currently, my life is punctuated by long drives to Essex. Typically the round trip necessitates nine and a half hours of driving. The M6, A14, M11, A120, must collectively constitute one of the least interesting routes on Planet Earth. Occasionally, I go via the M62 and A1 just to mix things up a little and so that I can delight my childlike fascination with the farm marooned on the moors between the west and east bound carriageways. I am not a natural driver and I do not have an unblemished record in terms of concentration. My boredom threshold is low and my ability to daydream spectacularly high. By contrast, my uncle loves driving and I tend to think that this is because he has a tranquil countenance that radiates patience. It is easy to imagine him maintaining a Zen-like state of calm in the overtaking lane of the M25.

As a child, I tended to inwardly groan if my Mum had BBC Radio 4 on in the car. I never really understood her desire to listen to ‘The Archers’ and ‘Women’s Hour’ or ‘Money Box’. Now, I see things very differently. On very long drives, I worry that I will fall asleep if I listen to music and this has led to me developing a real appreciation of the spoken word on radio.
This Sunday, I found myself driving through a blizzard somewhere between Corby and Kettering as ‘Desert Island Discs’ kicked in. The marooned guest was the astronaut Tim Peake. His music choices were a little predictable (though, inexplicably, we were not treated to Bowie’s Starman). What really struck me was the virtue that Tim discerned in having what he considered to be an ‘ordinary childhood’. He was almost apologetic when describing a childhood that sounded stable and uneventful but conceded that such childhoods are pretty good in the great scheme of things. His words really resonated with me because right now, I think we all crave for our children to have an ordinary childhood. Above all else, what we really want is for our children to return to school and just enjoy being children. We all want to embrace everything which is ordinary, reassuring and stable.

Tim Peake, also reflected upon the seminal role that his Chichester School CCF had played in his journey to become an astronaut. Membership of the RAF contingent provided him with his first opportunity to fly. Reflecting upon his journey from schoolboy cadet to spacewalking astronaut, Tim commented that:

“The important thing – and it’s great to have dreams, and it’s great to be able to set your sights on them – is to never give up, to constantly work towards it, but also to enjoy the journey that takes you there. That’s probably the most important advice I would give because then it doesn’t matter. Even if statistically it’s very unlikely you’re going to make it, if you’re enjoying the journey there, then you will have a fantastic time and other opportunities might come up. If you do end up achieving your dream, then absolutely fantastic. If you don’t end up achieving it, you’ll end up doing something equally as good.”

What brilliant, wise and inspiring advice. Later on, I listened to Clemency Burton-Hill being interviewed on ‘Woman’s Hour’. She is the young broadcaster who suffered a devastating brain hemorrhage last year. This was her very first radio interview – a brave and beautiful return to the airwaves. In faltering tones and pausing carefully between each phrase, Clemency described how she had ‘chosen life’ when waking from a 17 day coma. Her refusal to give into such a devastating injury was just as inspiring as Tim Peake’s reflections upon the need to follow dreams.

Earlier in the day , ‘Broadcasting House’ carried an interview with a man who had returned home to his family after nearly 200 days in hospital recovering from COVID. It was difficult not to be overcome with emotion as his sons described the joy that they felt just to know that he was once again back with them. Life is so precious and despite all the problems that this family faced, the simple act of being back together against all the odds serves as a great example of hope.

In this world of constantly streaming videos and on demand television apps, the power of the spoken word has the power to inspire and move with a directness that goes straight to our emotional core. Radio 4 has become my constant companion during these interminably long journeys. At a time, when it is so easy to feel gloomy, Sunday’s programming provided moments of real inspiration and hope. I did not feel alone on what is such a long journey.

The announcement that the reopening of schools will be delayed by at least two weeks disappoints us profoundly. There are children in this country, and indeed countries around the world, who have missed out on almost a year of education. We do our best with online lessons but nothing replaces face-to-face teaching in the classroom. We do not question the necessity of the public health measures themselves but we are very proud of our record in terms of keeping all within our community safe. At a time when others are pondering the use of masks or how to rollout lateral flow testing, we are struggling to understand why such measures are only now being considered.

There are many reasons for us to feel hopeful and joyful at the moment. By the time you read this newsletter over seven and a half million people in the UK will have received the vaccine in the UK. The speed of the rollout means it is realistic for us to expect a loosening of lockdown in March. Our children have responded to this crisis with incredible resilience and their sense of what it means to be a member of this community has never faltered. If anything, it has only grown stronger.
Our boarders continue to enjoy a full and active programme of activities within the confines of what is permissible within a COVID safe environment and there are many moments of real joy here at School. Cooking in the Rossall Kitchen on Saturday morning was a highlight as was the wonderful piano masterclass given by Adam Dobson. Oscar Knight, Emily Yang and Lan Lan Le Chieu all performed superbly well and we are incredibly fortunate to have so many accomplished pianists within our midst.

Sitting in the Education Committee meeting on Thursday morning, it struck me that the energy and dynamism that underpins the plans of those committed to leading the school forward and ensuring an outstanding quality of education is utterly impressive. Over the next few weeks and months, we will be making some exciting announcements about the developments which are going to take place before September 2021. We think that families choose us for many reasons, but perhaps at the heart of it lies the knowledge that we will never stop striving to enhance the education provision that we provide for our children.

Finally, a huge thank you to all of our teachers and support staff who continue to work so hard during this period. Your appreciation of all that they do means the world to us and is a source of great sustenance. Wherever you are in the world stay safe and know that in our hearts you remain close to us.

Have a lovely weekend!

Mr Jeremy Quartermain
Headmaster of Rossall School