The day I met a Meerkat

MeerkatThe weekend was made for me by a visit to a pet shop to buy a collar for Bluebell, and there was a man with a Meerkat. I was allowed to be photographed with him (the Meerkat, not the chap) and whispered a few words of Russian into his lovely ears. There, that’s got the animal stuff out of the way.

We grind on towards Prize Day. It remains a bit detached from the school, in that half term begins at midday on Friday, and then those who can return for Prizes the following day. This is what we’ve done for some years, I think because Big School was never big enough for many members of the school, and the Chapel was not thought to be a suitable venue for Prizes. So the marquee is now in place and I remember last year the howling winds and the fact that a great school on the Isle of Man watched its marquee being torn up by a hurricane and dumped in the Irish Sea. There’s still time for the weather to change, of course. Olive Roberts, the Secretary to the Deputy Head, has worked tirelessly (no, that’s not true: she’s got very tired) to get all the details right: who gets what prize, the prizes themselves and their value, the engraving on the trophies, the numbers for lunch and chapel. It’s her first year and she has done wonderfully well. I won’t be writing again till the middle of June, by which time her exploits will be ancient history. I hope to see lots of you there. In the evening we have the Leavers’ Ball. Leavers by that time will have received their copy of the Leavers’ Book, a wonderful collection of photos and reflections, and will have attended the Valedictory Dinner—not everyone knows what it means but they can still come—on Thursday. The combination of these festivations and the wonderful weather and the end of some exams (and a non-uniform day on Friday) has made it a bit like a holiday camp. Acres of uncovered flesh in the square, gently baking, and regarded balefully by my two hideous baby pigeons.

What Headmasters do has, I’m sure, been chronicled by Inspectors and Statisticians with appropriate ratios: recruitment, finance, pedagogy, contact time, reflection, formal meetings. I’m not a great fan of the tick box style of management—-perhaps Common Room wish I could be—because I have the weird idea that you appoint good people and ask them to get on with it. I never wanted to be micromanaged myself, and hardly ever have been, though I had a Chairman who tried it once. But at the same time we don’t want Headship, which has been my life for the last twenty years, to become what Coleridge called “merely a heap of little things”. So the sustaining vision has to be there, and the sense of the change we want to achieve while God gives us time. Having to write a Prize Day speech—who is it for? What do they want to hear?—forces me to think about these issues. I had allocated myself a fat slab of time to devise the thing—five hours should do the trick—and discovered the allocated hours exactly coincided with the time the scaffolders needed to take the scaffolding off part of the renovated tower. Do have a look at it next time you are in: they replaced nine hundred bricks on the southern tower and it looks like new: all the Victorian fussiness and variety perfectly restored: a real artwork. But just as I was having a great thought a huge chunk of metal came past the window on its downward course accompanied by loud noises of encouragement. The best laid plans.

We had our Falklands event on Friday with the visit of Dick Sawle, an Old Rossallian who went to the islands to teach Spanish twenty five years ago and is now one of the eight members of the legislative council. Education stops at sixteen, so that children wanting to go on to Sixth Form courses get sent to England. For some mysterious reason these young people are mainly sent to Peter Symons College in Winchester, a school I know well. It’s a Sixth form college and, of course, a day school. They would do better at Rossall which in addition replicates pretty accurately the conditions in which they live in the South Atlantic: we don’t have the penguins but we don’t have the minefields either. Dick’s talk was very encouraging, especially to those of us dreading another military expedition. Some of us then went on to the ISC Leavers party, one of the social events of the year. It crowned a heavy week : we had a celebratory

gathering in Blackpool on Wednesday—some Rossall parents came and joined us, but very few risked a session in the Formula One simulator: you must look for photos on the Website. And then on Thursday I was in London for the LORD dinner at the RAF club, always a most genial event. The Chairman shocked me by reading out a chunk of my last letter, in which I proclaimed that I was going to London to seek support for a number of projects. That certainly dampened the conversation over the duck terrine, but it was a lovely evening and there is enormous warmth towards the school from a number of distinguished Alumni who may be able to help us!

Enjoy Half Term! The next letter will be in three weeks’ time. I hope you can bear the suspense!

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