Friday, 13th January 2017
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.” So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.”
These are the words that were read by King George VI on Christmas Day in 1939 at the beginning of the Second World War. The King’s contribution to the war effort was essential, providing a point of stability and dependability in those terrible days. His people were able to look towards their king and see in their midst a person who remained firm in the face of the terrible onslaught. Throughout the War the Royal family, including our present Queen, remained living in Buckingham Palace and when the present Queen’s mother was asked whether she felt she ought to evacuate her two daughters she responded: "The children won't go without me. I won't leave without the King. And the King will never leave.” I have always thought King George’s example of leadership at this terrible time was one of the most inspiring. At times of change and uncertainty stability is essential and of course 2017 will be a year of change; Britain will almost certainly trigger article 50 of the European constitution thereby beginning the process of leaving the E.U., an act which may well have significant consequences, and next Friday President Trump will be inaugurated as the President of the United States of America, a process which will certainly mean a significant change of direction and style. Who knows whether these changes will be positive or not – but changes they will most certainly be. I am certain that as a world we will need some figures of calmness and some centres of stability because, though people need change, it can often be bewildering. The Dean in his talk to the school this morning in the Cathedral read these beautiful words delivered by King George, made even more poignant by their context and by the fact that the King, in order to read the words out fluently, had to control a terrible stutter which he had had since childhood. The Dean commended us to look forward to the coming year and that we put our trust in God and tread forward with confidence into the unknown. I am determined that, as a school, we will follow his suggestion this year. We will indeed move forward with confidence; we have, after all, so much of which to be proud. But we will do this most surely knowing that we have things upon which we can depend – our heritage as a Christian school, the intimacy of our size which means that all our pupils are known and valued, and our belief that human beings will flourish only if they are properly cared for. I hope that all our pupils will find this school a place where they will feel stability, but that in so doing, they will feel able to move towards the “East” (as the poem has it) with great confidence.
On Tuesday, the paints company Farrow and Ball held an evening in the school to which they invited the public. There was a lecture on choosing paints and the principles involved in such choices. I adore their paints and if one ever needs a fascinating twenty minutes I suggest a look through their catalogue not only for the lovely tasteful colours, but for the splendidly inventive names that they have been given. One paint being demonstrated was named “Elephant’s Breath” - a company which chooses such a name must be pretty confident of its market share - and I particularly enjoyed the thoroughly engaging “Nancy’s Blushes!” I would have needed a bit of convincing to have chosen to decorate a room with a paint called “Dead Salmon” and found myself amused when it was suggested that one try a combination of “Mouse’s Back” and “Salon Drab!” But my favourite name has to be the one that I am determined to use in our house in Cumbria, namely, “Mizzle!” Those at the company who chose such names must have had great fun. As a school we owe a great deal to Farrow and Ball and even after an entire term I still feel delighted every time I walk through the door of the school. Afterwards those who had attended the talk were shown around the school and the paints which had been used were pointed out. Two things were abundantly clear; firstly, how impressed they were with the appearance of the place but secondly how fascinated they were with the lives of the choristers. We should never underestimate the uniqueness of what we have to offer here.
I look forward to seeing you all again over the next few days and wish you a happy new year!