Friday, 20th January 2017
Gates have always intrigued me; Wainwright, the well-known hillwalker and writer of the best guides to climbing the Lakeland fells, remarked that there were any number of ways in which gates could operate and that it was a source of perpetual fascination for him to discover what ingenious device had been chosen by farmers to confuse those wishing to enter their fields.
One of my favourite gates is the blue gate which allows one entry into our Nursery. Every week, on Monday morning, I pass through it in order to read to the boys and girls there. I find my book carefully placed on the seat by Miss Nicky, and a collection of expectant children waiting to hear a story that they tend to know, read to them by someone who knows the book far less well than they do. They listen with rapt attention, the only problem occurring if someone in the front row stands up in a moment of extreme excitement, only to block the view of another member of the audience behind. “I can’t see! I can’t see!” For me it is the perfect start to the week; a reminder of why we’re all in education. The enthusiasm for almost everything (except those blocking one’s sightlines) is almost boundless: “Mr Murray – I’ve got a dog!” “Headmister, my Auntie’s called Sally”, “Mr Merry I’m a superhero.” There are all sorts of useful information that one finds out from such encounters but, in addition, one is always reminded of the natural enthusiasm and openness of children which people of more mature years often lose.
I am told about the letter of the week, a choice which leads to the sudden reconfiguration of the Nursery; – a rather less dramatic version of what will probably occur in Washington over the next couple of days when the letter O will be replaced by the letter T (or is it “The D”?). Suddenly the children are interested in elephants and they eat eggs rather than the fascination for turtles and the consumption of truffles which seemed to be the order of the day the previous week. Another feature is the nature of the clubs which occur. Last year I went on a Wednesday and my reading was
always followed by “Continents Club” and the children would enjoy making me guess which continent was the object of their fascination “Mr Mary, there are penguins in this continent. It’s sometimes a bit cold” emm well ….. When I first heard it was Continents Club I have to say that I imagined briefly that it was a Christ Church way of describing what in rather less elevated circles might be called toileting skills!
At any rate to go to Nursery is a joy. Miss Nicky, Miss Rachel and Miss Jane run what I consider to be the best Nursery in Oxford. (I am never biased – only accurate). Their standards are unsurpassed, their care of those they look after outstanding, their expectations very high but, through their guidance, attainable for those in their care. Their charges are taken on expeditions to the fields, to the town, always attached to their rope and the quality of the things that they make is really stunning. To say that the place feels like a home is no exaggeration. The Nursery itself was, of course, a house and is still therefore divided into rooms which allows everyone to find a place where they feel happy and secure. One would be exaggerating if one described the garden as an Eden, but it is charm itself. Over the ancient wall, even boys and girls of the stature of those in nursery can see the vast buildings of the College. Double decker busses pass by and the children play happily next to a capacious pen inhabited by Percy and Alice, Miss Sibly’s rabbits who are, during the day, in the care of the Nursery. It’s a small world but it is an idyllic one, a world where very young boys and girls feel secure enough to take their first exhilarating educational steps on a journey which will last them a lifetime.
During my interview for my present position, when asked by the group of expectant governors ranged before me what changes I would make to the school, probably the least significant one I suggested was that I would try to introduce Real Tennis. It was therefore with real pleasure that I accompanied a group of Year 8 pupils to the Oxford University court in Merton Street where they received their first session. The boys involved adapted rapidly to the game and seemed to enjoy it thoroughly, one which is very unlike any other that I have experienced and which has some tremendously complex rules. There was, I must say, a quickening of my heartbeat when it occurred to me that we were playing the very same game at which our founder, Henry VIII, was considered an expert. It was while he was playing a game of Real Tennis that news of Anne Boleyn's execution was brought to him.
It is with another ancient sport however that I wish to end, namely football. We played our first matches of the season this week and won 2, drew 1 and lost 1. The two senior matches were played at Abingdon Prep. Both resulted in fine victories for Christ Church; indeed in the case of the Bs, the score was 1 - 5 to them at half time. By the time the whistle went a little while later, the world had changed and the score was 6 - 5 to us. There is justice in the world. In terms of the As, our team played with real flair winning 4 - 1. I am so proud of the way in which our boys are performing on the sports pitches these days. Very many congratulations to all.
Next week our senior boys will begin heading round the senior schools of the land attempting to gain awards; I seem to have done little else in the past few weeks that write references for boys taking scholarships. Though it requires a great deal of concentration, it is a job I enjoy very much as it is always a pleasure to think carefully about the pupils whom we have played some part in nurturing. I wish them all the very best.