Friday, 22nd June 2018
Life has, for me, been a bit more normal this week, though I have to say that is only a comparative statement! I have, for instance, managed to sleep in my own bed every night and have not been in any form of boat.
On Monday night I found myself driving to the Ridgeway, a long-distance footpath running from somewhere near Swindon, not perhaps the most glamorous place to start (though I suspect the path was there before Swindon and any of its roundabouts), to Goring, along the top of the Berkshire Downs (which in a typical English way are now mainly in Oxfordshire!). The path, being about 7,000 years old, has been there almost certainly since before written history. The reason I had decided to travel there was that the Form 5s and 6s were on an expedition to walk part of its length. At a certain point high above Wantage, a largely wooden set of buildings has been constructed which allows groups of people to stay there and it was here that the pupils were spending the night between their two days of walking. The building is in one of the most dramatic locations in southern England. Attached to it is an extraordinarily beautiful beech wood hanging on the side of the hill. As is characteristic of beech woods, there is little that grows under the dense foliage of the trees and so there is smooth ground upon which people can run, and in the case of our pupils, build from branches and sticks, amazing camps, which Mr Richards was inspecting for construction technique and aesthetic quality.
As I arrived, the children were running around under the trees in a state of happy abandonment, collecting sticks, up and down the bumps, hiding amongst the tree trunks – really an idyllic sight. Through the branches and grey blue of the beech bark, much of Oxfordshire was glistening in the early evening sun and to my west, in the direction of the Uffington White Horse which has been galloping across the tops of the hills since before recorded time, I could trace the line of that very ancient path clinging to the top of the downs to avoid the marshy places at the hills’ foot. The scene conveyed a sense of timelessness which was mirrored in the behaviour of the boys and it was one of those moments when one thinks back to the happiest moments of childhood which, at heart, are very simple, cost nothing and are not reliant on anything electronic. I am certain that we are designed to function in certain environments and it seemed to me at that moment that one of those environments to which we are best suited is a beech wood on top of a ridge. But perhaps I am being sentimental?
In contrast, two days later I found myself (ironically given what I have said above) surrounded by electronic devices – microphones in fact. I was sitting in the Cathedral which had been turned into a broadcasting studio as the Cathedral Choir were singing Choral evensong which was being broadcast live on the BBC to approximately 300, 000 listeners. The highlight for me was a wonderful piece by the well-known English composer William Walton, who was not only an undergraduate at Christ Church but a chorister at the School. It was a setting of words written specially by another Christ Church Alumnus, WH Auden, the great 20th Century poet. The combination of two such prodigious talents is extraordinary and when sung in their College by the Choir in which one of them had been a chorister, was electric. It will be re-broadcast at 3 pm on Sunday – I hope very much that you might listen to it as it is was very fine and a great tribute to Dr Darlington’s 33 years at the helm of this world–famous Choir.
Today is Enterprise Day and tomorrow Sports Day and the Meadow Fair, occasions when the school is seen at its best. I look forward to seeing many of you at Enterprise Day – I believe that there is some plan to soak me using sodden sponges - and in particular on Saturday when the boys will be showing off their athletic talents. We have been so lucky with the weather this term and Saturday promises to be no exception. Athletics, picnics and fundraising stalls on Merton Field is a truly splendid combination. What joy…