Friday, 23rd September 2016
I have just had a conversation with my eldest son about Transformers. Transformers seem to be a form of robotic creature whose shape is essentially speaking humanoid though with an understandably mechanistic construction. The creatures tend to be rather larger than human beings and to move more rapidly. Their most dramatic characteristic though, is that they can, as the "name on the tin" suggests, transform themselves into something potentially more useful, for instance a car or a plane. This allows them to indulge in their favourite pastimes, for instance, destroying cities or invading planets and other such constructive activities. Apparently, according to my son, most transformers tend to be evil but there are a few select ones who are good. I'll come back to transformers in a moment.
Though it seems as though we have only just started this term, half term is rapidly approaching. As with last Michaelmas term Andy Johnson, the former Premiership footballer, will be running a course on our playing fields, which includes lunch in the Great Hall at Christ Church, from the Monday of half term through to the Friday. Last year it was an outstanding event which was enjoyed by a large number of our pupils. If you are remotely interested, please email Mrs James at email@example.com.
I went to London the other day with the Sub Dean, the school's Vice Chairman of Governors. We were going to a conference on safeguarding. A choir school has to make particularly complex safeguarding arrangements. Most schools only have to think about ensuring that the school is as safe as possible, but in a choir school we have to ensure that our pupils are safe when singing in, often very crowded, public buildings where a whole set of people who are not teachers are looking after them. The pressures under which boys who sing in choirs are put are considerable – they are, after all, professional performers - and we have to be very careful to ensure that the arrangements under which they live are carefully thought through. Fortunately, the Choir Schools Association (CSA), a group to which all choir schools in Britain belong, is trying to create a template for these often complex arrangements. Such joint action is devoutly to be wished for and it shows that our schools are all carefully considering the well - being of our pupils in a very complicated set of circumstances.
As the Sub Dean and I found ourselves queuing up at the ticket machines on Oxford station with only a few minutes left before the train departed, we started musing on the best approach to take towards queues; should one, for instance, choose a queue and stick to it, or should one switch queues half way through? As we contemplated these weighty matters, the Sub Dean turned to me and said: "There must be a sermon in this somewhere." I realised suddenly that priests and headmasters have much in common; they are always on the lookout for situations which might potentially become the material for talks and sermons. I'll generously leave the matter of queue etiquette to the Sub Dean, but it occurred to me, as I spoke to my son about Transformers, that here, as ever, was a metaphor for human life; and of course so there should be because very few films or stories written for children are about anything other than people, even though they are often portrayed in the guise of animals, mythical beasts or indeed robots.
So back then to transformers; like these robotic creatures, human beings can indeed transform themselves. They can become useful members of society through their professions. Though, unlike their mechanical cousins, they cannot become planes, they can fly them; though they cannot become cars, they almost all do drive them (even though if one lives in Oxford one does sometimes feel like a car!). More importantly, though the change does take longer, people can transform themselves. This whole matter of transformation seems to me to be very important because it is something that I believe in strongly. I do not believe that someone's destiny is determined very early in their lives, perhaps by what one has inherited genetically or indeed by early experiences. In fact, throughout one's life, I believe, one is able to act so as to be able to change one's future, in other words, to transform oneself. I remember, when I was at university, being terribly struck when I discovered that one of the leading novelists of the day had started to write at the age of 70. People can change the habits of a lifetime; people can be transformed by decisions they make at any stage of their lives, or indeed they can be transformed by the actions of others.
I strongly believe that it is never too late to change. However, it is undeniable that transformation becomes increasingly difficult the longer one lives and the earlier one learns to act in positive ways, the easier it is to live a decent, successful and good life. And it's here that schools are so important and it is vital that in places like CCCS we provide our pupils with all the skills that they need in order to prepare themselves for a good life. We take very seriously indeed our responsibility to ensure that your sons receive all the help and guidance they require to transform themselves and thereby to help transform the societies in which they live. That's the message to be taken from my contemplation of transformers.
The only other message is that if your son is a transformers fan you may be interested to know that this Saturday afternoon the makers of the film, Transformers 5, will be doing some filming in Radcliffe Square. Though this will probably be of considerable interest to the pupils, I am not altogether sure it bodes well for the long term survival of Oxford, having seen what havoc transformers are able to wreak on various North American mega - cities. There is always the possibility though that Oxford's rather more seductive architecture might affect the ultimate transformation upon the destructive urges of those mechanical vandals! After all Oxford has transformed very many of us!