Friday, 9th February 2018
One of my aims when I came to Christ Church Cathedral School was to introduce the sport of Real Tennis. I thought this would be interesting, particularly given our proximity to the court on Merton Street and the fact that the most famous exponent of the game, Henry VIII, was our founder. Indeed it was said that he was playing Real Tennis when he heard of the execution of his second wife, Anne Boleyn. Imagine my delight then when on Sunday after a competition against a number of other schools, Ambrose and Carl-Ludwig, representing CCCS, were crowned U13 national champions, having beaten the Dragon School in the final! This is, of course, a real feather in the cap of the school, and a great credit to two very fine, determined and able young men – I am delighted for them and hope they enjoy their status as national champions. How long will it be, I wonder, before Real Tennis becomes an Olympic sport? I suspect not in time for CCCS to have Olympic champions in its midst!
Today we are hosting the House General Knowledge Quiz and the Poetry Recitation Competition. Both of these exercises are, in my estimation, very important. I appreciate that the development of artificial intelligence will mean that knowledge is less important; however I do still believe that having a decent general knowledge allows one to orient oneself in the world and to be able to understand the importance of certain information or views almost instinctively. It is easier to see through a false argument if one has, ready at hand, knowledge, and I feel that we empower our pupils by creating a culture in which general knowledge is valued as we give them the instruments to be able to make judgements. It also seems to go hand in hand with an attitude towards the world, an attitude of curiosity and engagement which is entirely healthy. I also anticipate considerable inter-house rivalry. This has to be a good thing too!
So what then of poetry recitation? All our boys will be repeating their poems from memory. Is this task one which is worth anything? You will not be surprised to hear that I consider this to be a vital skill too. I believe passionately that to learn poetry by heart is a transformative experience. To learn poetry is somehow to internalise it and make it your own. In a way which I do not fully understand, it seems to reshape the mind and, particularly if the poem is inspiring or ennobling, it has a correspondingly inspirational and ennobling effect upon the person who has learnt it. I genuinely believe that one is a better person for having internalised a piece of poetry. It seems to me that it creates a sense of well–being, of understanding, a sense that the world is a place where decent things can and should be done and it gives human beings a sense that they are capable of noble acts and that we are more than just sophisticated animals. This may of course be a delusion, but I suspect it isn’t. Knowing some poetry by heart has always been hugely important to me. It is also the case that the poetry I learnt when young is still with me whereas much else that has come my way, has long gone. My life has been immeasurably enhanced by the poetry which I have read and particularly that I have learnt and I hope very much that this will be the case with our boys. Anyhow I hope very much that, by the time you read this, I will have seen you at the recitation and that you will agree with what I have said. At the very least it should be a feast for the ears and indeed for the spirit.
I hope that everyone has a lovely half term. It has been a half term like no other in terms of illness – so many people that I know have been working at half speed or been absent. I cannot commend our staff more. They have covered a great deal to keep the show on the road – indeed the school has seemed to me to have been a particularly purposeful place and it has been a lovely environment to have been in over the past few weeks. Form 8 will be doing a decent amount of preparation for their mock exams but I hope that they and all of the pupils find time to rest and recuperate so that they are full of life and energy upon their return in ten days’ time. Have fun!