Friday, 9th June 2017
Since the Scottish referendum on independence on September 18th 2014, we have not had a straightforward election and the one which I have just spent much of the night watching has been as extraordinary as the Brexit vote and the recent presidential election in the US, completely defying expectations. I wonder what our children think? I wonder if they are going to imagine that all elections are as extraordinary as the ones which they have experienced over the past two and a half years. If politics ever reverts to the more predictable, will they feel cheated? Will they always demand high octane elections?
What lessons ought our pupils to learn from this election? We tend to advise our pupils to take risks intellectually, to experiment with ideas – clearly though, taking risks does not always produce the results that one intends! We tell our pupils to look smart and think about their appearance – how interesting that so many found a casually dressed, bearded, middle-aged man so popular! Perhaps more seriously, it's clear that ideas do matter, and that people are inspired by policies and not just image. One cannot call Jeremy Corbyn a product of the spin doctor and yet he seems to have inspired so many to re-join the political debate, particularly younger people. Expectations have been defied and the assumptions that have dominated British politics have been torn up in a night. Life is always more complex than we give it credit for.
To help meditate upon the night I will be spending much of today walking back from Youlbury Scouting Camp to the School with Forms Three and Four. They have spent the night camping there and it will be lovely to walk through the Oxfordshire fields with our pupils at this most glorious time of year. We'll then walk along the river, arriving back at school a couple of hours later. One of the great pleasures of living in Oxford is the way in which the country laps up to the centre of the town. We will be able to walk from Boars Hill to Christ Church without leaving the countryside for any length of time. One can still read Matthew Arnold's words about the hills round Cumnor and recognise the scene he describes:
Runs it not here, the track by Childsworth Farm,
Up past the wood, to where the elm-tree crowns
The hill behind whose ridge the sunset flames?
The signal-elm, that looks on Ilsley Downs,
The Vale, the three lone weirs, the youthful Thames?
This winter-eve is warm,
Humid the air; leafless, yet soft as spring,
The tender purple spray on copse and briers;
And that sweet City with her dreaming spires,
She needs not June for beauty's heightening.
Surely these are some of the most beautiful words ever written about a City and its surroundings. Let us hope our pupils notice the beauty of their surroundings as they march back to school. Mind you, Arnold was also the poet who wrote about the Scholar Gypsy, a character from the past about whom he said:
O born in days when wits were fresh and clear,
And life ran gaily as the sparkling Thames;
Before this strange disease of modern life,
With its sick hurry, its divided aims,
But that's another story...
Unlike Jeremy Corbyn, it seems that I am someone who cares greatly about image. One of our pupils told his mother last week that he would like to shave his hair off at the front of his head just like Mr Murray does. I am perfectly happy for people to believe that the unavoidable forces of nature which denude the innocence of hair cover are, in fact, deliberate fashion statements. It somehow feels empowering!