The strong “looking after” impulse

In sole charge of two dogs and three chickens over the next couple of days, so up early and out into a brilliant May morning; great to see our quickly fattening Jacob’s lambs looking stunning and  scampering in Cobb’s Field; no sign of the pigs, maybe they are proverbially lolling in muck. With lambing over I no longer bump into the eager early morning lambers, but find myself thinking about how strong the impulse is in all of us at various stages in our lives to look after all sorts of creatures. Mine would include a kitten (George or Ringo, yes, circa ’63), luckless terrapins (’70- 72), sundry decorative fish (’68), baby (wild) rabbits (’67-’73) and, I fear, a (wild) mouse whose ability to survive  for over a year with minimal attention in a redundant fish tank took me and my brother by surprise. Apart from counting myself lucky not to have been prosecuted several times for forgetting to look after these creatures or imprisoning them in the first case, I find myself thinking about how strong that “looking after” impulse is – and what a big part it is – not just of growing up but I daresay of human need. Typical of Philip Pullman that he captures this idea so brilliantly with his daemon idea in His Dark Materials. Not only the concept that we each have our daemon which both reflects something about us but which interacts with other people’s daemons, but also that children before adolescence have daemons which can become any creature – and that it is only with the onset of adolescence that your daemon becomes fixed. We are tied to our daemons and they interact with other people’s daemons – say, fighting or nuzzling. Unusually my early morning walk with clumsy, genial, energetic Zazu (regulation black lab) and Ailsa (scratchy, cowardly, lithe Westie) doesn’t involve any meetings with other dogs or their owners. I suppose dogs are about as close as we get to daemons and sometimes they do become alarmingly like their owners – that heavily tattooed bloke with the aggressive walk in the white singlet and harsh pectorals generally isn’t accompanied by a fluffy poodle – but it is also fun to imagine what different people’s daemons would be like: various of my headmaster colleagues, for example, or even Michael Gove’s, which I suspect isn’t doing much nuzzling of David Cameron’s at the moment. Yes, that is shaping up nicely but I will keep my powder dry. One of the most extraordinary schools I visited – in the Mojave mountains of California, required all new students (our year 10) to take charge of a horse – either their own or one that the school rented to them. This custom originated from the time when the students had needed a horse to get to the school. Revelatory for me was getting up early on our second day at the school and seeing these privileged youngsters, mainly from LA, having to muck out the horses under the watchful eyes and no-nonsense language of the attendant cowboy types – there was no room for argument or dilly-dallying. It was a brilliant corrective to some of the more self-indulgent sides of  adolescence. In the old days here at Bedales students brought their pets. Nowadays Outdoor Work opportunities are there  – and all the many passing dogs – so we don’t do badly but nothing for me will even quite match that year-long commitment to tend to your horse.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.