Psychogeographical ramble

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Obscurely wandering in an early cloudy dawn after freshening night’s rain, I am thinking about psychogeography. Curious, yes.

Why? A mélange of reasons: here are five. We have a geography conference today and there will, I am sure, be talk of it there.  Local poet (and poet’s poet) Edward Thomas, on our minds in the 100th year of his death,  played his part in the development of psychogeography, being a rambler-thinker who was intrigued by ancient paths and therefore an inspiration for Robert Macfarlane (The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot).  A big Macfarlane fan, I have even been inspired to read his muse, Nan Shepherd, and walk in her steps imaginatively over the Cairngorms.  More locally, I have been struck too by the artwork that children in Dunhurst and Dunannie have produced, inspired by Thomas’ poetry.  Thanks to a kind birthday gift, I am reading two books that have a psychogeographical flavour, being based on the idea of the flâneur and the flâneuse, and such those moody trampers of urban landscapes as Baudelaire and Jean Rhys.  And finally, summer’s lease invites plenty of walking in our dreamy nook of Hampshire– mainly early morning and late evening.

Bringing it all closer to home and to the psychology of space, my driftings around our outdoor spaces remind me how influential our students and other resident mammals have been on our landscape.  Yes, so much of this place’s nature was set by its early agricultural life, whether that is the division between its fields or the quasi-agricultural establishment of the Orchard at the school’s heart; but there is a more recent series of shape-shiftings.

My dawn walk along what I think is a familiar path suddenly has me pulling up sharp, aided for once by a cowering black dog whose instincts are better tuned: black mutt the saves day, I think, as I pull up sharp to avoid walking into an electric fence: pigs!  Of course, the pigs have been moved – well, their location has been moved; they are distinctly unmoved, I note, observing the gentle rise and fall of a sleeping flitch of sandy and black, cosy in its sty.  Pigs clear land of scrub, so their progress around the school’s messier bits of woodland is making those places easier to walk through and more pleasant to be in.  We continue down the hill, admiring the view we have through the trees.

Our outdoors affects our indoors: bringing the beauty of the outdoors inside was one of the aspirations of the Orchard building and, more recently, the Art & Design one.  I am glad of that as I sit in classes and meetings in rooms where the benefit of outside combines with that of being inside.

This is all in advance of our Parents’ Day this weekend when members of the community – future, present and past – will be celebrating the place we share and which has or will shape us.

Although the Orchard will exert its usual gravitational pull, I trust there will be plenty of what (brace yourself) those psychogeographers called dérive.  This means (more or less) drifting, but like many things, sounds better in French.

 

Making time

keith-budge-blog-6-3-17-fcb_bedales-school-of-art-and-design_-huftoncrow_022_

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

The emphasis that Bedales Assessed Courses (BACs) have on coursework and the conclusion of those courses at the end of this month means that this stage in the Spring Term  entails much making and doing – whether your creation is an English Literature essay, your History chronicles, a gargantuan Utopia project, a student-crafted play or your Design artefact, we are coming into the zenith of the season of Block 5 doing and making.

The new Art & Design building is always an interesting place to visit, but doing so around midday on Sunday was especially gripping.  Turn right and you’re in a beautiful Fashion Design studio full of Block 5s making sumptuous clothes: here is Lettie’s MRI-scan themed tie-dyed (and multi-coloured) corset. By contrast there is Mia’s magpie themed (suitably black) dress with its multiple feathery tassel bits.  Over by the window pinned to the mannequin is Tiger’s shapely aquamarine sea-water-themed chiffon dress; and so she mulls:  the ripples in the chiffon are suitable, it seems, but when does a ripple become a ruck?  The 60s tend to feature – and, yes, here is an octagon inspired dress: Fleur is mapping out the octagons’ geometry – tricky work.

Over in the Product Design side, Cian is sanding his maple clock and Goose has created the most exotic of tables, with a mariner’s top and a bark-covered base which will be coated in a PVA and water mix to ensure it lasts.  Lily is making a very different table which has a reversible top – backgammon on one side and general purpose on the other.  Jack’s wellie and coat holder has involved some serious welding and is at least as tall as I am.  Joel’s glider launcher combines an electric motor with a crafty take-off pad, whilst Archie’s Cooking Camping Stove Unit even has a mini cool box – handy indeed.  Happily the new Jewellery Bay has had some action. MIllie’s steel bracelet needs some intricate cutting.

The patient students have to put up with my nosey questions – about materials and thought processes; but I find it as interesting as I do encouraging.  There is real pride in what they are doing and such a sense of purpose infusing the whole weekend: teachers, technicians and students are working closely together.

Next stop, Bedales Dance Performs on Thursday evening.

Space to make and grow

Much talk here about creativity and its links with entrepreneurship.  This comes partly through discussions with parents (current and prospective), colleagues and students, partly because of the changes we are seeing to buildings and spaces at Bedales and partly because of the way in which the aspirations of young Britons in their twenties seem to have changed.

Let me try to flesh out each of these three threads in turn.

You do not need to be a futurologist to see that the world of work has changed markedly from the one most parents of secondary school age parents emerged into.  Jobs within corporate structures for life are rare; serial careers will increasingly become the norm; individuals will have to become much more proactive in the development of their own personal “brand”; and chunk of jobs in professions currently considered to be relatively safe from automation will disappear as some of the more routine work done by, for example, lawyers and pharmacists is automated.

Accompanying parents’ awareness that this will be the case is a healthy scepticism about schools’ ability to prepare children for the future.  Strange to find me saying this? Maybe.  But think about the way that the state determines the curriculum: decisions taken by Michael Gove in, say, 2011 will affect those sitting some GCSEs in 2017 and therefore those students emerging into the workplace from 2019 at the earliest – 2022 if they have gone to university.  And this was a (famously) quick curriculum change (and maybe with an eye more to the past than the future, but that’s another topic).

You do not need to have seen Sir Ken Robinson’s famous TED talk to know that the way that our schools are organised, with the emphasis on orderly progression and the silos of individual subjects is largely a Victorian creation.  Schools are good at doing all sorts of things but in general they adjust only in miniscule ways to the needs of the future.  My education equipped me splendidly to stride out into the empire that had more or less disappeared by my birth.

Second thread: changes to buildings and spaces.  Create a new building which combines all the different elements of Design (i.e. designing anything and making anything) with all the different elements of Fine Art and you have new possibilities; put that new Art & Design building close to the department (Outdoor Work) that also builds, creates and grows things (from lettuces to pigs, via hedges and barns, not to mention chutney, pizzas, duck houses and fleeces) and you are making a space where all sorts of additional things will happen.  Have an idea? Good, you can probably see if it will work.

Creating the space within and between these areas of endeavour will only result in interesting things happening if these moves are accompanied by a no-fear, can-do, give-it-a-go approach by the teachers who oversee them and a broader willingness to trust students to develop their initiatives.  I am very confident that this instinct is alive and well here.

Third thread: young Britons in their twenties (aka millenials) are much more likely to want to run their own business and to favour a high degree of autonomy over their lives than their parents.  Having children and numerous nieces and nephews in these areas, it is clear that the proportion of them and their friends whose interests lie in either starting a business themselves or joining a small enterprise is considerable.  The reputation that London – and in particular its hipster /start up centres such as Shoreditch – has gathered as a start up hub is of course a factor, but I suspect that this is much more trend than fad.

My spur to writing about this came on Monday morning when I watched a lesson which involved the making of butter in Outdoor Work.  There in the folksy surroundings of the Bakery I saw eight Block 3s make butter from scratch: the pouring of Jersey unpasteurised cream into little hand churners; the careful churning; the separation of the butter from the butter milk; the patting of the butter and then the addition of different flavours – garlic, radish, tarragon or chilli.   As the Outdoor Work farm shop (under the ODW clock tower) becomes a reality next academic year, the incentive for students to devise new things they want to make and sell will increase.  I heard yesterday that one is now developing a business making soap.  Expect a farm shop with a big range of products. This is a space definitely to be watched.

Doing, making and appreciating the beautiful

Doing, making and appreciating the beautiful – all have been in good evidence this weekend.

My amble round (accompanied by singular dog) takes in A2 devised drama rehearsals in the theatre, BAC design and Outdoor Work.  The dancers have had a productive weekend choreographing their pieces and are content as I catch them on their way out.  Designers in evidence include Charlie whose beehive-inspired spice rack has been a fiendish thing to create, initially on the computer: now the CAD (computer aided design) machine is in its sixth hour of toil, bringing Charlie’s vision to life.  Chris’ concentration over the metal lathe is palpable as he makes the delicate little legs for his piece. Over in the wood corner, students work in oak and chestnut – here, for example, Izzy’s table is shaping up well as she smooths the legs – there’s an island etched into the top.

Upstairs in Fashion Design and ingenuity is also afoot – who would have thought of a dress with a sumptuous oil spill weaving its way down it?  Nellie has. And doesn’t that Art Deco dress – striking in black – have a beautiful gold-etched design at the top?  Its inspiration is the Chrysler building in New York, I learn, from Emily.

Over in Outdoor Work and they have had a productive weekend too.  The Bridge across to the Lake is becoming a reality, thanks to Talulah, Dylan and Henry S; it looks elegant and sturdy.  I recommend both a plaque and a formal title.  Other fruits of the weekend include a fine piece of hazel fence weaving – courtesy of Ed and Henry F, whose magnificent duck house looks all set to take its place in Marie Antoinette’s garden – and, over by the Black Barn, clever work with the classy pig sty and the egg incubation unit.

But even ahead of all of this in my mental scrap album is a Saturday evening at St Peter’s Church in Petersfield where the Bedales Cecilia Consort joins with Southern Pro Musica.  Conductor Jonathan Willocks, formerly Director of Music at Bedales conducts the combined group in Mozart’s Dixit Dominus, Ave verum corpus and Haydn’s Insanae et vanae curae.  This is a wonderful opportunity for our choir to work with a professional orchestra, performing to a packed audience in a building with a fine acoustic.

But the evening belongs to the young Bedales cellist, Caleb, whose performance of the Haydn Cello Concerto in C is breathtaking in its virtuosity.  I have seen a number of very fine individual performances in schools but nothing can match this. His performance is the product of a year’s intense practice and focussed learning. It is a stunning result and the encores roll on. Bravo, Caleb!

Nailing it

Want straight-talking no-nonsense advice on looking after yourself or, if you have stumbled or waltzed into parenthood, your child?  Call Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, one of Australia’s leading adolescent and child psychologists.  We are lucky: he has chosen to visit his old school – Bedales Prep School, Dunhurst – 51 years after he left, after a brief but happy stay as (yes..) a seven year old boarder.

Having spent Monday evening with Michael, heard the positive ripples from the seminar he led with Bedales and Dunhurst pastoral staff in the afternoon and seen him in action in his illuminating lecture in the Bedales theatre in the evening, I can see why he is such an influential and sought after figure in the topical area of adolescent wellbeing and mental health

Like the best teachers, he clearly likes, understands and relishes working with young people.  There’s no whiff of condescension.  There’s no beating around any bush or ducking any issue.  That look on the face of an outraged teenage girl when her parent has told her that she cannot have what she wants is memorably named by Michael in the title of his best-selling book – Princess Bitchface Syndrome.  We might think it – he says it.  In his clunky terminology, nailed.

Parents’ occasional, supine feebleness over things digital is also nailed: “Find your digital spine!” he exhorts; if what your youngster is telling you s/he should be able to do is clearly against their wellbeing, forbid them!

Likewise nailed are things that anyone who has worked with children and been a parent knows intuitively.  For me, one powerful truth is foremost in my mind: the value of what he calls “islands of competence” or sparks.  This is what educators see on a daily basis: the impact on a young person’s life – and therefore wellbeing in the broadest sense – of something catching their interest, energy and ultimately passion.  Michael talked with typical humour about his son’s passion for leg-spin bowling. It could just as easily be the violin or blacksmithing or tennis or Beowulf or the guitar or cross-country running or running your own car-washing business.  The role of schools and parents is to create the environment which gives children plenty of choice – and then to allow the child to fan the spark into a fire, cheering on what they do.

Sometimes it takes a while to see the effect of those islands of competence or sparks.  Intriguing then on the night following Michael’s talk to be at one of our first Old Bedalian gatherings based on a particular career area – in this case Art and Design.  So, I and colleagues far better qualified to be there – Art and Design teachers above all – have such an enjoyable and stimulating couple of hours in a (stylish, hipsterish) place under a rumbling arch by Waterloo.   Here are around 100 OBs – aged 19 upwards –  who have made their ways in areas connected with Art and Design.  Many conversations go back to those moments at school when a spark caught – and the fires keep burning and burning.

Building speak

“Duskily glowing, I always think,” murmurs Mem Library, as if to himself.

“What are you burbling on about, now? Do I detect a recurrence of literary reference, august friend and neighbour?”

“You can hardly blame me for being a bit literary, what with all my books – and that ‘duskily glowing’ just seems to capture how the mid January evening sun feels on my flank of an evening – lovely, you know? And it’s from Edward Thomas, y’know; he’s one of ours, a Steep fellow.”

“I suppose it’s fine for you to be a bit pleased with yourself – ‘most beautiful school library, jewel of the late Arts & Crafts’ blah, blah blah! It’s not fair: lots of interesting  things happen in your much visited, Grade listed 1 interior – and you are so warm; here I am with my lovely crucks, my bold austerity, my Powell clock, my Grade 1 status too, my sleek benches and all I have is some music and a bit of LAMDA – not for me the constant patter of student feet, those fascinating exhibitions of warriors and that recurrent lovely shhhh! Sound –“

“It’s your benches – they are too many – and they are too hard.”

Mem Lib and his bosom adjacent pal, Lupton (nee New) Hall have these kind of ruminative talks, as befit the products of Ernest Gimson – and, of course, the two most distinguished of Bedales’ buildings.

The reflective silence is broken by Lupton’s tentative thought:

“The new one’s coming on all right.”

Art & Design, you mean?”

“Yes, it’s all been so quick – one moment those disreputable sheds are there, the next another big one is springing up – and quite close to cousin Steephurst too – “

“Not that close, you old fusspot, just cosy.”

“OK, cosy….. I like her cladding – a bit like that Orchard Building you are so snooty about.”

Mem Lib gathers for the kind of portentous statement you can make if you are such a jewel of the late Arts & Crafts movement.

“I think A&D is going to be a welcome addition to the family of Bedales buildings – and that we lucky products of the great Gimson (pronounced J as in ‘genial’), we lucky few – “

“Aw, pipe down, dear Mem, pipe down…”

Fun constructing: the wright stuff

DSC_0013

Construction is in the air – literally in the case of the steel skeleton of the new Art & Design building, which is being assembled like a piece of outsized meccano in the previously undisturbed sky outside Steephurst. It is also proceeding apace outside Design, where Sammy M’s gracefully engineered skateboard ramp is nearing completion. No doubt the final layers of varnish are being applied to pieces we will admire on Parents’ Day.

But it is the shaping of word and song that I want to celebrate for a moment. Here are three topical instances from across the age range.

Sunday, 4 pm Bedales Olivier theatre – the cast and crew of Everyone else is a superhero are working hard in the Olivier theatre as their all-in weekend nears its conclusion. It is the first time that I have seen these Block 3s and 4s in action and they seem somehow (given that they have been working on this play for 24 hours already) to still have boundless energy. I sit and watch. Are they rehearsing or are they constructing the play? In my (of course) old-fashioned way I still think that you find a play on a page and then you, well, do it; but life in the theatre has become much more interesting than that – so, no, you old fuddy duddy, you devise a play, creating something out of an idea and, lo, the play is constructed from the process. However much I know that this can happen in theory and indeed I have seen recent evidence of its success with Phil King’s productions, here I am, watching a rehearsal and I am seeing this play evolve. It is being made. Stuff happens in the rehearsal – yes, some funny and unexpected stuff (secret for the time being); and, yes, the funny, accidental stuff has gone into the play, with the decision being made instantaneously – bold and clever, I say, especially as at some point (I hope by now) Richard Weinman who is our director in residence, needs to say, “STOP, THAT’S IT, NO MORE CHANGES!” And the play will stop evolving and start being honed towards performance. Anyway I am looking forward to seeing how it turns out and I think it will be funny and thought-provoking – in the Theatre from Saturday onwards. It will have been great fun to be in – and a brilliant bit of education.

Monday, 7.30, Drama studio – three short plays performed by 6.1s. All have been written by sixth formers for the National Theatre’s New Views competition. Each is about 15 minutes long. The actors have had the unusual experience of working closely with the authors (their peers). The subject matter – lives on the edge, literally in one case – demands a high level of skill in the writing – especially that tricky business of creating dialogue that works. All three of the plays have something to say to the packed audience. Impressively all three scripts have been learnt and are performed with feeling. It’s a gutsy and powerful occasion.

Wednesday, 9.15, Dunhurst Well – the world premiere of The Gruffalo, the opera – musical settings and songs composed by the children of Dunannie. Here is the spirit of devising and improvising at large in Dunannie. Under the inspiring guidance of Mea Wade and Ben Harlan, the children have improvised tunes for the words of The Gruffalo. The tunes have been then quickly written down as they are being sung and chords have been created to support them. So what we hear in the Well was lots of different tunes stuck together with chords to make one coherent melody. First, the Forest Overture is performed by the Dunnanie Orchestra. Each creature has its signature tune, so for example the owl’s call is created on a battery of xylophones and recorders. Then comes that story itself, with the full choir in support. It is rapturously received: bravo!