By David Anson, Head of English Photos by Andy Cheese, Teacher of Art
Last weekend, Greg Clarke and I ran a weekend activity for boarders making decorative Christmas crackers. Students have been participating in lots of Christmas craft activities at school recently – Greg worked with the same group of students pictured here before long leave to make decorative boxes for Christmas presents – and in many of the activities, students have been working to support the Winter Wonderland event that Katie McBride has planned for the last week of term. Last weekend, we made lino cuts with various Christmas designs and every member of the group printed a sheet of wrapping paper, with some making Christmas cards as well.
On Sunday, we had a belated Halloween party on Steephurst. With lots of volunteers from different year groups, we started setting up at 2pm. Block 4 and 6.1 made a delicious pumpkin soup, while volunteers from all year groups decorated the courtyard with balloons, garlands and stickers. COVID related restrictions meant there were staggered times for students to come and enjoy the festivities. We made a photo booth and poster and there was popcorn, hot dogs, soup, hot chocolate, make-up and temporary tattoos to keep everyone entertained. Despite the restrictions, it was really nice to dress up collectively and share a carefree evening together.
Quoting the German General Moltke rather than John Badley in a ‘beginning of the new school year’ blog might seem unusual, but given the exhaustive planning that has gone into re-opening the Bedales schools this week, an acknowledgement of the importance of planning and strategy seems appropriate. ‘No plan of operations extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy’s main strength’ is often represented in snappier form as ‘no plan survives contact with the enemy’. Having stepped unbidden into the role of senior mask monitor I share Moltke’s view. Day 1 of this much anticipated and much heralded term demonstrated the clash between plans and reality. Badley’s ‘work of each for weal of all’ has been prominently presented at all our beginning of term gatherings to underline how individual actions and decisions can have community wide resonance and consequence. With studied patience I say to an unmasked student squeezing their way through a crowded door, ‘Where’s your mask?’. To which they reply, ‘I don’t have one. I thought the school were supplying them’. Or rather, ‘Work of you for weal of me.’ I reach for my handy stash of disposable medical face masks and hope it might last beyond the end of the lesson.
The essence of the Bedales School rules are enshrined on a board in the corridor around the Quad that all Bedalians shuffle past on their way into the dining room. Badley’s stricture that whatever causes ‘Needless exposure of oneself or others to danger or infection’ has suddenly received extra historic resonance. Those rules pre-date 1942 and the development of penicillin by 40 years. Infection in 1893 could mean death, and the 1918 Spanish ‘Flu pandemic would not have left the Bedales community unscathed. There isn’t any direct reference to Bedales’ students losing their lives due to Spanish ‘Flu, but the fear of the spread of infection, as all seasonal winter ‘flu epidemics can spread, would have been very profound. ‘Coughs and sneezes spread diseases’ would have been as relevant and true then as it is now. So everyone in the Bedales School community: students, teaching staff and support staff across all three schools, some 1,300 souls all in all, have to safeguard and protect each other, from the immune to the vulnerable (who won’t necessarily know who they are).
Students, parents and teachers have had so much to endure since the end of March. The panicked decision to close schools and cancel exams, the A level results’ fiasco, and the uncertainty about when and how schools could re-open, were all caused by a dysfunctional government found wanting. At least now within our own school campus, re-imagined as a self-governed city state, we have the opportunity to return to that sacred exchange of teaching and learning that seeks to link ‘head, hand and heart.’
Since half term, the Houseparent teams have been hosting online ‘At Homes’ with our students. It has been lovely to catch up with people and hear how they are doing either locally, further afield in the UK or abroad. As ever, these forums of discussion are re-energising for us as Houseparents, and it has been great to get the students together in a social context. The students also found it helpful hearing from their peers as to how they are managing life in lockdown. We look forward to more virtual At Homes, although we would much rather be meeting face-to-face at Bedales.
To give you a flavour of what has been happening at my At Homes this week, I showed the boys in my house how to make poached eggs live – this was my first attempt too! I was delighted that some of the boys joined in at the same time, poaching eggs in their own kitchen. We all had moments of great triumph as we cut into a poached egg and out flowed delicious yellow yolk. We all had moments of disaster as eggs split, yolks went too hard and one even ended up on a laptop! I suggested poached eggs go well with haggis or avocado, or of course, Eggs Benedict… that will be for next week!
Stories of family meals, cooking from scratch, the challenge to use up the dry goods lurking in our cupboards and shared time spent cooking and chatting seem to be a recurring theme of many of our catch-ups with students. The same is going on in our own households within the staff community at Bedales; from inventive games of cooking different world cuisines each week, to embracing the idea of batch cooking to make the best use of giant tins of tomatoes from Matt Pott’s community shop. The desire to stay connected and acknowledge some of the shifts in our daily experiences feels important at this time and we hope that some of the mealtimes in your households might form part of a Bedales Lockdown Cookbook to raise money for charity.
After my morning lessons on Saturday, I – along with significant help from history teacher and house parent Chris Bott, as well as Block 5 student Teo Sydow Elias – set to work on unboxing and starting the build. We started at 1pm on Saturday and worked until late into the evening, stopping only for dinner.
My help on the project was halted on Sunday morning by an early start for some volunteering work with the Rural Refugee Network, as organised by Al McConville. I and several others helped set up and martial their Walk for Hope, a charity walk that raises money to help support Syrian refugees in the UK. Fellow 6.1 student Eloise Cooper helped man the drinks stall at Elsted Village Hall for another fundraiser, which included raffle tickets, cakes (courtesy of Outdoor Work) and drinks as ways to raise money. There were several touching speeches from founders of the charity and also some of the people who they have helped arrive and settle in the UK.