Hiraeth, hefting and hygge


By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Soon to re-visit Trieste and woken early by owls, I am reading Jan Morris’ poignant slim volume Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere.  An extraordinary book about an extraordinary place, it introduces me to the Welsh word hiraeth which has no direct translation into English; she describes it in her introduction as “an unspecified yearning”.   Inklings of Spring bring hiraeth for some – perhaps most famously in T.S. Eliot’s opening to The Waste Land.   Here, whether it is through the Bedales Orchard’s return to pedestrian use (although please avoid the daffodils), the contented snuffling of Lucky’s new litter in the Black Barn, my first view of a red kite over the Orchard Building or the Dunannie Spring Festival, I find myself thinking more of the word used by Lake District shepherds to describe the way that their sheep become attached to a particular piece of ground – hefting.

The Dunannie Spring Festival combines dance, song, poetry and film.  We have strip the willow, owl and humming bird songs, touches of Oliver and Sound of Music and splendid haikus, the most striking being those in the voices of birds. Here is a sample – thanks to Sebbie, Tom, Oscar and Ted (see below).  The Festival ends with the film of a homemade Spring Watch episode, Dunannie-style, featuring daffodil girls, snow drop queens, pupil rabbits and spring poets, all surely hefted in their orchard.

Hiraeth and hefting are words which have a poignant twist for anyone lucky enough to be at The Middle East Society Civics given by William Sieghart on Tuesday evening. Having set up the Middle East Society after spending most of my sabbatical term in 2009 in that region – Cairo mainly, but Jordan and Syria afterwards – it is pleasing to witness an occasion like this when we have not only a wonderfully clear account of the problems facing the Israelis and the Palestinians but also such a clear sense of the broader responsibility that Europe has for what has happened there.  It is intriguing and humbling to hear about the work that William has been so closely involved with in helping community leaders from both sides gain a better understanding of each other and of the links between this region, Northern Ireland and South Africa. Attending a talk like this must whet your appetite to know more, I think, as the questions to William flow.  Lucky us to have this talk and lucky us to have the unusual blessing of a beautiful secure place to live in and a society whose discords do not threaten our lives.

Hygge is on my mind too: this Danish term, maybe a bit over bought in the Christmas hype, is the subject of an Extended Project (EP) that I am overseeing.  The EP folk – some 1/3 of the 6.1s – have the exhibition of their work in the Library this week and then are in over the weekend completing their pieces.   Here’s trusting that there will be communal hygge as they survey their work and reflect on how much they have learned about managing projects and the thrill that can accompany a single-minded pursuit of what intrigues you.

By Sebbie

The albatross flies,

Viciously eats fish for life,

He shimmers the sky


Little Brown Owl
By Tom

Brown, silky feathers,

Illuminous eyes glowing

Scampering for prey


Tawny Owl
By Oscar

The glow in the sun

Shines on my feathery breast

Brown with speckled white


Sparrow Hawk
By Ted

Ready for action,

Dive with speed amazingly fast,

Sweet delicious prey

Mind-stretching opportunity

Friday lunchtime and it’s time to plant a lime tree: joining my four tutees (head boys and girls), we are the last of the tutor groups to do this; planting the penultimate tree of the stately line of limes that will increasingly mark the entrance to the school. Much talk about trees as we wait by our spades: how many we have, plant and how to look after them. Well, that was my project for the day – OK, a bit of a cheat, really –  in the great tradition of quasi-ceremonial tree-planting, the hole had been beautifully dug (out of dense clay) by a crafty (mechanical) digger before we did the nurturing bit with compost, tree-food, stamping and bark.

But it’s in the evening when the projects really get going as, in the SLT, we have the first of the 6.1 Extended Project presentations. The EP gives any 6.1 who chooses to do it a mind-stretching opportunity to pursue anything they want: they are assessed (for their resulting AS grade) entirely on the process – it’s all about planning, research and independent study – the best kind of learning through doing. And it is a shimmering display of enquiry and endeavour as we heard the seven presentations – each for 10 minutes with 5 minutes’ questions. Elize L on Tellling a Story through Dance. Emily H on A Brief History of the English Language. Maddy G on The Morality of Punishment.  Kristaan F on The Physical and Mental Effects of Aeronautical Activity. Archie H on How Steam Changed the World and why is is important to preserve it. Felix C on Eames Chair Build. And Sam W on Computer Security. Wonderful to see the confidence and ingenuity of the presentations – some with touches of the most expressive of TV presenters; one with more than a hint of the great Steve Jobs. But above all, it was the reflective comments that showed how much learning had gone on: “I hadn’t realised how much work there would be creating such a complex artefact.” “I wanted to get better at planning and I feel I did.” “If I could do my EP again I would do it again as a magazine [rather than as a website].”  And the sheer enthusiasm: “it was much more fun to do this than doing my [other AS] work.”  “I was really enthralled.”  Well, so were we.

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 school. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.