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.


An evening at the RGS

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Ever been to the Royal Geographical Society?  Well I hadn’t until Monday – it’s amazing, the RGS, as I now say confidently.  For those brimming with quips about it being a place given over solely to the pursuit of Geography teaching in schools – with attendant cheap comments about elbow patches on musty tweed jackets – think again.  Saunter round its splendid rooms on the edge of Hyde Park in South Kensington; admire the portraits of Stanley, Livingstone and Speke.  This is the nursery and inspiration to our great British explorers.  Admire the cabinet containing the instruments that guided Darwin’s skipper, Fitzroy to the Galápagos and, yes, there it is, the simple form recommending Fitzroy for membership of the RGS.

Paul-Turner (Large)I was at the RGS for a Bedales first: to see our Head of Geography, Paul Turner, awarded one of the two National Teaching Awards for Excellence in Secondary Geography Education.  This award, sponsored by the Ordnance Survey, was given to Paul as part of the RGS’s annual awards ceremony – a grand occasion (string quartet, serious canapes, with Speke/Stanley looking on).  So, above all it’s a cause for loud congratulations for Paul who is clearly a much admired figure in geographical circles for the innovative way in which he has taken Geography – in particular his online presence (website, Twitter, Vimeo amongst other things) and influence amongst the Geographical education community.

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Claire Power (RGS award winner), Ordnance Survey CEO Nigel Clifford and Head of Geography at Bedales Paul Turner

Another highlight of the evening for me is the award of a Patron’s Medal  (winner last year: Bob Geldof) to Lindsey Hilsum, the Channel 4 News Editor, for her work in reporting from the world’s most challenging places and in particular the way she highlights the plight of refugees.  Her brief speech is the evening’s most powerful piece of oratory: she quotes Warsan Shire’s poem, “No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark” and concludes by wondering how long it will be before a refugee gains an award at the RGS.  Ever keen to bring voices like hers to Bedales I catch her afterwards and ask her to come and speak here. I think she will.

To add to the excitement, I see the RGS President, Nicholas Crane, whose book The Making of the British Landscape: From the Ice Age to the Present was one of my best Christmas reads and is a strong recommendation.  As well as being a scholarly account of our islands’ stories, it is written with a tenderness towards the landscape that surprises.

Final thought: the more teachers connect professionally to other educators, the stronger the collaboration and the greater the opportunities for our students.  It is a daily tonic for me and many here to know that so many of my colleagues have such a strong presence in their professional circles.

By Warsan Shire

No one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

Your neighbours running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

Read the full poem here.