Thomas-y ramblings

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Out early this morning into the Ashford Hangers – daguerreotype shades initially as I climb up the muddy path, past black dog’s favourite pond (good dipping here) into the other green world where Edward Thomas loved to tramp.  A half hour’s climb in the half light is a tonic: imagine never wanting to come back to your home – to a cup of jasmine tea, the prospect of whatever ingenious notices our students will surprise me and my colleagues with and a varied, engaging day.

Walk in the Hangers to feel a bit Thomas-y;  saunter from Winchester to St Cross to feel a bit Keatsian, especially in this season hoping  that Autumn’s defining poem (“season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” etc) really was composed on that walk.  Having been born in the most unpoetic part of Britain (Fylde Coast), it is a constant delight to find myself in one of the most poetic places.  As usual, I wonder why I don’t do this every day.

A couple of weeks ago I couldn’t stop myself thinking about Thomas as I pick up an apple crossing the Orchard on the way to talk to the recently arrived Block 3s about some of the dos and don’ts of Bedales life.  Picking up the apple, a half-remembered line from a Thomas poem, which I taught decades ago, comes back into my head: “I cannot bite the day to the core”.  The Block 3s, being a responsive lot, come up with all available symbolic associations for the apple when I bring it into my talk – Apple (of course), temptation and experience.  Re-reading the E.T poem in question (The Glory) I am taken by his description of time – what sort of life must you be living if you find time “dreary-swift”?

But it is with the experience bit in mind, and the hope that the weekend really will be bitten to the core, that we set out on Badley Weekend – a combination of whole school efforts on Saturday at each of the three schools and the big community fair on Sunday, the weekend aims to be an example of John Badley’s founding principle of ‘Head, Hand and Heart’ in action.   It is an ambitious idea and each year we sit back and think hard about what worked and what didn’t.

Some of us would love to do more work in the whole school effort – once you get your method for filling your wheelbarrow with sand and steering it along the path, you do want to keep going.  Seeing the finished path (the Roman Road) and admiring not only what we did this year but also the fruits of our labours from last year, it is satisfying.   The community fair passes off very well – a big, different kind of effort where the work falls more on the staff than the students, but a good deal of money is raised for our three charities – Mencap, the King’s Arms and our own bursary fund, the John Badley Foundation.  Here are some photos to give you a flavour.

Next week, the big HMC (Headmasters and Headmistresses) conference that I have put together takes place in Belfast.  There are already some by-products of that event which will benefit Bedales  – more from there as the three days evolve.

The Glory

The glory of the beauty of the morning, –
The cuckoo crying over the untouched dew;
The blackbird that has found it, and the dove
That tempts me on to something sweeter than love;
White clouds ranged even and fair as new-mown hay;
The heat, the stir, the sublime vacancy
Of sky and meadow and forest and my own heart: –
The glory invites me, yet it leaves me scorning
All I can ever do, all I can be,
Beside the lovely of motion, shape, and hue,
The happiness I fancy fit to dwell
In beauty’s presence. Shall I now this day
Begin to seek as far as heaven, as hell,
Wisdom or strength to match this beauty, start
And tread the pale dust pitted with small dark drops,
In hope to find whatever it is I seek,
Hearkening to short-lived happy-seeming things
That we know naught of, in the hazel copse?
Or must I be content with discontent
As larks and swallows are perhaps with wings?
And shall I ask at the day’s end once more
What beauty is, and what I can have meant
By happiness? And shall I let all go,
Glad, weary, or both? Or shall I perhaps know
That I was happy oft and oft before,
Awhile forgetting how I am fast pent,
How dreary-swift, with naught to travel to,
Is Time? I cannot bite the day to the core.

– Edward Thomas

Hiraeth, hefting and hygge

DUN_Daffodils-1

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.

Albatross
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

Mid-term musings

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Approaching mid-February, the academic year’s mid-point and that welcome time when the black dog that scampers in front of you is visible as you stride out into the dawn light before breakfast.

This week leading up to half-term has our spirited Valentine’s Ball as a highlight for sixth formers. Invitations to the V Ball pop up, sometimes in early morning Notices, sometimes in German, sometimes dramatically choreographed. Meanwhile our Block 3s are musing on the grotesqueness of the industrialised mass killing as they survey the Flanders battlefields.  Alongside all of this our 6.2 theatre studies students produce their devised pieces – 30 minute creations of their imaginations, influenced by the practitioners they study and honed into dramatic form with acute negotiation and teamwork amongst their teams of five or six.

Over the years, I have seen the most gorgeous medleys of absurdism, tragedy, kitchen sink realism, mime, comical-fantastical – you name it, this is the theatre of the possible.  Here’s the recipe: take human minds at their most fervently creative; provide stimulus (a polaroid picture this year); encircle with sufficient expert teacher structure; and finally, give space, light, sound and audience.  Result? Pieces that make you think – both about how we live but also about what can happen dramatically when ingenuity, verve and skill collide.  Over recent years I have seen these plays enacted in live graves dug by the theatre; I have seen the most stinging dramatising of how it feels to be objectified as a young female; and this year’s trio was as powerful and expert as I can remember.

In their own way, plays like these are part of something that all good schools need to be doing constantly, alongside the necessary granular work of academic pursuit: exploring what it is to be human.

What better mid-week treat then to have a Jaw given by Gary Wade, a man who (lucky fellow) knew Seamus Heaney personally.  It is a masterly account – in tender admiration – of (arguably) the greatest poet of the second half of the 20th century writing in English.

A lover of Heaney myself, I find myself rootling amongst his poems late at night after the Jaw and a subsequent meeting. I am taken back to some of the classes that I taught Heaney to a long way back – Death of a Naturalist, North and The Haw Lantern. But there is so much more. Gary concluded with his favourite Heaney poem, Postscript. Its final lines describe so beautifully what human insight through art can do (“catch the heart off guard and blow it open”).  But, as the days lengthen and we need to at least nod to that V day, here’s a poem that is its own distinctive love song – to a person, place and creature:

The Otter

When you plunged
The light of Tuscany wavered
And swung through the pool
From top to bottom.

I loved your wet head and smashing crawl,
Your fine swimmer’s back and shoulders
Surfacing and surfacing again
This year and every year since.

I sat dry-throated on the warm stones.
You were beyond me.
The mellowed clarities, the grape-deep air
Thinned and disappointed.

Thank God for the slow loadening,
When I hold you now
We are close and deep
As the atmosphere on water.

My two hands are plumbed water.
You are my palpable, lithe
Otter of memory
In the pool of the moment,

Turning to swim on your back,
Each silent, thigh-shaking kick
Re-tilting the light,
Heaving the cool at your neck.

And suddenly you’re out,
Back again, intent as ever,
Heavy and frisky in your freshened pelt,
Printing the stones.

– Seamus Heaney

Technicolor worlds, bravely lit

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Wednesday was one of the highly flavoured days when I have a series of technicolor moments that animate life, even in November’s neutral tones, and make me feel very lucky to be doing the job I am.

Bedales Notices first thing not only includes adverts for the forthcoming Hunger Banquet, production of Medea and visit to Florence (please wear a coat too), but a Movember message from moustachioed men: the message from Boys’ Flat housemaster duo Chris Bott and Peter Thackrey is about men’s health – let’s talk about it, blokes – but it’s done with humour and humanity.

Over to Dunhurst now for my weekly lesson with Block 1 English and another short poem for us to explore. After reading short gems like Larkin’s Cut Grass and local lad Thomas’s Adlestrop, this week we are talking about Yeats’ Wild Swans at Coole. 

The Block 1’s initial insights are impressive and I think of an adage a recent interviewee slipped in (“Children can smell qualilty..”) as I move along the corridor to the packed hall where Dunannie’s production of The Tempest is about to begin.

The children have been engaged in the story both through their teachers and through a visiting story teller. It’s clear from the first moment that the Dunannie children have truly inhabited the story. The adaptation, wonderfully constructed by teachers Camilla Bell and Catherine Claasen, with music by Ben Harlan and Mea Wade, comprises twelve scenes that light the imagination.

bednovpress-29-of-11

Anchored especially in my mind’s album are moments such as the Boatswains’ song with its great rhymes, the evil Duke’s wicked single black glove, Caliban’s green gloves and the meeting between Miranda (with her classy umbrella) and the marooned Prince Ferdinand.

There’s something magical about The Tempest, which is a dramatisation of a kind of fairy tale, being brought to life by such a young audience, with parents and grandparents looking on as this tale of greed and envy being redeemed by forgiveness and the hope of youth is played out.

Bravo, Dunannie!

May ideas swim

Mizzling is the word, I think, for the gentle rain that greets me and my fellow Poetry Society breakfasters as we gather by Steephurst, ready to head up to the Poet’s Stone for our annual May breakfast.  The celebrants all bring poems and we have a good range:  plenty of Edward Thomas of course, some Shelley, Browning and a jewel of a Robin Robertson poem, Swimming in the Woods, which I read and I can’t resist copying in below.

The rain stops; early sun lights up Steep woods, which we admire from our vantage point on the Hangers’ flank by Thomas’ sarsen stone.  Magical stuff.

The week’s big external facing event has been our Liberating Leaders conference which we ran in partnership with the Times Educational Supplement and King Edward VI School Bury St Edmunds.  Most conferences have at least one soggy item; I could not spot one in our line-up.  So, here are some very personal highlights.

Sir Michael Wilshaw (Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills) reminiscing in a finely wrought speech about the maverick headteachers who had shaped his professional life and the need for schools to enable the best characteristics of the maverick to inform teachers’ work.  Look out for the cross backlash from educators who feel that this is a bit ripe given his time at Ofsted.

Danielle Harlan (Founder and CEO of the Centre for Advancing Leadership and Human Potential) on authenticity as a leader, employee engagement (which is – sad fact – stuck at 13% worldwide) and unleashing creativity.  An extraordinarily lucid but profound presentation that was in itself a masterclass in clear and memorable communication. New verb alert – to “geek out” over someone = state of admiration and adulation of a senior, august academic figure by a scholarly acolyte/admirer.

Barbara Oakley (Professor of Engineering at Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan) on re-making  your brain and lessons learnt from her creation and co-teaching of the world’s most popular (1.5 million students) Massive Open Online Course (MOOC).  She is very keen that Bedales launches a MOOC – we will explore this.  An account – as scholarly as it was homely – of her distinctive path, her own learning and some of the ways in which we can improve our learning. Key tip: buy a Pomodoro (tomato shaped timer) or set one up as an app and work in 25 minute chunks; give yourself rewards after each 25 minutes; sleep and exercise aplenty.  That classy organ, the brain, loves these rhythms.  Get it right and, like Barbara, you start with Russian and end up a leading Professor of Engineering – and meet your future life partner at the South Pole.

Happily for our students, a number of them were able to attend the conference.  Most will have heard Danielle’s assembly on Monday and many also heard Barbara talk about girls and STEM subjects. You can view the speakers’ presentations here.

In all, the many of us who heard these inspiring people can justly feel lucky ducks (as they say in Lancashire).

So here is that poem: enjoy the half term break, and maybe some wild swimming.

Swimming in the Woods by Robin Robertson 

Her long body in the spangled shade of the wood
was a swimmer moving through a pool:
fractal, finned by leaf and light;
the loose plates of lozenge and rhombus
wobbling coins of sunlight.
When she stopped, the water stopped,
and the sun remade her as a tree,
banded and freckled and foxed.

Besieged by symmetries, condemned
to these patterns of love and loss,
I stare at the wet shape on the tiles
till it fades; when she came and sat next to me
after her swim and walked away
back to the trees, she left a dark butterfly.

 

 

 

 

Random remembrance

Curious business being ill, especially in a place so full of activity as a boarding school where the sense of your own immobile hopelessness is so marked by comparison with the activity that surrounds you – and that you are missing out on.  The flu lurgy confines me to bed during the day and to doing little but sleeping, half listening to Radio 4 and trying to be patient. In the evenings, I give way to the Christmas present box set of the Wire and start that journey – dangerously compelling, I have been advised.  I soon see why – and it has an intriguing educational sub-plot.

Whether it is because my dopey mind is especially alert to past remembrance or the simple happenstance of what’s on the radio, but I find myself being drawn back into childhood memories.

Here is Joan Bakewell, talking about the Arts and her role in bringing discussion of them onto television. In taking the time to listen to her story, my mother’s admiration for her in the early 1970s as representative of a new kind of woman makes yet more sense.  Then there are more Wogan tributes and I find myself back in my first study at school – which seemed to my 15 year old mind like a pasha’s chamber but was no doubt a horrid little box – listening to Radio 2 and loving the dry, suave Terry wit.  And (here we go again), most poignant of all, now it’s the radio adaptation of The Forsyte Saga and I am back watching my parents watching the ITV series on Sunday evenings in 1967.  I see some of it – very much over their shoulders.  They are clearly transfixed and have mixed feelings about my interest: my 10 year old self can’t quite understand why on either score, but I am aware of their discomfort over something horrible that Soames does.  The word “affair” seems to be around a lot, accompanied by many adults looking at their shoes.  Hasn’t Eric Porter/Soames got an unnaturally lined cheek?  And don’t those lovely women (Susan Hampshire and Nyree Dawn Porter) look far too nice for those opinionated men?

I think I read somewhere that you can only start to see your parents’ lives fully as history when both are dead –  have ‘turned to past’, as that master of unrosy remembrance, Philip Larkin puts it.  Having therefore been in that category since mid October, I can see the truth of that.  I also suspect that we prepare our young people too little for the shut of loss that comes with losing loved ones – and here is a pledge to do more on that front at Bedales.

Which brings me to a little furry fellow I didn’t love but was fond of and has been a bit player in this blog – the small whitish West Highland terrier, Ailsa, who joined us shortly after we moved here in September 2001 and who met a peaceful end yesterday having just managed her morning constitutional and climbed the hill in Cobb’s Field for the last time.  She has featured in my annual dog assembly every June for the past few years, most notably when I began the assembly holding her (freshly barbered and unnaturally white) up to the troops with the words “I do not love this dog!”  My statement was met by sighs whose verbal equivalent was: “Keith you hard-hearted fellow.”    I think the assembly was about the stretch in the word ‘love’ and a dogs’ role in helping us understand what and who really do matter.

Bedales on national stage

Open Day-17

In Gwent and in London over the past week I have seen Bedales students competing with their peers nationally: in the Colditz-like setting of the Celtic Manor Hotel (chosen this year both by NATO and the Headmasters and Headmistresses’ Conference – HMC for their shindigs) I saw two Bedalians awarded prizes in the HMC Eisteddfod which took place alongside the greyer considerations of our group: Chloe Z (6.1) was a close runner up in the Sculpture class, with her magnificent Sleeping Buddha; Georgina U (last year’s 6.2) meanwhile won the poetry prize for her excellent poem, Accent. Georgina’s reading of her poem was then followed by Wales’ own bard, Gillian Clarke’s reading of her own poetry. Great to be the only HMC school to have two prize-winners out of the 260 schools eligible for the competitions.

To London on Saturday where Flora S (6.1) was one of nine finalists in the ESU Winston Churchill Public Speaking competition that took place in the War Rooms buried beneath Whitehall. Flora competed strongly against an outstanding group of finalists drawn from schools across England and Wales. A brilliant achievement to be there amongst the best in the country and in a setting, nestling now beside the excellent newish Winston Churchill museum, which is as apt a reminder as any of the power of the spoken word.


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.