‘That hideous tie so kindly meant’ John Betjeman.
During his time as Chief Inspector of Schools (2002-2006), Sir David Bell was once asked what he missed most about being in school. A former teacher himself, he recalled that, no matter how bad things were going or how down you might be feeling, a young person could say something that would ‘save your day’.
I am often asked the same question and, amongst many fond memories, it is often the Christmas week that comes first to mind; the school brass band calling everyone to assembly; the ‘banned’ snow fights; the card from ‘that’ pupil with whom you had spent the whole term having the best of three falls; the smell and taste of Christmas Lunch; bins heaving with discarded sprouts (I warned the cook!); the staff panto – Cecil B DeMille eat your heart out; the mince pie he had made offered proudly by the boy whose fingers had spent most of their life drilling away up his nostrils; the mankini mischievously pigeon-holed by your Secret Santa; the staffroom whingers bleating on about ‘being glad when it’s all over’; classes complaining about seeing only half a movie (not that one again!); the chairman of the escape committee claiming that the school up the road was ‘letting their lot out early before lunch’; the reconciliation with your staffroom nemesis; the wheel barrow loads of roughly wrapped deodorant that gave you a complex about body odour; being chatted up by an inebriated cleaner at the staff ‘do’; your form group berating Mr Smith who was still setting homework in Christmas week; that feeling of being totally knackered, mentally rinsed out and completely satisfied; crying with the little lad whose only wish was that his mum would live long enough to see Christmas through.
In his book The Junior Officers’ Reading Club, Patrick Hennessey who served with The Army in Afghanistan, describes how, once the Taliban had been driven from a village, they would sit with the elders to discuss the future. ‘The basis of all my hope and optimism for Afghanistan’ he wrote, ‘ lies in the fact that the more specific requests we got were always for schools and teachers, never clinics and doctors. Even for these timeless men with craggy, biblical faces, who could be 50 or 150, the violence is temporary but learning is permanent.’ The gift that is a school is self-evident. We are lucky to have them and they are lucky to have you. They are magical places and none more so than at Christmas. Have a good one.