Once you’ve gone through the start-of-year wringer for the twelfth time, as I just have, you begin to feel a little more confident and sure of yourself. But just a little. It is always a moment fraught with excitement and anxiety. The rhythm of meetings and assemblies is a familiar one, but every year brings its own peculiar quirks and character. And of course, its own reasons to celebrate. If I sit here in my office writing my blog with a larger than usual smirk of satisfaction on my face it is for this reason: for the first time in twelve years I can genuinely say – we are full.
As numbers at King’s grew over the years, we realised we needed to ask ourselves the question – what does full mean? So a few years ago we looked at boarding accommodation, class sizes, the market and so on and came up with this mythical figure of 470. Without actually building more boarding space, we reckoned, we could fit in 470 pupils. Well, at the start of this new academic year I am delighted to say that we have exactly 470 pupils in King’s College. On Monday last week I took a bottle of champagne into the Admissions Office and toasted the team on their extraordinary efforts.
There are other reasons to be cheerful too. Our A level results were strong. We have been joined by a keen and exciting group of new staff. Our U15 XI cricket team won, on the day before term started, the national T20 cricket competition, beating Sedbergh School in the final at Arundel. The school grounds look immaculate, the sun is still shining and our fig tree is producing about a kilogram of fruit every day.
The sunny weather brings its own problems: the ground is too hard for rugby. A few years ago I tried to get a new movement going: September Cricket. I asked my fellow Heads to join me in a campaign to start the rugby season a month later in the term, and play cricket in September. Every year the weather at this time is lovely. The county and international games are still going on. We always have a number of boys and girls who join us partly because of the strength of our cricket, and we don’t get to see them playing until April at the earliest. If we played cricket in September the rugby teams could get themselves into shape before playing seriously, the ground would get softer, and the rugby season would then be about the same length as all the others. What’s not to like about fewer injuries? But my suggestions have fallen on deaf ears. Unless it rains soon and hard I fear we’ll not be able to play rugby for a while on our own pitches, and I suspect other schools have similar problems.
None of this affects hockey, though, and it was lovely to see our girls out in full force on Saturday playing in a traditional block fixture against Bristol Grammar School. I umpired the 2nd XI match, and it was great to be back behind a whistle. It didn’t strike me until half time that I had not asked the hockey wallahs whether there had been any rule changes since the last season (there usually are). But nobody complained too loudly about my lack of knowledge, so I guess if there have been changes they are not too important.
The summer holidays already seem a long way back, but we had a thoroughly wonderful time. The drive down to the south of France in the convertible was all I had hoped for. And because, for the first time ever, we had visited my good friend David (the rare wine dealer) in a car, rather than flying, he took the opportunity to clear out some space in his cellar and loaded a case or two onto my back seat. We clinked our way home again, taking extra care round the corners…
M Biggs’ travel tips from his summer adventure: The town of Richelieu, Albi Cathedral, the Pope’s Palace at Avignon, the Roman Theatre at Orange, the drive from the Loire Valley up onto the high country of the Auvergne along the Ardeche River valley (especially if you do it in a convertible!), the Cathedral at le Puy-en-Velay, Bourges, the crypt of Chartres Cathedral and finally the Normandy D-Day beaches. Your holiday is also immeasurably more enjoyable if you happen to have good friends who own a castle in the Creuse, a farmhouse in the Tarn or a villa in Grasse. And also if your spouse has done a brilliant job of researching and booking the quirkiest, friendliest B&Bs in between the castles, farmhouses and villas. A glorious holiday in every way.
Towards the end of the summer holidays our Chairman of Governors, Linda Nash, and I flew to India to attend a meeting of the Board of King’s College, India. Linda had not been to the country before and I will, publicly, say this about my boss: she is a tough traveller! She was very good company, was impressed, I think, by the school itself and not at all fazed by the challenges of India. We had one afternoon free in Delhi before we flew back and decided to visit the enormous Akshardham Temple. Unfortunately, that day also happened to be the Hindu festival of Rakshabandan, and the whole of Delhi and, it seemed, several surrounding states had also decided to visit the temple. We queued for about an hour in 45oC heat and when we got to the front of the line were told that we could not bring our mobile phones in – we had instead to queue first for the locker rooms. So we hopped on a tuk-tuk and headed straight for Starbucks in Connaught Place, where we enjoyed two enormous iced coffees. The temple will still be there next time.
One exciting result of the visit to the Indian school was a renewed commitment to taking a group of our own pupils out there soon. We’ll go out in April, with Third and Fourth Form pupils, and spend time at the school, as well as visiting some of the extraordinary sights both nearby and further afield.
I write this blog a few minutes after saying goodbye to a group of delightful Meynell Third Form girls, who came to our house for supper this evening. Sarah and I have all of the Third Form, by house, to supper this term, a good chance for us to get to know them and, just as importantly, a chance for them to see that we are not ogres. Our two dogs are a key part of the welcome and are now old hands at getting the conversation going. The girls tonight were confident, chatty and interesting. They are delighted to be here, they said (honestly, this is not Headmagisterial spin) that they were enjoying their lessons, they thought the food was excellent and after the first week they were really quite tired. Their number included an international pentathlete, an accomplished water polo player and a much admired hip-hop dancer. There was a big grin on my face as they left: we are in good hands!