Headmaster's Blog Archive

A perfect day for an opening

Friday, May 16, 2014 by Richard Biggs

The weather has, no doubt in response to fervent prayers and much finger crossing, turned out absolutely perfectly for this evening’s official opening of the amphitheatre. It is hot and calm; we have rather riskily declared “summer weather” (risky because we usually find that in a guarantee of rain) from tomorrow.

It wasn’t like this last weekend for the Ten Tors event. I did manage to get up to Okehampton on Friday night to see the teams and to have supper with them. It was pouring with rain and blowing a howling gale and bitterly cold. Typical Ten Tors weather, in fact. And I did spend the night near Okehampton. Not, this time, under canvas, but rather in the warmth and comfort of the nearest Travelodge. I’m getting older. Sleep matters. I was back at the camp by 4:30am, skillet in hand, and saw the troops off with a large cooked breakfast. As always, the spectacle of the start was hugely moving. The cannon fires, the 2,500 walkers pour down the hill in great good spirits and within minutes they are swallowed up by the moor and all is quiet.

It was a tough event this year, and not all of our team completed. But the spirit shown by the boys and girls was as impressive as ever. The 55 mile team, having carried a stricken comrade to the next tor and waited for his evacuation off the moor, then had their work cut out to finish in time. They made it by 5 minutes. A brilliant achievement.

The weather improved marginally for the prep school athletics festival on Sunday. Not enough to allow us to entertain visiting Heads in our garden, as we usually do, but sufficiently to allow a quick glass of champagne on the terrace, bundled up against the biting wind. That’s a shame, because our garden is looking more glorious than ever this year, thanks to the expert eye of Mrs B and the splendid efforts of our gardening team.

We also had our annual Benefactors’ Day last week, with around twenty or so OAs and Friends joining us for the day and in particular for a service of thanksgiving in the Chapel. They spent the rest of the day wandering around, visiting lessons and watching some first-rate sport (cricket, tennis and swimming were all on show). One or two found the swimming pool a particularly attractive post-lunch venue and there may have been the odd nap stolen, but that is mere conjecture.

Exams have started in earnest this week. For some (including eldest son) this has not come soon enough. All the waiting is over and the end is in sight. I do get the sense that the pupils are well engaged in revision. Mostly. The library is absolutely packed every evening, which is probably a good sign.

Today is an own clothes day, in which our pupils donate £1 to a chosen charity, in return for wearing mufti. We had a very good presentation in Chapel this morning from eight 6.1 pupils who are going to cycle to Monaco to raise money for SSAFA - a charity which provides support for the armed forces and their families. I am so proud that our pupils feel moved to do this sort of thing, entirely off their own bat. It’s a long way to Monaco and I wish them every success, easy riding, a tail wind and lots of fun.

And so to the amphitheatre opening. We are grateful to the Head of Archaeology at Exeter University, Professor Alan Outram, for coming along to open the facility. His academic interest seems to be in the archaeology of bones, marrow and fat. Perfect for our purposes of opening an amphitheatre based on classical design: an expert in ancient grease. It promises to be a memorable, and warm, evening.

Winning Ways

Tuesday, May 6, 2014 by Richard Biggs

A week, as in politics, is an awfully long time in a school. Much can happen. Much has happened.

A week ago our girl footballers travelled to London to play in the finals of the ISFA national competition. They were up against the might of Sevenoaks, a school with more girl pupils than we have pupils. The King’s girls were astonished and delighted to find themselves in this position. And inevitably they went on and won the match. It wasn’t even close – we won 4-0. So King’s College are the ISFA Girls’ National Champions. What an extraordinary achievement! Even more so given that they have played throughout the tournament and indeed throughout the season with a sense of camaraderie and sheer joy which are wonderful to see. But that is, I think, the King’s way: we seem to win a lot of things not because we have a regime of professional training, a squad of sports psychologists, a team of dieticians and conditioning gurus, but because we enjoy playing and because we play for each other. We will devote all of Friday’s assembly to the girls’ success and make a really big fuss about them. They deserve it.

Then the following day our cricketers took on the might of Millfield in a block fixture. We are one of the few school 1st XIs against which Millfield puts out its full strength side. For the second year in a row we won that fixture. The U14As tied – with a thrilling run-out on the last ball, the Bs won, as did the U15As: a decent haul against an outstanding sporting school. On Saturday against Bryanston we lost just one match. Neil Brand, our 1st XI captain, has now scored two centuries in a week; as a result he is playing for the senior Somerset 2nd XI today.

I’m sorry to bang on about sport…I don’t often do so, but it has been an extraordinary week. Our swimming team won on Saturday against Blundell’s. Our girls tennis teams mostly won against the same school – the 1st VI by 8 – 1. The boys’ teams also all beat Blundell’s (1st VI by 8 – 1) during the week. On Sunday our Development XI cricket side played the Somerset U17 XI. The only question: who would the many King’s boys who play for Somerset play for? Well, five were in the Somerset team. King’s won.

Competition of a very different sort on Wednesday evening: the third annual inter-house Masterchef competition, one of the highlights of the year for me (and not just because I always get myself onto the judging panel). Each house enters a team of two chefs. They have a budget of £20, and have to cook a three-course meal for two in two hours. The standard of cooking was the highest ever. I think the boys and girls are learning that in the heat and the pressure simpler is perhaps better, and we were served course after course of well-cooked, perfectly edible and often delicious food. In the end the two Carpenter girls, Flora Davies and Lucy Waddon, just shaded it, with their lemon coulis tart stealing the show. Woodard’s Dan Mead and Will Mayor (spicy sausage pasta) and Taylor’s Mimi Clark and Gussy Hydleman (bacon-wrapped asparagus and hollandaise sauce) tied for second place.

We also had the school photograph last week – the biennial exercise in crowd control. Thanks to the joint efforts of Colin Albery and the very experienced photographers themselves it all went as smoothly as these things can ever go. In other words everybody turned up more or less in the right kit and nobody fell off the staging. With the wonders of modern digital technology the absence of the 1st XI (busy beating Millfield…did I mention that?) posed no problems. We left a 1st XI-sized gap for them and their coach and will drop them in electronically. Marvellous. I wonder why we don’t do the whole photograph that way: just take pictures of individual pupils and cobble them together, with, perhaps, an exotic background – Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Taj Mahal (I’ve got some pictures…). We could airbrush out the scruffy hairdos, add on a few top buttons. So much easier. It will happen one of these days, I’m sure.

We held our spring Open Morning at King’s on Saturday. It didn’t rain, which is always a blessing on these occasions. And the turnout was even better than we had hoped for. I suspect news of our girls’ footballing success may have inspired one or two extra families to visit us. As always, our fourth and sixth form guides did a brilliant job; their obvious pride in their school is wholly convincing, as is their confidence, politeness and cheerfulness. The Leiths students put on a particularly good show in the cookery school and many of our visitors spent longer sampling the brownies, the canapés and the flapjacks than they did watching the lessons in maths. Surprisingly. There was a decidedly upbeat atmosphere in the Woodard Room when the families returned for lunch – I think we did ourselves proud. The school is certainly looking magnificent at the moment. If you live nearby and want to see the grounds at their absolute vernal best please come and have a wander around. Keep an eye out for the three new goat kids in Father Mark’s mini-farm.

The week ahead looks just as busy. We have our annual Benefactors’ Service tomorrow morning, and are welcoming those members of the King’s community who have supported the school in one way or another to join us for the day. On Friday I intend to spend the night at Okehampton in the palatial King’s Ten Tors encampment. We have two teams in this year’s event and it is a great privilege and a pleasure to be there to see them off early in the morning. I hope the weather is kind to them. Then on Sunday we have our prep schools’ athletics festival, with a dozen or so schools coming to King’s, and a few Heads joining us for lunch in our garden. Which, like the rest of the school site, is looking stunning. Again, weather is key. Didn’t the ancients sacrifice goats to propitiate the gods? I wonder if Father Mark would oblige….

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