Back from Africa
Monday, January 9, 2017 by Richard Biggs
Sitting at my desk with a cold rain falling from leaden skies outside my office window, it is hard to imagine that only yesterday I was swimming in the Indian Ocean. A few weeks before the end of last term we took the financially ruinous but spiritually restorative decision to head out to South Africa for Christmas. We returned from that trip this morning, to be welcomed by a frosty and grey Heathrow, but also, when we got home, by two ecstatic dogs who seemed genuinely pleased to see us again.
The end of last term passed by in the usual flurry of enormously enjoyable and moving school events. The African sun seems to have baked those memories into hard, shiny little nuggets: the exceptional school musical, The Sound of Music, as always an absolute triumph. We do that sort of thing so well at King’s. There were the glories of the final week, with the whole school attending the Carol Service, followed by the medieval raucousness of the Christmas Dinner; the Prefects’ nativity play during our final assembly (a long-established tradition in which the School Captains play Mary and Joseph); a final blast of report writing, one more public, carol service, and then the flight down south.
With only 19 days to play with (who sets these holiday dates anyway?) we made the most of our stay. Henry, my older son, was already out there (and still is) working on my father’s brother’s farm in the Karoo, a place where I spent a great deal of my own childhood and which I do miss more than anywhere else. We joined him there for Christmas, our first visit for 12 years. Henry himself had transmogrified into a proper African farmer – dosing sheep, riding a motorbike, fighting veld fires, fixing windmills and, as important as everything else, playing tennis at the club on Saturday afternoons. He won’t want to come back. Tennis, swimming and barbecuing are the key elements of a proper Christmas and we indulged to the hilt.
After three years of drought the Karoo is looking black and brittle, although the sheep are well and fat and seem to thrive on dust and twigs. It is remarkably productive countryside. It did rain while we were there – so refreshing to be in a place where rain is welcomed with a big smile – but only enough to dampen down the dust a little.
Cape Town was its usual glorious self. It gets busier each year as more people discover its joys. If you haven’t been you should go, just don’t expect to get anywhere fast if you go over Christmas or New Year. The traffic is worse than Taunton on a Friday afternoon, and that’s saying something. But my father’s house is on the seaside and just ten minutes’ walk from one of the loveliest beaches in the Cape (and with the recent installation of a shark net, now one of the safest).
But this is not a travelogue…although it sometimes seem so. We return refreshed and ready for the excitement of the term ahead. The Lent Term has its own peculiar character, determined largely by its shortness and its darkness. We cram a huge amount into a few weeks. For a few year groups there are trial exams, for others the trials are merely climatic. For me the focus this term will be on staffing: we have a number of senior teachers retiring at the end of the year, and they will leave several large and dozens of small holes to be filled. It is a large and complicated jigsaw puzzle which needs careful management if it is to be successfully completed. I also have the Woodard Heads Conference coming up in two weeks – I am the Chairman of that august body, and in theory at least responsible for the construction of an interesting conference programme. We’ll see. Then I’m off to India for a board meeting of our school in Rohtak. All this before the end of January. We have plenty to look forward to, not least the enormous pleasure of formally opening our new art studio. We are holding a secret postcard art exhibition and I haven’t yet produced my offering. So, that’s what this weekend will be about: Dartmoor, re-acquaintance with English beer, an attempt at making a start on the backlog of paperwork….and painting on a postcard. Africa (guineafowl, zebras, windmills) may just feature.