The joys of summer
Wednesday, August 9, 2017 by Richard Biggs
The end of the Summer Term was its usual exciting, frantic, joyous and poignant self. I do think we manage that potentially difficult time well at King’s and I am always impressed by the maturity our Upper Sixth leavers, in particular, show and the generous and wholehearted way in which they enter into the spirit of the various events and ceremonies.
The success of the final day – Parents’ Day – depends to some degree on the weather, and we were lucky to have a lovely, hot, sunny day. As usual, we did not allow enough time for our prize giving and perhaps we simply need to accept that this is 90-minute rather than a 60-minute affair and plan accordingly. Our guest speaker, Alastair Hignell, gave an inspirational speech, without notes, calmly and movingly talking about his life and the challenges he has faced. Alastair is one of the last of a breed: a true sporting all-rounder who played first class cricket and international rugby (while holding down a job as a teacher as well!). Alastair’s later career was as a broadcaster, and more recently he has immersed himself in campaigning for multiple sclerosis charities. He has MS himself – his speech started rather impressively as his wheelchair seat gradually rose several feet into the air.
We had a good number of staff members to say goodbye to in our final week, so my own speech was rather “goodbye-heavy”. But rightly so. Four of our long-serving leavers had between them notched up 134 years at King’s. How do you possibly do justice to that weight of loyalty and commitment?
A few years ago we said goodbye to four other long-serving members of staff. In my speech this year I explained my theory of why our staff seem to retire in groups of four:
“I am sure that you all have a good working knowledge of nuclear physics. As you know, an unstable radioactive isotope will usually decay by producing one or more of three different kinds of radiation. Gamma - which is just very high energy electromagnetic radiation; beta, which is an electron that sort of appears out of nowhere; and alpha radiation, which is the ejection of, essentially a helium nucleus, with four particles – two protons and two neutrons. It is a very stable unit.
So this is my nuclear theory of King’s retirement: we lose staff through alpha radiation – always four at a time. A few years ago it was Lee, McKegney, Grey and Currie. This year it is Cole, Cole, Round and Scanlan.”
The Leavers’ Service is unashamedly designed to be a tear-jerker, and it certainly did the job this year. The saddest moment of all is when, as the choir sings the Celtic Grace at the end of the service, the Upper Sixth choristers take off their cassocks and surplices and join their colleagues standing at the front of the congregation. The whole year group, led by the School Captains, then processes down the aisle, out through the West Door and into their lives as OAs.
For governors and other guests the service is followed by splendid lunch in our garden. My dear sister had come over to visit us from Canada for a week and was enthralled by the whole scene – “it looks like something from a Merchant Ivory movie” she said, as I chatted to the Bishop on the lawn. Bishops, sparkling wine, a marquee, salmon and strawberries – all essential ingredients for a proper English summer garden party.
We bopped the night away at the Leavers’ Ball and nursed our heads the next day, while trying to crack on with the backlog of report writing. As soon as the last report was written we packed sisters, dogs and sons into the car and headed off for a wonderful few days in our cottage in Cornwall.
Since then the summer highlight for the Biggs family has been our annual pilgrimage to friend David’s villa in the south of France – nine days of sheer indulgence. We have discovered a new thing to do in the area (and one which at least pretends to offer some semblance of exercise): swimming in the rivers of the Alpes Maritime. If you drive into the mountains behind Nice there are any number of places where you can hike down to a beautiful river rock pool in some isolated gorge and enjoy a picnic and an ice-cold swim. David also took us on a rosé wine route, taking in Chateau Eclans, where they sell a bottle of rosé for €90. Given that we consider spending €5 on a bottle when we’re in France something of an extravagance, we resisted the temptation…
Now home again and watching lots of cricket. The annual cricket festival at King’s is in full swing, though it has been clobbered more than usual by rain this year. We watched an excellent T20 match at the County Ground on Sunday – Somerset apparently down and out and then managing a comfortable win in the end – and the first day of the four-day match in a box on Monday. Eddie Byrom, an old boy of King’s, batted well for his 42. Another old boy, Craig Meschede, will be playing for Glamorgan in the T20 match here on Saturday.
Oliver and I are also getting our canoes ready for a paddle down the Wye sometime next week. We hope to start in Hereford and end up in Ross, with a night in a campsite somewhere along the way. Not exactly an epic voyage, but a start, and a test of the boats themselves. We’ve tried them out for load capacity: a tent, two sleeping bags and two roll mats easily go into one canoe, leaving the other for beers, books, baked beans and biltong.
A levels results also come out next week. This is always a nervous time for schools – a bit like a farmer approaching harvest. I hope our pupils have done themselves proud and, above all, that they get what they need to move to the next stage. They usually do.
The week after that I am off to India, for a board meeting in our school in Rohtak. I’m going out a few days early and have been invited on a trip to Amritsar, the site of the holiest temple in Sikhism – the Golden Temple. I’m intrigued to see it (and will report back).
In the final week of last term Sarah and I were lucky enough to be given tickets for the Stewards’ Enclosure at Henley. Neither of us had been to the regatta before (though her rowing pedigree is more impressive than mine: she coxed the St Peter’s 1st VIII, I managed one miserable early morning paddle with the Pembroke novices before deciding it was not for me). We pottered up the M4, secured a parking spot in a field near the river, enjoyed a grand picnic (sadly no Bishops, but plenty of sparkling wine) and then went to see what all the fuss what about. It was huge fun. I have never seen such an outrageously and colourfully dressed crowd in my life – and that includes the men. In fact I wonder whether that is why Henley is so popular: it is the one event of the season where men can give vent to their inner eccentric. I am now on the hunt for a stripy blazer.