It has been quite a while since my last blog. But it certainly doesn’t feel like it. The Christmas holidays passed in a blur of Indian travel and then lots and lots of socialising (and seemingly endless rounds of dishwasher packing), and here we are already well into the Lent Term.
The Lent Term has a bad press. I have sometimes in the past started my pre-term address to staff by saying “The Lent Term is a bit like your Headmaster: short, dark and bitter”. But that, I now realise, is a grave mistake. One should not pre-judge these things and one sure way of making certain that it willbe a trying time is to say that it will at the start. So I have encouraged everybody to begin the Lent Term with a spirit of optimism and good cheer. Floods and sudden cold weather and illness (one deputy and one assistant just about hanging in there, the other deputy looking a bit green as well) should not deter us.
And we have plenty to be optimistic about. For one thing, the new school in India is making excellent progress. It was an absolute pleasure going out there again. I was shown around Delhi by King’s parents. A highlight was a visit to the India Gate at dusk – a magical, awesome place in the political centre of a vast and fascinating country. I learnt a bit more about Indian food and can highly recommend the United Coffee House in Connaught Place for lunch. Their Hyderabad Biryani is superb.
My reason for visiting India this time was to speak at a big marketing event at the new school itself. Anshul Kumar, who is one of the developers behind the project, had invited friends, relatives, the press and the great and good of the region for an official viewing. What they saw is certainly impressive. Much of the initial building work is completed and the grounds are beginning to take shape. I spoke to the guests about why King’s felt this was a good project and how much we were looking forward to a long and mutually beneficial relationship with the country and with the new school.
Two of our recently-left OAs, Meiling Daniel-Greenhalgh and Annabelle Hall, had been in India for a few months to help with the project, and in particular to support the marketing “roadshow” in a number of different Indian cities. I met them in Rohtak on the last day of their stint and I could not have been prouder of them. They had thrown themselves into the spirit of the project and had wholly endeared themselves to the local community. Everybody I met spoke highly of them and they were both, clearly, a wonderful advert for what a King’s education means. I am sure that more OAs will follow in their footsteps – there is now a splendid gap year opportunity for our leavers.
On our last night in Delhi the new Head, Brad Sailes, and I checked into the Gurgaon Hyatt. Along with a few hundred delegates for the Indian Pepsi Co conference. We had nice enough rooms. Brad even had something of a suite going on in his. But then we got the call from Management to say that they had overbooked the Hyatt. Would we mind, they asked, if we both shared the Presidential Suite. Well, we ummed and aahed and eventually agreed. Readers, it was a vast two-bedroomed flat, complete with dining and sitting rooms, a spa and kitchen. All done up in rather tasteful Indian international style. The trouble was a lack of time to make the most of it. We did order a bottle of wine and moved from room to room taking a sip in every one of the chairs. No time, sadly, for spas or saunas. Anyway, a nice bit of unexpected luxury before flying back to the UK.
Christmas was huge fun. One of the highlights was the service in our Chapel on Christmas Day itself, which seems to be better attended every year. I am pleased we do that, and pleased that more and more people are coming along.
I decided to start a new building project over the holidays. My father had been given a slim volume by his parents in the 1950s – “Build Your Own Boat” by Percy Blandford. Dad had made a number of boats from the plans in the book, many of which worked (although there was one sailing dinghy which resolutely insisted on sailing backwards). In particular he had built a number of simple, one-man kayaks out of wood and canvas, which I have often used on visits to South Africa. On my last visit he handed the book to me, along with (treasure of treasures) some plywood templates of the frames for the kayak which he had cut out and which would save a good deal of measuring and drawing.
So this holiday I got down to business, ably assisted by both sons, one of whom is officially going to be the owner of the new vessel. So far things have gone well. The final wooden frame was a thing of great loveliness and it is a shame that we have to cover it up with canvas. But cover it we have, and are now into the final fiddly throes of waterproofing and tweaking. Official launch soon in the swimming pool, I think. That is if Mr Haste will agree to it.
Tomorrow I leave for the two-day Woodard Heads annual conference in Leamington Spa. As Chairman of the Woodard Heads Association I am formally running the event, though I have done very little work in preparation. The good people at Woodard head office and Fiona Byrne, my PA, have paved the way. We have some very interesting speakers lined up and I hope that some ideas will be carried further after the conference, not least the plan to develop a Woodard-wide pupil leadership programme, supported by Monty Halls (who is speaking). Best of all, the Head of the school in Kenya which Woodard established a few years ago is joining us, the first time he has been out of the country. Paul Mbugua will be coming back with me after the conference and will spend a few days at King’s. He has already been at Lancing College for a few days, and a photograph of him in the splendid Lancing Chapel shows a cheerful, beaming face peering out of several layers of scarf and overcoat.
And there is plenty more to look forward to this term. The Valentine’s ball, philosothons and Lenten Evensongs, a Confirmation service, an optimistically titled “Spring Concert” on 1 February, a pheasant shoot (is it really a whole year since the last one), a dinner for prep school heads and, if he can forge his way through the swamp of visa paperwork in time, a visit from my father. I hope the kayak passes muster.
I wish you all a very happy 2016.