I have just re-read my last blog. It ends in the snow on a sepulchral croak. What a difference a holiday and a few weeks of the Summer Term make.
On the final day of the Lent Term we opened our new indoor Sports Performance and Cricket Centre in grand style. Jos Buttler joined us and gave a masterclass in batting, miked up and explaining what he was thinking as he played each shot. Then a lucky few of our pupils had a chance to bowl at him, and Alice Dymond managed to sneak an off-cutter past Jos’ usually immaculate defences and clip his off-stump. I had written a pretty sparklingly brilliant speech which I had no voice to deliver – so handed the script over to our Development Director, Julian Mack, who read it out for me while I grinned and gurned beside him. Very odd. Jos then took part in a question and answer session with our Director of Sport, Phil Lewis. Jos spoke warmly and genuinely about his time at King’s. He said he could have gone to any school and would probably still have made it as a professional cricketer, but the family atmosphere and friendship he had found here were hugely important to his development as a person and he felt strongly connected, still, to his old school. I think Jos is, in his modesty and thoughtfulness, a great ambassador for us and am eternally grateful that he continues to find time to come back and see us.
And so to the holiday. One of the un-looked-for side-effects of the Beast from the East was that our lovely cottage in Cornwall suffered a burst pipe in the loft and several days of flooding before anybody noticed. The result was a rather sorry, soggy mess. So some of our holiday time was spent clearing up and drying and painting. All is more or less back to normal now. I also spent time repairing one of the famous canvas canoes. A vessel made of wood and canvas is an organic thing which will, inevitably, feel the ravages of living outdoors upside down on a rack. I took off the canvas deck, hacked out some rotten frames and restored it all to its original pristine beauty. Now we need some sunshine to tempt us back onto the water.
Our final inspection report came to us at the start of the new term and we have been making as much of that as possible. It is, as we knew it would be, a wonderfully positive endorsement of all that we do at King’s. A copy is on this website.
As usual the term has started in a whirl of activity. Despite the rather gloomy weather we have managed quite a lot of sport, and the cricketers have already enjoyed considerable success. I am never too sure exactly how we manage all the sport in the summer – we seem to have cricket, tennis, swimming and athletics teams competing every Saturday, while our Ten Tors teams exercise on the moor and our riders collect rosettes across the country. Our musicians have already played at a number of venues. We have concerts coming thick and fast. The inter-house general knowledge competition has come and gone (well done Woodard!), as has the inter-house MasterChef extravaganza. This latter is one of my favourite events of the year. Places on the judging panel are highly sought after, and the standard of cooking continues to rise. The team from Tuckwell produced a well measured and delicious three course menu and were worthy winners this year. Oh, and exams have already started –the small matter of GCSEs and A levels for two of our year groups. I wish them courage and success.
We were privileged at the end of the first week to welcome the Master of Westminster School, Patrick Derham, to speak at our final Sixth Form lecture of the year. Patrick was previously the Headmaster at Rugby, where he established the Arnold Foundation to bring children from less privileged backgrounds to the school. He talked about “What gets me up in the morning” – Irish rugby, the study of history (especially William Gladstone) and, more seriously, the widening of access to our schools. Patrick himself came from a challenging background, spent two years on a naval training ship moored on the Thames before being supported to go to Pangbourne School, where he flourished, gaining a place to read history at Cambridge. An inspirational figure and an inspirational speaker; a fitting end to what has been an excellent season of Horizon lectures.
On the day that Patrick joined us we also had our biennial school photograph. Most schools dread this event. Getting 550 people onto a steep scaffolding, looking smart and behaving sensibly is a challenge. Needless to say it went swimmingly, thanks to the expertise of the photographers, the meticulous planning of my staff and the sensible cooperation of the pupils. The Gillman and Soame chap complimented me afterwards – “it could not have gone more smoothly” he said. Except that the sun was shining and photographers don’t like that. The end product is now viewable online.
In fact here’s an interesting point: if you toddle along to the Gillman and Soame stand at any schools conference you can happily wile away an hour or so looking through their archive of photographs and retracing your own education and career. I’ve managed to dig up my old Oxford matriculation photo (skinny, long hair), my old fencing team pictures (ditto, but in white breeches and jacket), early photos of teams I looked after at Magdalen College School (tweedy, short hair, still skinny), through to team photos at Lancing and even here at King’s (less and less hair, less and less skinny). Fascinating. And indeed I was at a conference this week: the Boarding Schools' Association Annual get together for Heads, this year in Brighton at the Grand Hotel. I love the BSA conference. I think people who work in boarding schools tend to be nicer. I like the fact that it includes senior, prep and state schools and that we focus on one issue. We enjoyed some outstanding speeches and presentations and great networking on the fringes. And Brighton is always good fun. Drinks before our final dinner were in the BA i360 – a large circular glass pod wrapped around a tower, that gently rises to an enormous height to give a spectacular view of the town and the sea.
On the drive home I stopped in at Windlesham House Prep School to have a look around. I remember it well from my days at Lancing, and am always impressed by the beautiful setting and the sense of energy and excitement so evident in the children. As I arrived a little twosome of young lads were driving off from the first tee. I think we need a golf course here at King’s too.
Last Friday I joined some of our older OAs for lunch in London. The 40s to 60s Club , for alumni who left King’s in those decades, meets each year in a London venue and it is definitely one of the highlights of my year (along with the MasterChef competition mentioned earlier – two in one week, riches indeed!). The loyalty and affection of the OAs is heart-warming. My speech to that particular gathering is one of the easier ones to make. I tell them we’ve beaten Millfield (at anything, it really doesn’t matter what) and they’re roaring their approval and delight. This year I announced the findings of our inspection like the results of the Oscars. “In the category Achievements of Pupils we were rated…..wait for it….EXCELLENT”. Huge cheers. “In the category Personal Development of Pupils we were rated……EXCELLENT”. General uproar. A great crowd. I told them that one reason I so enjoy that gathering is because I see the same spirit, zaniness and good cheer in them as I saw that morning in my own pupils in Chapel. It was South African Freedom Day, which we turned into a celebration of nationalities in general and allowed pupils and staff to wear some item to show off their own roots or a country they had visited. So we saw lederhosen (brave, brave Germans), colourful African headscarves, rugby shirts and flat caps. Best of all: the three Housemistresses wore black hats of a distinctly Welsh flavour. You don’t have to be Welsh to be a Housemistress at King’s, but it helps.