After a very windy day yesterday, the forecast is for more of the same today, albeit not quite to the same extent. Do take good care as you are walking around school and if you do happen to notice any damage which has been caused by the stormy weather, please report it to a member of staff. It has certainly been an extremely busy and successful first half of term and I suspect many, if not all of you, are ready for a well-earned break. Just 5 days to go now, but it is important that you keep pushing yourself and giving of your best. For those of you in the 5th Form with mock exams around the corner, do make sure that you have a clear revision programme in place for the half-term. They may not be the real exams, but diligent preparation will help ensure that you are in a position to give them your best shot and, just as importantly, to learn from the experience; indeed, only by doing so will you be able to identify properly where the gaps in your knowledge and understanding lie. U6th likewise. With the incentive of some very good university offers now in, for which congratulations, you need to see next week not solely as a chance to rest, but also to be disciplined about getting a good deal of independent study done too. I wish you all well.
On Saturday there were some comprehensive victories on the hockey pitch against Cranbrook, following on from an excellent performance by our U18 boys on Thursday in the prestigious Frank Mason Tournament. For the fourth year in a row we reached the final, after a 3-1 win over Kent College in the semi-final, before losing to a very strong Tonbridge side 3-2, conceding a goal right at the end. We wish the team wel
l today as they play against Kingston Grammar in the next round of the National Cup. Similarly, the very best of luck to our U15 rugby side against the Crypt School tomorrow in the quarter final of the National Vase Competition. You have done St Lawrence College proud and we are all behind you.
Of course, the most important event of the weekend was the annual inter-house singing competition, without doubt one of my favourite events in the school calendar for a number of reasons. Firstly, and this year was certainly no different, I am always impressed by the huge array of talent we have in this school. Some of you are well-known performers within our community and it is always fantastic to see and hear you entertaining us with something new. Equally, however, we love it when, as teachers, we get to see a number of pupils in a completely different light, showing off skills which I did not know they possess – Demi particularly stood out for me in this regard on the drums and really got the evening off to an incredible start. And then, of course, there are those pupils who have just been waiting patiently for their moment in the spotlight and, when it comes, grab it with both hands – well done Philip for adding something special to Lodge’s version of Yellow Submarine!
Two other things really struck me on Saturday evening. The first was your behaviour, the respect and appreciation you showed towards your friends in other Houses. I am only too aware of how much the competition means to many of you and how much you would like to win the coveted trophy. But of equal importance to me was the way in which all of you helped to create a supportive atmosphere throughout the evening as well as the way those of you who did not end up winning in the end showed real graciousness. That, for me, is a mark of true character and of an excellent school.
The second point I wanted to make was how evident it was that, you had spent considerable time rehearsing – and this hard work really paid off. Aside from the undeniable benefit of helping to boost that crucial sense of house spirit, one of the reasons, as a school, why we continue to place great emphasis on pupil-led events like the house singing and house drama competitions, is that it gets you working in team and gives some of you the opportunity to lead – key skills which employers are increasingly looking for today in a competitive workplace. For some of you, for whom performing on stage is a daunting prospect, I know this requires courage and takes you well out of your comfort zone, but that is fine and indeed to be encouraged. In years to come beyond SLC, you may well find that the House Singing Competition remains one of your abiding memories, regardless of whether you see yourself as musician or not, as is the case for a number of OLs I have spoken to in recent times.
So well done to all of you who took part, including the staff, some of whom I know were just as nervous as you were. And for those of you lower down the school, whatever the outcome this year, please do not let that put you off giving it your best shot again in 2021 and beyond. Many congratulations to Josh Crottie and Alex Kirchschlager for winning the small group ensemble. Please can they come up. And can I now ask Rasmi, as House Captain, to come up to receive the trophy on behalf of Bellerby.
So onto my thought for this week. I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the Channel 5 TV programme ‘New lives in the wild’.
Now I am not a big watcher of television, but I do find this documentary series, now in its eleventh season, particularly compelling viewing. Having heard him speak at a conference a few years ago about the transformational effect boarding school had on him, I must confess that I am a big fan of the explorer journalist Ben Fogle, who presents the programme.
What fascinates me is how all the people Ben Fogle meets and spends his week with, in some of the remotest places on the planet, have chosen to give up a life of relative security, and in some cases quite considerable fame and wealth, and instead have opted to lead an existence, almost entirely cut off from society, and deprived of the modern-day creature comforts to which they were accustomed. Moreover, in the majority of episodes it quickly transpires that this dramatic change in lifestyle was not undertaken on a whim, but in fact was very much a conscious decision, one which in a good number of instances was taken a long while ago. Indeed, in the most recent episode I watched about a former professional photographer who gave up everything to live in the tiniest underground house imaginable amongst the beauty of the mountains in Oregon (think Mr Tumnis’s house in Narnia and shrink it), he has been doing so for thirty years. Perhaps even more remarkably, what invariably comes across in every interview Ben has with the people he stays with, is the fact that, without exception, they have no regrets whatsoever; indeed more than that, they claim that it is the period in their lives when they have enjoyed the greatest levels of happiness and fulfilment.
Part of my admiration undoubtedly comes from the fact that I know I could never entertain making such a bold and drastic move. And I am certainly not standing here this morning suggesting that you should; on the contrary, I imagine that very few, if indeed, any of you in this room would or will consider going off grid and leading a life of solitude in the future. But I do think it is worth spending a few moments reflecting on what motivates some human beings to want to live in this way and, more importantly, if there are any potential benefits of doing so that we can learn from or adapt for our own lives. There are four I would like to consider briefly.
The first is their common desire to detach themselves from a materialistic world. Now I know that I would find it exceptionally hard to do without certain possessions, to no longer have the possibility to buy new clothes or to be able to go out for dinner or the cinema. Equally, however, what I also know is that at times I suspect I give too much weight to the extent to which such things can contribute to my sense of contentment and well-being. Last week, I alluded to the life-changing experience I had working as a volunteer teacher in Tanzania. It was during my time there that it really came home to me that having lots in a material sense did not necessarily make me any happier. Indeed, the orphaned children I worked with, who had next to nothing comparatively, were genuinely some of the happiest children I have ever met. Perhaps, one might argue, this was because they did not know what they were missing out on. But I think the true answer lies elsewhere. The fact they had never experienced that desire to want the latest or best of anything meant that they were somehow more content with their lot, not to mention far more resourceful than anyone else I have ever known. Not too different in fact from the people in ‘New lives in the wild’.
The second point to make is their enjoyment of solitude. I consider myself to be a pretty sociable person and, as such, the idea of being on my own for days or weeks at a time fills me with horror. And I have to say that I do think the loss of human interaction the people on the programme experience is an extremely high price to pay for their hermit lifestyles. But it has, nevertheless, made me stop and consider whether I am perhaps too dependent on having other people around me more or less all of the time, and whether in fact there might be something to be said for me carving out a little more time to be on my own – time to reflect, time to appreciate complete silence, time simply to enjoy the beauty of nature around me.
The third common theme that seems to unite the people in ‘New lives in the wild’ is their disillusionment with what they perceive to be a corrupt or flawed society. One such example appeared in a recent episode – a former Olympic athletics coach, named Nikola Boric, who enjoyed considerable success training runners and triathletes, leading a number of them to gold medals. Increasingly disenchanted with a sport that appeared not to be a level playing field, the final straw came when one of his athletes was refused entry to a competition for having the ‘wrong’ sponsors. He consequently decided to leave his glamorous and lucrative lifestyle behind. He bought a plot of land in Croatia for £10,000, donated the rest of his money and possessions to friends, keeping just €500 for himself, and built a mud hut from scratch in the middle of the woods. An extreme reaction you might think, and I would be inclined to agree. Would it not have been better to address the issue head on rather than seemingly running away from it? Quite probably. But I do, nonetheless, have a certain respect for remaining true to one’s principles and refusing to associate with something which does not align with your values.
And finally, there is an environmental aspect. Each of the people Ben Fogle gets to know has an acute sense of the need to lead their lives in a way that is ecologically friendly and sustainable – be this not having electricity, using local streams and rivers to get water and to wash or thinking carefully about the materials used to build their houses. A far cry from the world in which we all live and I dare say sacrifices that we would find it incredibly difficult to make. But at a time when concerns for the future of our planet are regularly being discussed, as highlighted by David Attenborough and Boris Johnson last week as they launched a climate change drive in the hope of achieving carbon neutrality in 30 years, we do have a duty as responsible citizens to consider ways in which we can contribute to this cause.
Four ideas then that I think we could all reflect on this week. I am certainly not intending to live life as a recluse in the back of beyond any time soon, but I do intend to make a few small changes to my way of operating and general mindset. I hope that you may feel minded to do the same.
Thank you for your attention and once again well done on all that you have achieved so far this term. I hope you have a really good week.
- house singing