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Head Master’s E-Bulletin | May 2020

Dear all,

I hope that this correspondence finds you well. 

There is plenty on the academic side of life in this bulletin, so I will just write a few words, if I may, about the non-academic. To say it has been an interesting week at school would be rather an understatement – every week in this last month and a half seems to have thrown up its new and unusual challenges, which seem to become more bizarre by the day! Thank you so much to all those people (about 150 in total) who have spent (so far) over 1,750 hours opening Captain Tom’s birthday cards. We could have filled three or four Great Halls with them all, but what you saw on the front page of the Times on Tuesday was a nice display of as many as we could set out. As you can see from the attached, we sent Tom (via Benjie) a large photo of the Hall – the point of the display had been to show him as many of the cards in one place as we could, and he was happy to receive it (though I think his England cricket cap may have run close in his affections?). The main challenge at school has been social distancing, so we have had separate up and down staircases, and in and out doors; people have opened cards in the Great Hall, in classrooms, in the Dining Hall and the Langham Cricket Pavilion. This is, no doubt, a useful test run for when schools do eventually come back, whenever that might be (a little more below on this). The most memorable cards were sent home to Tom himself; and we uncovered an extra £60,000 in the cards themselves.  The stamps have all been clipped in their thousands from the envelopes by a remote team of Biddenham workers led by Chris Jones and his wife, and latterly by boys and their families in Bedford as well. Mrs Spyropoulos has liaised with charities and both the RNIB and St John’s Hospice in Moggerhanger will benefit from these stamps to raise much needed funds.

Many tributes, physical and visual, have been paid to Captain (now Colonel, of course) Tom. We sent him our own birthday message in the form of a musical tribute, as boys from the school, staff and OBs played the wonderful ‘Wellesley’, the regimental quick march of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment in which Tom served during the Second World War, moving into Happy Birthday. If you’ve not heard it already, it’s truly special and you can view the film here. Well done to the inimitable Andrew Groom and his team of musicians for putting it together.

Finally, on this front, it has been a truly global story. It was odd to receive a text from one of my brothers in Sydney to say he had just seen us on the television (!); but we have in fact had messages from OBs and current boys all over the world saying exactly the same thing, from New Zealand, through China, into Germany and out to the US. I mention this because I hope that you may also be following our school Thought for the Day. This weekend we have had the first in a short series of ‘postcards’ from around the world. I found it fascinating, and humbling, to listen to our boys overseas in a wide range of locations telling us all what it is like back home, reacting in differing ways to the same issues that we all face together as a planet. It is such an advantage (for all of us) to be part of a boarding school in this day and age, and to benefit from friendships and connections (both amongst the current pupil body and the Old Bedfordian Club) all over the world. If you are reading this from outside the UK, then we are all so excited to hear from you and your boys.

Some of the novelty of remote learning will be wearing off now and I do hope that your boys (and by extension, I suspect, households) are falling into a manageable routine. We realise that this is a challenge for everybody. Do please keep feeding back to us, not just the positive (though your response has been hugely uplifting – thank you!) but also any suggestions you may have for our improvement. We will be asking the boys for feedback again shortly and we will send a more formal ‘survey’ to all parents next week. We will try to respond dynamically to what we learn from you and them (and our own staff, who are also being surveyed again). Thank you to Sam Baldock and his team for the extraordinary hours they are putting in to make the online learning as useful and as effective as they can.

We have had our first meetings about the logistics of re-opening. I ought to stress that nobody knows when this will be, or indeed how it will be managed by the government (though evidence from other countries suggests a phased re-opening is likely, with younger age groups prioritised). I don’t think that anybody is expecting anything before half term – and it may be much later, of course. I have as much/little information as you do. However, it is important to be prepared, and I must say that the logistical complexities are very significant, hence daily planning meetings currently.  It seems that some preliminary statements will be made by the PM next week.

Lastly, the BBC is putting out a documentary on Friday night at 9.00pm on VE Day. There is apparently a likelihood that we will be in it in some form. I have said this sort of thing to people at other times this week and it has never materialised, so please do feel free to take this ‘head up’ with a pinch of salt!

I wish you all well for the week ahead.

With kind regards,

 

 

 


James Hodgson
HEAD MASTER

Little Darling: Magical Memories of Peter Pan

“All children, except one, grow up”, and Michael Darling, now 40, has grown up. He’s always wondered about his early memories of flying through the night sky to a far-away island with pirates, a mischievous fairy and lost boys… Was it all a dream? Could it really have happened?

Details

Date Saturday 4 April
Time 2.30pm
Venue The Quarry Theatre at St Luke’s
Admission £9.00 (£7.00 concessions, £28.00 family ticket)
Tickets quarrytheatre.org.uk
Age suitability      4+

100% Simon Brodkin

After three hugely successful BBC series as Lee Nelson, multiple sell-out tours and various court appearances following world-famous stunts on Theresa May, Sepp Blatter, Donald Trump, Kanye West and Britain’s Got Talent, the award-winning comedian unleashes his funniest creation yet… himself!

Details

Date Friday 3 April
Time 8.00pm
Venue The Quarry Theatre at St Luke’s
Admission £20.00
Tickets quarrytheatre.org.uk
Age suitability 14+

Dom Joly’s Holiday Snaps: Travel & Comedy in the Danger Zone

Best known as the creator of Trigger Happy TV, the writer and broadcaster is undertaking his first UK tour since 2011, giving fans a rare opportunity to see him live.

Dom will be talking about his exploits as a serial globe-trotter and seeker of dangerous travel spots.

Details

Date Saturday 28 March
Time 7.30pm
Venue The Quarry Theatre at St Luke’s
Admission £18.00
Tickets quarrytheatre.org.uk
Admission 13+

Matt Forde: Brexit, Pursued by a Bear

Join Britain’s leading political comedian as he once again promises last show as an EU citizen (maybe). As seen on Have I Got News For You, Mock the Week, The Royal Variety Performance and Unspun.

Details

Date Saturday 7 March
Time 8.00pm
Venue The Quarry Theatre at St Luke’s
Admission £15.00
Tickets quarrytheatre.org.uk
Age suitability      16+

Head Master’s Assembly Talk: Social Divisions

Not an awful lot is known about the Eleusinian Mysteries, a strange cult worship that was celebrated annually in the classical and pre-classical period at a town called Eleusis 11 miles north west of Athens. Not much is known, because the happenings there were held in secret. It seems that the event celebrated rebirth, as the cult was connected to Demeter and her daughter Persephone. Some of you will know the story. Persephone had, in ancient mythology, spent six months of each year in the Underworld, before being allowed back to the Upper World for the next six months, thus developing the system of seasons – spring starting as Persephone returned to the Upper World to be with her happy mother, Demeter, the goddess of crops and fertility; and autumn falling as she fulfilled her duty and left her mother distraught to go back to the Underworld. What seems certain is that the initiates in this cult worship each year were distinctly honoured, as they expected their worship to confer upon them preferential treatment in their life after death. What I remember most being taught about the Eleusinian Mysteries was a throwaway line from a university lecturer, which I have never been able to prove or disprove, about the initiates themselves. It seems that they were mostly very well to do personalities, who left Athens each year to walk to their secret rites in Eleusis for the festival before returning a few days later to their highflying jobs at home. On the way, there was a bridge over which they had to pass. Lining the bridge were hundreds of lower-class people, peasants, farmers, slaves, who pelted fruit, mud, rubbish, anything they could get their hands on at the wealthy initiates whilst they crossed. The idea was that these famous Athenians be brought back down to earth once a year and reminded of the frailty of their upper-class existence.

I loved this story and have often thought about it, and this half term I read another similar story that reminded me of it. William Dalrymple writes magical books about India, and his book Nine Lives is essentially nine short stories about hitherto unknown individuals whose lives tell us great stories about the sacred religions of modern India. As many of you will know, for centuries (though less so today) the caste system has been at the heart of society in India, representing a layered stratification of people into, essentially, different social bands. At the top end are the Brahmins, representing (amongst other things) the priesthood and the highest of the four social castes; off the bottom end are the Dalits, or untouchables, those with no social standing at all and only the most menial of jobs. Dalrymple tells of his meeting only 10 years ago with a lowest caste Dalit man called Hari Das, who lives in a place called Kannur in southern India. A manual labourer for nine months of the year, Hari Das has two jobs: a prison warden in one of the most dangerous prisons in India; and a well digger for rich landlords. But for the other three months of the year, from December until January, he quite literally becomes a God. Putting on the clothing of the gods, being made up by professionals, Hari Das and some of his other Dalit friends become theyyam artists, professional dancers who sing and dance themselves into an ecstatic frenzy at night time in rural settings, as the gods literally take over their body: they are, for several hours at a time, possessed by the divine and they themselves become objects of worship. People of the highest classes come from the towns and villages to be part of this ritual, to see human manifestations of the gods, to be present with them for all-night performances. Part of the reason for their attendance is so that they can ask favours of the gods: for good crops, better health, fine jobs for their children; part of the deal is that the dancers take time out of their routines to grant them such wishes. This represents a complete inversion from the norm in India, where the Dalits are not allowed any power at all over the upper classes and have few rights. It is made all the more remarkable by the fact that the songs and dances performed by these theyyam artists are almost all telling ancient stories of social and moral injustices meted out by the upper classes upon their own class. These stories question the limits of acceptable behaviour, the abuse of power of the upper classes, and the disproportionate punishments dished out by them for trivial transgressions; yet, the upper class Brahmins not only take this all in, but seek goodness from it. As Hari Das himself put it, “There was one Brahmin last month who worshiped me during a theyyam, reverently touching my feet with tears in his eyes, kneeling before me for a blessing; then the following week I went to his house to dig a well as an ordinary labourer and he didn’t even recognise me”.

This modern world story of the breaking down, temporarily at least, of class divides and social norms, matches the Ancient Greek story rather nicely. Do we have something similar in the modern western world?  Possibly the closest is a Mardi Gras; sadly the LGBT community receive regular abuse in their daily lives, but for a day’s festival in the year, they can celebrate and be cheered. Maybe the Paralympics or the Invictus Games manage to do for disabled people what society often fails to do? I am not sure. However, it seems to me that anything that can make us sit up and think about the basic humanity of all people, and not just the advantaged, must represent a good learning in our own day to day lives. We have a duty to each other, no matter what background we inhabit. If you are interested in the lives of truly unusual and extraordinary people, then I recommend Dalrymple’s Nine Lives. It is an enjoyable and thought-provoking read.

Brass Concert

Join us for an evening of great music by Bedford School’s Brass Ensemble in the beautiful setting of St Mary’s Church, Stevington.

Details

Date Saturday 21 March
Time 7.30pm
Venue St Mary’s Church, Stevington
Admission £5.00
Tickets Email Bob Eadie at robert@eadies.org.uk
Age suitability      All ages

A Piano Duet Fantasy

A rare opportunity to indulge yourself in famous piano duet classics performed by two outstanding Bedford School Music Faculty members, Marina Nadiradze and Grace Mo.

Programme includes the mesmerising Fantasy by Schubert and Mother Goose Suite by Ravel, inspired by children’s fairy tales.

Details

Date Wednesday 11 March
Time 6.30pm
Venue Music School Recital Hall
Admission Free
Age suitability      All ages

Geoff Norcott: Taking Liberties

Geoff Norcott’s unique brand of provocative stand-up is hitting the road again in the spring, continuing with the success of his critically acclaimed show, Taking Liberties. Whatever the contentious subject – he’ll be honest and blunt. Mostly. As seen on The Mash Report, Live at the Apollo and Mock the Week.

Date Saturday 29 February
Time 8.00pm
Venue The Quarry Theatre at St Luke’s
Admission £13.50
Tickets quarrytheatre.org.uk
Age suitability      16+