Each half of term we have a theme for our Assemblies and Chapels chosen by the Chaplain. For the first half of this term the theme is ‘Joy’ and, at the start of term, the Chaplain said to me: “I really want us to make the distinction between ‘Joy’ and ‘Happiness’.”
Now I will be honest with you, I have really struggled with how to make that distinction. I understand in theory the difference. In Christian terms, ‘Joy’ is the emotion experienced in the soul when you accept the Holy Spirit into your life. But how on earth do you express that to a group of teenagers?
So, today, I’ve had a go at explaining the difference between ‘Happiness’ and ‘Joy’ with a couple of different songs to help me.
‘Happiness’ is a fleeting, transient emotion which is very dependent upon external stimuli – a child feels moments of happiness when they get a new toy or when they have the rush of excitement which comes with a nice day out. To hear my song choice, CLICK HERE.
‘Joy’ is a bone-deep feeling which comes from a sense of being at peace with yourself. It is the emotion you feel when you find something special in the mundane and is not reliant upon anyone else. ‘Joy’ is the feeling you get when you do something for someone else or do the right thing. To hear my song choice, CLICK HERE.
So, on Saturday, we held an event which was truly joyous. The Colour Run was such an amazing whole school experience. Here was an occasion when we could all look at what is good in the world, do the right thing and do something for others, all while thoroughly enjoying ourselves! It was wonderful to see so many happy, smiling faces, across all ages of the school through to the staff who really came into their own when given a pot of powder paint!
9am on Saturday morning saw the event kick off with the Year 3-6 pupils. I have never seen so much energy and enthusiasm in one place at one time, with the children running far more than the two-lap minimum and doing so while periodically stopping to roll in more paint!
In fact, the enthusiasm to get covered in paint did not diminish as the pupils got older – although the speed at which they moved was certainly slower in the Sixth Form than it was in the Junior School. It was a pleasure to see so many of our pupils actively involved and having a great deal of fun.
Thank you so much for everyone involved and to all of the parents who gave their support from the other side of the fence – what an ingenious lot you all are! I would like to make a very special mention to Miss Booton for her outstanding organisation of this great event and, of course, to every single one of our pupils who came along and gave of their time, energy and enthusiasm so willingly.
Finally, apologies for the extra washing and bathing which were no doubt needed in all households (mine included) to remove all that stray paint but I suspect everyone slept well on Saturday night!
It has, over the past few weeks, been an absolute delight to see Queen’s come to life once again with activities outside the classroom.
Having our pupils back on site, playing and enjoying sport has been a real highlight of this half term for me and I have particularly enjoyed supporting the house competition over the past couple of weeks.
A huge ‘thank you’ is needed to all of the Sport staff who have worked so hard to ensure that, despite the restrictions in place, our pupils were able to compete last weekend in the House Badminton competition and this weekend in the House Hockey and Basketball competitions.
The winners of the matches were well divided between the different houses with all of the winning something. Well done to Woolmer, Ray and French for their wins in the Hockey competition, to French and Woolmer for their wins in Badminton and Barnicott for their win in Basketball.
On Friday, our musicians performed in the first of a series of concerts taking place at lunchtimes with St John’s Church, Taunton. This year, because of social distancing measures, the concert was performed remotely, recorded and then shown online.
The great advantage of this is that we are able to share it with everyone, so if you would like a chance to hear our wonderful musicians then please CLICK HERE.
We will continue to share our concerts with you as they are produced so you can enjoy the talents of our fantastic musicians across the School.
This Saturday, we will be holding our Colour Run to raise money for Love Musgrove, the charity which supports our nearby Musgrove Park Hospital.
We are looking forward to welcoming pupils from Year 3 to 13 to take part in this event and hope everyone has a thoroughly good time while raising money for this important local hospital.
We hope you will all feel able to support our fundraising effort by donating either directly to the students involved or by following the steps to donate online by CLICKING HERE.
Please click the button to donate on behalf of a group or school and the fund/appeal we are raising money for is the Covid-19 Response Fund. Then please add Queen’s College as the Company, Group or School Name before your own personal details and payment information.
Thank you and good luck everyone!
All we hear about at the moment is how different things are. We are all working in different ways, school looks different, going out is different, public transport is different, holidays to the sun are different, even going to the shops is different.
For millions of people across the UK things are once again really different as they head into local lockdowns and, for our poor students who left this summer to head off to university, I can’t help but feel that the level of ‘different’ is a miserable experience.
I cannot imagine how the Freshers at universities across the country are coping. Locked down inside single rooms in halls of residence. Accessing their learning online and a long way from home. Not being able to socialise, not being able to go out, not being able to go home.
I remember those first few weeks at university, living away from home for the first time. It was tough. If I had had to do it without human contact from my family and friends and if I had had to do it without the chance of meeting new people, I am not sure quite how I would have managed. And the thought that students may not be able to return home for Christmas …
But not all of the changes are bad. Not everything is negative. On Saturday here at Queen’s we had a full day of fantastic sport. Was it the same as usual? Well no, of course not. There was no opposition school. There were no parents. But there were a lot of young people having a great deal of fun. It was absolutely fantastic to see boys and girls of all ages enjoying playing sport together. I watched girls playing hockey and boys playing cricket. Everyone got a game, everyone was involved.
In the cricket, every boy got to bat and to bowl. None of that standing in the outfield all afternoon, never touching the ball. The enthusiasm of everyone was astonishing. I saw boys standing on the boundary cheering on their friends and getting excited with every ball which took them closer to victory. And anyone who says there is no competition in an intra-school competition did not spend time with our Year 11 boys as they shouted and cheered their way to a result. Boys who I know don’t usually like cricket were, on Saturday, fully involved and invested in a game.
Did it matter that it was not against another school? Well perhaps to me and you, but certainly not to them at that time in that moment. So my reflection on everything is this. Saturday was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, the sky was blue and every single one of the many faces I saw throughout the day had a beaming smile on it.
So, while I agree that nothing is the same at the moment, perhaps we all need to take a leaf out of the book of the Year 11 boys and all the other Queen’s pupils and make the most of the joy there is to be had in every single minute!
It is hard to imagine that, as a nation, we are back in the position of needing to talk about going back into some form of lockdown. How did we squander the progress we made in the spring and early part of the summer to end up right back at the place it all began before we are even two weeks into the Autumn Term?
Over the weekend we were told that we are now heading into a second wave. That we will, if we don’t take the measures set out seriously or indeed do not have a more rigorous approach, be back at COVID levels like those we saw in April with death rates to match.
It was shocking to hear the statistics being discussed. Four in five people, who are required to self-isolate, either do not do it or do not do it properly. Or the unbelievable story that one man in Bolton has passed on the virus to more than 200 people when he did not quarantine, as he should have, on returning from holiday, instead going on a pub crawl with his mates.
Times like these require us all to make sacrifices and to make decisions about our own personal behaviour which are designed to serve the ‘greater good’ and not simply to further our own self- interest. But sometimes those decisions can be difficult and, at times, unpopular.
Last week at Queen’s, we were faced with one such difficult decision. What should we do about playing fixtures against other schools? After much deliberation and a good deal of heartache, we reached the decision that we had no choice but to keep all our matches ‘in house’ and ‘in bubbles’.
In the end, we were helped by the fact that only a couple of schools on our regular fixture list were prepared to further open up their communities. So why did the vast majority of schools reach the decision not to play fixtures against others?
Well, as schools, we have a responsibility not only to the pupils and the staff who are here every day, but also to the parents, grandparents and wider community.
With the news that the nation is heading into a second wave with the possibility of thousands of fatalities over the winter, it feels irresponsible to allow young people from other schools into our carefully constructed ‘bubbles’. We have all designed these ‘bubbles’ to ensure we can avoid the spread of the virus across the school community and, therefore by extension, the wider community.
After all, only today, the Chief Medical Advisor has said we all have a responsibility to minimise the interactions between families, both at work and socially.
In the end, as the anecdote from Bolton reminds us, there are always going to be people who decide to take a path which puts their own needs ahead of the needs of others. But, as a Methodist School, an important part of our foundation is valuing social responsibility over self Interest.
So, as we make our decisions, we will always be thinking of the ‘greater good’, always ensuring we are mindful of our own actions and the impact of them on the wider community in which we serve.
So, today as we are faced with the unpalatable truth about the winter months, I remain as ever ‘hopeful’ that the social conscience and positivity which we saw in the early part of the lockdown across the country will once again come to the fore. That we will continue to do our best for everyone in our community and that we will remain ‘stronger together’.
It is a little over two months since I last wrote my blog and, in that time, so much seems to have happened – yet, today, we seem to be right back where we started.
For me and my team, this has been a summer of planning, organising, and making sure we were as well prepared as possible to welcome back our staff and students to our beautiful site.
Thursday was a wonderful day. To see so many happy smiling faces around school after such a long time without them felt reaffirming and I cannot say how lovely it is to have a fully open school again. As I said last year, schools are strange places without young people.
For most other people, I guess, the summer was a time to get back to normal as the cases of Coronavirus dropped across the whole country. Having days out, going to restaurants, going on holiday, and meeting with family and friends became, once again, part of the norm.
And yet, today, two months since I last wrote, we seem to be heading right back into the place we were before. With the ‘rule of 6’ and cases on the increase, it is hard to think we are going to be able to stay normal for very much longer, particularly as we head closer to winter.
Even here, in a location which has so far come off lightly, schools are already being impacted. Just a week into the start of term there are already a couple of Taunton schools with confirmed cases among their student body, meaning they are having to send whole year group bubbles home to self-isolate for a couple of weeks. We all knew it was going to happen, but it is perhaps surprising that it has happened quite so soon.
What does this mean for us all moving forward? Well, it is hard to say. None of us have a crystal ball but we do know we are very well-prepared here at Queen’s. The time and effort in getting everything safe and secure seems all the more worthwhile when faced with the very real prospect of an upsurge in cases locally.
As a community, we have a duty to do our bit, not only by looking after our pupils and our staff but also by protecting our parents, grandparents, and neighbours by taking our community responsibility seriously.
And so, as we have said since the very start of this, we will hope for the best and plan for the worst. I’m just hoping that the worst doesn’t happen this winter …
I thought that I would share with you a poem written by the MIST pastoral visitor and Chaplain of one of our sister schools, Kent College, Canterbury. This poem rather sums up the work which has gone on in all our schools to get ready for the start of the academic year during this, our most unusual summer, and particularly resonated with me personally.
As we move once more into an uncertain time, which is inevitably going to go on throughout the whole of the winter, I think it is worth remembering the things we held dear at the start of this in March.
While this is not something any of us would have wished to happen this year (or any other) we are all in it together – and together we can achieve anything.
Remember we are Stronger Together…
Zones and bubbles and pods.
Walk this way, not that.
Staggered arrivals and leave times
(staggered in more ways than one).
And what do we do about the food?
And can we sing?
And I have never talked about toilets so much in my life.
And what about children who are isolating?
And what about face coverings?
And what about text books?
And what happens with the lockers?
And when the weather changes what do we do?
And what sport can they do?
And what uniform should they wear?
And what about shared equipment…and Pritt Sticks?
Where do we put the furniture that we don’t need?
And what about cleaning?
And temperature checks?
And hand washing?
And if a child falls ill what do we do?
Or a member of staff?
And what about siblings in different year groups?
And how on earth do we make this feel ‘normal’
And we are loving, faith-filled, hopeful,
sensible people and though these are questions
we have never faced before
(and hopefully never will again)
we tackle them one at a time.
And the most important thing is that the children return
and feel loved and safe
(even though it’s different than anything they’ve experienced before).
And I have found that ‘watching over one another in love’
and ‘do all the good you can’
and ‘living on a large map’
have taken on new meanings.
And faith has been put into practice
like never before.
And we are ready.
By Rev Dr Paul Glass
So, we have finally arrived. Speech Day has come and gone, the last lessons have been taught and the academic year 2019-20 is finally over. And, for once in my life, I am speechless!
I know my parents, for one, will be amazed to hear that. They always say I was ‘injected with a gramophone needle at birth’ and consequently started talking early - and have never stopped. Every single photograph that exists of me from the point I was on my feet as a toddler involves me shouting while gesticulating wildly to the camera. But, today, I am speechless.
I am not quite sure what I want to say. This is a day of such mixed emotions. On the one hand, it is a day of such celebration. The Year 13 students, many of whom have been with us for a very long time, are about to head out into the most exciting adventure of them all ... life. But, on the other, we haven’t had a chance to say goodbye properly to any of them.
Yesterday, I talked about my sadness at the loss of one great friend from the Queen’s community and today I have to mention another. For, today, Jane Evans is leaving us to take up her own Headship at Bruton School for Girls. And, while, I am absolutely delighted for her and wish her every success in her new role, on a personal level I will miss her immensely. As with Tracey, Jane and I have been on a long journey together over the past few years, both figuratively and in reality. We have travelled the world together and seen sights we would never have imagined.
I will miss her creativity, her energy, her enthusiasm and her commitment to Queen’s. But, most of all, I will miss her heart. She is the most wonderful, caring person you are ever likely to meet. She is kind right through to her core and Bruton are lucky to have her.
So I would like to ask you to join me in saying goodbye to all those people who are leaving us today, staff and pupils. We will miss all of you and you will all forever stay in our hearts and our thoughts.
And, to those who will be here with us next academic year, I hope you all have a lovely break over the summer holiday, enjoy a very well-deserved rest and I look forward to seeing you all again in September.
In the meantime, I will leave you with another one of my favourite bands. Over the past few months - despite not being physically present in each other’s company - through all your messages of support and goodwill I feel we have all been ‘sitting down’ together.
Take care, stay safe and remember we are ‘stronger together’.
In a different year, today would have been one of my favourite days in the school year. Why? Well, today would have been Senior Sports Day, Final Assembly and Junior Speech Day.
I love today. I love seeing the marquee on the Lower on a fine summer’s day. I love Junior Speech Day - it is a wonderful, joyous experience and one where I can sit back and enjoy the occasion without any concerns. All that is required of me is that I walk down the aisle and sit on the stage in my gown and listen and enjoy the proceedings. Bliss ...
I love Sports Day. I love having the whole school out to watch the events and, this year, I was looking forward to seeing the colours of our new Houses on t-shirts in the sun and in stripes across faces. I love watching the races, seeing records broken and, most of all, I love seeing the students who every year put themselves forward and ‘have a go’ in events they find difficult, simply so their house has a representative. I love it when the whole school claps and cheers as they cross the line and the sense of being in it together which comes from a hard race run.
Today, the sun is not shining on the Lower and there is no marquee. Sports Day can’t happen, or at least not in any normal sense, and so there are no cheers echoing around the grounds. However, I have just sat and watched that most wonderful and joyous event - Junior Speech Day - and I had the added bonus of not having to wear my gown to do so ...
But even watching something as joyous and uplifting as Junior Speech Day is tinged with sadness today because I am losing a very dear friend from within our community. And, while I know Tracey will only ever be a phone call away, I also know I will miss her each and every day that I am at Queen’s and she is not here by my side.
We have had the most amazing journey together over the past four years and I could not have done any of it without her support and guidance. She is the person I have gone to in order to share in all that is positive when things have been good, and she is the person I have cried with when things have been tough. She has shown me what it means to be a Head - that the end never justifies the means and that holding on to your principles, even when it is easier not to, is always the way to respond.
I will miss her calm presence. I will miss her counsel. But, most of all, I will miss her wicked sense of humour! Queen’s is a better place for the time she has spent here, and she is the reason we have managed to hold on to our values and our ethos even when things have been tough. I will be forever grateful for the time I have had with Tracey at my side.
So, while I wish Tracey a wonderful retirement, I really hope she realises she is not going to get away from us that easily and that I have already found lots of ‘projects’ for her to continue her involvement with us here at Queen’s.
And, finally, in tribute to Tracey from the whole of the Queen’s community, and from me in particular, I thought this song from my childhood was a suitable anthem. If I remember correctly it was part of the soundtrack from ‘The Breakfast Club’, a film about a group of school students in Saturday morning detention and so feels suitably fitting!
'Retirement's the most wonderful thing. I get to enjoy all the things I never stopped to notice on the way up. After an extraordinary life, it's time to enjoy my retirement.' – Patrick Macnee
On Wednesday and Thursday of this week we will all have the opportunity to join together to watch our two virtual Speech Days. When we decided this was something we wanted to do it seemed such a great idea! After all, we always have a Speech Day. At this time of year, I always write a speech. So how hard can it be to do it all, but do it virtually?
Well, you would be surprised ...
At the beginning of last week, I pulled my speech together as I normally would. I read it through a few times, fitting it around other things before sitting down on Friday to record it. What a nightmare ....
Set up - the first step was to get everything set up properly. We had been given some advice around checking your background, making sure there was nothing distracting behind us - you know the sort of thing - a bottle of gin, an inappropriate book title, a plant growing out of your head. So, after making sure all was well and ready, I sat down ready to start, but the colour balance was all wrong and I looked like I either had sunstroke (chance would be a fine thing - I’m not sure I’ve seen the light of day for months!) or had one too many sherries (I promise you that is not part of my Friday morning repertoire). After a quick adjustment and the removal of some make-up, I was good to go. Except the sound was too low when I did a test run so it needed another quick adjustment. After a good half-hour of fixing, fiddling, checking and adjusting, I was finally ready ...
Take One - first attempt, not too bad. A bit of a stumble in the middle but something to build upon.
Take Two - better than the first. It would be ideal if you couldn’t hear the cat shouting from the kitchen because he was hungry and wanted feeding.
At this point, I stop for a moment, go to feed the cat, make sure he is ok and then shoo him away so I can have another go.
Take Three - completely fluffed it!
Take Four - it’s going really well. In fact, it is almost perfect. I think I have it nailed. Just as I am coming to the last section and feeling I have it all under control… ‘pat, pat, pat, pat’… I hear footsteps as James runs through the kitchen at high speed to get to my husband who is working in the living room. In our kitchen we have a small step and the next thing I hear is a short ‘clip’, before a moment of silence which seems to go on for ever as James sails through the air, followed by a ‘thud’ and then, ‘Owwwww!!!’ at the top of his voice.
I stop and run into the kitchen to check he is ok. By the time I get in there, he has already got up and gone into the living room where he is chatting happily with his Dad. Clearly the dramatic sound effect was not indicative of the seriousness of the incident.
Take Five - all over the place ...
I have lost the will to live on this speech now; I have had enough. I bet the Queen doesn’t have to put up with this when she does her Christmas Day address. Do the corgis need feeding mid-recording? Is Prince George ever running around in excitement, falling over and causing a commotion as he goes? I think not...
And so the version you will see on Thursday is version one, stumble and all. It might not be perfect but at least it doesn’t have a cat’s chorus going on or the sound of a small riot taking place in the background. I really should have left it after the first attempt. My husband always says that my problem is I never know when something is ‘good enough’. Ain’t that the truth!
If you would like to see a recording tonight of some of the wonderful music our young people have been producing while in lockdown, then you can watch our Summer Concert. I am sure they were more proficient with their recordings than I was last week.
And, in future, I will look forward to Speech Day in the marquee without the technology to worry about. After all, it is so much easier to do a speech when you don’t have to watch it back and there are far fewer opportunities for distractions when you have Mr Free there to make sure everyone stays quiet!
Well, here we are. Finally, we are in the last week of this most unusual academic year. At the end of this week my blog will come to an end, at least until September, when we will hopefully be back in school and then it will become a weekly rather than daily affair.
I have spent a little time this weekend looking back over all the things I have said throughout this period. While I expect most of what I will say this week will be about us here at Queen’s, I do feel the need to make one final observation about the broader world.
At the start of all this, I felt positive and optimistic around all the things we were seeing which showed our nation as a wonderful community. You know the sort of thing - all the stories we heard of people helping each other to get through this situation together. As a family we experienced it first-hand. We have had complete strangers offering us help and support so we were able to ensure James was kept shielded and secure.
Every Thursday we saw a country come together to celebrate and give thanks to those people who continued to work at the sharp end, saving lives and keeping the rest of us safe. Like you, I remember hearing the claps and cheers and the banging of pans each week as people gathered outside to show their support. We saw people on social media come together remotely to play music and sing songs to keep everyone’s spirits up. The country felt as if everyone was in something together, as if we were all working with purpose toward a common goal.
Fast forward a couple of months and everything seems to have changed. Where has that community and civic spirit gone when you see pictures of crowded beaches across the country and the terrible state in which beautiful places have been left once people have gone home? Where has that sense of all being in it together gone when you see police attacked by revellers who are insistent on ‘having a good time’ no matter what impact it has on others? Where has that sense of responsibility gone when you see huge crowds of people on the streets of our cities lighting fires and setting off flares and fireworks?
Don’t these people know the risks are no different now than they were before? Or do they simply no longer care because they are not in a high risk group and they have stopped thinking about anyone else?
I don’t know the answer to this, but I fear for the weeks ahead over the summer. I fear we might end up having a whole period of unrest in some parts of our country as tensions rise between those who want to do whatever they would normally do and those who have to try and maintain some sort of law and order.
I fear some of us have forgotten we are still in the middle of a pandemic and that nothing has really changed. I fear some people, who know they haven’t got very much to worry about if they were to contract COVID-19, have forgotten that the whole reason for the lockdown in the first place was to protect the most vulnerable. And I fear that all the good things we saw at the start of this, when everyone was helping each other, somehow seem to have been lost.
So, all I can do at the moment is hope that this is just a momentary lapse as people get over their cabin fever of the past three months and that sense will once more prevail.
In the immortal words of Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music':
Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes,
Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes,
Silver white winters that melt into springs
These are a few of my favourite things.
On Wednesday, I mentioned the radio interview I had a couple of years ago with Felix and Florence. I listened to it again today and it brought a huge smile to my face.
Listening again made me remember some of my favourite things.
I love the sound of happy children and young people, laughing and having fun. I love seeing their smiling faces. I love their inquisitiveness. I love the fact they just say what they think and rarely have any social filters. I love their excitement and the positivity which comes with working and spending time with them. I love that, for them, all things are possible. I love the fact that, whenever I am with them, life feels more hopeful...
Listening again to the broadcast today made me realise just how much I am missing that interaction. Just how much I miss our students. Just how much I miss Queen’s.
So, as I have thought about that song today, I have not been able to get some new lyrics out of my head:
Girls in plaid dresses with gold Wyvern badges.
Laughter that rings around hundreds of classes,
Rugby in winter and hockey in spring
These are a few of my favourite things.
And as this academic year draws to an end I am excited and hopeful about the possibility of seeing everybody again at Queen’s.
Until then I will have to listen again to the interview just as a reminder of how amazing Queen’s students really are. If you would like to listen too, please feel free, but not comments about my singing!!
CLICK HERE - the interview is at 52:14
Yesterday I was reading an article which asked the question: Is a second wave on its way?’ The question came in response to the fact that a number of countries, including Germany, Iran and China, are beginning to see an upswing in the number of cases of COVID-19 and an increase in the infection rate.
So, what was my initial thought to this? Well, to be honest, my initial thought was: What do you think you mean by a second wave? I have not left the house since the start of the first wave. We cannot really be talking about a second one already, can we? Please let me at least have some vaguely normal time before it all goes downhill again!
I am not exactly sure what it all means. At the moment, with the temperature as it is, the only waves I feel inclined to think about are those on the North Atlantic coast. What I would give right now to be thinking about going for a paddle in the sea!
I guess my concern is that everyone else is thinking the same and that, in the days and weeks ahead, we are going to see more and more people flocking to our region to enjoy the lovely summer weather and that a second wave will then see who’s become inevitable. The pictures of the hordes of people at Bournemouth and Sandbanks beach yesterday only serve to reinforce this fear.
It must be so hard for those people who rely upon tourism for their livelihood. On the one hand, they really need people to start to take holidays again, but, on the other, they must be fearful of the impact that movement of large numbers of people into the area might have moving forward.
So, for me, while I dream of one type of wave, I am really hopeful that we don’t have the other!
This week sees yet another COVID-19 casualty. In another year, today would have been the start of the Glastonbury Festival and, while I haven’t been in the position to go since I left university, it is still sad an event which has dominated this time of year for so long is unable to go ahead.
How depressing for our Year 13s that not only have they had their normal end of their time at Queen’s celebrations removed, as well as not being able to ‘prove themselves’ in the exam arena, but they have also not been able to band together in a tent at Glastonbury to celebrate the end of an era and the start of another. That age-old adage of work hard up to the end of the exams and then play hard until you go to university is sadly not possible this year.
And like so many people, Glastonbury itself is not able to celebrate its own milestone anniversary in the way it would have planned. This year is its 50th anniversary and they would have planned a bumper festival. Instead, they are limited to a virtual V&A exhibition ...
And a ‘pop-up’ BBC Glastonbury Channel on iPlayer will show a full five days of sets from the archives. While it is not the same as the real thing, I suppose it is better than nothing.
Therefore, I thought that today I would share with you a clip from my favourite ever Glastonbury set. An impromptu event in 1995 when Pulp stepped into the Saturday Night headline slot after the Stone Roses pulled out at the last minute because their guitarist John Squire had broken his collarbone in a cycling accident in San Francisco.
It was this set which started my lifelong love affair with Pulp frontman, Jarvis Cocker ...
So, a few years ago, when two Queen’s students - Florence and Felix - asked me, “Who is your favourite band?,” in a radio interview for Tone FM they were doing as part of one of our summer masterclasses, my answer was a resounding, “Pulp!” And when asked to sing my favourite song on air, it was to ‘Common People’ I turned!
Yesterday, I heard that my period of being under ‘house arrest’ will end on July 6th - hurray!
For once, this is perfect timing. It is my mum’s birthday on July 7th and just to know we will be able to go and see her and sit together in the garden is amazing news. When I told James, his little face lit up and, for a boy who struggles to show emotion, that was a real indicator that, no matter how well he is doing with just the three of us, he really is ready to see the other people in his life he loves.
Today, I heard that the world outside our garden really is returning to normal, that things in the ‘real world’ feel almost like they always have. This is strange for me to imagine. I haven’t really seen either the abnormal state of things or the return to normal. When I stepped into my house on March 22nd for the first time, things were just winding down and, by the time I step out again on July 6th, most things, possibly including cafes and restaurants, will be open again. It’s almost like I’ve missed it all!
After all, the only trip I have been on since the start of the lockdown was a walk to the cenotaph at the front of school on VE Day! In fairness, I don’t get out much under normal circumstances, and certainly not beyond school events and activities, but even I recognise this is a little bit sad!
And so, as the term draws to a close and I do all the things I would normally be doing at this time of year, such as preparing for Speech Day and planning for the start of next term, I am also beginning to not only look forward to a short break before diving back into the melee of planning but also to rediscovering the world outside these four walls …
I wonder how long it will take to feel as if none of this has ever happened? Will it be like it is at the start of a new academic year after the summer when the holiday seems like a distant reality after just ten minutes with your first class? Or will we be forever shaped by the experiences at this time?
And, like me, do any of you worry that we might get back to some sort of normal only to be told we all have to go back into lockdown? While we might now know much more clearly what that will look like and how to slide easily back into distance working, I cannot imagine it being something any of us are keen to do again any time soon. And certainly not once we all get a taste for freedom again ...
It is hard to believe that we are fast approaching the end of this most unusual academic year.
In another reality, today would have been the start of work experience for Year 11 after they had successfully completed their GCSE exams. The Year 13 students would have been having a well-deserved rest after the trials and tribulations of A Level exams. We would have completed the end-of-year exams and would have been about to collapse the timetable and start the ‘... For Life’ enrichment programme. We would have been looking forward to Sports Day and work would have started building the marquee for Speech Day and the Leavers’ Ball.
In this reality, none of that is happening - or at least not in the way we envisioned. Sports Day will happen, but in a new virtual format which even includes a good old-fashioned egg and spoon race! Speech Day will happen - just minus the marquee and without the ability for us all to meet and chat afterwards. The Leavers’ Ball will happen - just not yet ...
Today I began to think about writing my speech for Speech Day - where do you start?! There are so many different things to be said, so many ways to begin, so much which needs to be documented about this most unusual time. We are already thinking about the things we need to keep and record. The things which need to go into our archives for further generations of the school to look at and remember. I can just imagine someone searching through the archives in another 175 years for a recording of Speech Day 2020 - the year it was done online. The year of THE PANDEMIC.
I will be honest; I am probably more worried about the recording than the speech. It’s the irony of it that gets me - the only Speech Day I have done which will be recorded for posterity and kept as part of the school archive is the one where I couldn’t go to the hairdressers ...
And so, as I ponder what to say, how to say it and how to look half human while I’m doing it, I am looking forward to next year. Hopefully then all of this will seem like a distant memory ...
Today is a good day. Today is the day when on the five-point scale, introduced by the Government at the start of this crisis, the UK has been moved down from a four to a three.
So what does this mean? Well, I am not altogether sure. I know it means that, while the virus remains in general circulation, social distancing measures can be loosened. I know this is because the total number of cases in the population has fallen and the R value is below one. All of which is really good news.
But, sadly, I also know it does not mean that everything is going to go back to normal straight away. Nor does it mean we will not have further problems in the weeks and months ahead. You only need to look at the countries who are now beginning to experience a possible second wave, like China and Iran, to know that this is just the start and not the end of a journey.
I often find myself wondering how long it will actually take to get to the point where the world returns to the way it was before the start of 2020? I am not just thinking about the UK, but every nation in the world.
How long before travel between all countries is free again from restrictions? How long before large-scale cultural events can occur without fear? How long before major sporting competitions can occur with all nations involved and all spectators allowed to visit?
And are there things that will never go back to the way they were? Will we forever be thinking in terms of BCV and ACV - before and after Coronavirus?
For now, I think I will continue to do what I always do and ‘hope for the best but plan for the worst’ while waiting to see what happens next ...
Yesterday I talked about the opening this week of non-essential shops and the enthusiasm with which people have embraced it. It got me thinking more broadly about all the other things now starting to reopen which were not really possible just a few weeks ago.
As well as going to the shops, people who are not shielding can also visit parks and gardens. The National Trust and English Heritage have already started to reopen with many places now available to visit and more due to open over the coming weeks. On Monday, zoos and safari parks opened once again to visitors. Even fairgrounds and theme parks, art galleries and museums are now looking at how they can start to reopen in the weeks to come.
On the one hand, I am really pleased to see this gradual reopening of the world. It helps me feel more positive, more hopeful that we will one day be back to normal. On the other hand, it is hard because, for us, nothing has really changed. While we can now go for a walk outside our garden with James, that is all we can do. We have simply reached the point everyone else has been at all along! A single period of exercise together as a family once a day.
So, for us, we are looking on as the world reopens, wondering when it might also apply to us? When might it be safe for him to go to the seaside or visit a theme park? When might it be possible for him to go and play golf or visit a castle?
And, as I work on the plan for the opening of the school site to more of our young people and as I look ahead to September, I am asking myself the question: When will he be able to go back to school? This year? Next year? Never?
I don’t know any of the answers to these questions, but I really wish I did.
And one final thing ...
I really don’t understand why it has taken so long to open safari parks - in fact, I might go as far as to say that I’m not quite sure why they closed in the first place.
I have been to a safari park once in my life and my recollections are that we got in the car at home, we drove to the safari park, we drove through the safari park and then we drove home. No matter how I consider that day out, I do not see what happened in that visit which could not have happened, even at the height of COVID-19. After all, the only way you could end up in contact with anyone, other than your own household, would be if you got out of the car.
And, let’s be absolutely honest about it, if you get out of your car in a safari park, the worst thing that is going to happen to you is not that you will catch a virus - oh no, the worst thing is that you will be eaten by a tiger!
On Monday, we all saw scenes of the wider reopening of society. Seeing images of people queuing often for hours to get into high street stores or retail parks has made me stop and think: what are the things I have missed and would be prepared to wait patiently in a queue to experience again?
I would definitely queue up to go to the theatre to see a play. I miss the atmosphere of live theatre: the camaraderie of watching something with others; the warmth which comes with laughing together, and crying together; the suspense which is built when a group of people watch something on the edge of their chairs together; and the collective ‘jump’ when the shock finally happens. I miss it all ...
I would certainly queue up to see a good band play or to listen to an orchestra. I miss the visceral thud and soaring of live music, that feeling of being in a moment, with a collective thumping in your heart and swaying in your body. For me, it is an all-consuming, almost hypnotic experience and I miss it all ...
I would absolutely queue up to sit in a beer garden or an outdoor courtyard on a warm summer’s evening to eat a meal and have a glass of wine. I miss the quiet feeling of being part of something bigger; I miss people-watching and imagining what they are feeling and experiencing.
But, I have to say, I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone would spend two hours in a queue to go into a clothes shop. I hate shopping for clothes. I hate the looking around racks of garments, and then, once you have finally made your selection, the indignity of changing rooms and the frustration of nothing being quite right when you finally get it on.
Don’t get me wrong, I love clothes and shoes are probably my biggest vice, but for a long time I have preferred to shop online and try things on at home. At least then, when you want a second opinion, you don’t have to traipse out into the shop in your stockinged feet because you went out in jeans and boots but are trying on a dress.
Now, if it was a book shop or a small eclectic boutique where I could wander around, picking up objects and examining them to find something which calls to me, that I could enjoy - although I am still not sure I would queue up for the privilege.
Therefore, I was a little surprised on Monday at the lengths others were prepared to go to pick up a new pair of jogging bottoms or a handbag. I guess it wouldn’t do for us all to be the same and I know it’s only the same as my cousin battling through the January sales on Boxing Day when I would sooner have a lie-in or snuggle up and watch the cold, inclement weather from my sofa. But I guess what it does show is that we are all starved for experiences which once seemed so normal yet now seem so precious.
So, as I continue to reflect on the things which I miss most, I wonder what they are for all of you?
Yesterday was a key day for us at Queen’s. Having welcomed back Reception, Year 1 and Year 6, as well as some of the Nursery children, over the past few weeks, we opened our doors yesterday for the first time since the lockdown began to some of our young people in Year 10 and Year 12. None of these openings are ‘business as usual’ - the social distancing measures we are required to put in place and the restriction on the proportion of our cohort means that, at this stage, they are never going to be normal.
But at least they are here. We have really missed them.
A school is a weird place without children in it. It always feels strange and wrong - too quiet, too echoey, too cold. A few years ago, on the last day of term at Christmas and after the Carol Service, I was in school until quite late in the evening finishing off some work. Everyone else had gone home and I remember going out into the dark main corridor. The silence was eerie - it was almost as if I could hear the faint, ghostly voices and laughter of children and young people from across the generations. The past few months may not have been quite like that, but the school and its site have been empty and bereft of the hopefulness which comes with being surrounded by people with their whole life stretched out before them.
So, yesterday was a fantastic day just to have pupils back into all sections of the school. I know from the emails I have received from all the teachers working with them that they have really enjoyed having them back here on site in the school. I personally can’t wait until we are let out of shielding so that I am able to see some of them again myself.
We are now in the full throes of planning for when everyone can come back to school. We do not yet know when that will be and we are not allowed to step outside of the Government guidance, but we are planning for it to happen in September. It is our aim and our intention, provided we are allowed, to open at the start of next term to all of our students for all of their lessons. I know many of you really want us to tell you now what school will look like in September, and I would like nothing more than to tell you, but, sadly, I cannot.
Once again we are waiting for information around what we will be allowed to do. Can we have 100% of students back on site at the same time if we can put in place the right social distancing? How many people can we have in one classroom? Can children move around the site? Which sports will be allowed to take place? Will fixtures be allowed between schools? Will large gatherings of the community be allowed?
However, I would like to reassure you that our planning for September is to enable us to have 100% of all our pupils on the school site, at the same time, for 100% of their lessons from September. Whether we will be allowed to do that remains to be seen ...
On Friday I touched on ideas of space and time when I talked about my love of ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Over the weekend I have been thinking about chaos.
As a chemist, one of the most important concepts we consider is that of entropy. For those of you who have never encountered this mind-bending idea, I will try to explain it briefly. The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that, ‘the total entropy of an isolated system can never decrease over time and is constant if and only if all processes are reversible. Isolated systems spontaneously evolve towards thermodynamic equilibrium, the state with maximum entropy.’ In English, this roughly translates as, ‘in a system which is not impacted by external factors, over time it will naturally move from a state of order to a state of disorder’.
For any of you who have ever looked inside your teenage son or daughter’s bedroom, you will know on an intrinsic level that this statement is true. The effort required in turning disorder into order when you are left with the unenviable task of tidying up after them is huge. The effort required to go back to a state of disorder once they have spent five minutes back in their room looking for ‘the right outfit to wear’ is minimal. This is entropy.
For us, we see the personification of entropy daily in the room which contains James’ Lego. No matter how often we pick it up and put it in the right box, within seconds of him going back to building it looks like a bomb site again. Indeed, his nickname in our family is ‘little Jimmy Entropy’!
One of the most interesting ideas from my perspective is that of entropy as time’s arrow. In short, you can see the passage of time in the universe as it moves to a more disordered state. Every day that passes moves you away from order and towards disorder - over the past few months I would say this is self-evident and has become something of a metaphor for life!
But, of course, we do not live in an entirely isolated system. The world is not a simple environment where you can consider and measure the tendency to disorder without any external stimuli. It is, instead, a wildly complex web of interconnecting events and phenomena, all of which will impact on and change events. It is this reality which is the basis of the ideas around chaos theory, which considers patterns that exist within seemingly random chaotic complex systems.
And, so, to the butterfly effect ... This idea suggests that a tiny stimulus in a complex system might have a huge impact at some point later and some place removed from the original point of the stimulus. The often-cited example is that a butterfly flapping its wings could start a chain of events which results in a tornado being produced several weeks later, hundreds of miles away from the initial event.
So, why have I spent a good part of the weekend thinking about the butterfly effect and the rippling nature of our existence? On Friday, I was reading an article and watching a video about the call to remove statues of historic figures known to have links to the slave trade.
While looking at it I became aware of a statue in Edinburgh of Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville. What is so important about Henry Dundas? Well, according to the new plaque which is going to be placed on the base of his statue: ‘While Home Secretary in 1792 and first Secretary of State for War in 1796 he was instrumental in deferring the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade.’
What did he actually do? In 1792, when William Wilberforce brought before Parliament a bill calling for the ‘immediate’ abolition of slavery, the then Home Secretary Henry Dundas proposed an amendment to the bill to change the wording to ‘gradual’. While his family now say that Dundas was himself an abolitionist and that he proposed the change in order to ensure the bill was passed, the reality is that the introduction of that one word, gradual, meant that it took a further 15 years for it to become illegal for a British ship to carry slaves to the Americas.
The reason that this made me think about the butterfly effect is that one word, ‘gradual’ - which seems like such a small thing, but actually resulted in 15 more years of movement of people from Africa. Conservative estimates suggest that around 620,000 additional people were transported from West Africa and enslaved during this period.
For me, the butterfly effect is this: in the 200 or so years following the amendment to the bill, there have been eight generations of people born in the US directly descended from the group of people transported while the slave trade was winding down in Britain.
If, very conservatively (as families 200 years ago often had as many as ten children), we conclude that every person in each generation would have two children who reached childbearing age and had children themselves, then each one of those 620,000 additional slaves would have around 200 descendants alive today.
Even if only half of those original people had children, or they only had children with someone from the same group, then that would still mean there are millions of people alive today who are directly descended from this group. Millions of people whose lives are different now because of the repercussions of one little word over hundreds of years and across thousands of miles of ocean …
As a child, one of my favourite books was Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’. I always enjoyed the imagery and the ideas, the sheer mind-bending fantastical nature of it all. As I got older, as a scientist, I enjoyed the play on space and time as well as the ideas around the mind.
This week I have felt like Alice ...
I think it was on Wednesday that I said to my husband that I felt ‘punch drunk’ - and by yesterday my head was so full of thoughts and ideas, planning and checking, analysing and evaluating that I was convinced it was going to explode! Why have I felt like this so keenly this week, out of all the weeks which have elapsed since the school site closed? Well, this has been one of those weeks where everything has come together at once.
After a successful reopening of Pre-Prep and Juniors last week to Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 children, this week saw us welcoming more of our Nursery-age children back on to the school site. At the same time, we have been finalising the plans to reopen the Senior School next week to some Year 10 and Year 12 students, making sure all the plans are in place and everyone knows what they need to be doing to keep each other safe. In addition, the planning for reopening the site fully from September has begun in earnest.
My head hurts from trying to work out how many people we can fit into each classroom if we still have to keep to the 2m social distancing room (the answer is, not many). Or, calculating if we will have enough rooms to accommodate everyone (no, probably not) and what we need to build over the summer to accommodate the rest (quite a bit, is my current estimate). Followed closely by analysing whether we have enough teachers if we can only have classes of seven due to our Victorian-sized classrooms (it’s doubtful); and working out where we are going to get more excellent teachers from at this stage in the academic year (undetermined yet!!). And then, on top of that, trying to work out how we accommodate all the boarders back into the boarding houses in safe family bubbles in September, and what work will be needed on our facilities over the summer to convert spaces and make it work safely, while still feeling like home. The answer is, quite a lot - so that will start in earnest in July.
Of course, if next week someone tells us we will be able to have 1m social distancing, or even 1.5m, then it’s back to the drawing board!!
Furthermore, this has been the week when schools needed to finalise the grade predictions being sent to the exam boards. So, we have been in the final throes of analysing, comparing, checking and double checking, trying to get exam board data entry systems to work, quadruple checking ... oh, and checking again, just to be on the safe side.
Not only that, at the start of the week we received two petitions one from ex-students and the other from current pupils asking us to reconsider the diversity of our curriculum in the light of the BLM movement. Now, please don’t get me wrong, I agree with this entirely. I want to help, I really do; I think it matters. I have spent a good deal of time personally reflecting upon this and asking the community to join me in that reflection. I am proud that our students, past and present, want to be proactive about this. I am proud that this is important to them, and that they wish to keep the genuinely inclusive foundation of our school alive and well into the 21st Century - but it was at about this point that my head felt like it was going to pop!
You see, at the time that it dropped on my desk I was asking myself questions like, how many Geodomes can we fit on the field for the Autumn Term in order to get the whole of the school on site at the same time in September? Or, how many new toilets do we need to fit and where are we going to put them around the site over the summer to ensure we can manage the social distancing and hygiene measures which are currently required of us? And so, while I really do think it is vitally important to address the question of curriculum reform, this week I just wanted a plan to get everyone back on site which worked within the current legislation.
Having said that, we have already done a lot. We are meeting with both groups to look at ways in which we can change the things within our power, I have spoken to HMC and asked them to lobby Government over full curriculum reform in order to make sure we have a voice at Westminster (they already had it covered). I have also spoken to the school community about issues of prejudice and asked them to reflect upon their own personal biases.
But, at the end of the week, I do feel as if there is just too much going on at the moment - too many major decisions needing to be made, too many important considerations, and too many factors which will impact on everyone. And while we know we will get there, we will be successful and will open fully (if allowed) to all of our pupils come September, and we will ensure we do our part to tackle all forms of prejudice actively, it doesn’t stop me feeling like Alice and that I have just fallen down a very long and very deep rabbit hole.
I am just hoping a white rabbit might now run past me with a big pocket watch and that he will be able to bend time a little to give me a few extra hours in every day!
Yesterday, I spoke of how we were looking through our archives to see if we could find any links to a time and a way of thinking we would wish to renounce. I also said we had found nothing so far, which would lead us to believe there was, but that it’s early days so we will continue to do our research. However, we have found some pieces of our history and some links in which you might be interested.
It is perhaps not surprising that we have not found any direct links to the slave trade. Slavery was abolished in Britain in 1807 and in the British Empire in 1833 and the school was not established until ten years later, in 1843. However, perhaps the reasons stem back even further than that.
Queen’s is a Methodist School and John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, was a fervent and outspoken abolitionist. In 1774, some 33 years before slavery was abolished in Britain and almost 60 years before slavery was abolished in the British Empire, John Wesley wrote the essay ‘Thoughts on Slavery’. For those of you interested in reading the essay in full, it can be found here:
However, his thoughts on slavery were pretty straightforward as can be seen from this John Wesley quote:
“Give liberty to whom liberty is due, that is, to every child of man, to every partaker of human nature. Let none serve you but by his own act and deed, by his own voluntary action. Away with all whips, all chains, all compulsion. Be gentle toward all men; and see that you invariably do with every one as you would he should do unto you."
But John Wesley did not leave his opposition to writing long essays. He spearheaded the boycott of slave-produced sugar and rum, he supported the Abolition Committee and, at the height of the abolition campaign, he stood in the centre of Bristol - at the time one of the largest slave trading ports in Britain - and preached about the evils of slavery, at great personal risk.
So, it is perhaps not altogether surprising that a school set up in John Wesley’s name, at the time The West of England Wesleyan Proprietary Grammar School, would not be a place where people sympathetic to that movement at the time would send their children.
Therefore, I think it is safe to say that our start at least was grounded in something of which we can be proud. Whether that has continued throughout our history is a matter for further consideration ...
After the death of George Floyd, focus in this country has increasingly turned to systemic institutionalised racism and the pervasive nature of white privilege, which is woven through the very fabric of our society.
On Sunday, a statue of politician and slave trader Edward Colston was torn down in Bristol and dumped in the very harbour from which his slave ships departed. While, on the one hand, scenes of such a nature are difficult to observe, one has to ask the obvious questions - why on earth was a statue, which celebrates and glorifies the life of a man so inextricably linked to this most terrible period in our history, still on display in the first place? Surely, it should have been confined to a store room a long time ago?
Yesterday, after the announcement by Sadiq Khan on Saturday that monuments to the glorification of the slave trade should be removed from London, the first statue was removed from outside London Museum. This move by the museum to take down the statue of Richard Milligan was received with widespread approval by the thousands of people who gathered outside to watch its safe removal.
But London, like a lot of our cities, is a product of its history and there are so many statues, road names and place names linked in some way to this terrible time that it is hard to see how we will be able to expunge everything off the face of the Earth. Indeed, we might question if we should. Although I absolutely agree that we should not glorify this period in our history, and the people who gained power and wealth through inhuman actions should not be celebrated, I do worry that we are trying to rewrite our history, to exonerate ourselves from our past.
My view is that if we, either personally or institutionally, benefited from the slave trade and the aftermath of white imperialism, we need to ‘own it’ and make amends now.
I know that I have benefited every single day of my life from an accident of my birth. I was born white. I know this has made my life easier. I know that society expected more of me as a bright, white girl than it would have if I had been black. I know that my opportunities, while not as good as my white male counterparts, have been far better than they would have had I been born into any other ethnic group.
In the two areas I have worked, it is hard enough to be successful for any woman. In university academia, only 25% of all university professors are women – but, of those, 92% of them are white, with black women barely represented at all. In independent schools, it is even worse. I have said before that the number of female heads of co-educational independent senior schools across the country is still relatively small. But, shockingly, I cannot think of any at all who are black.
And what about Queen’s? Do we have any links to the slave trade? Are there any skeletons in our closet? Well, not that we can find. But we will continue to search through our archives and make sure that this is truly the case ...
At the moment, we seem to be a world at crisis point.
It isn’t the first time this has happened but I really hope it will be the last.
A very wise friend of mine once said that hope is an active emotion whereas optimism is passive. In other words, if you are optimistic, you simply wait, expecting that something will change in order for things to get better, whereas hope is about knowing things will improve because of the changes you make. So, if I am going to hope things will improve, then I need a plan for what is going to change.
I have little or no control over what happens outside our own small community but within it I have the ability to make a difference. So today I asked the question of our student body: ‘What do you want us to do?’. What is it that we think we should be doing together to ensure we remove all prejudice from our school? What does it look like, because if all that happens is that people raise their voices now and, in a few weeks or months, everything goes back to the way it was, then it will all be for nothing.
Each one of us needs to look to ourselves. We all have our own personal biases. What do they look like?
When I sought advice earlier in the year on how to tackle unconscious bias in an educational setting, the advice I was given was this: every single person displays bias. It is the product of a lifetime of different experiences. In order to tackle unconscious bias, everyone in the community needs to go through a period of personal reflection. They need to become aware of where their biases lie and not feel guilty about them. Once you know your biases, you can do something about them. Our instinctive response is emotional and will always carry with it our natural bias. To overcome the bias, we need to pause and think because, as soon as we do this, the impact of the bias will be lessened.
For those of you who feel brave enough to test out your own unconscious bias, you might like to take a look at this research site from Harvard University.
They are doing a piece of research which looks at unconscious bias across a number of different areas - race, religion, gender, to name but a few. Anyone who completes one of the tests will contribute to their research but will also be given a score, along with an explanation of what it means in terms of their own bias in a given area. As they say in their material, the interesting outcomes are the unexpected ones - for example, when a vocal feminist showed bias when she consistently categorised scientists as male!
It is now two weeks since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Since then we have seen protests spread across the US and then the world. People of all ages and all races have finally reached the point where they are no longer prepared to stand by and watch injustice.
At Queen’s, we talk a lot about the importance of standing up and speaking up for what is right. We do that in the context of bullying all the time - asking our young people to speak out and to say it is not ok to be unkind to each other. And yet, I know that for at least one member of our community, when he spoke out about the prejudice he experienced every day even his own friends laughed it off as him overreacting to harmless banter.
So, why does this happen even at a place like Queen’s where, generally speaking, our community is kind and caring? Well, I suppose it happens because if you do not experience prejudice yourself then you have no way of understanding what it feels like to be at the receiving end. Sometimes, to really understand, you must walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.
I remember a conversation I had a few years ago in which someone was relaying the anxiety and fear they had felt when they got lost driving through a city somewhere in the UK. By chance, they were lost in the middle of some Diwali celebrations and the lack of familiarity with the situation was a source of huge anxiety. I remember being completely confused as, having worked in central Manchester for many years, I had attended several Diwali celebrations. For those of you who have not had the pleasure, Diwali is a most uplifting and positive celebration - not surprising given the fact that it celebrates the ‘victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance’.
But this story serves to highlight some of the problems which are being thrown into sharp relief at this time. I believe that people are generally good, and I have spent my whole life looking for the best in all people - but I also believe that ignorance is a terrible thing. When people are ignorant or uninformed, they become insular, clinging to their own world view and it is this which stops us from understanding life from someone else’s perspective.
Education is clearly the key. As a school, it is our job to educate - but what should that education look like? There is so much information out there that it would take several lifetimes to cover everything – so, where do we start? We pride ourselves on having a broad and balanced curriculum at Queen’s, but clearly for one young person at our school it has not been comprehensive enough to ensure that everyone, including his friends, could recognise when his experiences were simply not good enough.
And so in education, as with everywhere else in life, today is a time for reflection. Are we doing enough? What more could we be doing? How do we do it better? Here at Queen’s, we will reflect on this ...
I don’t know about anyone else, but I like to have lots of good, reliable information at my fingertips to make assessments and good decisions.
At the moment, I am really struggling to find that sort of reliable information when it comes to assessments of how many people in our country are infected with, have been infected with or have died from coronavirus. It is even more challenging when it comes to trying to get that clear information about the South West.
You might ask me why I want that level of detail of information? There are two reasons. Firstly, on a professional level, it would be really helpful as we plan for the wider opening of the school site over the coming weeks and months to have access to up-to-date information about local patterns when making those plans. Secondly, as a family with a member who is shielding, and with the recent relaxing of the rules two weeks earlier than we were originally told, we now have to assess if we really believe the risk of infection has reduced sufficiently to go further afield. After all, the risk to James if he catches COVID-19 is no different now than it was a month ago.
However, whichever official measure we use, this week is a sobering one as we will either have just passed 40,000 or 50,000 deaths due to coronavirus.
At the start of all of this, we were told by Sir Patrick Vallance that we would ‘do well’ to keep deaths below 20,000. Well, I guess we have not done well then. But, even more worryingly, in April a prediction was made by the IMHE in Seattle that the UK would be the worst affected European nation and that, by August, there would be 66,000 deaths. This seems more likely every day.
The problem we have, of course, is that we are finding out new things all the time. Like today, when we discovered that 42% of staff in care homes, who had been tested for COVID-19, tested positive but had no symptoms. The theory is now that this group of people unwittingly spread the virus to vulnerable people as they cared for them. Or the fact that a recent study suggests that BAME groups are two to three times more likely to die from COVID-19 than their white counterparts and no one has a really clear answer for why this is the case or what we need to do to put it right.
How do we turn all of this random information into good decisions which will help us keep ourselves and each other safe? How do we know when to go out and when to stay in? How do we know when it is right to start to branch out, how cautious to be and how quickly we can start to live again?
I don’t have any answers to these questions, but after ten weeks of being under semi-house arrest I have now just heard of the first person linked to someone I know locally to have lost their life to this insidious virus. Does this mean anything? Well, probably nothing more than we are lucky to live in the South West where the impact so far has been much less than in more built up areas.
But it does make me realise that, no matter what, this is not just going to go away and we are all going to have to keep making these decisions for ourselves and our family for many months to come.
This morning I read a news report about a recent survey by King’s College London which suggests that over half the people in this country have struggled to sleep over the lockdown period. The same report also suggests that 40% of people claim to be having more vivid dreams than usual currently.
Now, I don’t know about anyone else, but I very rarely dream at all. I suspect that what I really mean is I don’t remember any dreams I might have. The only occasions I can ever remember dreaming is when I had exams coming up as a student - and then I used to dream about giant spiders. I suspect it was a stress response and it manifested as dreams about my one real phobia. So, I can honestly say there has been no more activity on the dream front than usual for me over the past few months.
On the other hand, my husband has always had very odd and vivid dreams for as long as I have known him. After reading the article, I did consider asking him if he thought that he had been dreaming more or more vividly than usual. However - given the fact that the last dream he told me about before lockdown involved him delivering emergency Kit-Kat rations to Theresa May, who was in a leisure centre teaching a hip hop dance routine to the 1992 hit ‘Jump’ by Kriss Kross to a Queen’s College dance group - I thought I might be better off not asking!
But, sleep, well that’s a different matter. I can’t say I’m sleeping very well at the moment.
The report suggests this is to do with anxiety and I guess it is true that we are all under increased pressure at the moment for all sorts of reasons. However, I have got to say I don’t think, in my case, the problem can be laid at that particular door.
No, my problem is cats. There is no mention, as far as I can see in the report, about the increasingly antisocial nature of pets. I expect this is a problem which is not one shared universally, and indeed it could just be us. But in our household, I can firmly say that any lack of sleep is brought about by Max and Dillon.
Every single night, for the first few hours of trying to sleep, Max will stand outside James’ door and cry until James comes out to get him. Once he has been settled and fussed over, he leaves the room and wanders around for a bit, before coming back and starting all over again. And every single morning, just before dawn, Dillon shouts at us until I come and watch the sunrise while giving him a cuddle. Between the two of them, sleep is a rare and precious commodity.
I suppose it could stem back to stress. Perhaps they are stressed because we are around all the time and they want us to ‘get out’ of their house and give them some peace. Or perhaps they have just got so used to spending time with us that they want to be with us every second of the day.
So, if any of you are struggling to sleep or dreaming strange and vivid dreams, rest assured you are not alone. It looks like we might all be in the same boat, but not necessarily for the same reasons.
As I am sure you must know, yesterday was Blackout Tuesday. Throughout the day I wrote and rewrote my blog several times trying to find the words to express how I felt about it, trying to express my innermost thoughts. In the end, I didn’t use it at all because I couldn’t find the words to express my true feelings.
But today I think I know what I want to say:
The thing I love most about Queen’s is its diversity. At present, we have around 35 different nationalities represented among our student body. Within our community we have people of all faith and none, every race, every gender, every sexuality, every shape, every size and every background. It is our diversity which makes us special and we are enriched by it.
After weeks and weeks of news dominated by stories of deaths due to COVID -19, I was hoping last week that I would hear some positive stories from around the world. Instead, last Tuesday, the news reported on the senseless death of an American man called George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.
It was one of those moments where my faith in humanity wavers. After seeing so much positivity about the way in which people have come together over the past few weeks to help each other, it feels like a real blow to once again be reading news of this kind.
How can we still be living in a world where someone in a position of authority can allow the death of a man, while those in the position to stop it stand around and watch without any thought of intervening? How can it be that we still live in a world where justice looks different, dependent upon your personal circumstances, such as your socioeconomic class, your religion or the colour of your skin?
At Queen’s, we spend a lot of time talking about the importance of inclusivity but the reality is that the world is nowhere near as inclusive as it needs to be and people are always making judgements based upon things which really shouldn’t matter.
Before the start of the lockdown, we had begun to explore ideas around unconscious bias after one of our students spoke to me about his perception that at times, and despite our best endeavours, we were not proactive enough about prejudice.
Throughout my life I have always taken the position that I was a tolerant person and that I was not racist. But is this enough? Even our everyday language when trying to be helpful can be a problem; as a society we use the word tolerant but if you look at the dictionary definition of tolerance - ‘the ability or willingness to tolerate the existence of opinions or behaviour that one dislikes or disagrees with’ - it sends entirely the wrong message. After all, what is there to ‘tolerate’?
So, I now take a different approach. I spoke recently to a friend who made the comment that there is no such thing as not being racist. You are either a racist or you are an anti-racist. I am an anti-racist.
I look in dismay at the world. This is not just an American problem; it is a problem everywhere. You only have to listen to the voices of people of all ages today who describe how prejudice in this country has impacted their lives and does so every single day of the year. And even in this world of COVID-19, we heard confirmation yesterday of an unpleasant reality that we all suspected - BAME patients are more likely to die from complications than their white counterparts.
I have discussed ideas of prejudice with my 16-year-old. I always find his views interesting, partly because, as a teenager with autism, he does not mince his words and he always cuts straight to the point. Racism confuses him. Why? Well because in his words ‘What has skin colour got to do with it? It’s only the surface. We’re all the same underneath.’ Out of the mouths of babes ...
My view is simple. The world needs to do better. I need to do better. If it is obvious to a 16-year-old boy with significant learning needs that colour, race, religion, gender, sexuality, class, body shape and disability are all superficial characteristics and that, underneath, we are all the same with the same heart beating, the same blood pumping, and the same need to love and be loved, then it really ought to be obvious to the rest of us.
I wanted to share with you the passionate appeal made yesterday by Radio 1 host Clara Amfo. A number of things she said really struck me, particularly her perception that, as a society, ‘you want our culture but you don’t want us’ and the point that ‘you cannot enjoy the rhythm and ignore the blues’.
So, I would call on us all to remember the thing which matters most to us here at Queen’s: that every single person should be valued for who they are and that every single life is equally important.
And for those of us lucky enough to have never experienced prejudice in this way, it is not enough for us to simply say ‘I am not racist’ and then walk away without another thought. What are we going to do about it? What are we going to do to make the world better for everyone who lives in it? How are we going to be anti-racist?
Now that we are gradually beginning the job of emerging out of lockdown, I have started to think a little beyond the here and now. We know what we are planning for in the next few weeks, but what about after that?
What is September going to look like? Will everyone be back in school by then? Will all workplaces be open? Will our boarders be allowed to come back to school to live during term time? What will lessons look like? Will we be able to play rugby in the autumn? Will we be playing cricket in September instead as it is easier to social distance? When will we be able to hold our next school play? When will we be able to have a concert?
And then there are the broader issues ...
Will we be able to go on holiday at October half term? Will families be able to get together to celebrate Christmas and New Year? Will we be able to go and see a play or pantomime at Christmas?
On the one hand, my positive, hopeful, optimistic self says ‘it will all be resolved by then, we will have a vaccine, things will return to normal and we will once again be able to welcome staff, pupils and parents into the schools for events and activities’. But my more pragmatic realistic self is telling me that ‘things won’t return to normal until we have a vaccine, that could take well into next year and until then we are going to have to continue with some degree of social distancing which will prevent us from doing many of the things we are all really wanting to get on with.’
The problem is that the uncertainty is unsettling - for you, for me, and for all of our young people.
I often wonder how this period will impact on all of us for the rest of our lives? What are the positives which might come from this situation?
Perhaps we will be more flexible, more adaptable, and better able to deal with uncertainty. After all, I can’t imagine anything could happen that is more challenging than this - although I don’t want to tempt fate and have been considering if it might be wise to put in place a contingency plan in the event of an alien invasion or the zombie apocalypse!
We will certainly all be better at using technology to facilitate working - so perhaps all those meetings in London I go to and spend a full day travelling to and from a two-hour meeting will now all be done remotely and save me the journey? But perhaps, and this really is my hope, all of our young people who spend so much of their leisure time on electronic devices will not want to do that so much in the future, as they will value more highly the simple interactions which can occur when they are able to be together with their friends again? Here’s hoping!
So, I am keeping everything crossed that we will have moved to a more normal place by September, that our young people decide they don’t want to use social media so much and would rather actually meet up with their friends in person and talk, and that we aren’t invaded by Martians in January!
I can scarcely believe that we are in the 11th week since we had to close our school site to everyone and move to remote provision. When that started all those weeks back we didn’t really stop to think about how long this could go on for or what that would feel like.
However, a lot can happen in ten days in the world of COVID-19 and the world seems to have moved a long way since my last blog on 22nd May. I hope you all managed to get a chance to enjoy the beautiful weather last week and to have a little moment of feeling positive amid all this madness.
So, what has changed? Well, this week we will be cautiously inviting Reception, Year 1, and Year 6 back on to the school site and we are now fully involved in the planning for the return of some Year 10 and 12 pupils later in the month. That feels to me a little like we are starting to make some progress towards getting back to something a little closer to normality.
Over the past week I have watched the images of people enjoying themselves out and about with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it is lovely to see people outside having fun on a beautiful early summer’s day, and to be honest, under other circumstances, it would seem like the most natural thing in the world. However, it all seems a little contradictory when you are in the middle of preparing a detailed risk assessment of how to maintain two-metre social distancing in a school while watching images of packed beaches on the news …
For us as a family, we were told yesterday that James can now leave the house with us to take walks out in the wider world. I suspect it might take us a little time to get to that point - after all, having spent the past ten weeks explaining to him why he couldn’t go out, it is now easier said than done to convince him that he now can! His questions of ‘So, what has changed?’, and ‘ Why is it now ok but it wasn’t before?’, are currently pretty difficult to answer.
I suspect some of you will have similar feelings to me. You will want nothing more than to get on with life, get back to work, get back to school, visit loved ones, see friends, have days out ... but you will have the niggling thoughts at the back of your head of ‘But what happens if I contract this virus, and pass it on to one of those people and they end up in hospital? How will I forgive myself?’. As has been the case since the start of this, I don’t really have the answers to this.
Even when James was at his most vulnerable, I have never in my whole life believed you can wrap people up in cotton wool - or live inside a hermetically sealed bubble like the ones I used to imagine Michael Jackson inhabited when I was a teenager.
We have one life and it is for living and to spend so much time afraid of even the smallest interactions is not really living at all. However, over the past few months, the whole narrative of our lives has changed and, at the moment, it is hard to really determine what is the truth and what is not.
And so, I will continue to do what I always do when life is uncertain. I will plan, I will organise, and I will manage risk so that, when I finally manage to get James outside the front door to go for a walk, we go somewhere where he feels safe; and, when we open our doors to pupils this week and again in the middle of June, we know we have done so in a way which minimises any risks to them or their teachers.
Because life must go on and none of us want to spend a minute more than we need to in this strange hinterland - but we all want to know we are safe and, more importantly, keeping our loved ones safe as we do it.
On Wednesday, it was national ‘Thank a Teacher’ Day and I took the uncharacteristic, some might say unprecedented, step of making a very public social media ‘Thank you’ to all the staff at Queen’s. So why would someone who would ordinarily like to do things quietly in a low key manner take such an action?
Well, over the past couple of weeks, I have watched in dismay at the way in which schools, and teachers in particular, have been pilloried in the media about their response to the current COVID-19 situation. As a profession, we have been accused of scaremongering and laziness in equal measure.
Now, I appreciate that I have no way to comment about the profession as a whole. I do not know what is going on in other schools, nor do I know what conversations are being had elsewhere. But I have to say that my experience of our teachers at Queen’s has been entirely different. In fairness, you might say, ‘Well you would say that wouldn’t you?’ And my response would be, ‘Yes, I would,’ but not for any other reason than it is true.
Since the very start of this situation, the only thing the staff at Queen’s have been concerned about is our young people. They have worked non-stop from the moment we knew that schools would probably close, continuing to work either in the key worker facility or on remote learning or providing pastoral support and safeguarding checks each and every day throughout holidays, weekends and bank holidays. They have been absolute trojans.
I have no idea if this is usual or unusual - but it is Queen’s.
We now find ourselves heading into another break, planning for a new world order in June. We don’t yet know if it will happen and have been told we will not know until 28th May.
After the announcement that schools might have some partial reopening from 1st June, it took five days to be given the guidance on what that should look like in primary schools. It took until yesterday afternoon to be finally told that no boarders could return at this time. And we are still waiting to hear about what is to happen in Nursery and Senior Schools, despite assurances over the past week that we will be given details soon.
It is hard to plan in a vacuum ...
Why am I saying this? Well, I suppose I wanted to make our position clear. Please do not think for one second, no matter what you hear in the news, that at Queen’s we would rather our young people did not come back to school. Every single one of us wants to get them back to school as soon as possible. I do not know a single person in our community who prefers things the way they are.
We want to be with our young people on the school site. We want to be able to talk to them, share with them, interact with them. We want to see them learn their science in labs, carrying out experiments, and watch them learning about DT in a workshop. We want to watch cricket matches and athletics. We want to watch concerts and plays. We want all the things back which make Queen’s, Queen’s.
But, and this is a big but ...we can’t do any of those things until we are told we can and until we know how we need to do things to make them as safe as possible. And, for this, we must still wait.
So, for now, we will continue to do the things we can: plan for further and better remote learning for the majority of our young people, who we already know are not going to be allowed back to the site before September; and continue to contact and speak to all our young people in need of pastoral support.
I hope you all have a very restful and enjoyable half-term break and that you will forgive me as this will be my last blog until 1st June as I concentrate my efforts over the coming week on making sure we are as well prepared as possible for whatever announcement we receive next Thursday.
Stay well, stay safe and remember we are ‘stronger together’.
As you all know, I am a scientist and so perhaps it comes as no surprise that I have always held an interest in science fiction. I have mentioned before my childhood forays into Star Trek and Blake’s Seven and my teenage interest in the works of Arthur C Clarke.
In our house, we often find ourselves sidetracked into discussions around what is scientifically plausible within science fiction and I get particularly frustrated when the story requires a piece of science which simply couldn’t be. While I recognise others may not share my consternation and it demonstrates I am probably something of a pedant in this area, it is a constant source of irritation.
I’ll give you a recent example ...
Last night, we were discussing the last of the Star Wars films, ‘The Rise of Skywalker’, over our evening meal - for the record, I didn’t enjoy it much when we watched it at Christmas. In the film, the protagonists have 16 hours to complete a number of tasks to save the galaxy. James asked the not unreasonable question of: ‘Do you think it would be possible to do everything that needed to be done in 16 hours?’
So, where do you start with the answer? Well, they travelled all over their galaxy from planet to planet to carry out the tasks. The most recent estimate of the size of our galaxy is that it is 200,000 light years across. Therefore, if you could travel at the speed of light (which we can’t) it would take 200,000 years to go from one side to another. How then is it possible to travel from one planet to another within a galaxy almost instantaneously? ‘Ah, but they use hyperspace,’ he said, ‘how does that work?’ Well, it might be possible to join two points in a galaxy together by an Einstein- Rosen Bridge (essentially two black holes joined together). However, if anyone or anything went into it, they would instantly be spaghettified due to the differences in the forces on one end of the object compared to the other - making it useless as a mode of transport! So, in short, 16 hours seems really unlikely as a timeframe – just one of my sources of frustration with the film!
So, what does this tell you? Well, it probably tells you that we are a family of geeks. This would be absolutely true, and I always wear my geek credentials quite proudly on my sleeve. I remember, even as a teenager, my mum making the point that I was ‘either a dizzy blonde or an eccentric scientist’ - as then, I will now leave others to decide!
I am, however, always really interested in the boundaries between science fact and science fiction. At present, no-one has ever journeyed to Mars, never mind tried to live there. But Mars is relatively close to us. It would only take about seven months to get there and, while it would be isolating to do so, I now feel this might be doable after my experiences over the past few months!
NASA’s Moon to Mars project aims to do just that. The plan is to get humans back on to the Moon as a precursor to send manned missions to Mars. It only takes a few days to travel to the Moon, so going and just turning round and coming back is entirely possible. But, if you wanted to send people to Mars, you would have to think about how they would live when they got there.
Earlier this week, I talked about bubbles - specifically the bubbles we are designing to enable us to safely bring children back to school. For humans to live on Mars, they would need their own special type of bubble, able to withstand the harsh Martian atmosphere and provide a sanctuary for mankind. Is this science fact or science fiction? The reality is it is ‘near’ fact. I am sure it will happen and possibly quite soon.
So, our Chairman’s Challenge - Create a Mars Colony - is particularly relevant today. How would you design a bubble for people to safely live in? Now, I think many of us wish we had one of those!
I am really looking forward to seeing some entries for this competition. I am waiting with anticipation for photographs of models of life on Mars ...
You may or may not be aware that this is national Mental Health Awareness Week and the theme this year is the importance of being kind. This is a theme we use often in our Chapels and is part of the code we use within our school - we state it in two simple words: ‘Be Kind’.
One of the first assemblies I ever did many years ago was around an Australian man named Juan Mann. Juan was living in London in 2004 and, for a variety of personal reasons, had become very lonely and very depressed. He returned home to his native Sydney and, when he arrived at the airport, he saw all the other passengers being met by friends and family and greeting each other with hugs. No one came to collect him. Juan became increasingly despondent and lonely until, one day, a complete stranger hugged him and, in his words, that simple act of compassion made him feel like ‘a king’. Out of this, the ‘Free Hugs’ movement was born. The video below shows the steps Juan took and the response he received:
More recently, a similar charity, Life Vest Inside, has worked to inspire and encourage people from all backgrounds to live a life of kindness. Again, I have use the video below and their message in the past as part of our Chapel at Queen’s:
One thing really strikes me about both of these videos. When they were made, in 2006 and 2011 respectively, the way we showed kindness involved some degree of physical contact, whether in terms of a hug or standing close to someone to help them carry their shopping across a busy road.
Neither of these approaches are possible at the moment. As we show kindness, we need to do it either remotely or at the very least at arm’s length. We will do it with people wearing face masks – which, even though unintentional, give a sense of separation and distance.
And yet, the need to be aware of the emotional and mental wellbeing of others has never been more important. The need to be ‘kind’ and ‘generous’ (our theme for Chapel this week) is vital. Everyone is finding the current situation tough. It is unnatural and unpredictable and will inevitably lead to increased mental health issues among everyone.
So, my questions this week to myself and indeed to everyone are: How do we demonstrate our kindness and generosity in a post-COVID landscape? What can we do when we cannot give someone a hug to make them feel better? How do we ensure everyone knows they are not alone when they might actually be isolating away from everyone else?
So, I hope you are all well in both body and mind, that you are safe and that you know you are not alone. Remember, we are ‘stronger together’.
After the recent announcements around the phased reopening of schools, we have begun to work on our planning for how we can get us all back on site over time. As part of this, we have been talking a lot about ‘bubbles’, where a bubble is a little group of pupils and teachers working together and socially distancing from all other bubbles to minimise the transmission of COVID-19.
However, all this talk of ‘bubbles’ makes me realise that I am currently living in one and am likely to continue to do so, despite the changes to the lockdown rules. The reality for me is that I have been unable to set foot outside the school site since 22nd March in order to ensure we could shield James sufficiently.
I haven’t seen another soul in person outside of my little bubble at home, except for the occasional delivery driver. I see people every day through Zoom, Google Meets or FaceTime. But face-to-face, real life interactions - no, there have been none of those. I haven’t been in the car, been to the shops, or been out for a walk (other than around our cricket pitches!) for two months.
I think I have begun to hear more cars on the roads in the past week or so but I can’t be certain that it isn’t my imagination. Is the world slowly returning to some semblance of normality, or not? I really couldn’t say. It is beginning to feel really odd. There is a certain disconnect and, while I’m not unhappy and I’m certainly not bored, I do feel a little removed from reality.
It brings to mind for me a film I loved when I first saw it in the late 1990s - The Truman Show. For those of you who don’t remember, it is the story of one man living his whole life inside a bubble where he is the only thing that is real and everyone else is just pretending for a television show. He doesn’t know and continues to live his life for the entertainment of others. Until he begins to get suspicious.
I am not suggesting for one second that I think that I am in the middle of some sort of reality TV show - to be honest, we would make extremely dull viewing for everyone concerned! But it did make me think about the importance of human interactions and face-to-face relationships with people outside of your own little family bubble.
We use those interactions for our sense check on the world. They help us get a true flavour of what is happening and what is real. We use those meetings and occasions to feel part of a broader human network and to hear what is going on in life beyond our narrow experiences.
So, while I think the world is opening up for those of you not shielding and that you are perhaps able to look forward to getting out more, in the absence of actually being part of it all, it is really difficult to tell what the world looks like outside the Queen’s site.
I hope you are all staying well, staying fit and beginning to look forward to being able to expand your bubbles!
Over this weekend I have been thinking back to the time this started, all those weeks ago.
We had established an unusual routine in the week running up to the Government’s announcement that schools would close. At 5pm every evening, the Senior Leadership Team would convene to watch the live briefing from the Government. In the light of the most up-to-date information, we would then determine our next steps and send out communication that evening – you will probably remember the early-evening letters you all received to keep you informed.
On Wednesday, 17th March, the announcement was made that schools would close at the end of the day on the Friday of that week. We did not receive any advance warning, although we were all convinced the announcement was on its way. I had a letter drafted which just needed me to input details based upon any announcement. As I am sure you can imagine, there was a flurry of activity that evening in order to ensure we could respond immediately so you all knew what we were going to be doing.
The following day – Thursday, 18th March – we met again and I remember vividly when an announcement was made just before the usual briefing: ‘The Eurovision Song Contest 2020 is to be cancelled because of Coronavirus’ – shock, horror! I will be honest; in the grand scheme of things this didn’t seem to be a major reason for a newsflash.
We were in the process of: trying to clear our boarding houses; getting all our international students safely on flights out of the country; making sure everyone had the things they needed with them before the school site closed; ensuring our teachers knew how they were going to deliver lessons remotely in three days’ time, and confirming that we had a fully functioning key worker facility up and running for the following Monday.
Outrage about Eurovision seemed a little over the top at the time.
Now, that is not to say I don’t like Eurovision. I do; it is one of my guilty pleasures. Ever since, as an eight-year-old, I watched Cheryl Baker from Bucks Fizz in her red outfit spin her way from a midi to a mini skirt, I had made my mind up! Throughout my university days, we held Eurovision parties where we dressed up, sang along, and provided votes and commentary to go alongside the votes of the nations.
In recent years, we have included James in the evening, laughing along with him as he bemusedly asked why an artist was, in his words, ‘singing fully clothed inside a shower’ (last year’s Russian entry) or ‘why is that man in a microwave?’ (last year’s Swedish entry). So, as we got closer to the day of the final of the Song Contest, I was actually starting to feel just a little bereft!
On Saturday, therefore, we decided to stick with our usual routine and watch what we could of the Eurovision Song Contest. We watched as the nation unsurprisingly voted for ABBA’s ‘Waterloo’ as their favourite ever Eurovision Song and then later we saw snippets of all the songs for 2020.
To be honest, 30-second snippets of all the songs did not really satisfy my Eurovision craving. It did, however, give me enough insight into what the entries were like this year to go and try and find the ones I liked to see them in full. So, from one long time Eurovision fan here is my assessment. I think that this song from Iceland would have won:
However, when all is said and done, it is rarely the winning song which has caught my imagination. I love Eurovision for its cheesiness, its camaraderie, its outpouring of sentiment and even its bloc voting!! This year I feel particularly cheated as I was looking forward to seeing how we fared in a post-Brexit Eurovision and because I missed out on the opportunity to see my favourite song this year. Well done to Russia for this inspiring Eurovision entry - in our household we loved it and we would definitely have voted a whopping ‘12 points’ to Little Big’s ‘Uno’:
This morning I sat in on Ivy House, our new Leadership Programme which is being run for Year 13.
In the session, our young people were being challenged to look at and consider how they would react in different situations and then to reflect on that behaviour. As the session developed, it became apparent that it was about getting them to think about how their response to a situation impacts on the outcome and then to consider how they might modify their response to achieve better outcomes.
At the end of the session, there was a final video which challenged them to think about who they surround themselves with. Do they surround themselves with people who help them to be positive? Or do they surround themselves with people who make them more negative?
I have been thinking a lot about this ever since the session ended ...
I am definitely a glass half-full sort of person. I always like to try to find the good in a situation and move forward with a smile. I don’t like or understand negativity. If I don’t like the way something is, then I work out a plan and try to do something about it. It is not good for my wellbeing to be negative and I am too keen to find a solution to spend too long dwelling on the negatives.
At times, and, let’s be honest, these are among those times, it can be hard to find the positives in a situation. Yesterday, I talked about some of the positives which might have come out of our current position: family units spending more time in each other’s company; a greater appreciation for all the things we have; and the benefit to the environment of reduced human activity. But there are so many negatives that it can sometimes be really hard to see the good.
A few weeks ago, I found a news article about an inclusive choir which has come together to give each other support throughout this difficult period:
I found Soundabout to be absolutely inspirational. Everyone, despite their difficulties, is surrounding themselves with positive people who help them to find the best in even the darkest situation. This group – which comprises people with a variety of disabilities and those with none, and of whole families together lockdown and those where parents and their children are separated due to circumstances – is still managing to find hope and positivity.
So, as Week Eight draws to an end, I plan to take inspiration from the Soundabout Choir and continue to Reach for the Stars ...
The theme for the week at Queen’s is ‘Thankfulness’ and so I have been reflecting over the past few days on all the things I have to be thankful for.
Perhaps it is at times of challenge that we are best placed to reflect upon all the things which are really good in our lives and all the positives which exist even through difficult times.
I am ashamed to say that, over the past few years, I have not paused often enough to appreciate or indeed even notice just how lucky I am. It is a little tragic that it takes something as extreme as this to make me do so. I suspect I am not alone. Sometimes the treadmill of daily life stops us all from noticing what is in front of our noses.
So, on reflection, what am I thankful for?
I am thankful for my son, who has faced so many battles and come out on top to be a genuinely funny and engaging young man, when I didn’t think he would survive at all. I am thankful for my husband, who has stood by my side for the past 25 years and given me the strength to be the person I was meant to be. I am thankful for my parents, who have surrounded me in love and believed that I could be whatever I wanted to be.
I am thankful for my family and friends, both old and new, who, although I don’t see them nearly often enough, I still know would drop everything to help if I really needed them. I am thankful that I live in a lovely part of the world where I can see beautiful scenery every single day when I look around me.
I am thankful I belong to the Queen’s community, where everybody cares. I am thankful for our pupils and our parents, for every positive message we receive. And I am especially thankful for all of our wonderful staff who are working so very hard, either providing remote learning support to our young people or in the SFC providing such great care and support for the children of key workers.
Over the past few weeks, I have become increasingly conscious that we are living in a little bubble down here, and perhaps we always do. While I know there has been an impact locally of COVID-19, it is not the same as other places in the country. I meet every week with the Heads from the other MIST schools and it is sobering to hear from those close to London when they talk about deaths in the school community. Some of them describe the real fear which exists among most parents about their children returning because they have so many families with loved ones still in intensive care or still arranging funerals.
So, I am thankful that, at present, our community does not appear to have been impacted directly in the way some others have. I pray this continues. But I am also conscious that the world I occupy is sheltered, both because of where I live and how I live.
There are so many things which need to change in our world. So many things which had already begun to rear their heads long before COVID-19 even existed as an entity. We were already facing a crisis which threatened the way we lived our lives. We were already having to think about how things might need to change in order that we could protect our environment and climate for future generations. We were already having to think about how the pressures of modern life were impacting on the wellbeing of our young people.
Perhaps we should also be thankful for this enforced moment of reflection. A time which will allow the whole world to take stock and to rebuild in a way which is more sustainable, both for our planet and its people.
I wanted to share with you a video I was sent earlier this week. It is called ‘The Great Realisation’ and it tells the fairy tale of a better future after mankind reprioritises following COVID-19.
I remain thankful and hopeful ...
I love the theatre. I love to see absolutely anything live and, at various points in my life, I have been lucky enough to live in places where I could do just that. This approach to theatre can mean that at times you go and see things which, in the end, don’t live up to your expectations, but it also means that, other times, you see real gems which take you by surprise.
I have seen small, intimate, atmospheric pieces, single handers, and large scale ensembles. I have seen serious drama, comedy, and ballet. In fact, I have seen something of everything. The thing I have seen less of than anything else is probably musical theatre.
So, why is that? After all, it is probably the area of theatre which is the most popular nationally. It really comes down to one simple fact. While I absolutely love musicals, having spent most of my childhood captivated by the technicolour musicals of the 50s, 60s and 70s, my husband has always been less keen.
It’s not that he doesn’t like music, or indeed that he doesn’t enjoy any musicals, it’s just that his taste in film and theatre probably sits at the more gritty or darker side of the spectrum. You know the thing, more 'The Godfather' than 'Mary Poppins', or more 'Blade Runner' than 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang'. Having said that, anyone who sat anywhere near us this year when we watched 'Sister Act' will know there are musicals which can make him laugh. Indeed, at one point, I was concerned he was going to laugh so much a trip to A&E might be in order!
So, in January, he took me completely by surprise when he said to me: "There’s a musical I would like to go and see". I will be completely honest with you; I was taken aback. Never, at any point, has he ever suggested we go and see a musical. When he went on to say that it was "playing at the Hippodrome in Bristol" and that we "should go and see it in the half-term holiday", I snatched his hand off ...
Yesterday, I spoke of the night out we planned for Saturday and didn’t get to because of lockdown. Today, I will tell you about the one night out we have had this year.
During February Half Term we went to see 'The Book of Mormon'. While it might not be everyone’s cup of tea - it is certainly not for the faint hearted or for anyone who is easily offended - we really enjoyed it. We haven’t laughed so much in a long time and even then I could see it was likely to be our last night out for some considerable time as the path to the inevitable lockdown and the global spread of Coronavirus was already apparent, certainly to those of us planning for a school with international students.
The opening sequence set the tone for the rest of the piece and I really didn’t think it could be topped. But, today, I have seen a better version. Amélie, one of our talented Sixth Formers, has produced a COVID-19 Parody of ‘Hello’, the opening song of 'The Book of Mormon'. It is genius.
I hope it makes you laugh as much as it did me ...
Stay well, stay safe and, remember, we are ‘stronger together’.
I don’t come from a family which considers itself to be ‘lucky’. Now, don’t get me wrong, we don’t consider ourselves to suffer from ill luck, it’s just that we have always considered anything we have ever achieved to have been through hard graft, not through good fortune. Indeed, my Dad has always said ‘you make your own luck’ and I think I would tend to agree. When I say we are not very lucky, what I really mean is that we don’t have much luck when it comes to activities involving chance.
During our cricket fundraising dinner earlier this year, I won the game of ‘Heads and Tails’ at the start of the evening. And, before anyone asks, I did not cheat, it was not fixed and it was not luck, as it all centred around questions either about cricket or the history of Queen’s. It probably comes as no surprise that I have become something of an expert on Queen’s in the past few years but, what you possibly don’t know, is that I know rather more about cricket than you might expect.
The only other recollection I have of ever winning a game of chance was when I won a raffle as a five-year-old. It was an incredibly lucky day for me - I won a lovely, big, cuddly rabbit whom I called Belinda in a school raffle. My Dad was less lucky on this occasion as the raffle was at a pretty challenging school, where he had a reputation as a rather tough Head of Year 11. The raffle was drawn in assembly on a Monday morning and, when my name was called out, he had to go on stage to collect said big bunny rabbit on my behalf - much to the amusement of his Year Group.
So, why the talk about luck?
Well, on Saturday, I was supposed to be going out for the night. You might wonder how this is a big deal. Well, believe me it is for us; we don’t tend to go out much together in an evening as James struggles with too much time away from one of us. But, we have always had a love of music and so I decided to risk it and book tickets to see one of our favourite bands - Foals - for my husband’s Christmas present.
This is the third time we have had tickets for Foals and not once have we managed to see them. The first time, we could not go as James was in intensive care with croup. The second time we should have seen them, James was in hospital after having a particularly bad seizure. But when I booked these tickets I thought we would definitely get there this time - after all, it’s ‘third time lucky’ ...
So, you see it really was ‘just my luck’.
The gig has been rescheduled for this time next year but I’m not going to hold out too much hope. After all, I wouldn’t want to tempt fate!
I had hoped that, after last night’s announcement by the Prime Minister, I might have a clearer idea this morning about what might be happening next. Sadly, that was not to be the case and, like many of you, I am awaiting further clarification so that I can set about the task of planning how to ease lockdown in practice.
On a personal note, nothing will change for me outside a school context. James is shielding and so, even if other people are now allowed to go out more, since we can’t actually go any further than our back garden anyway, there isn’t much point in me worrying too much about it.
But I am worrying about what a return to school might look like for our staff and pupils. How will that look? When will it start? How long after some Junior and Pre-Prep pupils start will others be phased in? When will we attempt to get some Senior School pupils back at school? Will it be day students only or can boarders return too? When will our international community be able to join us? Will they need to be quarantined before they can join lessons?
So, while we have already done a lot of planning for the time when we are able to open up our beautiful site once again, at the moment I have a lot of questions – as yet unanswered –and I will be happier when I have some answers. Meanwhile, I hold on to the fact that our site is vast and our classes are small so we are already one step ahead on the social distancing front!
For now, we continue to do the best we can with the online provision we have developed. Thank you to all of you who have given us feedback in our most recent parent survey. We are considering all your comments and will be responding with any alterations to our provision in due course, based upon the responses we have received.
Once we know more about the details of how school sites are to reopen in England, we will be back in touch with you so you can help us build a clearer picture of what that might look like for us here at Queen’s.
I miss seeing you all and I am so looking forward to a time when we can all be back together.
Stay safe, stay well and remember we are ‘stronger together’.
Today, as I look outside at the front of Queen’s with the Union Flag flying from the tower, I have mixed feelings.
On the one hand, I am entirely positive about the things we have been able to do today to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of VE Day. In lessons, our students have been covering topics as diverse as reciting war poems in English, postcards from VE Day in History and a look at WW2 reserved occupations in Business Studies. We have the Queen’s Bake Off Challenge and the Queen’s Virtual Singalong and I hope you have been able to enjoy afternoon tea in the sunshine.
But we had so much more planned for today. It was meant to be a major community celebration for the whole Queen’s family. We had planned a street party on the front lawn for staff, pupils, and families. We were supposed to have our musicians playing music from the 1940s and our singers dressed in period outfits, singing songs from the time. We were due to have a traditional village sporting competition, including tug of war. Alas, none of this was meant to be ...
It has been lovely to see and hear your family stories of the wartime years and VE Day. For those of you who have not seen it, I would recommend you take a look at the interview between Jonty and his grandfather, who was ten at the end of the war in 1945:
The experiences Chas describes resonates with stories told in my family who spent the wartime years in and around Liverpool. My Grandad was a policeman and, at the start of the war, he had just moved with his new wife from Liverpool to St Helens to be a local ‘bobby’. St Helens, which lies mid-way between Liverpool and Manchester, sits on the main railway line between the two cities and, throughout the war, was a target for German bombers attempting to disrupt the supply of goods and munitions into and out of the docks at Liverpool.
My Dad was born in a Liverpool hospital during the blitz in September 1940. He was not supposed to be born in Liverpool, but my grandmother was so worried about her parents because of the ongoing bombing of Liverpool that she got on a bus to check they were unharmed. He chose that bus journey to begin his entrance into the world!
He was born on Friday 13th, a lucky day in our family history as, on the night of his birth, a bombing raid narrowly missed the hospital in which he was born, ironically hitting the cemetery next door. Eventually the concerns of my grandmother proved to be justified and her parents’ house in Liverpool was demolished in an air raid. The family were lucky, suffering no fatalities, but for the rest of the war they lived with my grandparents in St Helens.
My Grandad did not go to war. As a local policeman, he was one of the men who stayed at home to look after the Home Front. He took the roles of policeman, fireman, air raid warden, bomb disposal officer and aerial defence team. He died 27 years ago as an 80-year-old but I vividly recall my conversations with him about life during the blitz in a town which was targeted almost every night.
I remember him telling me that St Helens only had one anti-aircraft gun. Every night it was loaded on to the back of a truck and he and his team would drive around the town firing it at German aircraft. Their aim was to convince the German bombers there were multiple guns around the town and so rapid driving from one place to another was vital to give the impression of widespread coverage. It was, indeed, Dad’s Army! During the day, he would go to the site of bombings to aid in the safe disposal of bombs which had not successfully detonated and, while he always returned unscathed, I know that was not the case for all of his friends.
My Dad’s earliest recollections are of sitting in air raid shelters as a very young child while bombing raids happened around him. He is something of a night owl even now and we have always put that down to his experiences in his formative years of late nights with large groups of people huddled together trying to stay positive.
My Dad was four and my Mum was three when the war in Europe ended and they both have recollections of VE Day celebrations. They are both very private people and so I was surprised, but pleased, to hear that they were going to sit on their drive and have lunch in a ‘social distanced’ community street party today, arranged by residents around them. At least this way they will have some company and share stories with others about those memories.
So, I hope you have been able to celebrate the end of the war in 1945 and share stories and recollections across your family. While today was not what any of us had planned, it is possibly even more poignant because of our experiences over the past few weeks.
Perhaps we are all now in a better position to understand sacrifice and to appreciate more fully the freedoms which our grandparents fought so hard for throughout the wartime years.
Stay safe, stay well and remember we are stronger together.
Today I wanted to talk about Queen’s past, present and future.
It has been so lovely to hear from so many past students over the past few weeks who are currently doing their bit working in hospitals all over the country, helping in the fight against COVID-19. I know we are not alone and that many schools will have stories of past students working in key roles at this time, but it is amazing to see just how many of our students, even the recent ones, are doing their bit and doing it with such good grace.
I know these OQs will be a real inspiration to our current students, many of whom are beginning to think about their own future aspirations and ambitions. Everything our young people see and experience during this current situation will inevitably have an impact on the choices they make in the future. Seeing stories about life at the front of this fight from people with a shared history has got to be inspiring.
Tomorrow, we have a chance to look back at others from our community who also fought on the front lines in another very different fight. I know many of you will all have your own family stories, some connected to Queen’s and some not, about wartime experiences and the outbreak of peace in 1945. I hope you will all share with us your stories and join with us in celebrating the end of one terrible fight while we look forward to the end of another.
I have the unenviable task of judging the Queen’s VE Day Bake-off Competition tomorrow. Although I am looking forward to the prospect of seeing lots of Victoria sponge cakes, I do feel ever so slightly cheated that I’m unable to sample them when making my decision … yet another casualty of lockdown! Please make sure you get baking and send the photographs in so that judging can begin.
Finally, I wanted to mention the most amazing video I have seen today. On Monday, our Junior and Pre-Prep teachers shared with us a video they had made for the start of the week. Today, Year 2 sent back their reply:
CLICK HERE TO WATCH
Well, Year 2, you are absolutely amazing and when I watched you all dancing, rolling, skipping, cartwheeling, head-standing and even playing cricket to Pharrell Williams’ song ‘Happy’ you not only brought a smile to my face but also a tear to my eye.
We are also looking forward to having you all back here at Queen’s – and, perhaps, when you do come back you can come up to the Senior School and show us all how to display such joy.
So, I leave today feeling proud, yet again, to be part of this community. Proud because of the amazing work being carried out by those of you who once walked our corridors, proud of the fantastic staff and students who are currently making the very best of a difficult situation and entirely positive for the future of the College if the future looks like Year 2.
Take care, keep safe and get baking!
For some time now I have toyed with discussing the science behind this pandemic in one of my blogs. As many of you are aware, my background is in science and I teach Chemistry but what most of you probably don’t know is that, prior to teaching, I worked in medical research in a group researching snake venoms and viruses to find cures to a variety of diseases.
Over the past few months I have watched with great interest as scientists have taken centre stage alongside politicians all over the world to try and explain and validate the decisions being made. This is not a place with which they will feel at ease. The world of science and politics are a million miles away from each other and every time I watch a briefing I see the very real dilemma which exists within the scientists who are providing the information.
You see, the very notion that we should just ‘follow the science’ without a complete back catalogue of empirical evidence is anathema to most scientists. Research rarely offers up something that is perfectly packaged and devoid of any ambiguity. It can take years of research to provide the collective evidence needed to fully support a hypothesis. And yet, at this time, we are asking our scientists to make judgements and give us advice without the benefit of time and space.
In reality, with so much still unknown, what we are really doing is putting our faith into the ‘best guess’ of the scientists providing the advice. There will be people who agree with them and others who will not. There will be differences in opinion within the scientific community and we will not know with certainty if the strategy adopted was the right one or not for many years.
Having said all that, and with all of those caveats, I still hold faith and will ‘follow the science’ as it is being presented. Why? Because we have the very best scientific minds in the world at work in this country. And while they are not infallible, I would rather trust their judgement than anyone else’s, particularly as one of them, Sir Patrick Vallance, honed his unflappable and sensible approach at a school just like ours when he attended Truro School, a fellow MIST school during his teenage years.
So, at this time, when so much of the world’s attention sits on the shoulders of people who have spent a lifetime in laboratories trying to stay away from the limelight, please spare a thought for those who find themselves in the public eye, through no fault of their own.
Throughout history, at times of crisis, the people of this country have often resorted to humour to keep them going. We should, therefore, probably not be overly surprised that we are seeing an increase in that slightly mocking or irreverent approach to the crisis we find ourselves in today. Of course, the problem with this type of humour is that not everyone sees the world in the same way, and so it is easy to inadvertently cause upset or offence.
Take me, for example. In the very first week of lockdown, I had one song which kept going round in my head all week – so much so that I was very tempted to add it to one of my blogs as a bit of light relief. After much reflection I decided it would be inappropriate to add a link to REM’s ‘It’s the end of the world as we know it’, no matter how much the song resonated with me or however much it made me laugh, as it was probably just a touch too dark at the time and might have upset members of the community.
So it was with some interest that I read a news report yesterday about a person in Norfolk to whom the police had spoken as they were causing some consternation in the community by taking their daily exercise dressed as a Plague Doctor. The prank was received with a mixed response locally, with some people complaining it was frightening children, while others thought it was funny – just the sort of mixed response you would expect to something so darkly comedic.
However, the thing which really interested me about it was that police have said the person responsible was an older teenage boy – my guess is a 16 or 17-year-old, as he would be described in the media as ‘a young man’ if he was 18 or 19.
Although it is fair to say this prank is a little insensitive and shows a degree of lack of awareness of impact of others not uncommon in boys of that age, no one can argue with its creativity. Indeed, on closer research I discovered certain facts about Plague Doctors of which I was unaware – information which leads me to believe this young man (probably in the Sixth Form somewhere) knows a good deal about medieval history!
So, what did I find out about Plague Doctors? Well, did you know that Plague Doctors were paid by the State and treated everyone with the bubonic plague, both rich and poor? Also, the outfit they wore was designed by a French doctor called Charles de Lorme and it was meant to provide protection for those people working most closely with infected people.
In fact, I think it would be fair to say the costume could be considered to be the world’s first example of PPE to protect frontline medical staff in the time of a pandemic. The protective suit was made of a waxed fabric overcoat, a full face mask which consisted of glass eye coverings and a beak-shaped nose stuffed with straw to act as a filtration system, as well as herbs and spices thought to protect against disease.
This led me to think about what I would have said to this teenage boy had he been among our Sixth Form at Queen’s. Would I have taken him to task, punishing him for poor behaviour? Well, no, I would not. I would have asked him to put himself in the shoes of the people who saw him. What would someone in their 80s have thought if they saw him? How would a little girl of three or four have felt? How would someone who had a family member in intensive care feel?
At the same time, however, I would have asked him what his intentions were for his university application, because – let’s be honest here – this sort of prank takes a fair degree of intellectual inspiration and the ability to follow through on an idea, a perfect combination for long-term academic success!
So, what about you? How many of you are finding yourselves being drawn to the macabre at this time? Are you reading dystopian, near-future science fiction or watching films about the zombie apocalypse?
In our household, we have a new favourite board game. Ironically, we introduced James to it at Christmas and it is now the only game he really wants to play. We play it a few times a week and I am sure some of you will have also played it. It’s called Pandemic and is a strategy board game where you cooperate with each other to beat the game by stopping multiple viral pandemics! Sadly, we lose more games than we win, which I hope is not going to prove to be prophetic!
On a final note, for those of you who would like to see something which might make you laugh without the risk of any sort of offence, check out the video produced by our fantastic Junior and Pre-Prep staff, dancing their way into the start of a new week.
Those of you who have been reading these blogs over the past few weeks will know that I have talked before about my son’s obsession with superheroes. At the time I also mentioned his other obsession ... Star Wars.
I was five when the first Star Wars film was released at cinemas. I was not taken to see it and, in fact, it would be fair to say that it ‘passed me by’. After all, I was not really the intended demographic! It’s not that I was not interested in Science Fiction; indeed, as I grew up and became a teenager, I grew more and more interested in the genre – just not Star Wars. I watched Star Trek and Blake’s Seven with my Dad and then, as I got older, discovered the worlds of Arthur C Clarke, reading his books and watching films like 2001: A Space Odyssey.
I did not actually see the Star Wars films until they were re-released in their remastered form when I was at university. I was not particularly impressed when I saw them and didn’t watch the prequels – I just was not interested!
So, it was with no little degree of consternation that I realised James loves Star Wars. He is utterly obsessed with it. Most of the cuddly toys he has are related to Star Wars. Indeed, he is unable to go to sleep at night unless he is holding on to his cuddly Darth Vader – I am not quite sure what this says about him!
We have watched all the films, again in order of storyline. Every night before bed we watch a couple of the cartoons which have been made and, when we are playing board games (which we do often as a family), ones with a Star Wars theme feature heavily.
It is a very sad state of affairs that I am now able to regularly win games on Star Wars trivia as I can all too easily recognise the difference between an X-Wing and a Jedi Interceptor – for those of you with no idea what I am talking about, don’t ask!
So, why the reference to Star Wars today? Well, today is May 4th, otherwise known as Star Wars Day. A day when people hope that ‘the force is with you!’ Let’s be honest, we could all do with a little bit of ‘the force’ to help us on our way at the moment. My favourite quote from my favourite of all the Star Wars films has almost become a daily mantra for me: ‘I’m one with the Force. The Force is with me.’ — Chirrut Îmwe (Rogue One).
Today, The UK and other countries worldwide have joined together in the Coronavirus Global Response Online Conference, aimed at raising funds and working together in the search for a Coronavirus vaccine and treatments. Leaders around the world have expressed the need to nations to work together to find solutions to this global crisis.
Although it is unlikely to be intentional, it seems fitting they should chose to use a day which celebrates nations, and indeed whole worlds, working together to fight a common enemy as the day to launch an initiative calling upon countries to come together for the common good.
If I had the opportunity to speak to these world leaders, I would use two quotes from Yoda to describe how I feel and what I want from them at this difficult time:
'Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.'
'Do or do not. There is no try.'
ABOVE: A memory from Tinsel Tuesday 2018.
Well done, everyone – we have made it to May! I don’t know about the rest of you, but that must be the longest April ever.
While April is normally one of my favourite months – after all, it’s the time when the world finally seems to wake up from winter – this year has been hugely different. I will be honest, I didn’t think it was ever going to end!
So, now I find myself looking forward to May – and what a strange May it’s going to be.
As a teacher of senior age children I am, like all other teachers, used to everything in the Summer Term gearing up to external exams and end-of-year activities. By now, we would be well into revision, practising past papers, providing catch up sessions and 1:1 help. We would be helping over-anxious students and equally worried parents in traversing the run-up to the exams. We would be providing encouragement and positivity to those who had been doing everything they could but were still worried, and giving a proverbial kick in the pants to those students who had only just realised the fact that the start of the exams were, indeed, imminent.
It seems unbelievably odd and, if truth be told, really unfair that our Year 11 and 13 students are not able to see the courses they have been studying for years through to their final hurdle – the exams. And while none of us who have sat those exams would wish to go back and do them again, I can honestly say that, had I not had the chance to sit them at the appropriate time, I would have felt cheated. Cheated of my right to prove my ability – even if it was just to myself.
So, as we head into May, the dates when the exams would have taken place will be etched on the minds of many of our students (as well as their teachers and parents).
Spare a thought for them all over the coming few weeks as they grapple emotionally with this loss. For it is a loss and one which we may very well all underestimate.
However, to all of you who have been affected by this unprecedented turn of events, please rest assured that your work to date has not been in vain, that you will not be disadvantaged by factors outside your control, and that you will have every opportunity to display your amazing gifts and talents in the years ahead.
Over the past few weeks, I have struggled to stay active enough to keep fit. I’ll be honest, I am not too good at fitness campaigns nor do I come from a family for whom exercise is high on our list of enjoyable activities.
Now, you might think this is strange. I come from a long line of sportsmen and sportswomen so why the lack interest in exercise? Well, the reality is there is a world of difference between sport and exercise.
I love sport, and always have done. I have played many different sports throughout my life: hockey, cricket, tennis, to name but a few. The thing they all have in common is that they are team games, with a sociable aspect; I enjoy being part of a group, having a part to play in a team effort. Even when I was involved in athletics, I managed to chalk up my fastest times as part of a relay team.
I have always struggled with exercise without the benefit of competition and I do not really have the self-discipline to compete against my own times. It is not something I am proud of, but it is the reality of my psyche. I am immensely competitive and, in the absence of that competition, I struggle to stay motivated.
So, exercise has been a struggle over recent weeks. My husband has managed admirably with our rowing machine, but it seems to be like an implement of torture to me. I look at it every morning and, after a couple of seconds of reflection, I close the door.
I have looked at the ‘Couch to 5k’ programme put together by Mrs Halls, with the encouragement of Mrs Wilde, and I am afraid the couch wins every time. Apologies to both – I know and understand this is a character flaw! In fairness, while I used to be a pretty good runner, it only worked when I was orienteering. Without the distraction a map gave me, my mental battle always left me defeated!
So now, in our current situation – stuck at home unable to leave the house and garden – I have been left with the rowing machine or nothing ... sadly, until this point, nothing has won hands down.
Last week, because my family were tired of my sedentary ways, they made the decision to buy me a present for my birthday to help me exercise and get fit. Knowing that, in the absence of sporting competition or the ability to run around some beautiful countryside, I needed something to distract me from the fact I was exercising, they decided to buy me ‘Ring Fit Adventure’ for the Nintendo Switch.
I am not normally one for video games, but this one has me addicted. I spent 30 minutes running, jogging and jumping through an adventure game while using a variety of Pilates and Yoga exercises to fight a rather grumpy dragon. What’s more, I didn’t think about the exercise once and went to bed last night feeling suitably achy – like I’d actually done something physical for once. I also beat a dragon, which did wonders for my competitive streak … after all, who beats a dragon using lunges?
I will let you know if it works but, for now, I’m feeling moderately optimistic that I might be able to get some exercise though the lockdown weeks without resorting to the sort of monologues only found in ‘The Loneliness of a Long Distance Runner’.
So, I hope that you are all staying fit and well. It will be interesting to see if we all return from lockdown as fitter, more active versions of ourselves because we are now building time into our day for physical wellbeing, or if one too many glasses of wine to get us through the days will mean we all need to embark on a full detox when we are finally free from this reality.
I look forward to the day when we can all meet and assess that particular question together!
I am sure you will all be aware that our Director of Communications, Ken Bird, has been keeping us all busy and engaged by setting up a variety of activities which allow us to showcase photographs of the community on social media.
Over the past few weeks, we have published photographs of us with our pets or in a variety of different poses recreating artistic masterpieces. And I have tried my absolute best to do my bit and get involved. So, it was with no small degree of anxiety that I listened last week to Ken pitching the idea of our very own ‘Queen’s Got Talent’.
His pitch of ‘Can you sing, dance, play an instrument, juggle, do magic, tell jokes or anything else which would entertain our online community?’, along with his insistence that ‘Queen’s Got Talent is open to everyone associated with the school – students, staff, parents, OQs etc – and we’re hoping that the best entries will take part in a Grand Final in the Queen’s Hall when we finally return to ‘normal’ school,’ sent alarm bells ringing in my head.
Now, it’s not that I am against the idea – I am not. I am absolutely aware of the amazing talents tha our student and staff body have, some of which are well known and some are more secret, and I am certain our parents also have a variety of talents of which we are yet unaware. So, as a concept, I am fully on board.
No, my worries came after the pitch when he tagged on to the end: ‘Looking forward to seeing your entry!’
My level of concern was compounded yesterday when my husband came to me, perplexed. He had received an email from The Brewhouse thanking him for enrolling on their online general ballet lessons. He didn’t remember having booked and I was struck by two immediate thoughts: firstly, had Ken booked us on the course in hopes of a recreation of Swan Lake for the talent show; or, was my husband secretly trying to outdo me with his own dance-related entry?
I have got to say, whichever it is, my anxiety has now been replaced by abject terror. I know my husband. He is many things but a dancer he is not! And no amount of mental scrubbing can clear my mind of the image of ‘Physics teacher in tights’, particularly when the Physics teacher in question is Dr Haggerston.
Thankfully for all concerned, and for the general wellbeing of the community, he was contacted a little later to apologise for the mistake. He will no longer be using this time of lockdown to develop his ballet skills, which has certainly come as a relief to me.
On a dance-related note, I would like to share with you a video clip I was sent a couple of weeks ago by Mrs Elliot. She suggested it as a competition to identify as many films as possible from the extracts of routines in the clip.
Together, Dr Haggerston and I identified 27 different films without the use of the internet to help us. I’d be interested in how many of you are able to find more than we did.
Today I joined the multitude of people around the world who have celebrated a birthday under lockdown. Now, in fairness, it probably has not made a huge difference to me. After all, it is a school day and so I was never going to do much in the way of celebration anyway, but there have been a couple of differences.
Firstly, my birthday presents have been completely different to usual. Under normal circumstances I would receive gifts of the more decorative variety. You know the sort of thing – jewellery, flowers, outfits for special occasions. This year, there did not really seem to be much point in taking that approach. After all, who knows when an occasion will arise where they can be used? While I am not known for my ability to ‘dress down’, it would be a little much, even for me, to wander around the house and garden in formal wear.
Indeed, I have struggled a little over the past few weeks knowing how to dress for online business when you don’t ever get to leave the house. I will be honest with you, having Governors’ meetings in my pyjamas or jogging bottoms just doesn’t seem right! So, my birthday present this year consists of a variety of outfits which manage that home working dilemma!
The other difference this year is the fact that this has to be the first time since I was at university I haven’t been able to celebrate the day with my parents. I have found this particularly difficult and I am not sure whether it is this or simply the fact I am reaching that unfortunate age when you start to reminisce on the ‘good old days’, but over the past few days I have spent a good deal of time looking at things which remind me of them and home when I was young.
As I have said before, I grew up in St. Helens, a mining town in the North West of England. I was born in the 1970s and my parents listened to a lot of music – although I remain unconvinced that their musical tastes were fully aligned. My mum liked listening to Elvis Presley while my dad preferred socially conscious folk music, much of which most of you will probably never have heard of.
When we moved down to the West Country seven years ago, I was intrigued to discover that the area, and perhaps even more obviously Queen’s itself, had very strong and long-standing ties to Wales. Many of our OQs who boarded at the school in the past came from South Wales.
Therefore, I am sure that one of the folk artists I remember listening to with my dad will be well known to many of you: Max Boyce. His songs about pit towns and rugby resonated with life in St Helens, even if the code of rugby being sung about was not the same! When I stumbled across this new poem by him over the weekend – written in response to Coronavirus and delivered with his familiar lilting and poignant observations tinged with good, old-fashioned humour – I was immediately transported back to my childhood.
So, to all of you with ties to the valleys, I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did. And, Dad, this one is for you ...
It seems really hard at the moment to remember what life was actually like before we entered lockdown.
For us as a family, we seem to have entered a new state of ‘normal’, which I guess is not really normal at all, but has become our current reality. The speed at which we have all become used to life during lockdown is a real testament to the resilience of human beings and, I think it is fair to say, we are all discovering ourselves to be more resilient than we ever thought possible.
In fairness, I think we are probably finding it easier than most. Having lived for the past 16 years with a child who struggles in unfamiliar social contexts and cannot cope being around too many people, we have been living a life of ‘social distancing’ for the past decade, at least. So, it has been interesting for us, watching the rest of the world adjusting to our norm.
While James enjoys seeing his friends from school when he is with them, it is probably overstating it to say that he misses them. Indeed, when asked if he is missing anyone, he just shrugs and says: ‘No, it’s fine I’ll see them when I go back to school,’ and then goes back to playing with his latest Lego set.
I can only imagine how tough it must be for those of you who have a sociable child used to interacting with others on a daily basis. And how ironic it is that, having worked so hard at school to ensure we show our young people that real face-to-face interactions are the most important, rather than virtual relations, we are now stuck with virtual relationships being the only ones possible!
I wanted to share with you a video I found last week on the news. It shows a six-year-old girl’s take on lockdown in the song she and her family have written about missing friends. It resonated with me as I too miss so many people and, although I am not tired of playing football all day, I am growing a little fed up with Star Wars!
As you might have noticed, I have taken to finding joy in any small things which I stumble upon and I was delighted over the weekend to find this Coronavirus Parody on the 1970s Bee Gees classic ‘Staying Alive’. I hope you enjoy watching it as much as I did!
And, finally, this morning we launched our ‘Wellbeing for All’ programme. I really hope that you find it helpful and that there are things coming up each day or each week which you find help you get through this challenging time.
Take care, stay well and remember we are stronger together.
So, having drifted into the realms of dragons, knights, and princesses yesterday, I thought today I would diverge into the world of superheroes.
For those of you who know me and my family well, you will know that I have become a reluctant aficionado of superheroes ever since they became one of my son James’ obsessions. The other one is Star Wars, but I will leave that for another day ...
I have now seen just about every superhero film ever made, on more than one occasion, and, while this may not have been the genre of film I would have chosen to watch in the years BJ (Before James), there is a certain escapist value which comes from watching them.
To give you some sense of what watching superhero films looks like in our household, I will explain how it has been in recent years.
As a family, we had somewhat randomly, like most people, seen some of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. We then went to the cinema in Spring 2018 and saw Avengers: Infinity War. At this point, James realised there were a whole series of interconnecting stories which would culminate in Avengers: Endgame in Spring 2019. James decided that, in order to understand the story, he would need to watch all the films in chronological order before he saw Endgame.
There are 21 films in the runup to Endgame. 21! We only watch one film a week on a Saturday night. As James cannot cope with any breaks in sequences, in order to ensure that we had a seamless (and stress-free) run up to Endgame, we set about watching all the films, one a week for 22 weeks, timed to coincide perfectly with a cinema trip last Spring to see Endgame.
The observant among you will realise this means that, for almost six months of my life, through Winter 2018-19, I watched nothing but superhero films. Every single Saturday night ...
So, why am I recounting this now - after all, it was last year? Well, lockdown does strange things to all of us and I guess we all crave things with which we are familiar. But that goes double for someone on the autistic spectrum. Therefore, we have started again, except this time James has realised that, not only are there films, but there are also TV shows too!
We are now part-way through the mammoth task of watching every single film and series from the Marvel Cinematic Universe in chronological order, from start to finish. One film/episode a day. So far, we have watched Captain America, two series of Agent Carter, and Captain Marvel ... there is a lot left to go. I may well be doing this for the rest of my life.
So, imagine my surprise yesterday, when our supermarket delivery arrived. The driver, Elaine, after dropping everything off on the doorstep, knocked on the door to let us know it was there and stepped back. We opened the door and there she stood.
She was dressed in a white t-shirt with hand-drawn rainbows, a homemade white cape covered in rainbows and a big pair of Y-fronts worn over the top of her knee-length shorts. When she turned around, she had a smiley face emoji drawn on her bottom, with Rainbow Warrior written over the top. All the drivers were dressing as superheroes in support of the NHS.
I will be honest – it was not what I was expecting to see at 9 o’clock in the morning!
But it did highlight the point to me. There are a lot of people who are superheroes at the moment. And Elaine might not realise it, but she is one of them. Without her delivering my food each week we would not be able to keep James safe and well.
And, finally, on Monday we will be sharing with you our new Wellbeing for All programme. I hope you will find some things on it which you might enjoy getting involved with and which might help you stay a little bit sane at this strange time. There are plenty of opportunities to watch films and theatre as part of the programme – I'm really hoping that none of them will be related to superheroes!
Now, you might be forgiven in thinking from the title of today’s blog that I have strayed into the realm of fantasy writing.
But, no, today is St George’s Day and I am sure that, like me, you all remember the story of George and the Dragon from primary school assemblies. For those of you who need a quick reminder, Saint George is the patron saint of England and the story most often associated with him goes like this ...
Once upon a time there was a young knight called George. He travelled the world far and wide in search of adventure. One day, George stumbled across a land which was being ravaged by a dragon. The people had tried everything to stop the dragon from attacking them, including giving him all their food, livestock, and treasure. The king had sent in his army, but they were unable to bring down the dragon. Finally, in desperation, the king gave up the most precious thing in the world to him as a sacrifice, his daughter. Hearing of the intended sacrifice, George rode into the forest, slayed the dragon, and rescued the princess.
So, why am I reminding you of the story of George and the Dragon? Well, the more I have thought about it today, the more it seems to me that this story really resonates with what is happening to us here during our fight against COVID-19. After all, it might not be a dragon which is ravaging our land, but we are being ravaged, nonetheless.
We have a clear threat and we have an army of people desperately fighting to contain it. But where is our George? Who will be the person that stops this threat in its tracks once and for all?
Today, trials started in the UK for a vaccine which has been developed at Oxford University by Professor Sarah Gilbert and her team. Another set of trials will start next week for a vaccine which has been produced by Professor Robin Shattock from Imperial College. I am keeping everything crossed that one of these will prove to be the knight which slays this particular dragon.
However, this is not the first time Saint George has been linked to fighting disease and not dragons. A little-known fact (which I discovered from English Heritage) is that, in medieval times, Saint George was one of 14 ‘Holy Helpers’. These were a group of saints who were believed to bring help and protection during times of epidemics. Indeed, Saint George has been called upon many times over the centuries to give protection from diseases ranging from leprosy to the Black Death. Perhaps he might be able to help with Coronavirus too?!
Saint George has long been associated in this country with honouring our heroes. The Order of the Garter, the highest award of chivalry, was founded in 1348 by Edward III. It is an image of Saint George and his cross which is used to represent this award.
And, today, we have a lot of heroes. They might look different to the ones we think of through history and they might be in different jobs, but they are heroes all the same.
So, it seems entirely fitting to me that, tonight, on St George’s Day, when we clap for our medical heroes in the NHS, we should spare a thought for George and his dragon. A man whose name has for centuries been invoked when we honour our best and when we needed help through the worst.
And maybe, with a little bit of luck, there might be some hope that this dragon is going to be slayed sometime soon.
But, for now while I wait and hope, I will clap and say my thanks and, if carrying a red rose while I do it will help, then I am game to give it a try.
So, we have now reached the end of day one of phase two of our remote learning and I hope it has gone well for everyone concerned.
It was absolutely fantastic this morning to see just how many of the Year 12 students were signed in and logged on to the session Mrs Wilde was running at 9am – even those from overseas, some of whom must have been accessing the ‘morning’ sessions in the evening from their homes.
I am sure there have been some hitches along the way but, so far, the feedback I have received has been positive, so fingers crossed ...
I wanted to share with you a video I was sent last night from one of our teachers.
I really hope Mr Jenkins isn’t feeling this way after today!
An experience I had this afternoon has highlighted to me that our online presence is going to have long-term, and potentially far-reaching, repercussions for us all…
I had a telephone conversation with another Head who is at a school at the other side of the country, in East Sussex. I do not know her, and indeed have never met her, so I was particularly surprised when, at the end of the conversation, she said to me: “Oh, by the way I really enjoyed your picture”. I was sitting wracking my brains for which picture she could be referring to when she added: “You know, the one of you dressed as ‘Girl With A Pearl Earring’”.
For those of you who have not seen this particular image on social media, it is one I took on Monday in response to the Whole College Art Challenge set by Miss Burgoyne, which was inspired by the Getty Museum. In it, I have attempted to recreate the famous painting by Vermeer. To do so, I needed to wrap my head in a pillowcase and cardigan while wearing a tablecloth as a cloak.
Although the words of my son, ‘I don’t think you could have done a better job, Mummy,’ may well be true, I certainly did not think it would become the subject of conversation with one of my professional peers. After all, of all the photographs which I might have chosen to represent me nationally among other Heads, that one may not have been particularly high on my list of options!
So, thank you very much, Miss B and Mr Bird – I may well need to stay in isolation for the rest of my life ...
Finally, I thought I would share with you a video clip I found last week which shows another professional displaying another side of themselves.
So, here at Queen’s we are really looking forward to tomorrow; the planning is done and we are all raring to go.
However, despite our enthusiasm for the renewed interaction with our young people, we know that education from home is a challenge for us all. Heaven knows, we (two teachers) are finding it tricky enough to motivate one 16-year-old boy.
Now, let’s be completely honest about it, the relationship each of us has with our own children is very different from the ones we enjoy at Queen’s with our students. As a parent, it does not matter how talented you might be in a given area, your children are most likely to think you don’t know anything about it.
How many of you have recently had comments such as: ‘Go away Mum. What do you know about maths?’, when you are a nuclear physicist; or, ‘Dad, just leave me alone. You don’t know anything about computers’, when you have spent the past 15 years in IT?
Believe me, it is the same for all of us. I know that tomorrow morning, when we try to get James back up and running again with his schoolwork, he will be the first to tell us that we don’t know anything about schools or how he should be learning. The fact that we are both teachers is immaterial; to him we are ‘just’ Mum and Dad!
So, when you feel frustrated over the coming days because little Johnny tells you Mrs Perfect wouldn’t do it like that, remember that Mrs Perfect’s children will be telling her she doesn’t know what she is talking about. It is just one of life’s little ironies.
But, what does that mean for you? Well, it probably means you are likely to feel disempowered, anxious and left feeling you are getting it all wrong.
You are not. You are doing an amazing job. You always do.
I know this because I know we have the most wonderful young people at Queen’s and wonderful young people are developed within wonderful families with wonderful, caring and supportive parents.
Please don’t be too hard on yourselves. Please do not worry your children are falling behind. Please do not worry they don’t understand their history or they are not learning enough maths. There will be plenty of time to resolve all those things again when life returns to normal. That is our job and, I promise you, we will do it.
In the future, your children will not remember if they completed a piece of work for us perfectly while remote learning is taking place – but they will remember this most unusual situation.
They will remember how it felt to be able to spend more time in your company and they will remember you love them and that you were there for them when times were tough.
Last week, I was sent a letter which is doing the rounds on social media, but I wanted to share it with you as I believe it to be true:
Don’t stress about schoolwork. In September, I will get your children back on track. I am a teacher and that’s my superpower. What I can’t fix is social-emotional trauma that prevents the brain from learning. So right now, I just need you to share your calm, share your strength, and share your laughter with your children. No kids are ahead. No kids are behind. Your children are exactly where they need to be.
All the teachers on Planet Earth
So, rest assured, we at Queen’s will worry about your children’s education and we are working flat out to make it as good as it can be. Please cut yourselves some slack – you are doing brilliantly ...
Well, today should have been the first INSET day of the Summer Term for the staff at Queen’s. Rather ironically, we had scheduled in a whole day on communication, an area which we had highlighted as important for us to develop.
So, today our teachers have indeed been working on communication but not quite in the way we had planned. It has not been centred so much on the face-to-face, in-person variety but rather the ‘how-on-earth-do-you-do-it-effectively-using-technology?’ variety.
As I am sure you can imagine, while some of our teachers are very comfortable with the whole use of technology, others are much less confident. I think it is probably fair to say that, for some, the next few days are going to be a terrifying prospect. Not because they do not want to be teaching but because the concept of doing that through a Google Meet is daunting.
What happens if it goes wrong? How do you help a member of the group resolve their own technological issues when you only just know how to switch on your own laptop?
So, for those teachers who are anxious, I have this to say: ‘You will be brilliant and I know this because you always are. You are amazing teachers who understand the needs of our pupils and, at the moment, that is more important than anything else. Our pupils will love seeing you on Wednesday and having the chance to interact with you because they miss you, as do I.’
We are all having to learn new ways of doing things at the moment. Take me, for example - I never saw myself writing a daily blog. For one thing, I thought I would run out of things to say very quickly, but this situation is so unusual that I feel that there is something new and relevant for me to say every day. For another, I didn’t really think anyone would be that interested in what I had to say!
So, it is really lovely to hear back from so many of you when you write in response to something I have said in my blog. Hearing from you all helps me to feel grounded and part of this community. I hope that hearing from me each day helps you all to know that you are truly part of something bigger and that we miss you all.
And so this most unusual of terms is about to start. Will it be what we hoped it would be at the start of the academic year? Well no, sadly not. For how can a school that is all about people ever be quite the same when we are all apart?
But, know this, it will be the best it can be. We will do our very best. When we fall short, we will try again to be better and, when it goes well, we will celebrate together. We will continue to listen and make changes, which will help us improve, and we will do everything we can to help you our whole community navigate the stresses of our current reality.
And, throughout all this, we will look forward to the time when we can come back together again under one roof, around the same sports pitch or in the same performance.
For that time will come and, when it does, we will appreciate it all the more for all the time we have lost.
‘He’s a beacon of hope in dark times’.
These are the words Hannah Ingram-Moore used yesterday to describe her father, Captain Tom.
She’s right. He is certainly that.
Here is a man of 99 who chose to mark his 100th birthday by completing 100 laps around his home in order to raise £1,000 for the NHS. In doing, so he captured the mood of the nation and, at the time of writing this, has raised a staggering £18million. You can see the moment he finished the 100 laps here, but today his daughter has revealed he intends to carry on walking for as long as people are donating money. He could be going for a very long time!!
His story has made me think.
What is it about us as a nation which means it is so often those with so little who give so much?
Captain Tom is a man who has already done so much for his country. He could have simply decided to stay indoors and have a quiet life over the past few weeks. He could have decided just to have a cup of tea and a nice slice of cake to mark his birthday. No-one would have criticised him for that. But, no, instead he decides to do something for others, even though, at 99, he has more to fear from COVID-19 than most.
I wanted to share with you another clip which, for me, demonstrates how it is, so often, those who have so little themselves who grab life with both hands and make the most of it. In doing so, like Captain Tom, they give joy and hope to others as well as demonstrating, in abundance, that most awe-inspiring of things ...
The human spirit.
Finally, as we are on the subject of the human spirit, I wanted again to share with you a piece from the Lockdown Sessions by the Kaleidoscope Orchestra. They performed another piece, ‘Titanium’, in recognition of everyone in the NHS. This is a song which has always spoken to me. It is an anthem for the human spirit, for hope and for survival.
On Tuesday, I was asked if I had any pets and, if I did, could I send a photograph of me with them to go out on social media. Our Director of Communications had decided it would be a good idea to get as many of us from the Queen’s family to share our pet-related photographs. I believe the idea came from one of our parents after they read a reference to pets in a blog I wrote last week.
Now, that particular request was easier said than done. I do, indeed, have pets. Two, in fact – brothers from the same litter of Burmese cats. They are beautiful, affectionate, loving and very much part of the family. They are, however, also absolutely bonkers...
So, having agreed that we would indeed send said photographs, we needed to try and turn this promise into a reality. This task was complicated by two facts. Firstly, we also have a very camera-shy autistic son to whom one of the cats (Max) is absolutely devoted. It very quickly became clear that we would only get Max to stay still for a photograph for long enough if James agreed to be in it with him. Secondly, Dillon is a real ‘scaredy-cat’ and runs away from his own shadow!
We did eventually manage to get both cats in a photograph (although you will probably have noticed not together) and they duly ended up on Facebook. Thank you to everyone who liked them - I am very pleased to know that the chaos we had trying to catch them on film was worth it!
So, why am I making this point?
Well, we have always had the situation where our pets were slightly eccentric. Given that it is true of all the pets we have had, irrespective of type or breed, then I have had to assume it is more a case of nurture than nature. However, I am pretty sure it is getting worse ...
Is it just us or has everyone’s pets become a little more strange since the beginning of lockdown?
To give you an example, our cat Max will now walk to heel with James. Now, I know that as a breed Burmese are known to be quite doglike in nature, but he literally follows James around the house from room to room, staying at his heel and stopping and looking up at him when he stops. I regularly find James lying on his back with Max lying full length on top of him. Where one goes, the other follows. They go to sleep together at night and wake up together in the morning.
Quite frankly, I have no idea how Max is going to cope when James eventually goes back to school ... perhaps he’ll have to go too?! I’m not sure how well-equipped Selworthy School is for educating cats.
And so I now find myself worrying about what schools and workplaces might look like when they finally reopen. I keep having visions of trying to teach Chemistry with a small menagerie at the back of the lab! No-one told me how to deal with that when I was on teaching practice!
Oh, and on the subject of animals, I wanted to share with you a news article I read today showing Banksy’s famous rats causing havoc during lockdown. I’m not at all sure what Max and Dillon would make of all that ...
I have been reflecting today on how difficult the past few days have been in terms of the news about COVID-19.
For me, the most sobering moment arrived when I heard over the weekend that the recorded death toll in the UK was over 10,000. Of course, I was expecting this to happen, but that fact doesn’t change the impact of seeing the number. We were told a couple of weeks ago that we would have ‘done well’ to keep the total number of deaths below 20,000, but it seems hard to imagine, at the moment, that this will prove to be possible.
Then, we heard yesterday that one in five deaths in the UK are now due to coronavirus and that there are thousands of additional deaths which are probably due to this terrible disease but not reported because they happened outside of hospitals. At the same time, we heard about the challenges being faced by workers in care homes and how difficult it is to keep everyone safe once the virus makes its way into a home full of vulnerable people.
Stories are now emerging which show how hospitalisation looks for someone with this virus. Stories of people being ill and alone, apart from their families and loved ones. Stories of how our wonderful medical professionals are not only performing their medical roles but are also holding hands and providing emotional support because this most cruel of diseases prevents families staying together. Stories of how it feels to be the family left at home, unable to offer even a hand to hold. Stories of being left alone to grieve the loss of a loved one.
There is a certain helplessness which comes with this situation. We are all stripped of our ability to show compassion, to give support in the way we would normally wish. There is no way to be a shoulder to cry on or to put our arms around those who need our support.
The fact we are not able to be there doesn’t mean we feel it less. It doesn’t mean we care less. It simply means we cannot offer our support in the way we would choose. I was struck by the words of a lady grieving the death of her husband. She said: “I am not lonely, but I am alone.”
I am struggling today to know how I would manage the reality of this disease if, heaven forbid, it came to it. How do you cope if you cannot be at your loved one’s bedside? How do you support those who are left behind if you cannot give them a hug?
I have no answers to these questions but I am certain of one thing – I am not the only person asking them.
So, for all of you struggling to come to terms with the reality of COVID-19, for those of you worried about friends and relatives in care homes or those who like me fear the reality of someone close becoming very ill with this disease, I would like to share this video clip of Angel City Chorale performing Baba Yetu – the Lord’s Prayer in Swahili.
Because sometimes you just need something bigger than yourself ...
Stay well, stay safe and, remember, we are all stronger together.
NEED TO REACH OUT? If you find yourself a little overwhelmed, the Online Resources page on this site offers links and advice on where support can be found. CLICK HERE
Wow ... even as I write this, I am amazed that we find ourselves in week four of the lockdown.
In the end, we had a pretty good Easter, all things considered. I hope you all did too.
Over the weekend it was interesting to see all the ways in which Easter was celebrated in a social distancing fashion, from Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, broadcasting his Easter service from his kitchen table on Sunday, to the Vicar of Brenchley, Reverend Campbell Paget, conducting his Easter service at dawn in the churchyard of All Saints' Church.
All over the world we saw the same images repeated: services in large empty cathedrals with a single clergyman and a single musician performing the music; blessings given from the front steps of churches to empty plazas; and that most bizarre of sights, ‘Drive Thru’ Holy Communion!
However, the irony of this last weekend was not lost on me. This year we had the most beautiful, unusually warm and sunny Easter weekend – and no one could go anywhere! How many times have we watched Easter through the window as it has poured down outside? How many times have we been stuck indoors as it’s been too cold, too wet, too windy to do anything else? And yet this year, when none of us could go anywhere, the weather has been glorious ... typical!
So I did something this weekend that I never do... I just sat in the garden! It was a rare moment of luxury. Forced to do nothing, outside in the sunshine as there was nothing else to do and nowhere else to go. I can’t remember the last time I have just sat and done nothing.
Normally, I feel the need to fill every second of every day with doing something productive. When I am not working, I am planning. When I am not planning, I am following the plan. Even in our holiday time, there is always a plan in place as James struggles without one. So, it was quite a strange experience to just spend an hour on my own, with nothing that could be done, surrounded by peace and quiet.
Did I enjoy it? Well, yes, I rather think I did!
It seems a little sad that it takes a pandemic for me to have a guilt-free hour of sitting in the sun, but there you have it! Perhaps this is one of the ways in which COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on all our lives, forcing us to take a slower pace and build moments into our new lives for those quiet periods of reflection. Or perhaps we will all just fall back into our usual ‘rush, rush, rush’, as soon as we are out of this most unusual situation ...
Music has the power to engage, inspire, restore, connect and rejuvenate...
During World War Two, music played a pivotal role for both good and bad. Uplifting and positive music pervaded homes through constant radio broadcasting in order to raise the spirits of the populace; well-known performers, from Glen Miller to Vera Lynn, performed live to Forces around the world to raise morale and build a sense of team; and enemy radio waves were often used to bombard isolated outposts with popular music of the day to attract listeners before broadcasting propaganda.
So, it is perhaps not surprising that people across the world are now turning to music to help them at this time, hoping to use this powerful tool to improve morale and to help us all feel more connected to the word at large.
Last week, the Chino Hills High School Chamber Singers Concert was cancelled due to COVID-19 – but they didn't let that stop them …
... and when the Colorado Symphony Orchestra were no longer able to get together in order to play, they found another way …
Now I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am really missing the wonderful music we are privileged to hear in our very corridors at Queen’s. I miss hearing pupils practise playing in the Old Music Room. I miss hearing performances of small groups in Chapel. I miss hearing our Choir singing so beautifully. I miss joining the rest of the community singing hymns in Chapel every week.
So, it struck me that perhaps experiencing music is something I am not doing enough of at the moment. I seem to have the news on an almost constant loop, playing in the background while I work.
But is that really a good idea? How good is it for my general emotional well-being to be listening to constant updates of the state of COVID-19 across the globe? The escalating crisis in Spain and the US. The shortage of testing equipment and protective equipment for hospital staff in the UK. The unfolding tragedy that is becoming apparent in the developing world. While it is important we are all informed, there is a real difference between staying informed and constantly listening to a cycle of negative news stories, hour after hour.
Therefore, I have decided to turn off the television and watch the news once again, just like we used to in the good old days – once a day! I have dug out my old records and I am listening instead to uplifting positive music. Songs I can sing along to, until someone tells me to stop because I am causing them too much mental anguish with my singing. Is it helping me? Well, yes, I think it is ...
And, in other places around the country, people are using music in all sorts of interesting ways. Kaleidoscope Orchestra from Manchester are regularly performing their Lockdown Sessions, where the orchestra leader sends all members a piece of music for them all to perform individually before he weaves it all together in a single, seamless piece of awe-inspiring music. Check out one of their performances below and carry on looking for more as they are released online …
So whatever your choice in music might be, go ahead – put it on, sing at the top of your voice and lift your spirits. We are in this for the long haul and I, for one, am going to face it while singing!
So, here we are. Easter has arrived in this most unusual of circumstances, but what will it look like this year?
I guess that, for many of us, Easter will seem a little different this year. We might not be able to spend time with our loved ones in the same way we would normally. As a family, we usually spend Good Friday and Easter Sunday together. This year, it was our turn to host the annual Good Friday fish supper and we were going to my parents’ house for Sunday lunch. No doubt there would have been the usual large quantity of chocolate and the Easter egg hunt.
So, yes, I think it is fair to say that Easter will be a little different this year. We won’t be catching up with family, well at least not in person. Tomorrow, our usual Good Friday fish supper will only be for three and, two days later, we’ll have our Sunday lunch but on a much smaller scale – and there won’t be anywhere near as much chocolate.
I found this video clip the other day of Jacinda Arden, the New Zealand Prime Minister, talking to the children of New Zealand about the Essential Worker status of the Easter Bunny:
It made me chuckle, but it also made me question how we usually approach Easter. After all, in all honesty, a little less chocolate this Easter is probably no bad thing!
So, how does our current situation impact upon the real meaning of Easter?
Easter is the time in the Christian Calendar which marks the sacrifice of the son of God and the point all hope ends and then, two days later, when the resurrection occurs and hope returns. It seems to me the message behind Easter is all the more relevant and important at this moment.
All around us, normal people are making extraordinary sacrifices. Sometimes those people end up making the ultimate sacrifice and they are doing this for the benefit of everyone. It takes real love in its purest sense to put the needs of strangers above the needs of yourself and those closest to you.
I keep hearing about all the things being asked of our NHS workers – such as one of our parents who was a doctor but whose registration had lapsed and who has now been temporarily reinstated so they can join the fight; or a member of our staff whose wife, a physiotherapist, has been asked to go on a training course to be able to pronounce the death of patients in the community.
If Easter isn’t the time to reflect on these sacrifices, then I don’t know when is.
But Easter is not just a time to consider sacrifice – it is also the time to reflect upon the hope and the love which comes from the sacrifices which are made.
Hope that all those people, who are making the sacrifices for all of us, will collectively save thousands of lives. Hope that, by doing the very small things asked of us (to stay at home), it will protect the most vulnerable in our society and the love we all feel towards those making those sacrifices every day.
A video clip was shared with me the other day which shows two US doctors performing the John Lennon classic ‘Imagine’. They did it to share a message of love, unity and hope. If in their situation they are able to be hopeful, then I think the least I can do is be hopeful too...
It is a time of renewal and a time for new beginnings and, at this moment, going into Easter, times can seem dark and sacrifices seem great. But things will get better and, as we move away from the Easter period, hope will prevail, and new beginnings will happen. Who knows, perhaps the world which will be left at the end of this challenging time will be a better one than the world which existed at the beginning.
I, for one, am hopeful our new beginning will result in the people of the world being more unified, more compassionate and valuing more highly the things in life which really matter.
And, finally, I wanted to share with you this rendition of a popular hymn ‘My Song is Love Unknown’ performed by Sylvia Burnside, accompanied by the New Irish Orchestra.
I will return to my blog on Tuesday after the holiday weekend and, in the meantime, would like to wish you all a very hopeful and peaceful Easter.
Yesterday I spoke a little about words and my love of poetry and it made me think about all the times I have read stories or rhymes out loud to my son, James.
When he was little, he absolutely loved all the books written by Julia Donaldson. I suspect, like me, you have recited many of those stories night after night, often giving each of the colourful characters their own voice to bring the story to life.
You know – ‘Silly old fox, didn’t you know? There’s no such thing as a Gruffalo’ or – ‘Wise old man, won’t you help me please? My house is a squash and a squeeze’.
Now, for all I know, some of you might have read one of these stories last night, or you might be reading this now after tucking a little person tightly up in bed having read one out loud to them. If that is the case then I have a couple of things to say: those moments will be indelibly marked in your mind forever; and I am sure that in ten years’ time you will still be able to recite the books from your memory – sound effects and all!
So, I was delighted the other day when I saw that Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler had released new variations of some of the most memorable pages form their books, each with a new social distancing message. I laughed out loud to read: ‘“All right”, said the Gruffalo, bursting with laughter. You go ahead and I’ll follow two metres after”.’ or ‘“Stay in your house” says the wise old man. “We’ll do your shopping. An excellent plan”’.
While I was remembering my experience with reading ‘The Gruffalo’ and other stories, I stumbled across this article about a Swansea mum who had captured life in lockdown with a series of doodles.
These little glimpses of normal family life really struck a chord with me as we, too, have stood together outside to clap the NHS; we, too, have learned to wash our hands together; we, too, have missed the people we want to cuddle; we, too, have pets confused by us always being around; and we, too, have ended up at the end of the day all together on the sofa.
I suspect you have done these things too ...
Finally, I wanted to share with you a video clip I was sent last week which shows a father and daughter from the US singing a duet of ‘The Prayer’ together. The song was posted on 6th March with the caption: ‘With everything that is going on in the world, sometimes it’s best to pause and remember the simple prayer of a father and daughter for “life to be kind”.’
I know that, at the moment, life doesn’t seem to be all that kind, but my experiences at least are that people are being extraordinarily kind and that, while things might be tough, now is the time to take joy in the little things ...
I have been thinking a lot about the power of words recently. We use words all the time to convey a variety of messages. Sometimes we are careful in our choice of words and, at other times, we are careless. But words matter and how we use them is important.
At times like this that fact is all important. You only need to listen to the careful choice of words our leaders are using to know that words have power. I listened to the words of the Queen on Sunday. Words carefully chosen to convey not only information, but also meaning and sentiment. She wanted us to be unified, to have a shared cause and shared history, to see ourselves as strong and to be hopeful that we would emerge stronger for our experiences.
I love words. I have always loved words. I love the way they look. I love the way they sound. I love the way they feel when I say them out loud.
I have a particular love of poetry – and always have since being very small. Every year, Father Christmas would leave me a book of poetry in my stocking and, as I have grown older, I have often turned to poetry to help me make sense of the world around me and my feelings about it. Something that might seem strange for a chemist to do.
In recent years, I have discovered the joys of George the Poet, a British spoken word artist who tackles the most challenging of topics head on. He published his most recent work ‘Corona Virus: THE POWER OF COLLABORATION’ at the end of last week. In this piece he spells out many truths about our current situation and echoes many of the messages the Queen made in her speech on Sunday:
But it’s not only those people who make a career out of words who are now finding solace in them, or who are using them to express how they feel. Many people are turning to not only reading but also to writing poetry as a way to capture this unique time in our history or simply to get a message across. On Friday, the BBC published a video of Christopher Eccleston reading a poem which had been written by Matthew Kelly from Salford, which pays tribute to the staff of the NHS fighting the coronavirus.
He was inspired to write it after hearing the challenges his partner faces as a district nurse:
Even here at Queen’s we are running our own poetry competition and I have enjoyed reading the occasional examples I have seen being posted. I hope to get a chance to read more of them soon.
But words are enduring and poetry eternal, so it should perhaps not come as a complete surprise that the piece of poetry which has provided me with the most solace in recent days is one first published in 1891:
Hope is the thing with feathers by Emily Dickinson
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chillest Land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yes, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
Here is a beautiful version of it recited by writer and actress Mairin O’Hagan:
So, I hope that you, like I, can take something positive from the various words I have shared with you today. Whether they be about unity and collaboration as outlined by George the Poet, or about our gratitude for the work being done on our behalf, or simply a message of hope passed forward through the last century.
Stay well, stay safe and remember, we are ‘stronger together’...
So, today constitutes the first real day of the holidays this Easter and I have to say this has to be the most unusual start to a holiday I have ever had.
From my perspective, like most of you I imagine, there is now no such thing as a holiday, or indeed a weekend – I simply deal with the things that need to be dealt with when they are required. The lack of normal structure makes it hard to really differentiate between one day and another ...
Yesterday was a day which had a special meaning for us as it was James’ 16th birthday. Like many others, I guess, we had planned to do something really special to celebrate the day but, of course, none of those things were possible. Indeed, James himself elected not to bother marking the day at all as he was unable to do the things which were planned or to share it with his grandparents in any meaningful way. He doesn’t do telephone conversations or even video conferencing, so all the things other people would have tried didn’t really work for him.
I expect we will celebrate his birthday at some other point later on in the year when the world returns to some semblance of normality. I’m not sure what we will do then, even if I can guarantee we won’t be having a party at home!
Mind you, James has discovered a way to keep in contact with my nearly 80-year-old dad without the need to have an actual conversation. Recently, I wandered into our living room to find James busily building away on Minecraft. In the corner there was also a little avatar building away alongside him. “Who’s that?” I asked, a little perplexed and concerned. “It’s just Grandad”, was his reply.
On closer inspection, I realised my dad has taken to using James’ machine at his house to play alongside James virtually. They are communicating using the online messaging system, which is all the more amazing as James normally refuses to write at all. But, sure enough, he is typing in questions and instructions along the lines of: “Will you clear those trees?”, “Have you seen those tunnels?”, “Can you build a long house?”
I don’t know which is the most amazing, watching my son who will not write, typing instructions to his grandad or watching my dad navigate the world of video games using James’ machine at his house. Whichever it is, I am counting my blessings. For James it allows him to stay in touch with someone very important to him while learning to write by stealth and for my dad, well, it stops him getting too bored!
So, I guess we are all learning new ways of communicating at the moment. For me, I am mastering the art of video conferencing and online working; for James, he is realising the written word might just have a point after all!
Over the next couple of weeks in response to the feedback we have received from you telling us what you want from our remote teaching provision moving forward, as a staff body we will be learning new ways to communicate with our pupils.
We will be learning how to use different technologies to allow us to communicate face-to-face and how to replicate, as closely as possible, the personal touch we cherish when we are in school. We will send you details of the new approach towards the end of the holiday.
In the meantime, I will continue to blog throughout the next two weeks and hope you continue to find this communication helpful.
I have been thinking a lot about community over the past couple of weeks.
As a person and, indeed, as a family, we have always been pretty self-reliant. Throughout all the challenges we have faced with our son, James, we have always been able to call upon our parents/grandparents to provide support. We have never needed to call on help from outside our close-knit unit, priding ourselves on our ability to manage without any other help.
However, we have faced some challenges in the past ten days, since we received confirmation that James needs shielding due to being in the extremely vulnerable group. Suddenly, making sure we have food in the house has become an issue. We couldn’t ask the grandparents for help as they are also vulnerable and so we were left scratching our heads ...
So, here is where community comes in. Thank you so much to everyone who has offered help and support. I cannot tell you how much we appreciate it. But I also wanted to mention the community group which has been set up in Taunton.
On Monday we were contacted by a representative of Coronavirus Community Help – Taunton. They are a volunteer group set up locally to help the most vulnerable and James was on their list. They contacted us to find out how we were and whether we needed help, so we explained our predicament – we were struggling to get a food delivery and, although we had a Click and Collect slot, we were concerned about the risk because of James’ needs.
Within a couple of hours, a wonderful lady called Debbie rang and informed us she would be going to get our shopping and asked for the slot and information. Sure enough, bright and early on Wednesday morning, Debbie left our shopping on our doorstop. She will never know how extremely grateful we are to her and the rest of the group for helping us to protect our son.
So, for all the people like Debbie out there in Taunton and the wider country, I would like to say a very big thank-you. I never thought I would need to ask for help but, when the time came that I did, I didn’t even need to ask – it was just offered.
And so that really is community – we have a wonderful community here in school, but we also have a wonderful local community and we are blessed to have it.
As a child growing up just 20 minutes outside Liverpool, there is, for me, just one song which reflects how I feel right now. This is a song you will all know as it is sung ever week on the terraces at Anfield, but for me, growing up in the North West, it is a song which pervades all aspects of life. It is played at weddings and funerals, at the end of every celebration and as the last song at a disco or in a nightclub.
It is a song which calls out to community. It is a song which calls out to hope.
So, please remember: we are ‘Stronger Together’; and ‘You Will Never Walk Alone’ ...
Yesterday, I spoke about how much I miss music and how important it can be in the battle to stay upbeat and positive at difficult times in your life. Thinking about music has also made me think about that other all-important activity which seems to happen on a daily basis in the halls of Queen’s ... dance.
Now I’ll be completely honest with you: I am no dancer.
One of my first recollections in life was when as a very young child, perhaps three or four years old, my older, taller and more graceful cousin (the one who has just turned 50) started ballet lessons. She decided at a family get-together, when we were all outside in the garden, to ‘show’ us and, by extension, ‘teach’ me what she was learning.
Very carefully, she placed a hand on the back of a deckchair and raised her leg out to the side, a picture of grace and fluidity. She turned, expectantly to me, her smaller, more robust little cousin and nodded. Not wanting to be outdone, and certainly not wanting to let the side down, I copied what I had just seen.
I placed my hand on the back of the deckchair, lifted my leg out to the side – and promptly fell on a heap on the floor as the deckchair collapsed beneath me. In that instant, my parents made the very sensible decision to save their money and not send me to dance lessons and concentrate instead on the things I was good at – like kicking a football or catching a cricket ball.
My clear lack of talent in this area means I am all the more amazed by the wonderful examples of dance we see at Queen’s and, if there is any saving grace to the situation in which we now find ourselves, it is that at least we got to see and experience our dance show, ‘Jasmine’, before we had to close our doors.
Last year, the dance show had to be postponed because the school was battling with Influenza A and could not hold any public gatherings. Indeed, at one point earlier in this term I was convinced the dance show was jinxed and that epidemics and pandemics followed it around!
If you missed ‘Jasmine’ or you would just like to spend a joyous couple of hours watching it again, here is the link. I can guarantee it will lift your spirits even on the most trying of days!
CLICK HERE and enter the password QUEEN5382050320.
Despite the fact that I am not a dancer, and indeed have no talent for it, like many people I love to dance and the simple fact I am not very good at it has never stopped me from dancing around while singing along to a song at the top of my voice.
Yesterday I stumbled across a video clip from a Cheshire village, not far from where I grew up, where the residents get together at 11am every day at a suitable ‘social distance’ apart and dance to a variety of well-known songs
This really highlighted, for me, that dance is about more than art; it is about exercise, energy, connecting with people and just good old-fashioned fun!
I was also intrigued when I was sent a video clip of the Kerala State Police department in India using dance to get the message across of how to wash your hands properly in the fight against COVID-19.
If only we could all be as creative in our messaging!
Finally, although it is the end of term, for those of you who are enjoying reading these blogs it is my intention to keep posting throughout the holidays.
And remember, we are all stronger together …
It struck me over the weekend that, however difficult we might think things are for us at the moment, they could be so much worse.
After all, no matter how inconvenient it is for us all to be stuck largely at home, trying to juggle work and childcare, running the gauntlet of supermarket shopping and generally wondering how we are going to keep ourselves sane while staying indoors with the kids for the next however many weeks, at least we are ‘at home’.
I mean how hard can it really be to be isolated inside a nice, comfortable house with all the mod cons and good internet access?
Yesterday, I watched on the news what is happening in India. Because of the lockdown, thousands and thousands of people are trying to escape the cities to go back to their villages. People who are living in overcrowded ghettos – a breeding ground for any virus – now with no income, who just want to go home to be isolated in a safer, saner environment. People willing to walk for miles in order to get there.
And it’s not just in India that there is a problem. What about here? What about the homeless in our towns and cities? How do you stay safe at home when you don’t have a home to call your own? Crisis, the national charity for the homeless, have been highlighting the plight of Britain’s homeless during this time – as if it’s not difficult enough to be homeless at the best of times without having to contend with COVID-19 as well.
Like me, I am sure some of you remember the song ‘Streets of London’ by Ralph McTell, which was released in 1969. I have vivid recollections of singing it as a young child in my junior school choir in the late 1970s. It always made me cry. On Saturday I found this link to the Crisis Facebook post showing the Crisis choir with Ralph McTell and Annie Lennox singing that very song:
They then highlighted a story on the BBC website. Ralph McTell has always refused to write another verse for the song. For 50 years he has always said there was no reason to add anything to it ... until now. In light of the challenges facing our homeless he has decided to write another verse and, if you follow the link below, you can hear him singing it:
So, how does all of this make me feel? Well it makes me feel blessed for what I have and more than a little bit ashamed for feeling sorry for myself ... who am I to complain about my plight at the moment when all around me so many people are so much worse off than I am? I am safe, my family is safe, our safety is in my hands. If I do the things that I should then they will remain that way. What is the worst thing that can happen? Boredom? Irritation? Frustration? Well, I think I can probably survive that!
Oh, and two other things:
1 - ‘Streets of London’ still makes me cry.
2 - Thank goodness the cricket tour didn’t go ahead.
Stay safe, stay strong and remember, it could be a whole lot worse ...
So, today I’m feeling slightly blue. Why, you might ask? After all, the week seems to have gone relatively smoothly and, despite the difficulties, at least the sun is shining. Well, my answer is simple. It should have been House Matches tomorrow!
That might seem a rather strange reason to feel a little sad to some of you but, for those of you who managed to get to our inaugural House Match Competition in the Autumn Term, you will know why I feel the way I do.
I was looking forward this weekend to watching the matches. I was anticipating the way in which pupils of all ages supported each other within the Houses just like they did last term. To seeing celebrations and commiserations. I was looking forward to the patchwork of colours - red, blue, green and purple - painted across faces and worn on T-shirts and hooded tops. I was looking forward to welcoming you all, hopefully even more than in the autumn, to join us in an afternoon of sport, cups of tea and burgers by the Astro. But, alas, it was not meant to be ... just another thing to add to the growing list of ‘something to look forward to next year’.
It’s funny, isn’t it, how suddenly something happens that reminds you of what you are missing, like House Matches tomorrow for me, or the fact that it is my cousin’s 50th birthday on Monday and I’ve no chance of celebrating it with her. I know you will all have your own things which have been ‘interrupted’ by the current state of affairs. Things you would normally be doing but which have not been able to happen, things you were looking forward to which have had to be cancelled or big family events and milestones which will go uncelebrated ... at least for the time being.
On the note of milestones, I would like at this stage to send a particular message to all our Year 6, Year 11 and Year 13 students and their parents. For all of you, some of the most important ‘rites of passage’ are not going to happen in the way they were planned or in the way they usually are.
I know this, and I know how difficult this is for you all. For you, it is not just a Speech Day or a disco, a prom or a ball, it is a part of a really important journey. One some of you have been travelling for the past 15 years or more.
This was placed in stark relief for me last Friday when I went into the Sixth Form Centre and found a group of Year 13 students sitting around talking. One of them, Max, was sitting in the most wonderfully colourful velvet evening jacket and bow tie. When I asked him why, he replied: “This is The Ball for me, as it won’t be happening in the summer.” The day before, I saw our Head Boy, Nikolai, looking glum. He is the first international student to hold the position and COVID-19 has robbed him of the most important day of the year for him as Head Boy - Speech Day.
So, I want to make a pledge, here and now, to every Year 6, Year 11 and Year 13 student at Queen’s and their parents. You are not going to become ‘The Forgotten Year’. The year with no Speech Day, the year with no Prom or no Ball. Nikolai and Sophia are not going to get away without a speech and our captains of the sports teams are not going to get away without Final Assembly. And I am going to see Max in that resplendent jacket at a celebration to mark the end of his time at Queen’s and his passage to the next stage of life.
I do not know where it will happen, when it will happen or how it will happen, but I promise you now ... it will happen.
So, tomorrow afternoon, when we should all be together celebrating the very best of Queen’s, I would ask you instead, along with your children, to don something in the colour of your children’s Houses, whether they be French, Barnicott, Ray or Woolmer, Mendips, Quantocks, Brendon or Blackdown, and play some sport. Hopefully we might be able to find ourselves some new Queen’s Sports.
I hope you all have a lovely weekend and will be back at my blog on Monday ...
So, today is a day to be hopeful. Why? Well mainly because I’m tired of being anything else! While at the start of the week I was concerned about human nature, worried that this was going to bring out the worst in people, my experiences over the past few days have been somewhat different.
I know there will always be people who behave poorly in any given situation and I guess there is not much any of us can do about that, but what has become really clear is that this is not the reality of the Queen’s community.
It has been lovely to receive emails from so many of you sharing your experiences with me in response to my blog. Thank you everyone who has been in touch with ideas for how to keep Jamie occupied (we have already tried a good number of them!) and to let me know how you and your children are managing. It is lovely to know, in this time of challenge, that our community is as strong as ever.
So why do I feel so hopeful today? Well it’s all down to you really …
You, our wonderful pupils who I can see are getting on with life and making the most of it, no matter how different it might seem to be at the moment.
You, our fantastic staff who are working tirelessly day in, day out setting work, providing feedback and keeping in contact with the young people in your care through email or telephone conversations.
You, our brilliantly supportive parents who are juggling all things to make sure you are able to keep life as normal as possible, yet still finding time to offer a word of encouragement to us here at school whenever you are able to. Thank you to you all.
It seems appropriate to make a special mention to those of you who are working on the front line as key workers. I know many of you are making use of the Key Worker provision we have set up and I hope it provides some comfort to you to know we are looking after your children while you are looking after us.
I am sure I speak for everyone in the Queen’s family when I say we are blessed to count you among our number and that you will never truly know how much your efforts mean to us. You remain in our hearts and prayers every single day and we look forward to a time in the future when we are able to express our gratitude in person.
It has been lovely to hear some of the wonderful stories coming out of the Key Worker area. The fact that children of all ages are together in one space means Year 8 pupils have been welcoming, helping and supporting children in Pre-Prep, which shows just how much of a community effort this really is. Yesterday, Mr Wilde told me he had seen Mr Monks playing ‘hide and seek’ with a little girl from Nursery and her brother in Year 1. That is an entirely positive image of life, post COVID-19, which gives me reason to be hopeful.
Thank you to all the Queen’s staff who have volunteered to help with the staffing of these key areas. We really appreciate all the support you are giving to provide a haven for children who we know must be concerned for their parents on the front line.
It is in moments like these that it becomes apparent what a very special community we have here at Queen’s; because it is so special, I knew you would want to know what else we are doing as a school to help in the national effort at this time.
Our car parks are already being used by Musgrove Park Hospital to ensure all their important staff can get into work, as well as exploring ways in which our boarding accommodation could be used by the NHS as this crisis develops. I will keep you posted on the progress we make with all our community action
So, all in all, I think it is a day to be hopeful. Thank you to the whole community for giving me something to feel positive about, even during this difficult time.
So, it’s day three and I am busy trying to juggle all aspects of life ...
I guess most of you are like me, trying to manage the day job at the same time as that all-consuming thing called family life. Not only am I trying to do all the things I would normally do, but I am also now having to do all the exceptional additional things which have suddenly arisen because of the uncertainty of COVID-19, and I have to do all this while trying to keep an eye on my son who is now learning from home. Sound familiar?
Over the years I have often been to education conferences where I have been shown technology which would, if the suppliers were to be believed, make traditional schooling a thing of the past. In the future, apparently, there will no longer be the need for a physical place that is a school. Children will be able to learn anywhere and teachers will be able to provide the educational support remotely. I have always considered this to be utter nonsense … anyone who believes this to be the case has clearly never spent any time with your average 12-year-old!
So, today on day three, I feel absolutely vindicated in this view. I thought there might be a ‘honeymoon period’ around working from home while your child was completing their own schooling around you. You know, some sort of idyllic utopia with us all sitting around the dining table in quiet harmony while everyone gets on with their own work. But, no, it’s not like that at all – well, not for our family anyway!
It might be that you are all doing a much better job of this than we are and that you are able to successfully get on with all your own work without being constantly interrupted by a poor confused child needing some help. If so, then that is wonderful … but do you have any tips for us because we must be doing something wrong!
However, on the off-chance that my experiences are the norm and not the exception, we will be sending out a very quick questionnaire over the next few days to find out how the remote learning is going. This survey will allow us to get a quick snapshot of what is working and what isn’t. Is the work we are setting accessible? Is there enough of it? Or, is there too much? That way we can take on board your feedback and try to make changes so that your children feel more secure and more confident about the work we are asking them to do away from us so you can all get on with the day job.
On the subject of children feeling secure, yesterday I was sent this quote written by the American TV personality Fred Rogers, which was found in an online post recently: "At many times throughout their lives, children will feel the world has turned topsy-turvy. It's not the ever-present smile that will help them feel secure. It's knowing that love can hold many feelings, including sadness, and that they can count on the people they love to be with them until the world turns right side up again.”
I was also sent the single response which had been made by a parent underneath it: "Thank you so much for sharing this. I really needed it. My son is struggling with the changes but he's seven and doesn't understand why he feels so frustrated and unsettled. Last night he said: 'It just feels like my brain is over here (while pointing to his knee) and it feels like all my thoughts are all at once and I want them to be one at a time’.”
I think we all feel a little like that at the moment - that we wished that our thoughts would come one at a time and not all at once. So it’s our job here at Queen’s to try and help you get your thoughts coming one at a time and help your children feel their brain isn’t in their knee. We can do that by making what we are doing at this time as good as possible so at least you have one less thing to worry about.
And, just for the record, secretly it gives me a great deal of satisfaction to know that I am, and always have been, right about technology. That, while it is good to be able to use it to our advantage at this time to keep us all safe, there will always be a place for actual schools with buildings and people all together in one place.
The fact that this is our new reality is not something we would choose, it is instead something we will do as well as we can, for as long as we have to, until we are in the position to open up our doors again to provide you and your children once more with their safe haven - you, so that you can get on with making your place in the world and them, so that they work out where theirs is going to be.
Take care, keep safe and remember we are ‘stronger together’.
Today has been a day of contradictions. If you look at any set of statistics about COVID-19 you would think that it was only something which affected the old and the frail. You might even think that you would be ‘safe’ if you are young or even middle-aged. You might think that if you contract the virus your illness would only be mild, so mild in fact that you wouldn’t even notice it. Equally, if you look at the news you might imagine that every older person in the country must be in fear for their lives and worrying about their own health and welfare at every step.
So, why has today been a day of contradictions for me? Well, today I received notification that one member of my family was in the highest risk bracket for complications arising from COVID-19. Was it my nearly 80-year-old parents? No. Was it my aunt or uncle, both close to 80 with underlying health conditions? No. Was it even my almost 50-year old husband (don’t tell him you know!)? No.
No, it was my 15-year old son. Now, I know, as do those of you who have come across James, that he is a complicated soul, who has had more than his fair share of health issues over his short life. However, I never really considered that he would be at that level of risk this time around because I’d convinced myself that, even with his complications, he was ‘too young’ for it to be a problem.
At the same time, I came across a series of photographs of some pensioners in a nursing home in Yorkshire. Each resident was holding a mini whiteboard while propped up against pillows in bed. The one which particularly caught my eye was held by a fragile looking elderly lady. The whiteboard she held, while smiling at the camera, said: “Violet says that, while the world is going mad, we hope it doesn’t last forever. Sending love to those who need it. There’s more worse off than us”.
So, what does all this tell me? Well, not much really, other than no-one is immune from this and everyone can think more about others than they do about themselves. It seems to me that if everyone in the world approached this time with those two pillars then we would all be the better for it.
I have therefore come up with two new rules to help myself get through the next few months:
Rule 1 - No-one is invincible.
Rule 2 - Always think about someone else more than yourself.
If any of you feel like sharing in my new found mantra then please feel free to do so.
Oh, and by the way, if any of you have any tips for how to keep a 15-year-old autistic teenager entertained for 12 weeks stuck at home then I am open to suggestions. After all, there is only so much Minecraft any mother can take ...
We are coming to the end of our first day at Queen’s without our normal compliment of staff and pupils. While I know that everyone is busy setting and completing work online, school itself is unnervingly quiet. This is a very strange day.
It strikes me that all over the country people are no longer doing what they usually do, or at least they shouldn’t be! Offices are closed, cafés are empty, streets are quiet … the world is on hold while we all do our bit to fight an invisible threat.
I know so many of you are doing more than just a bit to help in this fight. This morning I saw Queen’s parents dropping off their children with us to our Key Worker provision on their way to work on the front line at Musgrove Park Hospital. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of them and the many other people around the country who are putting their own welfare on the line for us all. I can only hope they know how much we appreciate everything that they are doing.
In the spirit of the rest of us doing our bit, I wanted to share with all of you a link to an interview from LBC (Leading Britain’s Conversation) a London-based national phone-in and talk radio station. The content is sobering, so please brace yourselves, but it clearly demonstrates the role we all must take in order to contribute positively to the fight against COVID-19. CLICK HERE
Finally, last week I was sent a poem written in response to what is happening in Italy. At the time it was shared I couldn’t imagine ever being in the position where I needed to use it, but a week is a very long time in the new world of COVID-19 and today it seems particularly relevant.
Tonight before falling asleep
think about when we will return to the street.
When we hug again,
when all the shopping together will seem like a party.
Let's think about when the coffees will return, the small talk, the photos close to each other.
We think about when it will be all a memory but
normalcy will seem an unexpected and beautiful gift.
We will love everything that has so far seemed futile to us.
Every second will be precious.
Swims in the sea, the sun until late, sunset, toasts, laughter.
We will go back to laughing together.
Strength and courage.
The Methodist Schools have a tagline which is “stronger together”; as a community I believe this is true.
So, stay well, stay safe and know that we are “stronger together”.