John Donne’s monument in St Paul’s Cathedral ( in his shroud)
Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward
John Donne’s monument in St Paul’s Cathedral ( in his shroud)
Brahms, chautauqua, I know where I'm going, John Donne, John Milton, Paradise Lost, Phaedrus, Pilate, Robert M Pirsig, Suarez, Tortoise and Hare, value rigidity, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Drusilla said: Fire away! She felt like John Milton’s daughter- the one who
was his amanuensis for Paradise Lost. Was this going to be as epic?
Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen, Governors, Stakeholders, Staff and boys,
including Old Boys…. Have I left anyone out?
Maybe just ‘girls’. There are bound to be a few sisters in the marquee.
Okay. In addressing you all on this auspicious day, I feel rather like Suarez-
pause for effect– who might have felt that he had bitten off more than he
Dru raised her eyebrows, but continued to type.
Conscious of my-ah-rhetorical failings, the expression of such an
awareness being a trope I admit, I sought a framework for my
observations on The Metaphysics of Quality and, being in the
moment, recalled that excellent manual for life: ‘Zen and the
Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.’
Philosophical investigation and being confronted with bad writing can,
as Phaedrus knew, make you insane. I should have paid more
attention to this.
I have always had complete confidence in St Birinus’ Middle as an
institution, as much as I never doubted that the sun would rise
on the morrow.
Dru interrupted: Do people still say ‘morrow?’
They would if they read John Donne. That was supposed to be an
With the advantage of the oblique insight of the dyslexic, I declare that
I am not so much going into retiral as into a re-trial, assuming the post
and concomitant responsibilities of Deputy Head. My mistakes will be
part of my education. One never stops learning.
However, one mistake I have never made is to believe that schools exist
to teach children to imitate their teachers. Our assessment systems often
caution against originality. Value rigidity- what a pernicious trap! Surely the
good is to re-evaluate what one can see through the perception of one’s past
commitment to certain values?
The question, my dear fellow travellers, is not ‘What is new?’ but rather
‘What is best?’
Our institutions should not exist for the perpetuation of their own ends
and for control, but for the objective search for Truth.
And, as Pilate said: What is Truth?
Dru looked up from the computer, expecting an Existential Revelation,
but Gus neatly side-stepped the nub of the matter and continued:
I am reminded of the servant who buried his talent in the ground
because he was too afraid to make it grow.
Reviewing my own career, I find that I am well-equipped to write my
own epitaph. I was ‘ever the outsider’; ever the one attacking what
was being taught, rather than learning from it. I have been an
In days gone by, there were others in our staffroom who may have been
deemed to have also lived in the shadow of insanity, or anarchy. To share
a mug of builders’ tea with such as those, around a three day old crossword
and to sense minds that thought as you thought and to listen to voices
that spoke as you did was as close to an epiphany of the sacred as any
mere human could anticipate this side of eternity.
A tear rolled off the tip of Dru’s nose.
Modern Head Teachers may expound and expand on the destiny of mankind.
We, we just wanted to run a school. The Future will judge whose approach
had most value.
Constant activity based on restlessness may drive one to conquer mountains,
but it can be exhausting and debilitating. My mind strays to the example of
the tortoise who outstripped the hare.
Leave that out, Father. It’s too tangential.
Should I mention the noumenal sherpas?
There are many archers who seek to hit targets, but pricking the bulls’ eye
may distract one from gazing at a ray of sunlight as it touches a leaf.
Those ghostly voices of the past sing to us, conveying a sense of purpose:
I know where I’m going
And I know who’s going with me.
Dru’s made a typo as she thought: But the dear knows who he’ll marry.
What voices are you on about? she asked.
I had in mind a kind of Brahmsian ‘Ja, der Geist Spricht.’
Well, don’t blame me if the reference goes right over their heads.
I’m used to it! Most of my lessons did the same, but there is always
one who hears the message. They receive the chautauqua.
Blimey! How do you spell that?
Never mind. I’ll edit it later.
We may have difficulty in mapping where we are at any given moment,
but, with hindsight, we will see, as Robert M Pirsig said: ‘a pattern…
What does the ‘M’ stand for? Metaphysical?
Very funny. Leave it there. I will add to it later.
Well, you haven’t left much time for the presentation of prizes, Dru
said. You do realise that everyone will be anxious to escape and have
their strawberries and cream and no one will listen to a word in that
The world was ever thus, agreed Snod. But one cannot cease to be an
Of course , you’ve left something out, said Carrie.
What do you mean? I replied, ordering a refill of my previous
Well, you’ve rabbited on about blackberries and Michaelmas, but you
didn’t mention Domhnach Curran, Carrot Sunday.
Are you having me on? I asked suspiciously.
No-not at all. My Scottish granny told me all about the traditions in
the Hebrides where the wild carrots were gathered on the Sunday before
..and the carrots were brought in on the Eve of St Michael, having been dug
out of triangular holes, representing the shield of the saint, by three pronged
mattocks, making a reference to the Trinity, or in pagan times to the three
stages of womanhood.
Who brought the vegetables in- the men?
No, the lassies, who tied the bunches up with red thread. If they found
one with a forked root, it was considered lucky.
A kind of fertility symbol?
I suppose so. Remember the poem ‘Goe and Catch a Falling Star’ by John
Donne? We studied it at Uny.
Oh yes: ‘get with child a mandrake root’. I suppose root vegetables can
be rather phallic.
Yes, hmm… Anyway, there is a special carrot on Uist, the daucus carota..
Look, why am I getting into all this? You can Google it on www.
carrotmuseum.com….The women would chant something about their progeny
being pre-eminent over every other progeny. It reminded me of the
belligerently aspirational yummie mummies around here.
The ones who only want carrots for their kids, but no sticks?
The very ones.
That sort would probably hope that St Michael would oversee their little
darlings being weighed in the balances and would ensure that they were not
found wanting, I laughed, remembering having seen medieval wall paintings
on a similar theme. They’d probably start arguing with the Archangels of
Heaven and Hell, wanting favourable outcomes for their special offspring.
They’d complain to God Himself if they didn’t get their way.
Yes, Carrie grinned, enjoying the scenario. But the angel from Hell leaned on
the scales to tip the balance in his favour. Negative discrimination! That’s
why St Michael had to supervise the operation of the Last Judgement.
So, cheats never win! I cheered. Well, maybe next year I can write a poem
about all that. By the way, I like the look of that cake you just had. What
Carrot, said Carrie. I hope it doesn’t promote fertility.
No. In that case, I’ll have the courgette and lime slice.