Monday, 14 September 2015


For many of us, sixteen of the first twenty years of our life are defined by Michaelmas, Easter and Summer terms. And so it is that around this time of year the smell of autumn - Keats’ “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” and back to school paraphernalia fill all our minds.

The three phases for me in a work schedule work are :-

  • Back to school - renewal, new classes, new teachers, a new syllabus and above all change. In that remorseless run up to Christmas the agenda for change is omnipresent.
  • New Year  resolutions - and even if we aren’t exactly wedded to these the need to self- appraise and set goals burns in our souls as the skirl of New Year bagpipes fades away
  • Spring clean - this happens as the first sounds of woodpeckers and doves fill our ears in May; time to clear out, renew and simplify

But it wasn’t until I went to America in their fall and realised what a big and colourful story it was as trees turned golden, red, orange and sienna.

As the process of new school discovery started over the last week that familiar feeling of looking at a clean sheet of paper struck me.

One of my grandsons, the elder one aged 8 described the pressure of being in year 4. He made it sound like Finals Year at University as he reflected in tones far older than his years how it was going with his new form teacher.

She said she’s going to make sure we learn in every available second. We used to play more now it’s maths, maths and more maths. I’m feeling tired and a bit depressed.” 

Shades of Mrs Trunchbull.

I felt tired listening to it. When I was 8 we played a lot. I wrote stories about journeys to Canada where I fought off Grizzly Bears and ate tomato sandwiches. We sang songs, went on nature walks and I wondered if I’d get to see Isobel Black’s knickers at playtime. I remember a complete lack of stress although there was an underlying  terror that one would get caned for some inadvertent misdemeanour.

Matthew Arnold in his poem the Scholar Gypsy captured then, in 1853, what I think is truer today, 160 years later:

O born in days when wits were fresh and clear
And life ran gaily as the sparkling Thames

Before this strange disease of modern life,
With its sick hurry, its divided aims”

In the long ride to Christmas which I see has already been well trailed - my wife is buying Christmas cards already -  I worry that I am having more fun than my grandsons and great nieces who seem tyrannised by SATS and homework.

I love the call to action but doesn’t  laughter,  frivolity and dance have a place too?

I recall my mother once grimly saying “life is real and life is earnest”. She was way ahead of her time.

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