Waiting with tired teachers and a welcoming smile by the door for the Christmas concert and pondering the Christmas tree we were startled by a pianist bursting from the hall in a flounce. ‘The bands in there, they’re all MUCH better than me! How can I play? I’ll be RUBBISH’ woe is me etc. We smiled and said the show must go on. ‘I’m going to Performing Arts’ moaned the pianist, implying that’s where the sympathy was but they were all in the hall, plugging things in and tuning things up with no time for arty fits. Of course he was fine an hour later, playing without a quiver, urbane and understated, taking a bow as if he was Jools. I sometimes worry that parents or even those without an adolescent in the home might find us heartless when we frequently tell children to get over themselves and get on with it.
We have to moderate and normalise it for them: don’t worry, work steadily, think hard. That’s why a brisk, cheerful and unemotional approach is usually right. Queen of the brisk remark is our senior dinner lady who retires this week after 30 Tallis years. Everyone will miss her and our little world of 2000 will be changed by the absence of one person.
Pressure does derange one: the aforementioned Christmas tree, festooned with red tags has two sets of lights on it. One string is super-bright but the other looks as though it’s not making any effort at all. I was away with it – what if OFSTED did Christmas tree lights? Would you know what the judgement was going to be by the wattage they sent? What if your lights don’t reach the plug, like the ones in the hall? Really, I need a break.
30 year 7s appeared with a wish to sing to me in Spanish: Noche de Paz and Feliz Navidad. When they sing in the office we press the tannoy button so that everyone hears. Some have Santa hats and one a pair of sunglasses with Christmas Trees on: I love it that some do and some don’t and no one minds. At the concert the Flute Choir wore wearing smart black dresses and antlers with bells on. They were utterly deadpan when I congratulated them and smiled graciously about their playing but looked at me as if I was mad when I mentioned the headgear. Antlers? What antlers?
Then news arrives on wings of another musician – a sixth former to whom the Greenwich Music Trust had to give a piano and whose neighbours complained when she practiced has won a place at the Royal College of Music. Joy to the world!
Our Christmas card this year isn’t so cheerful, but then advent is a season for reflection on hope in the darkness. It’s a drawing of Syrians queuing for food in Damascus. One of our year 9s won the Big Draw competition with it – a sea of humanity trapped in a once-beautiful city, ancient places of the earth bombed to destruction while their people hope not to starve. On the back of the card I’ve adapted a quotation from the wonderful Eglantyne Jebb, who founded Save the Children during the refugee crisis after the First War. She said of the fund:
‘It must not be content to save children from the hardships of life - it must abolish these hardships; nor think it suffices to save them from immediate menace - it must place in their hands the means of saving themselves and so of saving the world.’
These last couple of days of term we do our year group Celebration Assemblies where bands play and tutors say a few words about their groups. Year 9 dancers (40 of them) reduced some grizzled old souls to tears with their exuberance. It’s a bit of horizontal bonding in a big school and an excellent Tallis tradition. We’re brisk and sometimes a bit sharp for most of the year but we do actually tell our young people we love them (in one way or another) at the end of term. So, given the state of the world, let’s take our responsibilities to them seriously and share a bit of love with any children within reach this Christmas, no matter how adolescent and awkward.
Have a lovely Christmas. January comes soon enough, and we need to be refreshed and ready for abolishing hardships and changing the world, one child at a time.