Actually, my objection is not to the PM’s use of Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. He didn’t misquote it, engrave part of a misconstrued sentence on his walls or force children to recite it while eschewing non-reciters. I’ll tell you my problem later. You’ll need something to look forward to.
We are tacking against a head-wind towards the jetty that is the blessed October half term hol. Since September we’ve seen reunion, controversy, death and outrage as well as joyfulness, dancing, chuckling and solidarity. So in order to nail the zeitgeist I headed to the Midlands for an information conference, invariably time well spent when the decisions of the day are offered in handy pre-digested form to twitching school leaders. I reckoned I could do the important bits and get back in time for Governors at six, updated with the savviest news, while saving the taxpayer’s outlay with my Senior Railcard.
My train got as far as Wembley, where it stopped for an hour. We reached the glorious second city 70 minutes late where I decided that what with finding a taxi, getting to the hotel, leaving early and getting back I’d probably manage about 15 minutes of conference and an hour of lunch break. Therefore, I crossed the platform (metaphorically, it’s not that easy at New Street) and got on the next train back. I read the slides by myself and got loads more done besides. Cripes, this is a dull story.
But not if you were on the train! Simon our train manager was a message masterclass. He communicated frequently and clearly. He described the exact problem, involving a person on the tracks (‘the DC rail used by the Overground’). He did it with respect and humanity and by collectivising our experience, though this may be a word and concept I’ve just made up. He explained how many people there were on the train (have a guess) and appreciating how worried we were about the person on the line, how patient we were glad to be while the emergency services did their work, how relieved we all were that the person was still alive and going to hospital, how calm we were being about our missed appointments, how easy it would be to get a refund and how pleased the driver was with a hot cup of coffee. From my seat in a quiet coach all that turned out to be true and I heard not one fulmination. (190)
He was like a teacher skilled in positive discipline. He identified what was needed, thanked the people for doing it, created the conditions in which it could actually be attempted (in that order) and got happy compliance almost by sleight of hand. It was magnificent, expert work. It made us better people.
Rather like our decision to send almost all of year 11 on Duke of Edinburgh’s Award practices and expeditions this week. It seemed important, after we missed it in the summer. Of course, the weather was capricious with a buffeting monsoon on night testing cluelessly inexperienced campers. One of them, with floods of tears, laughter and outrage, described it all to as many teachers as she could buttonhole in the darkening gloom of the concourse on Open Night where, despite trench foot and incipient malnutrition she’d still come to be a guide and model student. And the probably large proportion of the 1559 guests loved it. So friendly! So articulate!
This particular Tallis-ite is never far from a madding crowd’s ignoble strife, and would never dream of blushing unseen. She’s nothing like a mute inglorious Milton nor is she ever likely to keep a noiseless tenor in a cool sequester’d vale. Chill penury has not repress’d her noble rage nor, more importantly, froze the genial current of her soul. But she, a youth to Fortune and to Fame unknown, like all her contemporaries, is expected to put up with this rot when the elected politicians wade through slaughter to a throne and shut the gates of mercy on mankind.
Too harsh? My abiding feeling at the end of this half term is of fury. Fury that policymakers who have served not one day in the classroom can claim that they’ll liberate the disadvantaged without any attempt to fund schools properly so we can care properly for the children of austerity who need us to see, know and love them.
It’s not enough to claim you’re levelling up just so you can say the other lot like levelling down. It's not enough to quote old poetry to evoke a misty-eyed nostalgia of a silent, humble poor. Most country churchyards closed decades ago but every year there are young people who can change the world for the better trapped to plod their way in neglected spots. Let not ambition mock their useful toils, but give them opportunities in a fair society to command the applause of listening senates.
You don’t have time for poetry, Mr Johnson. I’ve got next week off, but you? Do some work.