Our eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month started unpromisingly. It was gloomy and drizzly and we had a special gift from a local dog right in the middle of our big space, which a noble Deputy guarded from 1800 pairs of feet. Part of the path was under appropriate levels of mud and there was a digger on a mound in the next field noisily doing its digger thing in full view of everyone.
After the usual amount of command whistling, Thomas Tallis fell silent and all eyes turned to the military trumpeter. Last Post, silence, Reveille; and the digger man, silently standing next to his cab, hard hat in hand, head bowed. We had our moment, which ended, as all community moments end here, with applause and some hugging. Then we happily if damply badgered each other back to class.
The visiting trumpeter expressed admiration for our solemnity and then asked me why children hug each other so much now. This is a reasonable question as hugging has developed to such an extent that many a child’s 20 minute break is made up entirely of hugging friends in sheer relief that they have survived the last two hours and then hugging again to fortify them for the next two. Being a northerner, I’ve always assumed it was a cheap way of keeping warm and wished it had been invented when I was freezing half to death in the 70s. He observed ‘Your children seem very happy. It’s not like it was when I was at school’. I resisted the temptation to give him my usual spiel about children being generally happy and schools being society’s best hope for the future and just grinned like a lunatic, proud of a happy community.
Anyway, his validation of our best efforts to honour the dead within the confines of a multi-use games area mattered to us and I’ll pass it on to young people and staff alike. Better still, his joining us and taking part, and liking us.
Good local schools run best when the community knows them, loves them and want to support them. From the governors who discuss everything from toilet flushing to school vision on endless dark winter nights, to the retired professional who gave us a Mozart and Debussy recital at lunchtime; from the lady over the road who called in to admire our new building, to the 700 families who came to sixth form open night; from the church over the road who pray for us to the man at the bus stop who tells us when the hordes behave well as well as when they behave stupidly. We need you all: everyone who understands that teenagers can be unwieldy and foolish and everyone who smiles at us and wants to know us better. You help our children understand that communities involve effort and a just and sustainable democracy is made up of local people of good heart.
So, a great big Tallis tick to our Poppy Day hero, an unknown citizen who made our act of remembrance his own. His courteous participation turned our school effort into something as meaningful for us as the Cenotaph ceremony and authenticated 1800 young efforts. Digger man – thank you.