Welcome from a wintry Merchiston! This week we have seen a flurry or two of snow and even heard the wonderful meteorological phenomenon known as ‘thundersnow’?! The carpet of snow and the snow-capped peaks of the Pentlands show how beautiful our campus can be in all weathers, as well as creating another opportunity for some fun!
We enter our final week of term and the excitement around school is palpable; in spite of restrictions, we are making plans for a busy and productive week, but also an enjoyable and celebratory conclusion to end our term.
In recent weeks we have talked a great deal about giving, particularly to those who will find this Christmas a struggle, but it is always enjoyable (though sometimes stressful!) to think about what to give our nearest and dearest at this time of year. I always think that you cannot go far wrong with a good book. Indeed, I will take the opportunity in assemblies next week to remind the boys that the coming break is a great chance to catch up on some reading and it is certainly something I look forward to when term ends.
Far be it from me to recommend any books to anyone, but, inspired by one of Mr Johnston’s assemblies on kindness and nudged in its direction by my Secretary Mrs Campion, I have enjoyed reading a book called ‘Humankind – A Hopeful History’ by Rutger Bregman. It is a refreshing revision on the view that us humans are selfish by nature and governed by self-interest - that we compete rather than cooperate, and distrust rather than trust. The first case study the author draws upon is the story he titles ‘The Real Life Lord of the Flies’. William Golding’s imagined account of how a group of boys might behave if left on a deserted island is a literary classic and an example of a writer exploring the darker corners of human nature in a rarefied setting. The fictional version of such a situation is absolutely challenged by the true story of a group of boys aged between 13 and 16 from Tonga, who, in 1965, set off on a mischievous adventure (escaping from their boarding school no less!), only to run into serious trouble. Their commandeered boat was wrecked in a storm and they made it to the uninhabited island of ‘Ata, where they remained undiscovered for over a year. They had been presumed dead and lost at sea. Funerals had been held for them, but when they were eventually discovered in September 1966, they were in peak physical condition. Despite the trauma of being castaways on an inhospitable island, they had set up a functional community; they had routines in place for collecting and preparing food and firewood, maintaining shelters and even recreation. Crucially, and in contrast the Golding’s islanders, they had a system in place for conflict resolution and never left disagreements fester or go unaddressed. One boy even broke his leg in an accident and his injury was treated successfully by the others.
The story of these boys is a story of friendship, loyalty and the power of cooperation and collegiality. It serves not just as an apt prologue for Bregman’s book, but also a valuable lesson to us all. That in spite of the hardship and challenge we may face, support of each other and kindness towards each other has the power to have a much greater impact on our future success. We see so much of this in our day to day lives here at Merchiston - the willingness to support one another, the power of teamwork and cooperation and our capacity to help those around us. When I see this in our boys, it makes me remarkably proud to be part of our Merchiston community; thank you, boys!
It seems appropriate for me at this point to share with you an email that I received from the Chief Executive of Cyrenians. Well done to everyone who has contributed to supporting this charity, not least to Mr Rowlands for co-ordinating our efforts. I am sure you will appreciate hearing about the positive impact you have made.
Our winter appeal launched this last weekend and I wanted to take a moment to thank you and your amazing school community for all the support you have given to help get the appeal off to a great start, not least of which the 6th formers organising a 5 a side tournament for us, but also for the work so many have been involved in over the last year
We are very hopeful that this project will provide a personal legacy for each of the boys to leave behind when they graduate from the school in the next couple of years and we look forward to supporting them further with their fundraising and also providing opportunities for them to experience first-hand our Edinburgh projects in a volunteering role as soon as it is safe to do so.
These are difficult days for us all but even more so for those facing the tough realities of homelessness. Thanks to Mr Rowlands and many of your pupils, many more will know they are not alone and hope of a better situation is a possibility
Thank you very much indeed for all your school community does to make our city a better place for everyone