10th January, 2018
First, welcome back to readers of Headmaster’s Headlines! I hope one and all have had the opportunity to enjoy some quality family time over the Christmas and New Year break! Since Monday, we have had a wonderful two days as practitioners in terms of in-service training on a variety of topics, and I am particularly pleased that we have been able to offer to parents Marilyn Hawes of Enough Abuse UK, and in addition, she has seen all of our year groups and delivered a presentation on internet risk to all of our pupils. This topic remains at the top of all our minds – an in addition to our advice (and yours) this is all about improving us as a school.
It is always wonderful greeting a full Memorial Hall of the first morning of a new term. The School becomes alive because of the presence of the pupils and the staff! So, to start with, I cajoled and encouraged all members of the School, including staff, to remember that there will be many a person who did not relish returning to work after the Christmas and New Year break, especially in the dark mornings! To encourage us all, I returned to one of my favourite topics, namely, the Vienna New Year’s Day Concert. This took place under the baton of the Italian Riccardo Muti in the golden Hall of the Musikverein, and it marked the fifth time – after 1993, 1997, 2000 and 2004 – that Riccardo Muti conducted this prestigious event. The 2018 New Year’s concert was broadcast in over 90 countries and was followed by as many as 50 million television viewers around the world. The Vienna Philharmonic presents annually the New Year programme consisting of the lively and yet nostalgic music from the vast repertoire of the Strauss family and its contemporaries. So to get everybody in the mood we first of all listened to Polka Schnell by Josef Strauss – you can watch it here (1.34-1.37.02). I then reminded the School that Mr Thompson’s Arts and Cultural Programme allows the pupils to savour live culture in Edinburgh, whether this is classical music, theatre, ballet or opera. And to enjoy some audience participation, to get the pupils on-board for the start of a new term, I returned to my tradition of asking the School to enjoy the Radetzky March by Johann Strauss Senior, and to join in with the clapping under the baton of Riccardo Muti (available here 1.54-1.58.50).
Christmas and New Year are always a fascinating time. You look backwards, you enjoy the present and you look forwards to the future. Those of you who know me will know that some of my highlights have remained the same, namely, listening to the Christmas Eve Service of Nine Lessons and Carols from St John’s College Cambridge, and listening to this year’s Vienna Philharmonic New Year’s Concert on 1 January, 2018.
These two highlights, poignantly reminded me of our family on a coffee estate in Kenya, many years ago now, in pre-TV days, huddled around the World Service Radio Station on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. Very, very simple family occurrences indeed!
And isn’t Christmas a magical time of the year? Daily Telegraph columnist Dia Chakravarty wrote “There is a saying in my native Bengali – religion is personal, festival is universal. And every religious festival celebrates universal and time honoured bonds. Christmas is about the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ but it is also a reminder that we are all part of something bigger than our communities. There may be more that divides us than unites us but that one thing which unites us – humanity – is far stronger.
One of my other favourite Times columnists Libby Purves wrote, “Every carol is the moment to express good will to all men.” And I am sure that each one of us toasted the chef on Christmas Day, but we followed the example of Libby Purves in also toasting absent friends, for Christmas is the perfect time to remember those who are no longer with us. Libby Purves urged us to extend the good will to all and she encouraged us to remember that such a toast, a form of thanksgiving, goes out not only to the lost, but to absent friends still living. And beyond that again are the people we never meet but admire, read, watch, listen to, campaign for or merely follow on Twitter, in addition to those whose suffering has marked the year as well, the survivors and the lost of Grenfell, or Charlottesville, of Syria, of the wandering refugee populations.
Magnus Linklater, yet another one of my favourite Times columnists cajoled us to remember the importance of enjoying some silence at Christmas.
The word silence comes from the Latin word silens, which means to be still, quiet, or to be at rest. In Erling Kagge’s new book, Silence; In the Age of Noise he writes that silence, the complete absence of sound, is also about the ability to find wonder in the everyday.
And I enjoyed listening to Bishop John, the Bishop of Edinburgh when we attended St Mary’s Episcopalian Cathedral, Palmerston Place, Edinburgh, and the festal Eucharist on Christmas Day. Bishop John is a Merchistonian. It rather pleases me that a Merchistonian is a Bishop. And in his address, Bishop John urged us to follow the example of Jesus Christ as we choose what to care about, focusing on the things and problems that are actually meaningful and important.
One of my many highlights was listening to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II delivering her annual address and the Christmas message to the nation and the Commonwealth. On 6 February 2017, she became the first British monarch to celebrate a Sapphire Jubilee, commemorating 65 years on the throne. This address topped the TV ratings on Christmas Day! I liked her words on the importance of the home:
“We think of our homes as places of warmth, familiarity and love; of shared stories and memories, which is perhaps why at this time of year so many return to where they grew up. There is a timeless simplicity to the pull of home. For many, the idea of “home” reaches beyond a physical building – to a home town or city. This Christmas, I think of London and Manchester, whose powerful identities shone through over the past twelve months in the face of appalling attacks. Today we celebrate Christmas, which itself is sometimes described as a festival of the home. Families travel long distances to be together….. We remember the birth of Jesus Christ whose only sanctuary was a stable in Bethlehem. He knew rejection, hardship and persecution; and yet it is Jesus Christ’s generous love and example which has inspired me through good times and bad.”
And with regards to our new term, moving to the present, it was a great pleasure to welcome the following new pupils to the House of Merchiston: Nathan, Alasdair, Ted, Constantin, Facundo, Nitheesh.
Equally, it was a pleasure to welcome new staff. Ms Boys, our Data and Website Manager, joined us last term. Mr Rogers, our Design Assistant Intern, is a Merchistonian (10-15) and he joins us as part of his year in industry in the second year of his degree in Industrial Design and Technology at Brunel University, London. Finally, Ms McLean, Senior Medical Sister, joins us for the second half of Lent Term from Fettes College, where she has been Staff Nurse for over 18 years
I took the opportunity to remind the School of the two Merchiston Houses. As we know, the first is a word cloud that depicts the outcomes in child protection: safe, healthy, active, nurtured, achieving, respected, responsible and included (remembered by the acronym SHANARRI) for we must ensure that all the pupils and staff at Merchiston are safe.
We are all trying to row in the same direction with the second House. This second House singles out the 4 School Improvement Plan Headlines for 2017/2018.
Over the course of the rest of the gathering we concentrated on the importance of standards, the concept of having no difference between our private face and our public face, and simply how we behave towards each other. Members of staff smile at me, for I often refer to Seth’s Blog! I read his blog every day, and some are better than others, but this one says it all: “Doing things with rigour takes effort, but not everything we put effort into is done with rigour.
Rigour is a focus on process. Paying attention to not just how we do things, but why. Rigour requires us to never use an emergency as an excuse. Rigour is a process for the long haul, and the work of a professional.” So, you can follow the link as to how I, with the student leaders, urged all of us, including myself, to do the basics with rigour.
I really hope that all readers of Headmaster’s Headlines have enjoyed the period of Christmas, namely the Twelve Days and Nights of Christmas. Christmas Day is the first day of Christmas and the twelve days are the Monday 25 December 2017 to the Friday 5 January 2018. The evening of Friday 5 January was technically the last day of Christmas festivities, and 6 January saw Epiphany for this symbolises the arrival of the Three Wise Men with their gifts to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Light of the World. And I knew nothing about the concept of Bless This House. So, at Castle Gates on the night of Saturday 6 January we walked around the house lighting a candle asking the house to be blessed with love, light, peace and comfort.
We ended the gathering with the Chaplain blessing the House of Merchiston, and lighting a candle and asking the House of Merchiston to be blessed with love, light, peace and comfort.
Handshaking was a little different, for we are concerned about the highly infectious strains of cold and flu viruses that appear to be prevalent, so we enjoyed saying “Hello, welcome back, and Happy New Year” to each other as the School left the Memorial Hall! We look forward to the joys of this term!