Headmaster’s Headlines

Headmaster’s Headlines

9th January, 2015

Welcome back to readers of Headmaster’s Headlines and Barbara joins me in wishing you all a happy and healthy 2015!  We both really enjoyed going around Chalmers West and Chalmers East on the first night of term and seeing boys, parents and tutors settling in to the new term and I know that Mr Hall was also extremely impressed on his visits to Rogerson and Laidlaw.  And how lucky are Orlando and Charles to have birthdays on the first day of term!  I can’t imagine anything better!  So, many congratulations to Orlando who turned 13 and Charles who turned 17, and that was our first sing-a-long of term!  In my welcome to the School I used the following words:

Christmas and New Year are always a fascinating time.  You look backwards, you enjoy the present, and you look forwards to the future.  Certainly, I had three musical highlights.  All of us owe our parents a great deal – and no doubt, in so many different and interesting areas.  In my childhood, listening to the Christmas Eve Service of Nine Lessons and Carols in Kings’ College, Cambridge was a tradition, as was listening to New Year’s Day Concert from Vienna.  But you have to imagine a very different world: a coffee estate in Kenya; no TV, no mobile devices, huddled around the radio transmitter listening to the BBC World Service – a radio station I can thoroughly recommend.  I have listened to these events more or less every year since I was introduced to them on that coffee estate in Kenya.  I have never forgotten these experiences and now that both of my parents are no longer alive, every year when I listen to these musical events I remember my parents.  How apt is the quote from the first series of the HBO series The Wire, “The past is always with us.  Where we came from, what we go through, how we go through it, always matters.  What came first is who we really are.” Before the New Year, I smiled really wryly when I tuned into Chas ‘n’ Dave and theirChristmas Knees Up on Channel 5 on Christmas Day 2014!  Chas ‘n’ Dave are an English pop rock duo, most notable as creators and performers of a musical style labelled ‘rockney’, which mixes pub sing-a-long music hall humour, boogie woogie piano and pre-Beatles rock and roll.  They are remarkably cockney!  Who would have thought that a programme recorded in 1982 would have brought pleasure to so many on 25 December 2014?  I selected Chas ‘n’ Dave’s Diddle Um Song to play to Headmaster’s Assembly.  I acknowledged in front of the School that my music tastes seem to be becoming marginally more modern as I have now graduated to 1982 (although I did enjoy listening to George Ezra over the course of the holiday).  Indeed, I am now looking into going to see Chas ‘n’ Dave live!  The duo was also the support act over the past year for Status Quo on the Status Quo Aquostic tour!

And then, let’s move to New Year’s Day: The annual New Year’s Day Concert by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra from the Wiener Musikverein which was first performed in 1939.  The annual programme is a mixture of waltzes, polkas and marches from the Strauss family.  The event is always so joyful, which is apt when ushering in a New Year.  This year, the conductor was Zubin Mehta (79), with whom the orchestra has enjoyed an artistic partnership for over 50 years, and who was conducting the New Year’s Concert for


the fifth time.  This year’s concert was broadcast in over 90 countries around the world and was seen by 50 million television viewers.  The orchestra performed the Strauss family’s traditional and hugely popular waltzes, polkas and marches, culminating in the perennial favourites By the Beautiful Blue Danube and theRadetzky March.  The pieces I chose to play to Headmaster’s Assembly were both by Johann Strauss Senior:  the Freedom March and the Radetsky March. (Freedom March at 39.30-42.35 and Radetsky March at 01.16.34 to 01.20.47)

williamI welcomed to the School Mr McLeish who is the new Maintenance Joiner.  Equally I welcomedKelvin from Hong Kong and Alexander from Germany who joined our Lower Sixth as boarders, as well as William who is on exchange from St Andrew’s College, Christchurch, New Zealand andBautista who is on exchange from St George’s College, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

In terms of news, over the course of the holiday I was delighted to hear that the German trip to Cologne went well. One of the highlights of my holiday was reading the Upper Sixth UCAS Offer booklet from December 2014, where I read about each member of the Upper Sixth’s UCAS application; predicted grades; and progress to date with regard to University offers.  We will continue to hear more progress about applicants for Oxford and Cambridge, and, indeed, other members of the Upper Sixth as the days and weeks go by.  I am delighted to hear about two successes – the Captain of School Alex and Seumas – with regard to the States and two extremely selective universities.

In terms of facilities, I do wish to acknowledge our operational teams of staff for whilst the academic team of staff embarked upon Christmas holiday on 12 December, the operational teams carried on working until 19 December and 23 December.  I am extremely grateful to them, for some important little projects were completed, and indeed, it is always a great pleasure and privilege for Mrs Hunter and myself to go and say hello and thank you to the support staff at their Christmas Dinner in Colinton and we did this on 23 December.  Indeed, Christmas and New Year (23 December to 5 January) are the only the time we actually shut the School over the course of the year.

prefectsAnd so to the present, Lent Term 2015.  At this stage, I handed over to the Captain of School and Heads of House: AlexJamie,AlanDanAledTimSaunders andTom.

I do wish to acknowledge the daily care and attention given to the School by Mr Peter Hall, the Senior Deputy Head, and it is absolutely apt that he was photographed with these leaders.  Let us of course not forget that there are many other very important leaders at Merchiston.

The Captain of School and the Heads of Houses led the School in my reminders for the term.  You may be interested in seeing these very simple points:

Huge progress was made last term with regard to what the Headmaster calls ‘putting the building blocks in place’ in all aspects of School life.  The Mission Statement plays an important part in reminding us of our aspirations.  “To lead young people in the pursuit of personal excellence through a well-rounded education.”

This Mission Statement then develops into the School’s Aims which can be found in the front of our calendars. Our Vision for the School, in which we encourage you all to believe, sums up what we are trying to achieve together in the following simple ways:

  • To achieve the highest possible academic standards;
  • To achieve, within the sport-for-all philosophy, the highest possible sporting standards and to instil a lifelong love of sport;
  • To achieve, within a wide degree of participation, the highest level of cultural standards and a love of art, drama and music for life;
  • To provide the best possible pastoral care in a boarding school which has day pupils within it, with high quality child protection and safe-guarding policies and procedures;
  • To help us, the pupils, develop our communication skills;
  • To enable us, the pupils and young men, to become leaders and to have a sense of adventure and service, of belonging to the world and a desire to contribute to society;
  • To help us, the pupils, develop an awareness of environmental issues and an understanding of how to live in a sustainable way;
  • To ensure that we understand the difference between right and wrong, between decent and poor behaviour, that we respect each other as being different and unique, and that we understand the importance of “Manners Makyth Man” – in other words, we wish to help you develop as good people;
  • To foster in us, the pupils, a sense of the spiritual and to encourage us to value relationships.

Other ways of looking at this are to look at some simple ‘Bricks in the wall’ or, ‘Do what you do do well’, or‘Walk tall, walk straight, and look the world right in the eye’ thoughts. So, here are some simple points to help us do the small things well, leading to a successful bigger picture.  For, we must never assume that quality is an accident: quality is never an accident – it is always the result of high intention; sincere effort; intelligent discretion and skilful execution in all the areas I have already mentioned.  So, on a personal level, reflect on the following rhetorical questions:

  • Am I committed in every aspect of my life in the School, not least my academic work, culture, music, drama or sport?
  • Do I dress correctly and carry myself around the School well?
  • Do I epitomise somebody who has self-respect?
  • Am I interested in contributing to the community in a positive way, whether this is in my academic work, culture, music, drama or sport?
  • Do I try to live an unselfish life and respect others around me as being different and distinct? Am I careful and tactful in my choice of words? (Do as you would be done by, or if you can’t think of something pleasant to say, don’t say anything.)
  • Am I aware of environmental issues and do I endeavour to live in a sustainable way?
  • Do I abide by the simple School guidelines, which leads to the School being a positive community?
  • Do I understand that many of the School guidelines mirror the laws of the land, eg racism, stealing, under-age drinking, the use of illicit substances (drugs) and bullying?
  • Do I care about being given a blue paper or detention?
  • Do I open doors to and for other pupils and adults?
  • Do I acknowledge my fellow pupils and staff?
  • Do I stand up when staff and visitors enter the room?
  • Do I sit and stand quietly when I have to?
  • Do I call members of staff, adults and visitors, both within and outwith the School, “Sir” and “Ma’am”?
  • Do I move forwards, look people in the eye and shake hands as I meet and greet people?
  • In using the wonderful tool of the internet, eg ‘Twitter’; ‘Instagram’; ‘Snapchat’; ‘WhatsApp’; ‘Facebook’ and ‘YouTube’, do I refrain from hurting other people – pupils (including pupils from other schools), staff and schools?
  • Do I behave calmly and does my body language convey a positive message?
  • Do I display respect and ‘good fear’ in terms of the elders around me?

I concluded the Gathering with thoughts on Civil Society, Sikhism and the Epiphany.

Civil Society

Friday 29 November 2013 was the evening in which the police helicopter crashed into the Clutha public house in Glasgow.  Clifford Longley delivered a Thought for the Day on Radio 4 based around the importance of two words, Civil Society.  He meant by this what helps communities stick together in a crisis.  And who would have anticipated that Glasgow would have been sorely tested again with the tragedy of the Glasgow bin lorry crash on 22 December 2014 in which six people died and ten were seriously injured?  But once again, Glasgow residents were praised for their resilience in the face of adversity.  So for example, a Glasgow taxi driver offered via Twitter to help anyone affected by the tragedy by giving them a free ride.  “I am working in town, anyone directly affected by today’s tragedy and can’t get home or to hospital, I’ll take them for free”, he wrote on the social media site adding that passengers should contact him via Twitter.  A local resident also Tweeted his offer of help.  He wrote, “I stay around the corner from George’s Square, if anyone needs somewhere to wait or stay, feel free to contact me.” And what can we at Merchiston learn from this tragedy?  Well, let’s remember the words of Clifford Longley.  Many of the institutions of Civil Society have, or have had, a religious basis, and the emphasis that the religions put on the importance of community provides a lot for the social cement that Civil Society needs to stay healthy or cope with the unexpected.  So, whether religious or secular, there is a crucial moral element in building up this social capital.  Civil Society (the voluntary sector) relies on concepts like serving the common good, loving your neighbour as yourself, doing as you would be done by, or just plain old making a contribution.  That’s the very opposite of every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost.  It’s a strong community spirit which keeps us human.

And this fits very neatly with some of the thoughts I have heard expressed on the radio recently.  First, Sikhism, and we are fortunate to have a Sikh teacher in our midst, Mrs Gill, and I anticipate that she will be speaking to the whole School about Sikhism at some stage over the course of this academic year.  On Sunday morning at 7.30am, I enjoyed listening to the faith guest Dr Savi Arora on Radio 2’s Good Morning Sunday show presented by Clare Balding.  This two hour programme spent a lot of time considering New Year resolutions and Dr Savi spoke about the importance of the tenth and final Sikh guru Guru Gobind Singh and the anniversary of his date of birth on 5th January.  I am going to leave Mrs Gill to spend more time with the pupils on the Five Ks of Sikhism, except to say that I have always been extremely fond of Guru Nanak who founded Sikhism in the 15th Century, and that is one of the reasons why I use the word ‘guru’ to describe the teachers.  But back to Dr Savi, what wonderful New Year phrases and resolutions which derive from Sikhism:

  • Seva – Selfless service
  • Think before you act
  • Defend the defenceless
  • Help others
  • Life is a privilege
  • To become enlightened we must first become a light, bringing the light of joy and hope and a positive atmosphere for the year ahead.

This also fitted in with Prayer for the Day, which I heard at 5.43am on Tuesday morning.  It talked about the twelfth night and Epiphany: namely the night of Tuesday 6 January.  It 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 (actually sung by several artists): Bless this house oh Lord we pray, make it safe by night and day.  And I knew nothing about the concept of walking around a house lighting a candle and asking the house to be blessed with love, light, peace and comfort for the year ahead.  At Castle Gates, we duly did this on Tuesday night!  I am sure that some of you – particularly those who live in German-speaking countries – will have families who follow the tradition of an Epiphany house blessing when you inscribe C+M+B in chalk over the door.  The letters stand for the traditional names of the Wise Men, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, but also Christus mansionem benedicat – “Christ bless this house”.  The letters recall the day on which the inscription is made, as well as the purpose of blessing.  So, there are some very good messages from Clifford Longley, Dr Savi Arora and Sikhism, let alone the feast of Epiphany.


There is much to look forward to in this second term of the academic year 2014/15, the first term of the calendar year 2015.  Before we welcomed each other back into the house of Merchiston with handshaking, I invited the Chaplain to bless this house of Merchiston.  So, to conclude, I urged all members of the School to pull their shoulders back and to walk out of this tremendously important building at the centre of Merchiston, the Memorial Hall, and to envisage and imagine how they are going to strive to do their best this term, in all aspects of School life: academic, cultural, sporting and how they are as people to each other in the School and to others outside the School.  We are well and truly underway, and of course, this is all a pleasure and a privilege.

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