‘I effectively live over the shop’
I live a bisected existence for most of the year. During the summer months, my wife, Jenny, and I repair to our house in north Norfolk. We just love it because of the old cliché, the big blue sky – not always blue of course, but it’s the sense of space and expansiveness that is very attractive. Particularly when you live the other part of your life under the Heathrow flight path or in the hustle and bustle of metropolitan London. Norfolk is a wonderful antidote to all that, and I love being able to walk on the great beach at Holkham or go to somewhere like Cromer, where the faded Edwardian grandeur rather appeals to me. It’s a comfortable old overcoat of a place.
I’ve been a headmaster for 25 years [at Chigwell School and Oakham School before Eton] and the way the job has changed most significantly in that time, of course, is in the immediacy of contact. One is in touch all the time these days, even on holiday. In a funny kind of way this makes it easier to physically go away, but whether you’re mentally able to disconnect as well is a different challenge.
Now that term has started again – this will be my third-last, since I leave Eton at the end of this year – the first thing I’d say about weekends at Eton is that they are just the same as the working week, with a different rhythm. The one phrase you don’t hear around school is “have a good weekend”. But they are still very good fun.
On a Friday evening we’ll be entertaining some folk at Headmaster’s House, which is located in part of the great medieval cloisters here in the heart of the school. It’s a good place for doing the job, which is to say it’s got some good reception rooms and a large dining room. And because my office is also my house, I effectively live over the shop.
Saturday morning tends to be a completely normal school morning. I keep a half-hour slot free at 8am so any boy can come and see me. We discuss all kinds of things – either they’ve got a good idea or they want a prize voucher signed, or they’re trying to get me to overturn a decision their housemaster has made. I can see that one coming a mile off.
Then it’s lessons in the usual way, until at 11.20 we have Chambers, a meeting where all 160 teachers get together for 20 minutes. Funnily enough in the age of email I think it is more important than ever to meet face to face, particularly if we’re talking about the boys. Just before lunch I take what’s called The Bill, which is when I see any boy who has transgressed in some way and decide what to do with them. I always make a point of listening to what they have to say, just in case there’s another side to the story.
Saturday afternoon is a bit of a highlight of my week, which perhaps sounds a bit sad. I walk around all the games pitches getting some exercise and seeing what’s going on. Being a big school there’s a huge variety of sporting activity, and in the evening there’ll usually be a play or concert. I rarely have any evenings off during term-time because there are always things on the go, but attending the theatre on a Saturday evening certainly doesn’t feel like work. We have 20 or so full-scale theatrical productions a year, and they are a genuine pleasure to me because the boys always display such an extraordinary degree of inventiveness.
Herbal tea or stiff drink? I do like mint tea but occasionally a stiff drink is very necessary. Probably a gin and tonic.
What are you listening to? Arvo Pärt, a fascinating contemporary musician.
What would your last meal be? Italian (memories of many family holidays) – with proper pasta. The playwright Christopher Marlowe, who would be nothing if not entertaining. Vehemently refusing to read any kind of instruction manual.
Best Eton moment? There are too many to mention – but each time we secure funding for a new scholarship, definitely.
Your legacy? My unfashionable moustache, which causes much amusement among the boys.
The walk along the north Norfolk coast from Wells to Burnham Overy Staithe
Whiling away time in second-hand bookshops
Witnessing the resilience of a garden that has survived myattentions
Any music by Thomas Tallis
I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue on Radio 4