‘I ef­fec­tively live over the shop’

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

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

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