Craving mystery at some level

Peter Stanford

No-one who hasn’t worked in a school can quite appreciate the feeling of a summer term (or Trinity Term as we call it – more of which later). Off go the Upper Sixth and Fifth Form (Years 13 and 11 if you prefer) to their exams – indeed the IB candidates are already finished and off doing whatever they are … - and the rest of the School goes through internal exams and then the ‘post-mortems’ and the excitements of celebratory events as well as routine which take us to early July. This year’s Celebration of Whitgift Life (‘COWL’) will of course be back in full swing in the Sports Centre, our guest being the distinguished Vice Chancellor (or Director) of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Adam Habib. A great second half of term beckons.

We have of course all of us benefited from not one but two Bank Holidays, thanks to the Platinum Jubilee. Since I am a steadfast fan of the current Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage (not least because he is good at visiting schools – and good at reading his own poetry, which many poets aren’t – T. S. Eliot was particularly bad), I was interested in his views on the Jubilee as expressed in The Times. I do recommend his poem about the Jubilee - which he reads here – but also his views. ‘I think it’s mystical’, he says of the monarchy, ‘and I think we need mystery. I mean, there will always be mystery. We cannot know everything … I actually believe that one of the things the monarchy provides us with is mystery … they ceremonialise and ritualise lives. Whether we accept it or not, we crave it at some level’.

It doesn’t take much thought to realise that pure utility does not lift the spirits: land may be more usefully farmed if ruthlessly flattened to million-acre fields, but it’s hedgerows and slopes which people long for. In the same way, lots of things are quirky – calling the summer term Trinity, for example, or our Prize Giving COWL, or our last year the Upper Sixth – but to iron them all out would leave the world poorer. Why wear a white flower on March 22nd and go to Croydon Minster in the middle of the day? Why have a Graduation? To add colour, a bit of ritual, a bit of mystery. Three cheers, I say.