So. Here we are at last. Years in the planning. Months in the execution. ‘The Digital Dove: 2016 ’. Aren’t we now just so irresistibly bright, shiny, up-to-date and cutting-edge?
It is not an exaggeration to say that when computers were first introduced at Abbotsholme, and staff were required to receive training in how to use them, I could not have been more opposed to the whole concept. I wasn’t quite dragged, kicking and screaming, into the Computer Room opposite the New Studies – go under Prefects’ Arch and keep walking uphill till you see it on your left – but I could not have been more cynical - or, indeed, downright truculent - about it. I did not need a computer, nor would I ever! I already had pen and paper! I had a classroom whose walls were lined with bookshelves! I was an English teacher, for heaven’s sake! I had no choice, however, but to attend these loathed sessions, all on the old BBCs, but gradually, gradually the Luddite who had begun the course began, if not to see the light, at least to see distant, half-formed possibilities. Somehow, this led to my acquiring a second-hand Amstrad for my classroom, then there was no looking back, even before I bought myself a brand-new Acorn Archimedes desktop.
Abbotsholme School is one great paradox. It was founded as ‘The New School’ and was cutting-edge in many ways from the very start. Reddie completely overturned the way in which public schools functioned at the time – back in the late 1880s – by introducing new subjects such as Biology, Music and Art Appreciation. The boys wore a different kind of uniform; gone were the stiff collars and tail-coats. Academic lessons could be abandoned, if the sun shone brightly, for an impromptu whole-school expedition to the top of the Weavers. ‘We wish our boys to live in the light’ he said in his early advertisements for the school ‘so that they may love the light’. They were ‘to do, to know, to become’ and anyone who has received an Abbotsholme education or who has helped to deliver one will know exactly what that means. At Abbotsholme, education is not an add-on. It makes us what and who we are. However, here is where the paradox lies. By doing all of these new-fangled things, Reddie actually took education backwards, in a sense, by re-thinking what was fundamentally important for a youngster to learn and understand. None of his school subjects were actually new. They were merely really important elements of human life and experience that had been swept aside. Isn’t it obvious that we should understand how our human bodies works? Art and Music were not new inventions. His Norfolk jackets for growing boys allowed them to be just that – growing boys with an adventure-filled world to explore – rather than little be-suited business-men. And I haven’t even mentioned his views on farming, which included teaching boys how to love and care for the land so as to understand where their food was coming from and how it was produced.
Where all of this is leading – and I do hope that you are still with me – is to the fact that we are not really doing anything very new-fangled or avant-garde by sending out the Yearbook (as was) in a digital version. I know that the printed version was loved by many, but the book could only be in one place at a time, whereas this digital version can travel with you everywhere, and has, in conjunction with the website, the contact details of all of your contemporaries, as well as their news and pictures. What we are now able to do is to keep you as well-connected with one another as when the school was in its early days, and was a much smaller school with many fewer OAs. We can publish news more quickly, too. No longer will you have to wait a whole year for the next batch of stories, many of which are inevitably out of date by then. Being true Abbotsholmians, we follow Reddie’s guiding principle to be ‘ever reaching after the greater good the future has in store’.
All OAs – and I include myself, here - have left Abbotsholme; and even if we go back again, we are never going to be able to step back into the place that we knew in times of old. No man, said Heraclitus - who was not an OA before anyone asks - no man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man. The dear old River Dove proved that to me not so long ago, as we walked the dogs round Riverground. Years and years ago, just downriver of the old diving board and swimming pool, there used to be a patch of gravel in the middle of the river that sometimes appeared and sometimes didn’t. When the river was very low, you could paddle across to it. Go and look at it now. It’s a very large island, not only covered with grass and low scrub but with bushes and shrubs and even trees. Very tall trees. And - even to the ‘me’ who used to stand on the gravel that lies buried beneath it – it looks as though it has always been there; yet I am not really the person who used to stand on that gravel, as I have changed as much as the island has. The eye altering alters all said William Blake, who understood most things; and so it does. When we think back to our days here, we cannot see them as we saw them then, because the years have rolled by and we have changed more than we would have believed possible.
Does time defeat us then? ‘Though man is short-lived as the grass’ says the school psalm, the psalm we all say together at Reddie’s grave; and at Abbotsholme we understand the life-cycle of grass, since every year we cut it down and make hay of it. Some of you reading this will no doubt have done that yourselves, pitchfork in hand, in your time. Yet the line goes on to say ‘the seed of eternity stirs in his heart and shall never die’ and that is the important bit. Abbotsholme creates its own kind of eternity. It is a world apart, in some ways. Robert Common, in a phrase I reacted against when I first heard it and only later grew to admire, called places such as Abbotsholme 'islands of healing' and one dear friend of the school always referred to it as 'Cecil Reddie’s Magic Kingdom'. It’s why we love returning to be reacquainted with our old selves as much as to catch up with our old friends. There’s a safety and a security, and even a touch of magic about the place. Immeasurable goodness has come out of Abbotsholme, too, and its former pupils and former teachers have much to be grateful for.
To those very pupils and teachers, I say please, please send me news about yourselves and where life has taken you recently. Please send me pictures, too. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and I hope that you will be in touch regularly. My intention is to publish a Members’ News update three times a year, in March, July/August and November. This year, however, there will be an extra update in April as there has been such a wealth of material for me to edit, and I am only part-way through as we launch the website. The News section is not organised chronologically or by name, but there is a search facility, so that you can look for news about particular people. If you are needing merely to update your contact details, you can do so yourself by clicking “Update My Details” at the bottom of any page.
So, what else is there to tell you? I must tell you what a joy it is to be writing another editorial, years after I thought I had given them up for good when I finished editing ‘The Abbotsholmian’ after more than twenty years of proper, old-fashioned cutting and pasting with scissors and glue. Those were the days! I must also tell you what an honour it is to be the editor of ‘The Dove’ and to be one of the main points of contact with this amazing community of Old Abbotsholmians all over the world, reading their news and stories and hearing about their lives. It is fascinating, inspiring and sometimes nothing less than mind-boggling! What I really must tell you, though, is how utterly inadequate I feel to be replacing him-who-came-before, a man who filled the role for so many years that they are almost beyond number.
Actually, I am not replacing Derek Sederman. No one could. Not only are his shoes too big, his heart is, too, where his beloved OAs are concerned; and in what you have been writing to Derek over the last year since you knew he was retiring, you have shown just how much you have appreciated everything that he has done for the club, how high the regard is in which he is held and what a depth of affection you, as OAs, feel for him. We all know that Derek is very special – I would go so far as to say unique in his knowledge, love and understanding of Abbotsholme, of its history and of its people – and we are delighted that he has agreed to be the President of the OA Club. Derek, we thank and salute you!
I look forward to hearing from you all. Please get in touch, and I hope that you enjoy the first of the 2016 editions of ‘The Dove’.
Member of Staff 1976 - 2004 OA Committee Member 2004 - Abbotsholme Governor 2004 -