A couple of nights staying with my mother last weekend allowed the opportunity to draw breath and think about the last two or three weeks of term, not least the address I will give at our prize giving event. I’ve known for some time about the gist of my message, helped in no small part by the advantage of doing a second headship, thereby allowing a certain number of stories, anecdotes and reflections to have another outing. The context may be different, but some messages resonate universally.
I’ll keep my powder dry for now about the main ideas I’ll be hoping to get across, but it won’t be too much of a spoiler to say that one of them involves the need to live more in the present and spend less time worrying about what happened in the past and what might happen in the future. Neither the endless replaying of perceived injustices nor reflecting on ‘what if?’ scenarios are good for mental health. Likewise, to catastrophise about the forthcoming end of the world, either personal or global, serves only to waste mental energy and lead towards avoidable pessimism.
The well-known advice not to forget to stop and smell the roses looks at a quick glance to be attributed to an American golfer called Walter Hagen. From what I remember of time spent on golf courses, rose bushes don’t usually feature much beyond the practice putting green, so maybe Mr Hagen was advising people to do something positive away from the places where he played the sport he loved.
Those of you of a certain age will remember Michael Douglas’s character Gordon Gekko in the film ‘Wall Street’, who famously remarked that lunch is for wimps. Real-life American billionaire Les Wexner’s take on the mindfulness of the moment is perhaps predictably demoralising: ‘When you stop to smell the roses is when you get hit by a truck’, though this makes a lot of assumptions about the location of plants and the abilities of HGV drivers.
One of the highlights of the last few months at school has been the work of a group of Year 6 pupils through our weekly lunchtime gardening club, along with the enthusiasm of our Year 5 class working with Miss Edwards to develop a herb garden and grow some seeds. Between us all, we have created several new beds of plants and flowers on the terrace outside the café, on the decking outside the bistro and in some of the permanent beds adjoining the astro.
When I first suggested such a venture, there was a degree of cynicism in some quarters that we were wasting our time. It was said that previous attempts to grow things had ended in failure, through a combination of neglect and, sad to say, disrespect from pupils towards plants. However, this did not strike me as a reason not to begin the project. Where would any of us be if we gave up before we even began? If at first you don’t succeed…redefine the success criteria!
Starting back in January was, with hindsight, a bit too early because we had to spend longer than really necessary auditing, planning and designing rather than getting down to the real fun of planting, watering, dead-heading and nurturing. However, six months later we have a thriving herb garden for Year 5’s topic work, together with some growing chilli plants, lettuces and mustard. There are three lavender plants in full bloom on the terrace, along with a couple of other pots that are coming on nicely. Downstairs, we have carnations, aubretia and geraniums alongside heuchera and pelargoniums.
There have been plenty of challenges, of course, reinforcing to pupils the need to treat all the plants with proper respect and not to pick at them in moments of distraction. If I could do an assembly for the foxes and other creatures that live on the riverbank, it might help to reduce the number of plants that get dug up. Learning that not everything you plant will thrive is a lesson for all of us, but the exhortation to stop and smell the roses seems equally, if not more, important.