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15th December 2010

Posted: 10th December 2010 | Category: Headmasters's Blog

What an end of term!  It has been the busiest and most enjoyable one on record!

Where to start blogging?

As you know the snow forced us to close for two days at the beginning of December.  The first day of the month saw 30% of the pupils and 60% of the staff brave the elements and make it into school.  We had great fun and managed to intersperse snow play with no play – in other words WORK!

With the forecast for the Thursday being so poor we had to make plans in case we needed to close the school.

Waking to an early alarm on Thursday morning I donned my arctic gear and was outside the school with my torch for an 0600h inspection: 20/25cms of white powdery stuff covered the ground in a blanket.  I reversed my X Trail onto the lane and took it for a spin (almost literally!) to check out the surrounding roads.  Nothing was moving!  The A267 was deserted.  There was no chance of teachers, support staff or pupils managing to reach school safely so we posted the news on the website and added Skippers to the closure list on Heart Radio.

Life is never straightforward!  Over the previous few days I had been anxiously peering at the Heating Oil Gauges which showed the fuel levels dipping rapidly due to the frost- stats kicking in.  The Oil Company had promised to deliver on the Monday but had only managed to reach us on Wednesday evening.  The tanker driver tried to deliver to the house tanks but slipped on the icy road and slid slowly back down the road. Murphy’s Law applied: the only fuel tank he could reach was the one in the rear staff car park which supplies the bottom end of the school only.

On Thursday I turned off the school heating and kept phoning the company for an emergency supply of oil – no chance!  Not one of their vehicles took to the road that day.  Having talked to Les at the Clayhill Depot, the only solution we could come up with was for me take the 4 x 4 to him and transport 200 litres of kerosene in the back of my car.

Friday morning found us with another 20 cms of snow and we were closed again.

At 0710h I received a phone call from LBC Radio asking me to take part in a live interview with Nick Ferrari, the radio journalist, on the subject of school closures!  My fellow interviewee was the Head of a school in Chiswick that had managed to stay open on Thursday and Friday and then, of course, there was Skippers Hill in East Sussex which had closed!

I knew what to expect!

Nick Ferrari reminisced about the old days when the children struggled into school through the blizzards and gathered in the school gym to be taught by the one game teacher who had managed to get to work!  Where had that pioneering spirit gone?

Sally Hobbs, the lovely Headmistress of Orchard House Prep, explained that 99% of her staff had walked to work, negotiating slippery pavements and that they were able to clear the paths and some of the playground.   Nearly all the pupils lived close enough to do the same.

“So why did you have to close?” Nick asked me.

Forewarned is Forearmed, which is the advantage of having an intelligent wife who can think things through and make sure her dear husband does not make a gaff!

I pointed out that indeed we had been open on Wednesday when all the local state schools were closed.  I then explained that our staff lived within a 20 mile radius of the school and travelled to school by car.  Our pupils also live within a 12 mile radius. Moreover, as the majority of the settlements in the area, for example, Wadhurst, Mayfield, Crowborough and Heathfield, are on high ground, these areas are prone to heavy snowfall and since the gritters could not keep the roads fully open, the only traffic able to negotiate the jack-knifed lorries and abandoned cars were the Chelsea Tractors.  I also pointed out that the country highways and byways tend to have no pavements so walking safely was not a possibility.

Nick then asked me what I was going to do on my day off!  I took a deep, soothing breath and calmly replied that I would be clearing the car park and drive with the caretaker in the vain hope that an oil tanker might make it through the snow and ice.  And after snow clearing I was using my 4 x 4 to travel to Clayhill to fetch 200 litres of kerosene which Peter and I would lug across the playground, lower the cans over the wall and empty each 20 litre can into our 2,500 litre tank …..a day off indeed!

The tanker promised for Saturday arrived – on the following Tuesday afternoon!

No moaning!  I don’t do moaning so move onto something different!

The O2 Arena  Young Voices 2010 : what an experience for the 40 children in the Senior Choir and their willing groupies, the vibrant Dorothy Bridger, the indomitable Kate Alexander, the intrepid Anne Foden and the shrinking violet of the Staff…me!

The coach ride was comfortable and we arrived way too early but the buzz of animated conversation assured me this was going to be a trip to remember!  We snacked on packed lunches and the huge auditorium began to fill with over 8000 children and their accompanying teachers.

David Lawrence, the conductor, took us through our paces and the children had the pleasure of singing along with the likes of All Angels, Josh Osho and Dionne Bromfield.  They also enjoyed the cavorting antics of Urban Strides!

The evening performance was an electrifying experience and we all lapped up the atmosphere, the lights and the heavenly sound of the largest single children’s choir in the world harmonising with professionals was simply a joy.

We arrived back at school just before the Witching Hour!  The teachers hopped on their broomsticks and the children pootled off to a well-earned rest!

Now, what about our builders?

They have been gutting the Library and building partitions, false walls and ceilings, rewiring, replumbing and insulating – very messy but soon this will be transformed into a state-of-the-art ICT Suite with separate Library area. I cannot tell you how excited I am at the prospect!

At the weekend, weather permitting, they will be moving into the school hallway so expect a bit of a fresher look to the front of house in January.

Many thanks to Jane Orman and her FOSHA team for reorganising the Christmas Fayre and getting everyone together for a second attempt!  Santa arriving in a vintage Rover and Jessica Arnold with her non-biting pony were sights to see!  We were also blessed by a huge white hart that appeared on the top field and gathered quite a crowd.

We are in the final run-up to the end of term and have had great fun with the re-arranged performances of the Junior’s “Christmas with the Aliens”, “The Button Box” with Year 5, “Christmas with Reception” and a hysterical Senior General Knowledge Competition which featured a new round on riddles – the pupils found this perplexing!

Try a couple:  If a man who is carrying a couple of lamps drops one what does he become?  A lamplighter!   What plant stands for Number 4?  IV

Apologies to one and all and see you at the Carol Service on Friday!

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