This Tuesday was twenty years to the day I arrived in Norway! If information reported in the media be correct, developers arrived at my former school – either on the same day or the day before. When they are finished, of course, what was Adwick School will be completely demolished.
As if it were not a curious coincidence in itself that this anniversary, whether of my flight to Norway or else my last day in England, this Tuesday also began the house selling process. In a little over a month, I shall be moving (back) to the seaside town of Lødingen. I lived there between 1994 and 1998, and I shall now be returning.
Past, present, and future seemed therefore to come together this Tuesday. So many thoughts for me to take in! After only two years, I am leaving Lenvik, and I decided to make a journey in my car to the neighbouring parish of Målselv in order to mentally digest them.
I had played for a wedding here immediately after I had started in Lenvik. So even the recent past joined in with this mish mash of impressions and memories on this very strange anniversary. That was in the middle of Summer; today the trees were bare.
My school tie – the genuine article – has fared well for its age. I decided to use it for this little video. The hardest part was getting in on, since it is of course extremely small. The only way it could be done without looking ridiculously tiny, was by tying the knot right at the very end of the tie’s small end.
Then it was time to muse upon my thoughts. The video is much better on Facebook than YouTube. For some reason, the sound on YouTube lags a little behind the picture. Fortunately most of you won’t be able to understand that anyway, given I chose to do my musings in Norwegian (showing contrast also between the past in English, and present in Norwegian)!
At least you now know what I was talking about, this being the point of my blog entry here.
I remember my last weeks “home”. Late flying the nest, I was finally taking a place at Huddersfield Polytechnic! At that time, a few weeks before leaving, and at the age of almost 24, I began placing “home” in quotation marks.
I can remember the exact occasion. Today’s Robin Hood Airport was then RAF Finningley, and the venue for a yearly air show. I had gone to watch the displays there. My impending life as a student was now increasingly on my mind. Walking around the fascinating exhibitions – everything from aeroplanes to local radio – I began musing upon the many times I had been to this show as a boy. Then as it was time to return “home”, it dawned upon me that that same “home” wouldn’t be “home” so very much longer.
Looking back I can now see that that is where the concept of “home”, or as we students used to call it when returning at the end of term “home ‘home'”, began falling apart. That place that had been anchored to my heart ever since I could remember anything at all, was now becoming something very different.
Then came freshers’ week! I could swear that the cold air were fresher too, and the rain were also wetter than I had ever experienced it before! Everything about my new existence was very fresh indeed, and truth be told a little disquieting. I shall never forget how alone I felt after my father brought me to my student digs, and left me at the foot of the hills of Slaithwaite.
This all had its effect on my poor body. I was constantly ill the first three months. Leaving “home”, if not exactly traumatic, had been far more demanding an experience than I had reckoned with.
At this turbulent time, I found my way to the polytechnic’s chapel. The chaplaincy had made a little meditation for all new students. I still have it. This concentrated upon the perhaps troubling effects – for me and I suspect many others something of an understatement – caused by change.
The gist of this meditation was that change was a vital part of creation. A paradox of change was what never changed, even if our perceptions did. The meditation was built upon three verses of Thomas Hornblower Gills’s fabulous hymn:
Lord God, by Whom all change is wrought
By Whom new things to birth are brought,
In Whom no change is known,
Whate’er Thou dost, whate’er Thou art,
Thy people still in Thee have part;
Still, still Thou art our own.
Spirit, Who makest all things new,
Thou leadest onward; we pursue
The heavenly march sublime.
‘Neath Thy renewing fire we glow,
And still from strength to strength we go,
From height to height we climb.
Darkness and dread we leave behind,
New light, new glory still we find,
New realms divine possess;
New births of grace, new raptures bring;
Triumphant, that new song we sing,
The great Renewer bless!
This excellent poetry expresses far better what I am trying to say here, and spoke immediately to me there as that young fresher at Huddersfield. You need change or life will stagnate. The opposite is expressed in Philip Larkin’s haunting poem about “Home”. By staying “as it was left”, it actually loses what it vainly attempts to preserve.
I kept the meditation from the chaplaincy, and it was on the wall of my student bedroom for the time I was at Huddersfield. Yet this place that had been so new was to itself become as familiar as my “home” had been but three years earlier. As the hills of Huddersfield had left me once feeling very small when I first went there, these themselves became dwarfed by the mountains of Norway – to which I came after finishing my course!
It is in this context and with these experiences that I view the news that my old school will soon be demolished. It was recently reported that what used to be its main building is scheduled to be taken down. Some people are quite upset about this.
Yet for me, it is no longer my school; my childhood is another time and age. If I were to visit what used to be Adwick School (or Percy Jackson Grammar as it was called before I went there), even if nothing else had changed, the spirit of what I fondly look back on is not there today. Life has moved on.
The only real question, as I see it, is whether the main school building truly be an important Art Deco building of such significance that it ought to be preserved. I am afraid that I am not qualified to answer that. However, assuming that be not the case, then the only argument for retaining it (if today’s academy no longer wants it) is sentimental. We find buildings for the things we want to do in life; not the other way round.
I do not want to see a Phillip Larkin’s version of Adwick School – standing only to remind us of what used to be. That is not to say that the day the bulldozers do move in on what once was the seat of absolute childhood authority in my life, will be any good day. I am quite sure that it will be a sad day, just as was the day they demolished Doncaster’s old Technical College. No, it probably did not have any architectural importance – but I spent the best part of four years there, and now it has all gone.
However, neither do I want to see people unaware that nothing can take their school from them. That is because it simply is not here. It is in another, very different time. The building that used to be our school is not our school, any more than my old “home” is “home”.
This truth could not have been better illustrated than by the appalling “job’s worth” manner in which today’s head staff, under the leadership of Ms Seneviratne turned away senior citizens who had travelled on a pilgrimage to their old school. I am saddened by their lack of sensitivity, not least respect to older people.
It illustrates however precisely the fact the we are dealing with two very different eras: yes it is true that the old pupils clearly should have informed Ms Seneviratne of their visit in advance, but in their defence the schools they remember did not have CCTV cameras, and security firms. Today one cannot just walk into (British) schools as one could in the past.
I bear no ill towards either Ms Seneviratne or her academy, but I think that – especially in the light of the feelings over the proposed demolition – this could have been handled far better. Indeed had some sensitivity been shown to these true veterans of the Adwick community, not only would today’s young people have been given an important lesson in showing respect (even to those whose views they do not share), but everybody could perhaps be helped to move on.
Ultimately – and the academy is a part of this – change is going to come, whether or not the building is taken down. We should be seeking ways of helping young and old understand an essential process of life. Even if demolishing an old building is painful to many people, nostalgia is not in itself a reason for retaining something, and may even be harmful to our souls.
Life is constantly changing. “Time like an ever rolling stream, bears all its sons away – they fly forgotten as a dream dies at the break of day”. That stream has now reached Adwick.
Though I walked upon your grounds
strolled again The Covered Way,
Still should I be “Out of Bounds”,
far from you that made our day:
You are not these buildings where
we were once a part of you
(rather what we now see there,
is the shell of what we knew);
Though a thousand years these stood,
And though so long all we live could,
You are gone! All else is VAIN:
in the present we remain;
Therefore so let us now live!
And living learn our past forgive,
Freed from all that ties us down –
be our lives your great renown!
Not as buildings doomed to go,
nor as memories you be lost,
You are gone! It is not so
their loss you can ever cost!
Note: “Memories” is read with two syllables, “mem’ries”.
This particular post is in response to the decision to demolish the old main school building that used to be the Percy Jackson Grammar School, and in my day Adwick School. I was a pupil there from 1979 to 1981. I shall be blogging more on this within the week. Please watch this space.
Yesterday I finally found my watch. I had spent two days looking for it. If that were not infuriating enough, I had constantly been hearing it peep on the hour!
When I was a music student at High Melton, I recall our teacher saying that digital watches – and here I am guessing that that must be what he was referring to since this was before today’s ubiquitous mobile phone – had a ventriloquil quality. You hear the blessed thing, but the sound appears to come from quite a different place.
I was reminded of that episode this week. It is funny how such things bring memories flooding back, and how our brains connect the dots! Indeed while writing this, I recall that the same teacher had occasion to talk about just that, from whom I was also introduced to the word “mnemonic”. At least that word, unlike “ventriloquil” is in the Cambridge Dictionary….
Alas this discourse, and tales of my younger days betrayeth ageing. As indeed does the phenomenon of the ventriloquil technology, whether or not such an adjective do exist: the mundane explanation thereof being, of course, the degenerative processes of the inner ear that occur separately and unequally in each ear. Thus as one ages, one gradually loses hearing, typically at the higher frequencies. Since my right ear picks up the higher frequencies better than does my left, this means that it is hard to localize devices that emit noises at or near those frequencies.
As my late father would say, “it’s no fun growing old: things drop off and stop working!”
The atrocities in Oslo and Utøya shock everybody. I have only contempt for the perpetrator, but I am sceptical to the Holy Taboo inspired by the Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg. Far from reducing his impact upon us, we are actually giving Anders Behring Brevik an almost mystical power over our lives.
The new Taboo has not arisen spontaneously from this horrid tragedy. Had the media not informed the public that the Prime Minister was avoiding mentioning the murderer by name, it is doubtful that anybody would have noticed. However, not only did the media do so, informing us thereby what those in power now want us to do, but the Prime Minister’s Taboo was the subject of a language discussion on NRK radio – just in case anyone needed the message spelling out.
So we find ourselves in a strange situation where something more suited to a more superstitious age has gotten coinage in our society. One of the major food stores has jumped on the bandwagon, and is encouraging a boycott of the papers that keep showing the picture of Anders Behring Brevik. While the KIWI shop in Romsås justifies this boycott by saying the man should be “forgotten” and not glorified (with which I don’t have a problem), they do so by referring to him as “Whom We Do Not Name”. That is where I have the problem.
By this special use of the language, we are not forgetting Anders Behring Brevik. On the contrary, we have elevated him in our superstition. One only has to think of religion. Where mention of the name of the deity is prohibited, or where it is forbidden to show pictures of a prophet, it is by not doing something that we give something more status. If we now begin to refer to Anders Behring Brevik as “Whom We Do Not Name”, then instead of fading into anonymous insignificance – by far the better punishment for someone with such an over-dimensioned sense of his own importance – he will become a kind of myth.
No, I say call a spade a spade, and bring this man to justice. Let us try him, however, under his full name. Once convicted, he is welcome to keep it because nobody will have need of it anyway – apart perhaps for the warders of the prison from which he hopefully will never be released. That is, lastly, why I fully agree with the Justice Minister that we do need a serious discussion now about the length of sentences that can be imposed in this country.