I arrived early and met John Carr, the Head of English, who was directing my activities for the day. We headed for the office and met Simon Northcott, the Headmaster who immediately invited Ian and me to dinner that evening. Ian was having a rare day off to catch up on a whole lot of paperwork and make some more arrangements for the weekend and later in the tour.The reason I wound up at S.Anselm’s was through a FB connection with Penny Price, who runs the Alphabet Street website in Sydney, promoting all sorts of events for children. Penny had highlighted some of my Alice-Miranda tour events in Australia last year and I emailed to thank her. She told me about her niece who loved Alice-Miranda but lived in England and went to boarding school – cue the link!
I was keen to meet Jess as she was the reason I was there. I taught some writing workshops to the students to begin with. The day was already hot and the classrooms (in fact most buildings in Britain) are ill equipped to cope with such warm temperatures. They are so used to having the windows closed in an endeavour to trap as much hot air as possible, I think many of them just don't open at all!
The children were engaged and produced some really good pieces of writing. There were reluctant writers (self-acknowledged) giving the activities their best and I saw some secret smiles too, obviously pleased with their efforts.One of the teachers, Richard asked me if I might know his father in law in Australia – a children’s writer too by the name of Colin Thompson. I couldn’t believe it. Colin and I sat together at Linsay Knight’s farewell from Random House in December, we had books on the same shortlist for the CBCA awards in 2006 and I had recently been talking to him about the Abbotsleigh literary festival in August. His daughter Alice popped over later to say hello too. The world is a small place indeed. (When I arrived back to the hotel that night there was an email from Colin about the Abbotsleigh festival – too strange!)
In between workshops Jess and another girl Emily showed me around the school. It’s very well resourced and sits in the prettiest of settings atop a hill in the village. The boarding houses are spread along the road and in the bottom of the garden, with varying numbers of students in each. I think the junior girls’ house had about 12 students at the moment.The gardens are gorgeous with the ‘Headmaster’s Lawn’ dominating the front of the main building. Surrounded by flower beds it’s all very pretty. I was surprised by how large the grounds were. There were fields to play games on and an indoor heated pool as well as tennis courts and other more passive spaces.
Lunch was served in the dining room – and was very traditional with class teachers taking responsibility for the students and sitting at the end of each long table. The teacher assists in serving and monitors the children for eating and behaviour and the like. The students assume roles too, going to the servery for the food and helping clear away. I sat with a group of Year 7 students – who chatted amiably and told me all about the activities they were involved in for the afternoon. The food was good too. Thursday afternoons see the students involved in anything from sailing to horse riding, drama, computer studies, cooking and games. The students head out just after lunch (unless you are off site and then they go at the end of lessons and take a packed lunch with them) and return in time for the reading period at 3.50pm. Yes you read that right. The children from Years 4-8 stay at school until about 6.00pm and there are formal lessons in the late afternoons. They also attend lessons until midday on Saturday with sport and games in the afternoon. The teachers work through too, having a half day during the week to make up for the Saturday morning compulsory lessons. No one seemed to mind – it’s just the way that it is.I worked with the Year 2 students in the Lower School after lunch. They are gearing up for the Jubilee and wanted to know about Australia and if we had a queen too. I shared some things about Alice-Miranda and Clementine Rose with them as well and they asked some wonderful questions.
‘Do you write your books in Australian and then do they have to be made into English for over here?’ Love it!
I was then able to visit the cooking class – who were making chocolate cup cakes and take a wander around the school to snap some photographs. My last session of the day was during the reading and assembly period and I have to say that I was a little apprehensive about the timing and the temperature. It was at least 30 degrees celsius and the hall didn’t seem especially well ventilated.Ian arrived and we watched a drama lesson before the children arrived back from their various activities. A group of five students were improvising a piece about the Titanic and it was great to watch their ideas unfold.
The children arrived at the at the hall and allthough they were a little more subdued than I had expected ,they were great listeners and when we got to the drama activity, a young fellow called George blew us away with his incredible acting. If the hall wasn’t too hot before he hit the stage it certainly was afterwards as the entire audience howled with laughter at his antics.
At the end of the session there was to be a signing. I wasn’t sure how we would go but to my great delight the box of fifty books Random House had arranged were soon gone and there was a list of children placing orders for more. It was great to have boys and girls buying the books – some for their little sisters but I suspect a few will read it themselves too.
It was a fabulous day and not over yet. Ian and I returned to the hotel to freshen up then later walked up the road and met Simon Northcott, the Headmaster. We were having a barbeque in his garden – an unexpected treat indeed. It was lovely and warm and the garden was a picture. Simon and his wife Michelle, who teaches PE in the school are leaving Anselm’s at the end of the term to move to Edinburgh. They’ve obviously loved their time in Bakewell but are looking forward to the new adventure.
Dinner was delicious and we stayed far too late, not realizing the time because it’s light until 10pm. We also discovered that Simon’s niece Rosie is at school in Salisbury where we are heading on Monday.
S.Anselm’s was absolutely lovely and a school that I hope to return to on the next tour. I think a visit to Edinburgh will also be part of the plan J