Monthly Archives: August 2011
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.