Saturday, June 8, 2013

"The Day That The Rains Came Down" - Halcyon Days (for Jennie).

"Halcyon" is one of my favourite words, up there with "azure", "pastel" and "Avalon". I use it (blithely and wrongly) for 'perfect' days - like today in sun-drenched Morecambe. Just as happily, I misuse it to recall ( I know not whether through rosy-tinted spectacles) 'the good times' that once rolled.

I've laboured for decades under the false assumption a "halcyon" was a mythic bird said to herald high Summer 'Beach Boys' days. In this (as in many a matter) Google and Wikipedia conspire to correct me. 'Twas a mythic kingfisher that:

"made a floating nest in the Aegean Sea and had the power to calm the waves while brooding her eggs. Fourteen days of calm weather were to be expected when the Halcyon was nesting - around the winter solstice, usually 21st or 22nd of December. The Halcyon days are generally regarded as beginning on the 14th or 15th of December."

 Enough of semantics - "Halcyon" is my magic word for 1958 and the song that names this post brings it all flooding back home.

It's a blithe song (yes, another favourite word) with a bitter-sweet title that delimits even the happiest of our mortal days. If you have never heard Jane Morgan's (Jan 1959) Number 1, please listen now. Even if you know it, read the lyrics.

The day that the rains came down
Mother Earth smiled again
Now the lilacs could bloom
Now the fields could grow greener

The day that the rains came down
Buds were born, love was born
As the young buds will grow
So our young love will grow
Love, sweet love

A robin sang a song of love
A willow tree reached up to the heavens
As if to thank the sky above
For all that rain, that welcome rain

We looked across the meadowland
And seemed to sense a kind of a miracle
Much too deep to understand
And there we were, so much in love

The day that the rains came down
Mountain streams swelled with pride
Gone the dry river bed
Gone the dust from the valley

The day that the rains came down
Buds were born, love was born
As the young buds will grow
So our young love will grow

Love, sweet love
Rain sweet rain
All day today I have felt as bemused as John Fowles in that famous authorial intervention that wrenches the close of Chapter 12 of "The French Lieutenant's Woman" into fathomless surreality:

"Who is Jennie?
Out of what shadows does she come?"

Bear with me - this is the first time I have been a retired teacher. I am finding when (as here) I sit down to write a post about education I cannot speak the language as she is spoken by (most) practising teachers.

I taught English to A level for three decades relying of necessity on my own resources not having been trained before or during probation. I've no intention of changing now. The only thing we truly own is experience. You may supplant its lessons with -ism or -ology. I never have. All I ever realised about teaching was the result of trial, error, observation... and memories of younger Ray at school. 

That's why Jennie came back today.




We were ten and in love.That song was 'our song'. About that time my flying dreams began - dreams that (thank you, Lord) have recurred to this late day even though Jennie vanished from my life. Soaring. We were soaring under an azure sky.

If you know the opening of  L.P.Hartley's "The Go-Between", you will appreciate what sure invisible hand took me last night to the 'lost' photo above, buried 'neath the archaeological layers of my possessions.

This is NOT a nostalgic trip. Devastated as I was by her family's emigration late that year, do not image me as regretful or mourning lost love. What we had we had. And everyone knew it - from my mum who consoled me as best she could, to her mum who treated us to a last our school who...impicitly understood.

The shadows clear.

I am here to say, with Coriolanus: "There is a world elsewhere." 

Once upon a time there was a school called St Peter's C.E.School. Anxiety is infectious. I have seen it leap from teacher to student so often. I see it now, writ large, in spades. Those who taught Jennie and Keith and me felt none of neither did we.

I mention Keith because we were close friends and rivals - academically and for the hand of Jennie. Learning was fun; preparation for the 11+ was fun...I realise now because it was not the be-all and end-all in the minds of our teachers. We passed. But even in that final 'crucial' year of national testing there were some wonderfully icy winter days when the head cancelled lessons for a whole afternoon so we could ALL (staff and pupils) perfect the glistening slides that, siren-like, beckoned from the playground.

I had a habit of fainting in assembly - "Your girl-friend is coming to sit with you, Ray, till you feel ok for class". That's caring. Thoughtful, individual caring.

And the staff knew both Keith and I loved Jennie. It didn't affect our work one jot, or our friendship. But, more out of affirmation than anything else, our class teacher, smiling, took Jennie to the top of a flight of steps, stood me and Keith at the bottom...and told her to walk down, choose and kiss one or the other.

O Lucky Me.

Perhaps it was something to do with the fact St. Peter's was a Church of England school that it was more interested (and highly skilled) in educating the invisible. Students are like icebergs - trainers "train" the visible tenth; teachers "educate" (I prefer "minister to")the whole being.

I experienced rote-learning both at St. Peter's and at King James's Grammar School. It's use was always directed; its value clear to me. Largely confined to the learning of extensive Latin and French vocabulary lists twice a week for five years, the method was initially deployed to all first years for the compulsory (tested) learning of the school motto, school lines and school song. (These were my first English lessons there).

It has taken me half a century to see that our school motto freed staff and students to share in the enjoyment and rewards of a truly holistic education (academic as we all were) - something no modern day "Mission Statement" has ever convincingly enshrined:

"Quid retribuam Domino pro omnibus quae retribuit mihi?

(What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me?)

 Calicem salutaris accipiam, et nomen Domini invocabo."

(I shall take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord.)

I've never been one for organised religion. Neither of these schools was oppressively holier-than-thou.

What they had was a firm sense of perspective on the process of educating and open channels to that greater dimension within all of us that, affirmed, underpins all our learning, loving and experiencing in this life. Give of your best - offer it all up (not to inspectors teachers, parents or self - but to your private God and the Universe). All is well.

It is my fervent hope that All will be Well after the soul-searching currently underway in education systems here and elsewhere in the World. May your lilacs bloom and the young buds grow.

We looked across the meadowland
And seemed to sense a kind of a miracle
Much too deep to understand
And there we were, so much in love
Thank you, Jennie.

 NB: Follow this link to read my latest Education post: Brush Up Your Shakespeare

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