Royal Grammar School


Not a moment to lose

Not a moment to lose


I love the naval novels of Patrick O’Brian. The central character, Captain Jack Aubrey, is based on several dashing historic sea captains, among them our own Lord Collingwood whose expertise in gunnery Aubrey inherits.

At the heart of the stories (the series begins with Master and Commander, now a film) lie Aubrey and his friend Dr Stephen Maturin, an Irish naval surgeon. In many ways Maturin is the outsider looking on in bemusement at the ways of the navy. The thing that drives him mad is the mad rush in which everything is done. “There’s not a moment to lose”, says Aubrey: the hands are piped on deck; the sails loosed; and off they go on another adventure.

It’s felt like that here at RGS since the beginning of term! Time is running out for our exam candidates: they are working just so hard. Yet we and they still have all those other things to do! Thus last week we had our annual dance show, a magical telling by students of all ages of the tale of Peter Pan: not just an artistic highlight, but to my mind the best dance we’ve yet seen. Our contemporary dance continues to grow in scale and ambition and to rise in standard.

On Monday we played host to a Question-Time-type event in the Miller Theatre. Titled A Question of Politics, it was chaired by Journal Editor, Richard Kirkman. The bulk of the audience comprised our A level politics and economics students who certainly nailed the panel of columnists whom they impressed, as well as challenging!

Wednesday saw our senior school athletes at Gateshead International Stadium for the HMC North Athletics competition. Some 23 independent schools in the north take part in this magnificent event which, as the home team, we largely organise. So not only were our athletes competing as keenly as ever (with two year groups – junior boys and intermediate girls – winning the event in their age-groups), but many of our athletes were also coming off the track and then helping with the arduous task of recording and scoring. I’m not sure how these events were annotated and calculated before the day of computers: certainly there were four laptops in use in the control room as one result slip after another was passed up to the room. It was impressive to watch – but not as impressive as the quality and keenness of competition. It was a great day.

The last couple of days have seen frantic final preparations for today’s big event. While the art department have been hanging pictures and helping students create their installations all around the school, the musicians were rehearsing yesterday evening. All this, of course, is for today’s art Private View followed by the Commemorative Concert in the Main Hall. 

As I write this we are counting down to both. I sense there will be still more art than ever all over the school when our guests (including students and parents of course) arrive at 4.15 to see the very best of what our students produce – in profusion! 

At 7pm the school orchestra will accompany Sixth Former Will Wathey in the last movement of Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto. Then an invited orchestra will accompany the Senior Choir and Community Choir, singing together for the first time, in Handel’s Zadok the Priest and the suite from Karl Jenkins’s The Armed Man, a Mass for Peace. (I was involved in the rehearsal last night, so can assure you that it will sound magnificent tonight!).

Meanwhile – I know I always say “meanwhile” – there have been endless science EMPA (practical) exams going on: speaking tests for modern languages A level and GCSE; art A level practical exam last week; GCSE and AS level Drama/ Theatre Studies assessed performances. And this afternoon a debating team sets off for Cambridge for one of the biggest schools’ competitions of the year and endless revision and practice for the exams.

No, there really hasn’t been a moment to lose: and very few moments have been lost, indeed. This isn’t a senseless, headlong rush, and certainly no one’s being busy for the sake of being busy. 

There’s a steely purpose in all of this. That we keep our sport going in the exam term reflects our belief in the philosophy of a healthy mind existing in a healthy body (mens sana in corpore sano). The habit of excellence in the arts, fine and performing, carries over into academic work (and vice versa): the pursuit of excellence is an end in itself, and a right one, but also rubs off on everything else it touches.

I have to stop there. Too much to do: not a moment to lose!

Bernard Trafford