Royal Grammar School

Newcastle

Rambling Through the Brambles

Rambling Through the Brambles

One of the nice things about my job, and taking assemblies twice a week, is that I frequently get a chance to listen to some fine minds, by which I mean those of my colleagues presenting very thoughtful and thought-provoking talks while I simply chair the event.  

On Monday I was hugely intrigued by Mr Roger Loxley’s assembly on perseverance in the face of challenge. It is perhaps a predictable theme at this early stage of the year. We want our students to challenge themselves, to try difficult stuff (which could be in the classroom or out of it) and to keep going when things get tough. Roger provided a neat acronym for what to do when you get stuck: ROBUST
          Recognise the problem
          Own it
          Break it down
          Use past experience
          Seek support
          Tackle the problem.  

He told me of his idea before his assembly and I was reminded of it last weekend when, for the third Sunday in succession, I found myself in a hedgerow picking blackberries. If you haven’t noticed, I’ll let you know that it’s one of the best years ever for blackberries. Hedgerows are groaning under the weight of the fruit on those prickly brambles. And here is my clumsy metaphor, in which brambling represents the journey of learning and the perseverance needed.  

When there are so many berries about, it’s pretty easy to pick a carton-full in half-an-hour. It leaves me grateful that we humans have evolved and moved on: my patch of Northumberland was settled by Neolithic hunter-gatherers turned farmers about 4 millennia ago. I mean, blackberries are delicious: but I wonder whether picking them is a bit like eating celery, in that you use up as much energy picking them as you derive from eating them.  

The metaphor gets better than that. There is no gain without some pain. Each time I go brambling I get stung (why do stinging nettles always grow through the blackberry bushes and lurk nearest the best fruits?), and the brambles themselves are, well, brambles and very sharp. Moreover, they tend to grow in hedgerows which mainly consist of blackthorn and hawthorn, so I end up both covered in nettle-rash and scratched to bits.  

Then there are the best fruits, always just on the edge of my ability to reach: so it’s when I go for those biggest, juiciest fruits that have caught the sun at the top of the hedge that I get most viciously attacked.  

Under such circumstances, does the average bramble-harvester give up? I hope not, assuming the motivation is strong enough to overcome the difficulty: my picking of blackberries is, after all, a matter of sheer greed, a love of blackberry-and-apple pie.  

But when we shift from the fruit metaphor to learning, I hope it’s about ambition and the desire to succeed. Nonetheless, it does get harder: learners (like athletes, musicians, actors, debaters: you see where I’m going with this) find that the failure hurts more the further they’ve gone. To lose a sports match merely as part of a block fixture isn’t a big deal: but to lose the semi-final of a major competition is a dismal stage at which to lose (I’m sure it’s less disappointing to lose a final than a semi).  

As for me, I am in truth a little bloodied from my brambling expeditions: but I am satisfied. On balance, the gain was worth the pain. And I’ve been ROBUST in achieving my goal.  

Sorry. I think there are better metaphors out there. But I’ve enjoyed rambling about my brambling, and encourage everyone to be ROBUST as we progress through this term.  

Bernard Trafford

Headmaster