Turning back the clock
Well, I've now been teaching for just over a week at my old school in Southampton (St. Mary's College), 22 years after having finished my time there as a pupil... and the whole thing seems very surreal, as if I am in a waking dream. I'd been back to the school's attached Brothers community many times over the years as a Brother, but (perhaps subconsciously) avoided going around my old school in detail. Now, going round as a teacher, I am seeing the place through 2 sets of eyes. 5 of my former teachers still work here. They have given me a lovely welcome and made me feel right at home. All sorts of memories, smells, sights, sounds, have come flooding back. This is not an unpleasant experience. Though it does have a very melancholy edge to it concerning the Music block and the Music class where I learnt Music and also had my piano lessons.
For my Music/piano teacher, mentor, musical and vocational inspiration and good friend, Stephen Parry-Williams died 2 years ago of prostate cancer. As well as inspiring me to start learning an instrument (the clarinet) at the age of 14 and then to do a Music degree, he also took me (and 3 other pupils) on my first trip to a Cistercian monastery, that of Caldey Abbey (Caldey Island, off Tenby on the south Welsh coast) at a time when the first ideas of a vocation were burgeoning inside of me. When I was in 6th form he also encouraged the Brothers to invite me round to the community for a meal as he was sure (a strong, intuitive feeling he told me in later years) that I was meant to become a De La Mennais Brother. By then, the idea had started to grab hold of me too and the meeting of minds that took place served only to confirm what I felt inside of me.
I find his presence still haunts the building where I now teach (just 4 lessons a week - the rest of my teaching is R.E.) and rehearse the pupil Worship Band (first Mass tomorrow) and soon the Orchestra. I go into the room and expect to see him sitting at his piano accompanying himself as he sings an Italian Romantic opera aria or a Schubert lied.
I suppose I will always associate that room with him (much of the furniture is the same, as is the particular smell). I feel honoured to have stepped into his shoes. If I can have even just a small amount of the positive influence on our pupils today that he had on so many of the pupils that came through our school over the years then I will be doing very well indeed. I know that he will be watching over me.
"Parry" (right) with 3 fellow pupils of mine on our way to Caldey Island for 5 days retreat.
Things have gone pretty well so far, despite a surprise 3 days before term started. The Head of R.E. that I was due to replace in a month or 2 due to maternity had her baby 2 months premature just before the start of term. So instead of working with her the first 6 weeks or so, at a couple of days notice I've had to become responsible for the R.E. schemes from Yr. 8 to 11 (12-16 yrs. - they do GCSE in Yr. 10 so Yr. 11 = a non-exam AS-style R.E. course). So my head has been stuck somewhere up my nether regions much of this past week.
A major landmark tomorrow: my first involvement in liturgical/extra-curricular music-making. I've had 2 rehearsals with 7 budding rock musicians aged between 11 and 16 who will form our Worship Band for tomorrow's Welcome Mass to celebrate the start of the school year. They are a great bunch of young musicians, all very keen. If this is the sign of things to come then I am going to have great fun with them and also the School Orchestra which needs to be restarting.
Despite the busy start to the term, I have managed to fit in some recreational activities... more about them later.