I was introduced to the concept of stooging around by former colleague and now Head of Kings, Chester – George Hartley.
The idea is that you just leave your home and walk – you have a vague direction in mind, but the most important thing is to look up and take note of your surroundings – buildings, trees, birds, clouds….whatever! I have introduced the idea of stooging around to the Sixth Form in past assemblies – indeed, it seems to be the only assembly of mine that some remember. Pre-lockdown, a classic stooge involved walking to, say, Shoreditch and stopping off for refreshments on the way, buying some flowers at Columbia Road, indulging in my passion for street photography and then taking public transport back. An important personal element of a stooge is also predicting the number of people that I will meet on the way: having taught at Highgate for 20 years now, that’s about 3000 former pupils I could bump into… . Sometimes it might be one, but I once met 7 OCs which was pretty cool. Experience has taught me that the longer the pupil has been away from Highgate, the longer the conversation lasts, and my completely predictable opening question “So, what are you up to?”, is then countered with their understandably predictable question “So, how’s Highgate?”.
A lockdown walk necessitates, of course, a circular walk and ensuring that social distancing takes place means you try and minimise the chances of mixing with too many other people. Over the recent Easter weekend, I had therefore no real expectations of meeting anyone for obvious reasons but Thursday turned into a new record. Firstly, ambling down the road was current Y13 pupil Gabriel, who admitted to being a bit bored by the whole lockdown process: this boredom was slightly alleviated by walking his dog.
Next up was former ‘Deutschkrew’ member Cassidy and his mum – Cassidy is now a professional photographer and was using the time to pursue personal projects which he seemed very excited about. Round the corner, a father pointed out to his young son ‘there’s Daddy’s teacher’ and as I caught up with Joe, another dad pushed his younger son past. Julian is currently working in ICU at UCH and was enjoying a couple of well-earned days off before heading back to hospital to deal with his patients.
Further up the hill, some tinny techno announced Oskar’s presence – he was dealing with a tree in the front garden, but no sign of Dad! Next up in quick succession were Liv, Noa and Jamie: Liv is in her final year of university and waiting on updates about how her graduation will work. On the final leg back to Casa Brunskill, Ms Smith appeared on her way to the Post Office to send a care package to an elderly friend. We discussed the challenges of remote teaching whilst assisting young children with their own learning – not straightforward! That must be it, surely? Not quite! Speeding past, heading north in a blur was Molly on one of her punishing training rides.
I have to say it gave me a real lift seeing all these Highgate people and despite the testing time we are living in at the moment, everyone was really cheerful and dealing with life under lockdown in a positive and pragmatic way.
I cannot wait for the first post-lockdown stooge: who knows if this record will ever be broken though…?
Simon joined Highgate in 1999 as a French and German teacher. He was Head of School House for 5 years before joining the Senior Team, where he works as Head of Sixth Form (pastoral). He enjoys sports (football, rugby and cycling), photography, music and bumping into OCs. He can still remember his form register from when he was 12.