| Share

I’ve had a few firsts this week: mouthing the words to a song for a video, dancing with a puppy (same video) and having a Mandarin lesson (different video). Lockdown has certainly raised our awareness of the need to connect with each other in this eery and uncomfortable contact vacuum; it’s clearly also driving the inventiveness of digital natives in marshalling the older generation’s latent creativity!

Today is the first day of the Year of the Ox. Hitherto, our wonderful Mandarin Department, now a firm favourite on the Highgate curriculum, would with stealth and smiles steal into Central Hall on the eve of the Chinese New Year and miraculously convert the principal gathering and chattering space in the Senior School into a constellation of red and gold stars and lanterns. Similarly-colourful displays would spring up in the Pre-Prep and the Junior Schools and we would be reminded of the importance of this day to the Chinese community within and beyond our walls.

Denied this opportunity by the closure of our buildings, colleagues reached out for video messages and clips: so many came in that we could have released a feature film! A wonderfully joyful, eclectic compilation of traditional greetings, music, poems, recipes and cameos of family celebration opened the eyes and hearts into the richness of our Chinese friends and friends of Chinese culture. One waggish suggestion that didn’t make the final cut showed a close understanding of tradition: I might like to stuff red envelopes with bank notes and pass them round the Common Room!

Ms Wallis, founding Head of the Mandarin Department, agreed to coach me in delivering a traditional Chinese greeting: she gently, warmly, laughed her way through the expertly delivered lesson, making me believe, really believe, that what I said would be comprehensible to an albeit generously-minded native speaker. Her toy oxen joined me as I recorded the message with an anxiety more acute and more self-conscious than my ‘O’ level German oral of 1981 where I unwisely tried to talk about gardening without any horticultural vocabulary and little practical knowledge. As I introduced myself (in English), a message popped up on my ‘phone to explain that New Year was, actually, on 1st January and I might like to re-think my words. Ha! Wake up, Google! There’s more than one way of looking at and celebrating the waxing and waning of the years; there’s more than one story.

Only a few hours into the first day of virtual celebrations I conclude that lockdown has for once brought us together. So many of you got involved! Our Calendar supremos will, I hope, ensure that our school routines will find space even more often to mark festivals and open those doors into the energizingly different but consolingly familiar traditions of merry-making and well-wishing, beginning afresh and reaching out. No one should need to leave their stories behind when they come to school and to work.

Thank you, everyone, thank you to all our Chinese friends and families, for welcoming us to your New Year celebrations and for bringing your story to us, for making us part of you.