Sunday 29 March 2020

Thought Picnic: The privilege of attending good schools

Catching a wish
As I leaf through my back catalogue of The Week news magazines many of which I have not read, but I have settled on February into March, the news stories are probably stale but the perspectives give an interesting insight into how people expected things to turn and how reality turned out.
For instance, in Issue 1266 of the 15th of February, the market view suggested, ‘“There’s a growing view in financial markets that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.” Kit Juckes of Société Générale on hopes that the coronavirus outbreak might be plateauing. Quoted in the Financial Times.’ With hindsight, that now appears to have been wishful thinking for on the 11th of March the World Health Organisation declared the COVID-19 coronavirus a pandemic. [WHO]
Summaries of the dead
There are many sections in The Week magazine, but this is not the blog for that topic, however, I read the full-page obituary of Issur Danielovitch, 103, whose life is definitely a story of note, it would go into my encyclopaedia of useless knowledge that comes in useful when making conversation with strangers somewhere. Yes, as your brow furrowed, that was the birth name of Kirk Douglas. [The New York Times – Subscriber access]
The next issue I picked up which I read partway through had two personalities in the Obituaries section, the first, Harry Gregg, OBE, 87, a former Manchester United goalkeeper who was a survivor and hero of the Munich air disaster where he rescued an infant and her pregnant mother as well as some of his teammates. [Guardian]
Yet, it is Wilfred De’Ath, 82, whose obituary had the most interesting story to tell as I read it. The heading read “Scrounger and vagrant who found fame through The Oldie.” It made me wonder what he could have done to deserve the exclusive real estate of a half-page reference in The Week magazine.
Good school plaudits
It got me thinking about why it was necessary to attend a very good school as part of the academic and life development. Whilst no knowledge is lost regardless of the school you attend, how the quality of school attended can set you up for life cannot be underestimated. For me, it would be my primary school education and then my postgraduate studies.
Now, The Week magazine touts itself as “The best of all media in one magazine”, it is an aggregator or rather, a curator of media from newspapers, magazines and journals from all around the globe for the week of publication, editing, abridging and excerpting articles, opinions, reviews, and schedules into a weekly magazine that I find a bit more informative than The Economist.
Wilfred De’Ath was of Huguenot and German descent, he attended Queen Elizabeth's School, Barnet, ranked as one of the most academically successful secondary schools in England before going on to Oriel College, Oxford. He then became the youngest ever producer at the BBC, aged just 23, where he shared an office with the now Lord Melvyn Bragg. [The Oldie – Wilfred De’Ath columns] [The Oldie – 80th Birthday interview]
Going places
He worked with and interviewed many public figures, he was a well-connected man, moving in rarefied circles until a divorce and libel suit cost him his life savings. He chose to be a scrounger and vagrant, lived between England and France, stealing from church collection boxes and going to jail for leaving hotels without settling his bills. He appeared to enjoy the court appearances.
His apparent big break came when an Oxford contemporary offered him a column in The Oldie magazine that he was described as “a George Orwell for our times.” In the excerpted obituary, having set up home in Cambridge, he neither reformed nor repented, whilst still earning a reputation as a respected columnist.
Never belittle the small
This made me think about how many people we see dishevelled and unkempt who could have an interesting backstory, smart and intelligent that you’re left astounded if you engage them. In chatting to my mum a few days ago, I mentioned a neighbour from our ancestral village that no one had time for, the reviled Iya Soye, who at the break of dawn, was fully inebriated and staggering, always having an audible conversation with herself.
There were times I met and respectfully acknowledged her, we managed a conversation out of which were gems of wisdom and good sense, the lifelong lesson I took from those encounters was everyone has a story and you should expect to be surprised at what you might learn from people judged, stigmatised, castigated, or reviled.
Other school benefits
Then on the schools' side, some of the best friends we would ever make would be in school, whilst I do not retain close friendships from my secondary school, I am in regular contact with an acquaintance from primary school and my best friend is from my time in a polytechnic in 1984.
Furthermore, it is how the privilege of a good education which builds character moulded to your personality and your outlook to life to open doors before you by force of talent, association, opportunity, fortune, luck, or fate. He was not afraid to be reckless, the law did not scare him, he has well-written views, he knew himself and couldn’t care less what others thought about him.
Life is what you make it, with paths going in different and sometimes unpredictable ways. In the end, your obituary might just find someone writing a blog about things they learnt from how you lived.

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