“People with long eyes”
This is what some native Americans called the scientists setting up a telescope in the mid-west desert; the phrase gave Lucy Winkett’s sermon at the St Paul’s Schools John Colet Day its theme. I sat and listened with long ears in St Paul’s Cathedral.
I’m often surprised by a sense of the place that transforms the mundane into something bigger- longer -better. Cathedrals, sport stadiums, the great natural vistas that imbue words and silences with poignancy.
The cathedral did this for Lucy Winkett’s words , made me ignore the people around me using various devices including lap-tops through the opening hymns and prayers .
Staring up into Wren’s dome, listening to the choir and organ the sense of occasion mounted. Maybe my wonderment was communal, certainly the devices were pocketed. I hope the memory of John Colet, a man with long eyes, supplanted the quotidien issues on the Blackberry .
The service honoured others who had attended the school. Edmund Hailey and Cecilia Payne-Gaposhkin lived 200 years apart, but the readings by current pupils meshed their separate stories with Wren, Rutherford and Newton. If this was name-dropping, names fell with an awesome resonance. I guess we all felt in such company that we were “long-eyed”.
I looked at the congregation as they filed in and out of the great cathedral. These were the parents on which the institutions of Britain are maintained. People who seemed bold , confident and accomplished. Their children sat in front of them, respectful but bright with purpose and youthful delight. They looked long-eyed enough to me.
St Paul’s boys and girls schools are acknowledged as two of London’s centres of academic excellence . Their selection policies are so rigorous, their teaching staff so enthusiastic that , saving complacency or political sabotage, they will remain centres of excellence for generations to come.
This may be privilege but it’s privilege that takes its good fortune seriously and demonstrates a responsibility and humility that I find affecting.
I felt proud to be a parent and I mean that without irony.
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