Monday, 9 January 2012

The gleaming spires of Christminster

In Thomas Hardy's 'Jude the Obscure', Jude dreams of aspiring to the 'gleaming spires of Christminster' (university) which he could see in the distance. For several years, when Ben was small, I'd drive home from work over the high moorland looking towards my own 'gleaming spires', as I referred to Ben's school back then.

As a product of the 1970s axing of the UK Grammar Schools when the girls' high school I attended stopped being a grammar school, went co-ed and went downhill at a fantastic pace and destroyed my own school career, I was determined to give my son the best educational experience I could afford.

When he was little, I worked as a full-time freelancer, stashing away the cash for the fees. I hated working as a freelancer 'in house' where I was never treated as well as the permanent staff, given the worst desk, the worst computer, the worst jobs and they'd work me like a Trojan to get their money's worth. Yet my drive home would take me up over the moor where, down below in the river valley, I could just see my own 'gleaming spires': the ambition that kept me going through all those years.

With any luck and with a heck of a lot of hard graft I could send him to private school - the one school in the area where I knew he would not only receive a great academic education but where the ethos was all about nurturing 'the whole child'. Unlike my own school experience, he would have every chance of loving every moment. And, after all, school is supposed to be the best years of your life.

I also knew, as I glanced over the moorland to those 'gleaming spires', that before long I'd be able to quit that horrible office and set up my own business from home. It didn't matter if my income went down because interest rates and the stock market were high. With a little help from a scholarship (pray God he'd win a fee-reducing scholarship!) that school was now within reach.

Around the time that I quit that office, Ben did win an academic scholarship. I was over the moon. I reveled in every moment of helping him prepare to become part of the 'gleaming spires' community. We were both terribly excited and weren't disappointed when, aged 11, Ben put on his smart new school uniform and set off for his first day at the school.

Over the next four years he thrived, exactly as we'd dreamed. Better than we'd dreamed. He was usually in the top 2 or 3 pupils in his form, he was in the choir, in drama productions and a rising star in the Rugby team. He was confident, enthusiastic, respected, popular and extremely happy with glowing school reports from beaming tutors.

Everything I had dreamed about was coming true; the spires weren't just gleaming, they were positively dazzling.

Until the ED came along and robbed us of our dream.

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