Like many people, I was both saddened and disturbed to read of the tragedy in Cults Academy, an Aberdeen secondary school, this week: a 16-year old pupil was stabbed to death by a classmate in what's been described as a "pointless fight which got out of hand". Incidents such as this are fortunately still relatively rare in UK schools, but this one appears all the more shocking in that it occurred in what is reportedly a 'good' school in a 'nice area'. In what must be every Head Teacher's worst nightmare, headmistress Anna Muirhead has paid tribute to the "gentle, caring pupil" Bailey Gwynne who lost his life, while presumably asking herself the question "How could something like this happen in my school?" One young life has been lost, another has been turned upside down, while for two sets of families nothing will ever be the same again.
Rumours have surfaced to the effect that the attacker had been being "teased" about his weight but so far it's not at all clear what form this took. Judging by the outpouring of sympathy and the tributes that have been paid, Bailey doesn't fit the typical profile of a bully and I can't detect any undercurrents of this being an issue - although there is and always has been a fine line between the supposedly harmless tradition of teasing at school (in which the victim sometimes gives back as good as he or she gets) and its more malicious and sinister form properly known as bullying.
Fights themselves at schools are of course nothing new: we had playground fights when I was a schoolboy and I well remember the chant of "Fight... fight... fight..." that would go up as we all flocked round to try and get a better view. That in turn was invariably the signal for a couple of prefects or a Master to appear out of nowhere and break it up, fortunately before any real harm had come to either of the participants. I've written about my own experience of being picked on for a fight at school: looking back on it now, although I can still clearly remember who my assailant was, I've no idea what started it nor do I attach any real significance to it other than it being part of the rough-and-tumble of school life at the time. I guess that's probably true of the ten or dozen other playground fights I witnessed during my schooldays, too. But we never had fights or violence in corridors, still less in classrooms. Nor were weapons of any sort used.
So the other dimension, I suppose here, is the use of a knife. We had metal knives rather than plastic for use in the school dining hall, albeit rather blunt ones. And in those days quite a lot of boys had penknives, especially those who were keen on scouting activities (which didn't incidentally include the stabbing of fellow scouts - at least, not deliberately!). I didn't own one as far as I recollect, nor did I have one of the other types popular at the time - a flick-knife. Illegal I believe they were at the time, but brought back in appreciable numbers from the Continent! I didn't personally know anyone who had one and I can't imagine that anyone who did would've dared bring it to school.
Back in the present, there are no easy answers to the question of why this happened in the way that it did, I daresay in the fullness of time questions will be asked, reports written and the proverbial "lessons will be learned". That's what schools are for, after all. But it will, sadly, come too late for poor Bailey.
Friday, 9 October 2015
The remains of summer have fizzled out unspectacularly, leaving the characteristic chill of autumn nights. I cranked the heating into action once again, counting myself fortunate that since we had the new boiler fitted the gas bill these days is a mere shadow of its former self. Doesn't stop spammers phoning regularly (or, more accurately, phoning the answerphone regularly) to remind me about the government boiler grant awaiting me alongside my unclaimed PPI refund. Do people actually respond to this rubbish, I wonder?
And I've had time too to reflect on, and start coming to terms with, Raggs' passing away. I got the casket containing her ashes back: one of my fellow students of Italian kindly gave me a lift to the vets' after our class on the Friday that week, and I carried it home on the bus in the little posh carrier bag looking for all the world as if I'd gone to do a bit of upmarket shopping! I haven't yet decided what to do with them. Although I'm conscious of the theory that clinging on to the remains acts as an impediment to grieving properly and letting nature take its course, I'm a little undecided. I didn't want to scatter them in the woods as I had done with Molly, but I rather favour the idea of perhaps burying the casket in the garden amongst some spring bulbs to make something resembling a little shrine, Maybe that in its own way is just as creepy an idea though. For the moment I'm not in a hurry. I find its presence acts as a comforting souvenir of the happy times we had together and I'm happy to accept it as that however ghoulish it may sound. While I initially found it difficult to accept the proposition that we can't have another dog, the plain reality is that I don't any longer have either the physical ability or the lifestyle to walk as far or as regularly as I'd need to and it really wouldn't be fair or kind. Even an older dog needs some exercise. I haven't ruled out the idea of another cat on the other hand: maybe I'll just wait and see how things pan out.
And after a short summer break we start our Italian tutorial sessions again next week. I did briefly resurrect the idea of going for an A level, but decided to plod on with our informal classes and buld up a bit more of a foundation while waiting to see how the transition from AS and A2 levels back to a proper 2-year course works out. My practice is still sporadic and I have some "homework" exercises which I should have done and keep putting off but I'm heartened to find when I check out an Italian blog that I follow, I seem to be retaining more of what I've learned than I'd anticipated. It's certainly encouraging me to keep at it, anyway.