Merry Christmas everyone. Creativity and Christmas always went hand in hand at Church High. By the end of the Autumn term, classrooms were generally festooned with home-made decorations – as long as they didn’t hanging from light fittings! – and there would invariably have been a number of festive competitions in subject specific areas: Christmas poems in RS for the Carol Service and Christmas cakes in Home Economics standing out most in my mind. In the final year of the School’s life, Macie Gahari gained a special prize in the December 2013 competition for her cake celebrating Church High. It was indeed a very special cake (pictured above and below).
In recent years, after the Houses were re-established, the corridors, Hall and LRC became another source of Christmas creativity. Around about Christmas Fayre time, an inter-house Christmas tree competition was held, the trees always decorated in house colours. Oddly inventive decorations often appeared at that time, you may remember, in the traditional colours white, red, orange and blue.
I always loved those Christmas trees, even if they were often rather bereft of needles by the last day of term. I also loved the School Carol Service held each year in St George’s Church, Jesmond, more recently, although in the past it rotated between two local churches.
As a Radio 3 listener, I have just learned that Carols are a traditional feature of early English music making. The evocatively-named ‘Sir Christemas’ is an early traditional British Christmas carol. The song’s lyrics and melody are by an unknown author, with the first record of the song in the Ritson Manuscript. It’s opening lyrics, gloriously evocative of the season, are attributed to Richard Smart, Rector of Plymtree, Devon, between 1435 and 1477. They begin:
Nowell, Nowell, Nowell, Nowell,’
Who is there that singeth so?’’
I am here, Sir Christëmas.’’
Welcome, my lord Christëmas,
Welcome to us all, both more and less
Come near, Nowell!’
Radio 3 listeners will know that this lyric was the inspiration for the Radio 3 Carol Competition this year. They will also know that this year’s winning composer was Bernard Trafford, until very recently Headmaster of The Royal Grammar School, Newcastle. When I heard the winner’s name announced at 10.30 am on December 22nd, I remember thinking that there couldn’t be very many Bernard Traffords in this country – and, sure enough, it turned out to be him. It seems that Bernard started off his career in education as a Music Teacher, something I wasn’t aware of when I sometimes used to pass him on Eskdale Terrace on my way to work in the mornings.
Radio 3 has been playing Bernard’s composition for ‘Sir Christemas’ all day today, Christmas Day. I really like it. It’s very catchy and is a tremendous achievement for Bernard, particularly knowing it was won on a public vote. You can hear it on the Radio 3/BBC website. I last talked to Bernard in April 2017 when he attended the unveiling of Zoe Robinson’s seahorse sculpture at NHSG. It was already public knowledge by then that he would soon be retiring from RGS and, because of this, our conversation naturally took on a rather retrospective tone. I said how nice it was to see him there and we both passed comment on the beauty of the Tankerville Site that day. He went on to say that he had just been talking to Joy Gatenby and had confided to her how pleased he was that GDST had chosen Church High’s building for the new school. I agreed and smiled. By the end of the day, my smile was much wider. Indeed, it had turned into one of those deep, wry smiles that brings a twinkle to the eye whenever the event is recalled. I mentioned to someone later on that I was sad to have missed catching up with Joy only to be told she hadn’t been there. Were they sure? Yes, they were. I was completely nonplussed following my conversation with Bernard. But Bernard Trafford told me he’d spoken to her, I said. Well, Bernard must have been talking to someone else completely was the reply. I thought about this for a while. Who could he have mistaken for Joy? And then the penny dropped and my smile became wry. I would give a lot to know how GDST’s Estates Director, Christine Sillis, responded during that exchange. I am sure she was both politic and polite.