ON Andrew Jones (1990-99) talks about his time at Norwich School and about opening his first restaurant

What are you doing now?

Opening Farmyard Restaurant at 23 St. Benedict's Street, which will be a modern Bistro style restaurant employing top quality cooking techniques in an understated way using the very best produce from some of Norfolk's most passionate producers.

 

What are your greatest challenges/achievements?

Aside from having two young children? Managing to get financial backing for the project despite it being my first step as a restaurateur and securing, what I consider to be, one of the best sites in the city.

 

What is your motivation?

Firstly, I love working with great produce, as a chef it is a privilege to be able to handle great ingredients. In Norfolk we are lucky to be surrounded by top quality meat, game, fish and vegetables. There is also a growing band of artisans producing fantastic bread, cheese and charcuterie, even chocolate. The core of the concept at Farmyard is to find the very best produce we can and serve it to our guests.

 

If you could go back in time, what would you tell yourself when starting out?

Keep pushing! It’s a tough industry to get started in, especially if you want to work in good kitchens and learn from the best. It can be pretty demoralising when you are learning your trade and you are constantly told you're useless which top chefs are renowned for doing. Sometimes it’s a physical and mental battle to keep going. But as you progress and become more useful to your employer and earn the respect of your fellow chefs, there is a tremendous feeling of achievement.

 

100 words on how you got to where you are today?

As a young chef I had drive and passion but it was only when I met my Fiancé, Hannah Springham, who went to Norwich High School, that I was able to focus that into achieving my goal of opening a restaurant. Hannah is a successful TV producer, as well as a great Mother and has been instrumental in the conception and launch of the restaurant. She taught me to keep talking about my idea, to anyone and everyone. The more you talk about it, the more the idea crystallises and the more people start to listen. Its stops becoming an idea and starts to become a reality.

 

When did you realise your passion for food?

I've always cooked and enjoyed cooking but it was in my final year at Nottingham University I suddenly realised I could earn a living doing something I really enjoyed.

 

Do you have a secret recipe that you would like to share?

Perfect mash. Cut the potatoes in half lengthways to help release their starch. Salt the cooking water well, don’t boil the potatoes, simmer them, when they are tender all the way through but not breaking drain them properly, return them to the pot and steam off all the excess cooking water. Mash them straight away over a low heat with butter, then gently fold in warmed milk infused with black pepper and nutmeg. Serve immediately.

 

Favourite memory of your time at Norwich School?

Playing cricket at the lower close, or assembly in the Cathedral. At the time I had no idea how lucky we were and took the incredible surroundings for granted.

 

How do you think Norwich School helped you to get to where you are now?

It gave me confidence in my own abilities and the tools to achieve my goals.

 

What was your favourite Norwich School dinner?

Sausage plait, what else?

 

What are your memories of the Norwich School refectory?

Queuing, soggy chips, and the smell of overcooked veg. Also having breakfast, lunch and dinner there on Thursdays when I did Sea Scouts.

 

If you could get one thing on the school menu what would it be?

 A bavette steak, cooked over charcoal, served medium-rare with a really good béarnaise.

 

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Aspiration by Mr Sexton

"Mrs Hill recently completed the Chicago marathon. This is her third of the six major marathon’s in the world. She has done London, New York and Chicago, and now has Berlin, Tokyo and Boston to go. What a fantastic aspiration. I have a much more tame aspiration to run 5k under 20 minutes. And to be honest I feel a long way off still. Nonetheless I am not giving up, it is good to aspire.

At Norwich School we define aspiration as:

 “The desire to succeed and to aim high in everything you do, to become the best you can be.”

I have been awed by some of the recent achievements and aspirations of people. In May 2017, the Spanish climber and long-distance runner Kilian Jornet ran up Mount Everest twice in one week without using oxygen tanks or fixed ropes. He took 26 hours when the ascent often takes people 4 days.  Lewis Hamilton broke the all-time record for pole positions by taking the 69th of his career with a sensational performance in wet qualifying at the Italian Grand Prix in September.

I also watched a sporting performance last year that has stuck in my memory. It was the final event in the Triathlon World Series in Cozumel Mexico. Jonny Brownlee was on the cusp of being crowned World Champion. He had to win this last race, to win the World Series.

With 1500m to go he was in front by 25 seconds and said he was feeling good. However, with 500m to go, he could not run anymore. He was suddenly overcome with heat exhaustion, and his body started to shut down to protect his vital organs. He began to stagger, and drift backwards and forwards across the course, until he finally just stopped.

At that moment, his older brother Alastair came round the corner, grabbed his arm and supported and half-carried him the final distance to the line.

However because he stopped to help his brother, South Africa’s Henri Schoeman ran past them both,  to victory. Alastair sacrificed his own chance of winning the race and coming second overall in the World Series. He finished the year in 10th place.

When interviewing the brothers afterwards an ITV presenter said, “You two are sportsman trained through and through to prioritise victory over pretty much anything else, what was so remarkable about this, was that you prioritised your brother over that, you could easily have run past.”

Alastair described what happened in this way. I have paraphrased it because his response was quite long… “I was running the race thinking this has been the perfect year. Jonny is going to win the World Series. I’m in third place, I am going to beat the guy in second and come second in the Series. Then 500 m from the finish line I see Jonny stumbling around. I thought I have to get him to the finish line he might still win the World Series and I think, I have had that problem before and it was horrendous.”

Did you catch that? There were two reasons why Alastair stopped to help his brother. The first was because he had been through something similar himself, in a race in London, and said it was a horrendous experience. The second reason was that he was thinking of his brother’s world title hopes, and that if he could help him over the line, he might still win the world series.

Alastair’s own aspiration gave way unselfishly to Jonny’s health and ambition. At that moment Alastair became a hero, he stepped up when it was right to do so. Mr Fisher recently spoke at the U5 Step Up 2017 Leadership and Service Conference. He defined a hero as:

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I do wonder if what happened to Jonny, happens again in another race, if people will follow Alastair’s example, I really hope so?

I don’t know if you have something you aspire to yet? Be it a certain number of high numbers in your GCSE’s, or to achieve a musical or sporting goal, or a place at your university of choice or something else?

I am not saying that you have to have a driving ambition. I left school without knowing what I wanted to do as a career. And for me life has been a really varied and exciting journey so far. 

In this school, we want to help you to achieve your goals, and reach your potential, and in whatever you do we want you, to want to do your best.

However, we also want you to be like Alastair Brownlee and balance your aspiration with compassion and empathy. Mr White put it this way, we want you to have “sharp elbows with a conscience.”

One of America’s favourite writers, Henry David Thoreau, says, “What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.”  Jesus said it another way, “what does it profit a person to gain the whole world, but lose their soul.”

So Aspire… Desire to succeed... Aim high in everything you do... And become the best version of you, you can be."

Written by Mr Sexton for Cathedral Assembly 

 

'The rich rewards of being a good soul' by Artemis Apergi, Lower 6

I vividly remember the last evening that I would ever see my Greek grandfather ten years ago. He had not been well for some time but he found the strength to have an evening down in his taverna which is in the middle of the village. My memory of this evening is so rich – the sweet smell of roasting pork on the spit, infused with the fresh jasmine flowers which are so pungent at night-time once the cool breeze floats in from the sea. There was laughter, chatter and merriment all around us. My grandfather (Papous) was so well loved and respected as a kind, honest and good soul that the whole village gathered close to spend time with him – so happy to see that he was up and about. It was the middle of the summer so the village was buzzing, warm and humid even at this late hour and I sat on his knee while he laughed and ran his beloved amber worry beads around his hand and over his wrist in a well-practiced routine, surrounded by the people whom he had loved and who had loved him for all his life. My grandmother did not leave his side, but watched tentatively and with such affection.

Who would have believed that those very same friends and family who were gathered around him, laughing and dancing, at our family taverna would, in just 24 hours, be crying desperately at home, around his coffin.

There is a tradition of mourning the dead in Greece together with the presence of the whole community at home, for a day and a night after the death. In so doing, the community is able to empathise, to show solidarity, to share the burden of loss in order to help the family heal more easily. As such, I remember our house packed with what seemed like the population of the entire island, parading through the sitting room offering hugs and kisses and sympathetic pinches on my cheek, while my grandmother sat, sobbing, at her beloved husband’s feet. I remember my Jack Russel, Goofy, running around in search of his master until eventually my dad picked him up to give him a chance to say goodbye too. My dad and I drove around the island on his motor bike gathering fresh flowers, lavender, thyme and rosemary which we took home and laid all around his body in the coffin. I remember thinking he looked like a fat snow white in a beautiful flower strewn bed. Finally, when the last visitors had left, and the sun of a new day began to rise, we laid his precious amber worry beads in his hands, gave him a final kiss on his head, closed the casket and paraded him up to the church for the funeral.

My grandfather did not lead a highly ambitious or remarkable life: orphaned by the age of 16 he travelled to Canada at 19 with the merchant navy, where he jumped ship to try to make his fortune on land - but he became terribly homesick and soon returned to his island of Paxos to marry his child hood sweetheart, my grandmother Hula. He established his business, had two children and one granddaughter (me), and died aged 69. It was a simple and sadly short life. But it was well-lived in that his positivity, kindness, generosity and humour had far reaching, resounding impacts on all who he met. Even now when his name comes up amongst those who knew him, they will say ‘there did not exist a more gentle and good soul’. And I always think, ‘what greater honour can we wish for in life, than to be remembered in this way?’

Here at Norwich School, I frequently find the decisions that I have to make about my future somewhat overwhelming. Subject choices, career paths, work experience, community service options, universities… I’m never sure that I’ve made the right decision. But what I tell myself, or, what I try to remember is that whichever decisions we make, whatever life we choose to lead, let us strive to be good and to consider the ways that we can have a positive impact on the lives of others. Admittedly this is not always possible, all of us have times when we are low or tired, but surly this is something we should reach for.

As my dear old Papou has shown me, a life led as a good person, brings riches in kind. I remember everyone saying that he had the death and funeral of a King – such was the respect and love that enveloped him, a direct result of the way he treated others and the simple virtue which emanated from him.

Safer Internet Day 2018

As told by Alex Mandilakis and Archie Nolan in Cathedral Assembly on February 6th 2018. 

"Today is safer internet day. The aim of safer internet day is to encourage safer use of the internet and to raise awareness of the ever changing problems the internet can bring. The theme of safer internet day this year is Create, Connect and Share Respect.

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We are not here to scare you, the internet has made the impossible possible and it is a tool that all of us will use to benefit our futures in one way or another, whether it’s an online application to university, internet searches for a job at a prestigious company or the daily communications when in employment via email. However, we must remember the importance of monitoring our own behaviour online and taking responsibility for our actions in the same way we would if we did or said something to another person face to face.

Just last year in the USA 10 Harvard university students had their places terminated due to posting and sharing violent, racist and sexist memes in an online group. Memes are often light-hearted, used for banter and as an in-the-know way to communicate and feel part of a group. While they can be embraced for a harmless form of fun they also often veer into the harmful, cruel and violent. Take time to think before you share, what is the meme actually about? Do you really know what the meme is implying? Far too easily people are sharing content that is discriminatory and offensive. You are responsible for what you share, take a minute to think and consider if the comment you’re writing or meme you’re sharing is racist, sexist or unkind.

Ok, we have some questions and would like some honestly from you now. Can I ask everyone to stand up.

1. Remain standing if you have ever shared or comment on a meme

2. Sit down if you have never accepted a friend request from someone you haven’t met

3. Stand up if you spend more than one hour a day using the internet

For an increasing number of people, the Internet is becoming more of a social outlet than the real world. Online gaming, chatting and social networking sites are replacing face-to-face interactions with others – often to the detriment of one's health. A new study by psychologists at Leeds University found that people who spend a lot of time online are more likely to show signs of depression.

Here at Norwich School we need to reiterate the importance of face to face interaction, too easily people are turning to their phones in break and lunch times. Take a moment to think, how long do you actually use your phone for each day? Are you using it for more than an hour a day, if so do you think this could be classed as addiction? Being able to recognise the negative impacts of overuse is important. In a recent survey 18% of young people stated that sometimes they cannot sleep because of worrying about things they have seen online.

Oxytocin known as the ‘happy hormone’ is released when you have physical contact and interaction with other people face to face. This hormone is not released when using the internet, hugging a friend or family member releases oxytocin, a hormone that we could all benefit from daily.

Have you ever noticed that you sleep better if you haven’t used your phone directly before going to bed? Set yourself a challenge to turn your phone off or put it away before you get ready for bed, have some phone free time and allow your brain to switch off. The light emitted from phones tells your brain it is day time making it harder to go to sleep and ruining the quality of your sleep.

One area that is of concern is the use of multiple accounts online, do you have more than one Instagram account or more than one snapchat? If so, why? What are you hiding? Do you need to monitor which friends see which account?

There have been growing concerns with the number of pupils who are using the internet to glorify negative behaviours. Self-harming, eating disorders, racial discrimination and sexist remarks are all prevalent in the memes and online discussions between pupils in this and many other schools. This is something we all need to respond to by thinking before we post. Taking time to really consider what is being said and the impression it is giving others about you. Are you really that person? Are you racist? Are you sexist? Do you really want to encourage eating disorders and self-harm to others? Remember ‘think before you post’.

It is all too easy to go along with something because it makes others laugh, true friendship isn’t created on making another laugh, its built on respect. Others may laugh at the comments you make but does that mean they respect or like you?

A key message from today is that we ask you to ‘think before you post’. Whether is it a photo of yourself that locates you as a Norwich School pupil, an unkind comment, the sharing of a prejudiced meme or even a sexualised photo, please take a moment to stop and think.

Have you ever written or sent something online and said ‘don’t screen shot it’, if so why? Should you really have posted or sent something you wouldn’t want others to see at a later date or show to their friend? Respecting your body and respecting others is key to maturity, consider how you would feel in a few years from now when you look back on your social media use. Would you be proud or a little embarrassed? It’s never too late to change, make positive choices to protect your future.

Technology is advancing faster than we realise and apps exist for others to screen shot your snapchat without it telling you. Everything you post online is stored and kept somewhere, this could one day be shared or even used against you by a friend, partner or employer. The ‘revenge’ element of online behaviour is becoming prevalent, don’t provide others with anything that could be used against you in any way.

Please remember ‘think before you post’.

Mr Cann produced a number of posters for around the school site in the run up to Internet Safety Day. A few of them can be found below. 

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Ms Ravenscroft delves into the world of embroidery...

Did you know that there are ways of making a living with hand embroidery?  Did you know that there is a degree course that focuses on hand embroidery? 

Thanks to a partnership between Norwich School, Norfolk County Council and Norwich Castle Museum, many Sixth Form textiles teachers and pupils now do. These textiles teachers and pupils got the chance to look at goldwork in detail in July 2017, in the form of two-day workshops. We caught up with Ms Nicola Ravenscroft to learn more about the workshops. 

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"Goldwork is the technique that applies gold in the form of thread, wires, plate and beads to fabric. This technique has been used for centuries and England was the home of the very best goldwork in medieval times.

Lisa Little, assistant curator of textiles with Norfolk Museums Service, showed pupils and staff around the textiles collections in the July workshops. The group looked at some beautiful samples of metal embroidery on shoes, coats and accessories through the centuries. The tour of the textile stores was the favourite part of the first day and most of the group would have been very happy to have been accidentally locked in for a week or so to explore further! Students and staff were encouraged to come back to examine anything that was of special interest - this is a free service that no one in the group previously knew about before the tour. The Castle also houses a very extensive library of textiles material, free for anyone to use.

A representative from the Royal School of Needlework gave a talk to students about the courses offered and destination jobs for those who qualified in hand embroidery. Although craft tuition is very popular, graduates work in high end fashion houses, theatre and opera, and with museums and religious bodies, designing and creating impressive hand embroidery.

The second day of the course was practical, completing a design which involved various techniques (padding, couching, chipping) and other materials like gilded leather, wires and gold threads.  This took place in the pupils' schools, and in small groups which allowed plenty of tuition time."

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40 students from Dereham Northgate, Wymondham High School, Reepham High, City College and East Norfolk Sixth Form College took part, together with their teachers.

The goldwork workshops will be offered again in summer 2018 – see Castle Museum website for details in due course.

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Head Master's End of Michaelmas Term Service Address 

As spoken by Steffan Griffiths, Head Master of Norwich School 

Thursday 14th December

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"Well, we are nearly there. After all the homeworks, Cathedral services, fixtures, practices, performances and lessons, the routine of term is almost finished and we all now deserve a good rest, a chance to choose what we do a little more, perhaps even a chance for a treat or two.

For me, one small treat that awaits is to see the final episode of Blue Planet II, a series I have been avidly following on Sunday nights during term. I am not alone; this series has been seen by up to 14.1 million people per episode in the UK and is the country’s most watched programme in 2017. If you have not yet caught up with it, I recommend it strongly. Whether it has been the octopus using shells to disguise itself from an attacking shark, the pilot whale in mourning, fish using tools to feed or Tagboy the sea lion herding tuna into lagoons of Madagascar, the stories have been engrossing. I should not be surprised if purists are disappointed by the need to portray the already astonishing footage of the natural world by turning them into human-like dramas with atmospheric music, victims, heroes and villains (I still can’t get the bobbit out of my head; if you have not seen it, think 1 metre carnivorous worm that jumps out of the sea bed to catch its prey). However, even the most dispassionate observer would have to admit that the sea otters were very sweet! And if a little soap opera is what is needed to get mass appeal and therefore broaden awareness of the mind-boggling scale and sophistication of nature, including the challenges it faces in the 21st century because of human behaviour, I say fair enough to showing crabs running the gauntlet of moray eel attacks to music which would be more common on the Horror Channel.

Even the making of it was compelling TV: jet skiing across fearsome waves to create footage of surfing dolphins; missing the one night of spawning and having to wait a full year to try again; the overhead image of many thousand turtles on a beach to lay their eggs; deep-sea footage of a toxic saline lake; chasing a hunt which creates what fishermen have called the boiling sea - these have all provided enduring images which make one grateful for the BBC. To have an institution which has the budget, expertise and public service brief to commission such series should be a source of national pride. If you think this might be grandiose, consider that 80 million people from China alone watched per episode.

I found the whole series deeply humbling as it made me reflect on human life in comparison with the creatures with whom we share the planet. Abraham Maslow was a psychologist working in the 1940s and 1950s who came up with an influential theory of human motivation. He talked of a hierarchy of needs and it is usually shown as a pyramid. In order from the bottom, these consisted of: Physiological; Safety; Love; Esteem; Self-actualisation.

A very quick summary runs as follows:

·       Physiological – these are the basic needs for survival, including breath, food, water, warmth, rest;

·       Safety – this is the area of personal and community security;

·       Love (or belonging) – these are family relationships and friendships, whether social and intimate;

·       Esteem – these are feelings of accomplishment and self-worth;

·       Self-actualisation – this is the top level which talks of fulfilling one’s potential, including the exploration of creative activity.

Maslow amended his initial thesis to add another category on the top called self-transcendence, concerned with truth and spirit. Do follow the idea up if you are interested.

I was struck by how in our community we take much of this pyramid for granted. At Norwich School, we talk a good deal about pupils fulfilling their rich potential, of exploiting creativity and it is good to be reminded that such activities are only possible because our basic needs are being consistently and completely met. I don’t want to overplay the comparison of human motivation with a natural history programme, but it is clear that much of Blue Planet II centres on the physiological and safety needs of its creatures and we know there are significant parts of the world where human beings do not have the luxury to focus on much more.

Love and esteem are complex for us; after all, we are a community with nearly 1000 teenagers, where relationships with family, peers and teachers are constantly shifting as you go through a period of rapid physiological change and psychological development. Yet it was heart-warming to see bonds of intimacy created in play by dolphins and whales, and it is precisely the similarity of relationship issues for humans in less affluent parts of the world which provides their power when compared to people in our situation.

Yet where does this take us? It certainly runs the risk of throwing people of your generation back to the age-old retort of teenagers against parents: “Well, I didn’t ask to be born/be your child/live in Norwich, etc”. I hope that series like Blue Planet II remind us of our connectedness with the planet we share and the good fortune of our situation. Our advantages in being human, in being in an affluent country, in having loving and supportive families, in having personal qualities of note, in being at a good school, and so it goes on. Being aware of such advantage reminds us not to feel that we are entitled to it and encourages us to use it to help the wider community.

I am reminded of the motto at Sandhurst, which Major David Stead told us of when he came to address us on Remembrance Day: the motto was Serve to Lead, an adaptation of a phrase from our aims that you know well. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, all at Norwich School are fortunate in their situation, so my challenge is what will you do with that as your personal theory of motivation. I hope you will have a think over the holiday about how you can serve those around you, whether in the family or in the wider community. It is through such an attitude that you will pick up the skills and approach to be the leaders of society we hope you will be, whatever you choose to do.

I wish you all a restful and enjoyable Christmas break."

Left to right: Major David Stead and Mr Bedford-Payne

Left to right: Major David Stead and Mr Bedford-Payne

NORWICH SCHOOL JOINS THE CRICKETER'S TOP 100 SCHOOLS FOR 2018

Norwich School is delighted to announce its appearance in The Cricketer’s inaugural ‘best of’ list for secondary education, entitled The Playing Fields of England: An A-Z Guide To The Summer Game’s Top 100 Schools 2018. We caught up with Mr Cawkwell to find out what this means for the school: 

What does it mean to the school to be included in the Top 100?

It really is a fantastic achievement for the school. We have been competitive for a good number of years now, but to be put in this list cements our status as one of the leading cricket schools in the area. It's a level of recognition that all the staff and pupils who have contributed to Norwich School cricket over the years should be very proud of.

What do you think makes Norwich School one of the Top 100?

For me, this is a very simple answer. The pupils, the staff, and the facilities. If we were not successful on our circuit we would not be considered for this list. The fact that we are is a credit to the pupils at our school as it is down to their commitment, desire and hard work each year. Our staff put in an enormous amount of effort and many hours for the cricket club. The passion they show is second to none, and we are very grateful for their devotion all year round. We are one of only three schools in East Anglia that has a cricket specific indoor facility that can be used throughout the year. This, on top of five very good grass cricket squares and other top training facilities, means that we have resources to help our pupils be the best cricketers they can be.

What developments has the school made that has helped us break into this prestigious group for the first time?

We have made a very successful transition to girls cricket in the last couple of years. The girls have wholeheartedly embraced this change and this year we are looking to have fixtures for eight teams in the Senior School and seven teams in the Lower School. This would have been unimaginable three years ago, so huge credit has to go to the girls for the way they have approached this challenge. We have also made good progress in the boys' National competitions in the last few years, getting to the latter stages on numerous occasions.

How do you think the Norwich School Cricket Academy (in association with Sussex CCC), can help the school to be included in the list in future years?

I think it is a fantastic partnership and we are hugely excited about its potential. The link has been set up to provide young people in this area with a clear route to an opportunity to become a first class cricketer. It has been notoriously difficult for talented cricketers from this part of the country to be given these opportunities, so it is a very exciting prospect. If the link can help one young person from this area reach the professional game then it has been a very successful venture, and one we should be incredibly proud of.

We’re now out of season for cricket, what is the cricket club doing to prepare for next season?

Our extensive winter cricket programme has just got under way. There will be approximately 120 hours of expert 1:1 and small group coaching sessions, and also around 80 hours of team sessions between now and the Easter break. We will also be running some team pre-season sessions during the Easter holidays and hopefully a few fixtures too. This will ensure that our pupils are fully prepared to have a fantastic start to the season when we have our first fixtures of the season on the 21st April.

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Remembrance in Myanmar 2017

Mr Curtis, Housemaster of Seagrim, was at Holy Trinity Cathedral, Yangon for Remembrance Sunday this year. At the service, a plaque commemorating Hugh Seagrim was unveiled by Philip Davies, who has recently published a biography of Seagrim entitled ‘Lost Warriors’. Whilst in Myanmar, Mr Curtis was also supporting the work of ‘Help 4 Forgotten Allies’, a charity, which provides a small pension and humanitarian aid to the handful of surviving veterans with whom Seagrim fought during the Burma campaign in the Second World War. If you would like to contribute to their work, please visit www.h4fa.org.uk. This is a personal account of his trip.

I sit in the Mahabandoola gardens in front of the high court adjacent to the Sule Pagoda. It is 11am on 8th November and a clock has just struck the Westminster chimes. In the 30-degree heat, I welcome the cooling breeze when it comes. There seem to be fewer soldiers and military police on the streets than when I was last here two years ago – perhaps because they are engaged elsewhere – and there are far more tourists, although the time of year almost certainly accounts for this. I reflect that Yangon is undergoing something of a transformation: new banks, hotels and office buildings have emerged, their prismatic forms contrasting starkly with more elaborate colonial architecture elsewhere. A new shopping centre is even more western than I anticipate: English writing coexists alongside circular Burmese script; outlets for artisan coffee and bread have custom; an identity parade of international brand stores lines up for inspection. I notice that there is a moisturising cream advertised, which causes me concern, as it claims not only to moisturise, but also to whiten the skin. The United Colours of Benetton display, usually known for the diversity of its models, lacks such breadth here. None of the people featured in the giant, cardboard cut-outs in the window appears to come from Myanmar. I surmise that there is at least some danger that young people here might begin to aspire to a different paradigm: western and white, pampered and privileged. I ask myself what I think about this shift. Why shouldn’t people in Myanmar seek a more plural and affluent life? After more than 70 years living under a regime dominated by the military, surely they are entitled to hope for a brighter future. How, though, should that future look?

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Some aspects of life in Yangon haven’t changed. I walk over a railway bridge towards the central station and get slapped hard in the face by the abject poverty that is the everyday reality for many residents of this city. Two men sift through scraps of rubbish discarded down the embankment. Behind them, next to the shack in which he lives, a man defecates onto the track. Further along the road, a small group of people eats communally on the pavement alongside charcoal burning stove pots, which emit the aroma of spicy, pungent food. I pause to savour the smell, but the moment is ruined by a rising thermal of stench from the drain below. A toddler cheerfully and deftly crouches over the gutter edge to wee, then runs back to resume eating with her parents. Around the corner, workmen are painting the kerbstones in blocks of red and white colour. I study their posture admiringly as they simultaneously squat, balance and paint. Suddenly I can no longer inhale. Chemical vapour latches on to my palate and my throat sticks. I now notice that all of the workmen are coughing and spluttering too, the toxin resin they apply contaminating the air they breathe and burning their senses. I escape guiltily, and flee back to a more beaten track, heading along the Bogyot Aung San Road towards the indoor market. I pass a Buddhist monk, who stands and ticks uncontrollably. A mother sits, with an unfeasibly large number of pigeons crammed into a small circular cage in front of her, whilst feeding her baby. A person with a disability is subconsciously negotiated by the flow of the crowd, as if some sort of obstacle. A python of wiring is slung over rickety bamboo scaffolding, below which a warning sign proudly proclaims ‘Safety First’.

This is the bi-polarity of Yangon: foreign sponsored economic regeneration on the one hand, an exploitative, putrid raw deal on the other. And this injustice poses an awkward question for the proponents of completely unregulated capitalism: why does development always seems to start by catering for the whims of a wealthy minority, rather than providing for the needs of the impoverished majority? Any rational person would surely accept (at the very least) that latrines are more important that luxury. This city is on the move. The Downtown area of Yangon, which broadly encompasses the grid system of streets implemented by the British in 1852, now boasts a Shangri-La hotel, new retail precincts and sky scraper with rooftop bar. Those with ready money (and there seems to be many – mostly foreign) are welcomed through airport style security by friendly guards into a consumer comatose. Commercial success is modernising this part of Myanmar, and the amount of business being conducted in hotel lobbies by overseas entrepreneurs indicates that this process is set to continue and potentially accelerate. Whether such a process will constitute progress for all or privilege for the few, however, remains to be seen. Thankfully there are benevolent, forward thinking agencies at led by dynamic, dedicated and determined people taking up the challenge. Their work would undoubtedly become less onerous, however, were big business, and society in general, to consider bottom-up investment as the only acceptable approach to development.

In a land divided by not only economics, but also race, religion and politics, one might wonder what unifying factor, if any, there is. The most immediate and tangible sign of hope, in Yangon at least, is the indomitable spirit of the people. Generalisations are often inaccurate and should be used sparingly; however, reporting that all the people on the street in Yangon seem cheerful is perhaps akin to suggesting everyone on the London Underground is grumpy: this may not be completely correct, but there is nevertheless an element of truth in it that many would recognise. One sight stands out to me as a symbol for the spirit, beauty and dignity of the people amongst so much want and pain. I am in a taxi bound for the airport. A bicycle threads its way through the detritus that litters the roadside. A woman with long flowing hair, wearing a traditional silk tunic and full length skirt sits sideways on the luggage rack of the bike, above the back wheel, behind her husband, who is pedalling. She holds-up an umbrella to shield them both from the sun, as elegantly as a duchess riding side-saddle on a thoroughbred.

 

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Previous blog:

In August 2015, Head of Seagrim House Mr Curtis travelled to a Myanmar/ Burma to mark the 70th anniversary of Victory over Japan Day and to remember ON Major Hugh Seagrim, after whom Seagrim House was named. Mr Curtis is getting ready to return to the area in order to attend the unveiling of a commemorative plaque to Hugh Seagrim in Yangon/Rangoon cathedral. He is collecting unwanted reading glasses to be redistributed to the elderly, with the Karen veterans of the Burma campaign now in their 90s. If you would like to know more, please visit www.h4fa.org.uk or search @glasses4myanmar on Facebook. Ahead of his trip in November the story of his last trip can be seen below:

The taxi is confronted by a stiffly uniformed military policeman tasked with hindering any further progress, so I step out of the cool of the car into the fuggy humidity of early morning Yangon. As I try to slalom my way through army jeeps and jumpy policemen as deferentially as possible, the congested, muddy road gives way to the pristine grass of the war cemetery. 

On 15th August 2015, many people gathered together to mark the 70th anniversary of Victory over Japan Day, and I travelled to the Rangoon War Cemetery in Myanmar/Burma and, more specifically, to plot 4, row A, the grave of Major Hugh Paul Seagrim GC DSO MBE and Old Norvicensian. Seagrim is known for his willingness to operate behind enemy lines as the Japanese advanced on British controlled Burma during the Second World War; his ability to raise a volunteer army of 3000 to surreptitiously disrupt the enemy; and eventually his self-sacrifice to protect his friends who were being executed in order to force him to surrender. What is perhaps less documented is his obsessive assimilation with and care for his soldiers, who had been drawn from the Karen, an ethnic group who were Christian and loyal to the imperial crown they viewed as paternal.

As I loiter, waiting for the service to begin, numerous and varied interested parties file in: a Burmese general and his entourage; the Commonwealth defence attaches, hot and gleaming in gold and white; a battery of photographers and journalists, pencils and Pentax made ready; diplomats, with calm smiles but eyes darting; security guards and gardeners; casual observers of this anachronistic spectacle. Had the ancient veterans not been wearing their traditional woven, blood red tabards, their arrival might have gone unnoticed (and they, the most important guests!). As the diminutive men shuffle through the gate and over the lawn, like tired imps, toward their reserved seating, it’s like a pulse leaping, throbbing life back into the day. For them, neither the names on the headstones, nor the accounts of battle read out are unfamiliar: names are friends, and battles real.  

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Annually honouring the fallen is a sombre, serious imperative, but one which causes no great inconvenience. All we have to do is polish our shoes a bit, conscientiously attempt to visualise their ordeals, recite the appointed words, keep a minute’s silence and ‘show our respect’. The elderly soldiers in the dense heat of a Rangoon graveyard represent the uncomfortable reality of remembrance however, as if we really want to show our respect to the dead, should we not ensure we care for the living? Maybe all too often we salute at the Cenotaph whilst ignoring the homeless squaddie, slumming it on the Strand.  

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After the main service has finished, the Karen veterans make their way determinedly to plot 4, row A. A spontaneous and less formal act of remembrance ensues. A Karen choir starts to sing Seagrim’s favourite hymn, in their own language, which Seagrim took the trouble to learn. On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand. The veterans sing along enthusiastically: they believe in a Father God who won’t turn His back on them in the way the father empire did after the war was won. Saw Berny, a 92 year old who fought alongside Seagrim gesticulates from his wheelchair about his friend: “he wore our dress, ate our food, spoke our language; he loved us”. I stand and listen to his fluent English, words only obscured by a lack of dentures, and marvel at him and his tenacity, as well as the man from Norfolk who led these warriors. Exhausted after his exertion, Saw Berny is wheeled away and returned to his fellow pilgrims. I am suddenly alone at Seagrim’s graveside, along with those of the other 1330 men buried here: in a nowhere part of a forgotten city, in an abandoned country.

The 1925 prefect board standing in School House

The 1925 prefect board standing in School House

Seagrim’s story was always inspirational and relevant, and undoubtedly a good name for a new House in an old School; his conduct in a cruel 20th century battle sets an example to the pupils and staff in a safer 21st predicament. But since visiting his home church in Whissonsett, looking at his name on the 1925 prefect board still standing in School House, travelling to his grave in Yangon and meeting the men still alive who knew him, I more keenly feel the fierce challenge of Seagrim’s example, that is, to remember actively, rather than passively. The forgotten Karen of Myanmar, who fought for Britain and her interests against tyrants are still alive and in need, as are those veterans in this country who are reeling from physical, mental and spiritual injury from more recent conflicts. We should remain diligent in remembering those who did not come back, but also better care for those who did.

Philip Davies has recently released a book, Lost Warriors - Seagrim and Pagani of Burma The last great untold story of WWII, which tells the story of Major Hugh Seagrim and Ras Pagani, who fought alongside each other. It is an epic tale of two Englishmen, who were among the most courageous and resourceful heroes of the most savage conflict in human history, yet who remain unknown in their own country. Philip will also be travelling to Myanmar next week and will unveil the plaque to Hugh Seagrim at Yangon Anglican Cathedral. The book can be purchased through Amazon here.