Today’s podcast to accompany my dog walk was Desert Island Discs. The castaway this week was Sir Anthony Seldon, the former Master of Wellington College and author of several political biographies. While I was familiar with his career, and his views on education in particular, until today I did not know anything about his personal life. He spoke movingly about his marriage, his children and his wife’s diagnosis with terminal cancer.
He said a couple of things which resonated with me which I quote here, but do listen to the whole podcast.
In answer to Kirsty’s question about whether independent schools should be abolished, he said: “If the quality of education was as good as it is at the best independent and the best state schools, then that might be the ideal, though I still think there’s a role for a different sector that challenges, which doesn’t have to be subject to the same governmental regimes as the rest.”
“It’s the raising of expectations which is at the heart of good education, good schooling, good universities…”
“When the children came into their mid to late teens and discovered their friends were a lot more exciting than their mum and dad…we did discover that by taking them off on short breaks of four or five days every year to somewhere sunny with a bit of culture, it was a way of keeping them together.”
It was cold but a gorgeous day for walking the dog.
You will have noticed that this post has nothing to do with my Aga, but it is about what I’ve been listening to on Radio 4 which is the usual background noise in my kitchen, so I have no plans to rename my blog yet.
When I walk the dog on Thursday afternoons I almost always listen to the Spectator’s weekly podcast, during which Isabel Hardman, James Forsyth, Fraser Nelson and others discuss some of the political and cultural issues of the week. It’s excellent.
This week’s includes a conversation between Rod Liddle and Kaite Welsh about David Bowie and his legacy. I agree with Liddle that the best thing about Bowie was his music. He leaves behind a quite extraordinary body of work, much of which is part of the soundtrack of my life. When, as a teenager, I listened to Hunky Dory or watched Bowie perform on Top of the Pops, it was only ever about the music. I didn’t pay much attention to his androgyny or his drug taking. Later on, when he made political statements, they passed me by. Listening to this discussion made me realise I prefer to ignore the politics of my favourite actors and musicians. This is usually possible. I didn’t know until his death was announced this week, that the wonderful Alan Rickman was a “card carrying” member of the Labour Party, and knowing it now does not change my opinion of him.
Some are more noisy about it though. Those in the performing arts are obviously as entitled as anyone else to be political and it’s understandable that they might want to use their high profile to promote a cause. Benedict Cumberbatch, a superb actor, did this recently when he remained on stage after his play’s performance to criticise the Government for its response to the migrant crisis, but the way he did it grated with me.
“You feel this way because you’re a Conservative and actors tend to be left-leaning,” you might well say to me, and you’d probably be right.