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Life Chez Dee Episode #64: School Assemblies and Reflections

Most of us are living a period of time where we have been given time to slow down the pace of our lives, notice, observe, reflect; admittedly this has been an enforced time, but time it is. We’re in unprecedented times, people struggling financially, people who are vulnerable or elderly struggling at home, many of us taking on new roles as volunteers, teachers, childminders, carers.

We take time to reflect on our own lives, how much we now appreciate, how much we miss, and indeed how much we don’t miss. We have realised where our priorities lie and what is important to us. We have been shown the fragility of life, and how things can change in the blink of an eye. We have been given the opportunities to show empathy, and offer help to our fellow man.

So what is important? Family, health, loved ones, home … a safe place for us to be together, being there for each other, supporting, helping, but also being there for our neighbours, and I use this word to describe those who live in our vicinity, but also our fellow man, whatever race or religion, age, size or sex.

Our allowance of daily exercise has found us out for a walk, sometimes with the family, sometimes by ourselves. Enjoying the outdoors, enjoying where we live, noticing what is around us, observing nature. We can again see clear seas and clear skies, we can hear the music of the birds. Suddenly, as the world slows down, we are reconnecting with nature. And how marvellous is all this?

Everywhere we look we are seeing the beauty of the leaves on the trees, the flowers growing in the woods and the hedgerows, we walk on the sand, along the shore, we take in the sea air, feel the wind in our hair, and the rain on our faces; and we’re thankful that we are one of the lucky ones able to go out and appreciate this; lucky because of where we live; lucky because we’re not called to go to work, we’re not key workers, we’re not on the frontline; and lucky because we’re alive. We’re going for walks, on the beach or in the woods, on the green, or around the lake. Looking to nature for recreation, for solace, for time to think, notice, reconnect. I think of the treasures which nature offers us and it reminds me of the song we sang in assembly when I was a child.

“Daisies are our silver, buttercups our gold;

These are all the treasures we can have or hold.

Raindrops are our Diamonds, and the morning dew,

While for shining sapphires we’ve the Speedwell blue

These shall be our emeralds, leaves so new and green

Roses make the reddest rubies ever seen “ … and so it goes on.

Many have struggled not being able to visit their friends or family, but we are lucky to have the technology to remain in contact – to hear them, to see them, to speak to them. There will of course be some who won’t see their loved ones again, those who have died as a result of the virus directly, or those who have died indirectly. Life as we know it can change in an instant, I know this from first-hand experience, not through COVID, but by meningitis and sepsis, other dreadful indiscriminate diseases which took the life of my child without warning, and with such speed, I have never known before. To those who are struggling because their loved ones are at the end of a telephone, I say you are lucky, you will see each other again, just be patient. Please spare a thought to those who will not see their loved ones again. Imagine how hard you are finding this separation from your loved ones, and then imagine how it is for some who live with pain, ache, hurt and longing day after day, knowing it doesn’t end, knowing that they must endure this as they, and the rest of the world go about their lives.

On reflection, we think about our lives and about what is important to us. Are we living our lives to the fullest? Will we get to the end of our lives and know that we really lived? Did we make a difference to others?

I was thinking about life, and how life can be so cruel, so unfair, so hard and so unimaginably sad; and yet it can also be wonderful, great, and unimaginably happy; and sometimes both at the same time. Yet again, I was reminded of a song we sang in our primary school assemblies:

“The Journey of Life may be easy, may be hard, there’ll be danger on the way …”.

We sang many songs in assembly, and many of which I can still remember to this day. I know I’ve got a thing about songs, words and tunes, but again, these are more songs which have resonated and stayed with me. I play the words in my head, something triggers the words, often when I need advice to offer others, or indeed myself. Although I regularly attended church, I didn’t go to a church school, but at school we did say prayers, and we did sing hymns, both traditional and modern, as we sat in our assembly hall, cross legged, looking up at Her Majesty’s picture hanging where all would see it every day, and of course expertly plaiting the hair of a friend who was sitting in the row in front. I think about Oliver at school, and how there is no picture of the Queen on the wall, and there are no hymns sung, or prayers said. I know it isn’t a church school, but neither was mine, so is this a reflection of the times we’re in now, or is this a decision made from school to school? And when was that decision made to remove the picture of our Queen? School assemblies nowadays seem to have no religious bias (except of course for church schools), the days of the week determining the theme of the assembly, whether general, topical or moral issues, and not forgetting the specific days for singing, reading or exercise assembly, or school values and pride assembly. Oliver talks about how his favourite assemblies are the ones where visitors come in, author visits, theatre companies for example. I however, have vivid memories of some of the assemblies taken by visitors to the school ... the police, fire brigade and such, where they'd illustrate their talk with graphic images as a way of frightening us into taking heed. Pictures of children playing on the railway lines and being killed by trains, falling into gravel pit lakes and drowning, being electricuted by pylons, or fires caused by chip pans or burns by fireworks, and the many warnings of stranger danger, clearly in my psyche all these years later.

I think of the songs and hymns we sang in morning assemblies all those years ago, offering thanks and praise, and offering us moral guidance. “Morning has Broken” and “Lord of the Dance”, still as familiar and just as wonderful today as they were then. “All Things Bright and Beautiful” and “O Jesus I have promised” … and yes I know three different tunes to both these hymns, and there may be more. “When a knight won his Spurs”, and “Daisies are our Silver” may not have been the more traditional of hymns but we sang them on many occasion all the same.

Songs were sung too as a class lesson, not in a choir, there was no choir at my primary, or indeed my secondary school, but our class would traipse down to the hall for a singing lesson, and we’d sing all sorts from the old traditional songs of our grandparents era like Daisy, Daisy or Pack up your Troubles; to the songs by the Beatles like Yesterday and Yellow Submarine. We’d sing Football Crazy, Little Boxes, Gypsy Rover or even the Happy Wanderer. I’ve been thinking about this tonight, and been on a rummage through the drawers in the front room; and there they are all three piano books which I remember being played on the school piano, Ta–ra-ra boom-de-ay, Okki-tokki-unga, and Apusskidu, obviously these copies belonged to my mum from her teaching days, but it has been lovely for Justin to sit and play some of these tunes to me this evening, the latter one having the same name as another song I remember so well about sardines.

I know I’m unusual in that I’m song obsessed, and tend to know a song to fit with pretty much everything and every situation I’m in, words trigger them, certain notes and keys trigger them, situations, places, food, and even weather. If only life were like a songbook; but I suppose it is … positive, uplifting, happy and full of love, as well as challenging, hard, sad and unfair. There are times when we need help, support, or just a friend, and the current times we’re in are such times. Lockdown seems to be beginning to unlock, and for those who need help, or support, whether practical or emotional, I hope the empathy for others we’ve seen over the past few weeks, stays with us going forward. Here’s another song for you, which I hope you remember from your own school days, and if you do, I hope you sing the words as you read them; if you don’t know the tune, they’re lovely words anyway. Take care, stay safe, God bless.

When I needed a neighbour were you there, were you there,

When I needed a neighbour were you there

And the creed and the colour and the name won’t matter, were you there?

I was hungry and thirsty, were you there, were you there,

I was hungry and thirsty, were you there?

And the creed and the colour and the name won’t matter were you there?

I was cold I was naked were you there, were you there

I was cold I was naked were you there?

And the creed and the colour and the name won’t matter were you there?

When I needed a shelter were you there, were you there,

When I needed a shelter were you there?

And the creed and the colour and the name won’t matter were you there?

Wherever you travel I’ll be there, I’ll be there

Wherever you travel I’ll be there

And the creed and the colour and the name won’t matter I’ll be there?

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