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“I’ve never really felt alone here,” a girl reported about settling in at Bryanston in the pupil pre-inspection questionnaire at the start of this term. Music to my ears.

Belonging seems to me to matter enormously, not least in this fast-moving, virtual world some would have us believe we live in. Why? To explain that, it’s time for the famous camel story, courtesy of my old and wonderful ex-colleague, Stephen Winkley. 

There was a family of camels enjoying a good graze and gossip. The baby camel was chewing, as baby camels do, and wondering some wondrous thoughts. He asked his mother, “Mum, why have we got these bumps on our backs?” “Well,” said his mother, “Those bumps are humps and they store gallons of water in them which means we can walk for days across the desert without stopping for a drink.” The baby camel thought about this, ruminatively, and as baby camels often do, came up with another question. “Mum, so why have we got these great big splashy feet then?” And his mother answered him patiently, as mother camels do, “Those are to allow us to walk for miles and miles through the trackless sands without getting bogged down and to keep on going and going.” The baby camel turned this interesting new fact around his baby camel mind and asked, “Mum, so why is it we are in Chessington Zoo?” 

The point of the story is that we all know when we feel out of place and we much prefer to know where we belong. It makes sense of who we are and what our talents and dispositions are. It allows us to give of our best and to feel valued and recognised for who we are and what we bring to the party. And that way you don’t feel alone or lonely but you feel part of a place that is right for you, which nurtures those talents and helps them grow, which allows you to learn from others around you. All real boarding school stuff; none of that gaming or social media nonsense. It’s all about drama and sport, music and bell ringing. 

It may be that those who believe in ‘character building’ arguments about schooling would argue that we could do the same from being in a totally alien environment and not having a chance of fitting in. This is the cold baths and ‘it never did me any harm, being hung by my heels out of the window’ school of thought about life in a bracing boarding school circa 1810. That seems to me to be illegal as well as unreasonably demanding of a 13- or even 18- year-old. I am delighted that pupils talk about this place as a family, a home from home, a place they feel supported, guided and cherished. It makes my job, which is not always entirely straightforward, really worthwhile. 

And how seasonal this all feels: camels, belonging, being cherished. Time for writing my Christmas cards and another mince pie. I wish you all a restful Christmas holiday together when it arrives and the very best of all things for 2016.

Tagged  Pastoral Care