This afternoon’s assembly begins with a musical performance from Fiona McC.
Next to sporting matters, and there were some excellent results across the board this week. Moulton were in fine form winning their tennis and cricket fixtures against St Faith’s and St Mary’s. The Tennis and Cricket blocks against Kimbolton and Perse were also successful with some superb results. Congratulations to the U14 Boys’ tennis side who became county champions and to the U14 Boys’ Cricket side who also won the County Cup. Finally, many congratulations to the Boys’ 1st XI Cricket Captain Will R who scored 121* in a fine innings for the School in a decisive victory over The Perse.
I recently came across a poem on Twitter – the poet’s name is Brian Bilston – nobody quite knows who he is, he’s a bit like poetry’s answer to the mystery artist ‘Banksy’.
The poem I will read you is typical of his poetry, from what I have read: he embraces the ordinary, he delights in the mundane, the everyday – and this, to me, is what this poem is about. It’s called “Bond, Off Duty”.
Bond, Off Duty
It’s rare for the movies to show him
wielding a hoover, or unloading a dishwasher;
presumably not making for good box office,
or maybe they just don’t have the budget.
It could be that he employs a cleaner,
although that runs the risk of someone snooping
through his drawers. M would never sanction
such a potential security breach.
The cutting room floor must be littered
with footage of him ringing around
to get a new quote on his home insurance,
filling in his expense forms – the itinerary
of an international secret agent is complex:
he’ll be drowning in receipts. And what about
the days he needs to catch up with his laundry,
take his wetsuit to the dry cleaners?
And it gets me thinking, about the running time
of my own life, recast as a movie
with all the dull bits edited out –
moments like this, as I set off in pursuit
of the lorry, bin bags in hand,
sprinting through the wet streets,
wheezing already and a pain in my side,
telling myself: this is no time to die.
Life isn’t an airbrushed highlights package. Nobody’s life is actually like James Bond’s is presented to be. We all have to deal with the day-to-day stuff. Civil servants (because that is what he is) definitely don’t look like James Bond, in my experience, any more than lawyers look like those beautiful people in ‘Suits’.
I was pleased when some of the Upper Sixth told me at a leavers’ drinks party about the social media app “BeReal”, released in 2020 but very much gaining popularity with Gen Zs in early 2022. As I am sure you know better than I do, it functions by asking users to share a photo from whatever they are doing during a randomly selected two-minute window each day. What is different about it is its emphasis on authenticity, mundanity, even – in stark contract to the heavily doctored or curated – or perhaps I should say ‘created’ – confection of Instagram, where everyone else seems to be leading perfect lives, free from domestic chores, mundane tasks, work commitments, trips to the supermarket or dry cleaners.
The fact is that you know intellectually of course that life isn’t really like that, but I suspect that at times it must feel like an overwhelming social media narrative which I can only assume does put real pressure on people to portray themselves to be leading these glamorous lives.
There must be a danger that this fuels a constant anxiety about social comparisons and personal inadequacy, especially if this is something you have been powerfully exposed to all your lives. But let me tell you – and remember, I speak as someone who nearly ended up as a real-life MI6 spy, working for the Secret Intelligence Service – life isn’t really like that at all, and if you think it is, or should be, then not only will you be deeply disappointed, but actually, even worse than that, you will miss out on so, so much which is of actual value. I think it is impossible to lead a truly fulfilled life without embracing the ordinary. We are encouraged, I think, to dismiss the value of everyday life, which is often devalued as dreary, banal and burdensome, and never more so than in a culture besotted with fantasy, celebrity and glamour.
Instead I would urge you to live in the moment, even the ordinary moment, especially the ordinary moment. Look for the beauty all around you, celebrate the ordinary; you will reap the rewards of paying attention to the here and now.
I think must be hard to be a young person right now, with all the pressure to portray oneself as perfect, flawless, glamorous. Nobody actually ever feels like that – if they did, they’d be unbearable and if you were ever to encounter someone who actually does regard themselves like that, then I would have some very simple and solid advice for you: run a mile, as fast as you can, and then keep running.
This isn’t a subject I have touched on ever in sixteen years of headship but the same applies to other important areas of reality versus their airbrushed media portrayal. Just as nobody’s real life resembles anything like a Bond film, nor does anyone’s real life relationships, including physical relationships, resemble what is portrayed online. It is often suggested that widescale access to such images and videos through online pornography means that young people today are much better informed about sex than previous generations. Well, to me that is laughable – it would be no more laughable for me to suggest to someone that if they are interested in a career in the Civil Service or the intelligence services, they should do some research by watching a Bond film. They both portray something so far removed from the reality as to be totally misleading.
Here’s an important and related truth that I don’t think I appreciated at your age: in real life, you don’t love people for their flawlessness – and though you might initially be tempted to think that someone you like, or feel attracted to, is flawless, I can assure you that they aren’t. But as you get to know them, their quirks, their weaknesses, their idiosyncrasies, what you’ll realise is that, far from being attracted to someone because they are perfect, it is their individual quirks, their very imperfections, which are what you love about them, because it is these things that make them, them.
So: don’t be taken in by the artificial confection of a perfectly curated Instagram existence. Such a life is not only unattainable and unrealistic but it you are setting your sights on it, you will miss out on embracing the ordinary, loving the smaller details in life: the small acts of kindness shown to you by your friends, or by strangers, the beauty of the physical world around you – here at The Leys, here in Cambridge, or further afield – the smell of a good cup of coffee, the beauty of nature, the sound of birdsong – for me, the mundane and unglamorous Blackbird has one of the most beautiful of all birdsongs – appreciate all those tiny, unremarkable, ordinary things that make the everyday so brilliant. Savour that lie-in, that time singing with friends on a D of E trip as I witnessed last week in the Peak District – that cup of tea and chat with a friend in the House……. If you are forever thinking that it’s all about the next exotic holiday, the stunning professional successes, drinking cocktails in a rooftop bar in New York, your next meal in the next Michelin-starred restaurant, whilst ignoring the everyday in between, then it’s not just that you’re going to be disappointed, but you’re actually missing out on so much.
Nobody lives a life like James Bond’s – so Be Real, embrace the ordinary, and don’t worry too much about whatever you think are your flaws – they won’t hold you back, and what you’ll find is that people will love you, not despite them, but for them.