YEHUDI MENUHIN was just a toddler of four when he started playing the violin. At the ripe old age of 10 he gave his first public performance.
Last week I was privileged to see the Maestro, now a sprightly 82, conducting a string orchestra of 27 prodigies aged 11 to 18 at the Yehudi Menuhin School, set in pastoral Surrey, just a pizzicato from Stoke d'Abernon's little station. It was an exhilarating experience to observe those passionate youngsters performing with such gusto and professionalism under Lord Menuhin's guiding charm. Light and easy? No way. The Divertimento by Bela Bartok is about as tough as they get. It was a rehearsal for next month's concert at Unesco in Paris to mark the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights.
The school - and I don't think there's another quite like it anywhere - started with just 15 pupils in 1963. Today, there are 57 youngsters from the age of eight, representing 20 nationalities, all playing stringed instruments or the piano, under the guidance of 15 full-time and 30 part- time teachers - and yes, Mr Blunkett, they do the national curriculum as well as music. Among the school's alumni are the violin virtuosi Nigel Kennedy and Tasmin Little, the pianists Melvyn Tan and Kathryn Stott, and the cellists Colin Carr and Paul Watkins (leader of the BBC Symphony's cellists).
The Bartok was magnificent - but it was also an assault on my ears. Though beautifully designed and furnished (there's a piano in each of the children's rooms!), the school lacks a proper concert hall. Now wouldn't you think the National Lottery or even the dear old Arts Council could have coughed up the few measly quid (well, all right, maybe it's a million measly quid) for so important a feature? Why are music and the arts always shoved into a back seat? I commend anyone wishing to set this right or wanting to know more about the school, to contact Nicholas Chisholm, its personable head, on 01932 864739 (Fax: 01932 864633).
IT WOULD appear that just about everyone who is anyone in the Government must now first seek permission before opening his or her mouth to a reporter. That chap whose name I dare not speak for fear of retribution seems to be responsible for the comparatively recent coinage "control freak". Cabinet members are not alone in pressing panic buttons at the sight of a hack. Now the University of Leeds is to run a series of courses on dealing with the media. They will advise academics on how to handle "troublesome journalists", how to cope with radio or newspaper interviews and how to behave in front of the cameras when appearing on television. The courses, which kick off on 26 January, will also advise these same academics on how to kow-tow to hacks in order to promote their work through the media. Could universities now please devise a course designed for journalists on how to deal with troublesome dons?
Living all over again
WANDILE NOMQUPHU was one of nine children. When he was just five, the family split up and was scattered to various parts of a South Africa still in the stranglehold of apartheid. The child spent the next five years tending livestock with his two young brothers. He avoided school, being unable to stand the taunts and bullying of his peers who regarded him as uncivilised. Between them, the boys possessed twopence, which they spent on vegetable seeds.
Amazingly, these grew into fine crops, which they could sell. They used the proceeds to buy decent clothes so they could go to school, at a cost of 50 cents a year, without being taunted. Wandile made it to the University of Zululand and graduated with an honours degree in geology and hydrology. The family slowly reassembled and Wandile and his brothers clubbed together to build a roof over their mother's head.
This might well suffice as a story of perseverance and success. But there's more. Wandile was employed by the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry in Port Elizabeth and now, at the age of 33, he has been awarded a Unilever Nelson Mandela Scholarship and has come to England to study for a Third World Development Masters degree at the Royal Holloway College, University of London. For the first few weeks he was deeply homesick.
"Another South African student comforted me with the thought that homesickness is a sign that you are alive," he says. His message to all third world do-gooders: you can't transplant First World cultures into a Third World context. "People won't come out of the bushes to join the civilised world," he says. "Development is about people, not places."
Nelson Mandela can be very proud of him.
Go directly to jail
NEW STUDENT teachers at Canterbury Christ Church University College - and I suppose that'll be known as a stammering CCCUC - will get a taste of jail even before they become chained to real schools. The college has just acquired Sessions House, which used to be the city's court, and the basement cells in which drunks, thieves and other criminals were incarcerated before they were dragged before the beak. Dr Carey, the archbish, formally opened the magnificently refurbished building, now the new Faculty of Education, the other day and Anthea Millett, head of the Teacher Training Agency, even delivered the opening lecture at the fine Drum Theatre which seats 250. This was, indeed, the original courtroom as designed by George Byfield in 1808.
Prisoners were brought from the adjacent prison to the court along an underground passage. The prison authorities, bless them, insisted on blocking up the passage when the college bought Sessions House exactly three years ago, when the Crown Court moved to Chaucer Road, Canterbury. But the remains of the passage are still clearly seen. Byfield would not recognise it today, with all its technical mod cons. The old courthouse cost pounds 4,690 15s 6d. Its refurbishment came to more than pounds 3m which, I suppose, is not much more than the original price in real terms.
And guess what: when the college funded an archeological dig, they found a neat selection of Roman pots, hearths and toilet seats. A good history lesson for new teachers.
Wizard of Oz
'ELLO, 'ELLO, what's all this 'ere then? When black police officer Oz Billings started his degree in social policy studies at Sheffield Hallam University, he was a sergeant. When he passed with first-class honours this summer, he rightly won promotion to the rank of inspector. And when he stepped onto the City Hall stage for the degree ceremony a couple of weeks ago, he also received a much coveted prize for outstanding achievement, cheered on by fellow coppers in the South Yorkshire police force. The force had fully supported his studies. Quite right. His tutor described Oz as "an outstanding and exceptionally articulate student".
"BY THE time you read this, your acting bursar, temporary editor and roving car park attendant will have stopped "acting". I'd like to say it has been fun; I'd even like to say I will really miss St George's. But there you go, or at least, there I go, off to live in the sun and drink fine wine and eat delicious food cooked in olive oil and garlic."
From the St George's Hospital Medical School newsletter.Reuse content