By the rivers of Babylon . . .

Oct 28th, 2005 | By | Category: Personal Columns

The boarding school our children attend as day pupils began its half term today. There were parent-teacher meetings this morning and drifting through the school at midday there was a palpable sense of anticipation and excitement.Some of those returning home on long haul flights had left in the early hours of yesterday morning. Breaking up is a major logistical operation.

Standing on the steps of one of the buildings, watching a mother load her daughter’s bags into the back of their car, I noticed the look of pure delight on the daughter’s face, and was momentarily transported back three decades.

My school was an altogether more modest affair; we were gathered there from corners of England through ill health.The clear air and Spartan regime of our school on Dartmoor was intended to build strength of body and character.

Going home was always a moment of delight. I was always delighted when there was only one month of the term to go; it meant each date in the calendar would only occur once more.

The end of term was a morning of high excitement. We piled onto an old bus and were transported to Teignmouth railway station where we met with girls from our sister school.The half single fare to Taunton was 63 pence.The British Rail ticket was a red and white vertical rectangle with one corner chopped off; it was so significant for me that I can remember the print on it.

Getting home was, of course, always an anti-climax.I didn’t know anyone anymore and there was nothing much to do.Nevertheless, the end of the holidays and the approach of a new term was something to be met with gloom and apprehension.The journey westwards on the train was a pale reflection of that eastwards just a few short weeks before, I can barely remember the details.

Reading the pages of Old Testament history where the exile in Babylon is described and seeing the longing of the people to be at home again, I think schooldays taught me something of what it meant to long to be back in your own place.I think the delight on that girl’s face this morning showed me something of the joy of a returning exile.

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