Working at Bootham as the Writer in Residence, I get a lot of time to chat with the kids while we work on their creative writing skills. In one class last week though, it was me learning a lesson: at all of age 24, I am apparently ‘devastatingly old’. ‘Devastatingly’ being, of course, an excellent vocabulary word, so that softened the blow a little. But not much.
The reason for my oldness, apparently, was iPods. This observation was followed by pointing out to me that, while the students now do their research for the school newspaper on their iPhones and iPads and iBizarreHalfwayPointBetweenPhoneandPads – they weren’t even born when the original iPod came about, let alone old enough to own one like I did. This news was probably about as heartbreaking to me as the time when I realised that, if you were born when Tony Blair came to power, you’d now be 16 years old, able to vote and get married and get a job and get a moped (if you’re that way inclined), and yet D Ream’s ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ would mean absolutely nothing to you (although really, you’d probably be better off that way.)
I took my iPlight to the cafeteria, where the staff reminisced about days with no computers in schools at all, or days of everyone crowding around one BBC computer – and who else remembers Auntie Beeb providing school computers? – while we waited for the black and white screen to load supposed literacy puzzles that mostly looked like dots.
Today marks the first in my entries for Bootham’s new blog, and it sort of makes me think that, if I’d been doing this when I was at school, I’d probably have had to scratch out 1000 copies of this entry in pencil and post it through everybody’s doors, like a really rubbish takeaway menu. We’ve come such a long way since then though at Bootham – with blogs and Twitter accounts and computers in every classroom, and a whole lot of tech-savvy students. It’s amazing, and if I’m a little bit jealous of our students, it’s only because a little part of me is still somewhere in the 1980s, trying to work out how fax machines magically transport my letters.
I do think though, that there are probably some things in the school that technology is never going to replace. I’ve just started doing research for a Bootham theatre project – and more on that in a later blog, I think – where I’m reading back through the school archives. There’s an amazing wealth of information in the school – everything from the very first students in 1823 to our most recent graduates – and it commands my reverence just because of how old it smells. I’m reasonably confident that computers couldn’t replicate that: there’s no function on my phone that says ‘spray room with the scent of knowledge’, although I would probably get that app if there was one.
The research we can do now online is obviously incredible, and we really take advantage of it here, but I think my favourite things I’ve learned so far at the school have come from talking to staff, pupils, and Bootham families, and from reading the archives. Did you all know, for instance, that the school’s former headmaster Arthur Rowntree was once suspected as a German spy because he went onto the school’s roof to check the sunlight gauge? There are so many things to learn that make it incredible to walk around the school and look around at who else was here before.
Let’s be honest, I’m probably going to be camping out in the archive room for a while. If you need me, I’ll be there, with my nose in a volume of the Bootham Magazine (Vol. VII, 1914-1916), and listening to the voices of all the Old Scholars and staff from a century ago, to remind me that even if I am ‘devastatingly old’, at some point there’s got to be some wisdom that comes with that. And maybe, in 100 years time, someone else will be looking at the school archives, and they’ll read this and think about me too. And they won’t have any idea who D Ream are either. Oh well.