On the final Thursday of half term we gathered for a minute’s silence to remember those who died in Manchester on the 22nd of May. We spoke of the awful nature of the deeds that had happened, of the suffering that was inflicted, of the infrequency of such attacks, of how we should think of acts of evil, and not of evil people.
I said that these events were rare, that the chances of such things happening to us were so remote as for them to be nearly impossible to find ourselves bound up in.
And then, on Saturday night, the London Bridge and Borough Market attacks happened.
People were attacked: seven were killed, dozens were injured.
And, once again, we are left asking why: for what purpose, for what end were these lives taken? And, once again, there can be no answer that can really make sense of the senseless, to bring reason to the unreasonable, to help us comprehend the incomprehensible.
These attacks took place in a part of London I know so well. For five years I arrived at London Bridge or Borough tube stations and made my way to Tower Bridge for work. I worked in the media, for a photographic press agency then, before becoming a teacher. The pub the Barrowboy and Banker that was the site of the van crash was one I have been in many times. Other bars they mentioned on the news I have been to, and I have eaten many times in Borough Market.
On another evening, in the life I had then, it would be all too easy to see myself and those I worked with caught up directly in what occurred that night.
This area is a place of fun, of happiness, of the brilliant, eclectic, multicultural, mixed and vibrant London that shows this unique city at its best.
And now it is another site of sadness, to go with that of Manchester.
But Manchester showed itself in a remarkable light last night, and showed a way that London can make a quick recovery.
And Manchester, of course, has been here before. When I was a student in that city, back in 1996, in the summer of my Final Examinations, the city was devastated by the biggest bomb to go off in Britain since World War Two. The attack then was the work of the Irish Republican Army, or the IRA.
When I was growing up, the IRA was often in the news. Their attacks in Ireland and Britain claimed many lives. There was a genuine fear that their campaign to unite Ireland, regardless of the human cost, would not end.
But end it did. And Northern Ireland is no longer occupied by British armed forces. The IRA has largely disbanded, and disarmed, and former enemies now sit side by side in Stormont, the seat of the Northern Irish Assembly. Times change, the world moves on.
And the reason for this is the reason that why there can be hope when things seem hopeless, why there can be reasons to smile in the face of such awful news, why we must look to one another as friends and a community rather that become divided or give in to the fear and hate that we can all find at the click of a mouse when searching online.
And that reason is the unique power of the human spirit to rise to any challenge, to face hate with love, to refuse to give in to the lowest common denominator, no matter how awful the provocation.
It may come as no surprise to many of you when I say I knew little, or nothing, of Ariana Grande before the 22nd May.
I am in fact quietly confident that her target audience is not comprised heavily of Headmasters of independent Cornish schools.
But I know who she is now. And what she managed to do, in bringing together those who performed at Old Trafford cricket ground arena last night was inspirational.
A venue I last attended for a black tie ball as a student when I was 21 played host to some 50,000 people, including some 10,000 who had also been in the audience when the terror attack claimed 22 lives following Grande’s concert in May.
The concert showed many of the values that define who we are and what we should be: united, free, brave, democratic, diverse, defiant, upbeat and very much unbowed.
This was also shown in the aftermath of the Manchester attacks in the city’s Albert Square, where the 6ft 6 poet Tony Walsh – also known as Longfella – performed his ode to Manchester ‘This Is The Place.’ And if you haven’t heard it, do google it. He ended that hymn to the people, power and history of that great city with the words “always remember, never forget. Choose love Manchester.”
And that is what we all can do in the face of these attacks: remain resilient, don’t build walls that divide, speak to those different to ourselves, and find out more about the world we live in from sources we can rely on. Filter out the noise, focus on the truth as far as it can be shown.
And to use your positions as young people who have a fortunate and privileged start in life here in Cornwall, here at school, to build a better future.
To paraphrase Tony Walsh: choose love, St Joseph’s.