There is a scene in Barry Hines’ novel ‘A Kestrel for a Knave’ where Billy Casper – our downtrodden hero – make a decision with huge consequences.
As you’ll probably know, Billy is being brought up in a mining town in the Yorkshire, the youngest of two brothers being brought up by their mum, he’s your classic latch-key kid. Up with the larks to deliver papers, permanently hungry, the target of bullying and a few flying clips round the ear from nearly all the adults in his life, he spends his days in class fighting sleep or avoiding fights in the playground.
Billy lives for his hawk, a hawk he took from the nest as a fledgling and has nurtured in a lean-to shed at the back of the house – feeding scrag ends of beef from the butcher as he trains her to fly and return…hours and hours of practice, trust, craft and skill learned from a library book. The first book Billy has shown any interest in reading.
His brother Jud works in the mine and lives for the weekends and from his occasional betting successes over the furlongs. Billy puts Jud’s bets on for him at the local bookies based in a parade of sullen shops at the centre of the estate.
On one of the days his brother’s on the early shift in the pit, Billy’s been asked to place a double bet accumulator but, after flipping coins for a best-of-three and then asking the bookmaker for his advice, Billy decides to burn the betting slip and buy himself some chips at the tail-end of lunch.
The horses on the slip Crackpot and Tell-Him-He’s-Dead both come in and win their races but Jud’s slip ended up in the fire and the stake ended up in Billy’s belly and as scraps of beef for Kes, his bird.
Raging and without mercy, Jud kills the hawk in revenge for him missing out on the winnings from the bet, the equivalent of a week’s wages. Billy is heartbroken, Jud is still angry and their mother is just about keeping her family together emotionally and financially.
Billy goes for a long walk and ends up inside the boarded-up Palace picture house, plays an imaginary film in his head alongside his missing father and then ambles back home, buries his hawk and goes to bed. Despondent. Resigned. Drained.
Whatever you think of the way the country voted last Thursday and how you felt last Friday (personally I felt like Billy going to bed), it’s up to us as educators to make our own hope, our own vision and to own our attitudes.
Being angry about the Conservative Government, the Brexit debacle and the short memories of towns like Billy’s which were decimated by Thatcher and more recently held down under austerity isn’t going to help anyone and it’s not going to help your mental health. Like Billy, the country has made a decision.
Whatever happens from now on will be the enactment of policies owned by this government and although we need to stay aware of what happens to public services like the NHS and our relationship with Europe, we are now somewhat at the mercy of a majority government. That is what democracy currently looks like.
The opposition, we now see, was hampered by an unpopular leader after years of vilification from the majority of the press in Britain who will benefit from a divided country along with Brexit and policies which were sacrificed under personality. Personally, I’m trying to move on from the fact that the most right-wing government for decades, led by a man who’s lies are as legion as they are casual, has just been elected with a huge majority and you can bet they’ll be interested in staying for the full five years of the fixed-term parliament act they themselves installed.
So what does this have to do with Billy Casper?
Billy Casper was poor, hungry and bullied. He struggled under a number of what are now known as Adverse Childhood Experiences and navigated his way through society making the best of it he could. School was somewhere warm in temperature but not in emotion.
Two things made Billy’s life more bearable – a hobby and a teacher who showed an interest in his hobby and therefore Billy himself. Mr Farthing is a teacher who is genuinely interested in Billy and Kes and says when they are standing in the aviary admiring her “I think it’s a kind of pride, and as you say independence…a satisfaction with its own beauty and prowess. It seems to look you straight in the eye and say ‘Who the hell are you anyway?”…it just seems proud to be itself”.
Teachers are not social workers, teachers aren’t counsellors, teachers aren’t psychologists. We’re all of those things alongside myriad other jobs we have to do, but the most important thing we can be is kind and observant to changes and behaviours and try and look to support not judge.
You could be the beacon of hope for a young person who doesn’t have any.
Please wear this honour with pride…once we make our own hope, we need to share it far and wide.
Have a fantastic Christmas and New Year break – thanks to all our clients, partners and friends who have made 2019 wonderful – I’m looking forward with hope to making 2020 even better.