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Another hidden gem

I wrote a few weeks back about how one of the hidden joys of being at Pilgrims’ was getting to sing hymns every week. [There was one on Monday that I really didn’t know; I was a bit lost! Still, what you don’t know today often becomes something you love next week]. 

This week, I have had cause to think about another hidden joy at Pilgrims’, and that is how we do lunch.

Most schools nowadays have a large canteen and children file in, take their lunch, and sit with a few friends.  I get it; it provides a great deal of personal freedom, and lots of organisational flexibility too.  However, we still stick to set tables with a member of staff at the head, and on most days the food is served ‘family style' by the member of staff, to the children.  It is in many ways a very formal way to do things.

A question that new staff often raise is, 'why do we do it like this?'.  The reasons are multifaceted.

One of the main reasons is that we think it is good for boys to learn what could be described as conventional mealtime manners. Learning to sit at a dinner table, converse with others, pass things around, and clear collectively are important skills.  In assembly on Monday I explained to the boys that I hope throughout their lives they will be invited to many dinners (hopefully some very formal ones too) and it is important to know how to behave so as to not feel self-conscious or embarrassed.

Now, for this type of lunch to work there do need to be some rules, and I spoke about these specifically on Monday. 

I stressed five key things to remember:

  1. Use the cutlery correctly
  2. Don’t chew with your mouth open
  3. Don’t talk with your mouth full
  4. Ask for things, never reach across people: follow the “please pass the...” rule
  5. Sit up properly, without elbows on tables, without legs tucked under you

To these central rules, I added some procedural ones:

  1. Don’t start until everyone is ready or you have been invited to do so
  2. When you have finished, put your knives and forks together to show that you have finished
  3. It is good manners to help with the stacking and clearing

I also explained to the boys that we set these rules not only to help them to learn how to behave, but also to make lunch, in the limited space that we have, as pleasant for all the participants as possible.

I would finish by pointing out that there are two important by-products resulting from how we do lunch.  Firstly, we are able to keep an eye on what the boys are eating; and secondly (and far more importantly as far as I am concerned), it encourages us all (teachers and boys) to engage with each other over lunch.  Sometimes, after a busy morning, all I yearn for is a nice quiet few minutes where I can eat by myself and gather my thoughts.  Instead, I’m thrown into the cut and thrust of conversation over a Pilgrims’ lunch table where I am forced to chat with the boys and I invariably end up feeling much better at the end of lunch than I did at the start.  It is invigorating, and over the years I have learned so much, both about the boys, and also about the world around me. 

What an invaluable lesson it is to recognise that sometimes, when all we want to do is to retreat into ourselves, the thing that we need is to be drawn out of ourselves. A Pilgrims’ lunch, with Pilgrims’ boys, never fails to engage me, and I find myself getting dragged into (or leading) all sorts of entertaining conversations.

Lunch is another one of Pilgrims' hidden gems.

Alistair Duncan
Interim Head

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