Spring Forward

Do you observe the meteorological or astronomical dates for seasons? If it is the former, then today marks the first day of spring and, given the recent blue skies and sunshine, it is difficult to not conclude that the vernal season is, indeed, upon us. Around the College, the earth is coming back to life. There is cherry blossom on South Front, nascent crocuses, daffodils and primroses adorn the campus, and the banks of heather opposite the Annenberg Theatre have started to hum again with the sound of bees reawakening from their hibernation.

Among the list of the College’s alumni is Eric Arthur Blair, known better to posterity as George Orwell. His stay in Crowthorne was not long, only a term, in fact, in 1917 before he moved to that other great Berkshire boarding school. It is not widely known that Orwell was an OW as well as an OE, nor is his panegyric to spring ‘Some Thoughts of the Common Toad’. I am deeply grateful, however, to our Head of Science, Technology and Engineering, Mrs Patterson, for first introducing me to this wonderful essay by proposing it for inclusion in Synthesis, the Wellington anthology published in 2018.

Written in the shadows of the Second World War, three years before the publication of 1984, and just four years before his own death, Orwell’s masterpiece focuses initially on the eponymous toad, a deliberate avoidance of the clichés of previous writers – an underdog, an unlikely hero, a harbinger of spring who never makes the headlines, but whose re-emergence is every bit as significant as the advent of the daffodil or the first swallow.

The essay has many themes, not least the democratic nature of spring – “The point is that the pleasures of spring are available to everybody, and cost nothing”. Orwell also highlights that, even in war-ravaged London, the signs of spring point to the inexorable cycle of new life and new hope which can be found in nature, even in the darkest of times for the human race. Comparing the suffering of the Second World War to what we have all endured over the past year is, of course, both ill-advised and ill-fitting. That said, it is difficult not to hear some contemporary resonance in the following words:

“Every February since 1940 I have found myself thinking that this time winter is going to be permanent. But Persephone, like the toads, always rises from the dead at about the same moment.”

There have been times when it has been difficult to see an end to the Covid crisis, when it has seemed as though this winter was going to be permanent. But as we enter the meteorological season of spring today and we make our final preparations for Wellington College to come back to life, let us celebrate, with Orwell, this season of rebirth.

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