Throughout this week I have dipped into a collecton of the letters of A.S. Neill edited by his biographer Jonathon Croall. Last night I finished them. Not normally a reader of published private correspondence, which seems to me rather like prying, I read these for two reasons. The first is the subject, the founder of the famous Summerhill School which he ran for fifty years. The second, and most important, is how I came to acquire the book. ‘All the Best, Neill’ was one of a number of books given to me by my old friend Don Eland, that had belonged to his late wife Ann, my even longer-standing friend.
Neill was a legendary figure in child care. The letters offer a profound insight into the nature of the man and his beliefs. Summerhill was a very successful residential educational community for children based on Neill’s belief in freedom to live. He proved that this could aid the emotional and practical development of children from abusive or neglectful backgrounds.
Ann was also a charismatic figure who founded the Stepping Stone Community (see post of 10th. August 2012) with the object of equipping teenagers in care to make the transition into independent adult life. It was natural for her to have studied Neill, and throughout my reading of the letters I thought of her and the work we shared.
Sigoules awoke this morning to a truly ‘frosty fingered dawn’ with a crystal clear blue sky. The sun’s rays gave the landscape tints of misty indigoes. Once they found their way past buildings and through trees, they soon warmed us up a bit, but, even towards midday, ditches they had not been able to penetrate still harboured ice.
I walked to Cuneges and back, enjoying every minute. Today’s title is a crib of the song from the classic 1955 musical Oklahoma!, celebrating such a day in another season on a different continent, but the sentiment is the same. I will let the photographs speak for me.
As I approached Lestignac I was able to direct another French-speaking driver to Pomport. If only my understanding of the spoken word could match the local people’s apparent ability to grasp what I am saying, I might be able to have more extensive conversations. As it is, I am quite often at a loss as to how to interpret what is said to me. This is quite embarrassing when I have opened the dialogue. Mind you, the painful expression that occasionally came over the face of the helpful bank employee a couple of days ago reminded me of Madame Vachette. The Vachettes were a kind of adoptive foster parents to Jessica, who was truly bilingual. We sometimes visited them in Paris and Normandy thirty to forty years ago. At mealtimes I was always given the place of honour at the right hand of this delightful woman who, like her husband, didn’t speak English. That excruciating shadow flickering across her face often vied with an uncomprehending smile. I would feel like Edward Heath, our Prime Minister from 1970 – 1974, whose execrable French accent was rather a joke. My grasp of the written word, then as now, was far more comfortable. I would help son-in-law Louis with the Paris Match cryptic crossword. Sometimes I would decipher an answer which he said didn’t exist. I felt very smug when I pressed him to consult the Petit Robert dictionary and there it was. The one game of Scrabble I played with Jessica and Monsieur Vachette gave me an even greater satisfaction. This kind and generous man told me I could play, on his French board, in English, whilst the others used the appropriate language. My pride, especially once I had seen the different letter values, would not allow me to accept this. Those magical creatures known, to my on-line Scrabble friends, as the ’tile fairies’ were kind to me that day. I won. I’m not sure I was ever forgiven.
Maggie and Mike joined me for dinner this evening in Le Code Bar. We ate tomato and noodle soup; omelette; roast duck; and profiteroles, all prepared to the usual standard. So impressed was Maggie that she is going to publicise the venue in the tourist information bureau in Eymet.