The Michaelmas daisies are in full bloom outside my house – a welcome splash of colour during these murky autumn days. Named after St Michael, Archangel and protector against the darkness of the night, these late-flowering plants appear at a time when the majority of flowers have disappeared. Cheery as these daisies are, however, I fear it will take more than a small purple flower to see me through the encroaching winter. This week, I’ve been thinking less about Michaelmas daisies and more about Michaelmas Day (which fell on Tuesday this week), or more specifically about the Feast of St Michael, or even more specifically… okay, I admit it, I’ve just been fixating on the word ‘feast’. Traditionally, in the British Isles, Michaelmas Day was marked by roasting a fatted goose, fed on the stubble from the fields after harvest, and eaten to protect us from financial need for the following year. It’s a time for comfort eating and conviviality. It’s no coincidence that The Great British Bake-Off has returned to our screens. Why wouldn’t we want to watch jolly people preparing culinary delights in a tent on a summer’s day? It’s a feast for the eyes – the televisual equivalent of a hearty roast.
In school this week, there has been plenty to whet the appetite. During form times, students have been discussing club options and having their say as to what they would like to see on the menu. Our brilliant Year 12 student leaders have been busy concocting resources for the launch of the Brighton Stargazing Project – our STEM partnership with St Andrew’s primary in Hove. We have continued to engage prospective students with our Open Day Experiences, giving people a taste of what to expect from life at Brighton Girls. On Wednesday, Mr Marsh served up a smorgasbord of treats from the science classroom, with colourful, foaming creations and the flame of the Bunsen burner providing added winter warmth.
Alas, there has been no sign of a fatted goose. In fact, while craving indulgence and binging on episodes of GBBO, I was disappointed to find that it was in fact national Healthy Eating Week. The British Nutrition Foundation, the team that brought us ‘5 a day’, launched a new campaign on Monday. However, as I said to the Year 8s in assembly, this year the messaging around Healthy Eating Week reflects the post lock-down mood: of the seven challenges, three relate to the importance of being with other people; there is clear connection between conviviality, food and mental health: “Get active together”, “Eat Together” and “Be Mind Kind”. This is not a new idea, of course. Scandinavians know it as ‘hygge’ “a form of everyday togetherness” and, as I mentioned to the Year 8s in assembly on Tuesday, the Greek philosopher Epicurus (possibly the most misrepresented man of all time), made the connection between food, hospitality and happiness a very long time ago, arguing that the way to happiness is to savour simple food, to find moderation in all things and, above all, to surround yourself with friends. Later the same day, I had the pleasure of speaking to Brighton-based food writer, Gemma Ogston, who takes a similarly holistic approach to self-care, and is passionate about changing the narrative around girls and eating. Gemma’s approach is to start healthy conversations about the connection between food and mood. We discussed plans to get the girls involved and the benefits of a whole-school, collaborative approach.
This morning, this spirit of togetherness and team work was evident once again. Throughout the week, students have been bringing offerings for today’s Harvest Festival; it’s been an amazing collective effort. Thanks to the generosity of the Brighton Girls community, the City Mission Food Bank will receive an abundance of items at a time of great need.
On a similar note, one of the many highlights of my week was a conversation I had with Ms Pearson, who came to speak to me about her volunteering work over Christmas. For most of us, Christmas is a time for being with family and, of course, for feasting heartily; for Ms Pearson, however, Christmas is about Crisis. For the last nine years, Ms Pearson has worked as part of a team providing shelter, care, companionship and nourishment to some of the most vulnerable members of society; and it goes without saying that, in this particular year, the challenges she will face, and the risks to her personal safety, will be far greater than ever before, making her sacrifice all the more remarkable.
Not only did my conversation with Ms Pearson give me food for thought, but such incredible kindness and courage brought me comfort, hope, and optimism – protection against the darkness of the night.
“How far that little candle throws his beams!
So shines a good deed in a weary world.”
(William Shakespeare, ‘The Merchant of Venice’)