The PTA of my old school recently invited me to see a ‘Wall of Honour’ they had installed on the main school corridor which, over the years, must have witnessed millions of pupil, parent and teacher journeys all in the search for the holy grail of a perfect education.
Part of the lead up to the installation was a request by the PTA to send in photos of what its alumni had done since they had stopped patrolling that corridor in search of the perfect girl or boy friend and left the school for good.
I duly obliged with a few photos of my own and as I approached the school became increasingly intrigued with what they had done with the photos on the corridor walls.
How would they frame this ‘wall of honour’? How would they stop errant 4th formers from making they own marks on the august faces beaming at them from the privilege of their post-school hide-aways? Would the ‘wall of honour’ be accompanied at some point by a floor of concrete which everyone would be invited to put their own footsteps into, making the corridor full of indelible marks on both its walls and floor?
All that would be needed to complete the effect would be a ceiling of the most anointed: those alumni who had developed stellar careers – or serious drug habits – which would mean they could only be found by being dragging them off a different ceiling or out of the heavens.
So as I was escorted down to the corridor of a million journeys, it’s fair to say that calling the experience underwhelming would be an understatement. It’s six pictures in frames underneath the PTA title board: the complete antithesis of what telling a good story on a wall might look like: something the Whalls were both pretty good at.
It’s amazing how we think that just sticking something on a bare wall is better than nothing. Actually, it’s worse than nothing as at least a bare wall has some sense of purity to it. Desecrating it with some half-thought out plan demeans both the plan and the wall. Better to do nothing than just gesture, aimlessly.
Trouble is, a wall invites you to make a mark. Challenges you to add Something where nothing’s actually needed. It says, go on then, if you think you’re so important, beat this. Make your mark count more than my empty space. And more often than not we get it wrong, especially in public spaces where getting the marks right is even more important, given you’re speaking to far more many people than you would do than if you were in the privacy of your own living room.
The Whalls though weren’t simply about stories on walls – but in windows which were part of the wall; or a different type of wall with a different purpose. You wonder, does the brick work support the glass? Or does the glass determine what kind of brick work is needed? What comes first, the window or the wall?
Whatever the answer, the PTA of the old alma mater could do with some serious rethinking of what the purpose of the walls, floor and ceiling of a school corridor is all about.
Three-light window in St Catherine’s North Nave depicts the life and martyrdom of St Catherine (List of works by Veronica Whall).
It’s the first trip of the mini-pilgrimage to visit St. Catharine’s Church in Irchester, near Wellingborough, and to see Veronica Whall’s window which depicts the life and martyrdom of St. Catherine of Alexandria.
I take an East Midlands Trains from Nottingham to Wellingborough, a walk into the town centre and finally collect the X47 Bus from Swangate Centre which takes me directly to Irchester, dropping me literally onto the doorstep of the Vicarage. The Revd. Caroline Lucas is up at the church at the time, holding a bible study class on the Beatitudes and when I get there, there’s a low murmuring discussion about the complexities of turning the other cheek in times of conflict.
The patron saint of the church, Catherine of Alexandria, would have been an exemplary model of turning the other cheek. She was was the daughter of Constus, the governor of Alexandrian Egypt during AD286 – 305. When the persecution began under Maxentius, she chastised him for his cruelty to Christians which led to her being condemned to death on a spinning wheel into which a load of knives were set (the origin of the Catherine Wheel firework) but miraculously she was spared this agony – only to be later beheaded by Maxentius who clearly knew nothing about turning the other cheek.
Caroline tells me she’s been nominated as a pioneer vicar. The town is in the process of building a new community in Wellingborough, Stanton Cross. This will see homes for 10,000 people, three new schools and all the associated infrastructure being built: and her role is to offer pastoral and spiritual care for all the folk who would make Stanton Cross their community and new home.
She’s not going to have a church building to work from – and whether the new infrastructure will extend into providing stained glass window design lessons across the curriculum is debatable – but it will be interesting to come back later to see how Catherine and the Church have managed to build a sense of community and belonging in to what is currently a sprawling building site next to the railway station.
Let’s hope the planners don’t forget that roads and railways are one thing: but that it’s culture, diversity and mutual respect that binds people into community.