Nostalgia. From the Greek words νόστος – a return home, and ἄλγος – pain. It’s the feeling we get, when dislocated or discontented, from looking back at and longing for our homeland, whether actual, like Odysseus’ Ithaca, or spiritual. For me it is epitomised by this passage from Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited: Charles Ryder, suddenly thrown, in the midst of war, into reminiscence about the Oxford of his youth:
‘Oxford, in those days, was still a city of aquatint… her autumnal mists, her grey spring-time, and the rare glory of her summer days … when the chestnut was in flower and the bells rang out high and clear over her gables and cupolas, exhaled the soft airs of centuries of youth.’
Much of this could equally describe Winchester College. Nostalgia for WinColl, in my experience, generally starts to strike the Wykehamist before he has even left the school. Suddenly, in his last term, he has a heightened awareness of everything slipping from him, which sometimes manifests itself in a new-found interest in cricket, or Chapel, or perhaps a sudden appreciation of the architecture or the library…
Book One of Brideshead is entitled Et in Arcadia ego. Like the inscription on the tomb in Poussin’s painting, it reminds us that the charmed existence of Charles and Sebastian in the gilly-flower-wreathed rooms of Oxford, or of the Wykehamist passing beneath the wisteria-entwined gates of Winchester, is threatened: by reality, by social change, by War, by pandemic.
As I sit in my study, looking out at the Chapel tower and a chestnut coming into flower, this nostalgia threatens to overwhelm me. It’s my last term here, too, and I am thinking longingly of Chamber teas; shirt-sleeve order; illicit Meads hours; garden football until the last minute before toytime; swifts screaming as they hunt down College Street.
The fair weather we have been enjoying lately adds an additional poignancy: as Alan Bennett reflects in his play Forty Years On, itself an exquisite study in nostalgia, ‘The weather is as perfect as it always is when the world is quaking’.
The Cloister Time Winchester of our imagination may be idealised – the smooth green lawns where the sun always seems to shine – but at times like this we need, perhaps, like Frodo Baggins, our personal Shire to hold onto: 'I feel that as long as the Shire lies behind, safe and comfortable, I shall find wandering more bearable: I shall know that somewhere there is a firm foothold, even if my feet cannot stand there again.'
24th January 2021
The Head of College explains why, despite being an ineffective player himself, he is an ardent fan of Winkies for the team spirit it builds and the traditions it upholds.
19th January 2021
Starting the spring term, known as Common Time, in the UK's third national lockdown, one of Winchester's Head Boys encourages the whole school community to keep mentally healthy by setting personal goals, remaining physically active, and participating in the challenges and inter-house competitions being set by senior pupils this term to keep up morale.
8th December 2020
The Winchester College community continues to respond to the challenges posed by the pandemic, and has received recognition for its efforts.
19th November 2020
An active participant in the school's Community Service outreach programme and A-Level art student, Felix, wanted to use his skills to support the local homeless shelter at this very difficult time for charities.
22nd October 2020
The results are in. The unison house singing competition, known as Bobber Pot, was as hotly contested as ever.
7th September 2020
In the first of a series of insights into school life during this unique time, we hear from Ben Wen who recently joined the school as a JP in Furley's, spending the past two weeks with his brother in quarantine. Ben looks back at his first impressions of boarding life.