As a child of the ‘Sixties, my emerging take on the landscape of adolescence and life were of course largely shaped by my life at school, boarding as I did with lots of other children, often as many as 30, in a house owned by my parents. It was an all-boys boarding house for the school my parents founded in 1960, and our ‘social’ existence was shaped by the playground, the opportunity to cycle to and from school, out and about with the other fulltime boarders out and about at the weekend, Mass on Sundays at St Joseph’s in Maidenhead, TV and…
…’Peanuts’, a comic strip drawn by Charles M Schulz, which featured a small boy, Charlie Brown and with whom I identified immediately, Snoopy the beagle dog, local girl Lucy and all sorts of other characters.
I never want to suggest anything other about my childhood other than that it was happy. It’s interesting though to recall that it was an innocent childhood for example, at a time of less-than-more in terms of consumerism, and when much, if not all, we read, saw and watched was in black and white. Colour TV broadcasting didn’t start until ’69, and I can’t really remember dreaming in colour because my consciousness had not appreciated its presence in my limited attention span for what was important then. The cartoon strips I read throughout this period were black-ink-on-paper, as life was more generally of course!
I quote from Wikipedia: “Charlie Brown is characterized as a person who frequently suffers, and as a result, is usually nervous and lacks self-confidence. He shows both pessimistic and optimistic attitudes: on some days, he is reluctant to go out because his day might just be spoiled, but on others, he hopes for the best and tries as much as he can to accomplish things.” It’s so true, almost to this day for so many of us, not least because the events of the last 18 pandemic months, we have truly learned to fear to hope.
One repeating episode through ‘Peanuts’ was Charlie Brown’s efforts to kick a football, and throughout such storylines, just as he moved to kick a football proffered by his friend Lucy, she would pull it away at the moment of impact. Schulz was asked when he was moving to retirement whether he was going to permit Charlie to actually make contact after 50 years, he replied “…permitting Charlie Brown to succeed in kicking a football would do a disservice to the character”. And yet just a little later in retirement Schulz realized to his sadness that he had consigned Charlie Brown to never get to kick the football ever in his lifetime.
A second eternal image of Charlie Brown’s thinking I copy below. How many others of us feel like this too?
Having set out my stall, and along the way introduced you to CB, I’d like to move into the current technicolour world of always-on global media, in which of course ‘Peanuts’ is alive and well and can apparently be reprised endlessly on YouTube. 40+ years of headship often tells us that ‘what goes around, comes around’ and perhaps where experience and repeated practice translates into what other’s might call wisdom. My view is that I have just had the luck of having a good memory, and because of same, I do assure you that actually, ‘nothing is the same’ though as with the human genome (real or cartoon), there are very many close similarities, so spotting the ‘variants’ as situations have evolved to break through our armour and defences is an important feature of modern day school leadership.
To this end, I invite you to watch Nora McInerny’s inspiring TEDWomen 2018 talk posted 2 years ago. Nora says it frankly – she makes a living talking to people about life’s hardest moments, and she should know, losing twins, a father and a husband back in one month, October 2014.
Please take time to process what Nora talks us through, both the narrative of her story and the attendant emotions. Because of the immediacy of modern comms, she can not only bring us up to speed quickly on the triple tragedy she faced but also lead us through her subsequent journey. 50 years ago, storytellers did not have that privilege, and perhaps it shows in so far as so many ghastly secrets stayed buried for so long. But I doff my hat off to both story tellers, ancient and modern, because they both told me things I needed to listen to. And honestly, in the person of Charlie Brown, I identified with a boy of his times, and from whom I learned so much. And what did Lucy give me? A love of psychology, which is what I went to Uni to pursue, if only to understand the multiple psyches on show across Peanuts. Thank you Charles M Schulz, I owe you my career in education.