Headmaster’s Thoughts – January 2008

There are times at school when, for a variety of perfectly reasonable reasons, the teacher is a few minutes late to his or her class. While out and about in the school, so to speak, I sometimes am there at the right moment and, particularly if it is a lower school class, I go in and play “Simon Says” until the teacher comes. You all know the game… the players follow the direction of whomever is playing Simon only if he precedes the action to be taken by the phrase “Simon Says!”

My impulse to play “Simon Says” is inspired by two periods in my past. The first, and most obvious, time reference is to the years I spent as a camp counselor and camp director in the ’60’s, ’70’s, and ’80’s. After a few weeks of bad weather, and the restlessness of three hundred potentially bored campers, games like “Simon Says” livened up the indoor activity periods as the rain relentlessly poured down.

But the other reference is, perhaps, more interesting. When I became a barrister in England in 1966, one of the objects I had to buy was a wig. This may seem simpler than it sounds. You go to the barrister outfitting store (if you are interested, it is “Ede and Ravenscroft” on Chancery Lane and, no, they don’t sell wands), and purchase a wig that fits. However, in my day, there were two potential problems to this simple solution. First, a barrister’s wig starts off white and ages yellow. Thus you can tell how long a barrister has been plying his trade by the color of his wig, and I was at the beginning of plying my trade and didn’t want a very white wig. Secondly, wigs were in a state of manufacturing transition. The old ones were made of horse-tail hair, carefully dyed white and then constructed. But by the sixties, the new ones were made of nylon, and I was enough in awe of the whole tradition of wearing a wig and gown that I didn’t want a nylon wig.

So, in my office at school, on a bronze bust of my deceased father-in-law’s head, rests my beautiful slightly yellow horse-hair wig. I got it from a mentor/friend (of course all mentors are friends) in my chambers who was becoming a judge and therefore had no need of it. It was an extremely kind gesture of Basil Hobson (made Sir Basil Hobson shortly after he gave me the wig but I doubt the Monarch did so for that reason) who welcomed me to the chambers in the Middle Temple with this extraordinary gift.

Jayme and I both liked Basil a great deal, and I enjoyed appearing before him because it is always easier to be relaxed and therefore a better advocate in front of a receptive audience (a judge, in this case, who happened to have a good sense of humor). And where does “Simon Says” fit into all this, you might ask. Well, Basil, who despite his knighthood was as un-pompous a man as you could find, felt slightly ridiculous every time he entered his court and the clerk would command everyone to “All rise!” He once told me that when he heard this, he had the almost irresistible urge to say loudly “Simon Says… put your hands in the air!” One could imagine a Saturday Night Live skit based on a judge who played “Simon Says!” in his court.

Sadly, Sir Basil Hobson has passed away. But his sense of play is not something I will forget. So in his honor, the next time there is a class of students without their teacher, I will again walk in and say ���Simon Says put your hands in the air!”

Ronald P. Stewart, Headmaster
E-mail: rstewart@yorkprep.org

“Headmaster’s Thoughts” for previous months are archived in the section In the News. You may access additional months by clicking Headmaster’s Thoughts Archives on the same page.