Simon Green

On May 18, 2019, my alma mater, The Kings School, Canterbury, concluded its whistle-stop inaugural visit to Moscow, and your scribe was invited to join a gathering of around 40 people at our Ambassador’s residence here in Moscow. The weather had been kind during their visit with blue skies and plenty of sunshine, unlike the perception of it being permanently overcast with temperatures in the negative. As my last lesson had overrun, I jumped into a taxi which is akin to committing hari-kari on a Friday night with the notorious queues of people trying to get home or head to their dachas for the upcoming weekend. When we were getting close to our final destination, several fire engines screamed past us, sirens blaring, with a flashing police escort to boot. I thought no more of it as it’s a common enough sight here. However, upon arriving at the Residence, I was mortified to see them parked on the driveway, and the taxi driver looked somewhat perplexed. “Господи,” I muttered (oh my God), and the aforementioned driver merely nodded sagely, completely unfazed- obviously he had seen it all before. I must confess slight panic set in, and I even found myself thinking that HE the Ambassador had secretly moved home and everyone had been informed except for me!

Upon entering this magnificent and imposing building, having side-stepped a few lingering hose pipes and other paraphernalia associated with the emergency fire services, I was greeted by a housekeeper who ushered me not upstairs, but into the garden at the back. “Ah, you must be Simon,” enthused Kate Chernyshov, the Director of Development for the school; “there’s been a slight change of plan!” I grabbed the proffered glass of fizz from a passing waiter, and after a few sips, came back down to Earth and began to relax despite the frenetic activity still ongoing in the Residence. After a few minutes, The Headmaster, Peter Roberts, took to the stage on the lawn, apologised for the abrupt change of venue, and cleverly used the occasion to extol the virtues that all pupils of Kings should possess. “Manners Maketh Man” was the school motto when I was there from 1973-1978 and I suspect still is; but the HM declared that one of the most important characteristics that should be adhered to is: “expect the unexpected.” I have to confess I’ve found this to be incredibly useful advice, especially when I was living in the Middle-East in some of the most inhospitable countries on the planet. 

Having been ushered back inside and into the White Room, waiters and waitresses looked after us with a succession of drinks and delicious canapes, and I found myself in the company of the HM’s wife, Marie Roberts, a delightful and charming lady of French persuasion. Speeches then began in earnest with our Deputy Ambassador, Lindsay Skoll, who welcomed us all and apologised profusely for the start of the evening- it wasn’t necessary as most of us present are well travelled people and take this sort of thing in their stride. The last time I saw her in action was at the Scottish Ball in early February when she brought the house down with her wit and wisdom. Next up was Kate Chernyshov who spoke in extremely passable Russian, which certainly put me to shame, and she then passed over to Headmaster Peter Roberts who had come over that morning on the ‘red-eye’ flight but still managed to look totally refreshed- I need to take a leaf out of his book as I had the same flight last month and my morning was shaky to say the least.

We were then treated to, in my humble opinion, the piece de resistance of the evening, a 7-minute video showcasing the school in all its glory and contained several interviews with current students there. I must confess I had to suppress a tear as it found me wandering back to halcyon days where I had enjoyed so much sport, music (I was actually a music scholar in this thoroughly musical school which stands in the shadow of Canterbury cathedral) and academic pursuit. Kate actually admitted to me she succumbed to slight lachrymosity, then Peter Roberts dropped a bombshell, informing us that this completely absorbing and professional video was actually made by one of the pupils with not one iota of help from any teacher- kudos to the creator and a potential Hollywood career beckons should there be any desire in that direction. After this, we did an about turn and welcomed Liza Barkova, a 13-year-old young lady who’s just been offered the first dance scholarship to Kings. She immediately took ownership of the stage and audience alike, with her repertoire amply demonstrating why she was awarded this accolade, and she moved serenely across the room while executing balletic moves with such dexterity. Rapturous applause ensued after her classy performance, and yet another star had been born which will doubtless be nurtured by Kings and Royal Ballet teachers.

Peter Roberts then took to the stage and thanked everyone for coming, then proceeded to distribute some high-end gifts for various people who had made the evening such a success, as well as to a couple of benefactors who had taken philanthropy to a whole new level with donations to enable a new theatre to be built, and special mention must go to Dmitry Mendeleev, a direct descendant of the world famous Russian scientist of the same name, who had kindly donated enough to enable a new science laboratory to be built- what largesse! Peter then wrapped up, having informed us that Kings Canterbury is not only the oldest school in the UK, but also the world with records stretching back to 597 A.D, by telling people to party in true and inimitable Kings style- I needed no second invitation. I have to say that being educated at Kings isn’t just about academia, but more about providing pupils with an all-round education, and shaping their personalities to deal with any situation that confronts them in life. This is brought about with a combination of humility, courage, hard work, politeness and thinking outside the square; but most of all to “expect the unexpected”- and so say all of us!