We return to the news of loss. A colleague, David Young, has died. He had served on Lancaster bombers during the war as a 19-year-old. After the war he followed a former teacher to Belfast and began a distinguished career here at Campbell College in the English department. A charismatic figure, he stayed 40 years, serving as head of department, housemaster and vice-master, all that time quietly insinuating literature as a requisite of life. After he retired he lived in the grounds in a school house.
It's 1999. However much we look to the next millennium, the past tugs at us.
School closes at noon for the funeral. It's a cold wet day. I look at one of the wreathes. It is from a past student. The card reads simply "Goodnight Sweet Prince".
The Sixth Form Centre has been left in a mess. Litter overflows from one of the baskets and no one bothers to pick it up. My assistant has acted promptly and efficiently as usual: she has banned the sixth form from the centre on Thursday. Housemasters have been informed. Notices have gone up. I must be the last to know. It says something about my mood.
I visit the music department which is full of evicted sixth-formers. Nevertheless, the atmosphere is congenial. Michael, the percussionist, welcomes me with a smile. I think I'm cheery but he asks me why I always seem to be grumpy these days. I feel the quicksand of the new term close above my head.
In the afternoon, I report to the cross-country club and find comfort in jogging through the trees in Stormont Park. In preparation for the New Assembly the park has been opened up for community use. Elton John played here last spring. I am content to pad along behind the boys.
One of the delights I had forgotten during my years of sixth-form teaching was that of watching boys move from childhood to some other stage for which no word offers itself. Members of my fifth form English class have passed the stage of groaning on the production of a poem and offer responses that betray sensitivity.
At the end of a lesson in which we have discussed John Clare, Russell beams at me: "I still enjoy Stevie Smith best of all," he says. It is the first time he has mentioned any poet in an approving tone. As he leaves the room, he chants: "AloftIn a loftSits CroftHe's soft." I find myself looking out of the window and noticing that the rain has stopped.
Neill Morton is head of political studies at Campbell College, a boys' independent school in Belfast