There are clear benefits to staring out of windows…

The view out of my window at the time of writing

MY name is Julian and I like staring out of windows. It helps to settle the mind and puts thoughts in order. Also, something might be happening on the other side of that glass.

Normal people have always looked out of windows. Anyone who writes is likely to have done their share of gazing through the double-glazing.

There is even a quote from a writer; there is always a quote if you search hard enough or do a quick Google.

Mavis Gallant was a Canadian who moved to France to be a writer, and I like to think she had that idea while staring out of a window. She once said: “A short story is what you see when you look out of the window.”

This is rather good, as is captures the essence of the activity, the just looking, while also summoning up the nature of the short story, which is something glimpsed, a snatch of a life or story.

People sometimes say a story should have a beginning, a middle and an end. Good short stories are sometimes all middle, in that you don’t know what came before or what will happen afterwards. All you have is what you can see before you.

I confess to never having heard of Mavis Gallant, but may now try a book of her short stories. William Trevor was always a favourite writer of short stories, although I’ve not read them in a while.

Anyway, staring out of windows. This is an uncontroversial pastime unless you are a pupil at a school in Melton Mowbray.

Luckily, age and geography separate me from John Ferneley College, where the incoming headteacher has introduced a new set of school rules. As well as banning window-gazing, Natalie Teece says pupils must always smile and ask permission if bending to pick up a pen. And they must learn to respond to whistle commands from their handlers; sorry, members of staff.

They must enter the classroom in single file, “never forget to say Sir or Miss” and thank their teacher at the end of each lesson.

Turning around in class is forbidden, whatever sound might be heard, and pupils must sit up straight. Their replies to teachers should always be “upbeat”.

Some parents complained on social media and the story spread, while Ms Teece was reported as saying she’d received “overwhelming support from a majority of parents”.

Such rules are a mystery to me and seem sad and life-limiting, designed to suppress individuality. And pupils responding to whistles is just bizarre.

Reading this story through the comments on Twitter and Facebook is only to see one side and may lack nuance or context. But some rules are set for the sake of setting rules. What sort of adults do we wish to create from such rules? Compliant, unthinking people who don’t ask questions or ever allow themselves to be creatively diverted, perhaps.

But then we have in Gavin Williamson an education secretary who wishes to cut arts subjects at university to concentrate on subjects that “target taxpayers’ money towards the subjects which support the skills this country needs to build back better”.

What qualifies as building back better – and, please sir, better than what? Such statements are puzzling and profoundly depressing. As droned on about on this ledge previously, the creative industries earn a fortune for this country, adding £115bn to the UK economy in 2019.

Anyway, I appear to have wandered. This is what happens when you look out of windows for ideas.

Incidentally, when lecturing in journalism at a university in Yorkshire, I prepared a session on looking out of windows, encouraging students to look out of the window and then go outside in search of a story, any story will do.

When I turned up to teach that session, the room had no windows.


  1. Got a splendid ‘writer’s workshop’ style ad the other day about building oneself a ‘den’ (a cubbyhole off the garage). Principal requirement? No windows. The sort of ‘advice’ that promises you can write (you should write…) ten pages of muscular prose per day, rain or shine (not that you’d know much about weather in your basement bunker), to maximize your income stream. Sigh.
    True Story: right after (just now) reading your post, a small bird flew in through my window, and managed to navigate its way through the house and out of the back door, with some semi-naked shooing and handwaving from myself. A good start to the day, I’d say, and a perfect metaphor for letting the outside in. Just saying…

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