Speke, Parrot

This morning I am attending my son’s nativity play.

This has its pluses. The nativity play is an unmistakable sign of a school winding down. As a child, you know you are close when you are singing Little Donkey in front of a sea of doting faces; as a parent there is an agreeable looseness in the air. No one is doing any serious work, and good things are just around the corner.

But nativity plays are not what they were. You used to know where you stood with the innkeeper and the three kings, but now it’s all pan/non-denominational, which is fine I suppose (I am not wedded to the universal truth of the Christian story, unlike, for example, the Daily Mail), except for the fact that it gives schools free rein to use their ‘creativity’.

I am a professed sceptic when it comes to creativity. I think I must have grouchily noted before that there is no general capacity for ‘creativity’; there are merely various applications of problem-solving acumen requiring a diverse range of actual skills. A ‘creative’ dress-designer cannot find a ‘creative’ solution to a problem of brain surgery, merely by drawing on their ‘creativity’. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to discover that, for example, Shakespeare couldn’t draw for toffee; neither would I regard it as compromising his reputation as a ‘creative’ writer. And so on.


A language school does not usually do a nativity play, more’s the pity, and while OISE does not close as such for the holidays, there is a more ruminative rhythm to the life of the school.

Thus it was that we arrived in yesterday’s business class, via the distinguishing characteristics of orcs, goblins, elves and hobbits, at the parrot.


Room 5 has a parrot mascot, a mock stained-glass motif, the presence or significance of which I was in no position to explain when asked about it in class. That didn’t stop me trying. The parrot is a fitting emblem for a language school: it is a foreign bird, a colourful and loquacious bird, and a bird much given to mimicry (a facet of linguistic competence I always encourage my students to develop).

And, to square the circle, creativity, or let us say originality, begins with mimicry and imitation, as Picasso among others has noted (good artists copy; great artists steal, or words to that effect). Your inner parrot is the ultimate source of your originality.

And so we got back to work.


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