I’m somewhat of an adrenalin junkie. Somewhat. An adrenalin junkie within reason, a circumspect adrenalin junkie, if you will.
We are on this earth for a short time and I choose to march under the carpe diem banner. When I can, that is. And did I say, within reason?
Skydiving doesn’t appeal, but scuba diving does. Roller coasters? I will be the first one to get in the queue with you, someone else can wait by the exit with the bags.
I am one of those people who needs an electric current running through my blood on a daily basis. I like to stay up late and sleep even later. As a result, 18-24 cups of strong coffee, plus an equivalent number of strong English cigarettes are needed each day to keep the buzzing river washing through my brain and through my veins. I work hard. I play hard. To me that is life being lived.
Regular readers (bless you for sparing me a few minutes of your day) will know that my school was visited by the local inspectorate earlier this week. They snapped on rubber gloves and gave the place the most intimate and thorough of examinations. As they washed their hands at the end of the day and looked over the shoulder as I sat on the edge of my chair waiting for their diagnosis. “It’s better but not good enough,” was their judgement.
On the way home that evening I felt beaten. I went to bed earlier than usual, recharged and awoke on Wednesday ready to do battle. Two of my work colleagues plus me have all been recently described, in independent and unrelated circumstances, as combative. I consider that description a badge of honour. People working in failing schools have to be combative. We have to fight. We have to prove ourselves on a daily basis.
Today I received a second visit form the local government inspectorate this week. That is unusual, but not unheard of. I brewed a fresh pot of Lavazza Espresso Number 7 and strapped on the boxing gloves as the inspector snapped on the rubber gloves.
For brevity’s sake, dear readers, 2 hours later it has been explained to me that the local government inspectorate had collectively had a mind shift and now considered my school to be at least satisfactory and no longer failing. The caffeine rushed through my nervous system; the roller coaster that had dipped so low was now being cranked towards the top of the pinnacle.
Do not assume my task is complete. I still have the national government inspectorate to convince in a few weeks time and that will be a far tougher challenge. But for today I held my hands over my head as the safety bar pressed against my midriff and fixed my eyes ahead on the crest of the hill.
After lunch I drove to visit our 10 year olds who are currently on a one week school journey in the Essex countryside. They are staying at one of those familiar adventure camps where abseiling, archery, caving etc are introduced to inner city children.
As I drove into the centre, the group were easily spotted as they had donned bright blue, red and purple harnesses and orange protective head gear. They stood like Druids at the base of a mighty 40 ft pole driven deep into the Essex dirt. Short steel branches jutted out of the pole at two foot intervals all the way up to a small platform at the top. The pupils murmured to me this was called the Leap of Faith. The premise was to climb to the top of the pole and once on the platform to undertake a bungee-like jump whilst holding a safety line.
I spent the next hour encouraging the children to take on the challenge. Some embraced it and scampered up the pole like monkeys up a banana tree. Others went quiet. Some wrote postcards of farewell home. Many suddenly wanted their mothers despite being street-toughen urchins of the East End. I have witnessed the scenario many times down the years; the toughest, most confident of children will often baulk in such circumstances and slink off to the bunk area to mingle with the smell of 30 children living in close quarters; a smell instantly identifiable as that school journey smell. But the most timid and quiet frequently rise to the challenge. They are the ones who time and time again, year in and year out grow wings that they cannot muster in their familiar classrooms.
As the activity came to a close, the instructor called down to me from the top of the pole, challenging me to undertake my own Leap of Faith. I thought back to Wednesday morning, how after being beaten the day before, I got dressed, went back into work and continued the fight. I nearly called back up that the simple act of returning to school following the week’s inital inspector visit had been my Leap of Faith for the week, but the chorus of DO IT! DO IT! from the 30 children soon served up the hard lesson that leaders need to lead by example. Before I could say ‘Is that the time? I must be getting back to London before rush hour,’ I was strapped like a gimp in the most unflattering of harnesses and staring straight up the 40 foot pole.
I grasped the metal branch-like protrusions; once again grateful for my all-purpose Dr Martens shoes (remember dear readers, EQUALLY at home on the football pitch or the budget meeting). Hand over hand I climbed pulling my obese frame up the pole in un-natural, jerking motions.
Finally I stood atop the platform and looked down. Why is it heights ALWAYS look higher when in-situ? It didn’t look this bad from the ground! The instructor joked with me that the children were watching. He need not have said it, I could feel every eye of the staff and children burning on my quivering mass as I hugged the pole like a stripper hoping for a £5 tip.
He told me to walk to the edge of the platform with just the tips of my size 11 Dr Martens hanging over the edge. He told me to take a deep breath and to step into the void, the harness would slow my fall, no doubt, no doubt at all.
But there is doubt. The apparatus is made for children. The pin is unbuckled and can clearly be seen to some audience in a movie theatre watching this scene play out on a screen in some cinema in an alternative dimension.
I stepped forward just as the instructor said, “You will fall like a sack of shit.”
My memory of the next split seconds is of the sun bursting through the tree tops and tree tops becoming trunks as I rushed vertically downwards. My next memory is of lying on my back, bark chips and soft sand clinging to the side of my face. And cheering. Children cheering.
I looked up to the platform and said to myself, “You were Wednesday morning.” I brushed the chipped bark from my shoulder and looked over at the 30 sets of eyes, now wide and excited. “This is today.”
Keep the Faith,