The Jumper


Day 5 as a non-smoker. Thus far I have not lapsed although I make certain my nicotine spray/mace spray is close at hand at all times. I probably use the spray about 15 times a day. Compared with 25 cigarettes I guess that means I’m winning; a long way to go but I’m winning. (and morphing into Charlie Sheen in the meanwhile)?

My smoking buddies who regularly congregated with me in the alley beside the Evangelical Church of Jesus Christ Built on the Rock wave their cigarette boxes at me as they pass my glass box. They smile and bide their time. I am the man on the 12th floor ledge and they are on the pavement below waiting for me to jump. If I climb back inside the window to safety, they will cheer with the rest of the crowd. If I fail and fall; they will shake their heads and mumble, “Told you so.”

When they re-enter the building after their alley way junket I can smell the smoke on them. It is stale and bitter. My senses, I swear, have sharpened.

I will not be sanctimonious. I will not. But my senses have sharpened.

And with such clarity of mind, I have decided to leave the school. My work feels finished and the lack of daily adrenaline makes it a chore. I am looking for the next school now.

The next one will come and I will know it when it does. In the meanwhile I have been visiting a few, in three hour chunks, to get a feel and ascertain if they should be explored further. Today was such a day.

The school searching for a Head is well known, just over a mile from our flat: sandwiched between a gritty neighbourhood and one of the most prestigious and affluent apartment blocks in London. As is my habit, I arrived early and watched the families making their way in for the start of the school day. I find I can learn much about a school by doing this and have repeated the practice many times. Clipped and privileged accents rang out as children dressed not in uniform but their own clothing called to each other. I eavesdropped on conversations between mothers in expensive coats and trendy glasses.

“The skiing there is much better than on the Swiss side of the border.”

“You must come and try the new restaurant, it is wholly organic.”

“Hugo has tennis at four and yoga at 6, the au pair will collect him.”

They do not smoke. But as they enter the building I can smell something on them. It is stale and bitter. My senses, I swear, have sharpened.

I meet with the current Head who is friendly, funny yet cagey. She checks her watch and tells me the chair of governors will be with us any time for a chat. She confides that the Chair is always late. The Head gives nothing away but I sense her relief that her posting will soon be over.

The Chair arrives and speaks for 40 minutes without drawing a breath. I could have saved her the time. I make one observation and ask one question;

“The academic standards here are not what they could be. Do the governors see this appointment as one to maintain the status quo or as a fork in the road?”

She answers, slightly startled, “We expect the new Head to bring changes but certain things are not open to negotiation. For instance, we will not adopt a school uniform or take any focus away from the arts.”

She does not smoke. But I can smell something on her. It is stale and bitter. My senses, I swear, have sharpened.

I stand up and shake the Chair of Governor’s hand. “Thanks for your time, I say, “ but this is not for me.”

Now more than slightly startled she departs, leaving me alone with the departing Head.

“I know what you are thinking,” she grins.

“This would end in tears,” I confide. “I could drive the standards improvement  but I would need to do things my way. I wouldn’t have the backing of the governors that would be necessary. And the affluent apartments next door- I bet that is impossible to manage.”

My colleague is now laughing, “Got it in one! They are a nightmare, always complaining bout noise and the fact that the school is dragging down the price of their property.”

It is clear. I am not suited to the school nor is the school suited to me. To take on the job would be a disaster for all.

I shake the departing Head’s hand and thank her for her time. “It would end in tears”, I offer again as we grin at each other.

As I exit I glance up to the top of the affluent apartment block next door. 25, 30 floors up I scour the window ledge for any sign of a jumper. If I see him, I will coax him back inside.

Keep the Faith,

The Head

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