My shadow followed me everywhere. Well, sometimes it isn’t following but in front. I suppose it all depends on the sun or other forms of light. Anyway, my shadow, without the aid of front or back-lighting, crossed the threshold of a school this morning.
I read the obligatory signage that announced the school’s grand achievement (best ever GCSE results – EVER!) and then I read the rather management-speak mission statement that was entitled, Key Drivers. Nice touch there. And then the automatic doors slid open and I was inside a corporately grey reception. My stomach turned, but I kept going.
My long sojourn was over. The millstone beckoned once again.
So, it was a wet Thursday morning that I arrived at the school. I had been there in a previous incarnation, when I was successful. Now, I was a lowly supply teacher once again, one who had not slept too well the night before.
“You don’t want to go, do you?”
We had woken early. My wife had been awake a lot longer than I. My age has brought with it anxiety, humility and eyes that stick together after a night’s sleep. I wiped my eyes, rubbed them, and breathed deeply. Again, I find that deep inhalation gives me a chance to consider.
“No,” I answered.
She has been soft with me of late, understanding and accepting of my many foibles. Could it be that I am such a lost cause that she pities me? I hope not.
“How did you sleep?” she asked.
“Deeply,” I responded. So deep that a part of me did not want the sleep to end. I had woken about five and had seen the daylight peeking in through the curtains. My wife’s breathing told me that she was awake.
“And you?” I knew what was to be the answer.
“Badly. I woke up at three-thirty and couldn’t get back to sleep.”
Just before my special moment, now over a year ago, my sleep-patterns were appalling. Each night was a nightmare and each morning a brought fresh onslaught. I was walking in the sludge of consciousness, merely functioning, blaming everyone else for it. I know, as a disciple of the dreamworld, that sleep is overwhelmingly important. I sleep and the world sleeps with me. I sleep, I rest. I sleep, perchance to dream. It was when I was sleep-deprived that it was able to sneak in and get me. It was like having a mosquito in the bedroom with the light out, every now and then its lazer-buzz would swoop past, and every time it made that noise, a blind swipe my hand would cut the air. And miss. After an eternity of being tormented by the blood-sucking fiend, I would sleep, too exhausted to feel the puncturing of exposed skin and the slurping of my vital fluids.
“Do you want a cup of tea?” I asked. Her agreement was preordained.
I feel sorry for Americans and any and everybody else who does not believe in tea. Tea should be spelt with a capital T. It is God-like amongst beverages and bestows upon its followers, a reason to wake up each and every morning. I normal drink it in mugs and so does my wife. That sounds a little Life of Brian-esque? So, made the tea, Tea, and we sat in bed talking about my change of direction.
“You’re not right,” she assured me. “You’re not right in the head. You need to get it seen to.”
I agreed, but without using verbal acknowledgement.
“You should give up teaching. It’s no good for you.”
Again, I nodded sagely, trying to avoid being drawn into the discussion about me. All I had to do was to avoid direct questions.
“So, what are you going to do?”
I knew what I couldn’t now do and that was to avoid speaking. I also couldn’t nod sagely.
In the past, I would have come up with some crap about making a breakthrough as a writer, starting a business up again, or forlornly suggesting a move to Spain. None of these would have been useful at this point. My wife knew that she was talking to a devoted dreamer who talked crap a lot of the time.
“I don’t know.”
What I did know was that I was going to have to do the supply-gig. I didn’t want to, but not wanting to definitely did not pay the mortgage.
I was still breathing deeply, huge intakes of karma-coated oxygen, when I made my way to the bathroom. Shit, shower, shave they used to say. I like to shave first.
Hull and the rain don’t go well together. They do go together, but all is not well when they do so. I drove through the streets that I had come to know in my various guises within education. It seemed like yesterday, and it probably was to beings who live a sight longer than ourselves. The school had changed. like many schools, it had become self-publisizing, bragging, creative with the facts, brash and boastful, cock-sure, and a little intimidating for a worn-out old fool such as I.
Schools have alway scared me. They are a true source of terror in the way that they set about educating. It would have made Henry Ford happy. An assembly-line, skilled stickers, screwers and tweeters. All under one roof. What drove out was a standard Ford, a Model T, a vehicle that satisfied everyone’s demands and dreams. Who am I to argue?
Just a short note here to relay a little information that one of my daughter’s gleaned from her history class:
The Model T was in part way responsible for the Great Depression.
It was so well made that it never really needed replacing. Nobody ever needed to buy a new one. The market shrunk. Business faltered.
I, on the other hand, I was no Model T. Neither was I a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow.