Chapter 5 – The Casual Encounter Assumption
Saturday, 26 May 2018
Today was a good day. It was like every other in many ways but today was better than most. I was asked to be part of a wedding. Nothing major, but a part nonetheless. I was to provide the cheese platter. I received a text from one of my favourite people; he wanted to know whether I could make one. He was doing me a favour really: he knows that I am striving to start a new business.
The bride-to-be is his daughter and as I drove to the timber merchant, I reflected on the first time I met her and the rest of his family. It was at a Christmas Fair in 1999. The bride was a diligent 8 or 9 year old who was proudly pushing a double buggy. She took the responsibility seriously as she obviously wanted to make her daddy proud…as ever, I am putting the cart before the horse.
22nd March 2012
I have worked for [and with] many Head Teachers in the last 14 years – the very first one I met, in anger if you will, was on the first day of teaching practice in September 1998. He was as unlikely a HT as you would ever meet: fat [not particularly unusual], bald [slightly more unusual], American [unusual], six foot four [very unusual] and crammed into probably the smallest office space I have ever seen [in my memory his frame in that office was a quantum impossibility].
28th September 1998
I cycled from Alperton into Willesden this morning for the first day of Teaching Practice [Serial School Experience as they call it at the IOE]. The school was tiny and had an almost imperceptible smell of urine, it reminded me of my own school days – for some reason all schools in the 70s smelt of a mixture of urine and disinfectant. The door was opened by a rather smartly dressed lady who smiled, said good morning and asked me to take a seat in the staffroom. Two class teachers were chatting and as I entered they continued sotto voce, “Bloody students in today…” [Note to self: keep out of her way]. I made my excuses and took the opportunity to wander the halls. I looked into a room to see, what I imagined to be, a sweaty school secretary. He was typing furiously and the perspiration was glistening on his brow; the day was warm and I thought to myself the head could have easily bought him a fan.
The well-dressed lady who I had presumed to be the head walked up to me and said, “I’ll see if Mr Head is ready to see you.” She ushered me into the tiny office and I came face-to-face with the “sweaty secretary”. He gave me a pleasant enough smile and talked me through the dos and don’ts of the school. He asked me where I wanted to be based; he then stood up and walked to the door. Our meeting was over.
Little did I know that was the first of many hundreds such walks that I would witness in the next 19 years: sometimes I would be the one being escorted away and sometimes I was an observer of that little piece of diplomatic theatre.
In the classic 1980s cult comedy ‘Red Dwarf’ the casual encounter between Dave Lister and Arnie Rimmer outside a brothel seemed disastrous…
Lister: Hang on, hang on. Are you saying you never became an officer because you shared your quarters with someone who hummed?
Rimmer: Obviously not just that, Lister. Everything! Everything you ever did was designed to hold me back and annoy me.
… but the nature of their relationship was a symbiotic one. Holly [the insane computer] placed them together for precisely that reason, because they needed one another.
Although I have no particular faith in the karmic nature of the universe; the casual encounters I have had have been an integral part of my life - those chance meetings where my destiny twisted and turned and fate threw me a ‘get of jail free’ card.