Things that I think and do
A week ago I started working, for the fourth consecutive time, at a summer school for international kids. It’s usually kind of fun, but at the same time I’ve voluntarily given up some of my basic human rights for six weeks and I’ve chosen to spend twenty-four hours a day, six days a week being responsible for the wellbeing and safety of a hundred adolescents. Still, it’s probably a character-building and life-affirming experience overall.
This year I’ve moved on from Administrator to Welfare Manager, which means that instead of sitting at a desk having little to do for most of the time I’m sitting at a desk with a lot to do and not quite enough time to do it. Already we’ve got one student going to the doctor, a few boys spreading butter on a playground slide (I cannot understand why the hell anyone would think to do that) and one girl with a slightly cricked neck calling home to get a parental diagnosis.
I can thus confirm that with slightly more power comes much greater responsibility, one of these being the nightly lock-up rounds of the school.
It doesn’t sound particularly significant, but bear in mind that we are in an English private school and that such schools inherently tend to be old, rural, labyrinthine, reliant primarily on wooden beams or stone blocks, and expansive. I’m being asked to walk around a building that is like every haunted house you’ve ever seen in films or books.
Yes, I know it’s highly unlikely that any crazed axe murderer is going to be hidden in the back of the kitchen waiting for me to stroll through and switch off the lights. I doubt any slave traders are lurking in the dance studio looking for unsuspecting passers-by to kidnap. You’d have to be a pretty determined burglar to get to the school in the first place (it’s in the middle of nowhere), let alone hide in the shower block until everyone had gone to bed.
This knowledge doesn’t make the lock-up any less creepy. I’m glad I don’t really have to venture too far into the girls’ block, because the designers of that particular structure must have been taking part in a competition to create the most confusing system of corridors and stairs known to man. Even with his ball of string, Theseus would have struggled to find the common room and then get back out again. Any potential murderers crouching in the shadows will stay in the shadows for a bloody long time, unless they get lucky and find a corridor that actually goes somewhere.
The kitchens and laundry room are particularly eerie, because they seem to be permanently dark anyway and windows and doors are always left open. There are some really inconvenient fire escapes down narrow murky corridors (well, inconvenient because of the narrow murky corridors), and a laundry room with creaking pipes and ominously rumbling machines. In one school I went to, there was kitchen area, down one particularly dark corridor on the way to the laundry room, in which one of the host school staff liked to work with no lights on. I often walked past to be greeted by a silhouette hunched over a steaming pot of mysterious goob, like some weird school version of Macbeth.
I suppose it would be interesting to do some psychological analysis at some point of why this lock-up route is so creepy and scary. I know perfectly well that I’m not going to die on the way around (except maybe of a heart attack). I know that all the noises are only the creaks and rattles of an old building and there aren’t any lunatics hiding in the back of the kitchen (although that’s where the evening snack for the kids is so that would be a good excuse).
The solution, then, is probably to just get on with it. Except that’s easier said than done when you’re faced with a gaping darkness with a door to lock at the other end.
I’ve got an alternative solution. This summer school has started during the World Cup. If we can invest some serious money finding out the sport viewing preferences of mad axe murderers, to discover if they’d rather be watching Brazil get spanked 7-1 by Germany or if they’d choose to hide out in a broom cupboard and jump on the next person that comes along with keys jangling merrily.