A Peruvian Odyssey: Lima

I arrive in Lima early in the morning with a splitting headache.

Flying has always made me nervous and I’d spent the 12-hour flight chattering quietly to myself, drinking copious amounts of gin and trying to distract myself from the gnawing feeling that I was making a terrible mistake.

I didn’t say goodbye to the kids – Hazel had said that it would be better if I left for work at the usual time. I’d packed my bags the night before, the only thing left to do was lug them to the bus stop and start the long journey to Peru.

I’d spent months researching our founder Quentin Errol with my trip to Peru being the deadline for my preparations. The man who had founded the school that had given me so much remained a mystery to me, despite hundreds of hours of poring through the archives I had got no closer to understanding why Quentin had made his  journey to Peru, or how he was able to return with the necessary funds to buy the land that the Academy resides on to this day.

My legs faintly shook beneath me as I stepped down from the plane. My head throbbed and I regretted the last drink that I had hastily swallowed before we had made our descent.

The heat was the first thing that I noticed. A wash of humidity struck me as I descended onto the runway, I’d not felt heat quite like it in a long time, not since my honeymoon at least; within moments I was soaked in sweat and the sheets of paper that I hadn’t had time to stuff back into my briefcase were stuck to my sweat palms, turning them into a slick greasy mess.

It wasn’t until I’d left the airport that I realised how I little I’d prepared for travelling in a completely foreign country. I might well have spent years tracing the footsteps of Quentin Errol and successfully built an image of what the man might have been like, but I had no idea how I was going to take myself from the capital city of Lima to Cusco, his last known location.

With just my rucksack and satchel I knew that I looked out of place; a bewildered 45-year old academic who had somehow found himself in a country as well known for its natural beauty as its insurmountable crime problem.

My heart filled with panic. How could I have left these logistical details to the last minute? What was I thinking? How on earth was I going to make the near-700 mile journey to Cusco?

I took one deep breath and did what any civilised Westerner would do, I headed straight back into the airport and found a Starbucks to hide in. I felt much more secure with my laptop open, Hazel and the kids stared back at me from the desktop and a pang of guilt struck me.

I needed to complete my quest here, I needed to find out what happened to Quentin Errol and I needed to get home.

Escape the 90s: Marketing to the Disenfranchised

No one ever thinks of the kids born in the 80s…

When historians look back over British history they tend to linger on the most recent years; turbulent and dominated by terrorism.

Failing that they’ll look to the tumultuous war time eras focusing on the effect that an entire World War had on a generation.

They don’t think of how MTV made us feel about ourselves or how frustrating it was to be born on the cusp of the future; always one step behind a much promised future that would forever be out of our grasp.

I understand this might sound a little melodramatic, but I believe that the young lives of those in the 1980s and 1990s were often dominated by the kind of defeatist mentality that had been mustered and bred in their parents during the tough austerity measures of the 1970s, at least I’m certain that’s how it was for me.

My Mother was born in 1960, she had me when she was very young, only 18. I was the product of a wild night out and a chance encounter with a man who must have been in England on holiday because by the time I was born he was long gone, back in whatever sunnier, richer clime he had first came from leaving my Mother, uneducated as she was, with a child to raise alone. Throughout my early years in 80s there was a sense of foreboding that seemed to dog me wherever I went.

The teachers were lackadaisical, they seemed less intent on actually educating us and more concerned with informing us about the sorry state of the country, how there were no jobs like there used to do and how everything had changed. They were wrong, of course, everything was changing it always had be, so in that sense nothing had ever changed. I left school with the kind of grades that didn’t promise a rich career in…well, in anything.

At age 16, the year was 1995 and I had no intent on furthering my education. Marketing to students at the time consisted of posters featuring the kind of well-dressed, smart looking people that I only saw coming out of office blocks at 5pm or on TV. Their perma-white smiles, pristine pinstripes and coiffed hair were at sharp contrast with my own image. As far as I was concerned I’d already achieved the zenith of my prosperity. I owned a couple of Adidas tracksuits which I wore on rotation, the dole gave me enough money to visit the pub twice a week and with our combined ‘earnings’ my Mum and I could put food on the table.

I spent 1985 in a haze of marijuana and VCR tapes. My Mum started dating a man from the pub that year and I found that I was no longer free to simply sit around the house with a joint in my mouth anymore. When Gerald moved in during the summer of 1996 he brought with him a brochure for the QE Academy. He didn’t force me to go, he didn’t even sit me down and have a chat. He just dropped the leaflet on the dining room table one day and said it might be worth a look.

It turned out that a middle-aged welder would be the person that I would thank for all my success in life, my saviour from another generation.

Educated in the 80s: Tony’s Story

An Alternative Education: Margaret Thathcher and Free-Thinking Classes

I don’t think anyone ever looks back on their school days as being ‘picture perfect’.

As with many things in life, it’s almost impossible to look back into the past with crystal clear clarity. In the space of a handful of years after you leave secondary school your life is already spinning wildly out of control. Back in the 80s, the idea that by the age of 16 you were considered to be a ‘grown up’ and ready for the working world was common place. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the best time to be leaving the comforting bosom of state education.

The British economy was in a shabby state whilst I was taking my O-Levels. Miners’ strikes permeated the news, Margaret Thatcher was a symbol of the kind of institutionalised oppression that teenagers are so easily riled by and, as a result, we all grew to see her (and her Tory cronies) as figures to mistrust and despise. I wouldn’t describe myself as a militantly liberal person today, but I still hold a semblance of that distrust for politicians to this day, something that I attribute to both the times I lived in as well as the school that I was lucky enough to attend.

The QE Academy was a special place for me and it only grew in my estimation as the years wore on.

My parents had both struggled in school. Their lives in education had been dominated by negative relationships with teachers and students alike, as a result they’d both starting working as soon as they were allowed to. At the age of 14 my Dad took a job in a carpet factory and my Mum scored the relatively cushy position of secretary. When, ten years later, they had me they decided to send me to QE Academy after hearing about the school in the newspaper. Billed as a ‘radical’ institution with ‘dangerous’ new ideas, what caught their eye were how the graduates of this school were being described: ‘head strong’, ‘wilful’ and ‘rebellious’.

Despite both being happy in their positions and content with their lot in life, my parents didn’t want me to inherit their values.

They knew that in order for me to be successful in life and to get the most out of it, I would need the kind of ambition and curiosity that they simply weren’t raised with. Their decision to send me to QE is one that I’ve always been thankful for and I’ve tried to live up to their expectations of me ever since.

Learning at the Quentin Erroll Academy, just a few years after it had opened, was the kind of experience that I believe all children should have. Although I had to travel for 2 hours each day to get to and from the school, I never dreaded it. I’d start the trip from home to school each day alone. The only child in the peculiar black and green stripes of QE on the bus. As I’d make my way to school each day though more of my comrades would start appearing and sit alongside me.

Although we never out numbered children from the local schools, our indomitable spirits ensured that we were never bullied.

Copyright QE Academy 2018