Searching For Quentin: Destination Cusco

Peru is the last known location of our founder.

QE Academy’s archivist, James Tellman is about to embark on a journey of discovery.

After spending months searching the archives, interviewing alumnis and trying to make sense of what Quentin was up to when left the country, James Tellman successfully tracked the great man’s last movements to Peru – Cusco to be exact. Despite having already dedicated thousands of hours to this mission, James decided to follow his journey to its natural conclusion – that meant taking a flight to Lima, finding a means of transport and making his way to Cusco to hopefully conclude his search for Quentin Erroll.

“The look my wife gave me when I told her my plan was heart-melting. She’d listened intently, not interrupting me once, or even questioning me with her tired, expressive face. I needed to go, she knew that. The endless nights that I’d been spending in the archives each night had not been in vain. I had discovered a paper trail, undeniable evidence that Quentin had left the country in the mid-60s and not returned. With no existing family to look for him or care, I felt like I’d taken on the responsibility to remember him so that future students of QE could understand what happened to the man that had achieved so much by establishing the Academy.

Of course, Hazel knew all of this. She knew that, regardless of what I’d be researching, I’d end up absorbed in my work. It didn’t matter what job I was going to get, she knew that I had a weakness for work, but that was also part of my strength too. My education at QE Academy had trained to me to have an inquisitive mind, regardless of what vocation I found for myself. Whether it was working for an marketing company in Liverpool or as a researcher for a University – my attitude would remain the same: unerring, focused and belligerent.

Those previous jobs had consumed me, but at least the hours I could work there had limited my time away from Hazel and the kids. That changed when I took this role for QE. The board had given me unprecedented access to the archives, as much overtime as I liked and a near-limitless pot of petty cash to draw from. They trusted me to find Quentin’s resting place and although they hadn’t set a deadline, they knew that I was the kind of person to pursue a task relentlessly: they’d read my school reports.

Hazel interrupted me before I had the chance to apologise. She had things under control at home, the kids were fine – they missed me, but they were fine. They could miss me for another month, three at the most. Leave them too long and they would simply forget who I was. That hurt, but I knew it was true. Although the board had given me as much time as I needed, there was still a deadline that I needed to meet.

Whilst I packed my bags, I thought of Quentin. Had he met a woman when he was in Peru? Had the thought of leaving them for his responsibilities back home in England been a step too far for him? Was it a family that had finally tied him down to one place? I was about to find out, but I was not going to follow in his footsteps.

Regardless of what I discovered, or didn’t discover, I would be returning home.

Discovering a Path to Success

We’re not often sold a convincing vision of our education as children.

Up until the age of 12 I was educated at a state school in central London.

Now, I’m not intent on tarring all schools in London at the time with the same brush, but I would say that this is a experience that is not uncommon – even today.

When I started at school at the age of 5 I was overwhelmed by the journey that was ahead of me. Each day was a mammoth challenge. Five hours of lessons each day, the pressure to constantly stay focused on the lessons was immense, not to mention the task of getting the right answers written down in your books.

Above all else what daunted me was the notion that I would be trapped in this restrictive school system for the next 9 years of my life. I’d seen older kids in uniform, towering over me and I knew that I would have to be as big and smart as them before I could escape.

I started school during the 50s, the end of the Second World War was still fresh in the minds of many of our teachers – my Maths teachers insisted on absolute silence throughout his lessons. His nervous twitches and forced cheerfulness were a constant confusion to me – I was so concerned by this uneven behaviour that my learning was affected, a pattern that began to emerge amongst my other subjects.

It would be irresponsible for me to blame my sliding grades on a generation of teachers who were understandably shaken from surviving one of the most wide-reaching conflicts in history. If one of your teachers wasn’t a soldier or pilot who had managed to remain unscathed, then they would be a widow still in grieving. It was impossible to not carry a few scars, mental or emotional, from such a turbulent time – I was lucky to even get an education.

By the time I’d left my primary school, my parents recognised that the school system had not had the right impact on me. Steadily declining results combined with a lack of support had left me defeated, all I wanted to do was scrape through the next few years of school and get a job when I turned 14.

In a last ditch attempt to turn me into an educated man my parents uprooted their lives and moved us into the QE Academy’s catchment area. I was suspicious at first. What more would could I learn from this school, especially when I’d failed so much before? They didn’t know what they were getting themselves in for.

The first thing that I was asked to do when I arrived at QE was to demonstrate my knowledge of a range of subjects. Instead of a standardised test though, I was given the opportunity to explain what I knew, with a bit of probing and encouragement I began surprising myself with how much information I’d retained. Before this moment I’d not been instilled with anything like confidence by a teacher before. It was emblematic of what was to come.

The teachers at QE Academy ensured that I stayed in school until I was 16 and had the confidence to go on to a fulfilling life in Higher Education.

Fitting the Doors of the Academy

If it wasn’t for my Father’s for his job, I would never have enrolled at the QE Academy.

For as long as I could remember my Father had always wanted me to follow in his footsteps and enter into the family business.

His passion for joinery and woodwork rivalled our church’s vicar for unerring vitriol, his diatribes on the importance of well-sourced materials was well known and one that he frequently subjected us to – he felt that that his analogy of ‘one quality tree furnishing an entire house’ was something that could be applied to any scenario, regardless of how tenuous the connection.

In the middle of the 1960s Britain was still reeling from the effects that the Second World War. There was still work to be done rebuilding the country, on the long road to preparing Britain for a glittering future prosperity that had been promised whilst my Father had been fighting in France and my Mother had been toiling away in a munitions camp.

Despite the progress that we had made in the time since September 1945 the country was still in tatters and, although the government had promised that there was a bright future for the sons and daughters of those who had given their lives for their country, that ‘bright future’ seemed to mostly involve the kind of manual labour that my family had done for generations.

Sure enough, by 1965 I was learning the business under my Father’s tutelage, spending days in the van driving out to far-flung corners of the country who needed a door hanging here or a skirting board fitted there. That’s what brought me to the QE Academy for the first time.

My Father and I were hired to fit the entire school building with contemporary internal doors that would reflect the austere nature of the ex-hospital, whilst exuding a modern charm that would withstand everything a school would throw at it. We worked throughout the Summer holidays, pulling down the existing doors and fitting the new doors that my Father had lovingly crafted for the last month.

The memories of fitting those doors with my Dad that summer are ones that I will always look on as formative. I remember that it felt so strange to be returning back to a school so soon after leaving my own one. The halls were empty throughout those dusty months. Light streamed in through bay windows and I found myself often wondering what my life would have been like if I’d enrolled at an establishment like this one, instead of following my Father into his business.

Gleaming cups, awards and certificates drew my eye. During our lunch break I would wander through the eerie classrooms, reading poetry on the walls and peeking in abandoned desks, marvelling at the work books lying within them. It was during one of these snooping sessions that I was interrupted by a knock at the door. I glanced up expecting to see my Father calling me back to work, but a different man stood there. I’d seen him striding through the halls, nodding as he’d passed. He always seemed full of purpose, not rushing but committed to spending his time wisely.

Now he was looking at me, with a mixture of curiosity and incredulity.

“We’ve always got room for one more, boy.”

Once the doors were fitted my Father spoke with Quentin Erroll who promised me tutelage and a place to say. The direction of my life changed that summer, my Father worked alone until his retirement, happy in the knowledge that he’d got his only son to University after all.

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