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.

Copyright QE Academy 2018