Saturday, December 6, 2008

In charge on The Thames!

This is a story for you to read when you think that your life is a little tough. Believe you me, it has nothing on the toughness of life as a Special Needs Governor in charge of a Christmas Outing. Only Joyce Grenfall could truly understand what I mean!
Have you ever forced a large boat to change direction mid-stream whilst under Waterloo Bridge? I bet you haven't! Anyway, now read on . . .

It started on a unpredictable note.. The prospect of taking a large bunch of Special Needs kids out of school and on public transport is not one that you contemplate with total equanimity. But everything had been planned carefully. I had booked our places on the boat, ensured that the boat company were expecting us, all that we needed to do was to reach Westminster on time.

I arrived at the school to find the excited, but volatile, group far from ready. At least twenty minutes later than planned, all thirty-one children were finally making their way down the hill to catch the 'bus. The Head of the Department led the way, two more teachers were in the middle, and two helpers and I acted as sheep dogs in the rear.
Once on the High Street, we waited patiently for a ‘bus.
Finally, it arrived . . . full!
Time was already runnng short, after a moment’s hesitation, we decided that, if we were not to miss the boat, there was no alternative . . . we had to get on!
We pushed, we shoved, children were crammed up the stairs and under seats, teachers and helpers drew in their breaths and one helper, who walks with crutches, was seated unceremoniously on the luggage stand!
The driver refused to start the 'bus - he was overcrowded and he wouldn't break the rules. We pleaded, we implored, we called on his better nature, we told sob stories of Special Needs children and Christmas treats until, worn down by our entreaties, he set off!

We reached Westminster Bridge with ten minutes to spare. Everyone was exultant. In high spirits the children trooped down to the jetty where the other helpers were waiting. I went to the ticket office with the cheque to collect the tickets.
"Go to Landing Stage 2," said the man at the ticket office.
I waved in the direction of Landing Stage 2 and everyone set off.
Within minutes we had reached the landing stage (which had been in sight of the ticket office during the ticket-buying process) but were surprised to find no boat there. A rather gormless official came down the ramp.
"Who's in charge?" he asked.
I said that I was.
"Well, you've missed the boat," he said with a certain grim pleasure, "It went two minutes ago. There it is . . ."
We swung round to look in the direction of his pointing finger, and, sure enough, there it was - a beautiful red-and-white boat, sailing speedily away from us under Waterloo Bridge.
We could none of us believe it. How could they possibly have set sail with all of us awaiting instructions just yards away on the pier?
"Then it must come back!" I demanded.
"Sorry . . . can't do that. You'll have to wait and catch the next one," and he walked off.
Never have I felt more angry. With all the speed I could muster, I rushed back to the ticket office.

I really think that I did the children proud! I was furious! I demanded that the boat turn round,
that they honour their agreement, that fifty people should not be forced to wait on a wet and windy jetty when the booking had been made for over a month!
I was just drawing breath, and about to charge them with negligence and heaven knows what else, when a cry went up from the landing stage. The boat was returning! The poor, harrassed ticket inspector must have signalled to his colleague to accept defeat and call the boat back!
You can imagine the cheering when the boat arrived!

So, there we are . . . it turned into a wonderful trip, everyone enjoyed themselves, even the most harrassed teacher was laughing happily on the bus journey home. As for me, I can add it to my CV that I've been in temporary charge of shipping on the Thames . . . !
Well, if you don’t delve too deeply into the details, it sounds good . . . !