When I was in Year 9 I caught the bus to and from school. I loved the school bus but for one term before a space opened up on it my dad drove me in on his way to work – this meant that after some excellent early morning Meatloaf sing-alongs in the car, I got into school very early. Early student arrivals are not much fun for the staff as they often get up to mischief. To combat this the school had put on a number of early clubs which we were encouraged to sign up to.
We had a table tennis table at home and I thought I was pretty good at it so when I saw there was a club I could attend playing table tennis in the morning, I signed myself up. It was run by a teacher I didn’t know as she predominantly taught the 6th form. A note went round during registration the next week asking me to arrive on Monday morning at 7:45 for the club which would take place on the Red Corridor.
Monday morning came round and the clocked ticked over to 7:45. I went to the toilet and I hid. I hid for 30 minutes in a toilet cubicle until I knew the club was over and then I went back to my form room. I sat down at my desk and I didn’t mention my toilet hiding episode to anyone.
During one of the morning lessons there was a knock at the door. I knew as soon as I saw the teacher she’d come for me and sure enough, after an inaudible conversation between the two teachers, I was summoned to the front and then asked to have a “quick word” outside. I shuffled out feeling guilt wash over me and fear like only a school child who thinks they’re about to be told off can feel.
“Why weren’t you at the table tennis club this morning?”
A simple question. The real answer was actually pretty simple too. But it’s not the answer I gave. I gave a very different answer. An answer which involved an elaborate tale about falling from a bunk bed (I didn’t have a bunk bed) and landing awkwardly and causing great injury to my back (I hadn’t) and then when I realised I had made the lie so big it sounded like I was too injured to be in school, I pulled back and started down a different track. A track where I was indeed injured but my dad, a highly regarded surgeon, had assessed the damage and deemed me fit for school but unfit for table tennis.
A long, awkward pause followed. During which I am sure the teacher was assessing whether or not to call me out on the lie or let it, well, lie. Through her frown she said, “Well you should have informed me you weren’t coming. There is a long waiting list for my club. If you don’t make it next week, I will assume you don’t want to be involved and I will give your space to someone else.”
I didn’t make it the next week.
The real reason I hadn’t gone to the club? I didn’t know where the Red Corridor was. It was as simple and as ridiculous as that. I should have just said I hadn’t known where to go or asked someone, but I was too embarrassed to admit I didn’t know where it was having been at the school for nearly 3 years. Even as an adult I sometimes feel embarrassed to ask questions I think sound silly and that’s despite having been a teacher and truly meant it when I promoted the belief that it’s never silly to ask questions.
I’ve noticed a shift in the last 64 days – a new sort of confidence in myself. There’s a little voice in the back of my head now, a sort of mini-me dressed in sports gear, who just quietly, every now and then, whispers – “You can run for 30 minutes; you’ve totally got this. Just go for it; you’ll be great.” And that little mini-me cheerleader stops me from feeling embarrassed if I don’t know something or I have to ask a question which might seem obvious. She’s still small but she’s there and I really like having her with me.
It’s been 20 years since I started at secondary school and I still, to this day, have no idea where the Red Corridor is. But if I go back to visit I promise you this – I’m going to find out!