There’s no punch in the guts quite like hearing about the death of a former student. This was A. in 2004.
When I had the time and energy, I planned a school trip every year. We did Berlin twice, Barcelona, Italy, Paris… This one was to the South of France, and was by far our happiest. Partly because we teachers were in our working-too-hard, partying-too-heard mid-twenties and needed sunshine and a reminder of why we did the job more than we realised. And partly because of the kids we took. On paper, it was a nightmare. Over two thirds of the 18 kids we took had a special need of one kind or another, and most had severe and complex issues at home. Being Central London in the mid-nineties, we tapped every fund available, and very few of the kids paid very much at all for what was a very expensive trip.
A., notorious in the classroom, was quiet on the trip. Quiet in an overwhelmed, focused, seeing-and-trying-new things kind of a way. We realised that most of these kids had never left London, let alone lived in tents on a beach in the South of France, trying watersports of all kinds for the first time. The instructors initially weren’t sure what to make of our multi-racial, expressive and raggle-taggle bunch, and there was one particular expression of alarm when A. and his friend decide to stage a mock-fight whilst far away from the shore in a sailing boat… But we ran the tightest of regimes (acutely conscious of our own misdeeds on school trips), and they were impeccably behaved. The one plot to infiltrate the girls’ tent fell short when they failed to realise that canvas is not soundproof. They did us proud.
A. died of leukaemia last week, aged 23. He was proud of his job as a bouncer, adored his Mum (I never understood why ‘your Mum’ was such a cuss until I worked with these kids), and the six-pack of which he was so proud belied how ill he was. Rest in peace, lovely boy.