Face adversity with a bit of Blitz spirit

13th July 2007 at 01:00
Recently, I was on a school coach that crashed into a railway bridge in Saint Omer, France. The driver had misjudged by a mere 30 centimetres the relative heights of the bridge and the bus. Needless to say, after part of the roof had been sliced off, everyone focused exclusively on the driver's performance at this particular bridge, rather than the 30 or so he had successfully navigated us through since departure earlier that day.

More fuss followed. Merely because the bridge had carved off the air conditioning unit and sent it spinning into the road, and because a shower of glass from one of the skylights had rained down on us all, it was decided that we should abandon the coach and wait for another.

Yet no one had been hurt and the coach still worked perfectly. Yes, the remainder of the roof had a quirky longboat shape to it and a small number of children would have travelled open to the elements, but it was a sunny day and once the glass had been swept away we could easily have carried on in the same vehicle for the remaining day-and-a-half of our trip.

Instead, all the dreary talk was of getting the bus towed to a garage, finding a new one, and of the thousands of pounds it was going to cost the coach company in repairs. There was surely no need for any of this. Why not accept the rough state of the bus OK, maybe fix a waterproof sheet over the hole in the roof and carry on?

I was reminded of such prevailing, needless doom-and-gloom negativity when I returned home to reports that one or two bits of Buckingham Palace had fallen off. I see no monarchical masonry crisis here. Surely the best thing our famously stoical queen could do in such circumstances would be to carry on as normal. It's a big place, after all. There's plenty of masonry left.

Discerning people, such as the Queen and I, question whether there is any real point in the constant drive to repair superficial damage. The more we parents and teachers demonstrate such superficiality to children, the more we perpetuate this over-pampered shallowness.

When we met the bridge, we were on our way to Ypres site of the genuine disaster that was the First World War. Perhaps more than ever, we need to give a clearer message about what matters and what really doesn't.

Stephen Petty is head of humanities in an Oxfordshire school

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