Just close your eyes and jump

21st November 1997 at 00:00
The spirit of CJ has been haunting our office for the past couple of weeks. You will remember CJ as Reggie Perrin's boss at Sunshine Desserts in the much loved BBC television series. He was much given to mangling well-known sayings and proverbs: "It's never too late for the leopard to change horses in midstream" being my favourite example.

The reason for his spectral presence can be traced back to the arrival in school of a volume with a title along the line of "A Thousand Useful Sayings for Morning Assemblies". To gauge its impact you need only think back to the Christmas your big brother received the Guinness Book of Records in his stocking: 12 days and nights of sentences beginning: "Did you know the biggest sausage in the world . . .' In our case, the quote book has virtually robbed us of the power of meaningful conversation. Where once we exchanged useful professional comments, we are reduced to contest by declamation. Woe betide anyone unable to return a pithy saying with an equally useful scattering of bons mots, and there's a whole technique to the game.

A member of the team disappears for a time, and only a silence broken by the slow turning of pages is heard from their office. Then, silently and suddenly, they appear in your office doorway, leaning nonchalantly against the door jamb. With the practised ease that comes from assiduous rehearsal, they fling the words across the room. "Kindness is my true religion," they declaim, daring you to answer. "Life is too short to stuff mushrooms," you reply, scarcely bothering to look up from your desk. And so it goes, with the laconic ease of two epigrammatist gunmen facing up to each other in some etymological Dodge City.

The tension mounts whenever footsteps approach the door, and, much in the SAS tradition of shoot first and ask questions later, even sensible remarks are greeted with prepared but quotable nonsense: "Prelim Draft Timetable should be ready by Friday!" is met with "And there will be tears before teatime on Saturday" - a safe prediction for this particular Hibs fan, but hardly an intelligent or professional reply.

However, as the redoubtable CJ might well have remarked, it's a long lane that has no birds in the bush, and there have been some positive gains from all this whacky word play, in the shape of some highly memorable and relevant sayings.

Given my particular state of arrested development, I was particularly pleased to see, from Albert Camus, goalkeeper and philosopher: "Everything I know about responsibility and morality, I have learnt from football", though clearly he can never have played at Central Park, Cowdenbeath, on a wet November evening. James Barrie's "I am not young enough to know everything" will similarly strike a chord with every parent and teacher. However, the following, anonymous, suggestion, when applied to the world of education, fairly hits the mark: He said, "Come to the edge."

"It is too high."

"Come to the edge."

"We might fall."

"Come to the edge."

So they came to the edge, And he pushed them, And they flew . . .

Such sentiment, expressing the high-risk strategy necessary to inspire learners and teachers, the very mention of "the edge", is surely behind the mission statement of every school that aspires to give pupils, parents and staff the most positive and effective educational experience . . . and you can quote me on that.

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