Spiral of delight and madness

20th October 2006 at 01:00
Over the first few days of Carsten Holler's epic installation of tubular steel slides at Tate Britain, the nation's braver art critics could be seen whooshing merrily down a 55-metre spiral through the Turbine Hall, and reporting that -Wheeee!....Zzzzappp - this chap Holler is right, slides are mind-altering, creating "a state somewhere between delight and madness", although feeling rather bumpy when you hit the seams.

The consensus was that, yes, this is definitely the best thing you can do in an art gallery with both feet in a sack. The critics giggle and shriek.

Holler says sliding can help with depression. Unless, of course, your depression is increased by having large unsightly bruises on your bum.

Me, I can hardly wait to head for the South Bank and hurl myself down; although, this being Britain, land of the Diana Fountain, I have an awful suspicion that by the time The TES goes to print someone will have closed the slides on health 'n' safety grounds. At least for a while, pending complicated and boring changes such as the ones they did on the wobbly Millennium Bridge. Apropos which, let me just mention, that I have never felt so proud of Britain as on the first day after the dreaded wobble was discovered. Instead of avoiding the new footbridge lest they topple over and bang their knees, our sturdy compatriots could be seen queuing round St Paul's to try it out. Brought a tear to the eye, honestly.

Anyway, back to the slides. I now feel that Mr Holler shows the way for this new generation of schools and academies which the Government seems hellbent on building from scratch, full of blue-sky thinking and glass atriums and fish tanks and Ingenium centres. Forget all that: what we need in school architecture is more slides. In Denmark, after all, the BBC Learning Curve programme visited a fabulous school where the stairs were designed to be sat on, the lockers to be climbed over by adventurous small feet, and the assembly hall was in the shape of a giant whale. It was a celebration, in solid form, of children's roisterous natural physicality.

All it lacked was a helter-skelter to getting from top to bottom.

Imagine the cheerful stimulus, for teacher and pupil alike, of coming out of double maths and going "Wheeeee!" down the side of the building to the playground. Safety? No problem. Year 12 slide monitors would have the responsibility of spacing out the entrants at the top and clearing the ground at the bottom, thus teaching valuable lessons in citizenship and care for others.

The effect on mental health would be incalculably good, given that school life itself tends to be a state somewhere between delight and madness.

Teachers with armfuls of folders could tuck their legs up neatly and have a moment of shrieking release from classroom tension as they hurtled towards the rubber mat. If they took to wearing academic gowns again, as in the Beano, they would not even need a sack to sit on. The curriculum would prosper: CDT classes could do projects on what sort of rubber mat was easiest on the backside, physicists could do coursework on speed of drop, poets could write about it all and biologists could study the bruises.

You could take the principle of physical stretch even further. Arriving in a classroom by fireman's pole would win a teacher great new respect from the action-movie generation. You could then leave, like Tarzan, swinging from a liana down into the staffroom with a faint yodelling cry of "I want those worksheets in by Tuesdaaaaaaay!". Or perhaps travel more sedately on a breeches-buoy. It would be like a jungle or nautical-themed Hogwarts.

As for the journeys up again, a system of hoists and pulleys would enable children to blow off steam physically - vital for boys at the start of the day -while contributing to the head's awesome daily arrival at assembly in the manner of Peter Pan. On prize day all the governors could be flown in to their places on the stage (or possibly shot out of cannons. That would soon weed out the uncommitted).

At this dream school (Tarzan Academy?) children themselves would be expected to climb up to their hi-tech classrooms by a series of varied handholds, possibly including tarred ratlines as in ships' rigging, to remind them that human fingers were not designed solely for keyboards, joysticks and remote controls. And then, at the end of the day, everyone could take a bracing, shrieking slide downhill to the waiting mothers at the school gate. Delight and madness. Bring it on!

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