Stress? I need sat nav to get me to the tea room

14th September 2007 at 01:00
"At the next junction, turn right and then immediately left." The bland, ageless American woman's voice intones the same direction over and over, yet it is only on the third attempt after going round in circles that we get it right. Without sat nav some of us would have spent a large part of the summer lost in Winchester.

I am thinking of investing in a hand-held GPS device for the new school year. Or maybe a large ball of string like in the Minotaur's maze. It is not that I am in a new school and fear getting lost although my sense of direction and navigational skills are dire. Blame my gender; blame my lack of focus in geography. All I can recall from those lessons is how to spell Mississippi by singing 'Mrs M, Mrs I, Mrs S, S, I!' and what happens in a silage tower.

No, the reason I need one is that our school has been demolished. Honest. The huge main heart ripped out and flattened. Now we have two end bits connected by an enormous mound of earth totally open to the sky. Our school is not simply like a building site in the metaphoric sense. It IS a building site.

I attempted a reconnaissance mission to see if I could get from reception to my classroom. This entailed going outside, up a fire escape, through a door, across the back of the stage, more stairs then out via the kitchen. The journey was made doubly challenging by the weird assortment of objects I had to navigate, including a 3ft plaster statue of the Virgin Mary.

I am within yards of my classroom when a builder asks me where I am going.

"You've got three minutes love before I close up this entrance." Obviously he is joking. Ten minutes later I return to find it was no joke. Doorway gone. Wall of plywood in its place. GPS and ball of string of no use here. I know exactly where I am. Stuck. Fortunately a group of decorators are in the same predicament. One gamely climbs out of the ground floor window to ask someone to take the plywood down. This is more heroic than it sounds given the rose bushes under the window.

I make my way to where the tea room should be, only to find that it no longer exists. This is by far the most stressful aspect of the building. King's College London's recent survey on workplace stress found that teachers are in second place to head chefs of large restaurants. We have more chronic stress than slaughterers at third place and construction workers in fourth. If they don't replace that tearoom pretty damn quickly I reckon the construction workers and us will unite to be joint first. Do I hear you ask how come head chefs beat us in the chronic stress levels? Apparently they have inflexible deadlines to meet and the fear of public failing. Haven't those researchers heard of report writing and league tables?

In theory the plans make the new building look awesome. The school is set to rise Phoenix-like out of the rubble. In the meantime let's just hope they have set up a temporary tea-making facility.

Julie Greenhough

is a writer who teaches at a London boys' secondary school

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