Thank God it's Friday

3rd June 2005 at 01:00

My alarm fails and I wake up 10 minutes before I have to board a coach to Maryland. The students - all members of the school band - are noisy and excited even though it's only 6.30am. They quieten down when reminded that the guard at the US border, just half an hour away from our Canadian school, will have a gun. We arrive in Annapolis nine hours later, where my hotel room is as big as my old flat in Manchester. Security guards prowl the hallways. No guns, though.


We make the short drive to Washington. Standing in front of the White House, the students dare each other to climb the railings and see how long it takes to get shot by a sniper. A sinister convoy of black four-wheel-drive vans inside the compound looks like something out of TV's CSI. Afterwards we head to the Air and Space Museum, and are amazed by the simplicity of the capsules that once blasted people into space. The computerised toilets on the new tilting trains are much more high tech, though considerably less reliable.


A boat cruise on Chesapeake Bay ends with the captain inviting the Canadian visitors to dance on deck. He joins in, as do most of the other passengers.

Tony, our trumpeter, hears an English couple talking and asks me if I know them. Then, as he does every 10 minutes, he demands that I say, "Tea and crumpets".


Our excuse for coming to the States is a music festival. Bands and choirs from across North America have the same idea. Each ensemble plays to an empty auditorium in an Annapolis high school. The adjudicators at the back of the hall are dressed like our coach driver: blue blazers with gold buttons over big bellies, and grey trousers. They're formal enough to give the students a healthy dose of nerves, but they're not actually ranking us.

This is a non-competitive event, and everyone who takes part gets a medal and a T-shirt. After kind words from the judges, we head off to the US Naval Academy's Glee Club to watch some singing sailors. They're young, scrubbed teenagers and many of their well-heeled parents are in the audience. I can't help thinking that, had they been born less privileged and joined the army instead, they might well be dead in Iraq.


Mine is a Catholic school, so on the way home we stop for mass at America's biggest church, the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in DC. It's suitably imposing and policed by security guards in black uniforms (complete with "Basilica Security" arm patches). After the service we head down to the basement, where there's a crowded gift shop and a fast food joint. Nine hours later we're back at the Canadian border, and after a week of US-style security it's nice that the guard doesn't bother to check our documents. It's not that Canada has a porous border. It's just that the guard went to our school.

* Nicholas Woolley teaches in Ontario, Canada. If you have a diary you would like to share (of no more than 520 words), write to TES Friday, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX or email We pay for every article we publish

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