There's no one like our Mr Fix It

21st January 2011 at 00:00

We were closed on Monday, for Dave's funeral. He wasn't just our premises officer. He was the best I've ever worked with.

When he joined us, just before a summer holiday, the school was being rewired. Cable, plaster and brick lay everywhere. Not only did Dave manage to get everything spotless for the start of term, he was always available to help teachers organise their classroom furniture. He was genuinely touched when they organised a collection for him, but then, the teachers had been equally pleased to find our new schoolkeeper had such endless enthusiasm and cheerfulness.

His passion was football. Millwall was the bee's knees and he was a loyal supporter. Soon he was running after-school football teams for us, entering our children into local tournaments. Before long, we had filled a shelf outside my room with trophies.

Dave had a talent for grabbing an opportunity when he saw one. When we decided to remove the old toilets in the playground to create an environmental area, Dave got a quote from the education authority. "#163;6,000 to knock them down and cart the bricks away?" Dave said. "Let me think about this ... ".

Shortly afterwards, I drove into school and found a heap of rubble where the toilets had been. He had spotted a JCB coming along the road, walked out in front of it and offered the driver #163;200 cash if he would drive it into the lavs. Delighted, the driver willingly obliged. Meanwhile, we were still faced with a huge pile of bricks. "No problem," said Dave. "We'll hire a skip and Year 6 can throw the bricks into it. Just don't tell Health and Safety ... ".

Dave saved the best bricks for building flower beds, and that was how we found his wife had a talent, too. For someone brought up in the city, she had the greenest fingers imaginable. She made friends with local traders, bought bargain-priced bulbs and the following spring we had an amazing show of flowers. Soon, our football trophies were supplemented by City in Bloom awards.

On one occasion, Dave's sense of humour and justice turned out to be highly rewarding. The school brickwork was being cleaned with a steam machine. Whenever the firm's boss arrived, he would drive at speed into the playground and park wherever he liked, which didn't endear him to Dave. Neither did the fact that the car had two bald tyres and no tax disc.

One morning, Dave was cleaning the carpet in the room where we keep our school guitars. The boss was on the scaffolding inspecting the steam gun and steam blasted through the window, knocking a guitar off its hook. "Oh dear!" Dave shouted, "That's the headteacher's guitar, and it cost #163;200." Amazingly, the boss took out a roll of notes and settled there and then. He had no idea the guitar was one the children used and cost #163;26.

Dave was the kind of person who would do anything for you. If Ofsted was visiting, he would ensure the school was open all weekend, and he would even offer to let the inspectors' tyres down. When the cam belt on my car broke and I was stranded on the road, Dave was the first there to help push it back into school.

But Dave's diabetes gradually took its toll and a heart attack followed. We all hoped he would recover after an operation, but it wasn't to be. After the funeral, I walked down the path with a teacher who had left us years ago and I commented on the number of people who had come to say goodbye. "He loved the school," she said. "But then, we all do. It's very special."

Dave was one of the people who made it so.

Mike Kent is headteacher at Comber Grove Primary, Camberwell, south London. Email: mikejkent@aol.com.

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