Two years ago, former headteacher Bill Dove stepped off a boat on to a Buddhist island near Hong Kong and put his life on to a new track. For the previous nine years he'd been head at inner-city St George's junior school in Stockport, Greater Manchester. It was a successful school - 30 per cent of its pupils lived outside the catchment area. But, at 50, Bill Dove was tired and drained by what he felt was as an ever-increasing workload of Ofsted reports and government initiatives.
"I accept that the things we were required to do were valuable; it was just finding the time to do it all that was difficult," he says. "As head I was supposed to be able to help relieve teachers of the pressures on their time. But I just felt powerless."
He took voluntary redundancy, walked into his local travel agency and bought a five-week, round-the-world ticket, taking in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. "I needed to clear my mind. I was looking for something totally different, but really had no idea what." Hong Kong was one of his stopovers, but he quickly became tired of the hectic commercialism of what is one of the world's busiest financial and manufacturing centres. So he booked himself on a half-hour boat trip to the nearby island of Lentan, a Buddhist retreat.
"It was amazing. As soon as I stepped off the boat, there were none of the sounds of frenetic civilisation. My first reaction was that something had been taken away. But as I walked around, I realised that nothing was lost - it was just all very different. It was also very misty at the time, which helped dampen the feelings of frantic bustle which I had become used to.
"People were walking quietly and hardly anybody was talking. There was a sense of other-worldliness, of people being in tune with each other." Although Bill Dove spent just one day on the island, the Buddhist meditative way of life made a lasting impression. "It was like switching off to a very quiet and peaceful place. I guess it was symbolic of what I was looking for. Travelling from the commercialism-gone-mad of Hong Kong to Lentan paralleled my life as a headteacher where I had been running around like a scalded chicken."
Touched also by the "spirituality" and "harmony" of the Maori and North American Indian cultures that he encountered on his travels, Bill returned to the UK with a renewed sense of purpose.
He wanted to pass on to teachers the benefits of traditional relaxation methods he had picked up, and so decided to become a professional masseur. He enrolled on an intensive course in traditional head massage from India, took some business advice from his local chamber of commerce, laboured over a business plan and within a year had launched his company, Metropolitan Stress Therapy.
And over the past three months he has been pursuing his second career with vigour, telephoning former colleagues and sending out information packs to schools offering his 15-minute, stress-busting headmassages to teachers for pound;7.50.
"Let us remember that Britain's workforce loses 360 million working days a year because of health problems - often stress," he says. "And I understand what teachers and headteachers are going through. You just say Ofsted to a teacher and he or she gets stressed." Because Indian head massages only last 15 minutes, they can easily be slipped into a lunch break. Bill also sees them as an alternative to time-management courses.
"When I was a teacher, I went on these courses but they did not work for me. Most of it seemed to be common sense. I felt I actually needed somebody to do something for me. Although Indian head massage cannot take the pressures away, it can help the body deal with them."
The technique involves pressing acupressure points on the head and face, and massaging oils such as lavender into the neck, shoulders, upper back and arms - parts of the body where, Bill Dove says, toxins collect as a result of hormonal changes brought about by stress. Unlike limb muscles, neck muscles are relatively immobile, meaning toxins, particularly lactose acids, are not released naturally. This, he says, explains why stressed people often suffer from stiff shoulders and necks. A head massage helps by stimulating blood flow, so removing the toxins from the muscles.
"In effect, I am helping the body to heal itself. At first, people are apprehensive about the idea of having any kind of massage, mainly because of the very British thing about not being touched. But the teachers who have had it are blown away by its beneficial effects. Many have had massages, but not head massages."
At present, teachers are paying for their massages themselves, but Bill is hoping local authorities and boards of governors might think about footing the bill. "I believe it is in their interest," he says.
Although he is busy building up his reputation - and supply-teaching and appearing as an extra in television series, such as Casualty and Cops, to raise extra cash - he says he misses the social aspect of teaching. "I also miss the routine. But as a head I never knew where the pressures were to come from next. My new career is very different."
Bill Dove can be contacted on 0161 237 1466
THE MESSAGE ABOUT MASSAGE
Sue Devrin, a 51-year-old teacher at a Manchester primary school, has always suffered from migraines and head and shoulder stiffness.
While she believes that teaching is no more stressful than other professions, working out-of-hours and trying to cope with the varied abilities of her pupils does take its toll.
On hearing about Bill Dove's service, she showed his leaflet to colleagues. "Two said they suffered headaches like I did and so we thought 'let's give it a go'." After receiving approval from the head, Bill Dove was invited to visit one Friday during the lunch break.
"He used lavender oil, which was wonderful," says Ms Devrin. "I felt so relaxed afterwards. The other two teachers felt the same. I would recommend it to other teachers. It is far from expensive and Bill is very aware of the problems teachers have."
The name of the teacher has been changed