‘They’ll be just the three of them today,’ he said, unflinching.‘Oh right, thought Annie said it was five.’
‘It was five. But there was a situation last night. Now it’s three.’
Though I felt warm sweat dripping under both arms – I wisely always wear dark shirts when working for Annie – I don’t remember projecting any kind of astonishment when he mentioned how there had been a situation last night. Guess I must have just done an amiable nod and carried on tuning up.
He hadn’t introduced himself earlier when we met in the pissing rain outside the cage. Only that introduction above. But I knew his name was
Annie had a scattergun approach to running her business. Her favourite three words to me have always been, you’ll be fine. I assumed all this today was part of a Silver Arts Award that she was presently running in this unit. But I wasn’t certain. That’s why I had been hoping to tease some information from
For a start, there were no handshakes when I got out of the van. He walked straight passed me, directing me round to the left side of the building, to the cage. A fenced in square portal, the place for me to reverse my silver Vauxhall Astra van into. Which I did. I think he grinned slightly as he locked me in and then vanished from view. I sat in the van for a good five minutes before he appeared on the other side, behind me, opening the rear of the cage, a tall gateway that allowed access into what looked like a regular school playground; there was a tennis court/five-a-side football pitch, two large wooden climbing frames, a basketball pole and net. I had to leave the van in no man’s land, in the cage, remove the keys, hand them to Gerry, and unload my equipment travelling diagonally across what I now appreciated was a bouncy tarmac playground; it was so soft underfoot, black marshmallow.
I brought in all my gear without assistance.
Twenty-five minutes later in the dry I was sat in a very hot room on a chunky wooden chair tuning up the last of the acoustics; the bass guitars were all pretty much in tune and the strings required hardly any manipulation of tension. But the last acoustic I had was completely de-tuned. I knew the culprit. He was from my last workshop. A patch of white from the room lighting shone on
With the last of the guitars in tune, I looked up and smiled into his miserable face, hoping the gesture would be returned followed by the offer of that cup of tea. But I was clearly not wanted here today. That was plain enough to work out and that’s all good but the fact translates as this: I am here today. I am here to do my work. This is a day’s money. Good money. Three times more than I get for sanding floors, slaving my guts out for Simon Quinn; my other line of work. And then he spoke.
‘So you work for Annie then?’‘Yes.’
‘Known her long?’
‘We’ve known each other a while.’
‘She’s not told me much about you.’
‘Hasn’t she? Thought she would have.’
‘Of course she mentioned that you’re covering for her today.’
‘That you do all this with the guitars, that you’ve had the odd success here and there in behaviour management.’
Hold on a second. Odd success you say? Over twenty young students who have never had an opportunity in life or had anyone invest time in them before have not only all now got a Bronze Arts Award certificate further to time spent with me, but are also now working on Silver. And three of them I know for a fact – Ben, Azaria and Jack – are now avid bass players in the process of writing their own material and forming bands. I truly believe that they all now believe in themselves to the extent that they will keep to the path I have shown them is out there and that they will never end up in here.
‘Yes, I suppose you could say I have had some success.’
My tone employed sounded very nervous.
‘Listen to me. And listen good. We had a situation last night that became extremely unpleasant for all concerned. Extremely unpleasant. This is another level to anything that you have done prior to now.’
‘I know that.’
‘No, you think you know but you don’t know. You have got to lay down the law hard and instant. They will be waiting for one tiny spec of weakness and then you’ll be in pieces. They will tear your guts out and it’ll be us who has to clean up the mess. And I’m not in the mood for that again today. So make your mark. From the start. Go in firm.’
I coughed because the air in this enclosed room was definitely lacking enough oxygen to share about. But I remained calm, my voice this time improved and committed.
‘Thanks for the advice Gerry but I have never gone in hard. I have my own considered approach that seems to work with all students. I will just go with the same box of tricks as I always use as it does seem to get me results. As the saying goes, no point fixing something that isn’t broke.’
I was hoping with me now being all assertive that
‘Your box of tricks won’t provide magic in here. They’re not kids you know. Two are sixteen and one’s not far off that age. Firmness and order is what they will be expecting. Don’t give them false hope. They’ll break you if you don’t lay down the law from the start. If you'd been here last night you'd know full well what I'm on about. You have another twenty minutes to prepare yourself. We will be letting them out for breakfast the instant I leave this room.’
And with that
So I just sat there, foolish, the last of the guitars I had tuned on my lap, eyes back in the room, staring into space until I was interrupted by commotion. Doors being unlocked, murmur of new day voices, birds flapping wings free from cages, instructions directed by heavier voices, then outside of the thick pane of glass, the corridor became of colour, of life. Three boys in dressing gowns, sky blue, red, pink. They were all taller than I was expecting and made their inspection of me as they strolled idly passed. I smiled at them all. They just stared back. The impression was one of disapproving. My heart sank. Go in firm or they’ll have you in pieces.