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The singing fish in the cupboard

When my daughter goes to bed I lie beside her and ask her about her day. She tells me about play time, circle time, what she had for lunch and who told her she wasn’t their friend. Oh the trials of a six year old! And then she asks for a story. And generally, I make one up.

I like to lead with a nonsensical sentence. Something like “The small unhappy girl reached into the cupboard and pulled out a green fish. It was singing.” At that point there is usually an interjection. My small daughter, listening with big eyes and distracted fingers says something. Maybe its a, “Daddy, fish can’t sing!” which then leads the story down the singing fish alley. Or its a,”Daddy, fish don’t live in a cupboard!” which leads me down the cupboard-fish story alley. Or maybe it’s, “Daddy, was there another fish?”, at which point, it becomes a story about a school of fish in the cupboard. It generally gets more and more nonsensical (big ups to Dr Seuss!) and ends in a hanging climax. Maybe the fish was about to leap out of the cupboard but the cat walked in… The more insistent the, “Tell me the next bit Daddy!”, the better!

Five and a half years ago, in a small town called Bangkok, we signed a contract to go and work at a school. In Saudi Arabia. It wasn’t actually built at that point, but there were grand visions. It was to become a beacon of educational hope for the country. It was going to offer a coeducational environment for Saudi boys and girls. To a large extent, it was like opening the story with a sentence about a singing fish in a cupboard. And my signature was on the contract!

Well, the story has developed, the opening sentence has turned into a page, and a chapter and a book. The first of many in a series.

And now, I find myself sitting in an airport sky-bar with excess luggage and “between jobs”. That first-book-in-the-series is done, at least where my character figures. The few chapters where my character weaves in and out, hoping that the sub-plot to which I am tied might eventually tie into the central theme of the series so that eventually, when the rights are sold for the big screen release of the story my character is played by Jeff Bridges rather than Steve Buscemi.

And it is only now, now that my character has been temporarily written out of the story and a new actor has been contracted to play my part that I begin to realise that what we leave on the stage has nothing to do with what needed to be done. It’s all about how we did it.

And having now featured in the stories of five schools, I can name a lot of characters whose parts have been rewritten. For many of them I can remember what it is they did. Mostly though, I can remember how they did it. They were funny. They were very serious. They didn’t really care very much. The were passionate. And the list goes on.

For a few of them, I remember how they treated their students, how they treated their colleagues, how they treated themselves. And for a fewer few of them I look forward to costarring at some point in the future.

So while all our stories continue to be written, consider “how” you go about playing your part, because that above all is what is remembered.

Be the singing fish in the cupboard!

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