Mrs C knew something was amiss when she bounded into the staffroom with her picnic hamper. The room was silent. There was no-one there. The table was tidy, empty apart from a piece of paper. She checked under the paper – still nobody. Slightly frowning she felt her way to the fridge and took out her glasses; then she read the note.
‘URGENT TOP-SECRET MEETING IN HALL – 8.45 am PROMPT’.
It was 8.48 and Mrs C was a bit late. Relieved that at least she wouldn’t have to eat all the cheese scones, apple and damson pies and bottles of ginger beer herself that she had packed in her hamper, Mrs C made her way to the kettle for a soothing cup of tea. She wasn’t stupid. She knew something was up and she knew that the mind clearing qualities of a well-brewed lemon and ginger tea would help her laser sharp brain to start functioning properly. So pausing only to refrigerate her home made produce she made her way to the hall. It was 8.57 am.
There were 5 men in black standing in the hall. The staff were sitting in a semi-circle facing them. More silence. A bright light shone on a white screen on the wall and everyone was staring at it. Hmm images but no sound – again. Ms Morley was on the case though. No-one could make a computer work the way Suzanne did. Maybe it was her high-tec tool kit that she kept strapped to her person, ready for any eventuality or maybe it was the commanding vibes she exuded – ‘you are a computer and you will work for me’. Either way, as Mrs C slipped, almost unnoticed into a chair beside Mrs Mojab the computer leapt into action and one of the men in black started to speak.
“Ladies and gentlemen”, he began, removing his dark glasses to create a closer connection with his audience. “We find ourselves in troubled times and only you can help us”. He paused for effect and indeed it was clear that he had the staff’s full attention. Louise had stopped texting and Carolyn put her list of Italian verbs to one side. Behind them Nigel opened his eyes, whilst Alison and Sally hid the notes they were passing to one another.
“Time is not on our side. We have just six weeks to find and restore the equilibrium of life itself before it is too late”.
Well, whatever the staff of that extraordinary seat of learning had expected to hear, it wasn’t that. Murmurs of puzzlement buzzed through the crowd. Emma looked bewildered, Louise started texting again; even Gayle looked confused. Emily stopped writing and raised her hand. Was she going to ask the question that had been going through their minds?
“How man 'L's are there in curriculum?” Well, maybe not. But then came a voice from the back of the hall. “Excuse me!” There was, as I say a voice, but no person. That was weird. Then there was a rattle. “Excuse me! Can someone help?” There was someone in the kitchen – in fact it sounded as if there were several people in the kitchen and they were trapped!!!!
The 3 Chris's – and a James were instantly on the case. Years of team training were evident in the way they tackled the emergency. Chris V vaulted out of the window (luckily open), whilst Chris M and Chris E took hold of either side of the metal shutter. Meanwhile James sprinted out the hall door to fetch the key. Within seconds the situation – potentially very nasty – was resolved as the reluctant shutter suddenly up revealing Jill, Lyn and Barbara digging into a rather moist chocolate cake with all the hallmarks of a Mrs Morley creation. They stood and beamed,a, very chocolatey smile with a good hint of guilt at being caught…
“This is just what we need – teamwork!” boomed one of the men in black. “If I may carry on...” The staff were quiet ( a first, probably) as the man from the government – for that is what he was – started to explain the terrible position that they found themselves in. The equilibrium of life was a secret document, signed by the leaders of all nations.So far it had kept most of the world from killing each other. But the document – on a flash pen (Play, £16.99) had been lost when the politician looking after it had been on holiday. Without it, the world could go nuts and Britain could do nothing. There was another factor too that would mean the UK's fall into disgrace and anarchy would be complete. Spooks was to finish. The last ever series was to be aired that autumn. When that went what would the British people do? It didn't bear thinking about...
But what had PH to do with this? Man in Black 3 smirked, clicked his fingers and there, on the screen was Kalkan bay and Snake Island, Turkey. The staff gasped. They'd seen this image so many times on Mrs C's white board. This was the bay that held the Secret of the Missing Equilibrium. This was where the flashpen was lost – (luckily encased in a waterproof case).
“We need you, as a team, to get it back for us. So we are sending the whole school on this mission. Your students will think it is a new trans-European (and into Asia) project of course – but you will be undertaking a venture that is so important and unbelievable that if you were to mention it to anyone they would laugh at you. Your plane leaves in 6 hours. Pack your snorkels. This autumn term will be very different....”.
Chapter 2 A Risky Business
It is common knowledge that a school without a weather forecaster is taking a huge risk. For that reason PH knew they were extraordinarily lucky to have Karen around. Although her speciality was snow, she was also pretty gifted in the 'rain or shine' department and she was most enlightening when called upon to forecast the likely weather conditions in Turkey in September.
"There will be sunshine here, here and here. The staff cheered in appreciation of her clear forecast and the absence of any clouds, rain or wind. But still, Natalie was probably voicing the concerns of several members of staff when she asked a question. "Karen", she started nervously - then gained confidence in her voice. "Karen, what are the chances of snow in Kalkan? I need to know as I'm concerned about my packing. Do I take my leg warmers for Zumba sessions - or not?" The staff listened on every word with bated breath. There was a long, long pause as Karen thought hard. "No leg warmers needed!" She said at last. "The chances of snow are 0.0002%." Jill looked doubtful, but everyone else whooped and cheered as the good news echoed around the hall. There was nothing that Jill liked better than a risk assessment form. PH humoured her and ensured that she spent her days - and many nights - calculating the likelihood of little Johnny being hit by a conker if he went and had a quick fag in the park next door. However, the challenge that she had just been set my the men in black was a little awesome and for once Jill was struck dumb. She shouldn't have worried though. The men in black had it all covered. "It is vital that you are not tied down by red tape", said man in black 4 to the still slightly stunned staff of PH as they held a pre-flight briefing meeting. "You will be accompanied by our crack team of SAS troops, 50 of them to be precise. All of them highly trained in martial arts, espionage and teaching reading between the lines to teenagers." The sigh of relief was most audible from Mrs C and Mrs Mojab. "They have also been chosen so that they fit well into the local environment - bronzed holiday makers, fit young waiters... you know the types - rippling six packs,strawberry blonde hair, brown eyes you can melt in...". At this point he was interrupted by Kate who had been trying to contact all the parents to tell them about the new arrangements for the school term. "I keep being asked can the students use their tokens in Turkey and what sort of exchange rate will they get. Can you help?" Gayle, was up on her feet in a second and with a flourish produced a sack of gold tokens. She looked so proud - and rightly so. Not many schools have gold tokens - international currency that can be awarded all over the world to students who have worked hard and been respectful to others. How they gleamed. How beautiful they were. How satisfying to know that students would be able to exchange them for ice creams, postcards or bottles of vodka in the old bazaar in Kalkan. But reader, we must leave PH for the moment - otherwise they will never get to the airport. My what a flight this will be. Come back soon to hear all about it.... There were signs of stress when the PH crew discovered they had a 25kg weight limit for their Kalkan suitcase. Having just a few hours to collect together essential items is just not the way to do it! Naturally, the men in black tried to compensate for this problem with an expenses payment equivalent to a bankers bonus, but sometimes it takes more more than a few wads of dosh to ease the troubled mind; sometimes only a cocktail will do... So what better cure for stress than a lesson in being creative with cocktails. Intended as a treat for the weight-watching drinker, I'm told that doesn't mean you can have twice as many of them...
Chapter 3 Journey to Kalkan John had been told to pack for Turkey time and was therefore filling the 2 minibuses with sage and onion stuffing and chipolatas. At first it had been assumed that the students would be travelling to the airport in the buses, but the new policy on cycling for life had decreed that they should get on their bikes to get to Gatwick. So with Emma at the head and Chris M bringing up the rear the school had set off 'en crocodile' up the A23. Luckily they had the SAS escort with them and Alison, having selflessly agreed to look after them all, had gone along as well with her tea flask in the basket on the front of her bike. Back at school the remaining staff were having a well-deserved cocktail prior to setting off incognito to the airport. For security reasons it had been decided that it would be to dangerous for the teachers to be seen with all the students, so after consultation they'd been instructed to go in disguise, as a hen party. Mrs C had reminded them that method acting was the key to a good performance and had ordered a private bar - with barman to ensure they could keep up the act. The stretch limos were a great touch and with barely a tear in their eye at the thought of having to leave the lovely PH building they all piled in and drove off. Rachel and Natalie - being the experts in all things geographical - pored over the maps of Kalkan bay that they had brought with them. Aided by Nigel they worked out how they could lie unnoticed on a beach but still, between them have a clear view of whatever may be going on around them.
Louise C passed round a few more cocktails, ensuring everyone was aware of the possible effects of exceeding the safe limit of alcohol. She patiently explained to Gayle and Louise W that things weren't always what they seemed. Orange drinks weren't orange squash necessarily, clear drinks weren't always water and Jack Daniels was not a little dog. But the ladies just had to be sure. Curiosity is such a wonderful thing and leads to so many new experiences! Thus it was that the Gatwick pepperami watchers had two unique photo opportunities that September afternoon. The loud mouthed, badly behaved ones were herded onto their private plane, whilst the students settled themselves down for a four hour flight on their low-cost airline carrier - with pay to use loos and free sickbags! But, all the while the clock was ticking. The missing equilibrium was still somewhere in a Turkish bay and the temperature was rising for all those people travelling to Kalkan from Gatwick. Could PH save the day? Would they let PH into the country? What on earth will happen next????
Chapter 4 Things aren’t always what they seem It was a balmy 25 degrees at sundown and the staff were assembled around the pool in their temporary headquarters in Kalkan, Turkey. The sea was still that blissful blue and was dotted with gulets and yachts cruising back to harbour or still idling in the bay.
It was quiet apart from the chink of ice in restorative Mojitos and Tequilla Sunrises - the men in black had insisted that on this mission the 5 a day needed to include fruit (or mint) soaked in some sort of alcohol. However, there were those who had downed their medicinal cocktail quickly and had now moved on to some ice cold Efes, the local beer.
Mrs C was beaming around, as she polished off her second Pina Colada (lots of pineapple chunks): her picnic hamper was now centre stage and she was thrilled to think that Rebecca, Angela and Suzanne were about to start waxing lyrical about her damson and apple chutney which was one of the delights contained within it.