When I was about 8, which was about 2005, I got into a fair whack of trouble at school for the first of only two ever times. My bowl cut and I had inadvertently stumbled upon the very first thing we were ever willing to take a strong stand for - the masses - with valiant disregard for the consequences. The details are now naturally a little blurry in my mind, and I intend to use that to my full advantage in retelling this story.
The story begins in the oppressive, dry summer heat of Christchurch, where temperatures reach such sweltering extremes as the mid-twenties. Sounds of cicadas fill the air. A warm norwest breeze rolls low across the parched school fields. The setting is a century old two-storey wooden school building, a traditionalist box full of formality and correct grammar, Sirs and Ma'ams, blazers and caps. There's me, sitting at my desk, in a classroom full of other little children who are also about to melt.
You see, we are talking about a time so long ago that heat pumps weren't in schools (if they even existed, I certainly hadn't heard of them), so there was no ability to harness the environment around us and usher it back into a more liveable climate. Perhaps we are even talking a time so long ago that there was no interest in the comfort of children. That being said, provisions were made for frosty winter mornings, where the school boiler would be fired up to heat the classrooms to the same uncomfortable level of warmth we endured in summer.
But in summer, we were stumped for ideas. Presumably the North Island has some kind of arrangement for summer warmth as we have for winter chill, but the best we could manage in summer was a suggestion to open the windows, which was about as effective for cooling the upper-storey classrooms as a suggestion to close the windows in winter would have been effective for heating them.
This, in combination with thick white shirts buttoned to the top, fustian pants, woollen knee-high socks, and a tie which was to remain firmly tightened, was a recipe for a sweaty, uncomfortable, irritable classroom of children who have only recently reached an age where they no longer cry at the drop of a hat.
We were encouraged to bring drink bottles to school with us, which probably indicates the school was unhappy with the numbers of feverish children who had to keep leaving class to go and drink from the water fountains outside in order to stave off a fainting spell just a little longer.
But - disregarding the lack of leniency in regard to adapting our school uniform to be something a little more temperature appropriate, at least while just in class - here was the issue in my little eyes: our drink bottles were to remain outside the classroom door with our bags. No exceptions.
In our little clusters of four desks huddled together, we mused together about how we could solve this issue which collectively left always at least one person with their hand up waiting to ask to get their bottle for a drink and caused significant movement and interruption around the class at all times. It appeared to be easily solved by simply keeping the bottles under or, if feeling truly audacious, even upon our desks, to allow for more consistent access to, and regular consumption of, water.
After significant consideration and diplomatic discussions of the strengths (all) and weaknesses (none) of our plan, we elected an envoy to bring our proposal to the teacher - it was to be myself. I meandered discreetly away from my desk and beelined to the teacher's desk with little steps. She was in her mid-thirties or so, with a motherly disposition, wide hips and an even wider smile. But her surname was Dark, and rightly so.
Jake Bailey: How the Coast to Coast reminded me of the bonds we create through suffering
As I extended onto tiptoes to peer over the edge of her intimidatingly wide oak desk, I didn't even pause for acknowledgment before I launched into building my case for bottles to be permitted within the boundaries of the classroom. Obscuring my eyeline was the teachers own bottle, on her desk, as I noted. The benefits would be bountiful - greater hydration, increased concentration, less disruption, less classroom absence. The negatives would be nil - particularly if bottles were stored discreetly under our desks.
My monologue continued in that beautiful way of speech only children and self-absorbed adults possess, where their words flow freely with no consideration of pause, reflection, collaboration, or breath, until I ran dry of points and ceased without even rounding out the sentence. I stared naively back into her gaze which had not broken from my own, even as my ramblings rolled my head around my on shoulders.
"No." Hmmm. That was an answer clear as day. There was no misunderstanding, no room for ambiguity, let alone rebuttal - and that was certainly intentional. The wise move in this game would be to retreat. But politics isn't always a game played by wise men, and best return to my peers as a martyr than a failure. "Why not?" I propositioned.
That afternoon I learnt all about diplomatic pressure and power control dynamics, or something like that. About how sometimes, things are just like they are because they are, even if they would be better another way, and that's just how it is. About how you can be in the right and can still be in the wrong. A lot of adult concepts that continue to come in handy today.
But above all else, I learnt that repeatedly asking "why" makes you no more likely to get a straight answer- and that is true politics.