Readers of my blogs will recall that earlier in the year (March 2020) I drew my inspiration from Michael Palin’s “Pole to Pole”, a book I had chosen to read during the most restrictive phase of our initial Covid-19 lockdown. 

For my blog this month, I return to Palin but this time via his earlier journals from “Around the World in 80 days.”  Restricted to travel options that did not involve flight, much of his time was spent on merchant ships as they traversed the world’s oceans delivering and collecting cargo.

Naturally, with such protracted periods of time at sea, Palin became very well acquainted with many of the sailors and other crew members aboard ship.  In the final chapter, a sailor left him a message in his cabin.  It read as follows:

“We the unwilling, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful.  We have done so much, for so long, with so little, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.”  This quotation, attributed to politician and historian Konstantin Josef Jirecek, is something of a mantra for the crews of the merchant navies of the world.

Being a merchant sailor is a hard life.  It has dangerous at times, and monotony at others.  With such a sentiment, the question begs as to why they still do it?  The answer lies in the worth of the job.  The cargo is precious, and those who expect to receive it will suffer if it does not reach its destination. 

Those of us working in schools may, at times in our career, have felt similar.  There have certainly been times during the last six months where I have heard and seen such a view expressed, often forcefully.  And yet, we’re back in September and working as hard as ever.

We do so because of our ‘cargo’.  Schools and their staff bring learning, opportunities, experiences, friendships, personal growth and collegiality to all within their communities.  The impact of us not carrying such precious cargo would be devastating on those who rely upon it.  Perhaps, after months of remote learning, creative solutions to providing support, and working differently in many areas where orthodoxy seemed to dictate our practice, we really are “qualified to do anything with nothing.” But let us all hope for calmer waters and more favourable tides than those we’ve encountered most recently.

Thanks for reading.  Take care, and stay safe.