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Missed flights lead to Misadventures in Moscow

Missed flights lead to Misadventures in Moscow

September 28, 2007|By ALAN WHITE

As we waited expectantly on the tarmac at Manchester airport aboard Lufthansa flight LH4851 to Frankfurt, the first leg of our journey to Siberia, nothing was further from our minds than a technical problem.

We were, indeed, in the hands of Germans, renowned for efficiency and excellence, people who brought us the printing press and BMW cars. Imagine then our surprise and disappointment when Captain Leinz announced that "they have brought us a starter that is too small, there will be a slight delay." It is said that behind every cloud there is a silver lining and indeed this was to become true once more, even though the clouds would get much darker before the rays of sunshine we experienced in Moscow were to appear!

It started in June 2006, when a group of headteachers from Doncaster first had the idea that an international experience could bring much a much-needed extra dimension to their challenging but rewarding career choice. Reference to the World Wide Web for opportunities surrendered the perfect solution. International Placements for Headteachers were jointly funded by the National College for School Leadership and the British Council, and interesting experiences in exotic locations were abundant on the previous report pages.

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A speedy meeting and application to the British Council followed, individual pen portraits were created, and we waited expectantly for the decision and location. We had chosen to look in detail at an area that had proven success with personalized learning, an area that the Department for Education was very interested in developing through its innovation unit.

Days passed and expectation grew; thoughts of studying an area of our professional passion in some far-off land were fueled by further reference to NCSL web pages quoting India, the United States and Borneo. Finally it arrived and an instant e-mail from our leader broke the news.

We were going to Siberia!

After the initial shock of such an extreme posting, and the expected, "supportive" comments from colleagues (So, you're being SENT to Siberia then?), the thoughts of minus 15 degrees Celsius (5 F) started to bring only thoughts of thermals and down jackets.

Pre-visit meetings brought the group emotionally and ideologically closer, and the final arrangements were made.

The delay in Manchester left us an hour behind an already tight schedule. After a rush across the ultramodern, monorail-connected terminals in Frankfurt we arrived at the gate to find that our connecting Lufthansa flight to Moscow had left (on schedule this time, unfortunately for us). After a protracted discussion at the Lufthansa desk we were offered a flight to Moscow with Aeroflot, which would arrive in time for our final leg to Krasnoyarsk, 5 1/2 hours farther east, and put us back on schedule for a rest day before we entered on our school visit program.

Silver lining number one appeared in the form of business class accommodation and a pre-meal glass of champagne in those very comfortable leather seats that we had not previously experienced. What would our colleagues say if they knew? Fourteen days off school, accommodation and some meals provided, and business class flights. It would make even Siberia seem appealing.

Our arrival in Moscow was very exciting. Through tired eyes we navigated our way to the transit area, passports and tickets at the ready, straining to recognize the direction signs, which used an odd arrangement of English letters and other symbols with a seemingly complete lack of discipline for the use of capitals.

It was here that we met our first Russian official. She was dressed in a gray uniform with dark brown tights concealing quite an exposure of muscular short legs. She had a mission from the start, I believe, as did indeed every official we met in Moscow, although to express it then might have meant I'd have a prolonged stay in the frozen wastes.

Our late but buoyant arrival in Moscow took an immediate downturn, I am afraid, with the appearance of this muscular Muscovite. After surrendering our passports to her barked instructions we waited whilst she made numerous references to her computer and telephone. As expected there was a prolonged delay until she surprised us all by flashing a friendly smile and starting to print boarding cards! What a turn up, perhaps we had misjudged our robust official; maybe she was just trying to help us through the complexities of transit through a busy airport.

Boarding cards received and passports returned, we were ushered to a stairway with instruction to wait at the door at the end of a short corridor. And this is just what we did. Despite the glowing warmth of the superheated airport, despite our tiredness and lack of confidence in what was happening, but buoyed by the arrival of a couple of Russian tourists at the same doorway, we waited. And we waited. A return visit to check with our "friend" upstairs merely brought a repeat of previous instructions.

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