The Tunnel

A teacher once angrily called me one of “the three most stupidest boys in the school”.

This is what happened…

At the age of 10 or 11 I went on a ‘school trip’ to a park about half a mile down the road from my junior school. Being 10 or 11 as I was, the attraction of the local park was quickly overtaken by the prospect of sneaking off with two of my pals and climbing down an adjoining grass embankment onto a disused railway line. This was good.

Better still, not far along this particular disused railway line there was a disused railway tunnel. Now, if you put a trio of errant 10 or 11 year old boys in the vicinity of a disused railway tunnel in close proximity to a mundane school outing only one thing is going to happen…

Tunnel 1

We went to explore the tunnel.

Tentatively at first, I remember the three of us standing at the black mouth of this great hole in the earth. Hesitating before the unknown. Listening for the slightest sound as we slowly edged forwards. Straining our eyes against the darkness. Imagining the trains that thundered through this chasm decades beforehand.

We advanced, literally shoulder-to-shoulder. We felt trepidation, fear, excitement. We crept into the tunnel not knowing what dangers it may hold for us. We knew we were taking a risk; at the very least we’d probably find ourselves in trouble if we were caught.

But as we marched onwards our eyes grew accustomed to the dark. We gained confidence, picked up speed and became surefooted. We stayed close together and the fruits of our joint enterprise soon materialised, in the form of the light at the end of this particular tunnel.

At that point we knew we’d made it, and that we’d only succeeded because we’d taken up the challenge together. I don’t think any one of us would have done it alone.

Tunnel - light at the end of

Heading back along the tunnel was easy. In fact, I can’t remember much about the return leg, except that as we emerged into the sunlight for the second time that day, our teacher was scrambling down the embankment, angrily gesticulating towards us and shouting, “It’s the three most stupidest boys in the school!”

I’m not sure the teacher’s outburst was technically grammatically correct, but the lesson here is about friendship, confronting fear, facing uncertainty, and being prepared to take risks, rather than accurate use of English grammar. Perhaps there’s something in there too about turning out okay when we grow up, I don’t know.

Final thoughts

I think this story could be an analogy for many things. If you can relate to it in any way, that’s brilliant and I’m glad it can have some meaning for you too.

From a personal perspective, I can’t help but think of the enormous progress there has been in UK police forces during the last year in respect of challenging some longstanding performance management practices (e.g. arbitrary numerical targets, binary comparisons, blah blah blah…) Many are now realising a much better future can be realised through ditching all that stuff and using our data/information more maturely.

More and more forces and individuals are gathering at the mouth of the tunnel; several are striding boldly into it. Progress is happening because no one is facing the challenge alone.

I hope 2014 will be the year where we collectively see the light.


1. The pictures are not of the actual tunnel in this story – I found these great photos here, so all credit goes to the photographer, ‘Big Lew’.

2. Don’t try this at home kids. I was a professional 10/11 year old when I embarked upon this adventure.

About InspGuilfoyle

I am a serving Police Inspector and systems thinker. I am passionate about doing the right thing in policing. I dislike numerical targets and unnecessary bureaucracy.
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