WE laughed as his head hit the ice of the cold, cruel River Neva.
You could walk across it when it froze, we were told, and it had most definitely done that.
That February in communist-era Leningrad was a cold one, but it didn’t overly concern a fair amount of the locals, who hacked out slabs of ice, covered themselves in goose fat and jumped into the water.
My mother had taken a second job as a cleaner to fund my place on the trip, saving every penny. Our headmaster, Mr Hardy, meanwhile, had taken the free place that was on offer.
As we left the aircraft we had been greeted by soldiers with guns laid over their shoulders and then thoroughly searched, leading to a long delay after Mr Hardy was discovered to have secreted a Bible in his suitcase.
All this taken into consideration, we had little sympathy as his bear-hatted bonce smacked against the ice and he rolled towards one of the holes, his expensive Russian-weatherproof coat now covered in snow.
Most of us looked away, attempting to stifle a giggle, made worse when Kevin Smith — later to become a teacher of Russian — blurted out: “Are you all right Sir?”.
He was, and we continued on our way, the other teachers with us clearly disgruntled at the head’s behaviour.
It was a trip that taught me a lot more about life than I realised at the time.
Back home, Keith Hardy would regularly be found asleep in his office, the likes of my mum having to knock loudly on his door and wait a few seconds to give him time to approximate a position that suggested he was at least alive, if not working, before she could enter his office to clean it.
He only spoke to me once and that was to patronisingly ask about my background, including tactlessly questioning whether I had ever been bullied or abused.
He was supposedly a very religious man, but it often amazes me what people believe qualifies them as being religious. As my dad once said: “I’m more religious than any of them ******** who go to church every Sunday.” He often use asterisks when he spoke.
I never once saw Mr Hardy show an ounce of compassion to anyone. Most often he gave off the impression of being a man who thought he was better than the rest of us.
I may have been a little bit scared of him, but people generally did feel inferior to teachers and doctors. I never thought he was better than me though, and I don’t think either of my parents did, even though I’m pretty certain he held that belief.
If pride does come before a fall, some of his surely went as he was humiliated in front of us in that Russian airport, and as his head connected with the Leningrad ice as the temperature plummeted to minus ten it only served to prove to me that whoever you are it hurts just the same when you hit the floor.
I will always remember him but surely not for the reasons he would have wanted.