Wednesday, 27 March 2013


Mondays are slightly hard work at the moment.

I leave the house at around 8.30AM, and don't get back until 11 at night. I'm not going to complain about too much work but, for some reason, the weather gods have decreed that Mondays shall henceforth be known as Rain Days. Because it seems that it rains all the bloody day. And there are few things more depressing than emerging from a nice warm classroom into the rain, putting a cold and soggy hat on your head, and realising that you are still 8 hours from the nearest pair of dry socks. There was at least some blessed relief the other day when it decided to start snowing instead, which somehow seemed marginally less wet.

Like I said, Mondays are slightly hard work. Still, the job itself continues to be good fun. I've been teaching a lot of CLIL lessons recently. CLIL, or Content and Language Integrated Learning, is a variation on conventional English teaching in that you teach a subject as well as the language. So in the past few weeks I've taught lessons on apartheid, nuclear physics, the economic crisis, and the Italian women's movement - all in English - to classes of Italian schoolkids. It's hard work as it takes a lot of prep, but it's enormously interesting and enjoyable.

Anyway, I was asked to give a lesson on fossil fuels. Now this is something that I actually know a little bit about, as - among the many sins of my past life - I've spent some time working for Big Oil. And many years ago I found myself working with a very interesting chap who'd worked on the investigation into the Piper Alpha disaster.

This seemed like a possible idea on which to hang a lesson. Instead of the usual "renewables good / fossil fuels bad" dichotomy, I thought I'd talk about the human cost of fossil fuel extraction.

I explain a little bit about what went wrong, and describe the consequences..."so the platform is wrenched apart by the force of the explosion...oil is pouring into the sea...what happens when oil and water mix?"

"The oil floats, prof"

"Good, it *floats*, what happens to oil at a high temperature??"

"It burns, prof"

"Excellent!", (and I'm hitting my stride here), " imagine this : you're on a rig in the North Sea...a storm is raging...the platform is falling apart...flames are jetting 300 ft into the sky....the sea is on fire..."

Pause for effect.

"...and the nearest help... is.... 200...kilometres...away."

Silence. Earnest nodding of heads.

After the class I speak with the Professoressa.

"Marco was very quiet today", I say. "And he's usually got lots to say."

"Ah well", she smiles, "maybe it's because his father works on an oil rig..."

Oh well. You live and learn!

Right, we're taking a short break back in Yr hen wlad, where, I gather, the weather is even worse than here. More updates, hopefully, when we get back...

Saturday, 9 March 2013

High Office

Well, March 4th has come and gone. One year since we arrived and sat outside a bar in an increasingly chilly Campo San Barnaba, trying not to become too concerned as the shadows lengthened and the agent for our flat obstinately refused to answer the phone.

One year on, another one (at least) lined up, and much to write about. Trouble is, work is a bit mad at the moment so it'll have to wait a bit. Still, a year ago, I'd have been delighted to think I'd be writing those lines.

Work, then. Very busy at the moment. The surprising thing is how much of it has been in schools. More than half of my work, and pretty near 100% of Caroline's. This wasn't something either of us had anticipated. And if we had anticipated it, it sure as hell wouldn't have been something we'd have been looking forward to. Schools? Children? US? To be fair, we'd been told back in the days of TEFL training "if you want to work in Italy, you'll have to teach children"; but we'd chosen to ignore that.
And yet, the other day I came back from work, positively bounded through the door, and announced to Caroline that not only did I like  teaching in schools, but that I actually enjoyed it more than 1-1 adult classes. At which point she told me I was becoming hysterical, and could she have her old, normal, grumpy hubby back please...

Anyway, Italian schools. I do like the way they're named after the great and the good. I mean, when I was a lad I went to the imaginatively named Baglan primary school (so called because it was in Baglan), Bishopston comprehensive school (so called because it was in Bishopston), and the Greenhill school, Tenby (so called because it was in Tenby, and there had probably been a green hill there before they built a school on top of it).

But Italian schools sound far more inspiring. I teach at the Scuola Ungaretti (named after a modernist poet) and the Istituto Gramsci (Marxist philosopher). Caroline teaches at Giordano Bruno (philosopher, heretic, possible crimefighter) and  Marco Polo (writer, explorer and...oh look, you know who Marco Polo was...).

On Monday I start at the Scuola Quirinale. In case you don't know, the Palazzo del Quirinale is the official residence of the President of the Republic. The current incumbent, Giorgio Napolitano, steps down in two months, leaving something of a vacuum at the heart of Italian politics, and a great deal of soul-searching in the nation as people wonder who can possibly replace him at this most critical time in Italian history.

Clearly someone needs to step up to the plate. So, on Monday, I prefer to say not that I am heading off to school; more that I have been called to the Quirinale...