Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Presents, Perfect

I never got presents when I worked in IT. Oh yes, you might get a free meal and a boozy night out at the end of a project, but that's not the same as a present. But teaching is different. This year I've received : a magnum of prosecco, a small green nodding turtle, a packet of "Violetta" paper handkerchiefs (well it's the thought that counts), a photocopy of a book on Buddhist philosophy, a bag of chocolate Easter eggs, and a handmade card that read "I love Inglish" (a present that delighted and yet disappointed in equal measure). I think I like the turtle best. Nobody at the bank ever bought me a turtle.

Kids' classes wound down for the year, as the schools finished. The last lesson of each class was given over to a party. Crisps, games, chocolates, and shiny certificates to take home and show Mum and Dad. The Tuesday class, as they have been all year, were just so incredibly nice : all wrappings and packets were put in the bin, and any mess was cleared away immediately. By contrast, the aftermath of the Thursday class resembled an explosion in a crisp factory. The Friday class, who I refer to in my lighter moments as "The Awkward Squad" and in my grimmer ones as "The Army of Darkness", were not to be trusted at all so I lied and told them we'd run out of everything. Yes, I could go down to Billa and buy more. No, I'm not going to.

My adult elementary class very kindly decided to take me out for a meal after the last lesson. They've been a lovely class, and one of the high points of the year. Everybody gets on well, people have a laugh, and even the weaker ones have really come on. Just a two-hour lesson then, a bit of fun for everyone, no need for any prep surely...

And then I open the book, and realise I've made a terrible mistake. The last lesson, and it's on the bloody Present Perfect. The Present Perfect is a sod of a thing to teach. It has no equivalent in Italian so you can't just directly translate from one language to the other. What the hell is this doing here, tucked away at the end of the book? And why didn't I spend more time on prep so I could have swapped in something else. As it is I'll just have to plough through it and hope it doesn't scar them too much...

Giovanni looks beaten at the end of the lesson. 'Ci hai ucciso stasera', he says. 'You have killed us this evening'. I'm a bit worried that the offer of dinner is going to be withdrawn; but then he smiles. 'From now on, everything in Italian. Vendetta!!'

So we drive out into the country. Quite a way, if truth be told, and I'm starting to wonder if maybe I pushed them too far and any moment now the car is going to pull over and they'll start digging a shallow grave. And then I see an elderly lady crossing the road ahead of us. The driver hasn't noticed.

Time stops.

I want to scream something but I can't think of the word "Stop!" in Italian. Then I realise I can't even think of it in English. We are going to take the life of an old woman because I can't think of the word "Stop" in any language at all. All I can come up with is a strangulated "NGARRGHHH!!!" as I flap helplessly at the dashboard. And somehow this works. Brakes are slammed on and we screech to a halt. She doesn't even break her stride...

As for the meal itself, well, I was expecting a beer and a pizza. I'd have been more than happy with a beer and a pizza. But what we actually have is a four-course meal of truly exceptional quality, with not a few glasses of wine, and coffee and grappa to follow. Everyone says they'll be back in the autumn. "Will you still be our teacher, Philip?" Of course I will. I'm not letting anyone else pinch this lot...

Later that evening, as I walk - reasonably steadily - over the Calatrava bridge, I reflect on the past couple of weeks. I earn next to nothing. But I have students who buy me nice meals, packets of handkerchiefs, and small nodding turtles. I am a lucky man.


  1. I enjoyed that. You seem to have the full range of student behaviour. Nice to be appreciated. Andrew

    1. Another thoughtful present yesterday, a copy of the documentary "Quando c'era Berlinguer", about the great Enrico Berlinguer; which one of my students thought I needed to see.


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