Wednesday, 25 May 2016


It’s nearly the end of the school year. Yet again, I’ve taken on too much work and I’ve effectively been holding down two full-time jobs since December. There’s also been the workload of the edits for the forthcoming book, and planning the sequel. It hasn’t left me any time for blogging. But I’m still here, the end is in sight at last and - finally - I’ve finished my Saturday morning classes.

I’ve almost finished my term as lettore at a scuola media on the mainland. It’s my fourth year here. I’ve taught every single kid in the school. And now the third years are about to move up to scuola superiore. It’s unlikely that I’ll teach any of them again, and that makes me a little bit sad.

We’re in the middle of a class, and the kids are working away on an exercise. The professoressa turns to me. You know the boys in 3A…?, she says.

Of course. The rocker boys. They’re only 14 years old, but they’re into music that was old when I was young. Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd. Every lesson we talk about music, and about their band.

It’s the school concert in a couple of weeks, she says. They asked me to ask you if you’d like to sing with them. The Rolling Stones, (I can’t get no) Satisfaction.

Well now.

I’ve just got my Saturday mornings back after six months of hard work. Do you seriously think I'm going to give one up in order to make a two hour round trip, for three minutes of singing, in a school concert for parents?

Yes. Yes, I am. Of course I am.

Caroline gives me some essential advice. Namely, do not scowl.

Do I scowl?

Yes, you do. You always look very fierce when you sing.You'll frighten the kids. And their parents.

Well, it’s serious music.

This is the Rolling Stones in a school concert. It's not the Missa Solemnis.

Hmm. Fair point.

Anything else?

Don’t try and imitate Mick Jagger.

I head off on Saturday morning with the words of Satisfaction endlessly looping in my head. Along with the words Do not scowl. Smile. Above all, do not attempt to imitate Mick Jagger.

Everybody is crammed into the gym, maybe fifty kids and a hundred parents. Most of the concert is made up of popular classics and pop songs, played by an army of descant recorders. Carmen reads some poetry. Eleonora plays violin. And then, at the end, Gianmarco (bass), Francesco (guitar), Lorenzo (drums) and  Professor Mr Jones stand up together….

I do not scowl. I smile. I do not attempt to imitate Mick Jagger. And I successfully fight any temptation to dance.

And it’s actually pretty good. I look out at the parents. They’re laughing - in a good way - smiling and clapping. The lads in the band give me a big grin. Then I look out at the rest of the kids, armed with their recorders. Three years together now, and this is the last time. I am so, so proud of them. Of all of them.

I’ve been fortunate enough to sing in some of the greatest spaces in Venice. But a school gym in a small provincial town has perhaps been the most special of all.


  1. What a splendid way to say arrivederci to those kids. And, please excuse me while I find a tissue.

    PS I'm glad you didn't scowl.

  2. Brilliant... and what a finale!

  3. Welcome back Phil.
    I thought you'd given up blogging with the end of 2015...just as I'd found your blog!

    1. Thanks! No, I haven't given up, but I've found it hard to find time recently. I do intend to keep it going.

  4. What a great story. You are so deserving of such achievements. They'll miss you... But you can do breakfast on Saturday morning with Carolibd now xxx

  5. Dear Phil,
    This is Heather Hargreaves. My husband, Robert & I briefly met you after church last Sunday, at the start of our 5/6 day holiday in Venice - without our children. Caroline did you a favour showing us your book, as we not only bought it, but I've just finished reading it! I also shared a lot of it with Rob.
    It has been very engaging and lighthearted to read, although I appreciate it was not all lighthearted to live through!
    This afternoon, walking "home" from the Vaporetto after a visit to Murano, we found ourselves in a free concert by an American school's choir, as they were singing while we walked by a church building. Then I raised my eyes and saw the "sculpture" of the handing down of the 10 commandments. I was able to point to the page in the book!
    By the way, next time someone asks you to sign a copy, you might wish to point out it's only your HAND-writing you're apologising for! (It was Rob who later pointed out the irony in that to me.)
    Thank you for giving me a good read for our special holiday.
    May you come to know God in a more extraordinary way in your future than in your past.
    God bless you and Caroline.


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