Sunday, August 29, 2010

Over The Border: Kelso

From Peebles back to the border, wherever the Tweed went the road followed. We bypassed Melrose and got no closer to Dryburgh than a brown sign on the road and a lone hiker struggling up a hill path. The blustery morning sunshine had given way to rain by the time we reached Kelso Abbey, where we stopped for Sunday lunch. "Two roast beef dinners, please," we asked the waitress. "Do you want chips or potatoes with that?"

Over The Border: Jedburgh

It was Saturday lunchtime when we arrived in Jedburgh. The sun was out, the talk on the radio was about the early kick-off at Blackburn versus Arsenal and there were flasks of teas and tartan rugs on by the river and German accents on the stone bridge above. Opposite the soaring, skeletal ruins of the Abbey the queue for fish and chips snaked out of a shop doorway, down three stone steps and halfway to the road.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Journey's End

When the last of the Italians had finally gone we went back to the classrooms, moving tables and chairs back to their term time lay-out, pulling down posters and picking Blu-tack off the walls. Then the non-residential teachers left and there were just the two of us, sitting in a kitchen eating our summer school packed lunch (crisps, a bar of chocolate, four slices of bread spread thinly with tuna, an apple and a bottle of water), watching the rain fall outside while we killed time before the early evening train.

Steven got off at Sheffield, where I changed platforms for the two-hour journey home. At Central Station I met Martin, who I shared a flat with in Riga. "How was your summer school?" he asked. "Mine was a fucking disaster."

On an Excursion

"What's that building over there?" asked the teacher, but nobody replied. "Can you guess who went to school here?" he persisted, as the kids spilled across the pavement and out on to the road. "Shakespeare," a few answered, wearily, though most just looked bored and cold. Passers-by grimaced, trying to fight their way through the unruly crowd. "Ok, now we'll go to the church where he was buried." "Michael," someone asked, lighting a cigarette, "when can we go to Starbucks?"

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The End of Another Summer (School)

With the boxes packed and collected and the students all in Nottingham spening what was left of their money, I managed to get away to the nearest pub ten minutes before half time. "What's the score?" I texted my brother as I left the campus gates. "1-0. All over them," came the quick reply. "Get in! Nolan," went the next message, and I was still a hundred metres from the pub. "Three!" he texted as I opened the door.

Fortunately, Andy Carroll had saved the best for last. Where are your painted bedsheets now, Villa fans?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Big Match

England took on Italy in the summer school match of the day - and tonked them seven-three. Honed by three weeks of lessons, activities and nightly drinking sessions, the English played as a unit, while the Italians resorted to national stereotypes, gesticulating, complaining and blaming everything on each other. "Stupido, stupido," they shouted as another speculative shot floated harmlessly wide. "I'm sorry but I cannot play with people who do not understand the game."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Monday Night Football

“It’s been a masterful second-half performance,” said the commentator as Giggs stroked home the third. “Why did you bring Ameobi on?” asked the Palace supporter. “He’s shit.” “How did he ever become a footballer?” wondered the Man Utd one. “Just because he’s big,” said the Forest fan at the table behind. Only the man who said he supported Spurs stayed quiet. I looked at the onscreen clock, willing away the minutes, happy by now to take three-nil. “It wasn’t so long ago that Newcastle were United’s main challengers for the title,” added the commentator. What a long, long way it was we fell.

Week Three

The second two weeks of a summer school, if you’re lucky, are more or less a straightforward repeat of the first. A new set of students, new group leaders (the adults who accompany the students and comprise, at a conservative estimate, 99% of a Centre Manager’s problems), but the same lesson plans, the same activities and excursions and two full weeks of spit and polish on everything else.

Excluding the food.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Derby: The Jacobite Connection

Charles Edward Stuart reached Derby in the first week of December, 1745. Only 126 miles now separated him from London. He held a council of war where his officers, led by Lord George Murray, advised a retreat back to Scotland to gather French support. The Duke of Cumberland was said to be at Lichfield and two other armies were reportedly nearby. The Prince stayed two days - then took his 9,000 soldiers back to Carlisle. Four months later they were slaughtered at Culloden. He died embittered in Rome, in 1788, in the same palace he'd been born in 68 years earlier. "It was a noble attempt," Samuel Johnson later said.

There's a statue of Bonnie Prince Charlie behind Derby Cathedral, a few dozen metres from the site of the world's first ever factory. He sits on a galloping horse, a hand on the hilt of his sword. "In future I shall summon no more councils," he wrote after Derby. It was as close as his family ever came to regaining their crown.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Things That Happened Last Week

One teacher off with backache, one with toothache, and one who went into diabetic shock on the floor of the teachers' room ten minutes before the start of class. Two days preparing for British Council inspectors who never actually came. Ten boys stealing pop from a vending machine and six girls caught shoplifting in Lincolnshire, attempting to dispose of nail varnish and New Look shoes in a litter bin. A doctor missing a coach, children getting on the wrong coach, coach drivers arguing about which coach was theirs. Potatoes and pasta for dinner every night, in a watery red sauce with the taste suctioned out.

This week, so far, has been a bit more relaxing.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What Goes Around

Sob On The Tyne, went the bedsheets hanging from the Holte End on the day we left the Premier League. "Goodbye Geordies, you won't be missed," crowed their fans on every radio phone-in later that night.

We might have done the same in their position, but you'll forgive me if I don't feel the slightest bit of sympathy for Aston Villa this morning. A place in lower mid-table and a half-empty stadium await. In a league increasingly based on the size of your owner's sovereign investment fund it's the only place they belong.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Nottingham: Sunday

There were Italians everywhere you looked in the city centre. Being marched through shopping centres, crowding bus stops, waiting in lines to use cash points, laden with sportswear and paper bags from Primark. The adults were all in orange and oversized sunglasses, the children walked in rows, their backpacks covered in Biro: Oakham 2010, Gianluca!, Accademica Britannica, Forza Napoli . Across the main square was the sound of trams and fairground rides and "Ragazzi! Ragazzi!" shouted over and over again.


"How's it take 40 minutes from Nottingham to Burton?" we'd wondered, looking at the map by the ticket office window, but we soon found out as we crawled towards Derby. There were level crossings and streams, back gardens so close you could almost touch the washing lines, and the ugly metal heap of Pride Park, rising above a grass embankment.

Burton was much nicer, like a living museum of Victorian Industry in red brick and steel pipe: Midland Railway Grain Warehouse Number Two, the Great Northern Hotel and the famous Burton breweries, now with Coors Moulson emblazoned across the gates. We walked there from the tiny railway station, following the smell of curry, beer lorry fumes and hops.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Monday Morning

It started just before eight o’clock with the call I’d been dreading all week. “Michael? I’m really sorry but I’ve hurt my back and I won’t be able to come in today.”

There was no time for breakfast. I grabbed a banana from the canteen, balanced it on top of a lukewarm cup of tea, and took the stairs two at a time to prepare for the first lesson. When I walked in almost all the students were asleep. “What time did you go to bed?” I asked one. “Four o’clock,” he said, his head drooping all the while. My phone rang every ten minutes with questions from teachers out on excursions; in my breaks I had to chase up parts for the photocopier, deal with a mother who’d arrived to take her sick daughter back to Italy, go though lesson plans and arrange observations, and write up an itinerary and guide for the following day’s trip to Sherwood Forest.

It was half past nine when I finally switched off the office light. The kids were doing karaoke in a lecture theatre. The two doctors were smoking on the steps outside.