Monday 29 June – Friday 10 July
Since qualifying in Teaching Manners to People Unfortunate Enough to be Born Non-British (TEMPUEBN) I have had few opportunities to test my mettle in this most challenging of arenas. Chance would be a fine thing – especially when one requires a new steam mangle for the apartment – and here it comes, hair all piled up like a Dockside dame, in the form of co-worker Barry, whose former roommate at the University of Life, Sunderland, is running classes in even more isolated Aragon, Spain. I am invited to be the extra pair of hands, though as we’re teaching youngsters, the extra (pleading) voice, or pair of legs (to catch up with/flee from the little ones) may both be more appropriate expressions.
My going away party is an elongated affair (though as nothing compared to the apparently lifelong relationship we enjoy/endure with the pricey and ever-so-easy Crow 2 at which it’s staged) and someone forgets to set the alarm correctly for tomorrow; the same someone who insists on one more drink with the gang; the same someone I resolve to leave firmly behind here in the UK. No, not darling Licky (who kindly transports me to the balloon-port where I get the second flight of the day to Barcelona) but the BB who was relaxed, and chilled and ever so English over here, and hadn’t seen a child since…
Teaching English in Spain? More like teaching aliens on the less-populated, treeless and unshaded side of Mars, I pen to Licky in desperation. The temperature hovers around the mid-30s and although the ale (‘lager’, the Spaniards pronounce it – mispronouncing our ‘larger’ while ironically serving it in smaller glasses) and (chin-dribblingly succulent) fruits of our labour taste infinitely better after long days in the classroom and racketball court, it is clear why Steve and his partner, Brucinda, run this two-week summer school only once a year (usually in summer). Yet the location is undeniably stunning – Abenfigo is a cactus and elderly senora-strewn village on the edge of nowhere, accessible from sleepy Alcaniz only on the school donkey, which I am forced to ride in and out each day, to the amusement of the children.
Perhaps the most memorable, and saddest, incident I came across while Englishing out here was the almost inevitable rivalry and subsequent scrap between two of my charges. If Barton is my ‘baby rhino’ then Steed was my ‘baby bull’. A strapping lad of around 13 he possessed both an intelligence that gave him little patience with his classmates and a wild, unwilled, and (essentially) ‘uncool’ unruliness that gave them little patience with him. I would eat my packed lunch on a step with Steed each day, discussing the latest news from Pamplona’s occasionally fatal bull runs. Yet anyone who has ever seen the children’s puppet show ‘Grunge Hill’ will know how this particular story ends – with Steed finally cracking on the penultimate day of school, scrapping in the yard with popular wind-up merchant Paulo, until Steve and myself are able to separate them with a well-placed ‘Riiiiiiggggghhhhhhtttttt!’ or two. Steed misses the last day – of water-fights, pantomimes and tuck – and I can only hope he remembers my salami-stained words: ‘it gets better,’ and hope they come true for him as they did, eventually, for me.