Categories
Learning

Barefoot in the City.

Not so long ago and not so far away, my father was my teacher. I learned from him in different ways; through lesson, observation and emulation. Amongst so many other things, he taught me to swim, I watched him work, and I copied his writing.

His was a glinting calm presence, a wordless reassurance that all was well. There was no room for naysayers, no room for fear. Where he walked barefoot, I surely followed. Summer was no time for shoes!

So it was that, last Friday, after delivering a presentation at a City institution, I said my goodbyes, shook hands, left the building, nipped round the corner and took off my business shoes. The relief! I walked on in flip flops, surrounded by the fellow-relieved in trainers

Sadly, the streets of London are not paved with gold, happily, my flip flops glitter – and that is close enough for me. I set off towards Liverpool Street station in search of a breeze, a drink and a train home, in that order. I was rewarded with all three.

I walked into Broadgate with my iced pink wine, to watch Wimbledon on the big screen. What caught my eye, however, was not the epic men’s semi-final projected in front of me, but the man confidently striding past barefoot.

I looked down at my flip flops and up to meet Dad’s gaze. We smiled and raised our glasses in a toast to lessons learned, not lost.

Categories
Moving

Bye/Hi

Leaving Paris Charles de Gaulle airport and arriving at London Gatwick airport early on Easter Sunday.

Categories
Making

St Paul’s Cathedral

I have loved this building since I was a young child and as soon as I discovered the name of its architect, I elevated Sir Christopher Wren to the rank of hero. This view is taken from the Cheapside approach, but the Ludgate Hill aspect works as well for me.

Categories
Moving

You Are Free!

I am fond of Piccadilly and often spend time in Shepherd Market when in London. For the first time, last week, I looked up at Stratton House on Piccadilly and saw these plaques. They were unveiled on the building by the then Dutch Prime Minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, watched by grandsons of Winston Churchill and Pieter Gerbrandy, on 29 October 2005. I must have walked past them many times, blind to their existence. Last week, thankfully, I looked up.

Categories
Smiling

A Christmas Kiss

At Covent Garden, London, in the South Hall of the Old Market.

Categories
Moving

Skate

Saturday night at Somerset House, London, by the seasonal skating rink.

Categories
Making

A Spring Concert

 

On 1 April 2017, I took a stroll through Hyde Park at dusk with members of my family before attending the Spring Concert of the King’s College London Symphony Orchestra at Holy Trinity Church, South Kensington, London. The musical director was Jonathan Lo, the leader, Rebecca Babbage, the assistant conductor, Igor Maia, and the guest conductor, James Ham. Debbie Barnes was the bassoon soloist. There was a programme with a nautical twist: Mendelssohn’s Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage Op.27, followed by Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto in B-flat K.191, then Mendelssohn’s The Hebrides Op.26 and finally, Debussy’s La Mer.

Categories
Moving

Three Steps to Heaven

From 9 – 11 September, England held the annual Heritage Open Days festival (heritageopendays.org.uk). I was in London for the weekend, staying in Alie Street, Aldgate. As chance would have it, just over the road, one of the buildings open for the weekend was St George’s German Lutheran Church. Opened in 1763, it is the oldest surviving German church in Britain. Whitechapel housed as many as 16,000 German immigrants at one time and was consequently known as ‘Little Germany’. However, the changing population of the East End of London meant that the congregation dwindled and so, in 1995, the church was handed over to the Historic Chapels Trust. It is now no longer used for worship, though it can be hired for private use (including weddings), and through the year events (such as concerts) are hosted there. When I visited, I had the full attention of two attendants and a cup of tea. I also had the chance to discover objects ‘tidied away’ in the pews – including the ‘lost keys’…

Categories
Loving

Making That Call

  

Categories
Learning

Day 6 of 21: in London

in June 1995. I returned from living and working abroad and started teaching ESOL in my home town of Colchester; before becoming a student again myself. My first class was a group of Russian language teachers from the former East Germany, who were being ‘re-trained’ to teach English.

This three-week course will pass very quickly, I’ve a great team of colleagues and the students seem fine – though I’m not sure how happy I’d be if I were them, being ‘advised’ suddenly to switch from teaching Russian to teaching English. The first week passes in a sunny and breezy fashion; well, the weather does. Able to sit outside to finish re-reading ‘The Levant Trilogy’ while eating my lunch, I’m sometimes joined (silently) by students who feel lonely but don’t want to speak. We smile, nod at each other, then sit companionably awhile until it’s time to return to the classroom. Once there, I quickly find that seemingly innocuous grammar points can lead to instantaneous student catharsis.

For example, work on the third and mixed conditionals to express regret or nostalgia; well, I would take that back right now if I could. Truly. First student (after looking intently at her dictionary): ‘If I had known that my abortion would give me such sadness, I would never have listened to my husband’. Cue mini-group hug with friends and then tears. Lots. My emergency supply of tissues is quickly exhausted so I fall back on distributing my emergency supply of chocolate buttons. The last one of those eaten, another in the class volunteers: ‘I would have killed my sports coach if I had known he was doping me when I was a child. I’ve never been able to have children.’ Some students are visibly cheered at the thought of killing-any-random-piece-of-shit-who-ever-treated-me-badly, and smile with faraway looks in their eyes. Eerie silence descends and then the tears start again.

One of the women, realising that my emergency rations have been consumed, produces her own. She pulls a roll of toilet tissue and a tin of Quality Street from her bag. Chewing those toffees has a calming effect and definitely shuts us all up. We make a picture from the wrappers and I announce haughtily I don’t believe in having regrets, so let’s move on shall we? We do, just far enough. My ability to ‘make students cry’ becomes a badge colleagues make me wear for some time. Each course participant is asked to keep a diary; hopes that mine will use this document to keep trauma on the page are quickly dashed. They write about me. (1) If all teachers are like her, students must learn easily and with pleasure. (2) She is fantastic and humorous. (3) An energetic and lively woman with a sense of humour – very interesting. (4) Jane demands quite a lot, but we like this. (5) I’m sure she likes teaching and has good relations with all her students. (6) A charming, energetic young woman – her gestures and facial expressions are especially striking. In the meantime, classroom recollections of trauma become ones of pleasure, admittedly often illicit, but I feel we’re getting somewhere (and consuming less chocolate and fewer tissues).

I’ve signed up for a six-day working week, and on the sixth day we visit London as part of the group’s cultural orientation. Everyone boards the coach in good spirits; the day before we had the hottest June day for 20 years and we’re still talking about it as the temperature dips and the sky clouds over. Orientation over, we all go our separate ways to do our shopping-thing or our let’s-catch-up-with-old-friends-thing. Fun done, back at the coach I notice we’re one down. I ask her friends, who, initially, say they have no idea what’s happened but they’re sure she’s fine. We leave. By the time we’re back, I’ve been told that this woman has had a miscarriage in John Lewis on Oxford Street and that her ‘friends’ got her to St. Thomas. They were very reluctant to tell me anything, then almost blasé about the whole episode with no intention of staying with her overnight. I find this strange. I ring the relevant authorities to report the event and check all is well. Three days later, discharging herself from hospital, this woman has returned from London in a taxi and reappeared in class. Nothing is said. No catharsis needed here, move along please – oh, and by the way, say nothing to the husband who’s visiting next weekend. He didn’t know about the pregnancy. It’s day 9 of 21.