Friday, 4 February 2011

Lunchtime at Fruitcake Minature College

"What are you having for lunch, big boy?" she said as she let down the window a little and turned off the engine of her natty little Clio. Clearly a lady who liked a man in work clothes. "You, apparently," I quipped. The fact that she then cracked up, that this was Mrs Turer, and I was lopping our front hedge, admittedly takes some of the suggestiveness out of this scenario. All the same, you can see there are some advantages to redundancy. I gather some others still in employment enjoy such advantages anyway, but my former colleagues and I were always much to busy hand-carving individual learning plans and the like to pay any attention to gossip. Lunch was a multi-task mess of crumbs and paper on our desks as we got ready for our afternoon class, and certainly not leek pie, goat's cheese and an artisan loaf in a relaxed atmosphere rich with double entendre.

Food was sometimes a distraction, though, albeit a hectic one. At Eid, Christmas, people's birthdays, or the drop of a kapelusz, our students produced samosas, Chinese dumplings, flat bread, croissants, octopus, sticky rice in seaweed, tortillas, and those Polish marshmallows coated in chocolate - or even better, chocolate plums. Our end of term parties were legendary, and if you weren't from our team, you had to be someone nice and friendly to get in - such as from the library or the International Centre, where they helped our students rather than baffled them in a shouty way through a piece of plate glass.

We were often the first helpful people they had run across since leaving their own countries. Muna, who had seen terrible things in Somalia, was now living with her little daughter in a high-rise and needed help understanding the bits of paper from the council. Farshad had arrived in the back of a lorry from Afghanistan. He was the class clown. He had scars and a bad leg, and nightmares about "the Talib people." In court he told the judge, in English, that rather than be sent back, he would say thank you now for the help he had had, and the court should kill him there and then, because he would die every minute in Afghanistan. The last I had heard, Farshad had lost his case. Then there were the Polish kids, with all their scrapes and emotional hoo-hahs, who had left their schools in Poland in year 10 arriving in the UK just in time to gear up for GCSEs, which of course they mostly didn't get. They were fiercely loyal to one another - and to us, in a chaotic teenage way.

Yet, these people are putting more into our economy than they are taking out, please note. Those Polish kids, for example, served your coffee or your burger. They're  picking orders in monster depots you don't know exist. Their mum or dad drove your bus this morning, or laid your carpet. They pay taxes. Give these people some English lessons. And don't give me, Michael Gove, stuff about targeted provision and such like smokescreens. Funding's gone and going, and my students and the UK economy deserve better.

This is what I was thinking about up a ladder before lunch. Superficially, I may have looked employed (loppers, warm checked shirt, dusty khaki trousers and shoes), but I'm sleeping with the lady of the house. And if you've been to these electric paragraphs before, you may know I'm now employed here by Fruitcake Miniature College, whose Principal is our cat. It's probably just what David Cameron and his cabinet have in mind; I'm the private sector stepping in. No I'm not. This is a fantasy in more ways than one (even though I do have some students preparing for an EFL exam). These people need lessons in a proper college funded in such a way that even the shouty people behind plate glass can't complain.

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