It’s amazing, I think, the power of youth to interest, elevate, amuse and otherwise brighten one’s day. I am sitting in an English class, top set, usually taught by the Head of English, a woman whom the French might call ‘formidable’. I have met one or two of them before, and by-and-large, as the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide profoundly remarks, are ‘mostly harmless’. One of them, when asked his name, replied ‘Vladimir Putin’, which I thought really rather enterprising, if a little bit short sighted, since I made a point of calling him ‘Vlad’ for the rest of the lesson, with suitable asides regarding impalement as a method of punishment.
A gaggle of girls is ‘working together’. This in reality means extensive magpie chatter, interspersed with a furtive look in my direction to see if I am paying attention. A few, a very few, are taking the task seriously, and have produced reams, emailspeak and creative spelling notwithstanding. The fashion for alternative and temporary tattooing is highly developed here and red hieroglyph is evident on a few female forearms. Some boys are stretching the bounds of my patience. This I think is the perfectly legitimate, albeit irritating habit of the young bullocks pushing against the electric fence. Sometimes, I wish it were.
I realised last Friday why I could never teach in the UK again. Having been sent to a ‘challenging’ school, a euphemism for behaviour so ungovernable that one is torn between zoo keeping and baby minding, in an area whose remote claim to notoriety is the high percentage of incestuous relationships in the peninsula. Within a few minutes, it rapidly became clear that shouting and imprecation only amused the population, neither intimidating them nor creating an environment where fragments of knowledge might be acquired. I therefore remained Stoic, my wa undented, allowing the mayhem to subside to an unchallenging murmur. Lao-Tzu would have been proud, in a similar way that, as in the Christian monasteries, a code of order and internal discipline is maintained regardless of external circumstances. Taoist quietism is an attitude imposed by social circumstances, by the Movement of Heaven, and remains for each to appreciate when it is the time to “withdraw” or to “advance”. Strategic withdrawal seemed appropriate. The images are of my old school, and at the time when the lithograph was first created, floggings were commonplace and detentions involved copying Georgics out. Sic transit..