A buswoman’s holiday

What I often end up doing, on my days off paperwork or teaching, is housework. Sadly, it’s the thing that is at the bottom of a my chosen-occupations list.

At the top of my favourite list, the one titled, What I Would Buy if I Won the Lottery, is, ‘hire a house-keeper’. I have in mind a Mary Poppins type character, but I’d settle for a Mrs Danvers, just so long as I never again had my attention caught by the state of the kitchen floor. As I don’t even do the lottery this is clearly fantasy. I’ve more hope of teaching Rusty how to wipe his feet before he bounds in.

Which reminds me, an old but useful tip, regarding missing homework (school or domestic) is, blame the dog. It got me past many a potential detention in my delinquent school-days.

Yes, it is an ancient cliche, but here’s the thing, while I don’t believe anyone has actually, ever, believed it, it tends to raise a smile. It’s a cold soul that hands out a heavy punishment when they’re appreciating your wit. On the other hand, if I could step back in time with some good advice to my younger self, I’d tell her to make the effort, and just do her homework.

Now I’m an adult, of course, I’ve reversed my aversion to lessons to the extent that on Saturday, I used one of my precious free-days to sign up for a day-school: ‘Free Verse – or playing tennis without a net?’ with the Clevedon Adult Study Association (CASA).

Who cares about that kitchen floor, anyway? (Actually, as a seasoned multi-tasker, I’m fitting it in between paragraphs as I write this.)

‘Really?’ said my niece, Cecily, when I told her what I had planned for the weekend. ‘Isn’t that what you teach, though?’ I was giving her a lift home from her part-time job in a shoe-shop, where she had, she’d told me, spent four hours measuring feet. ‘So boring, but it’s good having money of my own.’

‘I teach stories,’ I said, ‘this is about a particular style of poems. I get to relax, learn, and let someone else keep watch on the clock, and work out what comes next.’

‘Okay,’ said Cecily. ‘It’s not what I’d want to do.’

Cecily, choosing subjects for A-levels, had dropped literature, like a hot potato. When I told her it was the only school subject that had kept my attention she said, ‘Maybe they taught it differently, then.’

I was reminded of her supposition as we reached the end of our time ‘unpacking’ poems, on Saturday. Poet, Phillip Lyons, our guide through the labyrinths of alliterations, consonance, cadence, metaphors, similes, enjambments etc… was winding up our day with some reflection. ‘What,’ he wondered, ‘were our individual responses to free-verse poetry? What thoughts would we take away with us?’

‘I wish someone had taught us poetry in this way at school,’ Paula said. There were murmured agreements from around the room.

‘How did they make it so boring?’ Tim said.

‘On behalf of all retired English teachers,’ Sheila said, ‘I apologise. We did our best.’

‘My teacher was amazing,’ said Pauline. ‘Inspiring.’

My teachers, too, I thought. There’d been two for me. Had I been particularly lucky? Maybe. English-classes were an oasis in the desert that was my secondary school. It’s so much easier to share an interest than to instill an interest where none exists in the first place – ask any of my maths teachers…

There are times when I can’t avoid seeing how lucky I am. Saturday was one of them.

What had I got? Introductions to some poems I might not have found on my own; a chance to discuss them, in detail, with people who were as curious about them as I was; added insights from someone who looked at them with a poet’s eye, and an opportunity to share his enthusiasm for his subject.