After giving one of my classic explanations to illustrate a technical point of the French language (you know, the language that doesn’t have a word for “policing at football tournaments!), one of my first year pupils woke up with a start, saw me looking at him and decided to play the old “distracter” card by asking a question, whether connected to the lesson or not. Most of my pupils were well-versed in this technique and used it on me frequently, knowing full well that, if I was bored by the lesson myself, I would deliberately take the bait and answer things like “Sir, did you watch the Rangers game last night?” or “Mr. Burton, does your son work in Jamal’s store in Kirkton?”.

Anyway, I’d just finished what I assumed was an inspired explanation of the present tense of –ir verbs when Jordan shot his hand up immediately I caught his eye. I anticipated some deeply-thought analysis of the verb system and expected a question like “Sir, are there many exceptions to the basic paradigm?” but that’s not quite what I got. “Mr. Burton sir, sir, have you ever been abroad?” “No son, I’ve been a man all my life!” I quipped. A sea of puzzled faces stared at me and at each other, trying to fathom the hidden wit therein. No-one got it. So I had to explain it to them, by which time even I didn’t think it was very funny.

This classic tale of opposite perspectives within the classroom will hopefully illustrate that the chances of actually knowing what a pupil thinks of your lesson are close to nil for a million reasons. It’s best to think of it in terms of priorities. Where on that list in a teenager’s head lies my French lesson? : after “Can’t wait for the bell to ring”: after “I’m starving”: after “Hope Celtic win tonight”: or even after “God, I would love 5 minutes with Charlene Kerr”. You can see that your lesson would have to be awfully interesting to drag their hyperactive minds away from their stomachs or from below their waists.

As teachers, we never knew the half of what was happening in their lives outside the classroom and to be honest it’s maybe just as well. For example, I had been using memory training techniques with some success with a group of detached 4th years, struggling to keep them on track and to apply themselves in a disciplined manner, something they clearly weren’t used to. For all that, they genuinely appreciated my attempts at trying to interest them and a really good rapport had grown up between them and me. I continued to play the friendly-but-still-the-boss role and they knew I was their teacher and not their pal, so we got on well, as long as I worked them on Mondays and Thursdays but played language games with them last period on a Friday. Well you would, wouldn’t you?!

So, having taught them how to picture something in their minds to help remember what a word meant (Picture a fisherman peeing into a river = “pêcheur [the French for fisherman]), we stumbled upon the word for a lobster. I felt they were ready to try and conjure up their own images so proudly announced “OK guys, can someone come up with a picture to help remember that the word for a lobster is “homard” (pronounced OMAR)? Pandemonium! The whole class fell about roaring with laughter. I frantically searched my words to find out what I had said that was so funny. Nothing. I gave in and asked them what was making them laugh. No response but the hilarity continued. I asked again. Wee Kenny at the front sobered up long enough to say “Sorry, Mr. Burton, that’s dead funny but we just can’t tell you why!”

To get to the bottom of this, I resumed the lesson and waited for the class to dismiss at the bell before calling Kenny back just as he was leaving. Alone with him, I asked again what their secret was. Kenny repeated that he couldn’t possibly tell me what it was, but I pleaded with him and promised not to be angry or upset with the reason. “Alright, Mr. Burton, I trust you so here goes. You know some of us watch porn at home?” I nodded as if he had said “cartoons”. “Well, there’s this black guy with the biggest thingy ever on some of these films and his name is Omar! We were all imagining a lobster with its claws snapped shut tight on his most famous bit! Sorry, Mr. Burton, but you said you wouldn’t get angry or tell on me.” I reminded Kenny that we had a deal, we shook hands and he left the classroom still laughing to himself.

You know what, I bet you to this very day no-one in that class ever forget the French for “lobster”!!

People often ask “Did you have a lot of funny moments when you were a teacher?” and the obvious answer is “Of course, many, many crazy things happened.” So I’m going to tell you the funniest thing which occurred not that long before I retired in 2010.

One day I was in the school office at St. Saviour’s High School, filing some reports when an old man buzzed at the by-then-always-locked front door. I pressed the button to let him in and he came over slowly to the sliding hatch window of reception. He was accompanied by a little old lady whom I took to be his wife and they both looked upset if not quite devastated. “How can I help?” I asked. “We need to speak to Danny,” he replied “There’s been a tragedy!” “Danny who?” I asked. “Danny Martin in 4th year”. This set off the alarm bells in my head. Danny, a lovely boy of average ability, had lost his mother only 2 years previous and had required a lot of support to get him through what was for him a hugely difficult period in his life.

Quick as a flash I ushered the couple into the Administration corridor, sat them down in the thankfully empty Boardroom, offered them a cup of tea then excused myself and left in search of Danny’s Guidance teacher Frances. I caught up with her in the library and told her she would need to go and fetch Danny from class and bring him to the Boardroom where his grandparents, who now looked after him, were waiting with what purported to be bad news. I returned to the Boardroom and tried to get an idea of the level of the “tragedy” but neither of the two would say anything other than how horrendous it all was and how would Danny get over this second hammer-blow.

A knock on the door told us Frances had found Danny and brought him to us. In he came, face twisted in anguish even before he heard the news. “Grandad, grandad, what’s happened? Tell me what’s happened” he pleaded. “Oh Danny, Danny it’s awful. It’s a tragedy!” sobbed his grandmother. “Tell me, tell me” Danny repeated. “Oh son, son, “ said grandad. “we’re so sorry. The dog’s eaten the f***ing parrot!!”

Frances and I dived back out into the corridor and attempted to stifle the roars of laughter welling up from inside. I clapped my hand over my own mouth and rushed into my office throwing the door behind me. Frances unfortunately had to sober up at once and go back in to console the now weeping Danny and his distraught grandparents. She put on a good show but admitted later it had been a real struggle. By the time I had recovered enough to go back into the Boardroom, Danny had been led away to the toilet to dry his eyes. I tried my best to give words of consolation to the old couple and it was the Grandad who finished me off with “And it was a right good speaker as well!” I excused myself a second time, claiming I was urgently needed elsewhere and never actually managed to return to see them off the premises. Oh brother, were my sides sore by the end of the day!

You can tell from these two tales that school wasn’t all boring and repetitive, although don’t ask me to go back into the classroom now I’m retired. Oh no, I’ve done my stint, come out of it relatively intact with most of my marbles and have no intention of ever repeating the dose. I leave that to Lady Burton nowadays whose services are clearly much sought-after out here in Vilanova. Mary has done 3 different jobs this year, sometimes working long hours for little reward financially-speaking, but has really enjoyed the experience and is delighted that both the language school “Global Connect” and the Prysmian factory have asked her to continue for the next session starting in early September.

As you know, Greg is getting married to Karen on the second of September but Mary is due to start induction at Global Connect about the sixth so it looks like we’ll be setting off on the road back to Vilanova almost immediately after the wedding. A pity, but needs must! But before that we have the journey home via the Tunnel this time, staying in all sorts of places and circumstances (Falkirk, Tayport, Alyth to mention three) catching up with the family, doing a couple more Munroes with the boys, Greg’s Stag, Karen’s hen Party, Arry’s 3rd birthday then Greg’s wedding. I don’t think we’re going to have much time to catch our breath you know but better that than be bored.

For the last two weeks of July we’re hoping to stay in the Magic Caravan on a site in Alyth recommended by cousins Stef and Renée. This will mean giving the wee caravan a bit of a once-over to make it totally fit for habitation but we’re looking forward to that and can’t wait to get it back to the condition it was in when we were touring Europe3 years ago. Our wonderful “Magic” caravan has been having a rest for the past 2 years on a storage site at the back of Birkhill just north of Dundee. Every time we’re home, we pop in to check it is ok and just sit down for a few minutes to remember how fantastic that tour was. Will we ever do something like that again? Who knows? This is George and Mary after all!

The famous Magic Caravan

The famous Magic Caravan

Just in case I scared you all with tales of blood sugar levels off the charts last post, I should let you know that the regime seems to be working most of the time and I feel fine, although I still think my levels aren’t under control quite yet. But don’t worry, I intend to get a full set of bloods done as soon as I get back to Dundee and we’ll see what the results tell us needs done. In the meantime, I have little or no commitments apart from one more night with Guillem, so if I don’t feel up to anything in particular, I can just stay put and watch the footie which has so far been interesting if not actually enthralling. Events off the field seem to dominate at the moment but I have no intention of stating the bloody obvious as far as English hooligans are concerned. And let’s not forget the despicable behaviour of some Russian fans as well. Pathetic!

The weather is worthy of a mention at this point as it’s full-on typical Spanish Scorchio now with few clouds, blazing sun and ever-increasing temperatures. It’s really off-limits to be outside between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. this month and factor 30 or stronger is a must. You should see the state of the Brits out here in force on holiday with kids who should be at school. Their massive amounts of skin get totally frazzled in this heat then they go and hide their sunburn under a football top. Can’t remember if I’ve told you this before but the Brits are the only people who wear football tops on holiday (other than the obvious kids wearing Barça tops with Messi 10 on the back). I saw a Dutchman with a colourful Feyenoord top the other day but in general it’s only Brits, predominantly English and Irish, who wear what their kids are wearing. How weird is that?

El Prat!

El Prat!

Friends Mike and Het are back home in the Lake District for the summer. I drove them to the airport last Thursday and we promised we’ll try to have a couple of nights with them on our way home at the beginning of July. If it’s as much fun as the last time, we’re in for a treat (but let’s not repeat the new Audi clutch for £1400. Ouch!). That leaves pretty much Mary & I and Walter & Joke as the only ones of our group of friends still here, although Darren, Bob & Sandra are still around as well. Scots Annie has moved in to Sandra’s caravan on F23 at the bottom of the road and we gave her a wee hand to settle in. Joke and I had our final game of golf last Thursday but neither of us played particularly well, probably because it was so very hot out there. We were on our knees by the end of the round which made my round of 66 seem not too bad actually, especially finishing with 5 consecutive 3s after hitting each green with my tee shot. Not a single birdie though.

As Mike was going home last Thursday, he finally persuaded me on the Saturday that Mary was away back in Scotland to give the “boules” tournament a go. I got paired with a Dutch woman and we lost all 3 games. He asked me to try again on the Wednesday and I ended up paired with our friend Kate from Stornoway. Would you believe it, we won all 3 games then won the final! Beginners luck of course. I tried again on Saturday past, got to the final again, mainly due to the other 2 in my team, but we got reamed 10-0! Back down to earth with a bang! Mary must be my lucky mascot as I’ve reached the final both times she has come to watch.

For the first time in her new career, Mary had a works’ night out on Saturday, spending the evening eating tapas and drinking outside in a wee square down in the old town. The whole thing was paid for by the Global Connect people and she had a really nice time with her colleagues. I was very happy for her and left her to finish the evening properly and get a taxi home rather than “queer her pitch” by going to collect her in the Audi.

She even got flowers!

She even got flowers!