The summer’s social programme had limped unspectacularly along with my having gained a reputation for an innate inability to organise a drink in a brewery. It was, I resolved, time to show some devil may care panache.
Eager to take advantage of the glorious local coastline, I’d recently taken a group of students for an unexpectedly arduous beach walk which could have comfortably comprised a special forces training exercise due to my gross underestimation of distance / time relationships. What I had imagined would last a couple of hours at most had actually taken over five, most students arriving home disorientated by the darkness that had already fallen. In true British fashion, all the cafés en route were closed by that time of night, and the buses had long since stopped running. Looking back along the seafront at the bedraggled survivors was like watching dehydrated runners at the end of a marathon, their brains having long since lost touch with their wildly elastic lower limbs. I was half expecting someone to collapse and start urging the others hoarsely, “Leave me, save yourselves, I’m only slowing you down...”
I had spent the next day sheepishly avoiding eye contact with the walkers, most of whom were gingerly stiff-limbed from muscle fatigue, or limping from painful blisters. But, despite the physical trauma, all had had to admit that the scenery was sublime, and I was convinced that, if I had any future as Social Organiser, it lay in venturing once again into this wonderous, unique landscape.
So it was that I planned my most audacious soirée yet. We would take a double decker bus (a sure-fire winner in itself) after school and drive forty minutes into the countryside, visiting a village with an eleventh-century ruined castle for an hour, before motoring on to a small Victorian seaside town with a beautiful bay, pleasant inns and a huge seafront amusement arcade – in other words, there would something for everyone, from the amateur archaeology buff to the drinker and gambling addict. When the bus company offered an open-top double decker bus, my heart fluttered excitedly, and I decided to gamble on fine weather. This night was going to go down in history.
All I had to do to cover costs was make sure the bus was filled to near capacity. To promote the outing I created a montage of carefully selected photos that showed the region in all its sun-soaked magnificence, the rolling meadows, the spectacular coastal rock formations and the stunning, centuries-old architecture. The fact that we would be visiting only a fraction of the locations advertised was a mere detail, which, with hindsight, I perhaps should have paid a little more attention to. In my defence, isn’t that what all advertising does, though - try to create an intimation, an illusory image of the experience the product will give you, not talk about the actual features of the product itself?
It didn’t rain, but a strange, out of season midsummer fog descended that evening that blanketed everything, including what was left of the much-anticipated castle, which stood on a small hill in the middle of a valley. Of course, true to form, that was closed too. “You’ve got an hour,” I hissed to the students as I slipped past them into a pub. “Where is the castle?” a Turkish student inquired. “It’s up there somewhere,” I replied, pointing upwards into the murk. The ruins of the outer bailey could be glimpsed through the swirling mists, but little else. It was like a scene from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
A few of the students joined us in the pub, but most took to wandering the village, which, given the weather, was less like a ghost town than a ghost housing estate. Moving on to our final destination, the sea was unrecognisable in the gloom, the amusement arcade was closed (you can probably detect a pattern developing here) and the only choice left was between spending another few hours in a pub or wandering the streets avoiding unwelcoming groups of feral youths, who all appeared to be throwbacks uncomfortable with the presence of outsiders.
By the time we set off for home, the temperature had dropped significantly and the only people braving ear ache and possible hypothermia on the top deck were us British teachers and some of the hardier students, such as the Russians and an Argentine from Tierra del Fuego. The rest were huddled for warmth on the lower deck, cursing the elements in a dozen langauges. Trying to put a brave face on events, I turned to the Turkish student. “So, H, did you enjoy the trip?” I asked, instantly regretting my rashness. “There weren’t enough historical monuments,” came his preposterous reply. I had a momentary vision of him flying through the air from the top deck of a speeding, open-top bus, limbs flailing like a lifeless crash-test dummy. Containing my displeasure, I had to literally bite my tongue to prevent myself from suggesting, in rather graceless language, that he, “Push off to Greece, then.” Given the ongoing tensions between the two countries, I fancied my self-control was wise.
So that was it, another night failing to live up to expectations, this time because of the ludicrous lack of monument-building by previous residents of the region. It was clear not only that I was never going to please all of the people all of the time, or even some of them some of it, but also that I was never cut out to be a Social Organiser. I was kidding myself that I was some kind of events producer, that I’d one day be mounting West End Shows or booking top rock acts for famous festivals. No, I was a simple TEFL teacher, and had better get used to the idea. Given this stark realisation, sitting freezing my extremities off on the top deck of that bus, all I could do was morbidly fantasise that the combination of a forgetful driver, a wrong turning and a low bridge might suddenly put us all out of our misery.
Labels: Socialising with students