Saturday, July 29, 2017


One of my numerous daily chores includes buying the bread. A home without bread in the Basque Country is like a home without an internet connection in Britain. Doesn’t bear thinking about, does it? So, anyway, every morning, at about 7.07, I drive to the baker’s – no time for a leisurely morning stroll –, race home, dump the bread in the kitchen, grab my briefcase, wish my wife a wonderful day, then head off to work. On a good day, I might even have time for a second espresso before leaving home, but those days are few and far between. In any case, the most important thing is to make sure I get to the classroom and have everything ready before my students start rolling in at 7.57, 8.03, 8.08, and so on, at regular five-minute intervals. One of the beautiful things about teaching “on the continent" is that everybody lives in personalised time zones, so “eight o’clock”, for example, means different things to different people; to me, it means 8.00, but I’m British, remember.

The other day, I was running a little late and didn’t make it to the baker’s until about 7.22, so you can imagine how stressed I was feeling as I ran in. To my horror, I found myself behind a dear old lady who, as tends to be the way with senior citizens, was in no hurry whatsoever to  pay for her small loaf. I pretended not to overhear her detailed account of what her grandchildren were studying, where her daughter was planning to spend the summer, which poor soul had died yesterday, and so on.

I smiled politely at the customers joining the queue behind me – smiling politely is an essential life skill, I have discovered over the past thirty years or so –, consoling myself with the thought that I wasn’t the only person in the world whose day had just been ruined and whose company might well collapse if their hardest-working employee didn’t show up for work today. Resigning myself to my fate, I didn’t even bat an eyelid when my executioner emptied the contents of her purse on the counter, and invited the shop assistant to help herself.

Eventually of course, I got my bloody beloved loaf and, surprise surprise, I arrived on time for my class, albeit terribly late by my standards. It was about 7.55, and I was in a foul mood because my morning routine had been disrupted, but I soon calmed down when I finally managed to put myself in that lady’s shoes: buying the bread, chatting to the baker, boring her butcher to tears, greeting the bus driver, speculating with her fellow passengers whether she might have dropped her bus pass in the baker’s or the butcher’s... Who knows? I might be that old lady one day – despite no plans for a sex change at the time of writing – and a little patience never hurt any of us, did it?

I make an exception, however, for all these ‘critical’ PC updates. ‘Critical’, my a***! When they claim, “We are working to enhance your experience”, what they really mean is, “We are now going to install a load of useless stuff and there’s nothing you can do about it, sunshine”.


Yet for all his glaring incompetence, Colin absolutely loved teaching: whatever, wherever, whenever. “Know nothing, teach anything” was his motto. What he lacked in knowledge and know-how – two greatly overrated concepts, in Colin’s convenient opinion –, he more than made up for in patience, perspiration, persistence and perseverance; all those p- qualities, basically. Whether you wanted to study Physics or Physiques, Deserts or Desserts, Arabic or Aerobics … Colin was your man. He would get you there. Eventually. Even if it killed him. It usually did.

dayrealing, Chapter 5, “Heart Of Gold”

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