Hail and farewell

Monday 6th June 2011

ROOM F. Standing by the radiator. Thirty boys obediently follow the text. Am probably wearing a tank top: that’s how long ago it is. Repeating this lesson for the third time this week. How can the mind do so many things at once?

“Clemens tamen non desperabat…”

Raising an eyebrow in the direction of Kirkham, whose attention is wandering, I continue reading out the Latin, unconsciously translating it, remembering the joke I crack at the end of this paragraph, while imagining myself forty years on (maybe even cycling into the classroom like the Classics master in Lindsay Anderson’s If.…) and seeing my future as a long, straight road, white line down the middle, the horizon nothing more than a flat line in an indeterminate distance.

“…per ruinas fortiter…”

There’s a track, leading off that tarmacked road, winding into the undergrowth: a cliché borrowed from Frost.

“…et dominum suum vocabat.”

Two years almost up. It’s too easy, this.


Start looking next term. Co-ed comprehensive. Enough of this cushy grammar school. And it’ll have to be a Drama job. Risk. Adventure.

“So, Vesuvius is erupting. Widespread panic. Easy enough to translate, but what does Clemens jump on to get back quickly to the villa?”

Puzzled expressions, but they know me well enough:

“Was it a bus, sir?”

“Good try, Thomo, but no.”


“No. Slaves weren’t allowed skateboards. Look at the text, gentlemen. The answers are always in the text.”

Four hands go up simultaneously.


“On a bike, sir.”

“Exactly. Thank you, Harry. Line four. Tandem ad villam.”

There are groans, as expected.

“We’ve had it before, sir.”

“The word or the pun?”

“Both, sir.”

This is one of my favourite passages in the Cambridge Latin Course, Unit 1. The class and I have been following Caecilius and his family since last September. Half a dozen paragraphs from now and he’ll die, attended by the faithful Clemens – just as happened this time last year, and yesterday morning, period three.

But I have made a decision. Ave atque vale.







This entry was posted in journal and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.