Having been on the road, on and off, for almost a fortnight now, today is catch-up time. Philip Larkin (Philip Larkin, Collected Poems) catches my mood of alienation about who, what and where I am after too much travelling and chasing too many deadlines and projects:
What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?
Yes, it’s time for reflection and some sanity. When travelling up and down the country and then, for good measure, right across from east to west and down and then back again, you lose track of yourself and days and then appointments take over. You live in days; they tell you what you are to do next and where to go next. Your working persona takes over, messes you up. The next stanza of this poem is not very hopeful and so I must catch breath:
Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.
Ah, must avoid that! Whilst travelling the way I have, by car, just under a thousand miles one week and another eight hundred the next, your ultimate goal is to find the venue for your meetings, discussions or presentations, and then the hotel, for a night’s sleep. All you worry about is whether or not the bed will be comfortable, whether perhaps you will be disturbed in the middle of the night by the banging of doors and loud voices along the corridor, or by the rubbish collectors emptying the glass containers that happen to be right outside and just below your window. Or perhaps, and more and more so, whether you will in fact not even be able to open the window at all and let in some fresh air, but will have to choose between a stuffy sleep in an unaired room with hermetically bolted windows or a room that is chilled by a noisy air conditioner that blows through everyone else’s stuffy air into your room.
No, today is for reversing all this, it is to ascertain myself, switch out of the work mode, pick up a pen, and scribble in a notebook, read the papers; and for savouring some of the books that I bought yesterday as a reward after a hard week’s work. Yes, I’m still around, I have not drowned in relentlessness of work, I have survived the roads, the motorways and the eerily empty and deserted winding valley roads from north Wale, through Snowdonia, to the south, from Anglesey to Swansea even if, at the end of it, and in the dark, when entering Swansea, the traffic lights seemed to move back and forth in a spooky sort of way, but when I blinked hard and shook my head they seemed to obey the laws of physics again and I was able to find my way, with the help of my sat nav , to the hotel parking lot, safely. Today is Sunday, and time to catch up, with myself, but also with some of the reviews.
A film to see:
Yesterday, as an introduction to a work-free weekend, not only did I spend a couple of hours roaming through a bookshop, and coming out at the end with a bag full of books, we also managed to squeeze in a film that I had not heard much about but that was being shown in the small cinema in Norwich of which I am a member, The Class. I did not know much about it other than that it had won the Palme d’Or in Cannes. I have not read the book, on which the film is based. The film is directed by Laurent Cantet and the main actor is Francois Begaudeau, the author of the book, who plays himself as Francois Marin, a teacher of French in a class of 14 and 15 year olds. It is a movie well worth seeing; it portrays a classroom of kids of mixed ethnic backgrounds, a veritable mirror of today’s city populations, but also of what it must be like to be teaching in schools. Marin does his best and tries to be open with his pupils, mixing a vague kind of cynicism in his responses, which counterbalances their own critique and disorderly behaviour, with a genuine attempt to be frank and open with them. Both the Sunday Times today and The Sunday Telegraph (which, however, does not allow a link to the article without a subscription!) have a review of this film, and give it full stars. It was a good choice to go and see this, it is quite unlike the Hollywood big movies that have been in the limelight these last weeks, with Oscars and Bafta nominations and winners. No, this is a film that shocks in a quiet way, because you know that this is what it is like in a lot of class rooms now, and this is how kids experience their time in school: at the end of the film there are no resolutions, just one of the pupils coming up to her teacher, the last day at school before the summer break up and says: but I am worried, all the others say that they have learned something, I don’t think I have learned anything. I cannot think of anything that I learned this year. All I know is that I don’t want to go to vocational college… No winners and no losers, no quick resolution and a happy ending, just another year in another school in a big city.
In the coming week I’ll let you know about the books I bought, the ones I have read and the ones that I am reading.