The summer holidays have come around, and like most teachers I have aimed to get out of the country as soon as humanly possible. It’s been a grueling 10 months of secondary education – stressing over grades, dealing with poor behaviour, becoming a marking machine for the last two terms (firstly with an endless stream of year 11 PPEs followed by end of term Year 10 PPEs and assessments for other groups).
It’s fair to say 2017-18 academic year has been more hellish than normal – but that’s OK, as I’ve put 2’235 miles between me and London and am now happily sweltering in the dry, Mediterranean heat! As always, I aim to over-achieve my pledge of 52 books a year, but must admit that I’m only ahead because I’ve cheated with only reading comic books for the first half of the year! I’m a bit disappointed with myself really…
I can’t read as much as I could or would like to during term time, so the summer holidays for me is perfect for full-on literature immersion. Mind, body and soul I make a commitment to getting through as many titles as possible, making up for the rest of the year when my brain is so tired it can’t even deal with children’s fiction.
We arrived at Gatwick Airport respectably early, did our ‘liquids shop’ as it’s bloody impossible to take any shower gels or shampoos with you (unless you pay an exorbitant amount of money to Easyjet for hold luggage!) Once this was done, I called it ‘my time’. I dumped my stuff with whoever I was travelling with and half-ran, half-skipped to WHSmith’s (or even better) Waterstones. Here, I allow myself one minute to just wonder-gaze at the spines of books before I tally up how many I’m getting – this is 5 weeks after all, a looooong time.
Then comes the choosing of the bloody things, and this time round I really struggled. I bloody hate fresh fiction – and I’m not good with snap decisions either. I usually wait for a siren call, a beckoning from the shelf, but Gate 111 awaits and my group have already started making their way over. I agonise over a plethora of things: ‘Is this intellectual? Will this stretch-and-challenge me? Do these books reflect the reading journey that I am on? Does the subject matter serve a purpose? Is this book too ‘simple’? Is it too ‘new’ and thus the praise for it from the New York Times too misleading? From me to you, never trust the New York Times!
I don’t know whether half of what I buy is spurred on by a sense of self-worth, genuine discernment of literature or pure vanity of ‘looky here at what I’m reading, aren’t I a clever cow!’ – however I walked away with three titles, all of which are female authors. To my horror, I discovered my reading diet had thus far consisted of white male authors, which I seek to rectify this year. I have a colleague to thank for that as he has also embarked on a similar journey. But eventually I was able to make all three of my personalities happy, by opting for The Secret History by Donna Tartt, recommended to me by a dear colleague, The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell which is fairly new yet has a gothic twist (if the blurb is to be trusted), and the Booker Prize winning Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively, which sates the intellectual in me that craves for ‘literature of meaning’.
Time was ticking, and I was stuck behind three Italian ladies and a child trying to pay for some silly quitter strips with red buses on them and a couple of metallic pens with gold and silver crowns (c’mon! c’mon!) It didn’t help that the Jamaican lady behind the counter was also serving them begrudgingly – one of her idiosyncrasies of serving being the question: ‘Where are you flying today?’
Now normally there would be a speedy answer, money would change hands and off the customer would go. But there I am behind the Italian ladies who don’t know 5 words of English between them and do not understand what is being demanded of them. The Jamaican lady’s question, which at first appears to be a social filler, actually turned out to be a legitimate question. She genuinely wanted to know where each passenger was going. Absolutely insisted. How bizarre! At first the Italians looked at one another baffled, she demanded a second time to know where they were going, then a third, tone of voice hardening to a point akin to a Home Office interrogation. At this point the child sensed the tension in the air and began squirming. It was jarring – the ladies managed to stammer a response of ‘Italia’, hoping that would save them. However this didn’t quell her thirst for knowledge. The woman went full on MI5. ‘Are you travelling with this child? Is this child your child?’
The women were flustered like chickens who have had their hen-house disturbed. This isn’t customs – why can’t they just pay and walk away with their books? Why was the poor little bambino being pulled into all of this? Did they look like kidnappers?
At this point, I began to get irate as I’m in danger of not making it to the gate if it carries on in this vein – but eventually again the women manage to say the right thing and walk away quickly, glad to be released from the interrogation.
Relief turned to anxiety as now I realised it would be my turn. I hand over the books, quickly whip out the card ready to pay and leave as quickly as possible. But no… she wants to know where I am going too. Shit. I read her face – there is a ‘the shutters are down’ look to it and I realise maybe this idiosyncrasy has deeper roots. She certainly couldn’t read the body language and emotions of the Italian ladies, yet she insisted that her questions be answered, as if they were part of a cycle that helped her to get through one customer after another. A mechanical routine that helped her negotiate unexpected requests. Asperger’s maybe? Play along with it came the voice inside me. Indulge her.
So I went the opposite way – answered all her questions, made light conversation, watched her from behind the counter, and then realised with sadness the look in her eyes as I walked away with my book load. All she probably wants is to go away somewhere too – maybe asking where people are going to is a way of coping with a summer stuck serving customers at Gatwick. At that moment I tried putting myself in her shoes – all those people, jetting off to fabulous places, while you are stuck in an inbetween space, watching the world go by. Working in airports must be hell…
After a fleeting twinge of regret I exited WHSmith with a stoopid grin on my face, again half-skipping, half-running to my other fellow travelers, only to find that the gate closes in 10 minutes.
Shit! I’ve never been this late before – and I vowed I’d never do it again. Getting to Gate 111, as further insult to injury, turned out to be the mother of all journeys. Up and down a flight of stairs, escalators, you name it. I hate you Gatwick! Why can’t you be like Stansted?
Long story short I almost missed my bloody flight for the love of books, a strange Jamaican lady and some flustered Italian tourists. And all I wanted was some reads to tide me over for a couple of weeks till my next book haul…