Photo From Rocky Valley, Ilkley Moor, with Brocken Spectre. Photo by Bob Hamilton

From Rocky Valley, Ilkley Moor, with Brocken Spectre (tap/click the pic to see it large). Photo by Bob Hamilton

Although I have ‘performed’ at an event as part of the Ilkley Literature Festival ‘Fringe’ in the two past years, as a member of our local writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe, this year it’s a step up to be part of the main festival programme. Scarey!

The performance, named ‘Evocation’, will be similar to the two in Leeds Art Gallery earlier this year, eight of our writers reading a piece which a painting evoked for them, brilliant flamenco guitarist Samuel Moore interpreting both the writing and the painting. This time, however, we’ll be presenting what a photograph from around Ilkley has evoked. The photographs are all by another member of our club, and a superb photographer, Bob Hamilton.

I’m attempting to write a kind of parody on a poem from a well-known 19th century author. Can you guess the poem from the picture? A rather indirect clue: Alice in Wonderland.

All will be revealed after the performance which is on Saturday 29 September at Ilkley Playhouse, 7.15pm. A ticket costs just £5 (none of which comes to us).

More ‘gems’ but not from my attic

I related in a recent post how I had found VHS video tapes of a nativity play I wrote for my English class to perform almost a quarter of a century ago. I suppose it is not surprising that I kept them but a couple of days ago one of my former students, who took part in the play, gave me a big surprise. She sent me a scan of the programme I made for the performance, which includes the names of the complete cast. She, Paula (who I was delighted to meet this summer), told me she found it in a drawer in her home, together with an invitation I made to a Christmas party I organised for the class at the same Christmas time, 1994.

Ema Tudoreanu, named on the programme, was their English teacher but, as so many English teachers at that time other than in ‘top’ high schools, was unqualified; nevertheless, she was a super partner for what was achieved with this class.

What is particularly thrilling is that Paula is now not only a high school teacher of English, her recent thesis for a higher qualification is on the subject of using drama and song as part of Teaching of English as a Foreign Language, which was always part of my approach to teaching English.

 

 

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Finding 3 VHS tapes featuring aspects of my teaching of English in Romania a quarter of a century ago (post on 8th August), together with meeting two of my former pupils, were definitely the highlights of this summer’s visit to Romania. If another project comes off there will be another highlight but ‘Murphy’ being as he is I will only post about that if it comes to fruition.

However, after finding the tapes while clearing my parents-in-law’s attic I was disappointed not to find two books I had hoped were there. After clearing the attic we set about a store room at our small apartment nearby and another couple of ‘gems’ emerged from 14 years of dust.

Enlarging English vocabulary

A picture of the opening pages of the book, generously inscribed by Gheorghe, “To my friend Roger Livesey. My greatest thanks. If you had not helped me this book would not have appeared. Iași, May 21st 2000.One was one of the books I hoped to find in the attic. Titled Everyday topics it was written by my good friend Gheorghe Stan, Head of English at Liceul National in Iași when I taught there. Its declared aim was to  provide a larger vocabulary for intermediate and advanced learners of English. I may well have been able to find a copy of this book at a second hand book dealers which abound in the university city of Iași but, not teaching English any more, I wanted only the copy Gheorghe presented to me with its generous inscription. I was delighted to find it.

An ecumenical English course

Picture of A leaflet about thr course showing Students with (then) Archbishop Daniel, with me on his left.

A leaflet about thr course showing Students with (then) Archbishop Daniel, with me on his left.

Another ‘gem’ was a complete English course I wrote for an ecumenical project set up by the then Archbishop Daniel, now Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church. The students came from many different east European countries. Mostly beginners, the idea of the course was to enable them to describe their church, both in a spiritual and a physical sense, in English, quite a tall order as they came only with their own languages (or some also with Russian) – Albanian, Armenian, Bulgarian, Czech, Estonian, Kazahkstani, Kyrgystani, Latvian, Russian, Slovakian, Ukrainian and, of course, Romanian – from many different backgrounds and several different churches. It was a wonderful few weeks with many social events between lessons.

I had taught on a similar course two years previously but in 2003 I was course director and wrote all the lessons, so finding them (around 50 overhead projection transparencies) was particularly interesting.

Love letters and all

A final collection of ‘gems’ was cards, photos and letters to Petronela from the beginning of our relationship, including the first ever letter I wrote to her, before our relationship began.

Well worth choking on the dust of so many years of hibernation!

The ‘structure of a fairy tale’ as drawn in my notebook and copied from that to blackbosrd.

The ‘structure of a fairy tale’ as drawn in my notebook and copied from that to blackbosrd.

Looking for misplaced documents for our forthcoming drive to Romania (mostly proof I had paid a speeding fine last summer in case stopped at the border) I was really excited to discover the tattered remains of a notebook from my earliest time in Romania in 1993/94.

Not only did I not know I had it, I don’t remember keeping any kind of diary but there it is, a daily handwritten journal of my first two months in Romania, from early March to late April 1993. Unfortunately I did not record my first three days, but I remember some experiences of those few days very well: snow inside the train; breathing stopped by climbing out into -22degC; meeting with the Zaharia family with which I was to spend 6 wonderful months; a walk to the Ukrainian border from which I was escorted the 7km back to the town of Siret, having taken a ‘forbidden’ photograph’, by two armed (but friendly) border guards.

Teaching English

The journal stops abruptly on 27th April but the handwritten pages jump to November 1993 by which time I was teaching English and, more excitement, records working with some classes VI (12-13 year olds) at school no.1 in Suceava, to write a ‘21st century fairy tale’ for a competition in a British magazine.

Rambunctious

Recently I posted on this blog about discovering a new word, rambunctious.

https://wp.me/pkm0h-1Kt

and suggested this as a theme for the meeting of our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe, on 7 July. My contribution was not a fiction but a true story, about teaching the classes VI. Here’s part of what I said:

… …

As I say often, ‘now for something completely different’. The only link to the word ‘Rambunctious’ is that had I known it then I would certainly have applied it to class VIa at School Number 1 in Suceava, Romania, which I taught for a while in 1993/1994.

Here’s the story class VIa submitted though eventually the story they wrote had to be edited down to 500 words for the competition.

A 21st century fairy tale

A poster made with the ‘21st century fairy story’ created by the four class VI

A poster made with the ‘21st century fairy story’ created by the four class VI

Once upon a time there was a handsome young man called Mihai. Although he was only 22 years old Mihai was a very clever computer programmer and he worked in a radar station near to his home near to his home town of Putna, in northern Romania.

One day he saw a strange object on his radar screen. It seemed to come from nowhere and land deep in a forest nearby. Mihai went to investigate.

When he came to the spot he saw not an aircraft or spaceship but a strange machine which was surrounded by bright beams of light. Mihai knew they were laser beams. But his attention was captured by a very beautiful young girl who was standing completely still, also surrounded by laser beams.

Are you alright?” asked Mihai.

Yes, but I cannot move at all,” said the girl. “I am Irina. I was walking in the forest when suddenly the machine you see there appeared. A terrible man got out of it. He said his name was Zod. He said he lived at the end of the 21st century but he had seen me on his time scanner and wanted my beauty for himself for ever. He came to our time in that machine; it’s a time machine but something happened and he cannot go back. So he has trapped me here and looks at me every day. The laser rays will kill anything which tries to take me or enter the time machine.”

As Irina spoke, Mihai knew he had fallen in love with her and must rescue her.

I will come back for you,” said Mihai.

He returned in his latest invention, a large transparent globe which could fly, powered by light could transport him as energy to another place, and could deflect laser beams.

However, Zod’s protection was not just the laser beams. He had powerful robots which could transform themselves into anything they chose. When they saw Mihai’s globe they immediately changed to a black slime and coated the globe. Without light the globe was powerless. 

Thinking that Mihai was dead inside it, Zod ordered it to be thrown in the forest. It lay there for days and Mihai was almost dead when along came a bear.

He smelt the globe. It smelled sweet. He licked the black substance. It was sweet – like honey. Soon he had licked it all off.

Light entered the globe and soon it was active again. Mihai returned to the time machine and beamed himself into Zod’s machine.

Zod was a big, powerful creature but, thought Mihai, the bigger the better. I will transform into energy then transport him far away but not materialise him.

This he did. The giant burst of energy burned out all the circuits of the time machine, the lasers were destroyed and Irina was free.

Will you marry me?” asked Mihai.

Of course,” said Irina.

They returned to Putna where their families arranged a big feast.

Mihai and Irina were married and they all lived happily ever after.

THE END

Rambunctious

As I said, if they were excited to produce the story they were beyond control when they learned they had won a prize. We might say they were absolutely …

… rambunctious!

However, in my notebook, I had also written a letter to the editor of the magazine running the competition, before typing. Here’s an extract:

Letter to the editor

What is remarkable is that at the time they had been learning English for only two years – with me only a couple of months.

First each class was given the structure of a fairy story (see my sketch which I had recorded in my notebook) which was copied onto the blackboard (no computers then, so chalk on a real blackboard).

… the class was divided into groups of four and each group wrote their own story then read it (to the whole class). This was followed by a discussion during which I tried to suggest some improvements in the plots to get closer to a fairy story (the boys particularly tended to produce ‘Star Wars’ type science fiction tales).

At the following lesson I held a ‘workshop’ when again the structure of a fairy tale was explained and the vocabulary of the structure relearned. The outline plot and characters were defined.

The children were so keen they asked to come to school on a Saturday morning to produce the final entry. Again this was organised as a ‘workshop’, one pupil writing out the story as it was developed using many of the best ideas from the various groups.

Finally, after typing, a further lesson was used to give the opportunity to recognise and if possible correct any mistakes in English. Any mistakes they could not correct themselves have been left in the final entry.

The story production sequence has been of enormous benefit. Their already high motivation has been even further increased. They have considerably extended their vocabulary and they have had to explore different grammatical structures to reduce the number of words (to meet the competition criteria of 500 words).

RL

There’s more on teaching classes VI at school no.1

Allstars members, all from relatively disadvantaged backgrounds themselves, gained many things from their involvement in the internet projects; the confidence to present their work to an audience of adults was one. Here am Allstar/Leo presents to an annual conference of Lions Clubs

Allstars members, all from relatively disadvantaged backgrounds themselves, gained many things from their involvement in the internet projects; the confidence to present their work to an audience of adults was one. Here an Allstar/Leo presents to an annual conference of Lions Clubs

I have many fond memories from my time – 11.1/2 years – in Romania but none more fond than my time ‘teaching English’ to a class in an industrial high school in an industrial area of the city of Suceava, an area therefore depressed after the destruction of industry following the collapse of Communism.

A few days ago someone from this class contacted me, see below. I cannot begin to write how exciting this is but I just had to blog about it.

Not the Mafia

The story behind moving to Suceava to teach was all due to my misunderstanding of a Romanian word – ‘Marfă’. I began in a ‘top’ high school, Liceul Ștefan cel Mare, when my intended 6 months stay working in a voluntary humanitarian project in nearby Siret ended. How this happened has been documented on this blog in the past. However when I suggested I wanted to teach less advantaged students there was considerable opposition from the authorities. The overall view was ‘why bother with them, you’re wasting your time, concentrate on the best schools and the brightest students’, an attitude I met in Romania many times then, to the point of causing me many personal problems at the time. Foreigners could then be given a hard time. That is changed now and followers of this blog will know I have spent substantial periods in Romania most years since I left in 2004 and have many friends there.

However, the problems were a contributing factor in my moving to Iași, where I then taught in an ‘industrial high school’ and a couple of ‘top’ schools.

A different way of ‘teaching English’

I didn’t ‘teach English’ in a conventional way; I tried to do it in a way from which my students would not only learn some English, enthusiastically, but build confidence to believe they could achieve anything they wished. This was by involving them in projects with classes in English-speaking countries, UK and Canada if I remember correctly, and subsequently helping them to get involved in volunteering, leading eventually to formation of the third Leo Club in Romania. The projects were on email, beginning with one donated ‘obsolete’ IBM laptop. No Windows – everything was done with MsDos; does anyone remember that? Eventually the class involved in the email projects called themselves the ‘Allstars‘ and went on to form what was the third Leo club in Romania and probably among those with the youngest membership anywhere – the Suceava Burdujeni Leos were then 12-14 years old. Late teens early twenties is more usual.

A ‘Messenger’ request answered

A few days ago I had a request on Messenger from Anca … (the family name I did not recognise). Usually I ignore such requests (my dislike of Facebook except in small closed groups has been well documented) but for some reason I opened the message and was delighted to see it was from my former student in the industrial high school mentioned above. The class have a Facebook closed group and Anca posted that she had ‘found’ me and asked if anyone else from that class remembered me.

What happened as a result was humbling. The general response was “How can we possibly forget?” accompanied in some cases by thanks to me for what they had achieved since, eg a lawyer, an IT specialist, an English teacher, even a tattoo artist! (I didn’t tattoo them, honest!). One was particularly amazing; she said that only a day or so previously she had been teaching her daughter a limerick I wrote for her almost a quarter of a century ago. I didn’t remember it but she had and sent it to me. I remember all the names though I knew them only by their given names (I’ve generally not put them in the photograph captions).

Last year during a short visit to Suceava I did try to find some of these former students but without success. In a way not surprising as I’ve now learnt that many of them are now in other parts of Romania and it’s quite likely some have moved abroad – so many Romanians have. Now I’m hoping that my health will allow me at least one more visit to Romania, when I’ll do my best to meet as many as possible of them in person. Meanwhile, somewhere I have the documentation for the Leo club and will try to find it, together with more of the photographs taken during activities of this wonderful group of youngsters.

“What’s with the ‘mafia’ in that factory?”, I asked my companion. Or, rather, what I actually said was “Ce este cu ‘mafia’ la fabrica asta?”, necessarily exercising my newly-acquired broken Romanian in my first few months as a volunteer in Romania. This was May 1993.

My companion in the train compartment was my landlady, who had kindly accompanied me on a train journey from Siret, in the far north of Romania, to Focsani, 300 kilometres south, to what I had been told was “The best factory for BCA building blocks in Romania”. We were now on the return journey.

Raluca, Alina and Ramona, l to r, with Ancuta behind. Four of the 'Bunnies', my delightful special needs class from School no.11, Suceava, in 1994. They are wearing T-shirts from a special needs school in Pensacola, Florida, with which the Bunnies did an email project (despite the headmaster's attitude which was that I was wasting my time trying to do such a thing with them. He had to eat his words, but more of that in a future post about the delights of teaching English in Romania.

Raluca, Alina and Ramona, l to r, with Ancuta behind. Four of the ‘Bunnies’, my delightful special needs class from School no.11, Suceava, in 1994. They are wearing dandelion coronets we made on the day, and T-shirts from a special needs school in Pensacola, Florida, with which the Bunnies did an email project (despite the headmaster’s attitude which was that I was wasting my time trying to do such a thing with them. He had to eat his words, but more of that in a future post about the delights of teaching English in Romania).

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