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Summer Camp And Swine Flu

by billroby 

Posted: 02 March 2011
Word Count: 1168
Summary: An actual account of a teaching contract I had a couple of years ago in the South of England.

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Summer Camp and Swine Flu.

By Bill Roby.

Camp begins with a swarm of children like the lost tribe of Israel trying to cross the Dead sea and safely get a room for the night.

Screams and high-jinks are only to be expected for the first night of summer camp but if you’re really unlucky, as I was, the voices can make you feel as if you’ve stumbled across the set of a remake of H.G.Wells’ ‘The Island of Doctor Moreau.’

One student has suspected swine flu and straight away the course head calls for a meeting of all staff and students — presumably omitting to consider that a sudden concentration of warm bodies is just what the swine flu is looking for. However… steady the Light Brigade... ours is not to reason why, and all that...

The result of this meeting is that two days on and five students have gone down with suspected Swine Flu. They were feeling perfectly healthy the previous day (before the meeting) but now feel that they might be manifesting first symptoms. No problem, and a second meeting is called. The virus must now be thinking all its birthdays have rolled into one.

Students are informed that medical advice has been sought and that if they feel they have the symptons of swine flu they should take ‘panadol’ not ‘tamyflu’- which apparently has much the same effect anyway. (It is later whispered that this is more of a break-and-mend approach, getting the students home so that the problem can be exported — isn’t the EU a wonderful thing!)

Students temporarily forget about the horrors of the all-pervasive Swine Flu with the promise of a shopping trip to London, planned with one difference — no shopping. It is being sold to them as a chance to look at the shops, though as the coach swishes past giving the broad sweep of all that students are missing, it is never explained to them that a 'look' is all they’re getting.

After this outing word gets out around the campus - a kind of benign version of Colditz - that a small break-away party of students nearly made it to Oxford Street, a quick dash away over the nightmare of the underground, and they would have been there, oniy they were thwarted by the logistics of having to purchase the right tickets for the right amount, at the right machines, and using the right money - sometimes I think it is odd in England that we drive on the left!

As a result students’ heavy, sun-browned faces - not from England of course but the countries they are coming from — pier into unwelcomed British fayre over at the campus canteen, where the unfair English meal times are also coming in for a battering, just like the crispy cod, which it was hoped would be received as a shining example of Albion cuisine - only it isn’t.

Outside, and in the nearby village that overnight has acquired a ‘je ne sais qua’ of Continental France, bored-looking students peruse the shop windows, perhaps looking forlornly for a wayward waffle, but not finding one. Yet good news for the manager of the village’s only sit-in! take-away pizza restaurant, who can’t believe his luck and who is doing a roaring trade, while the village’s two rival fish and chip shops think the Cod war is still on. The pizza place ( perhaps they should rename it ‘Pizza Plaice’ to irritate the competition?) is filled to capacity with many relieved-looking students, who don’t consider themselves to be the Continental equivalents of the British bacon-and-eggs-in-Tenerife brigade, though clearly they are.

Meanwhile, around the many fields of the campus students are being familiarised with the many diverse forms of this English Sporting Life - which wouldn’t be so bad if they weren’t forced to practice it.
One young Russian girl takes so enthusiastically to a game of tennis she hobbles about the court despite having sprained her ankle the previous day — a visual representation of ‘no pain, no gain.’ Further up the courts Un, tall and blonde, is enjoying great popularity with the girls though unbeknown to himself he is really playing a nasty trick on them - a fact which becomes evident when a few days later he is confirmed as having Swine Flu.

The Malfoy of the summer camp has yet to be revealed, unless the murmerings of the teachers are to be heeded which - summer camp being summer camp - generally they aren’t. A tail with the acumen of Arthur Daly should be placed on this boy, a sly-looking sixteen year old, only,sadly, one isn’t. Consequently nobody should be surprised when it is discovered that some student has hammered nails into the college beds, only they are. Malfoy is also identified as the cause of two fire extinguishers going off, not to mention something unmentionable spread around the college’s unmentionables.

Master Malfoy is flying back home early at his parents’ expense, it is a sort of exotic expulsion, which no doubt adds to his street cred in the gangster-ridden streets of wherever it is he comes from - even if it takes away from his father’s credit card.

As the summer camp nears a close students are kept from feeling homesick by impromptu granmiar exercises. Ostensibly this is for bad behaviour, but the cynical side of me feels that it’s because they’ve been around too long.

By the time of departure the atmosphere is almost combustible, which if the banquished student were still around it probably would be. E-mails are sobbingly exchanged and ipods examined for the long flight back. Despite everything I’m sorry to see them go, even Pepe, the chirpy Spanish student who said he wanted to be a ‘special astronaut.’

‘Oh, a special astronaut,’ I say. ‘How lovely.’

‘No, a spacial astronaut,’ he corrects me - students!

I even try to wangle a further two weeks work. Apparently this is tricky and involves speaking to someone called ‘Ruben.’ I duly get hold of Ruben’s mobile phone number and skulk off campus to give him a call ( as though calling on campus will somehow lessen my chances!)

‘I might be able to give you work,’ he says distantly. He sounds distrustful and mysterious, certainly non-commital. I find myself wondering where he’s located — Timbuktu?

I wait a day, by which time he tells me I’ll know if he’s interested. Sounds like a fobb to me, and so it proves to be.

I only get to realise this when I am having a farewell meal in the campus canteen with the other teachers and managers from the organisation, all of whom I know by face if not to speak to. A voice pipes up beside me which I immediately recognise — Ruben! Talk about farse! I am almost tempted to renew my request for extended work, only this time prefixing it with the phrase: - ‘listen very carefully, I shall say this only once.’

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