Just for a change, this morning I did leap out of bed – and before the alarm went off – which is almost unheard of. I had packed everything the night before so I had time for a quick peek at the news on-line before breakfast. Even CNN had given up the ghost on the TV, so my only available channel was a Korean documentary, about a very hardworking family, followed by a Korean soap-opera.
This morning we visited the kindergarten in Abraham. It is a narrow, low, four-roomed building, built by parents in the 1970s. It has two classes of about 23 children, one for those from the age of 2 and one for those in their final year before going up to school. The kindergarten day starts at some ungodly hour like 6.30am so it is quite a long one, and for this reason each class has a sleeping room (with miniature beds) attached to the main classroom. There is also a good outdoor play space, a very well equipped kitchen (it had the most enormous floor-standing food mixer I have ever seen – seriously, there are smaller concrete mixers in use on building sites), an office and the cloakroom.
But what struck me most is how like our own pre-school it is. The school proper is quite different; but the kindergarten has Finding Nemo wallpaper, and numbers and colours up on the walls, and paper pumpkins with wobbly faces on display. And I’m fairly certain we have the same car-mat at home, and I remember my children playing with the tap-tap sets at pre-school, and there was duplo and a plastic kitchen and … just everything, really.
The children were of course intrigued by these visitors. The younger class were doing some musical dancing activity when we all peered in at the window, and it didn’t take much encouragement from us for them to start surreptitiously waving hello. The older class were outside and they all stood up and chorused ‘Dobry den’ and then ‘Hallo’, while we stood there like loons thinking how sweet they all looked (even though we all have enough experience of children to know for certain that this is unlikely in fact to be the case). But really, little children are the same the world over. I wonder what it is that we do to them.
After our visit to the kindergarten we were marched fairly briskly to the village hall for a concert by the school. As each class was representing a different Comenius partner country, and as all the introductions were in two languages, this struck me from the outset as being like a small-scale version of the Eurovision song contest. So throughout the show, at the back of my mind, I was trying to work out where to allocate the douze points. We even had, in between the class performances, ‘proper’ dancers from the Czech partner school (which again is quite Eurovision-y). You could tell they go to a performing arts college, not only from their matching costumes and beautiful hair-dos, but also from their grace, co-ordination and confidence.
I made an interesting discovery during the show. Even though I couldn’t understand a word the children were saying or singing (except for the Great Britain song), and even though my own children weren’t in it, I still found myself getting terribly emotional about it all. It’s the joy and the endeavour that’s there in front of me, it just sets me off. This is probably why I then switch into critical and cynical mode. It’s a coping mechanism.
Class one, the little ones, represented Slovakia. They recited a poem, and then had a little question-and-answer session (the teacher asked the question, and the children chorused ‘Bratislava’ etc). They finished with a skipping and waving sort of dance.
Class two performed two ‘beautiful Hungarian songs’. Although at first the two soloists appeared to have been chosen for their fluency in Hungarian rather than their musical ability, the tune did start to emerge and they deserved their big round of applause at the end.
Classes three and four combined to represent Czech Republic. There was some singing, followed by a beautiful bit of piano playing (douze points contender, it was short but accurate), and then some traditional dancing. During the dancing one boy, dressed mostly in black but wearing a newspaper hat, walked around the edge. We were wondering who he was supposed to be, when the dancing stopped, and he became the teacher asking the pupils questions about the Czech Republic. So, we are looking forward to seeing the newspaper hats the teachers will be wearing in Czech Republic.
Class five represented Poland by dancing to a song which, we were reliably informed, translates as ‘Teddy Bear made of rubber’. It turned out to be modern technopop, and the three children were basically dancing the macarena. This act definitely got douze points from the crowd.
Class six represented Portugal. They lined up and sang, quite dully, what may have been the Portuguese national anthem, and we were all a bit disappointed. Then their teacher (the drummer from the rock band) switched on ‘We will rock you’ at full blast (I may not have mentioned it, but he was wearing a Queen T-shirt on Sunday) – and they became football supporters (you remember – he’s a big Man U fan too). To ‘We are the Champions’ there was a penalty kick and then a trophy. My knowledge of European football is unfortunately not sufficiently adequate to let me speculate on what exactly was going on here, but I don’t think it mattered – they enjoyed it, we enjoyed it, and their class teacher got to play Queen and do football.
Class three came back in the form of one individual to represent Turkey. On our first visit to the school, our Turkish delegate had noticed Jasmine (from Disney’s Aladdin) in the display, and wondered why it was there (Aladdin having absolutely no connection to Turkey). Now, a small girl in an orange turban, miming playing a recorder to a tape of generic ‘Eastern’ music, did a snake-charmer act. This had no connection with Turkey and, as a result, nearly caused an international incident.
We were still peeling the cellophane off our ‘Turkish honey’ (nougat), having discovered that the cellophane makes it harder to eat, when class seven came on to represent England. They sang a song straight from Cbeebies, to the tune of ‘Dem bones dem bones’, but describing a town: ‘The doctors is next to the, police station; the hospital is next to the, library’ and so on, with a chorus of ‘Welcome to our town’. All sung in English and quite jolly. But not a douze-pointer.
Class eight were Italy, and we knew this as soon as they came on stage and lined up, because three wore red T-shirts, three white, and three green, so they made the Italian flag, see? It was very effective. They did a dance which was apparently the tarantella, and enjoyed it. With only nine in the class, the very smallest and the very tallest (who happened to be next to each other ) were very obvious; I suppose in a larger class there would be more of a spread of heights separating them.
And then … Class nine. Much cheering from the back, where all but one member of class nine still stood. But Adam was there on the stage, representing Spain, by drumming along to ‘Spain World Cup 2010’. I didn’t expect to recognise this, but it turned out to be the ‘When I get older, I will be stronger’ song that was all over the place that summer (look, I didn’t know, OK?). Only, the drumming was VERY VERY LOUD. It was very good, but ear-splittingly loud. This act was clearly the people’s choice, and a small group of boys was able to share Adam’s glory by being the team that carried the drums on and off.
The Czech dancers had done half a dozen or so dances between the classes, and finished off dressed as sailors dancing to something which sounded rather like ‘What shall we do with the drunken sailor’. This was the end of the show, but not the end of us sitting in the village hall. Oh no. There were speeches. The headteacher introduced Joanna, our Comenius co-ordinator (this was a bit like the head of Euro TV coming on with the trophy at the end of Eurovision). The headteacher’s comments had to be translated into English by Mata. Then Joanna spoke, in English, and Mata translated her comments into Slovakian. The headteacher made a response. Mata translated. Joanna responded back. Mata translated. This went on for some time, in a kind of pass-the-mike game. It was exhausting just to listen to and frankly Mata deserves a pay rise.
Eventually we were all let out into the sun (which was very hot – it was a perfect, cloudless day, just right for spending four hours in a coach). We had an hour of sitting quietly before lunch, which fortunately was not a big festive occasion today, but a more matter-of-fact, food-into-stomachs-before-the-journey exercise. I am getting good at Slovakian food: I was able to accurately predict what the plate would contain, and I ate it all up (it is all very nice but I’m sure I’ve put on about half a stone in the last week).
It was very nearly time to go. We said our farewells to the Polish delegates, who were driving home so that a different team of delegates could do the Czech trip. These farewells involved lots of triple air-kissing; perhaps because of this, the Hungarian delegates slipped away before there could be any fuss, and Nic managed something similar. We said our own farewells to the staff at Abraham – apart of course from those, like Mata, who were coming with us – loaded ourselves and the various students onto the coach, and settled down under the air-conditioning for the long journey to Czech Republic.