The market, Salonica

The market, Salonica
The market, Salonica

Sunday, 28 December 2014

A girl called Gherkin

“The daughter’s name is Gherkin.” 

That’s what I thought they said.  The tuition agency was offering me a job.  The girl's name was Gurkiran, but it came out pickled cucumber on the phone.  

Teachers get things wrong.  A Year 6 class was doing some work on London landmarks.  The Tower of London, Big Ben, the usual monuments.  The Gherkin was also on the list.  Again, not the real name.  If you don’t know this building, the nickname gives some clues about its shape and colour, although the classic vegetable won’t stand up on its end.

The regular teacher, another classic vegetable, had been joking about the Gherkin with her class.  It was obvious from the notes on the board.  They’d had a brainstorming session.  The names of certain monuments were there, in random places.  Each name was in a box shaped like a potato, with little lines sticking out like toothpicks, and words or phrases which the children had supplied.  There was nothing negative until it came to Gherkin, which had things like ‘silly’ and ‘awful’ labelled on it.

The Tower of London is not very funny.  Someone might think it was, but they’d keep it to themselves.  The Gherkin is different.  It hasn’t been around so long.  It must be a silly building because it’s got a silly name.  So much for new perspectives in architecture.  

Words, like buildings, come in and out of fashion.  We no longer have brainstorms, do we, or spider diagrams?   We have the mind map.  It's meant to be inspiring, or at least not so scary.  I said ‘meant to be.’  You wouldn’t want a map of what’s in my head.  We can’t stop our thoughts, but we can clean up what we say.  You know the examples.  People are enabled now, not disabled, let alone crippled. 

The words are new, but the ideas aren’t.  Children still do their brainstorms like clouds, with little lines that stick out round the edge.  One class was doing the London Blitz.  I was monitoring their work, peering over shoulders in my irritating way.

The session was almost finished.  One boy had only done the outline of his cloud.  He hadn’t even written The Blitz inside.  It was on white paper.  The cloud was horizontal, plump and fluffy, too fluffy, even for a child's cloud.  In a pleasant voice,  I said it looked like a sheep.  Then, as there were no lines poking out, I said it looked like a legless sheep, and pressed home quickly with: “You’ve drawn a disabled sheep!”

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