The market, Salonica

The market, Salonica
The market, Salonica

Monday, 8 August 2016

Intellectual naughtiness

Mummy says that Kirin doesn’t listen. He doesn’t concentrate. She’s told us more than once. We need reminding.

“He’s better than he used to be,” she said, at the end of one lesson. I looked at her. She was being positive. “He wasn’t happy with his teacher at school. She used to shout at him. He didn’t want to go to school at all. He wouldn’t get up in the morning. I was desperate. That’s when I rang your agency.”

I thought: She must be very pleased with me. I’ve saved her son’s education. She just can’t say so directly. Nice and impersonal – that’s how Mummy likes it. She mentioned the 11+ exam. She wanted me to start preparing Kirin. Now that he’d agreed to be educated, this boy in Year 3, she was planning out his life in secondary school.

“The 11+ doesn’t follow the school syllabus,” I said. “It’s much harder.”

It’s also for ten or eleven-year-olds. Kirin is only eight. I told her the books to buy, for ages 8-9. She said she’d order them on the internet. Next week, when I came in, a parcel of books was on the table, waiting. She opened it in front of me.

“I don’t know if they’re the right ones,” she said, a touch indifferently.

They weren’t the right ones. They were for ages 10-11. It was written clearly on the cover. I wondered if she’d done it on purpose, or simply not concentrated. Either way, Mummy hadn’t listened. I wanted to tell her; I wanted to very badly, but I didn’t. Certainly, no one shouted at her.

Mummy worked it out a long time ago, the power of books: the more Kirin read, and the harder they were, the more intelligent he would be. She bought a whole series of paperbacks with pastel-shaded covers. He showed them to me quite proudly. He claimed he was reading them, and had finished the yellow one already. It looked unopened. I think he was just fond of the colour. I picked it up.

            “You say you’ve read it. What’s the seventh word on page ten?”

“That’s not fair!”

He began fiddling, and asked the time.

“You can’t wait to get rid of me?”

“I want you to go, and I don’t.”

Mummy also bought some mental tests, designed for year 6. We’re working through them. Each test has twenty questions. Kirin gets the first fifteen right, then starts to make mistakes; he puts his head on the table, and rubs his eyes.

“You weren’t really listening,” I said, in one test.

“I was. I just misheard.”

“Most teachers call that not listening.”

He reached for another book.

“That’s odd,” I said. “When boys fiddle in my lesson, it’s usually with a car or a ball, not a book. Your naughtiness is intellectual.”

He was doing Ancient Egypt at school. Mummy had bought two encyclopaedias and a pile of books on the subject. He’d reached for one of these, about King Tut, the nine-year-old who executed adults. The boy-king had twelve tutors, wise men with long beards and white robes. He could throw them to the crocodiles whenever he liked (there was a tank beside the temple), so he often had fewer than twelve.

“Just think of it,” I said, “a tank of crocodiles in your back garden.”

Kirin looked out through the window.

“How long have we got now?”

I was sick of that question.

“Fifteen minutes,” I said. “Yay!” adding a couple of fist pumps with my right arm. His face clouded over, but it takes more than that to make him cry.