|Quiet before/after the storm: A morning stroll around Veerhaven, Rotterdam.|
The clock is ticking. The airport transfer bus is clearly not going to arrive. The students are beginning to suspect that something is amiss. What do you do? You call the first four taxis you can… so what if one of them is a six-door funeral limousine.
It is Sunday 16th February and we’re racing to Amsterdam Schipol, spread across four cars, all for €150 a go. It was just last night that I was considering how well we’d done to come in nearly €600 under budget for the trip.
The previous evening, in my efforts to ensure that the students who hadn’t broken curfew were rewarded for their good behaviour, I not only allowed them to go all out on food, but took some of them on the water taxi across the Nieuwe Maas.
The Kop van Zuid being as quiet as it is on a Sunday night and as self-contained as it is, meant that it was perfect for a post-dinner evening stroll, admiring the multitudinous lights reflecting on the calm surface of the Rijnhaven. For every drop of silence, the students were more than able to make up for it in volume.
Pia, dreading the prospect of the walk back from the opposite bank of the river, has retired to bed, evidently still traumatised by the alleged drunken passenger experience on the rail replacement bus earlier in Gouda.
As we finish walking past the wine bars, the four students, none of whom have ever drank alcohol, stare in through the large glass windows, puzzled by the attraction of spending your time and money on such things. I don’t really offer much by way of explantion, and leave them to their own musings on the subject.
When we reach the small riverside area opposite Wilheminaplein tram stop, the students stop to take pictures. Out of nowhere, a woman declaring herself to be a half-Dutch and half-Italian artist stops and asks to take our picture. Curiously she also starts talking about eggs, before getting rather stroppy when the request for a photograph is politely declined by the students.
Following her surly departure, the students, with the exception of the Dutch-Somali girl, moan all of the way over Erasmusbrug, declaring that they thought I was going to allow our artist friend to abduct them and hold them hostage. Such active imaginations.
We arrive back to the hostel to discover that World War III has broken out between The Couple and The Twins. It is clear that sometimes on school trips, three days is the limit that most students can tolerate each other for. After wading my way through the expletive-laden prelude to the story, I am still really none the wiser about the cause of the strife. With everyone awake, except for the miraculous sleeping Georgian girl and Pia, there is a risk that everyone will get involved and wind the situation up.
There is clearly only one thing for it: the guitar.
After about an hour, in which most of the belligerents and their allies have had their truth and reconciliation discussion in the privacy of one of the dorms, with both parties agreeing to disagree, but also to shut up and give everyone a bit of peace, the majority of the students congregate in the communal kitchen.
The Nigerian boy brings down his laptop to look up guitar chords and lyrics. Others make tea. Some are in PJs and others looking like they’re heading out clubbing. In no time at all the group are singing, shouting and forgetting any of the issues from earlier.
From time to time other guests from the hostel come and marvel at the sight of this diverse group of youngsters singing like there’s no tomorrow, all drunk on nothing more than herbal tea and Chocomel. Some guests join in and others make a cheese sandwich and make for the exit pretty sharpish.
Punctuating the singing with funny stories and reflections of the past few days, the time runs quickly by. The teacher in me decides that at 4am the party needs to be broken up, although the teenager within has been happy to let the students have their fun.
The next morning, Sunday morning, there is a very slow start to the day. Unaware of the panicked dash for the airport that is yet to come later this afternoon, I wander around Veerhaven before breakfast.
As one by one the students trickle down the stairs and into the common room, something hits me – and it’s not Pia for a change.
Even though I’ve not filled in any application forms as yet, I know that in my heart of hearts I won’t be these students’ teacher next year. Some will have left to start University, but I am sure that I will have left as well.
The only question is whether I’ll still be Hammersmith and Fulham, or whether I will have moved to a school in East London. One thing that is definite though is that, for now, from hijabis gone wild to Julian's dancing, Jas' late night arrival and Pia's fictional acrobatics, one of the most enjoyable chapters of my career so far has come to an end.