The first of September.
A not inconsequential date, or at least it had not been so in the past.
Even as recently as just a year ago, I would have been industriously finalising the details of the programme for the upcoming lectures and the timetable for the academic year that lay ahead. Oftentimes this would entail my managing those inevitable last-minute crises that somehow cannot be avoided, and generally doing so with such style and elan that, in all but the most exceptional of cases, it had become a rather routine and pedestrian matter for me, rarely involving more than a moment's reflection before I was able to deploy the correct solution. Though I was not the head of the department – Heavens forfend! – my skills of habit and experience were such that, in return for my unofficial assistance, I was indulged with a small degree of flexibility in the performance of my departmental duties, the consequence of which was an enhanced ability to attend more seminars than most, representing my department and my university with greater frequency than did my colleagues.
Not so, this year.
I was, rather, still at home, it was just after 11am, breakfast had been concluded, chores attended to, and I was smoking my first pipe of the day, browsing my bookshelves but somehow managing to see my books without any of them commanding sufficient of my attention to cause me to draw one down and begin reading.
First the jar of organic sun-dried tomatoes in extra virgin olive oil, and now this.
Once more I found myself reflecting and questioning the notion that this was what my retirement was becoming, thankful in no small part to the early warning that Trudi and Eleska had given me of the dangers and the pitfalls that I might face if I were to allow such lassitude to endure. As they had so keenly observed, some part of my self-identity came from the performance of the role of the tutor. Though it was possible that I might have been unconscious of this myself, it was perhaps more true to say that having spent so much of my time in the world of teaching, I therefore no longer noticed that world beyond unless my attention were specifically directed toward it.
Either way, it was undeniable that part of my self-identity was drawn from being a teacher, that I had been in danger of suffering psychiatric harm from no longer being a teacher and having my tutorial identity taken from me rather than by my own consent, and that I needed, at least for the present, to continue to teach in some capacity or another. That I had Trudi, probably Eleska, and quite probably Jemma too was more than enough to be considered a good and auspicious beginning, but again and again I kept wondering, were they enough?
Taking purely the issue of the pedagogic needs and my abilities or otherwise to meet those needs, in Trudi I considered that I had come upon a student whom I felt could achieve more than she had hithertofore, the difference between that which she had achieved and that which she might achieve being an issue of sufficiency of tutoring and encouragement. Although Trudi's grades were not in the least respect what I would have characterised as worrisome, there remained that space for improvement, and, from certain of her comments and insights, I had no lack of belief in her ability to fulfil that potential.
Eleska was a different student, not least in that, as a university student in her third year and with the necessity for making decisions as to her specialising for her dissertation, she presented with an altogether and substantially different set of needs to those of Trudi. Moreover, there was the matter of Eleska's self-perceived and perhaps not altogether mistaken belief that she needed to obtain a first if her career were to be what she hoped for, driving her to reach out to me for assistance and, no doubt, equally driving her to achieve her grade goals. Whilst Trudi's scholastic needs were a little unfamiliar to me, Eleska, as a bachelor-level student, had scholastic needs far more reflective of my recent teaching posts and, as such, somewhat easier for me to meet than were Trudi's. In short, though the intellectual disciplines at Eleska's level were higher than Trudi's, Eleska would, I considered, be less of a 'stretch' for me to teach.
With regard to Jemma, in some respects she fell between Trudi and Eleska in that much of her teaching needs would be shared with Trudi, but others, especially her interest in a possible career as a playwright, meant she would be as much of a 'stretch' as Eleska would be, albeit in a different direction.
Wryly I also noted, in passing, that given something of her behaviour that I had seen thus far, she might well share more of Trudi's more 'interesting' characteristics than I might have otherwise imagined.
In considering this, I also came upon the realisation that it was not altogether outwith the realms of possibility that Jemma and Trudi might find ways in which they might 'gang up' on their poor tutor, much as the previous night's MMS pictures had suggested they might be more than amenable to.
Re-directing my thoughts back to the issue of Jemma's parting exchange concerning her interest in becoming a playwright, and possibly an actress too, I had to admit to myself that here I would be on less certain ground. Whilst I had taught literary criticism of plays as texts, I had had much less involvement in those creative aspects of certain and, dare one say it, 'trendy' undergraduate degrees wherein students express themselves in play-form. Thus, were Jemma's expresséd interest to come to fruition, I would discover myself to be engaged in a rather interesting diversion from my usual scholastic pedagogic endeavours.
Summarising for myself: in Trudi I had a straightforward case of tutoring a teenager through her pre-university studies and exams; in Jemma, there was a certain overlap with Trudi's studies, but with the novel addition of all things relating to being a playwright; and, in Eleska, there was more of the same insofar as undergraduate tutoring was concerned.
Was this, I asked myself, enough?
There were, after all, seven days in the week, Trudi took Thursday afternoons, Jemma would presumably take another, and Eleska might need one more, or even, perhaps, one evening per week.
This left a lot of time for me and my pipe, my books and premature senility.
Unconsciously, I shook my head.
I would need to find at least one or two others to fill my weeks, but where might I find what I recognised to be my hubristic notion of what I considered to be suitable students for a tutor of my standing? I had, after all, been more than fortunate in happening upon Trudi, and Eleska, and the potential Jemma, too; but I could not rely upon good fortune to round out my diary.
No, I must, rather, seek some more directed manner of acquiring one or two more students.
Briefly I pondered the possibility of asking Trudi if she had other classmates whom she thought might be interested in such a proposition, but then I remembered both her slight jealousy at being my only student (notwithstanding it was she who had talked to and suggested Jemma) and also that Trudi claimed she was not so popular at school and so would be unlikely to have sufficient classmates to whom she was close enough to venture such a proposition.
That route, then, was closed.
As too, I realised, was the idea of posting some kind of advertisement at my alma mater, it being rather too close to suggesting that I felt that the present tutors were not up to the task of teaching their students. Some of them, of course, were not, but the majority were, and it would not look well or be well taken to make such an overt announcement of my opinion, mistakenly as may or may not be the case.
Might I, then, post an advert online somewhere, perhaps on noticeboards such as Gumtree? Whilst conceptually such a move was certainly possible, and no doubt within my limited technical abilities, I had heard sufficient horror stories of the kinds of persons who replied to such adverts from my colleagues and even, on occasion, from my students, that I felt this was not a move I was comfortable to make.
Frustratingly, I discovered my mental peregrination had sufficed only to lead me back to the position from which I had begun, namely that I would most certainly benefit and enjoy the acquisition of one or two more students, but I remained bereft of any real and reliable means of acquiring same.
There being nothing else for it, I packed my pipe with a bowl of Condor green, lit it, and went out into the garden to tend to the lawn and its borders.
It was not until the clock had gained 3pm that Friday afternoon, and having done my duty by way of the garden, showered, and lunched lately and lightly, that I checked my phone and saw that I had missed a call from an 'unknown number'. For a moment I considered dismissing it as I usually dismissed such things, rationalising my potentially-construed rudeness that if it were important, then that person whose call I had missed would call back. If it were not sufficiently important for them to call back, I therefore remained convinced that I was all the better for not speaking to them in the first place.
However, this chain of reasoning was interrupted with the remembrance that Jemma had said she would speak to her parents concerning the possibility of me tutoring her. Knowing something of the impatience and impetuosity of youth, I conjectured that the missed call might thus have been from a prospective employer and it is never, really, worth annoying persons of such a stripe.
.... There is more of this story ...