It was early evening in late July, a pleasant end to what had been an enjoyable if unremarkable day. Living in Scotland, the light during the summer evenings lasts late into the night – all to do with the northern latitudes – and so, at 9pm, it was still light enough and warm enough for me to be sitting on my favourite bench in the local park, my pipe well packed with my favourite Balkan mix, and my attention being held by a pocket-sized edition of Milton's Paradise Lost.
It was a cliché I knew but as a sometime English tutor, lately taking the advantage of an early retirement, a 'golden goodbye', and some clever investments, I still believed Paradise Lost to be one of the greats of literature, and it was something I never tired of re-reading.
To my mind at least, it was a perfect evening. The temperature was warm enough to have encouraged me to forego my jacket, though never the tie. There was little or no breeze, so I could light my pipe without engaging in mortal combat with Aeolus or his elder brothers and uncles. And, other than for the incessant crying of the seagulls which plague Grangemouth, it was a peaceful evening, not at all spoilt by loud music coming from cars, boisterous children, or any of the other more tiresome intrusions upon my solitude.
The park itself was well maintained, with splashes of colour showing through the gaps in the ornamental hedging. Off in the distance I could see children playing on the swings, chasing footballs, even running after the odd, errant Frisbee, their delighted voices carrying on the breeze.
Indeed, I was so absorbed in Book IX that I gave a small start when, as it seemed out of nowhere, a small dog ran up to me, barking with enthusiasm but, as its wagging tail betrayed, no harmful intent.
"Eighty!" came the admonishing call from my left. Turning, I saw a middle aged woman and a teen-aged girl walking along beside her. Though still some distance away, it was clear that the woman took good care of herself, dressed well, and had not surrendered to early middle age spread. Her daughter was rather more interesting, at least to me, though I made sure not to betray myself.
"Eighty! Come here!" the woman ordered, and the dog dutifully turned around and trotted back to his mistress.
Setting down my book, I watched, still a little nervous of the over-eager dog, as the women drew up to where I was sitting.
Now that they were closer I could see that the woman, the mother I presumed, though plainly dressed in dark trousers and blouse such as would befit walking the dog, had accented these with a necklace of discreet charm, resting a little above where the shadow between her breasts would have begun, were her blouse open another button or two. Her hair was dark, undyed and free of grey, and flowing loosely over her shoulders. Sunglasses obscured her eyes, something which always makes me a little suspect of the wearer, even though the late sun necessitated them, were one not in the shade as I was.
Her daughter was another matter altogether.
She was maybe fourteen or a mature thirteen, not quite as tall as her mother, and slender where her mother was less so. Dressed in blue jeans and white trainers, she wore a t-shirt with a low cut, square neckline underneath an over-sized white blouse. I remember thinking at the time how unusual it was to see a t-shirt worn as the undergarment it began life as, even if expression of this was only half-way there. I also noted the young woman's hair was not as dark as her mother's, and her curls were looser; she too wore it loose and shoulder length. She was smiling pleasantly as they approached.
"Sorry about that," the woman apologised. "He does that to everyone; he's a very loyal dog," she added, I supposed as this explained his defence of his 'pack' by barking at all possible threats, myself included.
I nodded, dismissing the incident with a smile and asking, "Did I hear you call him 'Eighty'?"
The woman smiled sheepishly. "I'm afraid so. When he was a pup, Trudi named him that-"
"-because he was eighty percent poodle and twenty percent golden retriever," the young woman, evidently Trudi, explained, also explaining the dog's colouration and curly hair; a labroodle.
"Well, it's certainly unique," I said in my most complimentary tone.
The girl smiled. "You should have heard the other names I thought of," she giggled. "But mom wouldn't let me call him 'Poo'."
"Quite right," I chuckled before 'mother' had the chance to agree.
"Anyway, sorry he startled you," the mother said.
"That's all right. Just as long as he wasn't objecting to my pipe."
"Oh no, he wouldn't," gushed Trudi, surprising me. "It's kinda cool, in a Sherlock Holmes kinda way."
"Thank you," I said, inclining my head in appreciation. It's the oddest thing, but even people who vehemently object to cigarettes generally have no such issue with pipes. It seems everyone had a grandfather who smoked one, and so I benefit from all those associated feelings of nostalgia.
"Well, sorry again. Trudi, Eighty, come on, we need to get back," the mother said, leading her troupe off along the path out of the park.
I nodded my farewell, and picked up my book once more as the trio headed off, following the path to my left. Much to my surprise I saw, out of the corner of my eye, just as they rounded the corner, Trudi held back, smiled, and waved her hand to me before dashing to catch up with her mother and Eighty.
For a moment I took my pipe and theatrically sniffed at it to ensure my tobacconist hadn't slipped something herbal into my mix.
What was all that about?
The next few days of smoking my pipe in the evenings on the park bench as I read Milton passed peacefully enough. There were the usual salutations from joggers and the elderly, as well as the indifferent silence from the youths.
It was the following Sunday afternoon and I was in my accustomed place, enjoying the warm sunshine and reading the last Book of Paraside Lost, when I heard a familiar barking from my right. Sure enough, I looked up and saw Eighty bounding towards me, this time on an extending lead in the hands of Trudi. For the moment, her mother was nowhere I sight. Seeing me, she waved as she approached; I restrained the urge to wave back.
"Hello Eighty," I said, laying Milton's opus aside once more as Eighty barked his greeting to me, traitorous tail wagging all the time as it gave the lie to his ferocity.
"Hi," said Trudi as she caught up with her canine charge. "Are you always here?"
"I am during the summer," I said, pausing a moment to admire Trudi. She was dressed in a short skirt with stockings underneath – this summer's fashion – with low-heel sandals and yet another low-cut t-shirt which fell forward as she ruffled Eighty's hair, giving me a momentary glimpse of her breasts, still growing but already pleasingly full. Recovering my concentration and looking up to make sure we made eye-contact, I added, "But it's no place to be in the winter."
Trudi smiled as she shook her head. "Tell me about it. Mom and me, we always fight over who's not to take Eighty out then."
I smiled good-naturedly, but said nothing.
Without any kind of warning or preamble, Trudi promptly sat down beside me. "Do you mind?" she asked, not guessing that I didn't mind in the least. "What're you reading?"
"Paradise Lost by the great blind poet, John Milton."
For a moment Trudi looked suitably nonplussed before asking the only question she could in those circumstances. "What's it about?"
I sighed dramatically. "You've not heard of it?" I asked. I knew well enough that such classics are not taught at school nowadays, but I suppose I was hoping that its fame at least endured.
Trudi shook her head.
Alas poor Milton.
I took a moment as I gathered my thoughts, trying to somehow summarise one of the foundational texts of English literature, of world literature, even. "It's a poetic vision of the fall of man, based on the details in the Biblical book of Genesis. Milton wrote of man's expulsion from the Garden of Eden, caused by man's innocent naiveté and Eve's fatefully placed trust. It was also, and this was truly shocking when it was written in the late 1700s, it was the first time that the main protagonist of a work of literature had been an anti-hero. What almost cost Milton his life, truly, was his selection of none other than Satan as his protagonist."
"Sounds ... heavy," Trudi commented, clearly a little embarrassed that her response was as weak as it was.
"Heavy? Yes, I suppose it is, but most of that is because Milton uses linguistic constructions that we've moved away from, and he relies on your knowing what would now be considered a lot of background, not the least of which being, of course, the Book of Genesis. But," I continued, seeing Trudi paling at all of this, "but it's very rewarding too, it has a grandeur that contemporary writers can only dream of, if they dream at all."
Trudi fiddled with Eighty's lead a moment or two, long enough to make me worry I had made her uncomfortable with my erudition. It was a fault of mine but I didn't think it a bad fault in that it kept the less educated, or the less determined, away, and I had no time for either. Thankfully Trudi broke her silence, asking, "You sound like you've read it before."
I nodded. "I have, many times, and taught it too."
"I am an early retiree-"
"But I'm too young?" Trudi nodded, so I continued as I explained, "Thank you. Oh they gave me an emeritus chair, but that doesn't count, at least, not to me. No, as a result of 'departmental restructuring' or paying off the senior and more expensive professors, the choice is yours, but I took early retirement. Prior to that, however, I have been both an English tutor and, until this summer, Professor of English, Dr. Simon Armitage. At your service," I added with a vocal flourish as I gave her a nod of my head.
"Wow. Er, does that mean I should call you Mr. Armitage or Dr. Armitage?"
"Professionally you should probably refer to me as either Mr. Armitage or Professor Armitage, but on a park bench I think Simon will do fine. And you are ... Trudi?"
"Yeah, Trudi. Trudi Maclean."
"Delighted to meet you, Miss Maclean. Or do you prefer Trudi?"
"Indeed," I mocked, though with a smile so no offence was taken. "So, what happened that you lost the fight to walk Eighty?"
"Your mother?" I asked, looking about.
"Oh, she went off to the Highland Show at Ingliston."
"You didn't wish to go?"
Trudi shook her head, rather strongly in my opinion. "Not my thing. Anyway, I'm old enough, nearly fifteen," she said, responding to the unvoiced question, "so I get to stay here and look after Eighty. She'll be back in the morning-"
"-the morning?" I intruded. "It's not that far from here," I insisted, a little confused.
Trudi looked away. "No, but, well, there's this guy she sees, he lives out there..." she trailed away; more twisting of Eighty's lead followed.
Trudi nodded without looking up. "Yeah," she said, rather sadly I thought.
"So you're left here?" I asked, the answer already known, but the question a way of getting Trudi to speak a little more. She had the merest of lisps, almost not there at all really, but charming in its way. Imperfections are simply more interesting, at least I consider them to be so.
Again the nod without looking up. "Thank God!" Trudi suddenly exclaimed. "Last year was, well, I didn't want to go through that again."
"That?" I asked before I noticed Trudi was blushing, and in a rather charming way too. "Ah..." I said as I realised what she probably had to listen to, not something a child of thirteen would find comfortable to listen to. "So ... let's talk about something else then. What about you, Trudi?"
"Me?" she asked, looking sidelong at me.
"Well, clearly farm animals and farm machinery and farmhands are not your 'thing', so what is your thing?"
Trudi shrugged. "I play classical recorder," she confessed, almost as though she didn't want to admit to doing so.
"Really?" I asked, surprised that anyone did that any more.
"Yeah. I've got all my grades, and if I can get some performances, well, I've been told by my teachers I should be able to go to Cambridge on a scholarship. I, I even compose a little."
I bowed my head in salutation. "Trudi, you are a fascinating and surprising young woman," I said, letting Trudi take a moment to savour the compliment before I teased her as I asked, "So, are you planning on having a wild party this evening? Loud music and alcohol and all those other things teen-aged people indulge in so shockingly?"
Trudi herself looked up at me, aghast, shocked even. "No way!" she protested.
"Ah, so a little quiet time with your, er, gentleman?"
"No way!" Trudi repeated, even more emphatic that the first time.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to presume. Your girlfriend then?"
"Huh? What?" Trudi asked, as though only now listening to what I had asked. "Oh, no. No boyfriend. No girlfriend."
"Trudi, are you sure you're a teenager?" I asked, my smile ensuring she knew I was joking with her and not making fun of her.
"No, Simon. No boyfriend. No girlfriend. Nobody."
I shook my head in polite disbelief. "Are you seeking to enter a convent?"
"Huh? Oh! No, nothing like that. I, well I kinda keep to myself," Trudi began. "I get teased a lot at school because of the music, so I don't really spend any time with my schoolmates. They think composing music is weird unless it's for some rock band. How can you make money and get famous? they ask, but I don't want that, I love to play and create and write and..." she said, at first cautious, then excited, then abruptly fading away entirely.
"And ... what?" I ask, confused by Trudi's lapse into silence just at the moment when she was getting so enthusiastic and opening up to me.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't go on about it like that," she apologised.
"Nonsense, of course you should. Trudi, clearly your music is your passion, and I'm sorry, truly sorry that your school friends don't or can't understand and appreciate that. But may I give you a piece of advice, from a retired professor teetering on the autumn of life, to a young woman?" I asked, Trudi blushing once more under the compliment.
"Sure, I guess."
Has no-one paid this young woman compliments? I supposed not. Certainly her reaction to praise said as much. "Trudi, your teenage years should be more fun than that. Your music fulfils you and, God willing, may be your career as well as your happiness, but you need people as well."
"Oh, I enjoy myself, I'm just not the kind of girl who likes 'casual' friendships," she said, air-quotes added appropriately. "Maybe things will change when I get to university," she added, sounding as though she were trying to convince herself of the possibility, or repeating the platitudes of others.
"I imagine they will," I confirmed as I added. "University is as much about learning who you are as studying your subject."
"I guess. It's still three years yet. Anyway, you said you were retired, so what? Do you sit here all day, smoking your pipe and reading your Milton?"
I chuckled. "Me? Oh the usual, you know how it is, Trudi, we English professors never really retire, we keep on reading, sometimes submitting articles to journals, free to follow our obsessions without the distraction of students."
"At the moment, nothing. Nobody reads Milton any more," I said, waving my book for emphasis, "And I really don't care for the postcolonial guff that is obsessing academia at the present, so I read the classics, the pillars and the canon, making vague plans for articles I know I will never write."
I shrug my shoulders. "I wrote them all before, in one form or another, for classes I took, for seminars I chaired, for lectures I gave. Tell me, can you play London's Burning on your recorder?"
"And how often do you play it?"
"Because there's, because there's no challenge!" Trudi realised.
Trudi thought this over for a moment. "I guess that means you don't teach any more either?"
I shook my head.
"Is that why? The same? No challenge?"
"In some ways, Trudi. You see, I've spent the best part of forty years teaching privately, teaching at colleges and teaching at universities all over the world. I've done my duty to the succeeding generations."
"Oh," said Trudi, sadly.
"Er, I was, er, that is, well, you said you tutored privately earlier, and I was going to ask if you would like to tutor me, privately?"
Hiding my inward smile, I asked, though I knew better than to, Trudi having already spoken of getting into Cambridge, "Are your grades that bad?"
"No," Trudi answered, not affronted, but not dismissive either. "But English's the one subject I struggle with. Some of the things we're asked to do, what does it mean, how do we feel, that kind of thing, well, they don't make sense to me. When I learn a new piece of music, it's clear and precise. Oh there's space between the notes for expression, but otherwise, it's clear what is wanted and how to get there. But English? You know what the last essay question was?"
I shook my head, Scottish secondary education not being an interest of mine beyond the common complaint of all university professors that schools were grooming pupils to pass exams in too narrow an understanding of text and meaning and analytical methods.
"Would I have betrayed Anna as Smith did in Orwell's 1984? How do I answer that? Yes? No? Maybe? We live in a different world, so how can I know what I would do in Orwell's? I got a B+; I get A or A+ in every other subject, even Physical Education! But English – argh! Mum and I've already talked about me getting me a tutor, but we've not really looked for one yet, and then here you are! It's perfect! So - would you like to tutor me? What do you charge?" Trudi asked, excited, her mood suddenly dropping again as she realised, "Oh, I forgot. You're a professor. I bet you're really expensive..." Trudi said, deflated at the possibility of my not being her tutor.
As soon as she had raised the idea of my tutoring her, even hinted at the possibility, I already knew there was no chance that I would not allow this to happen.
Pro bono would still be paying me too much.
"Don't worry over the cost, Trudi. Retired professors are not all that expensive," I explained, at once drawing a look of hope and relief across her homely but attractive features. "Do you know what your texts are, for next year?"
Trudi shook her head. No reason that she should, but sometimes a foresightful teacher, eager for future exam success, might 'suggest' titles to students at the end of the previous year.
"Okay, so what was the last novel that you were set?" I asked, thinking to take that as a starting point to examine how well Trudi could engage with a text, and what aspects she found more difficult.
Trudi named a slender and unsurprising Rushdie.
"And what did you think of it?" I asked, curious to know what her opinions might be, of how informed or intuitive they were, and how well she could express them.
"Well, I read it again, after the end of term," Trudi began, impressing me with her determination; she would be a good student, of that I was already sure. "But it was just too weird, I don't understand it. I don't know if it was just obvious, or if it was really clever and I'm not," she said, her expression making it clear that she did not believe that she was not that clever but, like so many people, imagining that an author must be clever, if only to be an author. If only that were true.
I smiled indulgingly. "Don't worry about it, Trudi. I know the work, and I know what a lot of very well educated people have said about it. Your estimation is quite in line with what a lot of them have conjectured, that Rushdie must be trying to do something clever, but none of them can agree quite what it might be."
I was, of course, being diplomatic; Rushdie was often baffling and rarely measured up to his inflated reputation.
Reaching into my jacket pocket, I pulled out one of my business cards and handed it to Trudi. "Okay, if you're sure you want a broken-down old professor like me to tutor you, ask your mother to call me and we'll see what we can work out."
"Wow! Really?" Trudi asked, looking at the card for a moment before she suddenly wrapped her arms around me and kissed me on the cheek. "Oh! I'm sorry Simon. I, I just got carried away," Trudi apologised as she jumped back to her previous position.
"That's okay. No need to apologise, and no gentleman of my years would ever be angry to receive a kiss from such an attractive young woman as yourself," I flattered, and was rewarded again with the blush. Was I becoming addicted, I asked myself. "Besides which, I can see how much you feel you need help with English. I suspect you are much better than you think you are, and that it's simply the matter that no-one has taught you the way in which to approach the questions you're being set, am I right?"
Trudi nodded, still a little flushed.
"Okay, so we'll look at that first, then your texts."
"Really? That'd be sooo cool."
"Very well, Trudi. Ask your mother to call me ... Monday," I added, evading the issue of where her mother was spending the night. "And now, Trudi, I need to go. For all the advantages of technology I'm afraid dinner doesn't cook itself."
"There's no Mrs Professor Armitage?"
I shook my head. "Not for ten years now. It, it wasn't working, not enough to spend the remainder of our lives together. It was quite amicable. She's teaching Chaucer in New Zealand now."
"Thank you, but it's quite unnecessary, I know my way around the microwave..."
Trudi looked aghast.
"It's a joke. Actually, I am quite good. Tonight is leek and potato pie, seasonal vegetables, a thin gravy, and a glass of Muscadet."
"Wow! Can I come eat with you?" Trudi asked with exaggeration. "I'll just be re-heating chilli with rice."
Regretfully I shook my head. "I think you're a little too young for the Muscadet," I said, gently shifting the reason why a young woman might not be a suitable guest for a retired professor, at least not outside of schooling, at least not yet.
"I know, but it was worth a try?" Trudi smiled.
"Always. In which case," I said, rising. "I shall look forward to speaking with your mother sometime this week. Goodbye Trudi," I said, bowing my head once more as I turned and headed back to my home, all the while enjoying the memory of Trudi bending forward and revealing her young body to my hungry eyes.
So it was that, one telephone call and a little negotiation later, I found myself employed by Trudi's mother – Sandra – to provide private tutoring to her daughter. The money wasn't too much, a token £15 per session that allowed Sandra to feel that she had got a good deal without feeling she had cheated me of my due, especially after I gave her to understand the monies would be 'off the books'. The truth of the matter was that I didn't need too much thanks to my private pension and my occupational pension, but the extra pounds were more than sufficient to keep me in esoteric tobacco and even tip the balance for me to finally purchase a new churchwarden pipe to replace the one I had lost to the carelessness of the supposedly professional removals company when I had moved to Grangemouth.
After a couple of phone calls of my own and an order from an internet bookshop, I arrived at Trudi's home on the agreed Thursday afternoon armed not only with her reading list for the coming year, but also with a few pointers as to the questions she was likely to face too. I didn't know the exact questions that year's exams would contain, of course, but I had a pretty good idea of how they would phrase them. Academia is, after all, a small world, and it's not so difficult to get in touch with the people who do set those questions, to say nothing of the fact that most questions are there to 'assist' students in getting another A or A+.
Do they really think we lecturers, retired or otherwise, don't know what they are doing? How else can the results go up, year after year?
As I parked in front of the address Sandra had given me, I saw their home was a modest detached affair, a small and unremarkable garden to the front, lawn bisected by a restrained path, and a two-car garage to the side.
Quitting my car, and with Gladstone in hand, I made sure not to trot as I walked up the path and rang the doorbell. I really was looking forward to feasting my eyes on Trudi's young flesh again, such pleasures had always been a private source of joy during my years of teaching. They had never led anywhere, of course, but there is something delightful about a young teen-aged woman, bursting into womanhood.
From inside I could, of course, hear Eighty barking dutifully.
A moment later the door opened, Sandra opening the door with one hand, and holding Eighty's collar with the other. For a woman of middle-age, perhaps her mid-forties, she dressed to her best, in this case having elected for jeans and a blouse, simple but sufficient.
"Professor Armitage," said Sandra as she struggled to control Eighty.
"Please, Sandra, and do come in," she said, tugging a now silent but over-excited Eighty out of the way.
"Thank you Sandra, and please, call me Simon, Professor Armitage makes me feel far too official."
"Simon. Trudi's out in the garden. Can I bring you anything to drink?"
"Earl Grey, milk, one sugar?" I asked hopefully.
"Of course. If you'll follow me," Sandra said as she let go of Eighty. He immediately dashed off ahead of her as she led the way to a moderately sized and well-appointed lounge, kitchen off to one side, and French windows which opened out on to the garden beyond.
"You have a lovely garden," I called out, and she did, for even the little I could see through the open doorway indicated a love of colour and variety. Clearly, Sandra was an enthusiastic gardener.
"Thank you, I do what I can. No need to wait for me, carry on out, I'll bring the tea," Sandra called.
Taking her at her word, I stepped through the French windows. The garden beyond, now that I could see it more fully, had been laid out mainly to grass, with a border of banked flowers of various colours, all coordinated for height, and which in their turn banked onto high-grown and neatly clipped hedges. Beyond them, the almost concealed brick of boundary walls.
At the far end of the garden, facing away from the house, I could see that a couple of lawn chairs had been set out with a small table between them. As I approached, I was amused to see that they were, in fact, deck chairs, their fabric in the design of the old Penguin Paperbacks. I wondered whether Sandra had done that for my benefit.
I could also see that one chair was already occupied by the delightful figure of Trudi, with Eighty having somehow managing to squeeze himself in the gap underneath her.
So far, so much in accord with expectations.
What I was not expecting, however, was that as I drew up behind her, I could see that Trudi was wearing an unpattered, dark brown bikini with a translucent wrap of the same shade.
I swallowed a couple of times, letting my shadow travel a little over her in warning of my arrival. "Hello Trudi."
"Simon!" Trudi called out, getting up, bounding in fact from her deckchair to greet me with an unexpected hug and kiss on the cheek.
Then she saw my Gladstone.
"Study? Today?" she asked, clearly not so enthusiastic at the prospect. Sunshine in Scotland was clearly not a commodity this young woman wanted to waste. To be fair to her, it was clearly doing a good job and giving her a healthy light tan. I tried not to stare, though I had the curious and distinct impression that Trudi would not object if I did.
"Study? Today?" I repeated, only vaguely imitating her intonation. "You don't want to waste your mother's money, do you Trudi?" I admonished as she stepped back.
"I guess not," she conceded, though she didn't sound too convinced.
"Good thing too," came Sandra's comment as she arrived, carrying my tea and a small plate of shortbread biscuits on a small tray that she set onto the table beside Trudi's iced cola.
"Yes mum," Trudi demurred. "But can I stay like this? I don't want to go back to school without a tan. All the other girls will have one."
Sandra sighed, somehow summing up the whole experience of teen-aged daughters. "If that's okay with Simon... ?"
Of course, I nodded, though I was careful not to appear overly or even remotely enthusiastic. What man would refuse such a sight? Certainly not I. I didn't even try.
"Okay, drink, teach, learn," Sandra instructed. "I'll take Eighty into the house. Call if you need anything," she said as, true to her word, she took Eighty by the collar once more and led him back into the house.
The doors to the French windows clicked loudly.
"Right," I said, taking a sip of tea and enjoying it for a moment. "Forget the Gladstone, forget the books, let's talk about your last essay. Do you remember the question?"
Trudi nodded, and for the next half hour or more I munched my way through several of the shortbread biscuits as we concentrated on taking that question apart, looking at the implied knowledge, the expected understanding, and the components of a successful answer.
Presently, the question and method fully laid bare for Trudi, I sat back and drank the remainder of my tea. "And now... ?" I asked.
"That actually makes sense," Trudi said, the light in her eyes showing that she had had a least a minor English epiphany.
"Good, now, time for a break," I suggested. "And, for me, a chance to visit your lavatory."
"Oh, okay," said Trudi. "Follow me," she said as she headed off in front of me, giving me a glorious view of her arse as she led me inside, past a sleeping Eighty, past Sandra who was perusing a rather upper-class magazine on homes and gardens, and on to the downstairs cloakroom. It was, thank the Lord, a proper cloakroom and not one of those ghastly 'closets' that modern designers cram under the stairs for no other reason than to add a few thousand more to the asking price of their under-constructed rabbit hutch.
A few minutes later, refreshed and relieved, I followed the sounds of the voices to the living room where I found Sandra and Trudi sitting on opposite sophas, chatting away, Trudi animated and excited to have finally 'seen the light' so far as English was concerned.
"Ah, Simon," said Sandra as she noticed my entrance. "Would you come and sit down with us a while?" she asked. Given that Sandra was easy on the eye and that her young daughter had discarded her wrap and was wearing only her bikini, there was no way I would refuse. It would be impolite. So I didn't. "So, tell me," Sandra continued once I had sat down beside her and opposite to Trudi. "Do you think Trudi can recover her grades in English?"
"Mum!" Trudi protested, not without good reason; a B is hardly cause for concern except, it must be allowed, if the destination is one of the colleges in Cambridge.
"I see no reason why not," I replied honestly, paying no attention to Trudi's even more horrified expression. "I think the problem was what I had said. Essentially, none of Trudi's former teachers had ever explained to her how the questions work, how to analyse the question and how to plan the answer. Talking to Trudi it's clear she understands her texts, at least to the level that's required of her, if not even a little higher," I added, bringing out one of Trudi's beautiful blushes, one that extended to the upper reaches of her breasts. Delightful. Returning to the matter in hand, I explained, "Once you know the text, it becomes simply a matter of understanding the examiners. And, for no extra charge, Trudi may well find this methodology applicable in some of her other subjects. Trudi tells me she routinely gets A or A*-" Sandra nodded "-in which case, this knowledge won't help improve Trudi's grades, but it will help her deal with tests and exams more easily. If you understand the text and can analyse the question correctly, all that remains is the writing out of the answer."
"I see," said Sandra.
"Really?" enthused Trudi.
"Really Trudi. If you can unpack the question correctly, there's a good chance of getting an A or an A* for your answer, and that is true for all narrative questions, from English to Religious Studies."
"Wow! Are we paying you enough?" Trudi joked, not altogether seriously.
For a moment I glanced over and saw a worried look cross Sandra's face. "Yes, Trudi, your mother is paying me enough. Besides which, if you continue studying as well as you have done today ... so far ... then you won't need me for long, so I have to earn my fees while I can," I explained, relieving Sandra and praising Trudi at the same time, though Trudi looked oddly discomforted by my answer.
"You heard Simon, young lady, it's time to get back to your studies," Sandra said as she shooed us back to the deckchairs in the garden. Being the gentleman I am, I held the door for Trudi and allowed her to lead the way, again enjoying the show, this time sans her wrap. Did I detect an extra degree of swing to her gait, or was that simply my fanciful imagination? No matter.
As we settled down again I turned to Trudi and asked, "You remember telling me what you thought of the Rushdie?"
Trudi nodded, uncertainly.
"From what I understand of the exams you will be taking at the end of the coming academic year, you have to be able to express yourself, in print, and in some form of presentation," I said, my voice indicating a question to which Trudi nodded her affirmation before I proceeded. "So, it's fine to have opinions on writers and texts, and if you go on to higher levels of study, you are even expected and required to have opinions, but you are also expected to be able to analyse why you feel the way you do. So, is it the subject matter, the plot, the characters? If it's the characters, which characters, why, were they believable or not, did you care about them or not, and so on. There are many reasons to respond to a text, but can you analyse your responses?"
"Okay, I guess I didn't care about the characters," Trudi began, and for the next half hour – I was paid on an hourly basis, for one hour at a time – I helped her to analyse why she felt the characters were unrealistic, and what this said of her presumptions about texts. By the end of our time I hadn't managed to convince her of the value of that text – I considered it to be pretty poor myself – but at least she was beginning to develop the analytical tools to express her thoughts. Again, these skills were transferable to other subjects too.
As I tidied my things back into my Gladstone, Trudi turned to watch me. "Simon?"
"Do you have any other students you tutor?"
I shook my head.
"I've not been long here, and I wasn't really looking to get back into tutoring again."
Trudi nodded, and asked, "So, why me?"
"You talked with me, and you were polite when you asked me."
"That's it?" Trudi asked, shocked at the simplicity of my answer.
"That's it. I place a great deal of importance on manners, and yours were impeccable. I had the time, so I accepted your request."
"Oh. I really have good manners?" Trudi asked, fishing only a little for a compliment.
"Yes," I confirmed, rewarded with another blush. So pretty. And did her nipples stiffen this time too, just a little? I felt perhaps they did, but perhaps I would be wiser not to risk a look.
"Could you tell my mum that? She's always on to me about my manners; she'd love it to know my manners got me such a tutor," Trudi asked, sounding incredulous that such a thing could be true.
It was true, but Trudi herself was far more the reason for my agreeing to tutor her than I had any intention of admitting to.
"Of course Trudi," I said as, Gladstone packed, I followed Trudi back into the house, enjoying myself all over again.
As we entered the living room once more, Sandra was again sitting on a sopha, flicking the latest issue of The Lady.
"Mum, Simon's got something he wants to say to you," Trudi urged as she sat, rather ostentatiously and primly, on the sopha opposite to her mother.
"Really?" Sandra asked as she put her magazine aside.
"Well, I wouldn't necessarily describe it as something I wanted to say," I gently chided. "It's more something Trudi would like me to share with you," I clarified.
"Trudi was asking why I agreed to tutor her. As I've already told her, I've spent my life tutoring and lecturing, so the act and the art of teaching holds nothing new for me to attain. Rather, as I explained to her, it was because of her charm and her good manners when she sat down next to me, talked with me, and asked me if I would be willing to tutor her."
Sandra smiled proudly. "Well..."
"And now, if you will excuse me, I have a Balkan to spend some time with?"
"Excuse me?" Sandra asked as Trudi sniggered.
"My apologies, it is a small joke of mine," I said, drawing out my tobacco pouch and waving it. "Balkan tobacco. My only real indulgence."
"I see," said Sandra, sounding relieved.
"I think it's cool," Trudi insisted. "Like Sherlock Holmes."
"Ah yes, Mr Holmes," I opined. "Nobody remembers Simeon's Maigrait or Buchan's Hannay; Holmes has thoroughly stolen their limelight as the literary pipe smoker par excellance. And no, before you ask Trudi, I don't have a meerschaum."
"Huh?" Trudi asked.
"Holmes' pipe. There are many different styles and designs. Though it's not in the books, only in the films, but most people associate a meerschaum with Holmes," I explained to a blank face until I prompted, "The curly pipe?"
"I didn't realise..." Trudi began.