"No," said the friend. "Geippi is still an item. She's worried about Marcus." Marcus is Alice's teenage son, currently embarking on his final A-level year at an expensive private school. He's a nice boy, if a little confused. Two years ago Marcus's father, Hugo, ran away with an Italian waiter, not from Alice's restaurant in Battersea but from a sophisticated Trattoria in Mincing Lane, where Hugo works in a merchant bank. I give you these details because they strike me as contiguous to the plot.
So what was wrong with Marcus? Nothing, apparently, except that a couple of weeks ago he told his mother that he didn't want to go to university, he wanted to train as a Montessori teacher. "But that's terrific, surely? Montessori education is supposed to be the best, isn't it?" I said.
"Try telling that to Alice," said my informant grimly. "She went ballistic, said she hadn't wasted all that money on private education for her son to be a kindergarten teacher. She wants him to get a proper job like a diplomat or a derivatives analyst or even a dentist."
"Poor Alice," I said automatically. But thinking about it later on the bus home, surrounded by a party of primary school children just back from a trip to the Science Museum, I changed that to "stupid Alice". Teaching is a proper job, and far more appropriate, becoming, correct, decorous and well-beseeming, as my thesaurus puts it, than any career in diplomacy, derivatives market or even dentistry. Especially dentistry. If my teenage son told me he wanted to be a dentist I would be seriously worried.
But the truly magnificent thing about Marcus wanting to be a primary school teacher is that he is a bloke and, if ever a demoralised profession needed young men, it is primary school teaching.
Apart from one or two dazzling exceptions, women primary school teachers are wet. I had a call from my nine-year-old son's school yesterday: "He fell over the in the playground and grazed his knee. Don't worry, he is lying on a cushion in the staff room, but I think he'd better go home," said Miss Brimblecombe.
I do worry. I worry that we are wasting the precious few pennies allotted to state education on cushions for staff rooms instead of large economy- size boxes of sticking plaster. A male teacher on playground duty would have picked my son up, run his knee under the cold tap and put him in goal.
The children on the bus weren't allowed go upstairs because, said the teacher, it was too dangerous. So were my son's packed lunches, said Miss Brimblecombe. Could he please bring a banana in future instead of an orange because sometimes, in the process of peeling , the orange squirted juice into the child's eye which could temporarily blind him. When they walk to the swimming pool, the children wearing brown velvet knickerbockers from the posh private school down the road have to hold on to a rope like mountaineers, presumably in case they fall off the pavement. One morning a boy from my son's - well, comparatively rough - state school yanked the end of the rope and all the knickerbockers fell over like skittles.
A friend in Bristol whose son has just qualified as a teacher tells me he is having difficulty getting a job in a primary school -because they obviously think he's a pervert. "Why do you want to be surrounded by small children all day?" they ask him suspiciously at interviews.
I had lunch with Alice yesterday and told her that I didn't know about Montessori but I thought Marcus's choice of career was splendid. Alice said she didn't know much about it either - in fact, when he first told her about it, she thought he said multi-storey education.
"And don't give me all that male role-model guff," she added bitterly. "Hugo went to a boys' school with all male teachers and look what happened to him. He's in Assisi with Luigi running a gay bar, apparently." Maybe so, but I bet he lets Luigi eat oranges.Reuse content