The temp

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Marina offers me a job, and it seems like a good idea.

Her cousin Atalanta, daughter of one of those many-stranded Greek shipping dynasties, is over here and wants an English teacher.

It would mean a whole month away from the keyboard, making use of my other skills and not having to pretend to be in awe of the body of knowledge possessed by every sapwit who sees fit to dictate me a letter.

Working mornings only and having the whole afternoon for walks, win Fifteen- To-One, make clothes, read books, revel in the joys of Ricki Lake.

Marina has done a good sales job on me, of course. Atalanta is marvellous, they've known each other since childhood, deals in art, frightfully cultured and great fun. All she needs is an hour or so of grammar a day, some vocabulary- building exercises and a couple of hours' conversation. Perhaps I can take her round some galleries, show her the sights. It'll be lovely. I accept eagerly.

Perhaps if I'd thought a bit more I'd have been a tad more cautious. For Atalanta, like many of the children of the very rich, expects to learn by osmosis; certainly she doesn't expect to have to put any effort into the process herself. This shouldn't come as such a surprise, as Marina's own spoiledness was legendary at college: her shoe collection represented most people's annual living allowances. We all believe that she only got a degree because she did one of those multiple choice exam papers.

Atalanta is Marina writ large, someone who has lived with servants all her life and sees anyone not related to her as belonging to that class.

Day one, she presents herself at the flat with a face like a bad smell. Atalanta, fresh from her cab, is hunting up and down the street when I open the door. She brushes past me and says: "This is a very bad area. Why do you live south of the river? There are so many nice places in London".

She stands in the middle of the living room, surveys the posters, the Brixton Market throw covering up the holes in the sofa, the landlord's skimpy curtains, and her mouth turns further down. "We are going to work in here?" she says. "Well, it's either here, or the kitchen, or my room," I reply. "Well, here will have to do," she perches gingerly on the edge of the green fake-Victorian armchair.

"You could make this room nice," she says. "I know a very good designer, Would you like her number?" I realise that she thinks we live this way because we lack taste.

I offer her a coffee. "I can't," she says. "I am allergic. I'll have camomile tea". Now, my corner shop is terrific for Halal meat and ketchup, but doesn't run to tisanes. "I'll get some tomorrow," I say. "Good," says Atalanta, catching sight of Trish's tin trunk, which serves as a coffee table. She grimaces and looks away.

We talk about her expectations and my heart begins to sink. "I have left my school," she says, "because they didn't pay me enough attention. I had to share classes with four other people.

"I expect for you to put all your energy into me". You're only paying me pounds 40 a day, queenie, I think, but keep smilingly stumm.

"Now," she says, "Shall we begin? You will tell me, please what is word for the wood on the top of door. And also, what is difference between Gothic and Perpendicular".

"I was planning to give you a test to see how your English was, actually," I say. "I think you could do with some practice on constructing questions".

Atalanta's eyebrow draws itself more tightly together. "Who is paying for this lesson, please?" she says.