The new supply teacher fluffs his Latin lines

Boris Johnson takes a day off from being Mayor to encourage others to do the same

He came, he saw, he got told off for not paying attention in class and then he was heckled by binmen. It was all in a morning's work for the supply teacher at St Saviour's and St Olave's Church of England secondary girls' school – or, as he is more commonly known, the Mayor of London.

The classroom full of 15-year-old girls in south-east London was far from the one at Eton where Boris Johnson conjugated his first ancient verb. But for Boris, there is no fear: he began his lesson by telling the girls about the proclivities of Roman women, in particular their fondness for gladiators.

Everyone was a little awkward. Then in an episode of cunning, he conjured two sentences that he helped the class put together in Latin: the woman loves the gladiator, but the women do not love the charioteer.

The Mayor, former King's scholar (one of Eton's highest awards) and Brackenbury scholar (Oxford) was playing teacher to promote a scheme which aims to persuade companies to give employees a day off each year to be spent helping the local community.

Mr Johnson came to offer his skills as a classicist, and all-round good egg, to pupils studying for Latin GCSEs. Although the subject is not on the syllabus, it is taught in lunchtimes and after hours by English teacher, Sophie Hollender, and voluntary emissaries from Westminster College.

The Mayor's long-lasting affection for Latin comes from his belief in its benefits beyond the realm of dusty academia. "I won't say it's the route to colossal riches," he told the class, "but I read almost nothing but Latin and Greek for 25 years, and I'm now in charge of every bus in London."

He added: "It helps you be more logical. It gives you an understanding of your own language too." There was a ripple of nervous laughter from an audience amused and slightly wary of Mr Johnson, whose bike, bray and bouffant thatch were novel to the surroundings.

He found himself rapped on the knuckles for not paying attention during the class discussion following a clip from Ben-Hur. "That was a bad moment," he confided after the bell had rung. "I forgot I was supposed to be writing down my thoughts and feelings. And when she [the teacher] got to me, I had not a single adjective written on my paper."

He appeared to have quite a freestyle approach when it came to his turn in front of the whiteboard, muttering "teaching is hard", before leading the assembled in a hearty chant of "amo, amas, amat" and a further, rather less certain version of the passive.

So far, so Cambridge Latin Course: the comforting repetition is the same regardless of student or social strata. I learnt Latin this way, studying in lunchtimes and evenings, because it was not on the curriculum at my comprehensive. Thanks to two teachers, one of whom called in a favour from her alma mater Cheltenham Ladies' College (which was throwing out old textbooks), I got a little of what some call a "classical education".

"Maintained schools haven't had enough government encouragement," Mr Johnson said at the end, adding: "I was drained by that. And the kids knew far more than I thought they would."

After answering binmen's questions on the congestion charge at the school gates, he was ushered away for the next mayoral event, wearily getting on to his bike with the admission: "I'm also deeply hungover."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
News
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

WORLDbytes: Two-Day Intensive Camera training and Shoot: Saturday 7th & Sunday 8th March

expenses on shoots: WORLDbytes: Volunteering with a media based charity,for a ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 4 Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: A school in Tameside is currently l...

Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 - £70 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Tradewind are currently looking for ...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Advisor - OTE £30,000

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower