I’m teaching German to a lovely Year 9 group of girls and boys: now that they have got over the shock of finding their Head turning up to teach them, they have cheerfully swung behind me as we get to grips with table-wiping, hand-disinfecting, social-distancing, mask-wearing and visors and ensure that I don’t get too baffled by using my iPad to blend my teaching (for those who self-isolate) or working out whether we are in a good or less-good mood (those masks hide more than just our mouths and nostrils, after all): we are all learning how to read each other’s eyes! It struck me that modal verbs (remember those?) would be a good opportunity to update our German vocabulary with the Covid-specific expressions which have emerged to describe the new normal: ‘We have to keep to our year group bubbles.’ ‘We should keep windows open.’
What I love about teaching languages, and teaching German in particular, is the intrigue of how words find their meanings. You’ll have noticed recently that a plucky band of thirty Highgate colleagues and pupils went out and – socially-distanced – ran, cycled or walked silly distances to raise funds in aid of the London Academy of Excellence Tottenham, our sibling school in the east of our borough (more anon). Well, of course, in the days after we ran, cycled and ran through the driving rain, we acquired aches and pains which are only now easing off. In German, a friend would ask you about your ‘Muskelkater’, or a ‘muscle hangover’, pain occasioned by overdoing it, in effect. In terms of how the ‘aches and pains’, which is what we say in English, wear off, I think the German phrase wins hands down.
So, that Sunday morning. It really bucketed down as the intrepid runners, cyclists and walkers set out. My gig was to run a marathon along the Regent’s and Union Canals, along the Lee River and back through Tottenham Marshes to the Tottenham Hotspur FC stadium in whose striking shadow LAET nestles so snuggly. Elder son Louis rolled out of bed about two and a half minutes before we were due to go, adjusted his coiffure appropriate to filming a quick Instagram message, and we were off on the first half. Amazing how an eighteen-year-old can be so chatty and cheerful and charming (honestly!) that early on a Sunday morning: thanks to this live early-morning chat show, the miles just fell away so that by the time Louis tagged Jan Balon, Headteacher of LAET, I felt I could have run to Land’s End. Of course, it’s a horrid trick the body plays so that first-half exuberance and over-confidence drain away like water through a sieve, and Jan’s work was cut out to keep our spirits up as I plodded (and he ran) through the puddles. Still, the stadium loomed – sadly we needed to do another four km around it to finish the distance, leaving our merry band of frozen supporters (including my wife, Barbara and daughter Millie, two of the intrepid cyclists that morning, and wonderful colleagues from school and football club alike) jumping up and down to keep warm for another twenty-five minutes but finally, finally, we rounded Willoughby Road again: the sun came out and we were led through subterranean car parks to the players’ entrance and out into the stadium: what a way to finish! While we missed the 62,850 spectators, we felt like champions as we did our final lap on the all-hallowed turf! Thank you, Spurs!
By the time everyone was home an amazing 500 generous good people had between them donated £70,000. In simple terms that means families can be supported for a year with weekly grants towards essentials (groceries, toiletries, utilities).
On that seemingly interminable four km trudge round Tottenham’s rain-greyed streets, the post-industrial warehousing gave way to the residential streets which LAET and its wonderfully upbeat, outward-looking feeder secondaries serve. Tottenham’s brightest and best stride out from their homes and make their aspirational way to a school which sees them to the capital’s and the country’s best universities. Being able to be part of that was, is, will always be, a proud moment. Thank you, everyone, for playing your part!