These slightly nostalgic thoughts were inspired by Vicky Loras and Mick Stout and their tales of first days and new jobs. It got me thinking about first impressions and new places and a habit I’ve grown out of as a work-from-home freelancer.
I used to like to take snapshots in my mind of each new school I worked at (there haven’t actually been that many). An image of my first encounter. Just take a second to stand back and look at some unimportant detail, maybe the front door or the stairs. And register that this unfamiliar, anonymous place will soon become incredibly familiar, taken for granted, a tiny detail in the day to day routine.
It feels good sometimes to revisit that moment. To remember that all things familiar have also been unfamiliar. Like remembering the first time you saw a lover’s face, or got off a train in a new town.
With schools it works best of course if you were interviewed somewhere else. For my first job in Italy I was interviewed in a hotel suite in London. It was one of many interviews, I didn’t know at the time that it was going to be my life for the next ten years. There was no reason to take a conscious snapshot, but lots of brief photographic memories still managed to survive. I’m amazed that, twenty five years on, I can still remember what I was wearing, and how I’d done my hair, and the spiral staircase that lead from the main room in the suite to a small upstairs room where the interview was held.
And on the trip out to Italy there were so many subconscious snapshots. So many new sights that would become so, so familiar over the next ten years. The bus station in Rome, the mountain villages in Abruzzo perched high on the top of hills, the maze of narrow, pebbled streets in the old medieval town centre. The insect like buzz of the passeggiata (the evening “stroll” for want of a better word) along the main street under the portici ( a street lined by covered pavements where you can walk and talk whatever the weather).
But most clearly, my first conscious snapshot – the door to the school and the bend in the one flight of stairs up to the first floor. I remember stopping and looking and taking it in, knowing it would soon fade into familiarity. I can still see that first day on the steps so clearly. Not only as an image, but as a physical sensation as well, thick walls cooling the air, eyes adjusting from bright sunlight to dark shadows.
There have been other snapshots too in Reading, Canterbury, Madrid, Eger, Cadiz … All focusing on small details. All equally clear.
I often use images in class, mental as well as real. But I’ve never used this particular one before. I think I will. Maybe with one of my new classes in October. I’ll ask my students to come back down to the entrance, to choose and compare their own details and perceptions, maybe even take some photos. Then we’ll shelve it and come back to it later on, at the end of term, at the end of the course maybe and see what they remember.