Today’s Nan Kid Feature on BBC Breakfast is the business of Latin being taught in schools – or generally its usage and usefulness in today’s society. Something brought on by Ratzinger’s resigning. Vox pops ensue.
Naturally a (Nanus Kidus) personalisation of the matter arises and I begin to collate, in my head on my head at the gym, my own memories of the Latin we took at our big school, West Leeds, on Tongue Lane. Can you believe we never once sniggered about Tongue Lane? But then we were kept streamed in the old and all-boys grammar school group, so the only related lane we were likely to stroll down, or titter anxiously at, was the one directed to us by a wire-haired priest with a very different uniform heading his way – the Latin Lover nobody wanted.
We, my class (in the schooling sense, but, hey), took Latin for three years, with just a handful of medically minded sticking with it it for O Level; the rest of us, me included, dropped it. I never got it, never felt it, never saw the sense. I turned to learning Welsh off one of our tea-towels at home instead, figuring it, at least, was a language alive, and all at once sunny and grim.
Enough. Here are the recollections, bulleted down to three:
I. My Latin Class given-name was Michelin Super Rubbus.
II. Claudius was seemingly forever sadat in the horto, and when he wasn’t, he was sadat on the latrina with a sea-sponge at the ready, on the end of a stick.
III. Our Latin teacher, Mr. Newton (who gave out the names), spent a lot of his time examining The Racing Post, and eventually quit the job to become, so I heard, the voice of a horse racing telephone line – presumably some service where you phoned up and got the odds, or the going – back in the day when there were several such services, and right enough we would dial a number to hear a hit record, or the correct time… none of which now seems that daft. But while he was our Latin teacher, he played the guitar for us often, and once, very memorably, duetted with our French teacher, ‘Basil’ (Fawlty) Howarth, in a strum-and-thunder and closed-eyes-singing rendition of American Pie, while I sat on the floor with the rest, gazing up, star-struck and wanting to play my acoustic as publicly and heartfelt; and breathless, on account of asthma, undiagnosed.
And there, as I sadat here with my sea-sponge, are my memories of Latin.
© Steve Mitchell, Fisher Lane, 2013