Friday, 8 October 2010

Theatre, visitors, and a school for Benedict

Another tube strike, over the same issue of 800 ticket windows facing the loss of their jobs, disrupted travel in London on Monday. No matter. Erika doesn't teach on Mondays and we stayed home.

On Tuesday evening Benedict and I rode the now-familiar tube-path to the Kilfoyle's house for dinner. The New Vic, not to be confused with the Old Vic in which we saw the Noel Coward play a few weeks ago, presented a contemporary take on Goethe's Faust. The Kilfoyles live only a few minutes away from the Young Vic, so they generously invited us for dinner before the performance. The company at dinner was far more convivial and fun than the play.

The Young Vic will never be confused with the Old, although they are only separated by only a few blocks. To get through to the theatre one must navigate through a raucous pub. One can easily find refreshments at intermission. The staging of the play itself is one that Goethe probably didn't, even couldn't, imagine. Icelandic actors exploded through the stage floor, shot into a net over the audience, and climbed around the scenery like trained acrobats, which I guess they were. While all that flying around the stage was interesting, based on the first half it looked as if the second half might veer into territories inappropriate for a young lad such as Benedict and for sensitive constitutions such as mine. So we departed at intermission.

Erika didn't attend the play with us because she went to Heathrow Airport to meet friends from Germany. Erika and Karin were students together at Teubingen University, and she came with her husband Michael and daughter Ruth. By the time Benedict and I arrived home they were already having some supper. The two sofas in the front room folded out into beds, and an extra mattress hauled down from the attic and we quickly completed the three beds we needed.

Tuesday was also significant for the phone call I received on the tube on the way to the Kilfoyle's house. Mr. Archer called from Acton High School requesting an interview with Benedict. We arranged to meet him at the school Thursday morning at 9:30. Mr. Archer is part of the pastoral staff and he deals with behavioural issues among the year 8 kids. He invited Benedict to attend Acton High School as a member of the year 8 class. Mr. Archer told us something about the school, and since we had no other offers I filled out the paper work, Benedict was fitted for his uniform (red polo shirt and blue sweater, green PE shirt), and I asked a few questions. Just like that, Benedict begins school on Monday.

The school is a relatively short bus ride from our house. The bus goes past Gunnersbury Park and a few stops later Benedict will get out at Acton Town, just a few yards away from the Acton Town tube station. He could also take the tube to school, though that will cost a pound a day while the bus ride for students is free. Depending on traffic and how long he has to wait for the bus pick him up, almost never more than 8-10 minutes, the trip only takes about 20-30 minutes from the front door to the school.

Some facts:

Acton High School is the newest high school in Ealing, only three years old. It has, Mr. Archer told us, the latest up-to-date equipment. Every classroom has an interactive white board. There are computers galore.

The cut off date for determining which year a student will be in is September 1. That means that Benedict will be the youngest student in year 8. That is equivalent to 7th grade in the US, where he would be in the 6th grade. We had asked about placing him in year 7, but they are very strict about the dates and Mr. Archer said they would assess him and determine which group of students in year 8 to match him with and support him in catching up if he is behind.

The default language is French, though Benedict might be able to study Spanish instead.

The school day begins at 8:45 and ends at 3:25, except on Thursday when it ends at 3 for the teachers to meet.

Benedict is 238 out of an eventual 240 year 8 students (the entire student body of St. Helen's isn't even close to that).

PE is three times a week. On those days students carry their PE clothes in a bag with them all day. They change in the locker room.

For 65% of the students, English is not their native language.

The year 8 students will read Hamlet this year.

There are two police officers on campus.

There are 5 one hour classes every day, except Thursday when each class loses 5 minutes to allow the day to end at 3. There is a 20 minute break after the second period, and an hour lunch after the third.

Hot and cold lunches are available for about 2 to 2.5 pounds.

There are many clubs, most of which meet at lunch.

Mr. Archer handles--trains? coaches? manages?--the year 8 football team.

Finally, in the afternoon we all ended up at the Globe Theatre for a performance of Henry IV, Part I. We stood again as groundlings. Falstaff, played by a different actor than the one in The Merry Wives of Windsor, was hilarious, and the fight scenes had swords flying all over the stage. We're getting ready to attend Henry IV, Part II Saturday night. It's the last performance of the season, and then the Globe will be dark until next spring.

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