Spring Arrives [An extract from Alice to Prague ]
I leapt back into teaching with my soul restored, eager to embrace all that lay ahead of me. We played lots of music in class, working the nouns, verbs and adverbs around the songs, while the students continued to learn more vocabulary related to the wild outback of Australia. Fortunately the school continued to let me get away with these strange methods because the students seemed to love their lessons.
The skies brightened earlier and evenings lingered. The landscape emerged from its barren cocoon and stretched out with colour and new life—as did I, enchanted at what was unfolding before me. Winding country lanes overhung with trees of pink apple and white cherry blossom. Delicate primroses and wild strawberry bushes lining the roads. Pretty shades of cream and apricot showering the once bare outline of orchards. Across the hilltops thickets of tall pine trees smelt sweet and musty with the fragrance of fallen cones, and sunlight strands interlaced the woods of oak and beech trees, thick with dense glossy leaves and alive with birds. The unfamiliar cacophony of their songs and calls could be heard from dawn until dusk.
I couldn’t believe it. Not only had I just found the fairytale city of my childhood books, I’d found the countryside for which I’d searched in vain throughout England and Western Europe. This was exactly the untouched, fabled countryside I imagined the Famous Five would have cycled through.
Indeed, this countryside was now filled with children cycling up hill and down dale. The students lent me bikes and took me with them on their excursions. I wasn’t an adept cyclist, which perplexed them—even three-year-olds were expert cyclists here—but they generously included me in their fun and I revelled in it. If I had had to leave and return to Australia right then, I would have been satisfied, that aching unmet need of 1989 now fulfilled.
I also walked a great deal on my own, after school and on weekends, exploring the woodlands and copses and meadows, safe in my aloneness, singing with my own joy. ‘The nature’ and I had found one another at last, after a long, frosty beginning, and it was like an overdue meeting of lovers. I couldn’t wait to get out into it every spare moment I had, soaking it up, letting its gentle touch heal and caress my arms and legs and face. My soul was restored.
There were trips further afield too. I was invited to go with the final-year students for a week in Moravia, a region in the south. There would be swimming in the lakes and wine tasting in famous cellars buried in the hillsides.
‘Do you really take students for wine tasting?’ I asked Nad’a, to make sure I’d understood correctly.
‘Of course—is very cheap.’
That wasn’t the point of my question but it raised my curiosity. How much? Approximately twenty cents a carafe. Marvellous! I thought, but they were still students.
‘Yes,’ she shrugged. ‘But our students are sixteen, seventeen or nearly eighteen and why not for them to be part of the experience?’
I explained our drinking rules back home. She thought those rules draconian.
‘We teachers are happy to have the camaraderie with our senior students. It makes them responsible. Soon they will be in the outside world and it prepares them.’
I was reminded yet again of the difference between our two worlds. Sedlčany was locked in time in so many ways, yet it had both preserved the innocence of childhood for its youngsters and treated them with respect as young adults. Every day I scribbled more and more in my diary, increasingly fascinated by this new world.