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Passions of the brooding youth

THIS MORNING we are doing poetry. Brunhilda brings her gaze back from some Gothic hinterland of her imagination. She is dressed in black, save for the metallic glint from studs and chains, and a blood-red streak in her hair.

Last week we did a ghost story and I asked the students to reset it in a context of their own choice. Brunhilda located hers in an empty theatre, where a heavy metal band called Raven had just played a tribute to Edgar Allan Poe.

Ed perks up when I explain our poem is about war. Somewhere in the middle of verse four, I notice Ellie has stuck her thumb in her mouth and is beginning to rock. I am not actually trying to put her to sleep, but perhaps she has been conditioned by bedtime stories.

I give them an assignment, to research some of the background to the poem.

Off to the library.

When we return, I ask them what they would like to tackle next week. Ellie would like to interview her grandad about his war experience. Ed is keen to research atomic bombs, phosphor weapons and friendly fire. Brunhilda would like to explore the darker side of Victorian verse. Nothing like a bit of passion to get them going.

Unfortunately, they are also busy exploring passion in other guises. On Friday afternoon I see them again for a life skills module. This week we discuss health and hygiene. Brunhilda wants to know the difference between colds and flu. The symptoms are explained and Brunhilda realises her recent illness was the genuine thing. She cannot find the words to frame her second question, which I suspect is not for public consumption. "You may find it easier to ask me at break," I say, meaning "Please do not ask me in front of your peers". During the break, she stops me in the corridor. My answer is prepared, but I had anticipated the wrong question. I do not really know what to recommend, apart from an internship at the White House, but I reply full on and fearlessly: "Ask Jane next time you see her: she has a medical background."

Thankfully the other students have melted away, deciding they have heard too much already. They come back from break and the lesson resumes. Ten minutes before the end, Brunhilda takes out her make-up mirror to darken her eyes in preparation for her next tryst. By the time I leave, an eerie quiet is settling. But, as I approach the main doors, I catch the sound of a girl's voice on a mobile. It is Brunhilda's friend, asking down the phone whether to get kebabs, or will they make her throw up again?

Brunhilda is nearby, sprawled over one of the lads. I recall the advice she was seeking, but in my heart I know it is too little, too late, so I just say: "Bye. Have a good weekend."

"Cheerio," they reply. "Don't do anything we wouldn't do." A black crow has alighted on the car park. I could've sworn I heard it squawk "Nevermore".

Gill Moore is a basic skills lecturer

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