Charity begins

4th June 2004 at 01:00
It's Tuscany with Tiziana, but who invited all those teachers?

It's half-term, and I'm actually going on holiday. I've spent my previous two mid-term breaks in my flat with a pile of lesson plan ideas and a box of Nurofen. But this time Tiziana Fausti has persuaded me to take a break with her in Tuscany, the land of her ancestors. So here we are at Stansted airport at 6.30 in the morning waiting for our Ryanair flight to Pisa (pound;1.99 return plus taxes). And we're not alone.

The place is heaving with teachers. They're easy to spot: beige chinos and Gap polo shirts, with a smattering of safari suits, for the men; floral tops and linen three-quarter-length trousers for the women. The NQTs are harder to pick out. There are countless twentysomethings clad, like me, in white vests and combats with a week's supply of clothes crammed into a rucksack.

Tiziana, the "It" girl of the St Brian's media department, is in a class of her own, looking more Sloane Ranger than supply teacher in her Prada shoes, Cavalli jeans and Pucci blouse. Her clothes are bright but her mood is dark. It's too early and she doesn't like queueing; she thinks "no-frills" is something to do with Milan Fashion Week.

I spend the flight chatting with an affable 60-year-old sociology teacher from Taunton who's wearing a T-shirt that says "Ofsted can kiss my ass". By early afternoon we've arrived at our seaside hotel in Viareggio and I'm excitedly asking Titz when we're going to visit the Puccini museum, the Etruscan ruins (a lesson plan starts to form in my mind), and the Shelley memorial. Maybe we can do the day trip to Florence tomorrow, and Lucca the day after. And all those castles...

She looks outraged. "What the hell are you talking about? We're hitting the beach, then it's the beach, followed by more beach. Do you get the idea, Charity?"

I follow meekly to the loungers, where Tiziana is immediately surrounded by handsome attendants, leaving me to struggle with a parasol. I look around at the rows of British alabaster bodies reading broadsheets and accompanied by children called Jake - more teachers. Tiziana is now settled, her perma-tan glistening. I spent an hour last night wrestling with a tube of Bronze In A Bottle and look as though I'm suffering from a nasty bout of impetigo. An equally hasty bit of waxing means that my crotch resembles something off the poultry shelf at Sainsbury's.

"What the hell's that!" Tiziana demands. I assume she's referring to my canvas towel bag, a freebie from an Inset session, but her perfectly manicured finger is pointing at my Year 7 project work. "ThatI oh, just a bit of marking." "Jesus, Charity, get a life! Can't you stop thinking about work for one minute? Here, try this." She throws me a dog-eared paperback called Killer Heels.

Tiziana's tirade is interrupted by a familiar voice. "Hey! Keep it down, can't you!" We turn to see Les Twigg, one of the St Brian's lifers, smiling in socks and tiny trunks, slapping on sun cream. Next to him is the unmistakable figure of Judith Crock, my head of department, and, sitting on her lap, her Scottish terrier Mr Pickles. Oh, God.

Les is tapping his wristwatch. "It's one o'clock. Do you two beach babes fancy a pizza?" Tiziana leaps to her feet. "Sorry, Les, but we're off to the Uffizi this afternoon. Can't come all this way and ignore the culture, can we?"

Next week: Is Charity on her way out?

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