HJGFJI have had a lot of fun with Anita Desai over the years. Village by the Sea: a great story for Year 8 up. It has all the minutiae of Indian village life and all the jostle and pressure of Bombay city life. It looks at how children survive and hold the family together when mother and father are not up to it, and when huge change threatens to wipe out all the old ways of peasant existence. And the fun? Well, it has been mostly with food.
Class 8B looked up some Indian recipes, bought the ingredients and took over the school kitchens one evening to make their dishes. They wore pyjamas, and some staff came to eat. The food was delicious. Then it rained. Not English rain. It was an Indian monsoon storm. The black night cracked open with flashes of strobe light, and the roar deafened us. We sat around, white faces in candlelight, with turmeric stains on our chins, and stared in awe at each other. The school sprang two major leaks that night. In one, water poured out of the roof in the computer room and shorted-out a bank of machines. We did not dare tell the caretaker what we had been doing.
Nowadays we go to the local tandoori restaurant, where Mr and Mrs Choudhary lay out a long table for us and play Indian music, and let us into the kitchen to show how naan bread is baked (slapped by hand on to the inside walls of the stone oven, where they stick and blacken). And we try betel nut and paan. The class wnts to go on a field trip to Bombay: we are wondering whether the National Lottery might help. Or maybe the school would pay up - on condition we do not have another cook-in evening.
Alan Garner, on the other hand, gives me nightmares. The Weirdstone of Brisingamen contains one of the most horrifyingly claustrophobic accounts of a potholing-type experience that you are ever likely to read. Two children and two dwarves have to wriggle their way, arms outstretched, down tubes of rock that scrape their crowns and squash their cheeks and noses, and they have to work their way around a bend that doubles back on itself. I cannot go on. But you get the drift. So a few diagrams on the board, and some squirmy stuff in the classroom and the pupils ask: "Can we go on a potholingcaving trip, please?" South Devon does have a few limestone sites with cave systems. A few phone calls to outdoor education instructors and it is fixed. But you will not get me going down there. No way.
I take my torch and a camera. A torch to watch as the last overalled, helmeted, booted small figure scrambles into the hole beneath the overhang and disappears, and I stand there, or rather bend there, looking into the empty darkness, listening to the silence that has just swallowed the chirruping voices of a dozen pupils. I photograph each face as it emerges an hour later, glistening and muddy and red-cheeked.
Brilliant. Books: look where they can take you.
Rowland Molony teaches at Sidmouth College, Devon