Thank God it's Friday

29th May 1998 at 01:00

Arrive in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for the annual book fair which will have a million visitors over three weeks. I'd forgotten how romantic the street names sound - Santa Fe, Florida, Esmeralda, Corrientes. The traffic is fierce: my delight in returning to this wonderful city is tinged with anxiety that I will not live long enough to enjoy it. My colleague Holly and I are keen to hit a tango establishment, but by 9pm we are dead on our feet.


Finally learn which lectures the British Council want us to give in Uruguay later that day. Hectic preparation followed by four hours' delay at the airport because of the meteorologica. No information, crowds, the telephones don't work and we don't speak Spanish or have the right money. But the people are wonderful and rush to help us phone our hosts. One man lets me use his mobile three times and looks offended when I offer money. The airport is full of excited, shrieking teenage girls who have just returned from a handball tournament in Moscow. Everyone looks on tolerantly at their boisterous antics.

Eventually the plane takes off and our efforts are worthwhile. The teachers in Monte-video are intelligent, well educated and highly motivated. Holly suggests 101 ways they can liven up Peter and Jane's dreary exploits in the Ladybird reading scheme that they have to use with bilingual learners.

I tell them about Wendy Cope's poem, "Reading Scheme" ("Here is Peter. Here is Jane. They like fun."), and promise to send them a copy.

The turbulence is so bad on the flight back to Buenos Aires that I say a prayer for the first time in years. Again, too tired to tango.


We lecture on picture books and the audience goes bananas over books by Anthony Browne and others. We have lots in common with South American teachers, - especially too many government constraints and inadequate time to devote to literature. It's great to be passionate about books and receive a warm response, and to collect kisses and hugs at the end of sessions. Equally refreshingly - if people don't like any aspect of the talk, they say so.


Today's lecture, "Multi-layered Readers and Multi-layered Texts", is about picture books and other texts that don't reveal all their goodies on a first reading, offering different things to more and less experienced readers. I was specially asked for this topic, which shows the sophistication about English teaching in Argentina.

Despite what we Brits perceived as inadequate briefing and erratic time-keeping, we have loved the experience. We celebrate our last night here. Too drunk to tango.


My final lecture on "Children as Readers of their own Writing" (again, the organisers' choice) is the principal reason for the trip. After last year, I shouldn't be surprised that my time slot is shorter than I had been led to expect and starts half an hour late. I jettison my carefully planned, upbeat ending.

Later, in San Telmo, we lust after beautiful male tango dancers with waist-length pony tails. Holly sadly packs her 18 tango CDs and I tuck in a River Plate football shirt for my son. A last walk through the criss-cross streets - Viamonte, Chile, Montevideo, Lavalle, C"rdoba. I'm miserable, it's Friday, but don't cry for me, Argentina. I'm coming back.

Morag Styles is reader in children's literature at Homerton College, Cambridge

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