Thank God it's Friday

25th May 2001 at 01:00
Sunday I'm in Rome with my headteacher to visit three elementary schools and look at social inclusion. Luckily we can stay with my cousin, an English teacher, whose flat has a fabulous view. We stand drinking coffee, admiring Monte Verdi. Balconies burst with greenery and bells ring for Palm Sunday.

Monday Our first school, Pirotti, is south of the city. We're told public transport will be awful so we take a taxi - and spend 45 minutes gripping our seats. The school resembles a vast grey Sixties-type secondary. The children are lovely; the staff are horrified that we have such a thing as special schools, that we work more than 21 hours a week and teach up to 10 subjects. Wined and dined, we end the day with a horse and carriage ride around the sights.

Tuesday Much calmer taxi ride to the south-east. Arrive at the Marelli school, the one we're linked with, where every class is waiting to greet and perform for us. It's moving to see disabled children joining in, so happy and stimulted. At the Picasso school another tremendous welcome awaits us. The children sing and dance, and we feel like royalty. Arrive back at the flat exhausted and with a growing sympathy for dignitaries.

Wednesday School business over, we visit the Vatican. Breakfast on coffee and pizza-type sandwichesI oh, for a bacon sarnie. Something seems about to happen in St Peter's Square so, being English, we join the queue. Suddenly, we spot the top of the Pope's white hat. I freeze and long to shout: "My dad knew you in Wadowice. Remember?He used to play with you." He speaks in four languages for an hour. Like an ancient prophet in white, head on one side, a deep voice slurred but powerful, and when he speaks in Polish, I cry.

Thursday The plan was Pompeii, but a wonderful dinner party given by our glittering hostess is not conducive to early rising. We spend the last day taking a last look at Rome.

Wanda Noakes is deputy head at Porters Grange junior school, Southend, Essex


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