The walking dead

29th June 2012 at 01:00

God save the Queen! It's an unlikely sentiment for a lifelong republican, I know. Actually, "lifelong" is a bit of an exaggeration: it wasn't until I was 3 that I decided royalty was an embarrassing anachronism. My first memory is of watching the coronation. This involved sitting in a neighbour's house (television being a luxury the Joneses couldn't afford in 1953) and watching endless black-and-white pictures of a lady with a giant pin cushion stuck on her head. Thus, all royalty meant to the three-year-old me was wall-to-wall boredom.

So what is different now? The answer is half-term. Like most colleges, mine doesn't normally have one in the summer, but this year, with an extra bank holiday for the Diamond Jubilee, the academic year planners clearly thought: "What the hell, let's give them the whole week." So I took myself off to Sicily, deeming it far enough south to be free of the meteorological mishaps of home. It was. But sadly, try as I might, I couldn't entirely leave rain-blighted Blighty behind.

First off, all over the news was that flotilla and those flag-waving royalists I had paid good money to escape from. Worse, though, were the thoughts of work that kept insinuating themselves into my brain every few minutes. There's a lot of education to be found in Sicily. Name a civilisation and it has passed through at some point, leaving behind archaeological sites or buildings that you're going to want to visit.

But the spectacle that most put me in mind of college was down to the locals rather than their invaders. Beneath a church high in the hills to the northeast of the island, the most macabre of sights is to be found. Back in the 18th century, someone thought it would be a good idea to preserve the local nobility after death. The process of how they were pickled (I know it involved vinegar, presumably not balsamic) passed me by. But once preserved, the deceased dignitaries were dressed in their best clothes and ranged in upright positions all around the crypt. They are still recognisably human, but with their drooping postures, sagging mouths and empty stares, you can't help but conclude that they are now people in name only.

And the connection with life back at the fun factory that is an FE college? With the current pension plans that will force us all to work till we drop, isn't this a vision of the classroom of the future? First you resurrect a motley crew of slavering old wretches; then you stand them up, bedecked in the fashions of yesteryear, in front of a young and incredulous audience. In Sicily it's called the catacombs of Savoca. In the FE of 2020 it'll be year two of BTEC National in travel and tourism.

Stephen Jones is a lecturer at a college in London.

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