Thank God it's Friday

David Meaden

Sunday: At midday, Paul, Terry and I arrive in Evora, Portugal. We are the Welsh and English parts of a UK contingent, looking at measures to prevent school failure. No one else has arrived and it's raining, so we go downtown for a liquid lunch. Back at the hotel the others arrive. First is Douwe, a six-foot-six Netherlander, then Karl from Norway, whose luggage has gone astray in Frankfurt. Next comes Benedetto from Italy, who resembles a lecherous monk.

Monday: The course starts in confusion because, although the official language is English, the Italian and Spanish groups can barely understand it. The presentation switches to French but then Bernard, from Bordeaux, whispers to me that he finds it easier in English. Then it's lunchtime followed by a visit to a secondary school. Hospitality is generous and we are inundated with gifts of pottery. At some point we've got to decide on a rapporteur. We'll let the French and Germans decide and then refuse to co-operate.

Tuesday: We visit two primary schools and I enjoy myself writing a story. My concentration lapses when Paul points out that the headteacher is a dead ringer for Mr Bean. In the afternoon we visit a school on a housing estate where we're impressed by work with the children of travellers and north African market traders. Once again, we're touched by the hospitality. We have still made no decision about the rapporteur and our long-suffering organiser, Cristina, is getting twitchy.

Wednesday: After breakfast we decide to take group photographs - if we leave it any longer we'll need a wide-angle lens. In the afternoon we are taken on a conducted tour of Evora, which includes a visit to a grisly chapel made entirely from the bones of dead monks. Later, in a bar, there's music and Benedetto gets excited and spills red wine all over Karl's trousers.

Thursday: We visit a large school that has replaced 19 small village schools and a television crew is waiting for us. Wendy, the Scot, and Benedetto are interviewed. Benedetto gestures towards something on his chest. We later discover that he's pinned his hotel-room key to his jacket, say-ing, "All the women in Portugal must visit this room." We never find out whether this gem makes it to the six o'clock news. Lunch is pork ribs. I ask everyone to save the bones as I'm starting a chapel. That evening in a local restaurant Karl makes a sensitive speech and Cristina seems genuinely sorry the course is coming to an end. Terry and I agree to put the report together. I blame it on the wine.

Friday: Cristina and the other organisers join us for lunch and there is much presentation of gifts and tearful farewells. What have we gained? Respect for a region poorer than ours, some useful contacts, enough pottery for a dinner service and about half a stone in weight.

David Meaden is an education adviser in an outer London borough

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David Meaden

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