A-levels and daal
Tom and I have not gone further than the prayer-flag strewn steps at the end of the road, and the monastery up one hairpin bend, where we bought chewing gum and bananas.
We’ve kept to the guesthouse, where clouds have come and gone, engulfing us as we try to figure out how best to prepare three 17 year olds for A levels in six weeks on Shakespeare, Austen (me) and basically all of history, from the French Revolution to nuclear proliferation (Tom).
Here’s the prob: they’ve only read the set texts As You Like It and Sense and Sensibility once, and plot is where they’re at. I, being a slow reader and only having been notified that these were the set texts a week ago, do not even have the plot down. The internet is useful on this score, but not ideal. The other thing is that A-levels are hard. And often – stupid. Why on earth would you ask a person to write an ESSAY about the feelings that Richard II’s soliloquies excite upon the audience? “Richard’s soliloquies make the audience feel bad!” “R’s soliloquies make the audience feel like they have value for money!”
More confusing is the question on Sense and Sensibility – a long, boring passage when Elinor defends Colonel Brandon, whom both Mariane and Willoughby think old and “infirm” and thus useless and boring. The A-level wants to know what “it [the passage] contributes to Austen’s presentation of Mrs Dashwood and her daughters”. Bit vague, no? The whole book concerns Mrs D and her daughters. It’s like saying “Please write a critical appreciation of how Shakespeare presents Macbeth in the play, Macbeth”.
Anyway, once again it’s quite fun getting out my pen and annotating these passages – alliteration! Enjambment! Assonance! The author wants us to pay attention! Foreshadowing!
Meanwhile, Tom is delivering the story of the French Revolution – the three estates, the estates general, royalists, Robespierre…and I think he just explained Napoleon in five minutes flat. The three girls are basically getting intensive private supervision from the country’s key French Revolutionist and world’s most enthusiastic pedagogue…if that doesn’t guarantee A’s, nothing will.
Tom and I plan to venture further from the warm embrace of hilltop clouds and meals of salty oily vegetables with rice and daal this afternoon. It’ll be a bit like leaving the womb, but downtown Gangtok, with its funny cafes and pirate DVD shops, awaits.