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Promotion

My boss had called me into his office first thing Monday morning. What on earth could he want? Perhaps he wanted to know exactly what had happened to Kevin? Maybe I had upset him in some way? Or had a student complained about me? It was always so difficult to tell whether Neapolitans were happy with the service you were providing or not. They were always so nice to your face. As if they couldn’t wait to get back in the classroom. And then they went running to the boss behind your back and telling tales out of school. So I was mightily relieved when I crept cat-like into his office and found that he was smiling. “Tell me,” he began. “What exactly are your intentions?” “My intentions?” I replied, hesitantly. “I mean, are you intending to return to the UK or will you be staying in Naples for the foreseeable future?” He swung gently to the left and to the right in his upholstered leather desk chair. I was caught off guard. “Well, I, er …” “Because the thing is, I’ve decided to promote Karen to manager. That creates a position for a Director of Studies, and we thought you might be the ideal person to fill it.” “Oh, I er …” He was smiling all the more. “Of course, it would mean more money, and a stable contract. No more pay by the hour. You’d get sick pay, paid holidays, Christmas bonus …” My head was starting to spin. I wanted to accept there and then, of course I did, but I wasn’t at all sure how the other teachers would react to this. Would they accept me as their boss? Would they accept my authority? It would be difficult living with people, going out with them in the evenings, knowing that I might have to administer a bollocking, or even sack them one day. And I wasn’t even sure I was up to the job. There were people who had been at the school longer than I had. How would they react to the news that they had been leap-frogged? I attempted to express some of my doubts to the Big Cheese, but he simply waved my objections aside.“Don’t worry about any of that,” he reassured me. “We’ll just take one day at a time. I’ll be here to offer advice. And as for the others, they’ll come round over time, and staff turnover will ultimately take care of the problem. Go home and have a good think about it.”

“I don’t need to,” I told him rashly. “I accept.” He beamed and offered his hand for me to shake.  “Excellent,” he said. “We’ll sort out the details next week.” I went home to tell the others, my heart racing fast, wondering how they would take it. “Well done, mate. Put it there,” said Steve, offering me his hand, as the boss had done. “Excellent news,” said Samuel. “Does that mean we have to start calling you ‘sir’?” Only Mick didn’t seem to be pleased for me. “They must be pretty fucking desperate,” he said bitterly, and he wasn’t joking. He got up and left the room, slamming the door so hard behind him that it made the windows rattle. Steve and Samuel looked shocked. “Well, if that’s how a new recruit reacts, what are the others going to say?” I wondered aloud, morosely. “Don’t worry about them. They’ll come round,” said Steve. But he didn’t sound convinced. A strange notice had appeared in the staffroom on Monday morning:

All staff are required to report to the school on Saturday morning at 9:00 to attend a lecture by Dr. Gennaro Esposito on health and safety in the workplace. Staff are, furthermore, required not to eat or drink over the preceding 12-hour period. The Management

“What’s all that about?” I asked Karen. “Oh, it’s an EU inspired initiative,” she replied. Now, if there’s one thing guaranteed to have me seeing red, it’s any mention of the EU. I hate the whole sorry institution. I hate its detestable blue flag with those ridiculous gold stars. I hate the unworkable compromises aimed at salvaging the national pride of individual countries. I hate its solutions to environmental problems that invariably have been cobbled together by bureaucrats in an office and that invariably aggravate the very problems they were intended to resolve. And I detest its bluster and bravado, all the pretty words about how the European Union will soon be an economic power to rival the US of A, while its biggest economies, France, and Italy especially, do everything in their power to block reforms, protect inefficient workforces, and generally act with a view to imposing economic backwardness on themselves and others. More than anything, I hate its destruction of people’s livelihoods with its crippling laws and directives and mountains and mountains of paperwork. I could go on and on, and I often do. I was getting angrier and angrier just thinking about it. “And what’s all this nonsense about not eating or drinking?” “They’ll be taking blood and urine samples for testing, so they need to make sure they’re not contaminated.”

“Right. Fuck that!” I thought to myself, and made immediate plans to have asparagus for dinner on Friday evening. If anything is guaranteed to make urine samples unusable, then it is asparagus. It also turns your piss bright green to boot. Tempers in the school were on a short fuse for the rest of the week. Teachers moaned vociferously about having to give up their Saturday. The secretaries did likewise. Personally, I was less bothered about having to sacrifice my Saturday than I was outraged by the Soviet style Big-Brotherdom of the whole episode. How dare they presume to analyse my blood and urine without my permission? Friday evening came, and I suggested to Giovanna that we have ricotta and asparagus lasagne for dinner. “Don’t skimp on the asparagus!” I warned her.

Next morning, I strolled into the bar for a hearty breakfast. “The usual?” asked the barman. I nodded and demolished the sfogliatella with gusto. “Another, please.” The barman raised an eyebrow. “Porca miseria! Hungry are we?” “Uh-huh.” The second sfogliatella similarly despatched, I spooned three generous teaspoons of sugar into my cappuccino and spotted the spirits and liqueurs behind the barman. “I’ll have a double scotch, please,” I told him. He looked at me suspiciously. It was only 8 o’clock. News of what had happened to Kevin had done the rounds in these parts. No doubt he was thinking that Englishmen had a tendency to lapse into chronic alcoholism at a certain point in their lives. He shook his head and poured a very large quantity of scotch into a tumbler. I drank it as if it were orange juice, paid up and left, feeling happy as the whisky began to take effect.

When I arrived at the school, I was given a receptacle to piss into and made my way to the bathroom. Marvellous! Bright green and stinking of whisky, this was a heady brew alright! They’d have fun analysing that! I smiled as I pictured a lab technician holding it up to the light in total disbelief. “Heh! Heh! Heh! The little twat! ” I said to my reflection in the mirror. Next I was ushered into one of the classrooms that had been turned into a makeshift doctor’s surgery for the day. The doctor mauled me this way and that and interrogated me on my dietary, drinking and smoking habits, while I answered his questions in as uncooperative and surly a manner as I could muster. After that, I made my way to the meeting room for the lecture on health and safety in the workplace. Dr. Gennaro Esposito was a tight-faced, unsmiling bureaucrat of the type the EU loves. An inchworm measuring the marigolds. An individual to who life can be reduced to statistics, figures and formulae. His wife must have had a blinding honeymoon. As with many of his kind, however, he was all appearance and no substance: slick suit; top of the range laptop connected to a projector for Powerpoint presentation; gold-rimmed glasses. But he got into such a flap with his slides and was so completely incapable of connecting two utterances by means of a logical thread, that even I started to feel sorry for him. Smoking was first on his list.

“Of course, I hope none of you here smoke,” he was saying. “The EU is particularly keen to stamp out that filthy habit.” I gave a sarcastic snort that brought him to sudden silence. “What’s wrong?” he asked me. Everyone was looking at me. “Oh, nothing,” I replied airily. “No, why did you laugh just then?” “Well, I was just wondering why, if the EU is keen to stamp out smoking, does it continue to subsidize Greek tobacco farmers?” My boss frowned at me severely and I deemed it wise to shut up before he began to reconsider my promotion. Besides, Dr. Esposito had no reply to this. I decided to leave him alone. The poor sap was just a puppet reading from a script. He probably didn’t even have a PhD, for anyone with a university degree can title themselves “Doctor” in Italy. I had made my point and sat back, smirking, to listen to whatever else he might have to say.

Over the next two hours, we learned that the property of fire was to burn – apparently, according to Dr. Esposito, wood and fabrics are particularly prone to this phenomenon, metal somewhat less so – while the property of water is to wet, and it also makes things slippery. If we were to fill a bath with petrol, Dr. Esposito continued, and then light a cigarette in the same room, there was a sizeable probability  – I forget the exact percentage, but Dr. Esposito had it all worked out – that an explosion would result. While this was incontestably true, I couldn’t help but feel that Dr. Esposito’s time would have been better employed if he had gone down to the petrol station on the by-pass and had a bit of a chinwag with the attendants, who I had often spotted using cigarettes in an equally reckless manner. I made a mental note, however, never to fill a bath with petrol and smoke in the vicinity.

Finally, the whole debacle came to an end and Dr. Esposito expressed the hope that we had found the morning’s festivities informative and useful. The Neapolitan secretaries, at their sycophantic best, fawned and simpered and started applauding. Hypocrites! I knew full well that they’d spend the rest of the week complaining. The Brits among us didn’t even bother to put on a show of good manners. Wordlessly, we trooped towards the door and went off in search of beer. It had been a long, long morning. As I arrived at my flat, a fork fell from a balcony high above and landed on the pavement in front of me. Three inches further back, and it would have embedded itself in the top of my head. Clearly the family that lived in that apartment would have benefited from a visit by Dr. Gennaro Esposito, and a lecture on health and safety at the dinner table.

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