Back in 2019 I started attending a beginners’ German class in Stirling.  Then the pandemic came along and we had to go on line.  Then that too came to a halt, and all I could do was try to read a little every day.  Jeden Tag versuchte ich, während des Lockdowns, ein bisschen Deutsch zu lesen.  This year, when the autumn leaves began to fall, live meetings in real time began to start up again, and I resolved to find a German class.  I contacted the Goethe Institute in Glasgow.  I had to sit a test, so that I could be placed in an appropriate class.  Then I had an interview on Zoom, mostly in German.  I thought, why on earth am I subjecting myself to this?  I suppose a lifetime of education, then further education, then “professional development” and so forth, becomes habit-forming.  Anyway, I was treated with the greatest kindness and forbearance, and now I attend a class on Thursday mornings in the Institute in Glasgow.

It’s an early start for me.  The morning rush hour on the M80 merging on to the M8 east of Glasgow is horrendous, so I avoid that and take the bucolic route through Strathblane.  Moreover parking in the environs of the Institute is very expensive, so I’ve got into the habit of leaving the car, for free, in Kelvindale, and walking for thirty minutes through Glasgow’s west end.  This is home for me.  I played in these streets as a child.  I don’t think they’ve changed that much; just more traffic.

The Botanic Gardens, Hillhead, Glasgow University Campus, Kelvingrove Park.  How odd to be back in this environment, qua student, of sorts.  I cut through the erstwhile Arts Quadrangle of the university’s main building, and the cloisters.  Mingling with the undergraduates, I feel like a ghost.  I remember at the top of the stairway leading up to the Arts Quadrangle there used to be a prominent poster advertising UGSAS – the Universities of Glasgow & Strathclyde Air Squadron.  It is no longer there, and I don’t suppose UGSAS exists any more.  But I was a cadet pilot in UGSAS all these years ago, and I used to attend “Ground School” at the Squadron’s HQ at 12 Park Circus, also, so far as I remember, held on a Thursday.  The Goethe Institute is fifty metres away, at No. 3.  Walking past No. 12 I feel even more like a ghost.  The only thing to indicate the former life and occupancy of No. 12 is a bare flagstaff above the entrance. 

RAF educational techniques occasionally involved an interview without coffee, a “bollocking”, for some perceived piece of stupidity or insubordination.  All was subsequently forgiven in the bar, where, if not careful, one could rack up a substantial “mess bill”.  There is no bar in the Goethe Institute, but there is coffee.  And a very relaxed atmosphere.  I sometimes have to remind myself that there is no point in harbouring any angst.  It doesn’t in the least matter if I get my verb endings wrong.  I’m doing this for fun.  Still, habits of a lifetime’s past exposure to threats and intimidation are deeply ingrained, and hard to expunge.  I still experience a pang of dread if I discover I have inadvertently missed out a piece of homework.  Absurd! 

After the class, I’ve got into the habit of walking back past No. 12 – per ardua ad astra – and the statue of Lord Roberts of Kandahar sitting astride his horse and looking across Kelvingrove in the direction of Glasgow University tower.  I descend on to Kelvin Way and walk along to the Art Gallery and Museum just in time for the one o’clock organ recital.  In the German class we are tasked this week to describe a museum we have visited and say what is interesting about it.  The Art Galleries would be too obvious.  I’ve opted for the House of Memories, 12,000 miles away in Waipu, North Island, New Zealand, where Scottish settlers formed a community in the middle of the nineteenth century.

After the organ recital in Kelvingrove, I generally have a wander through the paintings and exhibits.  One seems out of place to me – a Supermarine Spitfire hanging from the ceiling.  It is an amazing machine, but it is an engine of war.  Put it in a museum of flight, I say.  It is sobering to think that if I’d been born a generation earlier I might have had to fly one of them in combat with the people I now have a chat with about museums over coffee on Thursday morning.  I’ve been very fortunate.  My most crucial assignment this week is to provide the biscuits.

Das is die Weise, wie der Keks krümelt.                                         

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