Today was taken up with being ‘sorted out’ by the Protocol Education agents. Located in Chancery Lane they run a very efficient practice with a friendly staff checking all details, filling out forms, explaining a raft of procedures from pay to National Security ID’s to police checks. Once identifying
what and where I might want to teach, two ladies from the different areas dropped in and excitedly spoke at the type of schools in their domains. Outside of this office with its helpful troop of organised personnel sat newly arrived teachers from Canada and seasoned teachers manning computer terminals beside bookshelves of teacher resources and curriculum. They were locating places to stay – one of the first and most difficult parts of the settling in process. It’s the beginning of the school year and work is still slow – most teachers arriving back at school healthy and fit from their long summer holiday. This is good for new supply teachers as bank accounts have to be opened, longer term stay organised and the curriculum mastered. It seems living in Islington is good as they have excellent schools there with limited supply teachers. So, I think I’m in the right place..I’m pumped and ready to roll!
That night I attempted to find my way around using the Tube. After organising an Oyster card – which allows you simply to swipe whatever transport you’re using – whether bus, tube, train etc and simply top up every now and again, I entered the maze of vertical escalators - where fit Londoners skip down – or hold tete a tete’s as though they’re in a comfortable cafe, repositioning themselves quickly on each new downward journey. The Tube map fortunately has some straight lines – its bad enough with the maze that’s spread before me! I need to change at least two times it seems as someone is under a train in the direction that I could most easily go. Finally I emerge to look at accommodation which seemed to be pretty close on the map, but took one hour to get to. We walk for fifteen minutes, passing another closer train station which winds back towards the city from the direction of the person under the train. The houses continue to be unbroken by any side passage or front garden – quaint, cheek by jowl with a village atmosphere that is borders dull after the buzz of inner city. Unfortunately there are no good cafes here, there are four flights of stairs to get the bedroom and it’s a shared house, albeit with fairly responsible teachers from Protocol. My legs have had it, and my knee is saying ‘enough’!
The return journey takes half an hour of waiting for a train – perhaps someone is still underneath the train? It’s deadingly quiet out here and I try not to listen to the platform’s sole other commuter explain loudly on her mobile about the personal problems of her parishioner whose Bible is somehow an issue. I’m determined to get to London Central City Mosque so break fast in tiny Bangladeshi restaurant. It’s clear it belongs to a comfortable semi retired person – old fashioned lights on the walls, fading but loved multicoloured Persian carpet, with straight backed chairs toned with dark blue to match the fading light blue walls and tablecloths. The old man in charge shuffles quietly and resolutely in serving me with a reserved air of long habit. The food is simple and nourishing, the price reasonable.
Getting to the mosque which directions indicated was not far required walking a mile, then catching one bus, then walking, then catching another bus and finally walking another few blocks. The streets were dimly lit and although fellow Muslim bus passengers who walked some of the way with me gave helpful directions, it was a journey I decided not to repeat. I decided to get a taxi for the return home – despite the certain extra cost. The mosque itself was chaotic – with few lights and a confused mass of fairly noisy mixed races and children running around a forecourt. I found my way to the ladies wudu section which was crowded with small groups of ladies sitting on the ground or in small groups noisily talking to each other with the detritus of their recent break fast piled around them. Rubber mats usually placed on the tiled floor in front of wudu areas were located everywhere – with some groups of chatters set up at tables next to the taps or on the floor in adjacent tiled areas. After cleaning up somewhat I headed upstairs to the ladies section – where scores of women were quietly engaged in Quran reading or praying. Finally we rose to prayer and the a wave of peace washed through me as I heard the first ‘Amen’ deeply sung by a united and uniform congregation.