1. i taught more engineers the other day, and naturally they wanted to know the right word for “race” as applied to dogs. i pummelled my brains then said “breed”. i taught them “pure breed” and “mongrel”, pointing at myself as a sterling example of the last; i added “only use these with animals or English teachers – with human beings, people will think you’re a Nazi.” Much knowing nodding and guffawing followed.

2. Almost no work (and hence no money) this week, or last, or the week before that. My last lesson for the week was from 0730 to 0900 this morning, a group of comely babes, mainly engineers of some sort. There’s an interestingly odd Russian woman, Olga, who the others dislike. i can’t assess her character, even after a dozen lessons. She goes off on uncontrollable tangents, with great enthusiasm, and says things like “can we do grammar?” when i’m trying to teach the pisspoor and dull meetings & presentations module. She also dresses superbly and is very beautiful, in a weird, not quite human way. We discussed Chekhov in one lesson, much to my pleasure. She strikes me as potentially ruthless and treacherous, but she may simply be incalculable.

Last week she told me she started as a civil engineer, then shifted to mechanical engineering, explaining “I prefer steel to concrete“. i asked why. With bubbling manic enthusiasm she told me that the calculations are clearer with steel, so it’s easier to determine how steel structures will respond to wind, snow loads, etc. i found this tremendously exciting and wanted to ask further, detailed questions – and realised i knew nothing about the matter, that i couldn’t; later, i reflected that if i could live my life over again, i would either be an engineer or a dobermann.

3. Birgit did her test today, scoring 24 out of 30, hoorah. In our last lesson i assured her that it was a purely administrative ordeal and should be regarded as such. She said “but I don’t want to disappoint you.” i suspect she has no real friends in Ultima Thule – she seems to feel that East Germany is her home, and she is only (reluctantly) here for the job. Over our few lessons she has opened up more and more about her feelings as a Leipziger in the West, the opportunities she missed (she wanted to work as a horse groom but the GDR told her “you are a worker’s daughter, you must be a worker”). There is considerable regret here, but no real bitterness – a sign of good character; and she is a good egg.

Perhaps it is my novelist’s interest in character, my intense attention both to my students’ language, and their souls, which makes me – when we “click” – a strangely effective teacher (in spite of my inexperience and pretty shaky technique). i have noticed this with certain students (male and female) – i become the person to whom they can talk about everything that must remain unspoken elsewhere.

i remember with pleasure my last lesson with my favourite student, whom David and i call simply “the Great Man” (student no 3) – he looked unusually stressed, and related a tale of fuck ups, mysteriously inoperative circuit breakers, broken flanges, and Italian corruption. We were doing the bullshit meetings and presentations module, so instead of teaching him vocab like “power lead” and “overhead projector” i asked him to tell me about the problem in detail, and outline his tactics. He had arranged a supply of a special steel from a German company to an Italian company, various machinations and contrivings, and hoped to solve the problem as quickly as possible.

“What will you do if the next shipment of parts is also defective?” i asked. “What’s your Plan B?”

“Plan B?” He nodded at the window. “Plan B is I jump out of the window and run.”

A sentiment i understand.