Tomorrow, to a team meeting in Birmingham, then to London to meet an old friend, A. He was a colleague in Cairo, the first teacher at the EFL school I worked at to befriend me when I arrived, shocked, befuddled and completely unexpected by the school, in October 1977. I had never flown before, never been outside Europe, never been employed abroad and was not met at the airport. The message from the school’s headquarters in London giving them two weeks’ notice of my arrival arrived several days after I did.
After a terrifying taxi ride through the dark suburbs of Heliopolis, the driver found someone who could read the address on the letter I brought, and deposited me at the school just as it was closing. ‘Who are you?’ ‘I’m the new teacher, Norman.’ I only understood the shock my name evoked when it was explained to me that they’d scheduled time for a ‘fictional’ teacher in case they had more students than they could cope with, and they’d called him … Norman. Accommodation was quickly arranged with a couple who had a spare room, and I was whisked off to the Palmyra Restaurant by A to be filled with Egyptian beer and kebabs, having been hastily persuaded that a vegetarian diet for a year in Cairo was not an option. We became good friends, formed a Heliopolis band (Spiny Norman and the Shambling Idiots) and kept in touch by Christmas card after we left Cairo. Another abiding memory was the night he volunteered to break the news to me that my father had died. That takes something.
A few weeks ago, on a whim, I googled A and found him directing an English teaching centre in California. I wrote, he replied and it transpired he was about to come to the UK for a week. We’ll both have changed since we last met (1983 in Manchester), but I’m confident the spark will still be there.