I've started ‘volunteering’ at the nursery a couple of days a week. I use the term ‘volunteer’ loosely because it conjures up images of pensioners lending a helping hand at their local National Trust stately home or bored parents helping middle class children to learn to read on a Friday afternoon.
It’s actually bloody hard work.
The suggestion was put to me as a solution to my ‘not being able to speak Italian’ woes. Barbara (M’s sister-in-law) runs the nursery and M suggested that I lend a hand every now and then, since, as he so delicately phrased it, ‘the children speak better Italian than you do’.
‘Si, si, ok va bene!’, exclaims Barbara, ‘ti piacciano i bimbini’?
At this moment, I’d like to point out that, despite having worked with children before, they aren’t really my thing. I’d go as far to describe myself as a sort of cross between Cruella DeVille and the Child Catcher. But, it actually did make a lot of sense. Children don't use complex sentences, multiple tenses and conjunctions. It’s all possessive pronouns and the occasional adjective.
‘Si, si! Mi piacono i bimbi! Tutti i bambini!’, I responded.
The nursery - l’asilo- is quite the cultural institution in Camogli. Practically every child between the age two and five years old attends the nursery every morning and most of the afternoon.
The nursery is a lot bigger than I’d anticipated; a labyrinth of rooms spread over three floors, stuffed with plastic toys, dolls houses and chairs for very little people. Most of the nursery teachers seem to be a lovely bunch. A matronly type leads me into a back room to change into some white crocs, then pulls me into a large yellow room stuffed full of small children. She introduces me as ‘Alessandra, lei e Inglese’, to which the children applaud and ambush me, as if she’d announced I'm Pepper Pig or related to Cinderella, and leaves me to it.
We play with dolls, I read to them in Italian, I get far too involved with a game of Mums and Dads (a particular forte of mine in my younger days). We invent a fantastic game which involves getting as many people to sit on my legs as possible until someone one falls off. They invent a not-so fantastic game which involves pinching my bottom and running away. I actually, very strangely, begin to really like children and, weirdly, I became very attached to these little Italian versions.
There was one particularly horrific hour, which saw me sitting at a miniature desk on miniature chair with the rest of the three year olds, in an English lesson taught by a Miss Trunchball type, who repeatedly barked at me for English translations. I think it must’ve been quite clear that the whole episode was bringing on some traumatic memories of Primary School as, after the lesson, a little girl gave me a kiss on the cheek, whispered something in my ear and gave me a piece of plastic cake.
That episode aside, all in all it was a rather lovely induction into the life of an Italian three year old.