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Winner of Echo story comp: week 3

Mandy Nolan

Thanks again to the story writers for this week’s comp!

It’s been so great to hear what stories you have to tell each week! We’re up to our third week so keep those stories coming.

This week’s winner is Andrea Darvill for her story Saved By Elvis. Its a really quirky story about being hungover teaching an English Language Class.

Please keep sending those stories through and we’ll have a new $50 winner for you next week too!

The main rule is the story has nothing to do with COVID-19. It can be no more than 800 words in length and there will be a $50 cash prize every week for six weeks!

Email your entries to[email protected] by 11.59pm every Tuesday for inclusion. Please include your full name, address, and phone number.

Saved by Elvis

It’s a hot, humid afternoon at the English Language School.  The Swiss-German students have staged a coup, refusing to let me put on the air conditioner. “We hate fake cold air”. The white plastic standup fan, wheezing and wobbling in the corner, just isn’t cutting it. I’m faced with fourteen, wilting, intermediate-level students, mostly in their twenties, who look like they’re in the middle of digesting a Christmas meal. It also happens to be the Thursday after the Wednesday-night, student-organized “beer-bque”.  Hooray.

“Okay!  Showtime, folks!” I pull enthusiasm out of a hat, like it’s a white rabbit.  “Today we’re going to continue learning The Rules for Gerund Use!”  Ta Da!

I avert my eyes from the hammock on the veranda outside the classroom, beckoning me with its siren song.  Why Australia, a tropical country – in the summer – hasn’t adopted the siesta, I will never know.  We should start a petition.

“Okay!  Today, the final rule: The use of the gerund after certain expressions.”                                                

“Why after certain expressions and not another expression?” asks a student suspiciously.  She’s been why-ing me to death all week like a three-year-old on steroids.

Oh god. “Why?” is such a dreaded question when it comes to grammar and the English language.  Sometimes, the honest-to-god answer to “Why?” is “Because it just is.”

“Why? Because English is the craziest language on the planet, and English-speakers inflict their language on the whole world because misery enjoys company. If we have to learn all these random rules, then you have to learn them as well!”

The students laugh.  Except for Suspicious Student.

“I want you to write down three things you really don’t like, using ‘I + can’t stand+ verb + ing’.  GO!”   I know who I can’t stand at this point.

Once the students have written down a few of their unfavourite things, I tell them we’re going to play a game with their lists.  Suspicious Student scowls.  She’s a Traditionalist.  A Fundamentalist.  A game does not treat grammar seriously.

I explain: “Repetition is the best way to remember something, but it can get boring.  Hopefully this game will make it a little more fun.”

Suspicious Student is ready to walk out of the class at the mention of the F-word.

The Spanish, Italian, Brazilian, and French students are getting passionate, worked up, gesticulating wildly; happily bitching away about what they can’t stand.  The Japanese and Korean students are smiling and laughing while confessing the things they detest.

I continue to listen in on the students repeating each other’s sentences and adding their own grievances.

“I can’t stand eating my homestay mother’s macaroni and tuna!” says Francois from France.

“I can’t stand hanging over,” says Mira from the Czech Republic.

“Hanging over what?  A bridge?  The edge of a cliff?” I ask.

“You know, when you have too many beers at the beer-bque.”

“Oh.  ‘I can’t stand having a hangover’.  Or, ‘I can’t stand being hung-over’.”

“Thank you teacher.  I can’t stand hanging over.”

“Okay, we’re going to move on to a new gerund.  I’ll introduce it through a classic song” (eye roll from Suspicious Student), “that uses the expression, ‘I can’t help + verb + ing’ “ and I wrote it on the board.  “Listen to this song and see if you can write down the words.”

The class intently focuses on the iconic instrumental riff.  Soon, Elvis croons, “… but I can’t help – ” at which point I pause the song – crooning interruptus – and the students have to guess the lyrics and gerund that follow.  Tomoko suggests, “I can’t help talking to you.”  That about sums up every member of my family, but no.

As I’m about to appease Suspicious Student, scrap the rest of the song and launch into a review of the week’s cold, hard grammar rules, she pipes up, “Can we hear the whole song?”

“Uh … sure.”

As Elvis continues his slow, soporific serenade, and I’m afraid my students will slip into a beer-bque coma, Fernando, my Brazilian student with a cheeky grin, jumps out of his seat, grabs a black magic marker from the whiteboard ledge, and, clutching it like a mike, does an Elvis impersonation: crooning in synch with the King to the female contingent of the class. The Japanese girls giggle and blush, and the students who are hanging over swat his face when he gets too close. His rendition of Elvis is hilarious and I can’t help laughing along with the students.  Gin, from Korea, almost topples out of his seat.  Everyone is wide-awake now.  Who knew that laughter would be the eco-friendly alternative to air-conditioning for reviving a hung-over, grammar-soaked, sweaty class?  Suspicious Student is swiping tears away she’s laughing so hard.

So, yes. Elvis is alive and well.  In this classroom, anyway.



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6 responses to “Winner of Echo story comp: week 3”

  1. Len Heggarty says:

    The time is early December, 2019 and it is hot, humid and steamy. All week on the radio is the news of the bushfires and the devastation. The migrant class is restless at Byron Bay English Language School from the tension in the news. These students are in Byron because there is cheap accommodation.
    A commotion has arisen, a disruption, the Swiss-German students have staged a sit-in and have taken over the area where the switch is for the air-conditioning and they are refusing to allow the teacher to turn the air-conditioning on. They do not want to breathe fake cold air. This is pre-Coronavirus epidemic and students don’t have face masks.

  2. Jan W says:

    My favourite so far, very entertaining.

  3. Jacqueline says:

    A very entertaining read, educational too as I’m honestly not familiar with a gerund use. I can totally feel the energy of the classroom & the various personalities. Nice one Andrea :))

  4. K. Thomas says:

    Darvill’s way of setting the scene pulls the reader into the story straight away. Her creativity and clever word play makes this story a thoroughly enjoyable read. She deftly takes a mundane day at work and spins it into a mostly lighthearted, fun story, with the important truth that, like Suspicious Student, we can all change our perspective and see things from another’s point of view.
    A great choice for this week’s winner! Let’s hope we hear more from this writer.

  5. Caroline says:

    I know that suspicious student lol (or at least her tribe!). Nice one Andrea!

  6. Dawn McPherson says:

    A great story.The images are so clear( the wheezing wobbling fan, the hammock beckoning, the look of the suspicious student). Keep writing Andrea.

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