Teaching English on a Private Plane, and Civilised Pirates

The last week has been both wonderful and surprising in equal measure.

After a week of shying away from my novel, instead reading in every spare second I had or diligently preparing new lessons, I finally returned to it. The break was incredibly useful. Instead of the laborious effort I had found the first 15,000 or so words to be, my characters came to life on their own, and I actually enjoyed taking the time to craft their story. The first seven chapters felt like slowly pulling barbed wire out of tar. I knew what I needed to do to ‘open’ the story, and I found it a little tiresome. Largely, I’m sure, as I wasn’t sure how I actually wanted it to end.

After emailing the first 23,000 words to Tom for feedback though, he insisted that I decide, so I did. Just like that. I’d been avoiding it, not wanting to get stuck with a plot or concept I later turned against, but I finally just got on with it and planned out the entire plot in detail. The children reacted differently to each other when I explained why I was always typing. Seventeen year old Rupert seemed impressed. Too right. Fourteen year old Lisa, however, sniggered! ”You are writing about your adventures?!” Brat. She’s great though – stoic and smart (and into horses. Definite bonus as far as I’m concerned).  I really like all of them, and am actually a little jealous of the tutor who will be taking over from me in September, and moving to Moscow to teach them full time. Not jealous enough to contemplate going myself; but I like them.

On Monday, we went to Sardinia. I was told where we were going, that it would be for a few days, and that we would be going on their yacht, but when the driver pulled into Grosseto airport I was… surprised! “Er, we fly?” “Yes, of course”. Of course. Duh. Of course we’re going to get on a private jet and fly to your yacht, then cruise along to Corsica for lunch, then on to Bonifacio for dinner. Of course!

The private plane

Anchoring at Bonifacio

The private plane was like being in a flying living room. Instead of the usual plastic the interior was covered in fabric, like ivory hessian, the carpets and leather seats were a pale caramel, and the walls and other surfaces were glossy varnished wood. The tables were spread with white tablecloths, and bottles of Evian and bowls of fresh fruit were laid out next to every chair. My coffee came with a large plate of Italian biscuits, and a second plate of Russian sweets. Nobody put seatbelts on when we took off and landed, and there was just a curtain – left open – leading to the cockpit. The children were completely au fait with the whole thing. ‘Like yawn – private jet again? Oh well, guess that’s okay’. It reminded me of flying with my father when I was little, when I’d be allowed to sit in the jump-seat behind him as he powered the plane into the sky.

I remember being fascinated by the view through the cockpit window, as Dad named the different islands we flew over in the day, and named the stars for me at night. I think most little girls hero-worship their fathers, but to be honest I still do. I think both of my parents are incredibly people, and I often feel guilty that they got stuck with me for a daughter!

On Monday morning we had a lesson in the air, snaffling sweets and biscuits together on the family’s jet, then played chess as we flew over mountains and Italian farmland. In the afternoon, lessons took place on the top deck of their yacht (well, most of the lessons. Rupert spent the afternoon asleep on the sofa, so had to miss his. “Rupert?” “Unh?” “Are you asleep?” “Unh.” Boys eh.) Not quite as exciting as sailing on a pirate galleon with Cap’n Jack Sparrow, but we can’t have everything we want.

The view from the upper deck

Winning at chess. Yes, of course I photographed it!

On Tuesday evening we anchored at Porto Cervo (Sardinia), and the family and crew were surprised to see pop-up designer stores had been set up all along the quay since they were last there. We peered at them, curious, as a crowd of people gathered to watch us (well, the crew) negotiate the yacht into a ‘parking space’ between the others. “Oh look, it’s a Harrods!” Someone noticed. The trees and bushes sparkled with fairy lights, sports cars were on display between the shops, and glass boxes glowed from within, trying to entice the super-rich through their doors. The family disappeared for a couple of hours, and returned laden with Prada and Miu Miu shopping bags (I wanted to yell out a suitable pirate curse/ greeting as they trotted on board with their bags, then find myself some rigging to climb, but I didn’t.) I just about managed to console myself with thoughts of a little designer present I’ve promised myself when I return to London.

My first sight of Porto Cervo

Harrods followed me to Italy. Just WAIT Harrods. I’ll buy the handbag when I get home!

Some sort of art installation. You can just see the yacht I was on in the background.

On Wednesday we passed another, even larger yacht, which incited great excitement on board. It turned out that the sixty metre-long monster, with five decks and a helicopter on top, used to belong to them. In fact, they’d built it. In the evening we watched The Great Gatsby in Russian, as the sun set and the yacht was driven back to port. Luckily I happened to have read the novel the day before I arrived in Tuscany, so could follow it (the only Russian I’ve learn is ‘porhah’ which means ‘bad’) but it was a little surreal. It seemed a lot more sinister in Russian! It was night when we returned to the port, and an incredibly firework display was exploding in the sky above us. It went on for about half an hour, at the end of which all the yachts let off an impromptu volley of horn blasts.

Impromptu fireworks

The yacht itself was stunning. The living areas were beautifully decorated in shades of grey, cream and tan, and the rest of the interior lined with mahogany. Cashmere blankets folded over the backs of chairs (1,300 euros each, the crew told me), and expensive cushions to sink into. Everything had a place, with no clutter or awkward corners, and the crew ensured that we always had everything we wanted – a steady supply of snacks and drinks were kept up between meals. There were also small fridges dotted around, discreetly hidden in cupboards, so we could help ourselves if we wanted to. My cabin was small but not cramped, and the bathroom… ah, the bathroom! The shower was lined in white marble (really, truly!) and it was crammed with Molton Brown toiletries.  Heaven. Though the motion of the boat did make it feel a little like showering in a lift.

The crew didn’t stop working for a second, constantly refolding towels, discreetly cleaning, and organising anything the family asked for. When we weren’t at sea, the family spent a lot of time on various beaches, or playing with their jet-ski and jet-surfer, to name but two of the million or so fancy water-toys on board. They were surprised that I didn’t want to join them, and I was frequently asked why I didn’t go to the beach at the villa, but I really wasn’t that bothered. I was perfectly happy reading by the pool, or on the yacht, and otherwise wanted only to get on with writing. Beaches to me are for holidays, so I’d prefer to save them for when I’m actually on holiday myself. What do you think – should I have just enjoyed myself?!

The children were reluctant to give up their holiday time for lessons, but I nevertheless heard very few complaints from them. (aside from eight year old Emily – I had a few sulks from her!) They would sometimes give me excuses for having lessons ‘later’, which I typically acceded to rather than make them miserable, but I was very impressed by how well-mannered and hard-working they were.

I wouldn’t do it again! But I’m glad I did it this once.

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3 thoughts on “Teaching English on a Private Plane, and Civilised Pirates

    • Oh no, that would have been a much better blog-post title – wish I’d thought of it! I am now back in London, and very, very pleased to be home. It was an amazing experience, but it also made realise that I’m more than happy with my life just as it is. I’ll miss that private jet though! Jx

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