Scotch Eggs


I was on my way to work, walking from the car, when I ran into a former student. He and his wife had been in my beginner-adult class during my first two years at the language school, all of us new there. Theirs was my favorite class. Ever since, I’ve hoped for another group as kind, funny, and ready to struggle as those students. If they are my age, like this man and his wife, so much the better. I couldn’t remember this student’s name, though he came up with mine even as he slowed. “Clellan!” he said, my name sounding as welcoming as a hug.

Ours was a brief exchange. What was he doing, I asked, in this neighborhood? Hadn’t they moved to the city center? Yes, they had, he said, but he had a boat at this harbor. A sailboat? No, he said, smaller. He was a bit grayer than he had been seven years earlier, but just as slim. How was Montse, I asked, delighted to find that his wife’s name came to me with no effort. That is not always the case with names, or other words, for that matter. Sometimes, instead of my students asking me the word for something, I’m the one asking.

She was fine, he said, still studying English but at an academy close to their home. Of course, I said, and good for her. We looked at each other.

“Well,” I said. “So nice to see you!”

I had a feeling as we stood on the street, both of us hesitating before parting, that there was an opportunity for more—for me to say I missed them, or to ask for a phone number so we could keep in touch, perhaps, or to suggest that we meet up. To say at least that we should get together. In these circumstances, running into a former acquaintance, usually a student, I always think that it would be nice to have a beer someday, to laugh, to recall moments from our shared past, to become good friends. But in reality, I don’t have the time. Nor do I have enough faith in my conversational skills to feel confident that the experience would be fun for them.

As I went around the corner to my building, I thought about Carlos. (His name had come to me as soon as I’d said his wife’s.) He’d said he was retired, and because I knew he was about my age, maybe a year younger, I surmised that he’d gotten early retirement. My running partner had recently gotten early retirement at 63, and my brother would soon have his, also at 63. Others had been given it even younger. No one seemed to think it was anything but a blessing. People who, because of a change in the laws governing retirement age, missed their chance, would often grumble about it. The only people, it seemed, who wanted to keep on working were those in upper management—CEOs and presidents of companies—because they had cushy jobs, big salaries, and lots of benefits, sometimes even kickbacks. Who’d give that up? Because I started working late, I’m not eligible for early retirement. Sixty-eight is the earliest I can hope to retire, and that’s as the law stands today. But every year the retirement age is pushed back. By the time I’m 68, the age will be 70, and when I hit 70, I’ll likely find it has changed to 72—an ever-retreating goal, a sort of practical demonstration of Zeno’s paradox. “I’ll probably never get there,” I thought as I unlocked the door to the language school that day and began preparing for my afternoon classes. Never have the luxury of freedom, day after day.

At six o’clock, I had the 11-year-olds. Open and eager to speak, they are always easy. Coming after my first two classes, theirs is practically a mini-vacation in my work day. That afternoon they were practicing numbers and some common phrases such as I’d like and could I have and how much is that? The context was ordering food at a café, and they studied the menu in the book before choosing what to order. Hamburgers and fish and chips were listed, sausages too, and Scotch eggs. The children made their choices. The last child asked me what a Scotch egg was. “I don’t know,” I said. “I’ve never heard of it before.” He looked at me expectantly, so I said, “Let’s find out.”

As I reached for my tablet, the children crowded round. While I Googled the term, one of those kids had already reached over my arm to select images, and immediately the screen was full of pictures of boiled eggs with a thick batter, deep fried, crunchy on the outside with either firm yolks nested in the layers or gooey yolks spilling out. They looked very good. “Mmmmummm!” said one child, and another said she’d like to try one. “Me too,” I said, and all the rest of the afternoon, even on my drive home, I thought about Spanish children and Scotch eggs, and how I’d hate to miss out on either. One I had and should be very wary of sacrificing for an ideal of freedom. The other was just a matter of heating up a pan. I am now enjoying my usual three-month summer hiatus from work, like a taste of early retirement. Sometime this summer, in my peaceful days of leisure, I plan to make Scotch eggs. But will I? Without my cohorts in the adventure to hear of it the next day, I might not be motivated. I cross the room, I cross the patio, I cross the finish line in yet another footrace. Zeno can’t stop me. So I hope that the paradox of freedom at the cost of motivation doesn’t keep me from my Scotch eggs. As for what will stop me from another year at the language school, and then another, and another, and on and on, with both children and adults to teach? Nothing, the Spanish government declares!

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Clellan Coe, a writer in Spain, is a contributing editor of the Scholar.


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