Memories of AEG Burgas

17/05/2010 by Christopher Buxton

Three years of teacher heaven – wonderful pupils, really nice colleagues, rather oppressive frightened management.

“You’re going to the most difficult of the English Language schools.” British Council advice.

Comrade Teacher! The class is ready for your lesson.

“Less guitar, more testing!” Comrade Berberova explains the facts of life.

The long echoing corridor lined with photographs of extremely serious politburo members. Who’s eaten their pudding? Why Bai Toshko of course – the only face not worn down by hard work and responsibility.

The aunties sitting at the top of the corridor like some revolutionary tribunal, commenting loudly on every passer by.

The death of the honourable communist, Vasko Nyotev. “For me lying to a teacher is a much worse offence than smoking.” This was his comment on the teacher’s collective’s decision not to lower the marks of a mendacious student with significant party connections.

The teacher’s smoking room where Tsetsa Deneva held court, like a latter day Madame du Barry.

The secret male refuge on the ground floor where Shipkov, Zhenkov and Grigorov hid out and raised the occasional rakia bottle. This left Yanko Yanev as the only oppressed Bulgarian male in the staffroom.

Penny Nikolova poking her head round the classroom door to bring the glad tidings that after a day and a half labour, Malinna has been born.

Comrade Bakhchavanova bursting into the classroom with a rare girlish grin, to inform us in shrill excitement that our beloved leader, Todor Zhivkov, is coming to Burgas. Class dutifully raised three cheers.

“A Comsomol meeting is much more important than a dress rehearsal!” Rilka Ivanova days before first performance of Pygmalion.

“Did you know Anthony Georgieff was going to smoke a cigar and drink alcohol on stage, Mr Buxton!” “No, Comrade Berberova.”

The “spontaneous” Comsomol meeting held to celebrate Bulgaria’s first astronaut being blasted into space. My Professor Higgins and head of the Comsomol, Yoto Yotev, strikes his head dramatically with his hand. “I’ve just had a great idea!” he shouts. “Let’s send a telegram of congratulation direct to the space-ship!” Cue roars of approval from the student body.

I add Mamkavi to my growing Bulgarian lexicon. It appears in glowing red paint in the teacher’s room a day after Petya Dubarova’s death.

“Mr Buxton, why don’t you ask your embassy for some pictures of England to put up on the classroom walls – nothing political of course.” “Of course, Comrade Berberova.” I travel to Sofia and bring back glowing landscapes. “Mr Buxton, these are very nice pictures. I will keep them here in my study for you. They are YOUR pictures. If you ever want to use them, just ask.” “Of course Comrade Berberova.”

Saturday afternoon lessons with the eighth class, particularly when Chernomoretz were playing at home – no-one’s heart really in it.

My first encounter with Anthony Georgieff, insisting on calling me sir and lounging in the far corner of the classroom of fresh faced youngsters. He looks aged between fourteen and forty.

“Are you sure you want to give Anthony a six? He’s very lazy.”

“It’s a small world, Chris. You need to be careful what you say.” A garbled version of some comments I made to an English colleague in Plovdiv, return to haunt me in Burgas. Comrade Berberova is very cool for a couple of weeks.

“Tell me about Trotsky, sir.” We’re in Burgas park. I instinctively wonder if the trees are bugged.

The school secretary’s suspicion that I somehow profited from the boiler that nearly killed me and my family. Without hot water for a week, washing nappies in stone cold water, plumbers finally came to change the boiler, leaving me with a rusting hulk in my hallway. Where is the old boiler, Mr Buxton? I think you must have sold it for scrap metal! No, it got stolen from outside my door. Ah! the efficiency of the Gypsy Collection service.

I unconsciously cultivate the eccentric Englishman persona. Walking down Freedom Boulevard to and from work, I read a book and occasionally trip over paving stones or bump into lampposts.

I’m the Englishman who reads in streets and jumps on tables, not the one who’s religious, or who likes nurses, or whose hair is so long he’s barred from restaurants, or whose love of birds gets him arrested in the salt marshes.

Singing “We are sailing” in my last classes Summer 1980.

For a fictionalized account, read “Prudence and the Red Baron” published Ciela 2008.