Hugh Gatenby

Haha! This two-year old memory is just too good. Got to repost it. A sketching ‘master class’ for the girls, in the school grounds of the Ministry of Defence Moscow Girls Boarding School. Hilarious. For, me anyway…

Ой, клаааааас! Мастер класс скетчинга, веденный мной, в пленэре, на территории Пансиона Воспитаниц Минобороны РФ. Девчаты здорово рисовали, и короче всё прекрасно получилось! Молодцы. Красивые воспоминания для меня. Читайте!

It’s a serious institution, the Ministry of Defence Moscow Girls’ Boarding School. After six months there, I’ve just about got my head round its variations in uniform, which are worn according to day of the week, the season and seniority. My favourite remains the Tuesday and Thursday one. It’s a sharp, stylish navy blazer-and-slacks outfit with a tartan collar-and-cuffs trim. Such Caledonian touches might seem a bit incongruous in a Russian state school – but you can’t fault it for taste. This all goes out the window after the summer exams, when the girls are allowed to wear their dress-down uniform of jeans, regulation blue-check blouses, and regulation denim jackets. Of course regulation; this is a Russian military establishment after all. And it was against this background, that of the more relaxed summer regime, that Maria, my art teacher friend, invited me to give her girls a ‘masterclass’. Maria’s words; my inverted commas. 

Maria’s a dear friend, an extremely talented artist, a professional designer and a hugely popular teacher – the girls adore her – and her invitation, though kind, fell well outside my comfort zone. I’m happy about holding a pen or paintbrush; no responsibilities and I just do my own thing. It’s even therapeutic. On the teaching front I’m also happy enough about giving classes distinguishing between use of Present Perfect and Past Simple (whoever said that English Grammar was dull?) but I had no idea about taking an art class – far less a ‘masterclass’. I felt completely at a loss about what to do. It was the evening before, actually when I was having a drink with Maria and her sister and fellow art teacher Tanya, that I remembered something from a model-drawing class that I had once attended. 

And so the next morning I checked-in past the guards, walked across the school grounds, all greenery, new bedding plants and tinkling fountains, made my way up to the Maria’s art room, and told Maria and Tanya of the plan – the Masterplan even. They enthused, which worried me even more. They summoned their girls, who had been busying themselves in the art room, adding the final touches to one of their 3D projects, we filed down to the gardens, and found a spot by one of the tinkling fountains. The plan, the one that I’d remembered in the pub, was simple enough. We we going to take in turns to be models, striking poses. A throw of the dice, and the number it came up with, signified the number of minutes a ‘volunteer’ (actually the inverted commas are unnecessary – there was no shortage of volunteers for this) had to hold a pose of her choosing, while the others drew the pose. 

I cannot begin to describe the gusto with which the girls pitched in. Certainly my grammar classes have never evoked the same enthusiasm. They sketched furiously while Nastya grappled, in what I’m sure was a very realistic pose, with a snake (Katya’s headscarf) Katya played dead, Tanya cried (not really) on her sister’s shoulder and I was ‘volunteered’ (again, my inverted commas) to do a Cupid pose. For six minutes, of course. The girls’ revenge. An there were many other poses struck, and a limitless pool of volunteers. Marina, a cheerful drama teacher, stopped by and did a suitably dramatic pose for us. It’s fair to say that we attracted our share of attention. Though not that of Senior Management, fortunately. However one the Central Asian groundsmen from Kirghizia, an army of whom immaculately maintain the school’s green spaces, started to show an interest. He parked his barrow and walked over over to join us, and began watching the proceedings with a slightly bemused air. Tanya, ever inclusive and friendly, smilingly invited him to join us and suggested that he too might like to do a pose. Russian is not the first language of the Kirghiz manual staff, and many of them have only a limited functional understanding of the language. Our newcomer understood perfectly. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Kirghiz groundsman move so fast. He had rejoined his barrow within seconds, and was quickly moving in the general direction of away. 

The girls enjoyed themselves, and did excellent work. Their drawings showed skill, humour and adroit observation. Being time-limited concentrates the mind, and the pen or paintbrush, wonderfully. I’ve posted a selection of their drawings here. Maria’s told me that she’ll do a corridor display of the morning’s work. Should be interesting….

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