22nd October 2017
Thank you, thanks to all of you for coming today to celebrate 20 years of First Steps. Because I ‘m old and forgetful I am going to read my speech. If I don’t read it I will forget the order in which I want to tell the story and the order in which I want to thank people.
The creation of First Steps began much further back than 20 years ago.
On a much smaller scale than Martin Luther King “I had a dream”. A dream that children could happily and successfully become bilingual through great experiences – cooking, gardening, holidays, sleepovers, reading and writing in English.
So when did it begin? On the 21st of October…so yesterday, 45 years ago, I went to a wedding in Milan. Luciana and Umberto, who fell in love in my house in London, were married and I was a “testimone”. I remember everything very clearly: the trouble they took to translate 2 verses of their favourite hymn into English, the 14 course lunch, the fact that Umberto’s brother came to the wedding in jeans and I had bought a big hat because I thought that’s what Italians did at weddings. I remember the priest who had married them swearing at me because I hadn’t brought duty free whiskey and cigarettes for him. And I remember the honeymoon. Yes, I went on the honeymoon! To the Dolomites, Venice, the Cinque Terre, Liguria and Tuscany. I fell in love with Italy.
I fell in love with the readiness of the Italians to jump into the car whether it was to have an ice cream around the corner or float on a gondola in Venice. Thank you Luciana and Umberto for opening my eyes, ears and sense of taste to the joys of Italy. My first Tiramisù in Livorno. The basilico in Santa Vittoria and the BIDET. I was the first person in my group of London friends to install a bidet (they all thought it was a foot bath). Then a drying plate rack above the sink for my dishes and I decried the fact that nobody built garages underneath the houses and flats. Italy was PERFECT!
My son Simon wrote a letter to Luciana when he was 7 or 8. He wrote CHOW and that he couldn’t wait to have a CUP OF CHINO and stuff himself silly on focaccia.
My daughter Suzy, who was fed up in the back of the car, made a 2 finger sign on a piece of elastic which she pinged up and down when those bloody Iti’s got too close up our arse. And Sally, very often the wisest of my 3 children, said that there couldn’t possibly be a Santa Claus if it took us 24 hours to drive to Italy. In those days it really did take that long.
So many of these memories I share with my kids, are bound up, tied up with Italy.
In 1981, when I met Andrew, our first conversation was about Italy. That did it for me. We shared a dream.
In 1989, with the blessing of my dear Mum and Dad, we moved to Italy bringing our son Luke who was 3. His hair was long and curly, and he wanted to know why everyone called him Bella. One morning he woke up, opened his eyes, and said, “ My name is Luca Tagliabue. I am a little Italian boy. I just can’t speak Italian yet”.
The beginning was tough. Very tough. I had left a beautifully equipped nursery class in London. Sandpit, loads of bikes, water tray, computers…and I entered a classroom that had a piano with no stool, a blackboard with no chalk and not one table or chair.
What had I done?!
Andrew was finishing his academic year in England and trying to sell our house. My 3 year-old son got bopped on the head if he didn’t go to sleep in the afternoon and he mainly did “colouring in”.
He got bronchitis and I was introduced to the city of Niguarda, where I had to bring my own toilet roll and wasn’t allowed to have a shower. Luciana, as usual, saved the day.
Luke recovered, but it took me AGES to recover from the shock of that hospital. Hospitals in London had playrooms and facilities for parents.
Then of course there was the permesso di soggiorno, the carta d’identità, the codice fiscale, the carta sanitaria and the translation of the driving license. Like I say, it was TOUGH.
But…slowly I started making friends. I had a Mum, pregnant with her 2nd child, who was settling in her first child. She asked how long she had to stay and I recommended to stay as long as she wanted. She stayed for 6 months! YES – that was, and is Hilde.
I asked the children in my class to tell me what jobs their parents had. Given that I had Fausto Leali’s son, Anna Oxa’s daughter and countless famous football stars’ kids, I was surprised thay didn’t know what their parents spent their working hours doing. But one little girl did. Anne Giulia knew that her Dad was a plumber. Thank goodness I had one bright spark. I asked her if her Dad would come and do a bit of plumbing in my class. The whole family were enthusiastic, including Grandpa, when the kids and Marco built a wall with cement and bricks which became a channel which carried the water, coloured blue, through our class and out of the window. My God was I unpopular in that school!
My next job could have been a 100% disaster, but it was at that place (name not to be repeated) that I met Fabi and Jeanette.
Fabi may well have been “educated” to speak English but ske really learnt the lingo properly besides Katrina who taught her “Get the bloomin’ bucket – he’s puking again.”
Enough was enough. I needed an Italian to steer me through the bureaucracy – the Camera di Commercio, the ASL requirements etc etc…and that person was Fabi. Thank you, Fabi.
When we found the building it was empty, pristine, with loads of nearby parking.
It was almost PERFECT. But we had to demonstrate that we had 20 million lire in the Bank.
Andrew’s Mum had recently died and he said, “Use that money to start your school.”. Thank you, Andrew, so much.
I went to Britain and packed the car, which was a big one, with equipment. Equipment which was impossible to find in those days in Italy. On the roof rack was the water tray. In pouring rain on a French motorway, Andrew ran backwards to get the sodden water tray which had sailed off the roof. Thank you.
Jeanette joined us after a while and Gio did masses of electrical work for us. Thank you, Gio.
Marco, as only Marco can, seemed to sort everything out with ASL, with the firemen, with all the powers that be that can block a venture like ours. Thank you, Marco. And thank you for everything from the pigeons on Sports Day to being a bouncer on Friday night, to saving Muffin from the 6 foot snow and for being genuinely involved in First Steps from start to finish as only a person like Marco can be…who never gets paid for any of these tasks.
Because First Steps is a law unto itself – thank you Gigi for helping us.
Thank you, Francesco – for my Granny flat 5 minutes from school.
Thank you, Alberto for making Sportpark so inviting.
Thank you, Alfredo our tennis coach.
Thank you, Rosy – especially for your choreography.
Thank you, Chris for the love of Creation.
Thank you, Jeanette, Auri, Sharon, Stef, Didi, Lucia, Hilde, Viv, Rosalba and Carmine. Thank you, Nikki, Jill, Francesca…for all your enthusiasm, dedication and commitment.
Thank you, Luke – for the website.
Thank you, Tino and all your staff for always being so “disponibili” to us.
Thank you all for sharing this day with us, for believing in us, especially Carla and Angela, when we were starting out and the hedge was really low and any one of your children could have scarpered.