For a couple of years, my main source of income was private tutoring, mainly children between the ages of eight and eleven. (This was just before the immortality project.) Today I went through all my old Facebook posts and tutoring doodles, and here are the best ones:

Tutoring: how it looked

Tutoring: how it felt 

  • My tutee was restless today. At one point I looked up from preparing an exercise, to find that he had sealed his own mouth shut by wrapping duct tape round his head. So there I was, sitting next to a gagged child. Rarely have I had such a moment of “shit shit shit, don’t let his parents walk in right now”

  • Today I got to read the half-term school reports for my nine-year-old pupil. “[Pupil] is good at DT and in our recent project in which the children had to build a suspension bridge out of pieces of wood and string, he started impressively. He was able to effectively consider a design, use a hacksaw and construct a bridge with very little support. However when the bridge didn’t quite work out, he lost all patience and destroyed it”
  • My excitable eight-year-old tutee was telling his dad about a word I’d taught him. “You always learn something,” the dad said to him indulgently, “from the most unlikely source.” Hey – I’m literally the person you pay to teach your son stuff. I like to think that as learning opportunities go, I’m not THAT unlikely
Sometimes I drew illustrations to help them visualise scenes in the book they were reading with me. In this one, Harry Potter thinks he sees a black dog in the darkness, near the beginning of The Prisoner of Azkaban.
  • “This is a little gruesome…” I now know enough about tutoring eight-year-olds for this phrase to set off alarm bells. Sure enough, in this girl’s story about Vikings, the protagonist’s mother had caught the plague and died because her wicked servant had been squeezing the pus from his plague-sores into her jug of milk. I mean, full marks for imagination
  • I wonder if I’ll ever get used to the way my nine-year-old tutee dabs every time he’s particularly pleased with one of his answers to my questions
  • Warning bells in tutoring: as my Year-6 pupil writes a story, she asks, “How do you spell ‘Melania’?” Please don’t let this be going where I think it’s going
The bit in The Hobbit when the goblins and wargs set fire to the trees where the characters are trapped
  • Goddamn kids. My eight-year-old pupil has been battling Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets for months now – she’s really absorbed by the story but she never reads on her own. She keeps asking questions like “But WHO’S the heir of Slytherin?” and I’ll smile indulgently and say “Keep reading and you’ll find out.” It’s like vicariously reading the books all over again. Today, Snape was looking disgusted at the Hogwarts Valentine’s Day celebrations, and I said “Why do you think that is? Do you think Snape understands love?” The kid just looked at me ingenuously and said “I thought Snape’s in love with Harry’s mother.”
  • My newest nine-year-old pupil is adorably keen. I just got him to write a story. Halfway through he just bubbled over with enthusiasm and pride, and insisted on reading to me what he’d written so far. “Do you like the part where I said ‘the sky grew darker and darker’? I got that from books.” He nodded to himself. “Yeah, it sounds professional.”
  • I found myself having to explain to two small girls, aged eight and nine, what a yummy mummy is. Just as I was wondering what to say, their mother burst in from the next room, where she’d clearly been listening, and said “Definitely not me, that’s for sure!” She laughed, and then watched me intently. This didn’t help me come up with an answer.
A map of Bilbo’s adventures in The Hobbit
  • The most predictably humiliating moment of my tutoring career so far: I inform the parents of my nine-year-old pupil that I have been tutoring him in Maths for the past hour, and they excitedly get out a Maths puzzle for me. “Let’s see how fast you can solve this. At school, [Pupil] managed it in ninety seconds,” they say proudly. In the end, I had to give up and they told me the answer.
  • A fill-in-the-blanks tutoring exercise: “Scrooge is then vi____d by the Ghost of Christmas Past.” My pupil just guessed “violated”
Jeeves enters Bertie Wooster’s life by curing his hangover… and disapproving of his outrageous shirt
  • My youngest and most adorable pupil, reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to me: “‘Dobby must serve the family until he dies, sir.’ Wait – but elves can’t die, because they’re magical!”

Me: “Yes they can. House elves can definitely die.”

The little girl, wide-eyed with concern: “Of old age?”

Me (thinking of Dobby dying from a knife wound to his chest): “…Yes. Of old age.”


  • In tutoring today, an angelic nine-year-old read me a Michael Morpurgo chapter about the tragedy of Tristram and Iseult. At the end I asked her what she thought of it.

“I liked the bit where the horse fell on his legs and crushed him,” she said.

“What? Why?”

“I like blood and death,” she explained.

“…Right. But it wasn’t a happy chapter, was it?”

“For me it was,” she replied with a sweet smile.

Tutoring Feels

  • I got a new ten-year-old pupil last week. Today was our third lesson: ninety minutes of me guiding him through a tricky 11+ comprehension paper. “Good work,” I tell him at the end. “Your dad and I are going to help you to do the best you can in these exams.” A look of sudden insight crosses his tiny face. “Wait – are you my TUTOR?”
  • Today, the Burmese mother of two little girls I tutor lost her temper with them. “What you mean, you lose all the rubbers?! Ollie, I bought them like twenty rubbers – some of them big, like a penis!” She demonstrated their size and shape with her fingers. I just had to sit there, trying to look solemn and professional. It wasn’t until a while later that one of the small girls, whose English is much better than her mother’s, said to me, “It’s true, we lost all the rubbers – including the peanut-shaped ones.”
Dinosaur in tutoring notes...?
I have absolutely no idea what this dinosaur is doing in my notes
  • I’m doing extra tutoring for a nine-year-old because he’s been suspended from school this week. I don’t know why – he seems a sweet kid. I got him to write a story about a stone-age guy called Fin. My only instruction was that the story should include an animal.

The story was proceeding nicely until Fin’s favourite uncle got murdered by a mob. Fin flipped out, set fire to the whole island and massacred everyone, including his family, as they fled from the flames.

Exerpt: “I will kill him I will kill them all Fin made a fire and let it bern… when people came across him he killed them. He went to clans 1,000 of people died eather of the fire or him avenchel [eventually?] he killed his clan father sisters brothers mother.”

I’m now officially worried.


  • People have been asking me for an update on the tutee who wrote the terrifying story last week. Well, I can now exclusively reveal the prequel to the story of Fin and his uncle Sam. With a surprisingly advanced sense of character development, the kid explained that this instalment would delve into the backstory, to explain why Fin loved Sam but the rest of the clan hated him enough to murder him in last week’s story. And sure enough, the story depicted Sam as a loveable rogue… until, once more, the whole thing went off the rails near the end.

‘Fin come over here look at all theas rendeer were their. “Sam don’t!” Sam put his arrow in the fire and set the herd on fire. Wait thats cattel but it was to late the cows run in the burn and set it on fire no screamed uncle Sam as the camp bert [burned?] down. What was going to happen next. The end’

When I asked the kid why his stories always seem to end in lots and lots of fire, he replied, “I like fire. I like how it can burn stuff and destroy stuff really easily”

Mortifying tutoring moments
Mortifying tutoring moments #59
  • Yesterday I met Venice, the six-year-old sister of a boy I’m tutoring. “Mummy,” she said as she came into the room, “can ANYbody have a lawyer?”

“A lawyer?”

“A lawyer,” Venice insisted.

“Um, yes,” said the baffled mother. “If they can afford it. Why?”

“Good. I want a lawyer for Christmas,” said Venice, and left again.


–Roundup of Randall Writing’s 2018 posts–

–My Ridiculous Tinder Date–

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