A dozen years ago, I was a Latin teacher at a small independent primary school in London. I used the Cambridge Latin Course, supplemented by my own worksheets. The Cambridge Latin Course was excellent, but suited to children older than those eight to ten, the ages of my pupils. I wish now that I'd had a course like the popular Minimus. But by the time Minimus series came out, I had left teaching to become an author. I finally got around to reading the first Minimus textbook last week... and I loved it! I emailed Barbara Bell - the creator - to compliment her, and as a result we agreed to meet for lunch in the Court Restaurant of the British Museum.
It is a lovely fluffy spring day in London. I am a little early for my appointment with Barbara so I make our reservations and then go for a walk up to Waterstones on Gower Street. In the children's book section I notice a man looking at one of my books. 'I wrote those books,' I say, 'and if you'll buy one of them, I'll sign it!'
'Thank you,' he says, smiling, 'but I think my children already have them all.'
I notice he is with a girl and a boy. Although I am not a natural saleswoman, my retail instincts kick in. 'Do you have the Roman Mysteries Travel Guide?' I ask, pulling that book off the shelf and holding it up. 'Or Trimalchio's Feast and other Mini-mysteries?' I hold up this book, too.
The girl and the boy shake their heads. In the end I sign Trimalchio's Feast to 'Tim' and Travels with Flavia Gemina to 'Alice'. That makes me very happy.
I walk to the British Museum and wait under the statue of the naked guy on the horse. I am reading Percy Jackson and The Sword of Hades, a world book day book. It's OK, but I'm not a huge fan of fantasy... I like the Groovy Greeks on the back though!
Barbara arrives exactly on time. She looks very elegant with stylishly cut hair and lavender outfit. She has to look nice; she is going to City Hall to meet the mayor Boris Johnson, and other Classicists, to talk about bringing the classics to inner city schools. Everybody knows our mayor is a Classicist. Yay! I hand her a signed first edition of The Slave-girl from Jerusalem to give to him. Why that particular book? Because it has lots about Roman oratory, and Boris loves oratory.
I give Barbara a signed first-edition of The Sirens of Surrentum because it is the most 'grown-up' and romantic. It turns out she loves Sorrento as much as I do and is going there in a few days! Here are some other things we have in common.
1. We both adore Italy and especially Sorrento
2. We both have a character named Flavia
3. We have both been to the Villa of Pollius Felix more than once
4. We both love the Latin language, and especially Virgil
5. We both have books set in Vindolanda...
(or at any rate she does now and I soon will!)
As we wait for our tuna steak to come, Barbara gives me some adorable Minimus Mini Stories, and then tells me some exciting news: the sales of Minimus textbooks have just passed 100,000!
We almost order champagne to celebrate, but then don't. Barbara needs a clear head for the mayor's important meeting!
Go Barbara! Go Boris! Go Classics in inner city schools! And Vivat Minimus! (Long live Minimus!)
For more info about the mouse that made Latin cool, go to http://www.minimus.com
And you might like to know that Minimus - I mean Barbara - always stays at the beautiful Hotel del Mare in Marina Grande. It has stunning views across the Bay of Naples to Vesuvius and is close to the Villa of Pollius Felix. I'm certainly going to stay there next time I visit Sorrento. Maybe I'll see you there!