Testimonial of Tom Harris, Manchester Grammar School

Visit of students of Manchester Grammar School, Students

Testimonial of Tom Harris, Manchester Grammar School

February 2000. The first time Mr Simpson took a group of MGS boys to Madrid for a week of pure Spanish mayhem. February 2017, 17 years later – the last.

The boys, lucky enough to be part of his final bunch, arrived at Manchester airport full of anticipation, where Mr Sharples was also waiting to greet us. The flight was uneventful, until we arrived at Madrid airport with one less suitcase than we set off with. That had managed to find its way to Cuba, over 4000 miles away, leaving Adam with no change of clothes for the first few days. We gave him a wide berth.

Nonetheless, we arrived at Tandem, the school which had organised our day trips and lessons, in good spirit, nervous at the prospect of meeting our host families. Before long, we were whisked off by our various hosts to our accommodation, located all over the city. Most of us travelled, twice daily, by metro, a labyrinth of tracks below the city, bustling with life and character. Unexciting as that may sound, sitting squashed on a small train with hundreds of Madrileños, watching a crazy Spanish man prancing around with maracas and a ukulele, truly is a life changing experience.

Visit of students of Manchester Grammar School, Dining in a restaurant

The first night followed the theme of the day of not going to plan. We all safely navigated our way to the Puerta Del Sol, the main square in which New Year’s celebrations are held, where we met Sonia, our guide for the week. She took us to see the Plaza Mayor, along with many other impressive buildings and sites, explaining the history behind them in her perfectly clear Spanish. After the tour we arrived at a restaurant named “Toma Jamón”, which Tandem had booked us into. However, it turns out a group of three Jewish boys, one Muslim, one lactose intolerant and one down-right fussy eater can’t find much on the menu in a place that specialises in ham and cheeses, so most of us made our way back to our hosts hungry. A calamitous first day which we can look back on with laughter.

Visit of students of Manchester Grammar School, Museum of Visigothic Councils and Culture

The next day was Toledo day, as once again Sonia led us, this time around the former capital of Spain, about 45 minutes coach drive away from Madrid. It’s fair to say that it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited, steeped in history and scattered with beautiful churches, mosques and synagogues. After lunch, we got on the tour train which drove us up to a viewing point, from where we could see the whole of Toledo, surrounded by the river Tormes, like the moat around a medieval castle. A truly stunning view of this Unesco heritage site. Back in Madrid, Churros in the ‘Chocolatería San Ginés and a walk around the bustling San Miguel market rounded off a very cultural day suitably.

We saw Sonia once again on the second day, as she toured us around the incredible Museo Del Prado, in which we saw hundreds of stunning works by Velazquez and Goya, again with a wonderfully clear historical commentary from our guide. Crossing the road we also saw Pablo Picasso’s world-famous Guernika, a 7 metre long canvas depicting the suffering in that small Basque town after its carpet bombing. The rest of our artistic amble was serenaded by one of many “polite discussions” between Mr Sharples and Harry, this time about empty seats at the Etihad – the perfect soundtrack as we looked at interestingly named Salvador Dali paintings and rode to the top of the see-through lift just for the fun of it. We then looked at the turtles in Atocha train station, before the night’s entertainment took us to the ‘microteatro’, which I will quite confidently describe as the most nonsensical night of my life. Around 15 of us were squashed into a cloakroom-sized auditorium as, to put it politely, incredibly eccentric actors performed some rather questionable plays – virtually centimetres before our eyes. Hearing Mr Simpson chuckling hysterically at the jokes was one of the iconic memories of the trip. It all made sense – well, almost – when he explained the plot to us later.

Wednesday was the day that our football fanatics had been waiting for, as we visited the Santiago Bernabeu, home of Real Madrid, for a stadium tour. Seating an incredible 80,000 people, the magnificent stadium really is a sight to behold, befitting the stature of the club that plays there. The trophy room was impressive to say the least, as we marvelled at the 5 Champions League trophies in particular, the glistening centre-piece to the tour. We also had a look in the dressing rooms and stood pitch side, two things very high on the bucket-list for most football fans around the world. The football for the day didn’t end there, as we made our way down to the Vicente Calderon stadium, home of Atletico Madrid, to watch them take on Celta Vigo. Despite the torrential rain, we were lucky enough to witness one of the games of the season, as Fernando Torres scored a sensational overhead kick, and Atletico scored twice in the final few minutes to come from behind and win 3-2.

Then, so suddenly, the final days were upon us. We had plenty of free time to explore the city, but in truth, we would have needed a month to see everything. We ate chicken cooked in cider at Casa Mingo and went on a Spanish cookery course, where we learnt how to make Tortilla, along with traditional Paella and Tarta de Santiago, a delicious almond cake. Nonetheless, the end of the week arrived, and we said goodbye to our host families. We also said goodbye to everyone at Tandem, especially Francisco and Cristina, who had taken our daily Spanish lessons throughout the week, as well as leading a session where we shared our favourite music with Spanish students from the local school. All in all, the week we spent at Tandem, as well as the time we spent on the streets of Madrid, completely surrounded by the language and immersed in the culture, led to our language ability improving leaps and bounds.

On behalf of all the boys on the trip, I would like to say a huge thank you to Mr Simpson for organising the trip. We couldn’t recommend it highly enough to any lower sixth Spanish students next year. In addition, we’d like to say a big thank you to Mr Sharples and Mr Simpson for putting up with us for the week, as well as wishing Mr Simpson the happiest of retirements. ¡Buena suerte con todo!

On behalf of all the boys on the trip, I would like to say a huge thank you to Mr Simpson for organising the trip. We couldn’t recommend it highly enough to any lower sixth Spanish students next year. In addition, we’d like to say a big thank you to Mr Sharples and Mr Simpson for putting up with us for the week, as well as wishing Mr Simpson the happiest of retirements. ¡Buena suerte con todo!

Thom Harris

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