Alea iacta est

That is what Julius Caesar is supposed to have said when he crossed the Rubicon (a pivotal moment in the history of western civilization). If I had known the phrase, I might well have uttered it myself the first day I walked through the gates of St. Olaves. But I was only about to start seven years of Latin and Roman studies, an essential part of a traditional English “classical education.”

The phrase is usually translated into English as “the die is cast.” Something along the lines of “the dice have been tossed.” First-year students were divided into three forms (aulas or grupos) – 1A, 1B and 1C. One took French, one took German and 1C (my form) took Spanish. Unwittingly, the secretary who put my name under 1C proved to be one of the greatest influences in my life. If it hadn’t been for her, I would not have spent half my life (so far) living in a Spanish-speaking country, nor would I have Spanish-speaking children and grandchildren.

Academically, Stogs was in the doldrums. Standards were poor and a lot of the teachers should have been put out to pasture years earlier. Not surprisingly, for the most part I was attracted to subjects taught by younger, more dynamic teachers. My favorites were Spanish and History, which I already liked very much. The Spanish teacher was a young guy from Castille (Madrid, I think) called Francisco Ariza. I took to the language very quickly and it eventually became my best subject.

In 1965, I traveled to Cordoba for the Easter holidays with a group from the school and went back again the next year. In the summer of ’66 I also visited Spain with mum and dad, by car, doing a (for the time) huge tour of the country in two weeks. In 1967, I was given a grant to spend 12 weeks in Spain on my own.

This clipping is about the visit to Cordoba in ’66. I have a photo of the group an old friend gave me a few years ago but I haven’t found it yet.

This clipping is from a local paper, perhaps the South London Press.

I have lots more to say about Spain and my visits to the country; this is by way of an introduction.

PS: County Hall warrants a footnote as it one of the best-known buildings in Central London. It stands next to the London Eye (photo and info from

“Almost opposite the Houses of Parliament, County Hall was for many years the home of London’s government, in the form of the London County Council and latterly the Greater London Council (GLC) and Inner London Education Authority (ILEA). The imposing building, designed by Ralph Knott, was started in 1911 but the intervention of two world wars prevented its completion until 1958. During construction a 3rd century Roman ship was discovered. Now owned by a Japanese company, County Hall has been transformed into a leisure complex.”

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2 Responses to Alea iacta est

  1. Hi Peter:

    We also have this phrase in Spanish: “La suerte está echada.”

    BTW, how good is your Spanish?



  2. thebarrowboy says:

    Hi, Omar. I let others be the judge of that but I do work as a translator.

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