There is nothing we British love more than a good drink, but those wishing to make their TEFL career last more than a matter of weeks should probably avoid teaching whilst intoxicated – it can be a very unpleasant experience for all concerned. As I have confessed previously, when I was younger I used to swan around like a poor man’s bohemian, heavily influenced into equating alcohol abuse with being alluring by devoted lushes such as Dylan Thomas, Jeffrey Bernard, Jim Morrison, Oliver Reed and their ilk, but I was probably most inspired by Charles Bukowski’s alter ego Hank Chinaski’s reflection, “When something good happened, I drank to celebrate. When something bad happened, I drank to forget. When nothing happened, I drank to make something happen.” I was a subscription paying fan of drinking to make something happen.
Unlike in other professions, in TEFL there is no place to hide. There are no corners in which you can quietly sit and nurse a hangover, no steady supply of aspirin and black coffee to ward off the accompanying pain and sloth. My first class given in a state of drunken breeziness occurred after spending a memorable evening in the company of my Welsh friend NPD and a striking blonde girl from Madrid, which ended, as most such evenings did, in the bowels of the underground Swiss Keller Bar in Charminster. As it was located under a restaurant, it possessed a liquor licence that guaranteed unlimited early hours thrills and spills, and as I fantasized that, with every pint, the Spaniard with us was finding me as increasingly attractive as I was finding her womanly lines, I ingested liberally, eventually arriving in NPD’s flat at around five, with classes programmed to begin at nine.
Rudely awoken at eight by the white light streaming through the unclosed curtains, we skipped breakfast and weaved our way to the school in a state of blurred apprehension. My first class was with three middle aged women, all friends from Majorca. Our previous classes had been riotous at times, as they were certainly out for a good time and constantly heckled each others’ efforts to speak Eengleesh. The tone changed on this day, however, as my rapidly deteriorating condition ensured that it was all I could do to sit in front of them and sweat. “Page twenty-two, exercise A,” I croaked, unable to muster the energy to teach them anything. After forty-five minutes of silent endeavour, one of them finally snapped, collected her things and walked out. “I’m going for coffee,” she pouted. Though I suspected that this could be a worrying development, I followed her departure helplessly with my eyes, like somebody struck mute by a sudden and debilitating palsy. I knew I should have tried to follow her and dissuade her from abandoning proceedings, but I didn’t have any strength in my legs.
When the break came at ten to ten, I headed unsteadily for the staff room for ten minutes of quiet respite. As I turned the bend on the stairs, through the window I was alarmed to see NPD hopping into a taxi and being whisked away to an undisclosed location. Far more versed than me in TEFL survival skills, he’d summoned all the energy he could and bounced into the class at nine o’clock, giving it his all for the first period. At the break, he’d retired to the lavatory, hurled exuberantly, then pleaded food poisoning to the Principal and been allowed to leave early. There was no way I’d be allowed to do the same, as there was only ever one teacher on standby. I was going to have to sweat it out alone, quite literally.
I was thus deprived of a chum with whom to share my considerable suffering, which in peacetime is the nearest us civilians get to experiencing camaraderie. Indeed, much of the enjoyment of binge drinking lies not in the actual consumption of alcohol, but in the mad stories that are revealed during post-bender debriefing sessions. There is always somebody who ended up relieving himself in a wardrobe or woke up in bed with a divorcee with chronic halitosis – getting thrown out of, or not even allowed into, nightspots brings special kudos. Eager to cover my own rather mundane speciality, which was to reach a certain point where I simply had to sleep in a bed, normally my own, and invariably alone, I took to making up stories to delight my partners in lager and lime. “What happened to you last night?” they’d enquire. “Me? The last thing I remember was taking off in pursuit of that blonde with the tattoos, but I reckon I must have fallen down a manhole, because I woke up in a 2-metre waste pipe next to a tramp who thought he was Alfred, Lord Tennyson.”
In fact, the nearest I ever got to having a vaguely amusing anecdote to tell was when I went to a party in somebody’s flat, disappeared whilst on my way to the bathroom and was found, fully clothed, snoozing in a bed belonging to a nightclub bouncer, who was fortunately out at work at the time. Suddenly ravenously hungry, I and my companion stopped at a petrol station and bought a McCain’s Mini Pizza each on the way home, only for the encrusted microwaved topping of mine to skid off amid my drunken fumbling and land upside down on my shoe. Not even sober could I do that again. Anyway, all was well that ended well, as I was able to reattach the separated components and diminish my hunger, in the process somehow avoiding a nasty case of botulism.
Luckily, I had no classes the next day.
Have you ever caught food on your shoe and been drunk enough to eat it anyway? Have you taught whilst drunk? Have you made up stories in order to fit in? Am I as sad as I feel?