Notes from the TEFL Graveyard

Wistful reflections, petty glories.

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Location: The House of Usher, Brazil

I'm a flailing TEFL teacher who entered the profession over a decade ago to kill some time whilst I tried to find out what I really wanted to do. I like trying to write comedy (I once got to the semi-finals of a BBC Talent competition, ironically writing a sitcom based on TEFL), whilst trying to conquer genetically inherited procrastination... I am now based in Brazil, where I live with my wife and two chins.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008


"Take that dog turd home with you!" my elderly, mentally unstable neighbour screeched at me yesterday from the roof of her garage after my hound completed his toileting on the grass verge in front of her house, "or I'll call the Municipal Guard!" Her husband helped out by jumping up and down and wildly gesticulating for me to head further up the road, as if clearing the area in the face of a garbled threat of a car bomb.

When my father-in-law heard about the incident, he recommended that I greet the deranged couple with obscene gestures, but in fact I calmly went home, got a plastic bag, returned to the scene of the carnival, collected my hound's deposits and gracefully returned them to my abode, as recommended by the flipped-out partnership.

Having already poisoned another dog in the neighbourhood to death, I am keen not to provoke the wild-haired old loon further, and by maintaining a sense of dignity in the face of verbal assault, I came out of the incident without having to lamp anyone, or burst into tears. "Accept the defeat and give the victory to others," as the old sages say.

I fully intend to be rather more productive in my later years.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008


I forgot to pass on the 12 films for 12 nights challenge. I hereby invite, nay compel, the following to spout forth:

  • Special Brewman
  • Mrs Pouncer
  • Mme de Boyo
  • Rotus

Let's see what the ladies make of it.

(That wasn't a backhanded insult Special Brewman / Rotus)

Sunday, 24 August 2008


CRASH – Paul Haggis, 2004

A recent Oscar winner, this movie provided one of the strangest filmgoing experiences I’ve ever had. Essentially a study of racial prejudice in all its forms, I hated the first half and almost stopped watching, as it just seemed a series of depressing stories about bigoted people dissing each other. But I held on, and was glad I did. Gradually the script masterfully intertwines the disparate tales and shows each character passing through an epiphany that makes them question their own attitudes and beliefs. For a mainstream film, I thought it remarkably subtle and clever.

Favourite line:
It's the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We're always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.

AMERICAN BEAUTY – Sam Mendes, 1999

Utterly predictable, but I have to include it as one of my favourite ever films. Spielberg is said to have read the script and sent it to a fellow producer with a note, “Make this film – and don’t change a thing.” I’m sure you know the rest.

Favourite line:
"My job consists of basically masking my contempt for the assholes in charge, and, at least once a day, retiring to the men's room so I can jerk off while I fantasize about a life that doesn't so closely resemble Hell." Well, you have absolutely no interest in saving yourself.

BLUE VELVET – David Lynch, 1986

Another David Lynch piece, and the most obvious choice possible. As king of small town weird, this is his ultimate stab at disturbing just about everyone. Chilling and tense, this film grinds you down with its unrelenting oddness. Dennis Hopper, who personified the psychotic thug Frank Booth so well in this film, is said to have read the script and called Lynch to demand he be given the role, with the inimitable words, “I am Frank”. Fans of the expletive “fuck” will love this film.

Favourite line:
Here I come. You've got about one second to live buddy!

A SHOT IN THE DARK – Blake Edwards, 1964

Perhaps a childish choice to end with, but I’ve loved the Pink Panther films since I was a child, and this is the best one for me. Peter Sellers speaking with a comic French accent still gives me much pleasure, despite my sophistication. As an aside, my father once met Inspector Dreyfus actor Herbert Lom whilst summering in Swanage – he was quite charming, by all accounts.

Favourite line:
You fool! You have broken my pointing stick! I have nothing to point with now!...

Friday, 22 August 2008


DIVA – Jean-Jacques Beineix, 1981

Like many of my generation, my bedroom wall at University featured a poster of big-knockered French actress Beatrice Dalle in the film Betty Blue, the cult student classic of the early nineties. The same director debuted with this film in 1981, and for me it is far superior. I first watched it after reading in Smash Hits magazine that it was Duran Duran keyboardist Nick Rhodes’ favourite film, as a confused fifteen-year-old. Despite being French, it’s the epitome of the stylish thriller, and actually manages to make opera cool. The story of a Parisian postman who inadvertently gets into trouble with two different underworld organisations at the same time, it’s beautifully shot and has a surprisingly classy script. Beatrice Dalle doesn’t feature, but to be honest, this movie does very well without knockers, big or otherwise.

Favourite line:
Quelque chose artistique et francaise.

LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA – Crint Eastwood, 2006

Another unashamedly mainstream choice, this is a war movie with a difference. Neither hawkish nor mawkish, it’s hard to remember when watching this compassionate piece of work that Eastwood once starred in several films alongside a monkey. Telling the story of the Japanese defence of the island of Iwo Jima from the Japanese point of view, based on letters sent by soldiers stationed there to their loved ones back home, it shows that, deep down, we are all the same, if that’s not too much of a glaring cliché.

Favourite line:
I will always be in front of you.

THE ODD COUPLE – Gene Saks, 1968

One of the great comic partnerships in a film written by one of the best comic writers. What more is there to add? Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau star as two divorcees sharing an apartment, one obsessed with tidiness and order and the other a fun loving slob. Many great lines from the comedy writer who “never wrote a joke.”

Favourite line:
What difference does it make? He took a whole bottle!
Oscar Madison: Well, maybe they were vitamins! He could be the healthiest one in the room!

12 ANGRY MEN – Sidney Lumet, 1957

The ultimate courtroom drama, a tense, claustrophobic movie that boasts a telling performance from Henry Fonda as a juror who tries to judge a murder case by the facts, rather than by emotion and prejudice. A film that gives us all hope that justice does exist, despite everyday evidence to the contrary.

Favourite line:
Juror #8: Perhaps you'd like to pull the switch?
Juror #3: For this kid? You bet I would!
Juror #8: I feel sorry for you... what it must feel like to want to pull the switch.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008


Taking up No Good Boyo's challenge, here are some motion pictures I consider worth watching. As I have indicated before, I often can't remember films minutes after I've watched them, so I'm going to struggle to come up with twelve, but here's my first four:

HUD - Martin Ritt, 1963
I challenge any thirty-something man to watch this film and not feel an urge to get into shape and start swaggering around in a white vest, as Newman's towering performance as the cynical, womanising drunkard, Hud, bewitches us all. One of his lesser-known roles, the blue-eyed wonder dominates every scene, as he battles with his idealistic father for his share of the family cattle farm. Apart from a few dodgy moments of acting drunk, his rasping, bullish performance is surely one of his best.

Favourite line: How many honest men you know? You take the sinners away from the saints, you're lucky to end up with Abraham Lincoln!

HANNAH AND HER SISTERS - Woody Allen, 1986
My father-in-law holds that all Woody Allen films are the same, but to me, that's only a problem if you don't like them. Being a huge fan, it's difficult to choose only one, but Hannah and Her Sisters has everything, a spot-on cast, great comic moments, pleasant music, family drama and Allen's own performance as a hypocondriac in the midst of a existential crisis seeking the meaning of life through trying out different religions.

Favourite line: I read Socrates. This guy knocked off little Greek boys. What the Hell's he got to teach me?

THE STRAIGHT STORY - David Lynch, 1999
The strangest thing about this film is the fact that David Lynch directed it. The slow-moving, touching, and true, story of an elderly man, Alvin Straight, who travels across three states on a motorised lawnmower to visit his estranged brother Lyle, who has recently suffered a stroke, it's a mediation on old age, forgiveness and quiet determination. The music's great, the ending moving and the little subplots along the way are a delight.

Favourite line: I'd give each one (his children) of 'em a stick and, one for each one of 'em, then I'd say, 'You break that.' Course they could real easy. Then I'd say, 'Tie them sticks in a bundle and try to break that.' Course they couldn't. Then I'd say, "That bundle... that's family."

SMOKE - Wayne Wang, 1995
Written by Paul Auster, one of my favourite writers, this is a film about a tobacconist's in Brooklyn, New York, where people congregate, sit around and chat. The characters are compelling, such as Harvey Keitel's Augie, who owns the store and photographs the same scene at the same time every morning with his camera and tripod. The interlude "Augie Wren's Christmas Story" is also touching. Probably doesn't sound great, but I liked it.

Favourite line: It's my corner, after all. I mean, it's just one little part of the world, but things take place there too, just like everywhere else. It's a record of my little spot.

Monday, 18 August 2008


Can anybody name another country, apart from Brazil, where one of their Olympic competitors has a nickname deriving from a children's TV character emblazoned on the back of her shirt, rather than her real name, due to some vague-to-unidentifiable resemblance?

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Fofão (Big Softy/Cutie, right), and a Brazilian ladies volleyball player, real name unknown (left).

Thursday, 14 August 2008


The British, for those who love simplistic generalisations, can be broadly divided into two camps - the pro-Europeans, and the more or less xenophobic. The former can be found sitting outside cafés around Britain in sub-zero temperatures sipping a latte macchiato and moaning about the cold in a forlorn attempt to recreate a recent camping holiday in Riccione, where they sat outside seafront cafés and moaned about the heat.

They use a GB sticker on their car with the European Union stars on it, and enjoy using the Euro as something far simpler than dealing with tens of thousands of lire. They are the kind of people who become Host Families for foreign students (at least until the henpecked husband starts developing a muted but rather obvious crush on the latest Russian madame). The latter, on the other hand, demonstrate a love for tweed and Barbour jackets, shooting things, Land Rovers and an almost erotic relationship with the pound sterling. Both groups are driven largely by emotion rather than reason. I had always considered myself firmly part of the former group, but that was before I took a test to join the European Commission in the early nineties, and subsequently bought myself a Barbour Bedale jacket.

My late father was wrong about some things (notably Terry Wogan's use of hairpieces, the giving back of the Falkland Islands to Argentina, the imminent return to the use of the horse as the world's preferred means of transport, though history may yet bear him out on all three), but he was right about many. "If you want to travel the world," he once advised me, "do it at the Government's expense." He urged me to try for the Diplomatic Service, but I was either hungover, drunk or planning my next poetic binge, and resentfully failed to pay any attention to his conservative, bourgeois opinionating.

His comments were inspired by the fact that he'd spent 12 years during the fifties and early sixties living in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), where he had gone to join the Northern Rhodesia Police as an adventurous 21-year-old. At the time, travel to and from Africa was still common by sea, so he had enjoyed a three-week voyage first-class every eighteen months as he came home on leave and returned to his adopted country.

Apart from regaling us with impossible crocodile stories and tales of witchdoctors and tribal chiefs, he didn't really talk much about his experiences, and somehow never got around to jotting down some memoirs about where he was stationed and when, and other day-to-day details that would make fascinating reading for our potted family history. Only at his funeral did I find out in just what esteem he had been held, when ex-colleagues I'd never even heard of appeared and paid glowing tributes to his memory. I hadn't known, for example, that he'd been singled out to be sent to the volatile region near the border with the Belgian Congo when pro-independence unrest broke out due to his negotiating skills and, not least, the fact that, unlike the vast majority of his colleagues, he'd taken the trouble to learn a local language, Bemba, fluently. He'd also broken with the common practice of promoting only European officers and had prioritised putting African officers in positions of responsibility. But I digress from my original thrust, Foreigners and How They Can't Be Trusted, a premise I shall prove beyond reasonable doubt in Part Two.


Thursday, 7 August 2008


It's taken me a while, but being a man of my word, I've come up with a list of eleven reasons to suck TEFL and see. I also dashed this one off during a student-free evening, which, if it hadn't been for the 30-minute drive each way through a raging thunderstorm to get there and back, would have warmed my cockles greatly.

So, here they are, my list of vaguely reasonable reasons why TEFL isn't as bad as I moan about it being. The opinions expressed below do not represent the opinions of anybody, living or dead or the living dead in TEFL, except my good self.


  1. Most, if not all, jobs are worse in some way;

  2. You will have the opportunity to travel and make a living, either to avoid impending legal proceedings or for a simple love of the open road;

  3. You will have the opportunity to develop the patience of a saint, which, we are informed, is a virtue. Alternatively, you can see your work as an opportunity to show kindness, which is the root of all happiness, according to various enlightened beings;

  4. You will get to meet the occasional fascinating student, such as the middle-aged German artist I once taught who scrawled new vocabulary all over her body in black pen (cue Frankie Howerd, "Oooh, no, not down there!", etc, etc), or the Icelandic carpenter who instilled in me an ongoing urge to experience central heating in Reykjavik;

  5. You will get to meet and work closely with unnervingly engaging colleagues who'd give Frank Zappa a box-set-of-albums-worth of new songwriting material;

  6. When you are in the classroom, you will be the sitting tenant on your own private fiefdom, albeit a deeply pathetic one;

  7. Your bosses may be arses, but they are generally harmless eccentrics at heart, driven to behave as they do by spending their lives doing exactly what you're doing. They know that if they push you too far, you'll be off without even wiping;

  8. Dreams of fabulous riches will never keep you awake at night, which is probably a good thing, for as the Japanese saying goes, "The gods only laugh when men pray to them for wealth." It probably tickles language school owners the world over too;

  9. You will meet and develop a passion for overwhelmingly attractive and impossibly complicated foreigners, and may, by some atomic miracle, David Blaine them into marrying you. The rest of your life will then, with tragi-comic irony, become one long TEFL class, only with more sex and/or arguments;

  10. You will learn to enjoy the grim but heart-warming "Dunkirk Spirit", common only to TEFL staffrooms and regions under a state of emergency;

  11. You won't waste time on unrealistic fantasies of a life beyond making inane chat with generally sufferable, often decent, eggs.

Monday, 4 August 2008


I love the friends I have gathered together on this thin raft
We have constructed pyramids in honour of our escaping

So opined the Lizard King himself, in one of his weed-induced attempts at shamanistic incoherence, shortly before spinning around the stage wailing and flashing local bobbies, no doubt. But I dig his meaning, for once. My blog is a thin raft and the fact is, since I launched myself into my auto-induced sabbatical, I've found that I miss my friends (I hope I can call you friends) that have gathered here. The bit about the pyramids we can ignore.

I awake wondering if Gyppo Byard is going to reveal more about his father, the left-handed engineer. I pine for more about life as a nimble ex-stutterer in Romania, I wonder what Mrs Pouncer is chattering on about now, I'm eager to keep up with the Boyos, as part of their one- / two-handed readership. Special Brewman's series entitled Bums I Have Known (sadly/fortunately using the American meaning of the word), gets me up at the crack of dawn, to name but a scattering. Essentially, I've started something I can't finish, to quote The Smiths.

I do this often, make dramatic attempts to motivate myself into becoming something other, before realising that I was being a tired and emotional girl. My blog is no block to a new career, let's face it. Another interesting aspect is that my readership actually went up after my dramatic withdrawal from public life. There's a lesson to be learned there.

So my sabbatical was nice while it lasted, but I now plan to combine real life with my virtual one - after all, I did do a course called Adminstração do Tempo, shortly before I was fired from my job at the metallurgical factory. Maybe if I'd just paid a little more attention...