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.

Sunday, 28 September 2008


My heart has felt the warmth that is sympathetic joy this past few days after I got back in touch with ex-TEFL cellmate Crappers, (aka Scream, a moniker derived from his passing resemblance to the subject of Edvard Munch's masterpiece, due to his despairing state of mind, which I suspect was largely TEFL-induced), whom I was delighted to discover has wed, procreated twice, producing two enchanting offspring, and is now living it large up London. It was he that rescued me from the bouncer's bed and watched with a mixture of horror and amusement as I ate a mini pizza that I'd recently dropped on my shoe.

Judging by his showreel, if his name isn't in lights yet, they're certainly ordering a gross of bulbs. I last saw him in the late nineties, when he suddenly broke ranks and left to do some kind of degree in arty stuff - and look where he is now. Clearly it helps to be lavishly talented, but even so.

Living proof that there is life beyond TEFL. I've surmised that, in order to have anything normal people regard as a career, you need to stop doing easy things that everybody (thinks they) can do (which depresses wages and those receiving them) and learn something difficult that fewer people can do. Every bugger and their window cleaner thinks they can teach English, and as the students are generally clueless, they don't know the difference anyway. A fellow choirsinger recently told me he'd found a course for R$ 25.00 per month! I try to charge that per hour, to stave off the worst of malnutrition.

When our Polish visitors were here recently, I was informed there would be a young man from the local town hall accompanying us. "Don't worry," I was told confidently, "he speaks fluent English."

"I am pooblic hellations for the Major," he stammered by way of introduction, prompting confused glances to be exchanged between the Eastern Europeans, who clearly believed, as I did, that Brazil's military dictatorship ended over twenty years ago. I should be cleaning up around here, for pity's sake.

But I digress from the cheer it gave me to see young Crappers making headway, rather than teaching it, again, for the fortieth time this week.

You, sir, are an inspiration and I salute you!

PS If you need any kind of representative/agent/salesman/cleaner in the Andean region, I'm more than available.

Friday, 19 September 2008


Special Brewman has enquired how the singing Poles are getting on with the brasileiras.

Whilst I haven’t received word, I did prepare a list of travel tips for them before they moved on, with a view to helping the travelling minstrels avoid problems on their tuneful odyssey.

To make them easy to memorize, you will note that I cunningly crafted them into rhyming couplets:

  1. IF THERE’S A GUN POINTING AT YOU, ACT LIKE A STATUE. Rio de Janeiro may be the Cidade Maravilha, but it plays host to the largest number of armed juveniles in the world outside a war zone, beating areas of conflict such as the Occupied Territories. Tragic but true.

  1. IF HE’S GOT A KNIFE, RUN FOR YOUR LIFE. Disclaimer: Tourists should be circumspect when using this advice near travelling circuses, as knife-throwing acts are still popular in Latin American big tops.

  1. IF SHE’S GOT PECS, BEWARE THE SEX. It’s easy to make this mistake – sometimes you just can’t tell the difference, as footballing legend Ronaldo will testify, after getting all confused with three different sets of them.

  1. IF SHE’S HIS SISTER, CALL HIM MISTER. Brazilians can be very protective of their delicious siblings, especially in small towns with lax application of gun laws and wilfully neglectful law enforcement agents.

  1. IF SHE’S ALMOST BARE, TRY NOT TO STARE. Women’s beach volleyball may be the best sport ever invented, but you may need to dig a strategically-placed hole in the sand when lying on Copacabana beach learning the rules.

  1. IF SHE THINKS YOU’RE FUNNY, SHE WANTS YOUR MONEY. If you’re not normally considered funny, beware!

  1. IF SHE STARTS PLAYING, SHE’S GONNA NEED PAYING. Not always the case, but don’t be caught short.

  1. IF HE’S WEARING A HAT, LOSE THE TWAT. A reference I have previously made to the correlation between hat wearing and idiocy in traffic. Baseball caps are the clearest sign of a fool at the wheel, followed in descending order by the Stetson, the fedora, the occasional deerstalker and, in winter, the bobble hat.

I'm thinking of turning these tips into a reasonably-priced e-book. Or you can just send me the money before reading them, if that's more convenient.

Have you got any rhyming travel tips for where you live?

Tuesday, 16 September 2008


That's queer as in strange, before we get started.

There are moments when I suspect that the person who invited me to join my male voice choir wasn't a musical conductor at all, but an undercover psychiatrist from a shadowy government agency, and that all this singing is just therapy designed to keep us harmless. Such a suspicion grew on me over last weekend, when we had the pleasure of receiving our Polish friends, who organised the festival we sang at in May, into our collective bosom, as they took a detour on their way to Cabo Frio in Rio de Janeiro state to swing by our neck of the rainforest.

Firstly, they were greeted on Thursday on their whistle-stop tour by the penetrating stare of the bipolar paediatrician in our midst. Ironically for somebody who participates in a choir, he seems incapable of accepting group decisions, resolving to do everything his own way, even if it means separating three of the anxious Poles from their brethren on some madcap jaunt he's invented when all they want to do is be with their friends and rest.

On Sunday he went one better after a visit to a local vineyard, when he insisted on taking them to see the fields of grapes, almost totally indistinguishable in the gathering dusk. But the post-concert party was when things got truly unnerving.

Two of our most dangerous patients donned those big, floppy, Mad Hatter-style top hats that people wear to try to be on the telly at sports events, adorned in Polish colours. So far, so good. The air of surreality grew when, glancing over at them as I sipped my beer, I noted that both of them were quietly sobbing, one apparently having kicked the other off in some bizarre outpouring of grief at the imminent departure of our Eastern European guests. The largely middle-aged Polish choir appeared equally bewildered by their sudden emotional implosion, as they hadn't even started knocking back the local wine or quaffing the chilled lager. Everyone just wandered around making polite chit chat as if nothing overwhelmingly odd were happening. Hence my beginning to wonder if my anti-cholesterol pills are in fact strong anti-psychotics.

Don't get me wrong, our Polish visitors are very nice people, but we're not related to them or anything - we've spent about a week together in total. A mild wistfulness is all I felt on their departure, not an urge to declare a month of official mourning.

I shall miss Waclaw, however, who I am sure is Lech Walesa's older, less politicised brother. A large, if slightly musically overbearing bass, he managed to hold his side of conversations using one word repeated twenty times in what appeared to be Latin. "Do you like the banana dessert?" I asked him earnestly, as he slapped his seventh spoonful into his dish at our lunchtime churrasco, "Yes, yes," he boomed, "Maximus maximus maximus maximus..."

Wednesday, 10 September 2008


Yesterday I received an email from the translation agency that sends me work with the subject "Client's complaint." Eager to find out more, I read on.

"I much admire the typing mistakes," the bolshy shagsack whined, I suspect sarcastically, "it should be shopping mall and not shopping centre, specially and not especially and industrialization and not industrialisation."

Teeth champing at an imaginary bit, I responded that the words in question were (and indeed are) correct in British English, though they were quite at liberty to change them to the stateside spelling if it were going to make them feel suitably made up - though why they'd want to is a mystery, as the text was a script to be used for narrating a video anyway.

This is a common practice among Brazilian professionals, I have found - sending disgraceful, disrespectful comments questioning peoples' English, just because they've been to Disney and feel buoyed by their managing to understand directions to the lavatory.

But the tale has a glorious conclusion. The whinging arse had written the word "traduziu" (translated) as "taduziu", which I pointed out in my concise yet workmanlike reply.

Churlish? Perhaps. Satisfying? Immensely. Childish? They started it.

Sunday, 7 September 2008


In celebration of fully 10 years of wedded bliss with my first wife, Show, I strategically suggested we spend a day at a spa as reward for her forebearance, despite my being steadfastly heterosexual. So it was that last Friday morning we packed our rucksack with bathing costumes, flip flops and towelling robes and sped off towards Grande São Paulo.

Driving in the metropolis is always stressful, as no matter how early you leave, you're always guaranteed to arrive at least half an hour late, as the traffic chaos in the state capital reaches near gridlock, despite vague attempts to limit the number of cars on the road by the introduction of a rotation system according to the last digit of car number plates. Indeed, predictions have been made that, with 200,000 new cars coming onto the streets per annum, within five years traffic will simply grind to a complete halt. Without a functioning rail system and possessing a paltry metro, travelling around the city looks destined to become even more agonisingly torturous than it currently is.

We arrived deshevelled but optimistic in the car park just after our 10am deadline, a feeling that didn't last long. Opening the boot, we discovered that we'd left the rucksack on our bed - or rather I had, apparently. For one terrible moment I actually thought Show was rummaging through her bag to find something pointy to stab me with. I surmised, rightly for a change, that such an upmarket spa would have spare gear for its clients, but there nonetheless followed a tense stroll to the entrance, with my name echoing around the leafy streets amid expletives of every nature and strength in two languages. On entry, we were ushered into a delightful little oasis of calm in the centre an unimposing concrete block, the air thick with incense and Tibetan monks chanting to a subtle backbeat, a welcome contrast to my incensed partner chanting curses and maledictions.

The panic having been dispelled and Show having calmed down by the time we were invited to disrobe and slip on our gowns, her blood pressure rose sharply again when she saw the state of my underpants. Confident that I'd be using my sporty bathing costume, I'd taken the liberty of travelling in an ageing, bleach-stained pair of Marks and Spencers briefs, a least one size too large to give room for manoeuvre, given the heat. A stiff-limbed march to our massage room later, and I received a third Paddington hard stare from my spouse in as many minutes when I mistook an instruction to remove my roupão (dressing gown, a word I rarely use in Portuguese) for an invitation to take off my roupa (clothes), my confused request for clarification narrowly avoiding a scene marked only by its unrelenting pathos.

The rest of the day went generally smoothly. We were massaged with bamboo, rubbed with exotic oils, caked in clay, given a face pack, encouraged to enjoy a Japanese-style bath in a wooden tub in which someone had dropped their grass cuttings, then after a light lunch, I snoozed my way through a couple of other procedures, including lying on hot pebbles, which reminded me of childhood holidays in Charmouth, near Bridport.

After settling the not inconsiderable bill, we tried to leave São Paulo in time for my evening class at 7pm, but of course the traffic was appalling and all the relaxation I had just given myself fully to evaporated. Luckily nobody went to the class, so I unilaterally cancelled it and went straight home, and was in bed by 10pm.

The next morning I overslept and almost missed my 8 o'clock class, which would have justified the cost of the spa in itself. The package we chose was supposed to be "revitalising", but I haven't been the same since, feeling constantly sleepy and listless, though it has to be said my forehead has never been less shiny, nor my hunched spine less curved.

I can smell burning. I have a feeling I need to buy some new underwear.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008


The excellent Gadjo Dilo has come up with a festival of films that should be/should have been made. Clambering onto the bandwagon, here are my entries:

Hardboiled cop Gene Hackman and idealistic sidekick Willem Dafoe head to the deep south to tackle inherent ugliness in the redneck population. Hackman's unorthodox methods include intimidation and grabbing people by the clangers under tables, much to the by-the-book Dafoe's chagrin. The masked people with pointy hats turn out not to be Klu Klux Klanners but a fringe and highly dangerous band of gurning competition organisers, and webmasters at

What really happened to Deborah Kerr after that roll on the beach with Burt Lancaster - unemployment, a council house in Wooton Bassett and liver disease brought on by drinking alcopops. Could be used in schools in teenage pregnancy prevention campaigns, if I were paid loads of money for the rights.

The ultimate biopic telling the life story of sartorially-challenged ex-Labour Party leader, The Right Honorable Michael Foot. His youth, his going up to Oxford and subsequent rise to the summit of British politics, including the story behind that Remembrance Day parade when he turned up in a shabby duffle coat buttoned up in the wrong holes, and lost the following General Election.

A late night treat for fans of tasteful erotica and household gadgets. Debbie gets trapped overnight by floodwater in a branch of Dixons, the low priced electricals store, after an apocalyptic breach of London's Thames Barrier, and wanders around the store in her lingerie testing the electrical goods. I imagine Dixons would be only too happy to finance it, for the positive publicity it would bring.