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, 17 July 2019

NIPS, TEFL AND THE SCOURGE OF POLITICAL CORRECTNESS


If I had any kind of “Internet following”, or if I were a “digital influencer”, I would probably steer clear of the subject of this post for fear of a mass online lynching followed by the need to publish a flat-chested apology, but as I’m in my own little corner of the blogalaxy and I can mumble away to myself largely unnoticed - brace yourself, Sheila.

It was a frosty winter’s morning and I had just arrived in the staff room. “It’s a bit Pearl Harbour”, I quipped, a comment met by quizzical looks from my colleagues. “There’s a nip in the air!” If it didn’t exactly gain me a standing ovation, my play on words drew a number of chuckles and the odd wry smile.

But scarcely had the sound waves been emitted by my vocal chords than a tart Glaswegian (yes, those words are the right way round, though thinking about it, they could probably be reversed) snapped, “Well, that’s a bit racist!” At the time, I had neither the time nor the energy to wade into her as maybe I would have done today, so I just kept quiet and rummaged through some random papers to make it look like I was too busy with some highly streamlined lesson planning to pander to her political correctitiude.

If I had taken the time to destroy her argument and render her speechless, I would in all likelihood have countered with something along the lines of the following.

If it’s racist to call a Japanese a “nip” (from the word Nippon, Japanese for “Japan”), it’s also presumably racist to call a Briton a Brit. Not sure many would agree with that.

Secondly, at the time the word “nip” was being used, even if as a derogatory term, we were at war with Japan, and I think being called names was probably the least of anybody’s worries.

We’re increasingly living in a world where, because we’re all interconnected, you can’t comment on a pair of nice Chelsea boots without offending a coachload of drab vegans campaigning against the use of leather. Even the bloody Dalai Lama was forced into apologising recently when he quipped that, if his successor were female, he hoped she would be attractive. Cue mass hysteria, howls of derision, bony little pointing fingers, mean, piggy eyes screwed up in unrestrained ire…

Cut His Holiness some slack, online "community". As far as I’m concerned, he can yearn for a looker if he so wishes, after all he’s done for humanity.

Saturday, 6 July 2019

HEADCASES AND HEADLOCKS


Of all the oddball comments I’d heard in TEFL over the years, the words that issued from the Principal’s mouth that lunchtime definitely made the top three. Sweeping into the staffroom with his hand clasped to his brow, he blurted to no one in particular, “That idiot’s just put one of the Thai girls in a headlock”. Books were slowly closed, and eyes cast downwards, as we strived collectively to imagine circumstances in which putting a Thai girl in a headlock would be a) necessary, or b) warranted. The Thai girls at the school at the time were all demure, unfailingly polite and cheerful, and none of them appeared likely to require incapacitating physical restraint.

The “idiot” in question, whose name slips my mind, was one of the many unhinged summer teachers who’d descended out of nowhere and tricked their way onto the staff due to a long career spent teaching English all over the world. In fact, a long career in TEFL should arguably be a very good reason not to employ someone, such is the psychological deterioration frequently witnessed with the passing of the years, but that’s an argument to be fleshed out on another occasion.

He was a heavy-set gent, probably in his late forties or early fifties, and there was something unnerving about him. Everything, from the way he walked to the manner in which he engaged in conversation, was just a little too… deliberate. He stomped around heavily as if he’d finally decided to grab an axe and put a stop to his neighbour’s late-night trumpet practice. He asked bizarre questions about subjects nobody had any idea about, such as the Welsh Assembly’s new rules on use of the Welsh language in dog training and the like, which a Welsh colleague dismissed with a delightfully crisp, “How should I bloody know?” And he had plans to conquer Europe by travelling around camp sites teaching English to continental caravaners, a scheme which we were all too eager to encourage, even offering to help him find out about ferry timetables. So, when word reached us that he’d grabbed an unsuspecting Thai student in class from behind and playfully set about strangling her, disbelief was not the common reaction, but rather weary resignation.

The Principle, genuinely decent and ever the peacemaker, was forced into a corner and felt he had to act decisively. The heavy-handed goon would have to be dismissed for gross misconduct, with immediate effect, he concluded.

The next day I arrived at the school and a colleague had casually asked the Principal how the sacking had gone, to which I caught the tail end of his reply. “… Because I’m a bloody coward!” he roared, as he bounded up the stairs to the safety of his office. I wondered whether there had been some sort of physical confrontation, and maybe the Principal had backed down, but when the full facts came to light, it turned out that he’d driven out to a remote farm where the muttonhead was staying, and rather than risk a possible showdown, the consequences of which would have been, to say the least, unpredictable, particularly on a remote farm, he had left his letter of dismissal wedged in the gate and run for it, and I can’t say I blame him for that.

The nitwit must have received and read the letter, because we never saw or heard from him again and we never knew whether he had gone on to terrorise European camping enthusiasts or received the clarifications he felt he required regarding the Welsh Assembly’s linguistic directives

But peace once again reigned in the kingdom, however briefly.

Monday, 18 August 2014

2014 Elections - Wardy Sets Forth

“Wardy, you’ve been living in the land of the thong and the endlessly smouldering barbecue for over ten years now, so enlighten us, what’s your take on the current state of Brazilian politics, in light of the forthcoming presidential elections?” I imagine people would ask, if only I’d grant them an audience. I shall reply using an analogy.

As I may have mentioned herein several years ago, I once had a spluttering career in the Human Resources department of a local metallurgical factory, during which I limped along gamely for just over two years before I was rooted out and banished. Our department had no dedicated manager, so we reported directly to the Director of Administration. There were six of us in the department at the outset, a Psychologist, three HR Analysts (of which I was one), and two HR Assistants. 

One of my fellow Analysts was a short, stocky individual who peered earnestly out from behind a pair of narrow, rectangular spectacles, always giving the impression that he was addressing you through a letterbox, which nine times out of ten I would have preferred. He’d started working in the department six months before I arrived, but you would have been hard pressed to disbelieve him if he’d claimed to have been brought up there since infancy, such was his air of superiority towards his bumbling colleagues and sense of injustice that his talents had not as yet been fully recognised. He was the department spy, it later transpired, silently observing us co-workers and giving secret, no-holds-barred accounts of our collective ineptitude to our mace-wielding boss. This contributed in no small part to the brevity of my employment.

He could certainly set forth about HR – when he wasn’t making misty-eyed proclamations about shifting paradigms, or constructing competencies (“Why don’t bridge crane drivers have basic first-aid training?”), he was marching around with a package of documents as thick as a phone book, which never seemed to diminish in size. When I moved desks to work opposite him, I realised why. He’d arrive in the morning, grab the package, rummage through it, occasionally swap the order of the papers contained therein, apparently lose the will to live and make an urgent phone call to arrange a largely pointless meeting with the supervisors of the training units situated around the factory. In a nutshell, he saw himself as an executive (he was doing an MBA after all, despite having finished his undergraduate degree only months earlier), but in fact, he executed absolutely nothing.

It is hard not to see him as the personification of the ruling Workers’ Party, the PT. Endless meetings, congresses, grand discussions about great left ideas, calling each other comrade, but absolute atrophy in terms of actually making things happen to improve the country. Hence the protests witnessed last year during the Confederations Cup. FIFA-standard stadiums, Scandinavian tax rates and sub-Saharan public services an average Rotary Club could probably administrate more efficiently.

Indeed, it seems to me that this failure to offer a viable alternative is a major weakness of the left in general. Russell Brand’s recent call for revolution was all very entertaining, but when Jeremy Paxman asked him what he envisaged would replace the current system, Brand replied without pausing for breath, “Others are far more qualified than me to answer that question.”


Sadly, I suspect what masquerades as humility and a lack of presumptuousness is actually an inability to provide an intelligible answer.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

BREAKING BADLY

Contrary to a common misconception, TEFL has not finally got the better of me and forced me into an early retirement consisting of crafts, art therapy and medication in an institutionalised environment, life has been tossing me hither and thither with almost reckless abandon. The upshot being, I'm back, and this time I mean it.

Back from Campinas, which turned out to be a costly move on so many fronts, but now firmly ensconced in a rather fetching house with a big yard, a generous barbecue area, electric lighting and running water.

Again, it's election time, and our new neighbour is one of the chosen ones who drives around town with wedding disco speakers tied to the roof of his car urging us all to vote for his candidate - luckily, I can't vote being a foreigner, so a) I can safely ignore him, and b) no one can blame me when it all goes tits up.

A woman called today to do a pre-election survey. One of the questions was, "Is there any candidate you look at and think, "No way"? I mumbled that, no, I didn't really have anything against any of them.

What I wanted to say in the real world was, "Yes, that gibbering little chump Mendes, who, when he isn't gibbering, is wearing the grin of a man who's just won a particularly closely contested farting competition."

But alas I didn't, meaning that the opinion poll results are now irreversibly skewed, so it's anybody's election.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

EVERY CLOUD HAS A SILVER LINING

Judging by the quantity of Police Statements I am translating at the moment, Northern Ireland is not a good place to be if you're Portuguese.

But the more nationals from that country that get beaten up, fail to repay debts, steal each others' electrical equipment and have their windows smashed by gangs of hooded youths, the better for business as far as I'm concerned.

The tragedies of globalisation - and they say crime doesn't pay...

Monday, 19 December 2011

AN ECONOMIC MIRACLE

Brazil is, we are told, currently experiencing something of an economic miracle, finally making progress towards fulfilling the massive potential it has always harboured. Economist speak feverishly about all kinds of economic indicators that make little sense in the lives of ordinary people, and the country is held up as a beacon of hope in an increasingly grave global economic meltdown.

Various companies have wasted no time in jumping on the bandwagon, notably Johnny Walker, whose TV ad, "Keep Walking, Brazil" depicts Sugar Loaf Mountain rising into the form of a giant, to the disbelief of onlooking cariocas. "The giant is no longer sleeping", the caption reads at the end of the spot, which may sell a few more cases of whisky, but is about as detached from reality as it is possible to be without employing psychtropic drugs for those at the bottom of the food chain - such as TEFLers.

In many ways, TEFL is a perfect capitalist model. Charge students as much as you can get away with, pay teachers as little as you can get away with, and sit back and admire your burgeoning bank balance. Those entrepreneurs who started language schools in Britain in the sixties are largely, if not millionaires, certainly very comfortably off. And with qualifications to become an EFL teacher basically amounting to a certificate completed in a month and a minimum fluency in the English language, there is no shortage of eligible candidates to form the academic staff of these illustrious academies of learning, a fact which of course forces down wages due to the laws of supply and demand.

Venture abroad, and things are even more laughable. Most language school owners in Brazil, for example, are franchisees, many of whom have not the faintest grasp of the language they are meant to be offering. Drawn in by promises of untold riches, they take the language school model to the extreme, showing little concern for results (which are often indiscernible, as discussed previously) except those of a financial order.

The experience of a Brazilian friend of mine illustrates this point perfectly. Eager to earn a little extra cash, and having lived in Australia and taught English over a number of years, he approached a language school in a neighbouring town with a view to picking up a few classes. The owner, a thankless shyster as it turns out, perhaps unsurprisingly, met his enquiries with enthusiasm. "Come and participate in our two-day training course," he enthused, "so you can learn about our unique methodology." My friend asked the obvious question of how much he could expect to receive per hour. "Don't worry about that now," the owner insisted, "we can iron out the details after you've done the training." In other words, my friend was forced to do the training to find out his salary - reluctantly, he agreed, taking two days unpaid leave from his regular job to listen to 9 to 5 claptrap, twice.

Much waffling and stalling later, the owner revealed the hourly rate, as if he were announcing the winner of the latest series of Strictly. Only this time there was no ticker tape or delerious studio audience. "I can give you my maximum rate (for experienced teachers only) of eight reais per hour", the tightwad intoned gravely.

I won't bore you with what that equates to in pounds, dollars or euros. Suffice it to say that, at a school of the same franchise, my friend formerly received twelve reais an hour - and that was fully a decade ago, in 2002 - factor in inflation, and it probably represents more than a 50% pay cut.

Truly a miracle of economy.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

GREAT TEFL WASTERS I HAVE KNOWN - JASON

Continuing my occasional series on Great TEFL Wasters, allow me to cast my mind back to Jason, a typically chirpy Londoner I met whilst teaching in Italy. As with most London lads, he fancied himself as a bit of a player, with just fashionably long curly hair and a cocky patter that veritably flowed off the tongue. He was unique in that, during the whole time I knew him, I only ever heard him employ one adjective for a myriad of situations - the brilliantly versatile "unnatural".

When I once pointed out a rather fetching female to him in a nightclub, he whined, "Cor, strike me, that's unnatural, innit?" Another time, I invited him to stop in a bar for a coffee, to which he responded, "Coffee? Nah, I don't drink coffee, mate, it's unnatural, innit, coffee?" His profuse perspiration I'd noted on a not particularly hot day was explained away with, "Yeah, I've always sweated a lot, it's unnatural, innit?" And so it went on.

Unnatural was applied to express size, degree, likes and dislikes, surprise... you name it, it was unnatural in some way. I thought it brilliant - unnaturally so, perhaps. There was an economy in his technique I found truly compelling. Apparently, so did his students, who followed his lead and could be heard describing the rain not as torrential, or heavy, but "unnatural-uh".

One day I met him at the school, and he was looking very sorry for himself. He'd just broken up with his Italian girlfriend. He didn't go into details, but I've often wondered whether he hadn't suggested they do something "unnatural" in the bedroom. Or summat.

I think this may well be his twin brother...


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Monday, 8 August 2011

TEFL'S ICY CLAWS

My recent absence may be explained, if not justified, by my having moved to the warmer climes of Campinas, pronounced "Cam-penis", which pleases the 12-year old inside my shorts. Leaving my in-laws peering wild-eyed over the parapet of their own lunacy, bless 'em, we have left them to their lectures and bickering, finally transferring our worldly possessions to a place of our own, a move which has been a modest 9 years at the planning stage. If I'd known that would happen, I'd still be drinking lunchtime pints and eating scampi in the Dorset Soldier in Corfe Mullen of a weekend and trying to get excited about football on a big screen.

Our worldly possessions have been packed, unpacked and carefully arranged, we await the arrival of our new sofa, dining table and chairs and TV stand unit thingy, netting has been strategically placed in front of our eighth-floor balcony and windows to prevent our 1.5-year-old from practising skydiving, though she does seem determined to push at least one item through the gaps in said netting, most recently the TV remote control. If I am deported for reckless endangerment or failing to restrain a child, it won't be for lack of foresight.

The irony of all this is that, as our costs have risen considerably, it appears an imminent return to TEFL is on the cards, but this time, it shall be different. I've calculated that if I can get 4 students to study 2 hours a week at the rate I plan to charge, this should cover our monthly food expenses at least.

Inside our gated compound surrounded by machine gun nests, there are 4 blocks of flats, each boasting 14 floors with 4, 3-bedroom flats on each (a total of 224 flats). If each contains at least 2 adults (no children please, for all that's sacred), that's around 450 potential students - and I just need 4 to think it's sophisticated to have a native-speaking private English teacher and I'm in the black.

Mind you, when I started a school with my friend Bert in Alumínio, I confidently predicted that, if only 1% of the nearby factory workforce of 5,000 wanted English classes, we'd have 50 students right off the bat - we quietly closed one year later having reached a peak student body of 12. But this time it'll be different - from now on, TEFL shall no longer be my master, but my mistress - albeit a fairly overly made-up and coarse one who you probably wouldn't want to take to the Henley Regatta.

More live news on my TEFL comeback as and when it happens! (Distant cheering/sobbing).

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Wednesday, 1 June 2011

IS IT REALLY SO STRANGE?

The trouble with family visiting from the old continent is that they leave you in a worse state than they found you.

Since mother and middle sister left, I've found myself exploring a morbid fascination for YouTube interviews with Morrissey, wearing my late father's sports jacket around the house and pining to, of all things, go rambling (here, crossing somebody's land is likely to land you with a cap in your harris at the very least).

Heaven knows I'm miserable now.

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Friday, 8 April 2011

THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, CTEFL

There is something deeply tragic about the TEFL school staff photo that to this day haunts my dreams. No offence to those being snapped, but it isn't hard to recognise the silent desperation hidden behind the wool ties, the sensible clothes, the pained haircuts. Normally, those involved are a motley crew aged anything between 20 and 65 - those at the younger end of the scale are still fairly normal looking, for the years haven't yet taken their toll. They entered TEFL due some kind of wanderlust, or maybe just some kind of lust, judging by the number of Tesco Value lotharios I have come across over the years.

I remember a particularly smooth teacher of Italian parentage who used to descend on Bournemouth of a summer fancying himself as a modern day Lord Byron, entrapping doe-eyed latinas and chaperoning them to the beach at night, which, he claimed, was "guaranteed to get them in the mood". Probably not surprisingly, his popularity with women was inversely proportional to his popularity with male colleagues, and he always seemed to pop into pubs alone, only ever ordering a half and taking a quick tour of the beer garden, presumably to check out the new arrivals. He probably didn't mind being shunned, though, he was the Julio Iglesias of the Poole/Bournemouth conurbation. I remember one of my colleagues once dismissively snapping, "What's he got? He hasn't got anything," to which I pointed out that nor had we, but at least he was gettin' jiggy wit it on a regular basis, unlike at least three of us.

It's desperately hard to be flash in TEFL. I once led a rather fetching young Brazilian back to my bedsit, only to leave her outside the door as I went in first to throw all the jumbled clothing into the wardrobe, collect up the dirty crockery and put it into the sink and shut the partition doors that cunningly hid the kitchen area. The look on her face when she entered made it clear that her live-in maid had larger quarters and the climate of nicely simmering romanticism came to an abrupt end as she crunched across the crumb-strewn carpet to make a polite exit to a hastily called taxi. Why hadn't I gone into advertising, I thought wistfully as I waved her goodbye from the bay window that was jammed open.

Also to be found in the average TEFL school photo are the thirty-something women, who are genuinely relaxed and cheerful because they are already married to a barrister making a six-figure salary and with two children in a Montessori school. They beep their horn brightly as they pass you in the rain of a morning in their BMW and you unsteadily take one hand of the handlebar of your bicycle to wave back at her from beneath your oilskins.

Then we come to the 35+ men, their masculinity drummed out of them by 15 years at the TEFL grindstone. They are bleak and dispirited as the realisation is beginning to dawn that they've spent the best years of their lives on intellectual factory work, with little discernible result, no transferable skills and absolutely no financial security to show for it. Look carefully at the photos and you'll notice their eyes can no longer smile, like people who have had their house repossessed six times in four years. Sometimes literally. Rather than looking into a camera lens, they appear to be staring transfixed into a morbid oracle that shows hazy visions of what their life will be like ten years from now.

The saddest photos are the ones where the school insists on the male teachers wearing a necktie, a marketing ploy as pathetic as it is transparent, the assembled misfits looking much more like defendants queuing to appear in court on shoplifting charges than a group of dynamic language solution providers.

These beaten early-middle-aged men are thrown into sharp relief by the last type of TEFL teacher, the token retiree who pitches up now and again to take a break from golfing, bowls, the Rotary Club and Tory party fundraising, all in the company of a rather tart ladyfriend. I once worked with a retired Royal Navy officer who must have been sixty-five if he was a day, and who, whichever country you mentioned, would comment, "Ah yes, I nearly married a [ENTER NATIONALITY HERE] once. Striking girl..." He told students that it was wrong to say "OK" and it was only correct to use "alright", much to everyone's bemusement given that it's the most widespread utterance in the English language after "Coca Cola".

Or maybe it's the other way round.

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Sunday, 20 March 2011

THE LAND OF THAT’LL DO

The male voice choir I participate in has reached something of a plateau I feel. For over a year now, we seem to have stagnated, unable to see any marked improvement in our performances and still victims of the vices that have become commonplace. We start songs impressively, start to wobble, and by the end have sometimes completely come apart – rather than singing as a unit with one voice, it’s more like every man for himself. And much of the cause is cultural, it seems to me. I don’t like to criticise my adopted country, but I am going to make a rare exception and opine that I am living in the land of “that’ll do”.

Choir singing, for example, is the pursuit of excellence. Our choir, being one of the few male choirs in the region, is met with standing ovations at every turn, largely because we are such a novelty. This is not to say it’s undeserved; to the untrained ear (there is virtually no culture of choir singing in Brazil, apart from local church ensembles, which are all fervent bleating into microphones to the accompaniment of acoustic guitars), we are a competent group. But we are far from reaching, let's say, German levels of excellence, a point proven when we competed in a festival in Poland three years ago and came into contact with some of the best choirs in the world. The all-conquering University of the Philippines Singing Ambassadors choir in particular, which won all the categories it competed in and the overall prize for best choir, was flawless. Apparently they rehearse 5 hours a day, every day, from 6 am until 11 am, which goes a long way to explaining their unique sound. But even in rehearsal, we fall down.

This comes from the fact that Brazilians are playful, in any situation. I remember entering the room for my first business meeting when I worked in HR in a large aluminium company to find a group of people nattering away, some standing, some sitting, several different conversations going on at the same time. Being a true Brit, I sat politely listening in to the various topics being simultaneously discussed, assuming we were all waiting for the chairman of the meeting to arrive. Doce ilusão. Before I knew it, a few notes were scribbled on a piece of paper, and everyone got up to leave. That was the meeting. No agenda, no opening the floor for questions, no minutes, just everyone having their say in a process of utterly chaotic decision making.

Our rehearsals are similar. I was singled out for praise by our exasperated conductor recently. “You don’t see MC chatting during rehearsal,” he snapped, after the familiar round of banter had just totally destroyed the group’s fragile veil of concentration. One false comment and inevitably someone weighs in with a weak joke, another weak joke follows in response, three people on opposite sides of the hall start to comment on the weakness of the preceding jokes, and bedlam ensues. This leads directly to a generalised habit of not concentrating, even during concerts. Choir singing is all about precision. Several of our band haven’t even managed to grasp singing a note until its end, or ceasing to sing when the conductor gesticulates to request this - things I learned in my school choir at age nine.

The “that’ll do” culture pervades everything. Just look around our small town and everything is done on the cheap. Houses remain unfinished, or at least unpainted, the roads potholed and abandoned. Everything is grubby and untended and slapdash – rather than seek excellence, it seems people have caught the whiff of a barbecue halfway through a task, no matter how important, and said, “I'm feeling peckish, Kleverson, lad. That’ll do.”

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Friday, 25 February 2011

CAN'T WE JUST TALK?

Yesterday I was just tucking into my jugged hare when the doorbell rang. My father-in-law answered it to a lady, returning to inform me that it was me to whom she would like to address an enquiry. Unaccustomed to lady callers, I descended to the gate and held a barely audible shouted conversation with my suitor above the rabid barking of my hound.

"Is it you that gives the English lessons?" she enquired.
"Not any more, I'm afraid", I snapped, snorting involuntarily, "I work with translation now, and I don't have time to give lessons."
She appeared to crumple physically.
"I can't believe it," she whined, "a friend of mine called you a while ago and you told her you weren't giving lessons any more," she went on, this revelation begging the question as to why she thought I'd make some kind of inconsistent exception for her. "It's for my 16-year-old son. Not even conversation?"

Ah yes, conversation classes - the linguistic equivalent of watching a student give birth. For some reason people assume "conversation classes", which are more often than not nothing of the sort, are something you just do at a minute's notice, some kind of free and easy 1960s students and teachers heavily relating to each other sort of vibe. Little do they realise most students' abject inability to hold any kind of conversation that would be generally accepted as intelligible, meaning that good old teach has to prepare wads of material and assorted bumpf to fill the awkward silences. I still awake at night with sweats brought on by nightmares involving running out of material absurdly early in a class.

My last teaching job at a Business English-oriented school involved giving lessons to a particularly limited individual who was invariably the only member of the class to show up, meaning I was forced into giving him one-to-one classes. Of the hour-long class, he probably communicated for at most 15 minutes, which, to be honest, was quite enough. Oddly, though I detected no stammer when he spoke Portuguese, when he attempted to express his inner feelings in English, he'd suddenly get stuck on a word, repeating part of it half a dozen times while cocking his head at an awkward angle and looking heavenwards, as if he were looking up a chimney, or perhaps had just sat on something unexpectedly sharp. I would just sit there and look evenly at him, stifling the urge to scream encouragement.

Anyway, this lady was particularly persistent. I suggested my friend Bert, who has a school and speaks impeccable English.

"And in the next few months," she pressed, "any likelihood of you having more time available?"

Here is what I would have liked to have replied.

"Madam, I note that you have not yet grasped the depth of my loathing for teaching English, so allow me to spell it out to you. When I was young and carefree, I used to work in a school in Bournemouth, and I used to have a recurring daydream. In it, I would give the class an exercise to do, and while they were quietly beavering away, I'd symbolically empty my pockets of board pens, elastic bands, paperclips, the paraphernalia of my craft, and I would silently leave the room. Softly, ever so softly, I'd tiptoe down the stairs, past reception and out of the front door.

"Turning right, I'd walk along the road, down the hill, across the Square and into the Lower Gardens, dappled with the early afternoon sun and alive with colour and life in a manner my TEFL classes never were, strolling on until I reached the end of the pier. I was never sure if, when I got there, I'd actually end up jumping in or not, or whether I'd just stand there and whisper incantations to the deep and urge the seabirds on in their anarchic arcs and dives. I only knew that, from there, I would be able to see the horizon, and I would be free.

"So, in answer to your question, no, I don't foresee being available any time soon. Good day to you Madam!"



Have you ever had daydreams in class? (Nothing lewd please, control yourselves). Have you ever jumped off a pier? I believe it's called tombstoning. What paraphernalia do you use in class, apart from that listed above?


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Wednesday, 16 February 2011

SOMERSET MAUGHAM AND FACEBOOK

I remember reading a Somerset Maugham short story once in which the writer moves into a house where he is told one of his neighbours is a poet. Interested to meet the bard in question, Maugham decides to pay him a visit. When the gentleman opens the door, Maugham is immediately impressed by his physical appearance, and goes on to describe his keen eyes, noble face – generally, he is exactly what he expects a poet to look like, the twist in the story being that he’s actually called at the wrong house and is describing the wrong man.

I was reminded of this story after a particularly vivid dream, which I won’t recount in full out of pure compassion. I don’t know how Freud did it, listening to all those people’s dreams – to me, it’s the most boring thing anyone can do, start to recall dreams to you. It’s just a load of mumbo jumbo, “I was in this dark place, which was like my grandmother’s coal cellar, but it wasn’t, and there was this huge carrot...” blah, blah, blah. Utter nonsense. But this dream of mine was different - it really left a mark on me. I was at an airport and had seen an American student I’d studied with in Italy about 20 years ago. She was there with her Italian husband (who was her then boyfriend) and several children. They hadn’t seen me, but I was truly delighted to clap eyes on them. I awoke with a strong feeling of wanting, nay needing, to get in touch with her, but I knew not how.

I trawled the Internet to no avail. I searched Facebook for every possible combination of her name, but without success. Then, more recently, I had another dream about her, and was left with the same nagging desire for contact. This time, Facebook came up trumps – she was not only there under her maiden name, but she was first on the list. The photo was unmistakable, the brief info I gleaned through her lax privacy settings gave me all the confirmation I needed – living in a small Calabrian village, several kids, owner of an English school (oh, the irony!) Without wishing to be pushy and go straight for a friend request, I sent her what I thought was a suitably cool, honed message, eager to re-establish contact and see just what my dream was telling me.

To date she has not replied.

I realise now I should have included a Disclaimer:

PLEASE NOTE THAT:
  1. I AM NO LONGER THE PERSON I WAS;
  2. I HAVE GOT A HANDLE ON MY DRINKING;
  3. I LIVE ON A DIFFERENT CONTINENT FROM YOU;
  4. I NO LONGER WRITE POETRY.

UPDATE: I've just realised that I sent the message on 14 February (Valentine's Day), which was probably an error, as it may have insinuated I now wear thick glasses and have been harbouring an unspoken, stalker-style, 20-year crush. Timing is everything.

ANOTHER UPDATE: She once told me she dropped tabs of LSD on a fairly regular basis, so, quite apart from the detrimental effects on her long-term memory, she may have had trouble smelling my name. Or summat.



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Sunday, 19 December 2010

GORDON'S ALIVE...

Keen-eyed readers who popped by in around June may remember a garbled message I posted (and swiftly deleted) relating to some fairly major legal difficulties I was facing, which, thankfully, turned out to be utterly baseless.

Without wishing to go into the morbid details, suffice it to say that our attempts to adopt a young waif led to a rumour circulating in the region that there was a German child trafficker at large - and I'm still not sure which part of that double insult riled me more. I am delighted to say I have been fully cleared of all suspicions, with my moral integrity and island heritage more or less intact. What it has provided me with is yet another demonstration of the depth of the other-planetary madness by which this country operates, where criminals (and clowns, in the literal sense of the word) are routinely elected to public office, and people hoping to adopt an abandoned child are criminalised. And people wonder why Brazil's attempts to secure a permanent seat on the UN Security Council have come to naught as the battled-hardened troops fresh from peacekeeping in Haiti rumble into the Morro do Alemão in Rio, the drug traffickers having already left via the sewage system.

So, I'm gingerly dipping my toes back into the blogalaxy, fresh from a bout of chickenpox that has left my rugged features slightly more bullet-ridden and interesting.

More soon...

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Monday, 26 April 2010

NO MORE A-CUSSIN'

In an effort to rid himself of the habit of using foul language at the slightest provocation, a Facebook chum recently asked for suggestions for harmless expressions he could use in front of his Gran and her bingo clique during moments of high stress, astonishment and/or extreme disappointment.

I weighed in with, "Crikey!" and, "Great Scott!"

Please feel free to add your suggestions, and help to make the world a tiny bit less like a trucker's stopover in Eindhoven.

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Monday, 29 March 2010

DOG'S BREAKFASTS

Last week was a strange old week on several fronts. Firstly, I managed to bugger up a translation test for a potential client, the second time this has happened recently. As soon as I see the word “test”, my brain seems to freeze and I lose all discernment. I commence mentally hemming and hawing about what to change and what to leave in, often ending up with a text full of awkward phrases that look like one of my English students wrote them. Actually, that is a gross exaggeration, but there’s a sniff of truth to it.

It’s significant that my two main clients never asked me to do a test - they just started sending me projects straight off the bat, and I’ve never looked back. Place the word “test” in the mix and I become a gibbering bell end. I’d therefore ask anybody who wants me to translate anything never to mention the “t” word, lest my fevered brain goes all Chernobyl on me again.

In other developments, after six years of largely peaceful coexistence with the town’s hundreds-strong mendicant community, my mutt Moby finally came up against some quality opposition last Tuesday and came out of it with his pride, and luckily only his pride, somewhat battered.

By the time I saw his assailant, it was already too late. A large grey hound (note the space), he had that look in his eye characteristic of a drunken Millwall supporter on his way to Upton Park – indeed, I’m sure he can probably howl along to No One Likes Us – We Don't Care, and answers to the name Bushwacker. My first instinct was to turn round and run away shrieking for help, but the area was crowded and I can do without some kind of homage to my valour in battle being posted on YouTube by some baseball-capped iPhone user.

Despite having identified 203 vagrant canines on my customary daily route, this specimen I had never come across before. After some tense sniffing, things began to kick off in spectacular fashion. I tried vainly to drag Moby away, but before I knew it he was upside down with jaws firmly clamped around his neck, squealing just like I’d been planning to. I had visions of him losing a chunk of his neck such was the distress he was in, but then one of those bizarre moments that only happen in Brazil occurred.

A large 4x4 drew up and a portly fellow leapt out, and after a split second analysis, he wordlessly stole up on Moby’s attacker from behind and caught him by the tail. I was hopping around unhelpfully at this point, aiming half-hearted kicks at the brute, keen in doing so not to lose a limb below the knee. Then, with a look as surprised as mine, the dangerous dog let go of Moby’s throat and I was able to drag him out of harm’s way.

Or so I thought. Being a little too English, I stopped to thank the Good Samaritan, which only gave the enemy time to regroup, and before I knew it Moby was in his sights once again. On the advice of one of the quite substantial group that had gathered by dint of the commotion (we must have been at least 20-handed by then), I released Moby’s lead and encouraged him to run like buggery, but the fool looked dolefully at me, before launching into a braying scream the likes of which I’ve never heard before from any living creature as fangs clenched once again around a chunk of his rump. Three or four of us tried to release him once again, only for 4x4 man to calmly stroll over, take his position on the tail again, and coax the beast into submission as gracefully as before.

This time, I snapped Moby’s lead back on and headed for a side street before things turned ugly again.

“You know what I did?” the have-a-go hero confided as he hopped back into his vehicle, appearing genuinely thrilled with his improvisation. “I scrunched his pods in my fist,” he chuckled, explaining the dog’s wide-eyed alarm and bringing tears to my eyes.

“You had more balls than me!” I wanted to quip, but that wouldn’t have worked in Portuguese. Like many things.

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Monday, 8 March 2010

WE'RE CHANGING THE LOCKS, DOREEN

Whilst they are thankfully rare, there are times when students manage to genuinely put the fear of God into us. Principally out of desperation, I recently implemented a new strategy to try to keep my pupils' wandering attention away from Biggy Brother Brasil 10 and/or Carnival-themed pornography and firmly fixed on the task at hand, which, if they haven't already forgotten, is learning Engleeesh.

It involves me sending them a text message three times a week with a simple question in English, normally with a model reply of my own. They then respond, presuming they have enough credit, which seems to be becoming an issue for at least 50% of the class.

In reply to my enquiry, "What did you have for lunch today?", I received the following:

"I HAVE WHO MEET A BEUTIFUL CAT" (uppercase letters his own)

Unable to see an obvious connection, and considering correcting him practically impossible, I lamely replied, "Good for you!", imagining that he was translating literally the word "gata" (cat), which round these parts may be employed to refer to a foxy lady. This theory was quickly dismissed as we pressed on with our encrypted communications:

"It is dark and smelly," he stated, directly from leftfield.

I simply couldn't find any words to respond to this, so I sent him a winking emoticon ;-) for lack of any other constructive option.

If he was still referring to the foxy lady, she certainly wasn't sounding quite so beutiful any more, and objectifying her by using the word "it" was a can of worms I wished to maintain firmly shut.

"TODAY I HAD SPAGHETTI," he finally shouted back, causing me to almost weep with relief.

I think it was Yazz who once made the wise observation, "The Only Way Is Up".

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Friday, 19 February 2010

...N, O, P, ARSEHOLE, R, S...

Few of my bumbling disciples know the alphabet in English, I'll wager, but, like me, few will realise the true importance of it until they are guiding an incoming Airbus A380 onto the wrong runway at Congonhas, or, as was my case, being prematurely diagnosed with Tourette's Syndrome during an occupational medical.

I'd noticed the factory nurse sniggering to herself, and thought it downright unethical, given my limited language skills and piss poor pronunciation of Portuguese. Stoic as always, I soldiered on through the eye test. "Pay (P), say (C), shiss (X)..." I dutifully reeled off as the letters diminished in size and visibility, but there it was again, the little smirk, the way she turned away from me and stifled a cackle.

Seeking enlightenment, when I arrived home, I summoned Show to my antechamber and sought her advice on how to pronounce the letter "Q". "Kay," she stated flatly, "like K in English." Therein lay the rub. Vague memories of my four-year degree in Italian wafting into my overexcited memory, I had inadvertantly used the Italian pronunciation "coo", which, by happy coincidence, means "arsehole" in Portuguese.

Which was quite apt really, because the nurse was an arsehole for laughing. And she looked a bit Italian. Innit?

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Friday, 8 January 2010

NO MORE MR. NICE GUY

Once more TEFL leaves me with a feeling of abject grief. Having spent the last 5 months of 2009 convinced that I'd hit upon a winning formula for getting my flock to speak my mother tongue without any of us breaking into too much of a sweat, I mark their end of term tests and find that my prediction that all of them would achieve at least 75% was nothing more than wildly optimistic grope in the darkness, with scores ranging from 68.5% down to a frankly degenerate 30%.

My cunning recipe involving making recordings for them to listen to at home (at least once a day, no more than 7 minutes per recording) appears to have fallen on deaf ears, as the lazy fucks obviously haven't been doing any such thing, despite cleverly lying en masse to me that they were diligently following my linguistic orientations. Where do you end up once you've gone past your wit's end, I wonder? I passed that milestone some years ago.

To swing wildly away on a tangent for a moment, the relevance of which shall become clear shortly, my recent back problems have been greatly alleviated by a Japanese woman who lives on our avenue. After looking at my tomography for a fraction of a second, she told me my lumbar problem was caused by a lack of assertiveness. I end up giving in to things to avoid conflict, and then regret it as Rome burns around me and I rather wish I'd mentioned that playing with matches can be dangerous. "We all have our personal space," she spoke wisely, "and you must learn to defend yours." I am trying, and lo and behold my spine is responding to my new emotional equilibrium.

And, if only for the sake of my poor spinal column, I'm going to be defending my space like my life depended on it, and I shall be a lot less forgiving of the assorted excuses I've been hearing as to why my sponges have not managed to soak up any Inglês this week - "I was on holiday this week, so I didn't have time..." they harp, or, "I've just got back from holiday, so I didn't have time..." or even, "Next week I'm going to be on holiday, so I didn't have time..." It would be perfectly acceptable if I didn't care as much.

I am already preparing my oratory-cum-ultimatum for the first lesson of the semester. They shall rue the day...

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Thursday, 24 December 2009

WHY DO I BOTHER?

The following happened today. I started chuckling, then after a short time found myself openly weeping.


- My Christmas text message to some of my students of English:

"Wishing you and your family a Merry Christmas and health, wealth and happiness for 2010!"



- The response from Francisco, whom I have been teaching for the last five months:

"Tanks"



Any way, Mery Crismas everbody!

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Friday, 11 December 2009

AND SO THIS IS CHRISTMAS

Just back from the Christmas do at the school where I teach my last remaining English lesson of a Saturday morning. The pupils under my care sang a more or less recognisable Danny Boy (not strictly Christmas, but the only sheet music I had in English), then we sat outside in the sickly humid night chatting until the rain came and we had to pack away all the chairs and move the keyboard indoors.

I'm home now, alone apart from our Lhasa Apso, Shanti, who is lying beside me for a change, but only because I am the only other animate object in the vicinity. Show has gone to Campinas to fetch our niece, and pop-in-law is receiving an homenagem for being a founder member of the local Rotary Club. If there's one things Brazilians love, it's the homenagem - all echoey halls and people in suits that are either a size too big or a size too small for them.

Incidentally, Antarctica have just released a new beer that I've felt motivated to sup on, "Sub Zero", which, the can gushes, is "doubly filtered below 0ºC" - through a Russian miner's underpants by the taste of the sour froth. Another alcoholic equivalent of a car accident hits the Brazilian beer market. But, as my glassy-eyed compatriots used to mumble in the toilets of the Lord Nelson on Poole Quay, while Jimmy Pithe brought the house down with his inevitable rendition of Has Anybody Seen My Cock?, "Gets yer there, dunnit?" - wherever your there may be.

I still can't quite believe I was forty this week. Goes so quickly, seems like yesterday, blah, blah, blah, but it is uncharted territory. At least I've outlived Jim Morrison by thirteen years, by my calculations. Missed my family a lot this time, a couple of continents away. Mater turned seventy-five less than a month ago, another milestone I wish I could have celebrated in her company.

But that's the price we pay for the sickly humid nights drinking piss water, I guess.

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Monday, 2 November 2009

THE REAL SLIM WARDY

It may be the fact that I'm sliding inelegantly towards 40 like a man on a dustbin liner down a rain-soaked slag heap, but a few months ago I decided to get myself definitively into shape for the first time in around 15 years. Another factor that has helped me find motivation is my brother-in-law's suggestion that the calcified herniated disc in my back may be best treated by removing an entire vertebra and connecting some metal apparatus to keep me erect, a surgical procedure that may look good on his CV, but will not have my willing, or conscious, participation if I can help it.

My diet has been enriched by the serendipity of Brazilian fodder. Most fattening foods and drinks are entirely unsavoury as far as I am concerned. The beer makes me nauseous or bloated, or both, the ham is like an overly pink slab of an overweight adolecent's buttock, the bacon is 90% fat and 10% meat, but best/worst of all, all the cheeses taste exactly the same, and may be differentiated only by a very slight change in their shade of yellow.

Despite people fervently describing Brazilian pizza as "a melhor do mundo" (people who have never eaten at Pizza Express, clearly), I find it almost entirely wretched, with what passes for mozzarella being a strongly flavoured, overly-rich plastic imitation.

I think I've also managed to finally crack my MacDonald's delusion - when I'm in a shopping centre and I'm hungry, more often than not I go to MacDonald's, eat something that is neither tasty nor healthy nor filling, and vow never to do so again as I chomp my way through the last morsels of the sickly sweet viand and lick the packaging. Then, a few weeks later, I have already forgetten just how bad it was and do the same again, in an entirely irrational triumph of subjective hope over objective fact.

On the upside, the fruit in Brazil is irrepressably delicious - I've been gorging myself on the low-calorie delights that are oranges, papayas, mangoes, strawberries, kiwis and bananas, all at prices that don't leave a hole in the pocket. I recently purchased 20 bananas for R$ 2.50 from a man in a VW Kombi, which works out at less than a shilling per piece of comically-formed fruit.

I'm also doing stretching classes twice a week (great for easing the pressure on the old sciatic nerve) and doing a light upper body workout at the gym, to keep my mistresses happy. So, you are asking yourself, just how trim is the real slim Wardy? I've dropped from a wobbly 78 kg to a reasonable 70 kg - that's 0.078 tonnes to 0.070 tonnes.

Quite an achievement, I'm sure you'll agree.



Does the cheese in your country break the Trade Descriptions Act? Are you on a diet? How many tonnes do you weigh? How much are bananas where you live? Are you ever coming back to this blog after these questions?

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