BootsnAll Travel Network

Archive for December, 2010

« Home


Thursday, December 30th, 2010

Barcelona gets as much sunshine in January as London gets in September.

Last September I thought the sun was shining down on my new life in London. Perhaps it is symbolic that I’m going to Barcelona at the end of the first week of the new year.

But the first week of the new year feels oh so very far away from where I am now, just past the wrong side of Christmas. This season creates its own hell and it feels as if it will never end. It feels as if the sun has set over London for good.

The damp cold creeps through my coat and up my bum from where it rests on a wet wooden bench in Finsbury Park. The morning fog brightens as if someone has turned up a dimmer switch. There is no visible light source, yet the effect is sudden. Dark one moment, bleak daylight the next.

It’s not yet eight, already 7:49. Too early, and too late.


8:06 and this weird milky day doesn’t have the decency to end, even though mornings and evenings look exactly alike.

By now the sun will be shining brightly over Barcelona: 3 hours and change more of it each day than London gets.

I have written about and documented my travels since 2004 and penned a few novels. I’ve had close to 100 rejections for various short stories, tried and failed to run a sandwich shop and ditto to train as a chef. None of this means that I contribute. I therefore do not belong in this twilight zone.

My early memories are sunnier, all the way back to when I was young and fresh-faced and took on the challenge to live in another country, and another culture, for the second time in my life. That was back in 1987, 23 years ago and change.

Teachers have to be good at explaining things. I never was—I’ve never had the patience—but I’ve learned how to speak slowly once, into a microphone, in front of an audience.

As my Sensei put it, twenty years later: “It’s all theatre.”

That’s all it is.

I should be just fine.

TEFL-Too Good To Be True?

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

Grand Palace8

Oh yes, there are many pitfalls when it comes to TEFL. Having narrowly avoided the Chiang Mai Linguistics Institute meltdown (an option I was seriously considering when I still thought I could go to Libong to volunteer), I toyed for a while with courses that offer guaranteed job placements, until I decided to focus on the EU both because it’s more constructive and because I don’t want to run from the problems I’m facing right now. Hey, Barcelona is practically a commute away from London.

It turns out that this was another good decision. As TEFLtastic puts it, there are jobs—even in this day and age—that nobody wants to do. How do you grade homework for a class of 70 students? Obviously you can’t set them individual tasks every day, not even small ones: if you spend 10 minutes a day marking each student you’ll add 58 hours to your working week! Perhaps you could set them one task to mark over the weekend. Once they are more advanced they could work on a mini-project that you’ll assess over the holidays…

But there are two problems with that. The first I’m going to dismiss. You may have to face a class of 70 kids and if you volunteer in areas desperate for teachers, you almost certainly will. Since this is something I hope to do one day, I’ll take that as a given.

The second is more important. The kids cannot be granted (sufficient) individual attention, and—especially in areas where educational services are patchy—you’ll be faced with an even broader range of abilities levels among your students.

There is no practical solution to this, but there are a few things worth trying.
[read on]

Going to Barcelona

Friday, December 17th, 2010

I’ve just booked my flight (January 7th) and accommodation for the course is sorted. All that remains is to complete the pre-course task and to pack.

I keep telling myself that I’m not going to a Gulag. I’m going to the world’s top beach city. Barcelona gets a hundred hours more sunshine per month than London, year round. In January, it will be as sunny there as it is here in September.

I should be thrilled. I love to travel, to explore other countries, and nothing rejuvenates the mind more than learning another language and adapt to another culture. I would be over the Moon—if John was coming with me.

But John is not coming. This isn’t an adventure, a couple of months or years in the sun until we return home, full of tales and ready to face a contented future together. John is already home, but I am not.

I’ve lived in the UK for twenty-three years—exactly half my life—but in all this time I’ve never asked whether I could stay. I was already here when we met and got married and kind of … just settled in.

It never occured to me that I couldn’t just do that. Thankfully it’s not too late. My sister, married to a Brit, is applying for her ‘voluntary’ permit to remain, and eventually ILR and citizenship, while she is still working, and before she finds herself back in Germany sans her husband, because she has fallen on mis-fortune, ill-health or old age.

I do not have that option because six years in Tadley mean that I haven’t been working and therefore cannot apply for a permit. I’ll have to start all over again. And since I will have to retrain—and with the job market being what it is—I may as well go down the TEFL route. Perhaps there is work in Spain. I hope so. If John finds work in Barcelona or Madrid for a couple of months we could then apply to return to the UK in an orderly fashion, with me as the duly declared spouse of a returning EU national.

But this won’t happen for a while. I’ll have to go first. I’ll have to hope that I can find enough work in Spain to cover national insurance and qualify as a resident, at least for the time being.

This isn’t a trip.

This is exile.

In the Kettle

Friday, December 10th, 2010

Cross-posted from my LJ.

Parliament Square, 9th December 2010.

Big Ben in the Evening Sun

We are surrounded.

Just half an hour ago the sun was setting behind Big Ben, coating it with gold. A Japanese tourist stopped to take a photograph of my banner. Back then—after the initial push into Parliament Square—the atmosphere had been relaxed, people smiling in the winter sunshine. When the police took off their fluorescent jackets and raised their shields I’d drifted around the crowd, keeping to the fringes but not yet alarmed.

Now the cops stand shoulder to shoulder across Parliament Street, where not so long ago people had been walking up-and-down freely. They are clad in black, their helmets glinting in the evening light. The crowds have thinned and I wonder if the Japanese tourist is still among them, caught up—bewildered—along with the other sight-seers who at first couldn’t believe their luck.

The stench of solvent creeps up my nostrils as I lean against the sandstone, scribbling into my notebook. Some guys are spraying graffiti onto the walls.

I take out my phone and try to call John. At first the call fails to connect and then all I can hear is sirens.

Someone walks past with a banner that reads ‘This Is Not A Good Sign’.


I don’t get any information from the officers. It is clear that they’re letting nobody out. Bizarrely, the entrance to Westminster Station is in front of the line. I walk down the stairs and come to a set of shutters. Of course the station is closed, as are the streets above, the traffic lights changing eerily from red to green to amber.

“Don’t you think it is against the law not to provide toilets if there is a public gathering?”

The woman who says this is petite and dressed in a flimsy cardigan and thin overcoat. She looks annoyed. If we’re lucky it will be against the law to let people freeze to death or to crack open their skulls with batons, but I think we are on our own now.
[read on]


Friday, December 3rd, 2010

These are the moments when you seek refuge in writing. Or in reading.

When your whole world has just fallen apart. When Bangkok is no longer far enough, because you cannot run from your problems.

Or from what you are.

Or from what you could have been.


Friday, December 3rd, 2010

It is now nearly impossible for people to post comments on this blog: spam software is getting more clever by the day!

People who are friends know how to contact me on Facebook or by email.