Places

233 – Loch Swimming, Canal Walking, Russian Oligarchs, Cardiff Castle and Teaching in Marrakesh

Since my last post I’ve swum in a freezing cold Scottish loch, visited an utterly drab Cardiff, camped out in sub minus temperatures in North Yorkshire (in August), walked along the Avon Kennet canal for four days and four nights for no reason, read the first three Knausgaard books, taught English to Russian oligarchs who live in Geneva under Cypriot passports (très intéressant!), and been brought to my knees with a cold virus from another planet.

If I was a football manager describing his season so far, I’d describe the last three months as mixed. Mid table obscurity. No romantic cup runs. No plaudits. No prizes. No glamour. No style. A very average summer peppered with fleeting moments of joy and intrigue. Like when the Russian oligarch I was teaching told me he’s actually retired from business. A minute before charging out of the classroom on an urgent ‘business call’.

‘Your wife?’ I joked when he returned (we were on good terms by this point).

‘Ha!’ he boomed in his loudest Siberian roar, his large red mouth as big as a halved ruby grapefruit. ‘My wife never phones,’ he continued laughing. I laughed back in my loudest English roar even though I was absolutely terrified.

My return to the UK has had its moments for sure, but on the whole it’s been a big disappointment. Full of Chino Moments, referring to the time I bought a pair of new grey Beau Brummel trousers for my first school disco. And didn’t get a single dance all night. Standing in the corner for four hours clutching a flat bottle of Happy Shopper Coca-Cola waiting for someone to ask me.

Me and Elizabeth have given thought to staying here, renting a place and giving old Blighty another go. Another throw of the Britannic dice. Batten down the hatches and wait to see what the British winter brings. But after much discussion – about a minute – we’ve decided not to. (Warning: Football analogies ahead) For the simple fact that the country has underperformed. Expectations were high at the beginning of the season, but the defence has been porous, the midfield lazy, and the forward line-up greedy and wasteful. Greedy being the overriding adjective. Is there any reason the Roman Baths in Bath cost nearly fifteen quid to get in? Or Cardiff Castle,  no more than a ruin on a pile of mud, twelve. Or a three bedroom house in Chesterfield, over 300 grand. Or train tickets, 75 quid for a mere 86 miles. Or French wine in Sainsbury, 7 quid. Are you serious? Even Wimbledon was crap. And as for the weather! What was that? Summer? More like a microwaved March. Hot at the edges, cold in the middle.

The only things I’ve found cheap here are bottles of Real Ale from Aldi. Black pudding from a butcher in Aberfoyle. Two pairs of trousers from a charity shop in Neston. And a pair of second-hand Birkenstock – which I didn’t even pay for. They were given to me. I’m not the biggest shopper in the world. I try to buy nothing and spend even less, if that’s possible. Reinforcing my title as the world’s tightest man as I was once called by a university friend. Waiting around until people donate stuff to me, rather than me wasting my money buying it.

My close friend Justin recently moved to Barcelona after fifteen or so years of living in London. When I visited him in May, I hadn’t seen him so happy since the day I met him way back in Nottingham in 1997. His line to me was: ‘Phil, this is paradise!’ I replied by saying that after living London, anywhere is paradise. Talking of paradise, I’m off to Marrakesh in a few weeks time on business…

‘Business, Oggers? I thought you were a TEFL teacher. Teachers don’t go away on business.’

Well, I am. I’m going to teach at a phosphate mine for a week on a special assignment. I see myself as the James Bond of the TEFL world. A quick in and out special ops mission to teach the present perfect to a host of middle managers. I’m looking forward to it. I’ve never been to Morocco and even though I’m not beating a path through the desert on a stolen camel, it’s better than walking along the Avon Kennet canal for half a week waiting for the work to start, as happened in July after a student cancelled at the last minute and left me homeless for four days. It was an interesting few days in the end, and I’m glad I did it. But I really wanted to work this summer, not stomp along a canal in the rain and cold of a British summer. I wanted to ponce around in my linen suit in a conference room full of students who each have their own bottle of mineral water and a company embossed pen set.

There are many things wrong with teaching English as a foreign language – students cancelling at the last minute for one and not getting paid. However, if there is one big advantage, it is – if they don’t cancel – there’s always work somewhere. Always some Russian Oligarch, Moroccan phosphate mine owner, German tyre maker, or some Swiss air conditioning magnate looking to tighten up their vowels.

So that’s been my summer. The blog continues…

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