Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Return

My friends from Shanghai, Derek and Jo, got back to Newcastle yesterday morning. We met in the Cumberland Arms for a welcome home drink: they looked ill and strained, as if they'd been living on the edge for too long. They talked about shifty employers, mould on the walls, loneliness and alienation, and job offers from Croatia, Poland and the Czech Republic. I felt a slight, but fleeting, pang of envy.

Friday, January 26, 2007

A Minor Incident

There was no warning. The argument went off suddenly, like a burnt out lightbulb, right in the middle of class. A student on one side of the room said the Iranian housewives on the other had been talking about her. Accusations pinged back and forth, and it took a lot of recriminations and quite a few tears before I managed to calm everyone down again. Hopefully the only irreparable damage was to the second half of my lesson plan.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Winter: A Glimpse

When I woke up this morning for a moment I thought it must have snowed: except for a narrow strip of frosted green right in front of my window everything was completely white.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

This Weekend

With a new job comes new responsibilities. No more switching off at five o'clock; I might finish an hour earlier, but work comes home with me. Not that I'm complaining - my salary's doubled, the job is infinitely more interesting and I still get Fridays off. Last night I prepared Monday's lessons, this afternoon I'll start on Tuesday and Wednesday's.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Mad World

We live in an upside down world. "Shockingly warm," was how a Canadian friend described Christmas time in Toronto; a student told me thousands of people are freezing to death in Bangladesh. This week huge storms have battered most of northern Europe. Here, though winter has barely even begun, I noticed green shoots poking through the soil all the way along the garden, the unmistakeable first signs of spring.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The End of Week One

So far so good. I teach a mix of migrant workers, asylum seekers and settled refugees from places like Algeria, Iraq, Angola, Cameroon and Turkey. There are lots of Iranians and Bangladeshis, a Moroccan married to a local, women from Panama and Eritrea, the obligatory Pole, and a late arriving, early leaving student from an indeterminate South American country. The first couple of lessons went relatively smoothly, thanks mainly to the students; the thing I really like about ESOL is that everyone is so genuinely keen to learn.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A Big Miss

Another last day, this time in the Business & Care office. It was so busy I didn't have time to draw breath. I left with another card and another present: a Newcastle College USB stick.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Out of the Union

My last day at the Trade Union Education Centre. Everyone said nice things. I got a good luck card and a £10 HMV voucher - a pound for every day I worked there.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Then and Now

I got back from Aldi to find the head of French at Hebburn Comprehensive in my front room. She'd called round to offer Katka a job, unaware that things had changed utterly since the last time she'd seen either of us back in early summer. Shocked, close to tears, she asked again and again whether I was alright. I had a vague sense of guilt about my lack of emotion: how could I explain that it no longer matters whether she's here or not, that I'm no more concerned about her leaving than I am about an exam I failed at secondary school?

Just watch, tomorrow I'll wake up nostalgic and miserable.

Leaving Jet Planes

This is why people are so apathetic to politics:

Tim Yeo, love cheat Tory MP and chairman of the all-party environmental audit committee, this week called for domestic flights to be taxed so heavily that "in five years' time everyone is choosing to go by train within the UK". Predictably, he was quickly denounced by faceless New Labour nonentities for having previously admitted to taking private flights between golf courses. This tiresome point scoring ignores two crucial facts: first, Labour are in no position to accuse others of hypocrisy at a time when we have Trident, private contractors in the NHS and ex-education ministers sending their kids to private schools. Second, and much more importantly, only months after Tony Blair described the Stern Report as "the most important document on the future which I have received since becoming Prime Minister," Tim Yeo is, for once, undoubtedly right.

The benefits brought by the democratisation of air travel need to be carefully offset against their effect on the environment: I've cut down on the number of foreign holidays I take but would never want to give them up entirely. However, in a small country like Britain, there should be absolutely no need for people to fly between Manchester and London or Newcastle and Bristol. The political cowardice of Blair's more recent statements on flight emissions - amusingly at odds with his resolve when invading oil-rich countries - sadly exemplifies the increasing moral bankruptcy of his government. The way forward is staggeringly obvious: punitive taxation on domestic flights, more train services with much cheaper fares, and, in the medium-term, the improvement of a small number of strategic roads like the A1, and the construction of high speed rail links between major cities - as in competitor nations like Japan, Germany, France and South Korea - to be linked, through Eurostar, to the Continent.

I won't hold my breath.,,1989923,00.html

Saturday, January 13, 2007


A filthy end to the day, gale force winds and driving rain. Fortunately, I'd already been out in the early afternoon, driving up the coast to Woodhorn Colliery, a pit turned interactive visitor experience in the heart of what was the Northumberland coal field.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Two Come Along

Almost inevitably, after waiting months for a single job offer two arrived together, leaving a straight choice between twelve hours a week at JET or twenty four at South Tyneside College. It didn't take too long to make my mind up: the college were offering full time hours and a few months there will look great on my CV. I start teaching two separate groups of roughly elementary and pre-intermediate ability on Wednesday morning, back in the cramped, fifties-retro building where, over a decade ago, I studied for A levels in English, History and Geography.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Stop Start

When my marriage ended on the day that I began my new job I assumed the two would be forever linked in my mind, one as indelibly marked by the other as a heavy pen mark on a blotter pad. What I remember most about those first awful days and weeks was the overwhelming sorrow I felt, the aching emptiness. Time ceased to have relevance to anything but the past: I spent each day surrounded by ghosts.

Was it resilience or just my unwillingness to let people get too close that allowed me to right things so quickly? I don't kid myself that I've fully recovered - the only certain test of that will be the next time a relationship begins to get serious - but Katka's effect on my life as a whole seems no more permanent than a footprint in the snow. It doesn't feel as if I've re-adjusted to my solitary lifestyle: I can hardly remember what it felt like to be with her; it's as if I've always lived alone.

I think about this now as that new job becomes an old one. This time I feel a very different kind of sadness.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

All Things Come

A lesson accidentally learnt through sloth and indecision: no matter how long it takes, with patience and the right amount of perseverance everything comes around in time. Except perhaps a marriage. Last night, completely out of the blue, I had a call from the head of Skills for Life at South Tyneside College offering a full time position to cover long term sick leave. This morning I handed my notice in at work. I start my new job as a college lecturer a week tomorrow.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Out in the Country

Along with my younger brother and his friend Daft Ian, who dressed for the day like a down and out panto dame, I spent most of Sunday's daylight hours traipsing across the muck and clarts of south Northumberland on a six mile circular hike around Bolam Lake and Shaftoe Crags.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

At the Angel of the North

After a sluggish few days at work I woke up this morning in an energetic mood. Some intermittent January sunshine bucked the weather forecast, so I decided to follow up my usual morning run with a two hour walk between Gateshead Metro and the Angel of the North.

Afterwards, I listened to football on the radio and fell asleep in an armchair.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A New Year

This year I've decided to get more involved. I started badly by not bothering to get in touch with the girl from Durham: she lived too far away and had a pet dog. It just wouldn't have worked out. By and large, I'd much rather be on my own than with someone I'm not really interested in. That goes for friends as well as relationships.

May 2007 bring us all whatever we deserve.

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Year's Eve

The last night of the year. Wind and rain. I read until just before eleven, then sprawled across the sofa watching Jools Holland while I finished a bottle of red wine.