Sunday, July 29, 2007

Towards the End

Nine days left, time begins to telescope. I'm experiencing real-time retrospectively, chronology slides so events seem a lifetime away, yet are so vivid you could almost grasp them in your fingers. I'm tired. Too tired. It's bizarre sharing every aspect of your life with a set of people who you'll never see again. For a month you're like a family, then you're no more than an email address on a scrap of paper. So it goes.

Days have become indistinguishable: I taught politics and literature, waved goodbye to one set of Italians and said hello to another, took Spanish kids to Fountains Abbey, Romans to Durham and stood by while young kids robbed me blind at roulette. I've been back to Newcastle, eating tapas in the afternoon and taking applause from tramps while telling Spanish kids that they had arrived in the greatest city on Earth. I have burned all my energy. I will miss this place.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Last Night

So, no lift to York (the bus is full) and no trip to Richmond (the last bus comes back in an hour's time). It's cold and wet, I have a sore head, a dried-up mouth and a recurring image of some fool in a summer dress and big orange - the fruit not the colour - breasts at a fancy dress disco marching in a teenage column to the beat of the Macarena.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Two Weeks In

The end of week two, a hundred Spanish and Italian teenagers running up and down Barnard Castle asking strangers what they had for breakfast. Summer schools are enjoyable but incredibly intensive: in the eleven days I've been here I've read half a book, flicked through a single newspaper, been online for around half an hour every day, spent absolutely no time at all watching TV and been off the school grounds no more than a handful of times. Tomorrow I'm hoping to cadge a lift to York. On Sunday I'm going to sleep.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Tour Guide

I stood on the Royal Mile, a three deep crush of Italians in front forcing the tourist hordes to dodge left and right off the pavement. I had to speak loud and I was making up trash about sheep's intestines and Jekyll & Hyde and tenement buildings that housed impossible numbers of people. The boys spat long white streaks over the Heart of Midlothian for luck; at the castle I gave up, beaten by a man in face paint and a kilt. It was one of the most excruciatingly embarrassing experiences of my life, yet somehow strangely fun.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Summer School

Summer school so far: swimming before breakfast; bluffing a walking tour of Barnard Castle and the Bowes Museum; running around Durham looking for phone cards and bath towels; a boat trip in driving rain; drinking until 2am.

Monday, July 09, 2007

That's It

For the next twenty-eight days I will be here, here and here.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Live Earth

I didn't see much of Live Earth: the music was average, sometimes Al Gore's so wooden I think he'd be better off sprouting leaves if he wants to lower emissions, and I was ironically aware of wasting electricity when the message is one I already get. Will anything change? Probably not, but I think it's important to try anyway. In one sense, it's the environmental equivalent of Pascal's Wager - if you accept even the possibility of climate change then doing something beats doing nothing. In another, I've found it suits me to be the kind of person who gives a shit about someone other than themselves. And I do know this much: every progressive change comes from below.

Consume Less(ish)

Lately I've been buying shoes, a vital departure from habit (usually I go round shops like Socrates in the marketplace, not to buy but to remind myself of all the things I have no need for, or else am just too cheap to buy). I was down to my last two pairs: year-old hiking shoes which I'd started having to wear to work and some battered, flat-bottomed Pumas which I only put on to go running. They are now accompanied by bright brown leather Clarks with stitching round the sides, '80s retro New Balance, white Reebok running shoes that were splattered with puddle water the first time I wore them, and a pair of open-topped Karrimors (my last sandals snapped on the rocks at Palolem Beach and I stubbed my big toe, painfully) in case the sun hangs around.

Out on the Patio

I'm outside in the sun, drinking gut-rot wine that comes in cartons, reading a hardback copy of Slaughterhouse 5 and a What's on Guide for Summer '07. Down by my elbow, a bumblebee slips drunkenly on a tie-dyed Godetia. A clothes line shadow bobs up and down my face and my stomach sags with the weight of Sunday dinner. Overhead, there's the sound of budget airline engines; the drone fades into the snip, snip, snip of a hedge being trimmed and the stop-start whir of a lawnmower. In the trees, birds are talking.

Saturday, July 07, 2007


My real summer holiday is an eight day trip across central Europe, visiting old haunts and big cities. I'm busy checking train timetables, from Prague direct to Bratislava, on to Warsaw for the weekend, then a slow loop back through the Czech Republic, calling in on Olomouc, Pardubice and, finally, Liberec. My route is updated as often as a station arrivals board, to fit the plans of friends and the vagaries of time and branch lines. Only the transit points stay the same: Katowice, Ostrava and Sosnowiec - grim borderland halts built on steel, coal and football teams.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Summer Holidays

At a few minutes after three the last of my students packed their practice papers away, spring term finished and the holidays began. The lazy days of summer stretch out across the rainy weekend to Monday morning, when I start a month's work teaching Italian teenagers how to pronounce the letter 'h' at a school in Barnard Castle.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Into the Sidings

By 2020, high speed rail lines will criss-cross much of western Europe, striking south to Naples, Malaga and Seville, hurtling east to Berlin and west to Lisbon. Services will link Madrid and Barcelona, Rome and Milan, Paris and Marseilles and all the major cities in between, spurting across the Channel to London, where everything grinds to a sudden, desultory halt.

In our remote corner of the continent, Network Rail last week promised "further work" on a high speed link between London, Newcastle and Edinburgh but warned that it would only stimulate passenger demand on the East Coast Mainline, which is already projected to rise by 40% over the next ten years. Their report suggests increasing prices to "restrict growth to levels which can be accommodated within the capacity available," a sad but predictable end to decades of underfunding and mismanagement. Pricing people off trains only moves the problem to the road network at great detriment to both the economy and the environment.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007


I've been accepted on to the insanely long winded Certificate in FE Teaching Stage 3 with the Certificate for ESOL Subject Specialists course, which starts one whole month earlier than I expected on September the 7th. Bang goes the two week holiday in Morocco: clearly I still haven't got my head round this whole short term sacrifice, long term gain thing.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Marsden Bay

This afternoon we drove Milan along the seafront to see the rocks at Marsden Bay. The tide and our luck were both in: as we stepped on to the pebbles the rain clouds floated away on the wind and for a few glorious moments it felt just like July. Afterwards, we went to the deserted Quasar Laser by the end of the pier and spent half an hour running around in the dark to get over the sun exposure.

Summer was in April

A summary of the long range weather forecast: lots of grey, very little yellow. As rainy seasons go, I much prefer the Asian model - the unbearable humidity right before the clouds burst open, dropping tennis serve raindrops that bounce back off the ground and smack you on the chin. It would all stop as suddenly as a tap, dim sum steam rising up from the tarmac, umbrellas sizzling in the heat.

In Bloom

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Tyrant

No matter what provincial bishops with wacky ideas about rainfall might have you believe, it's the wrath of Dick Cheney that we should really be worrying about.

On the Other Side

Under the Weather

If you listen to the Bishop of Carlisle - and let's be honest, not many people do these days - this week's floods are a punishment for giving rights to gays (presumably Sheffield was targeted because of Jarvis Cocker's hip movements and that bloke out of Human League who used to wear eyeshadow). It's a strangely muted form of wrath that can be dodged with an umbrella and a pair of wellies.

Composting Lessons

Elementary gardening errors: never plonk a compost bin down on the edge of a vegetable patch. The pests' playground has now been moved, one stinking, mushy spadeful at a time, round the back of the shed, in the darkest, least visited corner of my garden. Fortunately, it took me three quarters of the bin before I sobered up.