Thursday, December 10, 2009

Master o' Farts

One of the disadvantages of being the subject of a photograph is that you can't easily control what the photo ends up looking like. This is the best of an extremely bad bunch. After missing my BA ceremony nine years ago, I'm delighted I decided to attend my MA graduation ceremony. And it was fantastic that my Mum, my Dad and my girlfriend all took time off work to come down to Bristol with me for the ceremony. It was a lovely day - long and rather expensive - but well worth it!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I'm back!

You’re probably all wondering - all three of you who still check this blog - where I've been for the past year.

The main reason for my absence was this (and it did a bloody good job of stealing a huge amount of my time over the last 12 months - okay, I wrote it in 2 weeks but I spent at least a year worrying about it):

Luckily, the many months of research proved beneficial and I was awarded a very good mark for my dissertation. I'll be graduating with my masters degree at a ceremony in Bristol Cathedral next month.

Given that I've been preoccupied with my books for so long, and also bearing in mind that I have two jobs these days - I work nine-to-five in the office but evenings and weekends are spent helping Japanese businessmen understand the finer points of the English language - the last year has not allowed me to enjoy the usual number of trips away. The credit crunch and the plummeting pound didn’t help much either.

However, since spending last summer (well, one week last summer, but that doesn't sound anywhere near as impressive) riding around the Dordogne with my flatmate, Dan, supping tannic reds and munching on brie and ham baguettes, I've still managed to get away a fair few times.

First up was a trip to Mexico, and I cannot stress enough how fantastic I found that country. More about that another time though.

A short weekend break to Porto followed smack bang in the middle of essay-writing season. I love Porto wine, and I didn't need any excuse to get involved. Porto itself is a bit quiet - I'm told Lisbon is much busier - but being a fan of fortified wines I loved going from bar to bar trying the different styles. I must have had a little too much though because at one point I stacked it and ended up with a big tear in my coat. Portugal is a strange place for me. Whenever I go to there I come away thinking that it's simply a smaller, quieter, and less exciting version of Spain.

Once back in Blighty I got steadily on with my work, but it wasn’t long before I was looking for another excuse to get away. One of the greatest things on planet Earth, in my opinion, is the Channel Tunnel. The Eurostar website regularly offers weekend train + hotel deals in Brussels (and other places) for as little as one hundred and fifty pounds. And they’re not shabby rat-infested hell-holes either – we stayed in a 4 star hotel near the centre; AND breakfast was included. Too bad I couldn’t eat any of it on the Sunday morning after necking one too many Trappist ales the night before. It was my second visit to Belgium within a year, and whilst Brussels only has short term appeal, I never tire of Belgium or its beer. Once again, I stocked up and carried my body weight in beer back to London.

Too bad I didn't have time to drink much of it since my dissertation deadline was approaching fast. After weeks spent watching Spanish films - hours and hours transcribing dialogue and subtitles and reading about tranvestites and the 1980s movida movement in Madrid – it was now time to actually write something.

I didn't really enjoy the process of writing the damn thing - and the people around me had to put up with several months of grumpiness from me - but when I finally got it done I felt a (massively clichéd) wave of relief wash right over me. Like a tsunami, in fact. In celebration I immediately jumped on a plane to Barcelona where the plan was to unwind, eat and drink and be generally merry. And after watching that bloody film six thousand times, I couldn't think of anywhere more apt to spend a few days.

And a merry old time it was too! I probably tipped the calorie count at 5000 per day for the four days I was there.

Unfortunately, after months spent stressing out over my dissertation, plus too many long hours at the office and too many evenings spent "entertaining” Japanese businessmen, not to mention all the sleepless nights, or failing that, nights with piss-poor quality sleep, my mind and body were exhausted. I decided to take a one-month break from teaching and I didn’t know what to do with myself. Suddenly I was faced with the alien concept of free time. I began to imagine all the things I could do: play guitar, get back into photography, study Japanese, learn Chinese, go running, play cricket, join a dance class (yeah, right!). Well, I didn’t do any of them. Instead my mind and body just decided to shut down for a while and, despite me asking them very nicely not to, they refused to listen to me. So I gave in and accepted the fact that I was going to do absolutely nothing for a couple of months. But then my little cousin gave me his horrible snotty cold and it took me more than four weeks to shake it off. My immune system was that low! At least I didn't catch swine flu though. Meanwhile at work I've had to proofread hundreds of pages of reports on Tamiflu.

By the end of the summer I had recovered from my exhaustion, and thankfully the horrible snotty cold was a distant memory too. I started doing more classes, and I managed to secure new contracts with a company which handles corporate clients from all over the world. So not only am I teaching Japanese businessmen about the finer points of the English language, I’m now teaching businessmen from places like Turkey and Israel the finer points of the English language too. The only bad thing is that they (i.e. people from 外国, aka non-Japan) actually expect more than simple eikaiwa.

The annual trip to Broadstairs took place in September, and like last year we were lucky with the weather! The sun never fails to shine in Kent. It's permanently sunny! And I just can't get enough of the Masterbrew down there either.

So it's nearly November and I’ve still got almost twenty days holiday to use before the end of the year. Next week, then, I'll be heading off for my first trip back to Asia since 2006. I’ll be spending four days in one of my favourite cities - Hong Kong - before heading to Shanghai for ten days to stay with the (more-than-likely) future in-laws. Yes, this revelation might surprise some of you, and rest assured it surprises me too, but it's all true! It's a pity they don’t speak any English though, and I don't speak much Chinese either, but at least I know the most important sentence in the entire Chinese language: ibei píjiǔ (one glass of beer, please). That should be enough for me to get by!