Wine o'clock

  Fri 16th February 2018

I wonder how much longer I'll last. I'm out of my depth. I'm scared of the children and dread every day I go to school -- which at the moment is six days a week. I get paid again on 10th March, at which point I'll have the air fare home.

I did two very stupid things yesterday. I had two glasses of wine before I went to school, and vigorous teeth brushing was insufficient to conceal the wine breath. Late in the afternoon, Lydia and I were sat together in her empty classroom. She came over all serious, over-reaching herself in claiming to be a friend and that she knows me well. "Did you take a drink yesterday?" I said I'd met up with someone for a couple of drinks the previous evening. She said that another teacher had remarked upon it too.

Then, in the evening, I decided to plumb further depths of idiocy in acting against my own interests. I went to chat to the people in a refrigeration equipment company who want English lessons and I have agreed to twice weekly two hour lessons with them. When I finish school I cannot get home quickly enough; now, I've signed myself up to working more hours at the end of the day, with a bus journey home that is about forty-five minutes. I couldn't care less about the £17 an hour it will bring in, and I need to work out a way of getting out of this before the first lesson on Tuesday.


The owners of my house in Lancaster have put it up for sale. Kim said a while ago that I can stay with her in Durham over the summer, which I'll enjoy; and Trina's said that I can stay on her narrowboat. It just would have been handy to have my own base in Lancaster.


I rang Kitty the other night. She broke off for a couple of minutes to speak to me as she was in an informal meeting with her boss and said that she'd ring back a little later.

She forgot to put the phone down afterwards and I heard her say "that was looby. Kazakhstan. You kind of love him but want to strangle him at the same time." We had a good laugh about it when she rang back. I could listen to her voice every day. Just laughing with her for a few minutes was joyful, something in short supply here.

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Class action

  Tue 13th February 2018

A humiliating two lessons yesterday with year 7.

Some of them point blank refused to do the work. Others scrawled all over their papers with felt pen, or ripped holes in it. I would rather teach children who misbehave because of some problems at home or the indirect result of poverty. There is nothing as ugly as an entitled rich-kid teenager who knows that whatever he or she does, there won't be anything to worry about in life until the police get involved.

They need a good bollocking, but that's difficult to administer when they don't respect me in the slightest. I'm losing the school, a class at a time. I was shaking when I came out of my mauling, wondering if the day of sneaking in a bottle of red is that far off.

It's got to get better. I've now got a photocopier. I've asked for exercise books and to be added as a guest user on the other teachers' computers. Why hasn't the school reflected on why two teachers left by Christmas?

For the next four weeks I'm working 9 till 1 on Saturday as well because of all the time we lost during the blizzard. Those mere four hours manage to ripple into tarnishing the weekend.

I got paid on Monday. I was hoping that seeing my bank balance leap into four figures would help the anxiety, but it's undimmed, coming in a diurnal wave. I had to repay my brother and Trina some money they lent me to get me out here, but as from next month I want to squirrel about £450 away somewhere safe, so that if I crack -- at the moment it feels more like "when" -- I can just go to the airport, change my mobile number, and leave it all behind me. Without that money I'm trapped.


Guest of honour at lunch at school on Friday, I was sat in the privileged position at a Kazakh table, midway down its long side, with six other teachers and our Director, to be "treated" -- as they described it -- to the national dish of horsemeat.

It started well, with fermented mare's milk which is sour, refreshing and slightly alcoholic. I cut the horsemeat into tiny pieces and covered each forkful with a piece of carrot or potato. Worse than the horsemeat were the chunks of sausage it was cooked with, which were enclosed in a thick off-white tubing.

But they'd gone to a great deal of trouble for me. There were several toasts and short speeches, punctuated by more mare's milk, which had the great merit of concealing the taste of the food, as I managed its delicate poise on my cusp of vomiting. It was with relief that we turned to the pudding -- deep-friend Kazakh doughnuts, crystallised fruit and pistachios. There was a bit of surrogate mummying going on as cheery comments on my thinness were made about me.


I found out on Friday that the other teachers come out with £340 a month. I'm on more than quadruple that. So belt up and get on with it looby.

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Goulash at gunpoint

  Tue 6th February 2018

Back to school after almost a week off and the anxiety has returned, refreshed from its break. Waiting at the bus stop can feel like being in a nightmarish science fiction film. I texted Wendy. "Darling, every morning when I'm getting ready for school, I feel this sense of huge anxiety. I never feel prepared and I feel a complete fraud. I hope this feeling subsides soon into something more banal Xx"

I want my weekday mornings to dull into the customary resignation that characterises work for millions, not this sickness and worry. In the canteen, sitting with the other teachers, my spoon runneth over with borsht, because my hands are shaking.

I don't have my own classroom, and the computers are allocated to individual teachers. I was firmly told off in Russian a few days ago for using a guest account on one of them. Mine won't work because it's not connected to the whiteboards or speakers and so on. The photocopier has been out of action for over a week and the children don't have exercise books for English so everything's on loose bits of paper. They're bored with doing pen and paper exercises all the time, and one class in particular ignores me and fights and throws things at each other.


At the bus stop, someone asks me something. I shrug my shoulders and say "no" in Kazakh, and return to another preoccupation, The Injunction. I don't want to sour anything when I come back to Lancaster in June, but I will have to find a way of telling Wendy that I am refusing to obey it. Her ex uses their daughter as his proxy in his attempts to keep me away from Wendy, by refusing to allow The Little Dictator to be in my company even for a moment.


Because I haven't got a work visa, I have to leave Kazakhstan every four weeks. I was given 30 dollars -- in real Abraham Lincoln paper money -- for my hotel and expenses in Bishkek. Being short of money, I got in touch with a couchsurfer in order to pocket my accommodation allowance.

When I got to Bishtek I couldn't get in touch with him. I was wandering around the bazaar, a warren of little alleys with jackets one minute and whole skinned lambs with their heads still on the next. Night was drawing in and I had nowhere to stay.

I went to what I hoped was a cheap hotel but I had to change all my dollars in order to stay there. It was a noisy, sleepless night, with banging of doors and loud talking long into the night, intermittent silence only between about six and eight. At half nine someone rapped on the door. I said "yes yes", but at five minute intervals she came back. The third time, I thought I'd better let her in. She watched me get my things together and asked me if I was German. No breakfast was ever mentioned.

I had my fare to the airport -- 50p for fourteen miles -- squirrelled away, but little else. I bought a cup of tea from a stall, then decided to just get to the airport. I waited and waited and waited for the matroska -- one of those little minibuses -- but every number except the one I wanted came and left. I had almost resigned myself to having to hitch-hike.

A driver got out of his matroska for a fag. I drew a little picture of a matroska and a road and an aeroplane, and wrote the word "airport" in Russian. He pointed me across the park to another road and the right stop.

We passed through a poverty-striken landscape -- breeze block buildings with corrugated iron rooves, stray dogs and cats, people trudging down long unmade roads that stretch off into the distance. A group of oxen wandered around outside a house, and outside another, a group of men were digging energetically into a house-sized mound of coal, bagging it up.

I sat down in the welcome warmth of the airport, drooling at the bars which glistered with drink, envying the comfortably off people sitting there with beer and wine and food.

All at once, the policemen who were "guarding" the place decided to come and sit adjacent and opposite to me, attracted by the free mobile phone charging point. For the first time in my life, I had six revolvers and two machine guns within lunging distance. The chattiest one of them engaged me in a friendly, if laboriously translated, conversation.

He asked me if I'd eaten anything. "There is an inexpensive restaurant upstairs," said Googlecop. I stood up and shrugged and pulled out all the money I had, much less than a pound.

Using only raised eyebrows and movements of his head, he said "come with me. It's ok, I'll pay." And so, flanked by two armed policemen, I was led out of the public part of the airport, down some steps and into a canteen. I pointed at the food and he ordered for me. Potatoes and meat in a tomato sauce, two hard-boiled eggs, bread, and delicious apricot juice, thick and brown and sweet. I was so grateful.

We went back upstairs. Before we got back to the airport, he introduced me to his colleagues who were on outside duty. He wanted me to give him my whatsapp number. He made a gesture of waving his hand between our mouths and pointing to my phone. I don't know my number or how to give it to anyone, so I handed my phone over to one of the clutch of young policemen keen to show his smartphone prowess. It was all bobbing fur hats and laughter. They had the honesty and generosity of children.


Our first leg flight was called, three hours late, but post-security, flight there was none. We were left in a mall with posters of the most Western-looking models they can find on their budget, girls in ecstasy at a watch. Hour after hour passed. I got talking to au un-flying Dutchman, who told me about his son who'd been expelled from a private school in Asturias. I gave myself backache from trying to straighten up to appear less short to him.

He suggested we have a drink. I wanted a drink very much. Not a drink, but five or eight. I asked him if he could sub me one, trying to create a jovial triviality of my inability to find £2 for a pint. We sat there, in the middle of the night, in a glossy, stilled, liminal zone.

Our flight eventually left at 3.30am, just after my London boss had told me not to go in on Monday. I got home at 9.30 and went to bed. When I got up there were two messages from Lidia at school, who knew I'd spent the night sleepless in airports. "What about lesson plans for Year 4?", followed by a shorter one a few minutes later: "?"

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Present perfect

  Fri 26th January 2018

Oh Lord above,
who hath, in thy infinite kindness,
bestowed upon our fair city of Astana,
in our beloved country of the fermented milk of the mare
and verily unto the meat of her bottom,
the blessed coldness of minus 35.
And thus hath moved your agent here on Earth,
to issue a decree
that all places of instruction be closed,
and rest be given to the instructors therein,
We beseech thee, almighty Father,
that thy graciousness be extended another day,
and another day,
and another,
e'en unto the weekend.
For thine is the snow, the wind and the skiving,
for ever and ever, or at least until Friday,
Amen.


It worked, and I've had a doss of a week. School's been closed because of the cold, but I went in for half of today to help plan a special public lesson the English Department's doing about "ecological problems." They mean environmental ones but one doesn't want to be awkward three weeks in.

I'd been told that I'd be working with Hira. I couldn't place her; Kazakh names are difficult to remember. Lidia introduced me to her. "Hello!" I said. Black straight hair to just below her shoulders with a parting slightly set to the left, black top with black sequins, undone black jacket, tight black trousers and little black boots with a blocked one-inch heel, and most of all, her dark green eyes.

We went downstairs into, for me, a hitherto undiscovered staff room. Some tall grey metal lockers, a couple of tables, and a tempting sofa made for horizontal Anglo-Kazakh snogging.

She talked volubly, and the notes she made were a mess. Both endeared her to me: conscientiousness at work makes me uneasy. In the canteen, Svetlana, the other English teacher, had had a younging haircut and was wearing a groovy orange short-sleeved dress.

Nice Other Teacher came in with an excellent and unusual ensemble of a straight calf-length dress with black squares of various sizes on a grey ground, with a long-sleeved light open jacket of the same pattern. It was clashing enough to avoid being a twin-set but harmonious enough to have my grateful eyes roaming over it in a way that I hope was inoffensively brief, yet noticed.

She doesn't speak much English, but from little more than a foot away, she stopped and looked straight at me. "Hello," she said. "Hello, I smiled back. "How are you?" Lidia's already told me she's single. The day was starting to feel like a set-up for flirting.

Until misery guts Soviet maths teacher turned up, refusing to make this the day when she broke her silence towards me. I am going to grind her into a "good morning" with relentless manners; then once I've done that, make her jealous with my flirting with Hira, Svetlana, and Nice Other Teacher and make her crispy cuntflaps unstiffen for the first time in years.


While I was there, I ran off a few photocopies of something to teach the present perfect. I reckon that Keith acquiring a tash has landed him in a form of the present perfect that he's been longing to tell people about for years.

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I know nothing

  Tue 23rd January 2018

We've got our second day off in a row today, because of the cold. The Met Office reckons it "feels like" minus 46. I wanted to see what that really does feel like, so yesterday I took Mr Joyce to a "German" brewpub.

There's always the staring, the treacly slow passage of a couple of seconds during which they stand absolutely still and don't say a word to you during the facial inspection; before a super-ego'd civility resumes its precedence over their id-driven bemusement at unfamiliar racial features. They want to be decent, but they can come across as country folk sometimes. Fuck knows what it would be like to be black here.

The beer was 900 Tenge -- £2 -- but that's a lot of money when you can get a perfectly good bottle of Kazakh wine in the supermarket for 950. I stayed for only the one, feeling self-conscious and disabled by my lack of Kazakh, missing the shameless open-ended afternoons down The Shipbuilder's Arms, missing Karen in her narrow-waisted broderie anglaise top and black miniskirt, and how she gives me license to say the first thing that comes into my head.

I went to pay with a 1000 note. The waiter brought my bill, revealing its rune in a red leatherette apparatus that looked like a prop from Fawlty Towers. He disappeared with my money, and I stood awkwardly at the bar next to a young local girl, before realising that he wasn't coming back with any change. I fiddled with my phone to provide a cover for a fiftysomething foreign man hovering next to a woman half his age.


Checking my emails, I am invited to an interview for a job in Piedmont, (which I decline), and I arrange a meeting with the Export Director of a refrigeration equipment firm to discuss giving the executives business English lessons. I've never been in such demand in my life.

One from Wendy glints like a single sequin; I save it till last. She ends it with a paragraph, "I want to get drunk with you", and sexual desire for her washed over me.


I changed some money yesterday. Not quite all of it, because the cashier refused one of the old style tenners, pointing at the dates during which Charles Darwin was alive and shaking his head. But with what was acceptable for transmutation, I'm off to buy a "smartphone". Wish me luck -- I hardly know what a smartphone is. Work wants me to have one, and I can Instawhat home for free.

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:: Next >>

looby, n.; pl. loobies. A lout; an awkward, stupid, clownish person


M / 53 / now in Astana, but from Lancaster ("the Brighton of the North").

"Looby is a left-wing intellectual who is obsessed with a) women's clothes and b) tits." -- Joy of Bex.

WLTM literate woman, 40-65. Must have nice tits, a PhD, and an mdma factory in the shed, although the first on its own will do in the short term.


There are plenty of bastards who drink moderately. Of course, I don't consider them to be people. They are not our comrades.
Sergei Korovin, quoted in Pavel Krusanov, The Blue Book of the Alcoholic

I am here to change my life. I am here to force myself to change my life.
Chinese man I met during Freshers Week at Lancaster University, 2008

Tell me, why is it that even when we are enjoying music, for instance, or a beautiful evening, or a conversation in agreeable company, it all seems no more than a hint of some infinite felicity existing apart somewhere, rather than actual happiness – such, I mean, as we ourselves can really possess?
Turgenev, Fathers and Sons

I hate the iPod; I hate the idea that music is such a personal thing that you can just stick some earplugs in your ears and have an experience with music. Music is a social phenomenon.
Jeremy Wagner

Using words well is a social virtue. Use 'fortuitous' once more to mean 'fortunate' and you move an English word another step towards the dustbin. If your mistake took hold, no-one who valued clarity would be able to use the word again.
John Whale

One good thing about being a Marxist is that you don't have to pretend to like work.
Terry Eagleton, What Is A Novel?, Lancaster University, 1 Feb 2010

The working man is a fucking loser.
Mick, The Golden Lion, Lancaster, 21 Mar 2011


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