Saturday, November 12, 2016

Miles From Nowhere

I did a very naughty thing yesterday: I slipped out of the office and went for a walk in the woods. Traditionally, teachers are only supposed to leave the office to give a class or go for a coffee. Sometimes, however, I think it’s good to break with tradition, don’t you? And this is where I ended up:

Four o’clock on Friday afternoon, and I had the whole park to myself!  For a fleeting moment, I felt rather guilty: Was I the only person in the town who had decided to knock off early for the weekend? Supposing an irate client called and I wasn’t there to listen to their complaints? What if a poor student needed to consult me urgently about which preposition to use in their report? Well, it was too late now and I would have to live with my reckless decision for the rest of my life. Besides, I was enjoying myself; all the more so because not a soul was to be seen:


My one and only companion in the park was a rather tame dragon who, according to local legend, used to terrify the locals – taking a keen interest in newly weds in particular –, and whence the town, Mondragón, takes its name.

Makes you think, doesn’t it? If the offending beast had been a zombie instead of a dragon, the town where I work would have been called Monzombie, and my school would most likely have been called Monzombie Lingua. 

Well, I’ve known quite a few dragons in my time, all of them far scarier than this one. At a guess, the actual dragon was somewhat bigger than the council’s budget could stretch to. I paid Mr. Dragon my respects, then drifted over to the far end of the park to enjoy a breath-taking view through the trees of Udalaitz, the mountain overlooking Mondragón.

Five minutes later, I was back in town, taking in our litter-strewn streets and lop-sided towers. That’s one of the many reasons why I love the Basque Country so much: no matter how big an eyesore you might find yourself in, simply head for the hills and, in a matter of minutes, you’ll be thinking to yourself, “Eat your heart out, Julie Andrews!”


Colin hadn’t waited to be introduced again. Instead, he ran, and he ran, and he ran. He was headed for the woods, wherever they were. In the films, the fugitive always ended up in the woods sooner or later. There was usually a river in there somewhere, too. So was this how Harrison felt with Tommy’s men on his trail?

Having run 25 miles up and down corridors every day for the past 25 years, Colin was delighted to discover that he was in far better shape than he had ever imagined; or looked. Eat your heart out, Dustin! Indeed, it was one of life’s best-kept secrets that most teachers – lazy sods excepted – are Olympian athletes just waiting to be discovered. That said, most of them would rather be left alone to finish their pint in peace.

dayrealing, Chapter 41, “Don't Fear The Reaper”

Monday, October 31, 2016

Read 'Em And Weep

“Awful. One star.”

Thus begins yet another satisfied customer after listening to my audiobook, Spanglish for Impatient People. And that’s just her parting shot. Egged on by the ever helpful review staff at, my assailant opens fire:

What would have made Spanglish for Impatient People even better?
“Any instruction, clear structure or organization to these random sentences would have been helpful. This is just Mr. Church saying something random in Spanish and then repeating in English. Most of the phrases aren't even things the average person would ever have the need to say. Plus they are not very understandable at all.”
Ouch! Just as well I don’t let the bad reviews get to me, isn’t it? Yeah, sure. Who are we kidding? Bad reviews sting like hell, and any author who claims otherwise is a liar. That said, I think it’s time we introduced a little objectivity into our analysis, don’t you? But to do so, we’re going to need some raw material to work on, so how about this unit?

Lección 7: en el banco / Lesson 7: at the bank

–Quisiera cambiar estas libras por euros, por favor.
–Ya lo siento, señor. Nos hemos quedado sin euros.

–I’d like to change these pounds for euros, please.
–I’m sorry, Sir. We’ve run out of euros.

¿Me está tomando el pelo?

Are you pulling my leg?

¿Un banco sin dinero?¡Eso sí que es bueno!

A bank with no money? Now there’s a fine thing!

Si abres una cuenta con nosotros hoy, te regalamos una sartén inoxidable.

If you open an account with us today, we’ll throw in a stainless steel frying pan.

–“Frying pan”? Es una palabra, dos palabras o con guión?
–¿Qué mas da?

–“Frying pan”? Is that one word, two words or with a hyphen?
–Who cares?

Pues resulta que no quiero abrir una cuenta. Y tampoco necesito una sartén.

Well, as it happens, I don’t want to open an account. Nor do I need a frying pan.

–¿Puedo ver su pasaporte?
–Lo dudo. Lo dejé en el hotel.

–Can I see your passport?
–I doubt it. I left it in the hotel.

–¿Qué solución me propone?
–¿De cuánto dinero dispone?

–What solution can you offer me?
–How much money have you got?

Coge un calendario si quiere. Son gratis.

Help yourself to a calendar. They’re free.

Gracias, señor. Que tenga un buen día.

Thank you, Sir. Have a nice day.

Well, dear reader, what do YOU think? Do you agree with our reviewer when she complains that organising my sentences by topic (at the airport, at the supermarket, at the bank, etc.) is no way to present a phrasebook? And how do you feel about my decision to repeat what I have just said in Spanish, only this time translating into English? Or what about her claim that “the average person” would never need such invaluable phrases as, “I’m sorry, Sir. We’ve run out of euros”, “Are you pulling my leg?” and “If you open an account with us today, we’ll throw in a stainless steel frying pan”?

Personally, I would argue that if we take the first dialogue and tweak it a little, we have before us one of the most essential phrases for human survival in the third millennium:

–Necesito dinero.
–Ya lo siento, cariño. Me he quedado sin euros.

–I need money.
–I’m sorry, darling. I’ve run out of euros.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Rucyru – for that is her name – continues to let rip:

What was most disappointing about Mike Church’s rubbish story?
"The complete disorganized random rambling of spanish sentences, no rhyme or reason to their order at all. I have been studying Spanish for two years, have gone through all the Pimsleur phases and feel I have a pretty good grasp on the language, but could only make out an occasional word of Mr. Church's phrases (I do not have this problem with other Spanish audiobooks at all)."
Aha! Now I get it: She doesn’t like my book because she found it too difficult. And she is fuming!

Welcome to the real world of language acquisition, Rucyru! I’m sorry to tell you that there’s a limit to how far you can travel on, "Perdón, señorita, ¿entiende inglés?" – “No, señor, no entiendo.” (“Excuse me, Miss, do you understand English?” – “Piss off! No, Sir, I don’t.”)

But never mind all that! The best is yet to come:

Who would you have cast as narrator instead of The Other Mike Church?
"Someone who sounds either more American or Spanish, his accent almost makes it sound German or British at times which is not convenient when you are trying to pronounce Spanish words correctly."
Help! I’ve been rumbled! In fairness, Rucyru has a valid point: I really should have found a native speaker to record the Spanish phrases. (And possibly a German to record the English ones?) Then again, how was I to know that some poor sod would actually end up buying my silly audiobook? It’s so easy to be wise after the event, isn’t it?

Clicking on Rucyru’s profile, I discover that, to date, she has bought or borrowed 125 audiobooks, only one of which actually drove her into such a state of despair that she felt compelled to let off steam.

Furthermore, I see that, since registering on Audible three years ago, she has accumulated “0 helpful votes”. Not that I wish to rub it in, you understand.

In a moment of weakness, I find myself warming to the enemy and wondering whether this might be my first and last opportunity to use the phrase “Stockholm Syndrome” in an appropriate context? Only time will tell.

Thanks, as ever, for reading. And thank you, too, if one of you readers happens to be the kind soul who posted the following review back in June, 2014:

"The British economy is lousy, but Brits still escape British weather (which has ALWAYS been lousy) to vacation in the sun. Most end up in Spain - close, cheap, hot, with miles of beaches. Spanish culture ("Manana! Manana!") and British culture ("Where the hell's my bacon butty?") have little in common. Culture clash starts at the airport arrival desk and ends at the departure desk. The one thing the two sides agree on is that both hate German tourists more than they hate each other.

The author has lived in northern Spain for thirty years, is married to a Basque woman, teaches English, and writes a very funny blog ("readable rubbish at reasonable prices!") With years of watching British and Spaniards butt heads (and participating in more than a few inter-cultural exchanges himself) he has written this series of books to introduce the English speaker to the basic Spanish needed to survive a vacation. Of course, there's only so much he can do for you. If you go to a night club and hit on the cleaning lady, no handy phrase in any language will save you from looking like a fool. And if a local hooker rips you off, the policia will NOT be on your side.

This guy is hilarious. I'm now on to the second volume in this series. I just hope he keeps them coming."


–¿Qué asientos tenemos?
–Diez B y veinticinco E
–¡Nos han separado!
–Y encima nos han dado los peores asientos.
–Más no volamos con esta línea. ¿Quiénes son?

–What seats do we have?
–Ten B and twenty-five E.
–We’ve been separated!
–And on top of that they’ve given us the worst seats.
–We’re not flying with this airline again. Who are they?

–Apague su móvil, por favor.
–Ahora mismo estaba apagándolo.
–Y póngase el cinturón, por favor.
–Sí, señor. ¿Algo más?
–Sólo cumplo con mi trabajo, señora.
–Y lo hace magníficamente.

–Turn your mobile off, please.
–I was just turning it off.
–And put your seatbelt on, please.
–Yes, Sir. Anything else?
–I’m just doing my job, Madam.
–And you do it brilliantly.

–¿Tiene miedo?
–La verdad es que sí.
–¿Es su primera vez?
–No. He tenido miedo muchas veces.

–Are you frightened?
–As a matter of fact, yes I am.
–Is this your first time?
–No. I’ve been frightened many times.

–¿Viste Aterriza como puedas?
–No. ¿Y tú?
–Once veces. La tienes que ver.

–Did you see Airplane?
–No. How about you?
–Eleven times. You have to see it.

–¿Qué estás haciendo?
–Estoy rezando.
–Relájate, hombre. No nos vamos a morir. Hoy no, por lo menos.
–Sí, ya lo sé. Rezaba para que quiten esa maldita música de fondo… ¡Ha funcionado!

–What are you doing?
–I’m praying.
–Chill out, man. We’re not going to die. Not today at least.
–Yes, I know. I was praying for them to turn that bloody Muzak off... It worked!

–¿Qué tiene?
El País y El Mundo.
–¡Si no hablo el español!
–Ya es hora de empezar, ¿no?

–Newspaper, anyone?
–What have you got?
El País and El Mundo.
–But I don’t speak Spanish!
–It’s about time you started, isn’t it?

–¿Quiere tomar algo, señor?
–¿Se nota tanto?

–Would you like a drink, Sir?
–Is it so obvious?

–¿Cuatro libras por una copa de vino peleón? ¡Qué timo!
–¿Quiere o no quiere, señor?
–Más que querer, lo necesito.

–Four pounds for a glass of plonk? What a rip-off!
–Do you want it or don’t you, Sir?
–More than want it, I need it.

–Disculpe, ¿vamos a aterrizar pronto?
–Eso espero, señora.

–Excuse me, will we be landing soon?
–I hope so, Madam.

–Señoras y señores, gracias por volar con Big Bang Airways. Que tengan un buen día.
–¡Lo que nos queda!

–Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for flying with Big Bang Airways. Have a nice day.
–What’s left of it!

Spanglish for Impatient People 2, Lesson 1, “on the plane”

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.

Actually, it was Friday Morning, 4 A.M., but try telling that to Paul Simon. Besides, you get my point: nobody in their right mind should be up and about at such an unearthly hour, should they? Unfortunately for yours truly, however, my son had been accepted for this year’s Erasmus Programme at Howest University in Belgium, and what seemed like a good idea at the time felt like an altogether different proposition when the Big Day finally reared its ugly head. 

Rehearsing for the early morning airport run. Please note actual size and weight of cases may vary considerably

And so it was that last Friday we found ourselves racing through the beautiful Basque countryside at the dead of night, headed for Bilbao airport where my son’s 6 o’clock flight to Brussels awaited him. (Or so we thought, but that’s another story.) As it turned out, we had a wonderful journey: the roads were quiet; the cyclists were still in bed; the police had taken the night off; and there were no kamikaze cats to be seen or flattened anywhere.

That said, the main reason why I say we had a great journey is that we talked to each other non-stop for the best part of an hour. We covered all those topics that only we modern men of the world can fully relate to: the weather – did you pack an umbrella? I asked ... beer – this is not the year to go teetotal , we agreed ... football – did you see the match last night? I wondered ... girlfriends – I no longer have the time or energy for them, I confessed ... geography – do you know where you’re going,  Daddy? ... drivers – did you see that idiot? ... money – it doesn’t grow on trees, we concluded ... break-ins – where are the police when you genuinely need them? ... music – I expect they have guitars in Belgium, I speculated  ... breakfast – I’m feeling a bit peckish, he said ... endless lists – any list is better than no list, I argued ... And so on and so forth, I wrote.

Having deposited my son at the airport and wished him a safe flight to Brussels (via Barcelona, a heated chicken check-in and an overnight hotel, I discovered later), I returned to the car, though not before paying €1,05 for my hour’s parking. Now that’s what I call a bargain! Is Bilbao the only airport in the world that doesn’t rip off its clients? But I digress. And not for the first time. Nor will it be the last, I fear. But where was I?

I soon found my car. It was in parking space 1361, between parking spaces 1360 and 1362, exactly where I had left it. (Tip for chauffeurs: make a note of your parking space before you enter the departures lounge. Tip for daughters: it’s also a good idea to remember what your car looked like.) I put on Rattle That Lock – the first track being 5.A.M. by a happy coincidence –, and drove a ridiculously long lap of honour around the car park, obediently following the direction of the arrows. My law-deriding wife would have been furious had she been there to witness my momentary lapse of reason.

Eventually, I chanced upon an exit barrier. I thought long and hard about smashing through it at three kilometres per hour, but I’d already paid, so there didn’t seem much point. And as I drove home,  rattling that lock and racking my brain, it struck me that I hadn’t had such a good conversation with my son since ... since when we’d bought him that blasted iPhone! In a rare moment of enlightenment, the penny dropped: my son’s friends have got better things to do than send smiley icons and thumbs up to each other at four o’clock in the morning.

In the absence of anybody else to chat to, my son decided, reluctantly or otherwise, to give me his full undivided attention.  Had we been travelling at any other time during the day, I would doubtless have had a zombie for company. No disrespect to zombies intended.

‘Did you see the match?’
‘I said, Did you see the match?’
‘The match. Did you see it?’
‘What match?’
‘Sorry, Daddy, I’m chatting to Mikel.’
‘Which Mikel is that?’
‘Eh?’ ...

‘Thank goodness for meal times!’ I hear you exclaim.
‘If only we had them!’ you hear me complain.

Personally, I blame the parents for letting things come to this. Well, parents and the inventors of WhatsApp, let’s say. Especially the latter. Either way, the conclusion is clear, at least as far as my own family is concerned: we need more of these early wake-up calls if we are ever going to defeat the dreaded iPhone Zombie Syndrome. I wonder if my daughter fancies a trip to the coast tomorrow to see the sunrise? 

I’ll let you know how I get on.

One of the advantages of getting up at an ungodly hour is you can enjoy a full Basque breakfast before crawling into work.
Freshly squeezed orange juice, toast, tomato and coffee for a very reasonable €3.50.


‘Daddy, you have to give me ninety-seven euros.’
‘I don't have to give you anything.’
‘Yes, you do.’
‘What for?’
‘Sixty euros for the ticket, seven euros for—’
‘What ticket?’
‘For the concert. Social Distension. Don't you remember?’
‘Are they any good?’
‘Of course. All my friends are going.’
‘All five hundred of them? And the tickets cost sixty euros?’
‘That's a good price, Daddy.’
‘Where is it?’
‘Bilbao. That's why you've got to give me seven euros for the bus.’
‘I don't have to give you anything.’
‘Yes, you do.’
‘Anyway, that still only makes sixty-seven, not ninety-seven.’
‘Plus twenty-five for the sweatshirt.’
‘What sweatshirt?’
‘A Social Distension sweatshirt. All my friends are buying one.’
‘Why don't you buy a T-shirt?’
‘I've already got the T-shirt.’
‘Did you ask Mummy?’
‘What did she say?’
‘ “No way. Try Daddy.” ’
‘Look, I'll think about it. OK?’
‘OK, but I need the money tomorrow morning, so don't think too much.’
‘Right. So that’s sixty euros for the concert – they had better be good –, seven for the bus, twenty-five for the silly sweatshirt—’
‘It's not silly, Daddy.’
‘That's ninety-two, not ninety-seven.’
‘You're forgetting my pocket money, Daddy.’

fifty shades of Spain, chapter 15, "Father And Son"

Wednesday, August 31, 2016


What’s your favourite film? If The Shawshank Redemption isn’t in your Top Ten, I can only suppose you haven’t seen it yet. If that’s the case, I suggest you proceed immediately to YouTube, Netflix or wherever so that you can see what you’ve been missing out on for the past twenty years or so.

OK, and what if I asked those of you who saw Shawshank to name your favourite scene? There are so many, it’s virtually impossible to choose just one, isn’t it? Most of you, however, will surely remember that prison rooftop scene, in which Andy risks his life by interrupting a conversation among the guards to offer his expert financial advice.

Fortunately for all concerned, our hero lives to fight another day, but the question remains, Why on earth did he do it? To get in with the guards? To impress his fellow inmates? The narrator thinks the reason is somewhat simpler: “I think he did it just to feel normal again; if only for a short while.”

And that’s why I still scribble one or two lines every month: to feel human for a few minutes. I find it very therapeutic. Whatever that means.

Enjoying a quiet pint in Shrewsbury with sister Sue and one of her Pokémon friends

Colin’s Condoms?’
‘Whatever.’ Colin’s caller went straight to the point …
‘How come it’s always the man’s fault?’
‘How do you mean?’ asked Colin, knowing exactly what he meant.
‘Everyone talks about “human error”, right? But you never hear anybody blame a mistake on “huwoman error”, do you?’
‘I think you’ll find “human” is an all-embracing term, encompassing both sexes,’ said Colin, surprising himself with his first intelligent observation of the day.

dayrealing, chapter 4, “Human”

As Colin saw it, some people are born competent, while others are born incompetent. Colin was in the second group. As if to prove his point, he’d sat down the other day to start drawing up a list of his Basic Incompetences. Colin loved his lists: there was something therapeutic about writing lists, even soul-destroying lists like this one.

dayrealing, chapter 5, “Heart Of Gold”

Despite its silly title, The Shawshank Redemption had always been Colin’s favourite film. Ever. He had long been a sucker for prison movies – Escape From Alcatraz, The Count Of Monte Cristo, Papillon, Porridge … – but The Shawshank Redemption would always hold the number one spot for Colin. Unless a better movie came out in the meantime, that is. Imprisoned unfairly, fighting against injustice, falling foul of a corrupt system, tormented by evil bosses … Colin was Andy Dufresne. Not literally, of course; the main differences being a) Andy was a very clever competent chap, b) Andy escaped and c) Colin was not Andy Dufresne. Obviously.

dayrealing, chapter 6, “Living For The Corporation”

Friday, July 22, 2016

Read My Mind

Any idea what yours truly is doing in this photo?

a) consulting the dinner menu before the waiter returns to take my order?
b) examining my wife’s manicure set with a view to identifying the nail clipper?
c) reading Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky?

Yes, you guessed it: I was looking for the nail clipper. Incidentally, if you chose a), you really should try living in the Basque Country for a few years. But what if I had been reading Dostoyevsky’s harrowing tale?

And therein lies the real problem for Kindle lovers and e-book addicts in general: nobody will ever appreciate what magnificent literary tastes we have. Non-Kindle converts will tell us how much they love “the feel and smell of a real book”, how they like to “thumb and turn the pages”, how they need to “touch base with the physical world”. And similar bollocks.

What none of these romantics will admit, of course, is that their main reason – dare I say, their only reason – for not embracing the e-book revolution is that they want others to look at them and think, “Wow! I wish I were reading that book!”; “Dostoyevsky? That guy must be really smart!”; and so on.

Fortunately, thanks to Kindleractive Electronic Cover Technology™, Kindle owners no longer need to feel like second-class readers.

Simply press the Kindleractive button on your Kindle to let your fellow poolside users know what masterpiece you are reading today.

Beware, however, of the deadly Kindleractive Trojan virus which, once installed in your Kindle, will destroy in one fell swoop what little street credibility you might once have enjoyed:

‘Never mind all this Kindleractive nonsense!’ I hear you saying. ‘What’s with all this Dostoyevsky stuff? You’re not going through one of your silly existential crises again, are you?’ Well, no more than usual. No, the point is, a few years ago, I very unwisely decided to buy Fyodor’s masterpiece, The Brothers Karamazov. “The most magnificent novel ever written,” said Sigmund Freud; the book that would “teach you everything you need to know about life,” added Kurt Vonnegut. As it happened, I hated the blasted book and would happily have thrown it out of the window had it not been on my Kindle at the time. Come to think of it, perhaps that’s the real reason why some bookworms still refuse to read e-books?

That said, I am nothing if not a glutton for punishment forgiving, so I decided to give Fyodor one last shot. On this occasion, however, I set my sights lower and plumped for Crime and Punishment. “Start with this one. It’s the easiest,” said Amazon Customer. Whether it’s his easiest, I couldn’t say, but it’s certainly his most entertaining. I’ll keep you posted.

Thanks for reading.


After a while they came to a fork in the road. Who left that lying there? Colin wondered. There was no sign of a knife or spoon. Colin was beginning to feel a little peckish. It was way past his dinner time.

‘What’s that noise?’ asked Mal.
‘Just my stomach rumbling. Sorry. Is there anywhere we can grab a bite to eat?’
‘If it’s not sex, it’s food. Is that all you Earthlings ever think about?’
‘No,’ said Colin, lying through his teeth, and somewhat taken aback by the ferocity of Mal’s sudden outburst.
‘Don’t you ever spare a thought for the starving millions, Colin? Well, I’ve got some very bad news for you. Welcome to the Land of the Starving Jillions, sunshine.’
‘ “Jillions”? Is a jillion bigger than a zillion?’
‘Stop trying to change the subject. Now where was I?’
‘We were discussing large numbers.’
‘Down here, there’s no breakfast, no lunch, and no dinner. Got that?’
‘How about afternoon tea?’
‘No afternoon tea, no morning tea and, no, before you ask, no evening tea, either.’
‘But— But what do you live on?!’
‘ “Live on”? “Live on”?! Did you hear that, Louise?’
‘Shall I saw his legs off, Mal?’
‘Maybe later, Louise. Let’s wind him up a bit more first, shall we?’
‘Whatever you say, Mal. Just give me the nod when you’re ready.’
Please, God, wake me up.
‘I know exactly what you’re thinking, Colin.’
‘No you don’t.’ Does he?
‘Yes I do.’
‘Prove it.’
‘You’re thinking, “Please, God, wake me up”.’
‘And now you’re probably calling me a bastard, aren’t you?’
‘No.’ Bastard.

dayrealing, Chapter 42, “The Passenger”