Saturday, December 23, 2017


Recently, I decided to try and go teetotal. In a country where socialising revolves around beer and wine with friends, this makes things rather difficult. Fortunately, my social life is non-existent, so my absence from the bars of the Basque Country will have gone largely unnoticed. Being a hermit has its advantages.

The main battle I faced, therefore, was at home where a delicious Sunday roast, for example, becomes a sad affair when you’re drinking water instead of that lovely Reserva that everybody else is having. I also felt incredibly stupid at the same time, as only my stubbornness was preventing me from joining in the fun and pouring myself a glass... or two.

Even harder at this time of the year, however, was keeping off the whisky. In a bitterly cold week, a shot of Glenfiddich would have been just what the doctor ordered; especially on a bleak Sunday afternoon. As I sat in bed reading about the poor starving miners in northern France (Germinal), I began to experience different pangs of pain altogether.

In the event, I teetotalled for ten whole days and nights, deciding to rejoin my merry friends and family just a couple of days ago. (And boy did that first glass of wine taste good last night!). The Christmas season is now in full swing, with wine, beer and champagne flowing freely, and five-course five-hour lunches and dinners being the norm rather than the exception. Plus, my wife and I fly to the UK on Christmas Day, so there’s no way I’ll be able to resist the temptation to drink proper beer for once.  

What, then, possessed me to attempt such a crazy feat? I was curious, that’s why: Would those nasty headaches disappear? (No.) Would I look better? (No.) Would I feel better? (No.) Would my going teetotal allow us to save enough money to buy a second home? (Not yet.)...

But the most important question of all, of course, was simply, Could I stop drinking if I had to? And the answer? Yes, I could. And for that peace of mind alone, the experiment was worth it.

Merry Christmas, everybody – but not too merry, I hope.


Ashley to ashes
Dusty to dust

Simon had wanted to put Roast In Peace, but Janie had persuaded him that it would have been in poor toast, so R.I.P it was. That was probably the last time they had ever agreed on anything. Disaster duly descended: death, depression, drink, demotion, dismissal, Doug, divorce, despair … Simon had always hated words beginning with D. 

dayrealing, Chapter 39, “Breakeven”

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Stupid Like This

Mike Church didn’t get any new likes this week

Facebook can be so cruel! Once a week, they write to me with the same message. Before long, I imagine I will be receiving, “Mike Church didn’t get any new likes this month”... or “this year” even. They usually sign off with a recommendation to “publish a post to engage your audience”.  

Sound advice, but easier said than done for somebody who spends most of their life otherwise engaged. At least, I’m still having fun in the classroom, albeit largely at my poor students’ expense. Here are a few of my favourite exchanges from the past week or so:

- I’m in charge of expeditions.
- Wow! That sounds exciting!
- Not really.
- Expeditions to the North Pole?
- Eh?...

- I usually go shopping with my chariot.
- Like Ben Hur?
- Eh?
- Ben Hur. He used to ride around in a chariot too, didn’t he? Not sure they had supermarkets in those days, though...

- He didn’t realise he had been stolen.
- Maybe he was sleeping when they stole him?
- Yes, maybe...

- Today is the last day to buy bones.
- What sort of bones are we talking about?
- For lunch.
- That’s rather a sad lunch, isn’t it?
- Sad? Without bones, we cannot have lunch.
- I take your point, but I think you probably mean “vouchers”.
- Baochers?...

- We are not come for table.
- So what are you come for?
- Eh?
- I mean, if you didn’t come for the table, what did you come for? Or did you mean “COMFortable”?
- Ah, yes, “come for table”...

And, talking of tables, it’s time to get dinner ready, so I’d better blog off before somebody sends out a search party for me. Thanks as ever for reading this fart.


‘So what would you like us to talk about?’
‘You’re sounding rather miserable, dear. Is it something I said?’
‘No, it’s something you did, Miss Tedley.’
‘Yes, you.’
‘OK, let me guess … Are you angry with me because I uploaded all your photos to Facebook?’
‘Is it because—’
‘You did what?’
‘I uploaded all your photos to Facebook. Sorry, dear, I was bored and it seemed such a shame not to share those lovely pictures with everybody else. You’ve been getting a lot of hits, you know.’
‘You can say that again.’

Colin no longer had any strength left in him to argue. As far as he was concerned, Miss Tedley might just as well have stolen his diary and shown it to the world.

‘Or is because I photocopied that bit from your diary and put it up on all the notice boards?’
‘No, that’s not— You did what?!’
‘Don’t shoot the messenger, Colin. Oh, here’s your diary, by the way. You left it on your desk.’
‘Miss Tedley, you’ve got no right to take things off my desk!’
‘Haven’t I? I’m sorry, I didn’t realise, dear. I was only doing it to protect you. I was afraid somebody else might find it. Next time, why don’t you tuck it away in your middle drawer beneath all those magazines? You know, next to the tea bags and the—’

dayrealing, Chapter 19, “Real Good Looking Boy”

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Relax (Take It Easy)

I couldn’t decide whether to write about the beautiful autumn trees or the Catalan crisis, so I decided to write about the joys of shopping instead...

I hate Saturday mornings. Don’t you? Having breakfast in bed, reading the paper, working out at the gym, having a swim and sauna, walking around the lake, cycling through the mountains, sitting in the park, chatting to friends... Yes, that’s what everybody else around me is doing while muggins here sets off for BM to get the groceries in for the weekend. I’ve been doing this for the past 25 years or so, and can no longer remember what a relaxing Saturday morning used to feel like. Actually, you can remove “Saturday” from that last sentence.

Many moons ago, you see, I made the terrible mistake of choosing to work in a school which is located opposite a supermarket. In practice, this means that every evening when I finish work, I have to nip over the road and grab some chicken, pork, pizza, lettuce, tomatoes, mushrooms, asparagus, melons, mandarins, or whatever it is I have been instructed to buy for tonight’s dinner and/or tomorrow’s lunch. ‘And get some ice cream while you’re at it, can you?’ ‘Oh, don’t forget to order the chops for Sunday, ok?’ ‘By the way, we’re out of kitchen roll...’

The plus side is that I am BM’s greatest customer, so they always give me the full red-carpet treatment, greeting me personally as I run round the aisles  – ‘¡Siempre corriendo, Mike!’ –, and opening the other till when they see there are more than two customers in front of me at the checkout. They even give me the choice cuts when the other customers aren’t looking. Mind you, given that I spend half my salary there, I think I deserve a little pampering, don’t you?

The worst thing, of course, is not the shopping itself, but the interrogation which awaits me when, seventy-five minutes later, I crawl through the front door, armed with eighteen bags of shopping:

You took a long time!
‘It was packed!...’

[Every “Saturday Shop Feedback” begins like this; regardless of how long I actually took or how many people there really were. Ha! Two can play at that game!]

Did you remember the bleach?’
‘You didn’t tell me to get any.’
‘Do I have to tell you everything?’
‘No. Just the things you want me to buy...’

Why did you get these potatoes?’
‘Because the last ones we got were rotten, so I thought we’d try these.’
‘They don’t look very good.’
‘We’ll see...’

I thought I told you not to buy these biscuits any more?’
‘Did you?’
‘You never listen to me, do you?’
‘Sorry. I promise I’ll never buy these biscuits ever again...’

Why did you buy two bottles of shampoo?’
‘They were on offer:  buy one, get one free.’
‘The shampoo’s cheaper in Lidl.’
‘Usually. But not if you get two for the price of one...’

How much were these peaches?’
‘Two seventy-three a kilo. Not bad, eh?’
‘They had some for one twenty-two a kilo, but these are much better...’

What’s this?
‘White chocolate. It was free with that voucher I showed you.’
‘Well, don’t buy it again.’
‘I didn’t buy it...’

I don’t suppose you got loo rolls?’
‘Why didn’t you phone me?’
‘I was busy.’
‘That makes two of us...’

And on and on we go. Fortunately, my wife and I don’t have time for proper arguments. By the time we’ve unpacked, inspected and audited every item – “ok”, “bad”, “ok”, “very bad”, “ok”... –, it’s time for me to make a start on lunch while my wife returns to whichever bedroom or bathroom she has decided to attack today.

Thank goodness for Saturday afternoons, I say. I don't know about you, but that's when my weekend begins.


No es precisamente Tescos ¿verdad?

Not exactly Tescos, is it?

¿Por qué no ponen los precios?

Why don’t they put the prices?

–Disculpe. ¿Cuánto cuesta esta cesta?
–Lo siento, señor. No está en venta.
–Sí, me lo imaginaba. ¿Y ese carro?

–Excuse me. How much does this basket cost?
–I’m sorry, Sir. It’s not for sale.
–Yes, that’s what I thought. What about that trolley?

–Estoy buscando los “baked beans”.

–I’m looking for baked beans.
–Good luck.

–¿Dónde está la cerveza?
–Entre el champú y los periódicos.

–Where’s the beer?
–Between the shampoo and the newspapers.

Cero con cuarenta y cinco kilos de uvas, por favor.

A pound of grapes, please.

¿No tienen otros palitos de merluza?

Are these the only fish fingers you’ve got?

–Puedo pagar con Visa?
–Podemos intentarlo.

–Can I pay by Visa?
–We can try.

–Me enseña su DNI, por favor.
–Soy británico. No lo necesito.

–Can you show me your ID, please?
–I’m British. I don’t need it.

–¿Quiere los puntos?
–¿Para qué son?
–Tenemos una oferta en cazuelas.

–Do you want the points?
–What are they for?
–We’ve got an offer on saucepans.

Spanglish for Impatient People, Lesson 8, “in the supermarket”

Saturday, September 30, 2017

I Will Be There

It’s nearly October and I’m still alive. Now that calls for a celebration! As ever, I won’t be at all sorry to see September go. Or October for that matter. November has always been the best month of the year for me, when I can finally sit back and enjoy the rewards of my previous ten months’ toil. At least for a couple of weeks before the Christmas madness sets in.

Meanwhile back in September, I’ve spent most of the past four weeks with my eyes glued to the computer screen, answering anxious emails from customers and colleagues, while skyping and sounding out students about their intentions for the year ahead. It’s tough in the middle.

In the absence of anything remotely interesting to tell you, here’s a summary of what to expect when you ask 200 investigators from a local research and development company whether they would like to attend English classes this year...

140 people – 70% of the respondents – will ignore you completely. That’s from a good client and on a good year, so don’t let it get to you! Focus your efforts instead on the 60 sensitive souls – the remaining 30% – who take the time to reply, exactly half of whom will express an interest in your services; while the other half would have you believe that they have better things to do with their lives. A likely story.

Among the 30 people who reply to you positively, 21 of the respondents – or 70% if you prefer – will follow your instructions by offering a short but unambiguous YES:


“Yes, I am interested”

“YES = Yes, I am interested”

And so on. I love receiving mails like these! Don’t you? No buts, no questions; just tell me what the next step is, please.

A minority – 3 people (10%) – will go out of their way to reassure you of their good intentions for the year ahead:

“I will make an effort” (MA)

“I will do my best to attend the maximum of classes” (HG)

“I will try!!!” (FM)

Meanwhile, 3 others (10%) will do their best to draw you into a discussion. Fortunately, you know better than to get bogged down at this early stage in the game, don’t you?:

– “Your best students are looking forward to attending your lessons” (PO)
– “Really looking forward to catching up with you soon, P.” (MC)

– “In September I’ve passed the exam!” (BN)
– “Congratulations, B! That's wonderful news! Very happy for you!” (MC)

– “How was the summer?” (PR)
– “Hi, P. Summer was great! Yours? We'll catch up soon” (MC)

And then there are the troublemakers, the “Yes, but”s. Yes, there are only 9 of them – 30% – but even so it’s enough to ruin your plans for a relaxing weekend away from your PC:

“I prefer from 8 to 9 AM” (IA)

“I can't do 8-9” (JP)

“I prefer classes at 12.30” (LH)

“At midday if it is possible” (KI)

“I can't go on Fridays” (AB)

“I prefer if one of the days is Friday” (UD)

“I can't go on Fridays” (GB)

– “I can only attend on Mondays” (LM)
– “Thanks, L...  That's still a 50% improvement on last year ;)” (MC)

Not to mention the double troublemakers:

“I can’t go on Tuesdays and I can’t do 8-9” (PL)

There’s no answer to that one, is there?

By a remarkable coincidence, of the 30 people who reply to you negatively, 21 of the respondents – 70% again – will reply with a short but sweet NO:


“No thanks”

“NO = No thanks”

The occasional thoughtful correspondent – a dying breed – will try not to hurt your feelings:

– “My answer is ‘No thanks’. Nice to hear from you every year :))” (AO)
– “Good to see that you are maintaining your excellent level of English, A! :)” (MC)

Others, however, couldn’t care less about your feelings:

“Hi there, I'm not interested” (XE)

A respectable minority – 20% of the “No”s – will leave the door open just in case they need to return to the fold one day:

“Next time maybe” (AL)

“Maybe in future years I can go back” (AG)

“I see it impossible at the moment” (AL)

“Hope to join the classes in the future” (MU)

“I am not currently interested” (AA)

And when one of your favourite students tells you he’s not planning to continue this year, you laugh it off; even if, in reality, you want to cry:

– “I'm sorry but this year I will not go to the classes” (JA)
– “J! I was counting on you. We will cancel the entire project if you don't participate” (MC)

J, bless him, is quick to bring you to your senses, playing along with you while promising to return with a vengeance the following year:

In addition to those fobbing you off with their feeble excuses, there will usually be a couple of people – 10%? – who are almost justified in taking a year’s sabbatical:

– “We will have Basque lessons (2 days in the morning 7.30-9) so it will be too much" (AG)
– “What a pity! Anyway, I hope we still see you occasionally” (MC)

– “This winter (all being well) I’ll become the father of two little babies :)” (IS)
– “Congratulations! Take care and see you around” (MC)

And, finally, we have the lone Latin lover:

"Vir sapiens pauca loquitur"

Thank goodness for Google translator, I say. So, I shot back with:

"Post eventum facile sapere"

Only to be outsmarted once more by my formidable opponent:

"Post eventum vani sunt questus"

Which, roughly translated, means something like, “It’s no use crying over spilt milk”, doesn’t it? Well, anyway, the ball is back in my court now. Any suggestions as to how I should proceed? Personally, I find looking up obscure Latin proverbs on Google far more stimulating than assigning students to English classes. Then again, Varitatio delectat.


Ironically, it took a dead language to liven up Colin’s schooldays. He was fortunate to have had the most marvellous Latin teachers in the land, albeit with very English-sounding surnames: Clark, Cooper and Wilson. They sounded like a building society, and indeed they were just that: they were “building society”, for they lived and loved their language to such an extent that their enthusiasm was infectious even if, at the end of the day, there was a limit to how often you would ever need to order two pints of lager and a packet of salt ’n’ vinegar crisps in Latin.

dayrealing, Chapter 25, “Wonderful Life”


Diploma in English Language Teaching to Anyone, July 2011
Module One, Paper 1, Task 2

The painful truth is this: regardless of teacher, method, resources or techniques, a good student will always learn and a bad student never will.

How do you cope with being a redundant piece of furniture in the classroom?

Examiners’ Report
Once again, a large percentage of candidates happily admitted that they are “a complete waste of space” and “totally superfluous to the learning process”. Many proceeded to belt out their sob-sob stories of “I never wanted to do this, anyway”, “I should have listened to my evil stepmother”, “I wanted to be a lumberjack”, and so on.

It had been hoped that candidates would argue that there is a place for the teacher in the language classroom – in the corner, on the floor, at the back, under the desk, etc. – and that they have a vital role to play: stimulating interest, organising practice, presenting language, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Several candidates did in fact take this line, while one bright spark passed automatically on account of her including the phrases “source of knowledge”, “font of wisdom” and “facilitator of information” in her opening sentence.

fifty shades of Spain, chapter 35, “Lumberjack Song”

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Wuthering Heights

Do you remember what you were doing forty years ago? Well, I don’t know about you, but I was in 5C, preparing to take my O levels the following summer while doing my best to wind up poor Mr. Mitchell, our long-suffering English teacher...

“Cathy and Heathcliff dominate the whole of Wuthering Heights” – Discuss

“Cathy dies halfway through the book so it is difficult to see how she and Heathcliff could possibly dominate Wuthering Heights. The relationship between Cathy the Younger and Linton is far more interesting (although still very boring)...”

– Explain why! Why are you so pleased at not being able to enjoy literature?

“In fact, memories of the elder Cathy were virtually non-existent...”

– You’d better read the book again!

Under the circumstances, I think I can consider myself lucky to have scraped a borderline pass, don’t you?

– 11/20. Quite good, but lacking in specific detail.

The sad thing here of course is that Wuthering Heights is probably one of the most beautiful books ever written. It never fails to move me now that I’ve reached that age – I nearly said maturity – at which I am able to appreciate great literature. It certainly gives The Da Vinci Code a good run for its money, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Back in 1977-78, however, my classmates and I were far more interested in a different kind of Wuthering Heights altogether:

Yes, the lovely Kate Bush who, by a wonderful coincidence, shares her birthday with Emily Brontë (30 July). As Kate soared to the top of the UK charts, the whole nation debated, Should we leave the Common Market? Do you prefer Kate Bush or Debbie Harry? Actually, I preferred Jeff Lynne, but that’s another story.

I’m pleased to report that, despite my best efforts, this particular story has a happy ending: I passed my English O levels, got my A levels, did French at uni, then ended up becoming an English teacher. Funny old world, isn’t it?


They were on the home run now. And all the signs suggested it was going to be a stormy ride. Colin breezed into the room, greeted Miss Tedley and seized a red marker. As the rest of his Rappers traipsed in, Colin set about transcribing his notes onto the whiteboard:

But the hour came, at last, that ended Mr. Earnshaw’s troubles on earth. He died quietly in his chair one October evening, seated by the fire-side. A high wind blustered round the house, and roared in the chimney: it sounded wild and stormy, yet it was not cold, and we were all together – I, a little removed from the hearth, busy at my knitting, and Joseph reading his Bible near the table.

‘Hi, everyone. Any idea who wrote that?’

‘You did, dear. It’s beautiful,’ said Miss Tearley, shedding a ted.

‘I couldn’t agree more, Miss Tedley, but it’s not my work, I’m afraid.’

‘Yes, it is, dear. I saw you come in just now and—’

‘So does anyone here want to take a guess?’ Colin had no time today – or any day – for Miss Tedley’s tedious twaddle. This was Raphead’s Rappers’ last chance to get their act together.

‘Is it from Harry Potter?’

‘No, Jack.’

‘Which one?’

‘It doesn’t matter which one, Nicola. It’s not Harry Potter.’

‘I was thinking of Harry Potter and the Bloody Prince.’

‘You mean, Harry Potter and the Half-Baked Prince, Jack.’

‘Oh yeah, right. What did you make of the film?’

‘I thought they—’

‘Listen, it’s not Harry Potter. Got that?’

‘Who wrote Harry Potter, anyway?’ asked Jack.

‘I can never remember her name,’ said Nicola. ‘J. R. Tolking or something like that?’

‘No, that’s the bloke who did Lord Of The Flies.’

‘Wasn’t that Michael Flatley?’

‘That guy’s amazing. Do you know he can do more than thirty taps in a second?’

‘That’s a lot faster than our plumber. So is it The Da Vinci Code, Colin?’

‘No, Nicola, it isn’t. Look, I’ll give you a clue: Emily.’

‘Dum-da-da Dum-da?’

‘Did you say, “Emily Dumder”, Violet?’

‘Emily Brontë.’

‘Yes, that’s right.’ Hurrah! They were making progress of sorts. Talk about pushing an elephant up a hill.

dayrealing, Chapter 28, “Wuthering Heights”

Saturday, July 29, 2017


One of my numerous daily chores includes buying the bread. A home without bread in the Basque Country is like a home without an internet connection in Britain. Doesn’t bear thinking about, does it? So, anyway, every morning, at about 7.07, I drive to the baker’s – no time for a leisurely morning stroll –, race home, dump the bread in the kitchen, grab my briefcase, wish my wife a wonderful day, then head off to work. On a good day, I might even have time for a second espresso before leaving home, but those days are few and far between. In any case, the most important thing is to make sure I get to the classroom and have everything ready before my students start rolling in at 7.57, 8.03, 8.08, and so on, at regular five-minute intervals. One of the beautiful things about teaching “on the continent" is that everybody lives in personalised time zones, so “eight o’clock”, for example, means different things to different people; to me, it means 8.00, but I’m British, remember.

The other day, I was running a little late and didn’t make it to the baker’s until about 7.22, so you can imagine how stressed I was feeling as I ran in. To my horror, I found myself behind a dear old lady who, as tends to be the way with senior citizens, was in no hurry whatsoever to  pay for her small loaf. I pretended not to overhear her detailed account of what her grandchildren were studying, where her daughter was planning to spend the summer, which poor soul had died yesterday, and so on.

I smiled politely at the customers joining the queue behind me – smiling politely is an essential life skill, I have discovered over the past thirty years or so –, consoling myself with the thought that I wasn’t the only person in the world whose day had just been ruined and whose company might well collapse if their hardest-working employee didn’t show up for work today. Resigning myself to my fate, I didn’t even bat an eyelid when my executioner emptied the contents of her purse on the counter, and invited the shop assistant to help herself.

Eventually of course, I got my bloody beloved loaf and, surprise surprise, I arrived on time for my class, albeit terribly late by my standards. It was about 7.55, and I was in a foul mood because my morning routine had been disrupted, but I soon calmed down when I finally managed to put myself in that lady’s shoes: buying the bread, chatting to the baker, boring her butcher to tears, greeting the bus driver, speculating with her fellow passengers whether she might have dropped her bus pass in the baker’s or the butcher’s... Who knows? I might be that old lady one day – despite no plans for a sex change at the time of writing – and a little patience never hurt any of us, did it?

I make an exception, however, for all these ‘critical’ PC updates. ‘Critical’, my a***! When they claim, “We are working to enhance your experience”, what they really mean is, “We are now going to install a load of useless stuff and there’s nothing you can do about it, sunshine”.


Yet for all his glaring incompetence, Colin absolutely loved teaching: whatever, wherever, whenever. “Know nothing, teach anything” was his motto. What he lacked in knowledge and know-how – two greatly overrated concepts, in Colin’s convenient opinion –, he more than made up for in patience, perspiration, persistence and perseverance; all those p- qualities, basically. Whether you wanted to study Physics or Physiques, Deserts or Desserts, Arabic or Aerobics … Colin was your man. He would get you there. Eventually. Even if it killed him. It usually did.

dayrealing, Chapter 5, “Heart Of Gold”