My hamartia.*

I’m a sickeningly hopeless romantic. I’ll gladly, and only slightly sheepishly admit that. At the slightest suggestion of reciprocation of someone I’m in any way attracted to, my mind starts going at a million miles a minute on both lanes of the highway; she’s probably not interested in me; this would be a nice date to take her on; I don’t think she finds me funny, at least not in a good way, and so on. I’d probably make a good member of some disaster response committee – running through every possible scenario all at the same time.

I have jut realised that this tendency to get carried away with the future manifests itself into any time I go job hunting as well. I uploaded a profile on to one of these recruitment websites as soon as I completed my TESOL course, and no sooner had I clicked ‘submit’, I was contacted by a school in deepest Sicily. And sure enough, my mind went into overdrive; I felt myself wanting a job in Brighton, just to stay in the country a little bit longer, but I also started looking up apartment prices and the cost of living, so I’d be ready to go once I moved out.

Inevitably what happened was they wanted someone with experience in teaching towards specific exams. Experience which I didn’t have and, at two days notice, wasn’t likely to gain before I started, so I politely declined the position. That was a couple of weeks ago, and I’m currently waiting on the outcome of my second interview, again for a last-minute start in dear old Sicily. I’ve been promised a response by the close of business today, which could be any time until 10pm tonight, but to me, no news really is no news this time. I’ve learnt from a fortnight ago.

As yet there isn’t anyone around to test if my hopeless romanticism is still as wreckless…

Jack out.

Hamartia (Ancient Greek: ἁμαρτία) is a word most famously used in Poetics, where it is usually translated as a mistake or error in judgement. In modern discussions of tragedy, hamartia has often been described as a hero’s “tragic flaw.”

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Tiny footsteps. Tiny, tentative footsteps…

So the day has arrived. Today was my first day of teacher training!

In an ideal world, with infinite time, I’d like to blog daily during what is a very exciting time, but with the sheer volume of work I’m expecting, I just don’t think that will be practicable. So, in no change from the usual regularity with which I post anything, I’ll be operating an “as and when” schedule.

I figure that after the first day I’ll have the lightest workload of the course, so here’s something. What a day! I’ve been dumped in with what seem like a very nice bunch of trainees, and the confidence boost I’ve already received from somebody starting a sentence aimed at me with “well you seem to know a lot about…” cannot be understated.

I’m already having to plan a lesson, albeit of only thirty minutes. The one-hour goliaths will be towards the end of this and, for me, the beginning of next week. There is such a diverse range of backgrounds, from former civil service, to one woman who already teaches in Laos, and you can really feel the wealth of experience each person brings to the mix. Even me and my ‘dangerous hobby’ of motorsport watching.

I’ll write again when I can.

Jack out.

If people aren’t laughing at your dreams, your dreams aren’t big enough.

“For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.” – Leonardo da Vinci

I went through school not knowing what I wanted to be when I grew up. I had five years of secondary school. That was loads of time to decide, and even if that time ran out, I had two years of college. And even if that time ran out, I had three years of university. I think that may be why I stuck university out. I knew I was getting progressively more out of my depth; that was obvious. But I reasoned that if I could just stick it out another six months, year, two years, until I graduated, I would miraculously know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, and I could set off in a purposeful direction.

Of course, I graduated without so much as a toot on a kazoo. In fact I think a majority of my coursework never left the University’s collection office. It took over a year of two low level jobs and a persistent girlfriend wanting me to throw it all ‘away’ and leave the country. Then, and only then, did I even begin to realise what I wanted to do, starting to formulate a plot for the rest of my existence.

Returning to the UK long-term has all but disappeared as an option. I remember when my catalyst of an ex-girlfriend had the same realisation, that what is ‘out here’ is so much more rewarding than anything that was ‘back there’. In hindsight it marked the beginning of the end, but I was so caught up in my own existence, busying myself waiting for her return, I couldn’t fully appreciate what I take so for granted now; the view conveyed by Da Vinci above.

So what’s new? I’m here for another eight months, which is realistically nothing. I’m already halfway through the difference between this and my last stay, and that flew by. After that, I fully intend to return to northern Italy and repeat my excellent experience teaching English to the Italian youth. And then…

That was where it stopped. I had the best part of a year ahead mapped out, and it was enough. Until I started to dream a little. What prompted this dream was simple. I was asked what my plans were after I was finished here. I had no concrete idea so it was, more or less, spontaneous; what I would do if I had no constraints, but then all the best dreams are, aren’t they? By the time I’d finished the conversation, they started sounding less like fantastical dreams and more like solid, realistic, doable plans.

I return to the UK, albeit only long enough to pass the tests to allow me to ride a motorbike. I buy a motorbike with the money I’ve earned working, tutoring, doing whatever, while passing these tests. I pick a country in need of an English teacher for the next six months to a year, preferably one that prefers experience over qualifications, as that’s what I’ll have. I jump on my motorbike and head in that direction, sightseeing along the way. I teach in the aforementioned country for approximately a year, or until the summer. I spend the summer months travelling, experiencing the locality and further afield. I find another country in need of an English teacher. I repeat the cycle.

And there it was, the next few years of my life planned out in almost an instant. Funny old life, isn’t it?

Jack out.

A change of direction…

As you may, or may not know, I am just approaching the two month mark in my second stint as an au pair. Still in Italy, but this time a little further south in the beautiful region of Tuscany. My ‘radio silence’, for want of a better phrase, hasn’t been through lack of writing material, the opposite in fact. I’ve been infinitely busier here than I ever was last time round. Not only am I doing the ‘standard’ au pairing, which on one hand feels a lot more like what I expected au pairing to feel like, but on the other is rarely standard in any sense of the word, but also attending four to six hours of Italian lessons a week, and now leading four hours (on average) of English lessons every week. I have a grand total of two mornings during the week, in addition to weekends, left to my own devices. However I’m not complaining, as I’ve all but doubled my salary, which has allowed me to make good use of trains, buses, and my old but surprisingly good-quality camera

I’ve had a few busy weekends already; if you cast your mind, or browser, back to a recent post you’ll find I mentioned a highly driven travelling buddy. As it transpired they were also a highly whimsical travelling buddy, and through reasons that aren’t worth regurgitating, cut all contact a few weeks ago. Nevertheless, this hasn’t stopped my seemingly rampant exploration of the area I find myself in, and the country in the whole, and I’m currently gearing up for an in-depth exploration of Florence, while attending a weekend-long tattoo convention there.

However, despite the busyness on the home front, had I been posting with the same frequency as previously, I would have been repeating myself on numerous occasions; same shit, different day as the saying goes. Which left me with a dilemma; I have two more prominent aspects of my experience this time round, namely the travelling and exploration, and the teaching. There are a million and one people writing about their experiences travelling. Heck, I started following one on Twitter just this week. So that leaves teaching, which is the direction I hope I will be, and see myself, going in in the not too distant future. All in all it makes sense and, as Italy is seemingly notorious for poor levels of English and teaching on the subject, I may even fill a niché, and this blog may get the audience it… ahem… needs.

Jack out

Ninja edit: As if to prove my point that every man and his dog is writing about travelling, a friend of mine has just started her own blog. Check it out, she knows what she’s talking about

The twenty-first post of the expedition – the transition from composer to producer

About a week and a half ago, it struck me that I only had three weeks left of this spell in Italy, and I resolved to not sit around and waste another day doing nothing until I left. Saturday, admittedly, I sat around doing nothing, save for eating lunch and dinner. However I think I have most certainly earned it.

I’ve just been reading back through the first few posts of the expedition, specifically when I discovered there was a summer camp in need of teachers, and talking about it with such hope and expectation. Hopes and expectations that it easily exceeded.

In all it was two weeks of camp, of which I helped with the latter due to other commitments. I was called the weekend before with the final details, and invited to sit in for a couple of hours during the first week to get a feel for the whole operation. I turn up on the Thursday morning, get introduced to the other teachers – two Irish girls that are over for the fortnight, and sit in on the warm-up activities. Before I know it, I’m fielding a question-and-answer session with about thirty Italian children. They seem to take to me quite well, and I sit in on one of the groups having an English lesson with one of the girls.

Lunchtime rolls around, but before I can escape to get something from a nearby supermarket, I’m accosted by one of the camp organisers. “You’re a natural,” she says. “How would you like to stay for the five full days until 4 next week, instead of the four days of 2pm finishes?” In an instant, the week ahead transformed from an almost unknown entity into something I may have a reasonable chance in being good at. It took me a moment to process this new information before I could answer the question being asked of me, but I was more than happy to oblige.

For the next day and a half before the weekend, I proceeded to study the girls teaching methods, having not taught more than one person simultaneously before in my life. The weekend rolls around and, almost at the end of my first stay in Italy, I’m invited on a night out in Milan, from which we don’t get home before sunrise the next morning. Then I’m up a few hours later to go to the lake with them and the camp organiser that thinks so highly of my abilities.. It’s only Sunday evening that I manage to get a proper night of rest, and even then I’m up at before seven the next morning for the crucial first day of the next week.

Each day in the week that followed was a mixture of triumph, chaos, struggle and relief as each day came to a close, none more so than on Wednesday when a trip to a local park by train almost had a catastrophic ending when we missed what we thought was the last train home. It wasn’t, and it was just another little adventure as far as the children were concerned, but for the teachers, kittens were almost had.

Friday was another long day, with the weeks work culminating in a show put on by the children, followed up with aperitivo at a trendy bar for the teachers and assorted helpers, after which the youngsters of the group, of which I was the oldest, reconvened in the centre of town, crawling around bars until the small hours, thus completing with some sort of symmetry what for me was an amazingly rewarding and inspiring week, and a great way to (almost) finish my stay in this small Italian town.

Jack out.

The twentieth post of the expedition – the new album after months of anticipation

I usually say that those that live in the past live lives full of regret, that those that live in the future live lives full of worry, and only by living in the present can one be truly content with the one’s life. However it seems I have, momentarily at least, been able to achieve somewhat of a planetary alignment with regards to my future, in that I am ‘looking forward’ to tomorrow, the next week, the next month and the next year with equal amounts of excitement, anticipation, mystery, and amazement at what will they will contain.

I am on day two of five of my first ‘proper’ venture into English teaching in somewhat of a structured and coordinated capacity. I am putting every ounce of Italian I have learnt in the preceding months to very good use in controlling a group of approaching forty young Italians, and, along with two Irish girls who are making what could have been an otherwise nerve wracking week go by all the more enjoyably, taking this proverbial bull by the horns for a week of sports, study, and amateur dramatics.

In two weeks I will be about to spend my last night in Italy for about two months. What has been normal for the past six months will soon be but a fond memory. I will be in the grip of the old familiar, save for one crucial factor – me. There will be the essence of the person, bright eyed and bushy tailed, who left into the unknown many months ago, but the core flavour, the roots and the tips of the personality will have undergone a fundamental change. Almost exclusively for the better.

In a month, my sister will return from her holiday in Sweden, and this is easily one of the things I’m most looking forward to before I return to Italy. A year of university under her belt, along with a year of relationship, I will almost struggle to recognise the young woman that will step off the plane. Almost, but not quite.

And then in a year, I will have all but finished my second venture into this fledgling au pairing career, have a little more experience of teaching my bastard-child language under my belt, and will be seeking out pastures new for a second time in as many years. Of all, this is probably the scariest period of the foreseeable future, for the simple reason that it is the furthest I can forsee. I have no doubt that, given time, the fog-of-war will be gradually lifted, but that will be then, and this is now which, as I said, is when I should be living.

Jack out.

The seventeenth post of the expedition – the one with the punny title

Yesterday I made a joke which, for once, I wasn’t the only person to hear. A friend and I were sitting in a local park which just so happened to have a flag similar to the St. George’s cross flying on a nearby pole. ‘St. George’s cross,’ I said, motioning towards it. ‘I have no idea what upset him, but there you go’. Now this particular friend, while she doesn’t have English as her first language, speaks it well enough, and usually laughs at the appropriate time when I try my own special blend of humour. However this one took a little explaining of the ambiguity of the apostrophe-‘s’, but, nevertheless, she subsequently gave a reassuring laugh.

Along this train of thought, it’s a recent realisation that perhaps this fondness for wordplay, extended metaphor, poetry and double meaning that I’ve displayed numerously online were the early manifestations of an interest in language, which seems to have culminated in where I am going in the next few months. In theory, I’m still participating in an English language summer school in the town I’m living in at the end of next month, followed by a couple of months in England to rest and reset. And then it gets interesting, as simultaneously to staying with a new family in Tuscany for the duration of the next academic year, I’ll be continuing my fledgling career as an English tutor, with two colleagues of the mother of the family I’ll be staying with. And there’s nothing quite like a challenge for a man as doing more than one thing concurrently.

Jack out.

The sixteenth post of the expedition – the album with a meta-title

I’ve recently started trying (note – the emphasis is on this word) to teach one of my Italian friends some English before they go to America and Canada later in the year. I can only think poor them however, as they’re certain to get lambasted by the north Americans they encounter for speaking with a British accent, and then by me when I see them next afterwards for having picked up the American one. However this is slightly besides the point of my post.

As I said, the emphasis is on trying, as somewhat paradoxically it’s frustratingly difficult to teach your mother-tongue unless you’ve had formal training in the process, as I’m slowly finding out. Yes, I learnt it at some point in the distant past as well, but I’ll be damned if I can tell you when that was, and even more so if I can tear it apart and explain its nuances and caveats at a moment’s notice.

Take this example that almost flummoxed me today – we were translating our way through an Italian song, and came across the Italian turn of phrase that translated to ‘the beat of the eyelid’ – as in a single moment in time. I instinctively knew the equivalent English idiom, but it took me a couple of attempts to remember it correctly, and a further one or two corrections to get the phrasing right.

Consequently, it has become almost instinctive to challenge anyone that claims to speak ‘perfectly’ in a language. It’s probably the basis for my reserved response when anyone asks how my Italian is going. I’m very much inclined to say ‘fine’, or ‘good enough’, despite what the natives tell me. It’s like one of those mysterious lines your maths teacher tried to tell you about in school, the one that always approaches the axis but never actually reaches it. Heck, I’ve been speaking English for over two decades and still haven’t got that nailed down in places, so I’m highly wary of proclaiming anything other than ‘abbastanza bene’ (well enough) in Italian.

On the flipside of the linguistic coin, though, is the ever present ability to gain more knowledge, and really dive deep into the language below the words and definitions. I don’t know to what type of person etymology (the study of word origins) is interesting, but I seem to be one of them, and it certainly provides a nice backdrop to learning a second language, to discovering even more about your first.

Jack out.

The twelfth post of the expedition – the charity single

Yesterday morning before I started with the family, I devised a little ‘lesson’. Using things that my children have an interest in anyway has proved helpful in the past to get them to willingly at least feign studying English, so I thought I’d try it again.

A few weeks ago the oldest came over with a new game on his phone – a ‘Jurassic Park’ themed, ‘Zoo Tycoon’ style affair. You buy dinosaurs, build enclosures, and sit back as people come and see your scientific miracles. But then I asked him if he’d ever seen the films, the first of which was released four years before he was even born, to which he said ‘no’. After I had got over just how old I felt – I was six when it was released – it got my brain working, and I devised some listening, learning and comprehension exercises based on an early scene from the first film. Having three films to play with, if this trial is a success, it’s something I’l surely do more of.

As I said, this is something that worked well in the past in persuading the usually stubborn boy to improve his English, after introducing pronouns and some new words via ‘Spongebob Squarepants’, but after three or so months he is still consistently stubborn to do anything unless he absolutely must. It is true across the board and not specific to English study, so I try not to take it personally, but when you’ve spent your supposedly free time devising an exercise and then your student would rather watch a repeat episode of a cartoon than complete it, it can be tough.

As yet, he hasn’t given it a go – yesterday he was exhausted from a school sports event, however not so exhausted that he couldn’t play a spot of basketball and sprain his ankle. As such he’s currently visiting the hospital with his mum, and so he may or may not complete it when, or if, he returns later.

Jack out.

The eleventh post of the expedition – the unconvincing second solo album

Following on from last time, I’ve been ransacking my brains and somewhat distant memory of improvisation games I used to play on a Thursday night in Brighton, and how I could use them to teach a flock of pre-teen Italians some useful English. Here’s what I’ve got so far.

Vocabulary

’10 Types’ – Stand in a circle and someone volunteers to stand in the middle. The circle suggests a category, for example fruit, and the person in the middle has to name ten items in that category. I may change this around so that the person in the middle gets to choose the category and the circle each names one item until somebody can’t, who then goes into the middle.

‘3 Noses’ – A number and body part is called, and the children have to form groups where the given number of the given body part are touching, for example three noses.

‘Rap battle’ – In the original, two teams faced off in a rap battle, thinking up lines that rhymed with a starting word. This will probably be too difficult so I’ll probably turn it into something like ’10 types’ but with rhyming words.

One that I’ve been suggested by one of my readers is animals and their noises, with a song of ‘Old Macdonald’ to round it off, which is a much better idea than anything I’ve been able to come up with.

Grammar

Grammar is proving to be a bit of a head-scratcher for me. It’s apparently a lot easier to think of ways to teach new words and share that knowledge than turn the tricky bits of English into games. All I’ve come up with so far is this:

Give every child a word, which altogether make several simple sentences. They then have to go around and find other children to make a sentence and see what weird stuff they come up with. And then I can try to explain why they don’t make sense!

Fortunately, I’m assured that all the teaching materials will be provided, which is probably for the best really.

Jack out.