Letterbox Format

Every year or so, I get to walk around the maze of towerblocks in one of the more depressed parts of Portsmouth, pushing leaflets through letterboxes. In this way, I do my sterling bit for progressive politics at local election time.

This year, in return for two cups of tea and a mars bar, I got reacquainted with a few hundred front doors - some of which had the same broken washing machines and empty wooden boxes outside as last year. I was assisted by a lady comrade who, if nonstop complaining in a piercing voice were an olympic sport, would be a worldbeater.

After two hours she casually mentioned that she never leaflets doors which look like they might have fierce dogs behind them. I couldn't think of anything to say for quite a long time after that.

Late night channel hopping.

The final ten minutes of The Matrix Reloaded. I've never seen the film, but I've now seen the final ten minutes twice. Keanu Reeves - the only actor who's more talented in CGI. Probably the only actor in Hollywoodland who could make snogging River Phoenix boring.

Fifteen minutes of "Hot Shots Part Deux". You might think that a film about a retarded US president sending a series of disastrous missions into Iraq for no clear reason might be prescient, satirical, and even funny. And you'd be wrong on all counts.

Ten minutes of an episode of Ironside. Featuring a mad murderous Bulgarian, threatening a melange of Lenny Bruce and George Burns.

Five consecutive snippets from different "comedy banter" shows. Seen them all before.

Do you remember that episode of The X-Files where Mulder swaps bodies with a man from Area 51? I saw it the night before I left for the country of mad murderous Bulgarians - and it was on again tonight.

Ten seconds of "Sex Change Soldier", a sensitive and moving documentary about the first British soldier to go through gender reassignment. And not an exploitative pile of portentous drivel at all. Honest.

An advert for catfood, whose main selling point was that it contains anti-oxidants. I think they should make homeopathic catfood with omega three and macrobiotic provitamins

Another comedy banter show. Except it turned out to be one repeated from an hour earlier.

Today's word is Lomography. Taking photos of whatever's in front of you with a cheap camera, and later seeing how the fringing, blurring, wrong colours and bad technique all combine to make an arresting image. It's the old idea of executing a hazy plan in the heat of the moment using wholly inadequate technology, and letting serendipity turn it into art.

My thanks to C for reminding me of the notion, and to my parents for providing me with a camera which can be badly misconfigured. I'm going to give it a go - party as a break from trying to get these dratted computers to work. Sadly, when you apply lomographic technique to a laptop, all you get is a paperweight.

Results soon.

Back to Shite, Back to Reality

Nothing very interesting happened this week.

Well not to me anyway - I've spent the last six days failing to turn a series of obsolete laptops into portable recording studios.

You know how it is - you use every trick you've picked up or invented, you throw all your intelligence and all your time at a problem, and finally conclude that some problems can't be solved with tricks, intelligence and late nights. These are the problems you solve with money, as in "you spend your money on a new laptop and throw the old one away".

If I had some money I might do that.

Oh, and I've had a stinking cold too.

The UK has continued its slide into the abyss in my absence.

The police have taken to raiding curryhouses and Chinese resteraunts (plus the homes of their owners) at odd hours, "looking for illegal migrant workers". Perhaps if they raided expensive hotels, farms and any business that has a cleaning staff they might find some. I can't think why that hasn't occurred to them.

Back in Bulgaria, none of the English speakers I spoke with wanted to live in the UK. They used to - they'd learned English to find a new life, either in the UK (because of its nice culture) or the USA (because of its vibrant economy). But not now. The economies are sinking into the toilet, and the cultures are way past the U-bend.

Everyone knows now what revolting people the Brits have turned into, and the former students of English now want German or Spanish. Which is ironic really, because Germany and Spain are even more racist than us.

There were still a few reasons to favour the UK, one of which was its food - cheap, plentiful and even reasonably cosmpolitan. But now that's gone. Courtesy, we are told, of simultaneous worldwide shortages of rice and wheat, caused by newly pesticide resistant insects.

So, my plans are unchanged, but a little more urgent: Find a TEFL job somewhere exotic and stay there for a year. Finding a job takes a week; Filling out the paperwork to go there takes a month.

England, My England

Tea in England now tastes very strong to me, but I still drink it without milk.

The night before I left, Tania invited me for a meal at her apartment with her boyfriend. A traditional affair, beginning with salad, then steak with potatoes, and finishing off with a wonderfully strange quiche-like concoction. It's made with eggs, yogurt and, erm, lemonade, spread between layers of pastry. Each course served with freeflowing vodka.

Family is important in Bulgaria, each village is a loose bundle of overlapping extended families, and family ties remain when villagers commute or relocate to the nearest town. So it wasn't a surprise when Tania's aunt and uncle dropped in, leading to five of us squashed around a small table, noshing, drinking and jeering at the nation's politicians on the television.

Bulgarians have an easygoing contempt for authority figures - which is reciprocated. There can't be many places in the UK where you entertain your family with the collection of political scratch videos on your computer.

I got a lift back to the apartment to finish packing and grab a little sleep, then in what felt like minutes later woke at 0400, took a shower, said goodbye to Wednesday, and locked the door for the last time.

I'd only met Wednesday two weeks before, when she was a day or two away from death by starvation. Now she was twice the size, full of health and energy, and had got used to my coming and going. She hadn't been whining from behind the door when I left her on her own, or rushing about to greet me with big licks when I got back. But this time, she whimpered.

The coach left for Sofia at 0600, taking two hours. Looking out of the window, there were vast stretches of green land, with hills and the occasional lake in the distance, and further in the distance, snow capped mountains - all interrupted at random intervals by crumbling, rusted villages and isolated shacks with fallen-in roofs.

There was a few surprising sights. Factory chimneys with no factory attached, and a miniature castle with proudly fluttering flag, like something out of Walt Disney - though it's really the other way around.

Sofia is like a compressed version of London. Smaller space, more traffic, smaller cars, more accidents, more and smaller busses with more people crammed inside, and tiny booths with foot-square windows where you buy tickets to ride in them. I spent ninety minutes standing in two busses, annoying half the passengers with my luggage.

As with all centrally planned cities, the planning was done by idiots. In this case, communist idiots - there's a reason Bulgarians sometimes use the adjectives "Communist" and "incompetent" interchangeably. You might think it would be sensible to have a bus route that goes from the national coach station to the airport - but no, the planners evidently thought that anyone jetting into Bulgaria would only want to go to the palatial Hotel Pliska, and then presumably back again.

And then, the same planners - now called "former communists" - decided it would be good for travellers to buy their airline tickets at terminal one, and then take a minibus to the terminal two, which is where all the flights are now.

It may not have been planned that there was some problem with the computers and it took me forty five minutes to buy a ticket - and another ten to confirm that yes, it was possible to buy it in Bulgarian currency.

Security was interesting. I was asked to take off my belt so the metal buckle wouldn't set off the scanner - which didn't seem to notice the ferrous metal in my keychain. Half of us in the queue had to take off our jackets, and a different random half had to take off our shoes. I think my coat looked suspiciously Serbian, but my shoes didn't.

In all, I had to show my passport four times and my ticket twice to get on the plane. Once in flight the attendants (who were of course all gay as pink monkeys on laughing gas) tried to sell the cramped passengers food, drink and, er, toy pink monkeys as souvenirs.

If you wanted to pay the sky high (duh!) prices, they accepted "dollars, euros and all major European currencies" - but not money from the country they fly from. You can also pay by debit card, if you can present your passport. Now, I might be missing something, but if you're already on the plane....

After three hours of flight and one of walking and waiting, the people at Gatwick wanted to see my passport again, at two different desks. After that it was all plain sailing. All I had to do was spend my English money on a day return train ticket to Portsmouth - because a return is one third the price of a single ticket. Maybe the British rail system was designed by Communists.

I then spent the next four hours jumping between various trains, eventually finding one that (a) went to where the animated information board said it was going, (b) didn't go straight back to Gatwick before turning south and (c) didn't mysteriously split into two trains going in opposite directions halfway.

Looking out of the window, green fields but no mountains. And a miniature Walt Disney castle with fluttering union jack.

I'd wondered what emotions I'd feel on returning to my home town. In the event what I felt was:
* It looks exactly the same
* I'd forgotten how annoying the locals were
* My feet hurt
* These bags are rather heavy.

I called my (former) boss, giving him my much rehearsed lines "I resign, I quit, I leave your employ, I'm gone" and "Your dreams are a little mad, but your schemes to make them come true are a lot mad". He was...very understanding. That's not "understanding" as in "He understood everything I was trying to say" - because he didn't. He didn't understand that I'd left because his vacillating fantasism made working for him impossible, and he didn't understand that everyone else who'd worked for him eventually left for the same reason, and he didn't understand that the whole plan to set up the best language school in the world in a poor town that doesn't want one is moderately problematic. He also didn't understand that I wouldn't be coming back - he said he'd wait for me to realise I wanted to work for him.

No. He was understanding as in "I don't think badly of you and I'm not angry".

I was intending to go home to my parents - but instead went to the opening of an art exhibition to drink lots of red wine with some pleasantly surprised friends, then followed them to a slightly pointless but enjoyable local election hustings debate - my friends are political types, remember - and then best of all they bought me drinks in the pub.

And so finally to home, and bed, and instant sleep, for a full twenty four hours. To wake up in a place which is highly familiar, but now slightly strange.

Well, a bit stranger than before, anyway.

And So It Ends - You Have Forgotten Something

There's always something. Some little detail that you forget about, that crops up when you think everything else is sorted out, that means you have to change your plans completely. And afterwards you think "How could I have missed that?"

In this case, it's paperwork. It takes a minimum of two weeks (read: a month) to sort out visas and travel documents and work permits to start a job in China. The process involves the school sending you a formal invitation through the post, you taking the invitation to the Chinese embassy in the capital, them sitting on it for "three days", you making second visit when they confirm they've found the rubber stamp...and then booking your flight.

And somehow I'd forgotten that. Seeing as I need to be gone in under five days, it makes the timing a little tight, Though in a way it's lucky because I've been advised against going to China at all.

So the new plan is: Go home. This involves waiting until I'm paid (today), then using the cash to purchase the cheapest plane ticket I can find that'll get me to Gatwick before my nominal employer trundles into town.

Actually he will literally trundle because he's driving a truck across Europe. The flight...is tomorrow. After I get the cash in my treacherous palm, I'll pick up the phone, do my impersonation of Patrick MacGoohan, and say "I resign!"

After that, look for another teaching job. While fielding the cretinoid schemes of the jobcentre, and modestly accepting all the "welcome home" drinks everyone will cheerfully buy me.

Some sex would be nice too. I'm a bit overdue.

Oh yes, the net connection is back up and working fine.

One other thing went wrong - I took over a hundred photos of the sights, and managed to lose them. This could be my subconscious urging me to forget everything that's happened over the last two months, or it could just be Kapitano forgetting things again. I favour the latter hypothesis.

I've written a letter of resignation. Well I say that - it's more a two page rant addressed to my boss.

Short version: "You're a nice enough guy but you're a damn fool. You vacillate, you answer every question with a soup of equivocation, you're a deluded fantasist, and you never listen. Sometimes I'll tolerate these things in friends, but it's suicide to tolerate them in an employer."

So. In case I don't get to post before leaving: Goodbye Bulgaria. The time I've spent with you has been...er, time...spent.

There will be a Short Delay

Bulgaria's premier ISP is Optilink. And it's being upgraded (repaired). Which means, for the duration of the upgrade, however long that is, my net access is, shall we say, restricted.

I can send email, but seemingly not with attachments. Google's main search is disabled, as are the URLs of other search engines. This makes applying to new schools rather difficult and negotiating with those already in contact with me...a little more roundabout. Documents now go via FTP.

It is of course inevitable that, exactly when I most need good net access, I don't have it.

Still, at least I can blog about it.

I can't look at any blogs, but I can post.

Bunking Off School

Another fifteen schools emailed with my CV - this time all in China.

So far only Hampson have got back to me. They telephoned...and said they'd call again. It seems they'll offer me anything to make me sign on for a year - except a decent salary.

China has language schools the way Britain has pubs, Bulgaria has drugstores and the Gaza Strip has craters. There are companies whose sole purpose is to mail out your CV to their list of schools. Payment is usually good - two to five times a living wage - but job security and employee protection is immensely variable.

The other main country where schools proliferate is South Korea.

Okay, Hampson did call again. Twice. Once from the owner's wife, and once from their only native English speaker. And that one was wierd. He answered my questions, sort of, in a perfunctory way - but honestly, the man sounded like he'd been drugged. Slow, dreamy, uninterested, with long pauses.

There's something rather wrong about that school. I sent them an email saying I couldn't work for them because their wages weren't enough for me to pay off my debts - which is even true.


The boss was supposed to wait six weeks before coming over here guide us with his, shall we say, scattershot style of leadership. This would give me enough time to arrange a job somewhere else in the world before resigning.

Now he's planning to come in three days. Or possibly tomorrow. Which means...I may have to tell quite a lot of lies. I could just walk out, fly back to England and find a job to fly out to from there - there's the funds, just about, but if I did that I'd arrive bankrupt. Flying from Bulgaria to (say) China is better.

Deal with that tomorrow, somehow. Now I'm going home. Home to...

A dog that won't stay still long enough for a photograph.

At least until she calms down.

Or goes to sleep.

And yes, Tania has promised me she'll find Wednesday a good family, whenever and wherever I go.

We Gotta Get Out of This Place

I've often thought that you could tell a story just by printing out the contents of someone's "Sent Items" email folder. And because the items are listed with the most recent at the top, you'd be telling it in reverse chronological order.

First a brief note from a woman telling her husband she'll meet him at the airport. Then a longer but essentially contentless letter saying she's fine, but there's not much to do and she can't wait for him to come home. Then a long angry rant sent to another man, followed by a message that's just a time and a place, and then something much more affectionate.

After that, a chatty letter telling us a little about her, and a confirmation note sent to register with a dating site. Finally, a letter to a female friend about how she's missing her man in spite of how impossible he's been lately, and a "hope you arrived safely" message to her husband.

Call it "Pamela @ home".

Well, my story begins today with twenty CVs sent to various countries. And I suppose it probably ends with a similar mailout four months ago. Oh I haven't left yet, and it's just possible I won't, but with luck I'll know tomorrow.

One school in particular caught my eye. Hampson, 50km from Prague. It's run by Pavel Sudík and his wife as center for intensive immersion courses, with lots of new-agey teaching methods involving relaxation, music and fun as aids to learning.

They also do a line in corporate firewalking. That's not a metaphor - they arrange events for corporate types to walk on hot coals to get them in touch with their inner adventurer or some such.

It's touchy-feely, but seemingly in quite a good way, and the students seem to love it. But there's a couple of things that set of alarm bells in my head.

The first is money. They pay CZK120 (120 crowns) per hour taught - thats GBP3.8, EUR4.7 or USD7.5. That's not CZK120 per hour employed, it's CZK120 per hour you teach - so if it's a national holiday and there's no students, you get nothing.

If you do get paid, assuming 25 hours teaching a week, it's close to a survival wage - not much in surplus or savings. They were oddly silent on things like paid holidays and employee rights - and after a bit of research I've found the most astounding reason why. Yes.

The second thing is just how eager they are to have me work for them - they responded to my CV in minutes, which is good, but practically offered me the job there and then.

And when I asked about reimbursement of air fares, they said it's not usual policy but...they'd do it for me. Just like that. And they'd love it if I could start right away - that's "right away" as in "tomorrow". Literally.

They didn't check references or qualifications...and they don't feel the need for an interview.

If a complete stranger running a business wants to do me that many favours, I have to ask whether they're really doing me any favours.

There's a short discussion of the school here.

A Look Around

Things you see on a short walk to the supermarket...

This is the building where I work.

And this is the primary school opposite.

Some things here are quite old.

And some things are quite a bit older.

New houses are being built all the time.

Though old houses could do with a bit of upkeep.

Sometimes it's a bit difficult to tell which is which.

These are everywhere.

Other things are getting quite common too.

There is a bus service.

This is the business venture behind the supermarket.

And this is the supermarket.

Inside I took a few snaps just to see how long it would take some managerial arsehole to tell me to stop. It took about one minute, but the arsehole got a security guard to do it for him.

The guard is a full time teacher of history who gets enough money to live on by walking up and down aisles in a red company jacket. He's been learning English for four years, and is at upper intermediate level. And he thinks rules about photography are idiotic too.

We walked around the market, comparing the German influence on English with the Turkish influence on Bulgarian, discussing East European history, and chatting about his plans to move to America - the UK would be preferable, but the racism makes it extremely unappealing. Occasionally I bought some food on his recommendation.

Bulgaria isn't so foreign after all.

School Report

I think I prepared quite a good lesson today. It's about indirect speech, also known as reported speech.

If you say "Bill said "I love you"", that's a direct quotation. If you say "Bill told me that he loved me", that's indirect speech. See how the present tense "love" becomes the past tense "loved"?

In English you've got four basic sentence shapes for declarative sentences in the present tense, and another four for the past. If you want to report a present sentence, you shift it to the corresponding past - "Bill gates is the antichrist" becomes "Kapitano said Bill gates was the antichrist", "It's been an interesting year" becomes "Kapitano said it'd been an interesting year", and so on.

If the sentence you want to report is already in the past, you don't change the tense - "The emperor wrote hakius" becomes "Kapitano said the emperor wrote haikus", "Stocks had been falling" becomes, rather boringly, "Kapitano said stocks had been falling".

Ah. But. If the reported sentence is in the past simple, you have the option of putting it into the past perfect, so "Gore Vidal ate ice cream" could become either "Kapitano said Gore Vidal ate ice cream" or "Kapitano said Gore Vidal had eaten ice cream".

Fairly simple though. Unless of course...you're reporting speech that has just happened, or that you think refers to states that are still true, in which case you've got a load more options:

"I'm going slightly mad" becomes "He says he's going slightly mad" or "He said he's going slightly mad" or "He said he was going slightly mad".

"Apes are descenced from men" becomes "Roddy McDowall says are descended from men", or "Roddy McDowall said apes are descended from men", or "Roddy McDowall said Charlton Heston was his ancestor".

I put together a little story/test to demonstrate the simpler transformations, and I'm vaguely proud that it's slightly readable as a story while still showing the grammar:

A famous actor is ill in hospital, and a journalist interviews him. This is what he tells her:

"I'm happy here. I'm feeling very tired right now, but I've been tired many times before. I've been thinking about my next movie!

I acted in some very bad films when I was young, but I was always looking forward to the next one. I'd acted in small films, but I was getting bored with that, so I said to myself "I want to be in bigger films!"

I'll leave this hospital soon. I'll be glad to be out of here. Next year, I'll have forgotten these tubes and needles, and I will have been acting in a new film for six months."

Ten years later the actor has just died, and the journalist writes his obituary article. She remembers what he said to her in hospital, and she reports it. What does she write?

"He said he was happy there. He said he was feeling very tired, but that he'd been tired many times before. He told me he'd been thinking about his next movie.

He also said he'd acted in some very bad films when he was young, but that he was always looking forward to the next one. He said he'd acted in small films, but he'd been getting bored with that, so he'd said to himself that he wanted to be in bigger films.

Then he told me he'd leave that hospital soon and that he'd be glad to be out of there. He said that next year he'd have forgotten those tubes and needles, and he would have been acting in a new film for six months."

It would have been an even better lesson if the student had turned up.

Okay, there was a mixup over time, but Veli did turn up. Two surprises - first, he polished off the above lesson in twenty minutes, and second he turns out to be only sixteen. Evidently a very well nourished sixteen.

He brought along some specimen exam papers, which we went through. My god. To pick an example, what's wrong with this sentence?

"Whether late nineteenth century classic literature should have taught in schools has proven to be a controversial issue"

Okay, it's not too difficult for native speakers to see that it should be "...literature should be taught in...". But why? Why is "have" wrong and why is "be" correct? How would you explain it?

"Should be taught" is an agentless present-simple passive describing a stable, ongoing situation constituted by repeated action. But it actually took me about a minute to see that. The sentence with "have" is in fact perfectly grammatical - just with a fantastical meaning.

Anyway, I'm happy because my package arrived from England. Containing a rather nice camera for recording the local sights, plus extras of a lead, collar and anti-flea pills for Wednesday.

So, I'm off to snap the local colour. Just as soon as I've figured out which buttons to push.

Straw Poll

Everything is a little confused but here's a breakdown:

* I was told there would be a great demand for my teaching services. So far I've given three lessons to one student. I was then told demand would pick up after the school vacation, but in truth no student wants to take on extra work in the final term, when they're also revising for final exams.

* If there is demand, it would mostly happen at the start of the next school year - which is in September. Five months away.

* The boss has all sorts of plans. These include further building work in the office, more building work in the classroom, the setting up of a second classroom, filling it with computers with the latest (legal) software, running IT and accountancy courses, building a summer school at another site, digitising existing textbooks and writing new ones from scratch.

* Current balance in the school bank account: Zero.

* The one reliable man we've found to do the building work won't be around consistently over the next few months, and won't do any more work till he gets paid for the last lot. Some of which he'll have to do again because he cut corners because we couldn't pay for materials to do it properly.

* The boss says, seeing as I'm feeling down here, he can fly me back to England for a few weeks to do some computer work for him - mainly making PDFs of textbooks, and instructing him in DTP.

* After which he expects me to fly back to Bulgaria and teach.

Now. What do you think I should do?

I have a week to decide.

Time to Think

Wednesday likes to chew things. I've watched enough puppies grow up to know this is normal, but I'm a bit stuck on how to stop her nipping me. It's not painful, but when she's bigger a habit of playfully biting people may just be a problem.

The traditional way of training is to give a sharp "No!" and snatch your hand away whenever the dog tries to bite - but she just seems to think it's a game, tail merrily wagging as she snaps her teeth at my arm or ear. She is a hunting dog I suppose, but hunting dogs are supposed to be highly trainable.

Unless anyone's got any better ideas, I'll just have to hope she cottons on. And get her a stick of something chewable.

There are periods in my life when things which make me happy - like getting another email from the fellow I knew slightly at school - make me very happy. Until something happens to make me unhappy, which makes me very unhappy.

It's always around this time of year, and I really wish it would stop. Because, with life in general being the way it always is, there's lots of little depressing things around that, magnified, make me think I can't cope. And there's a few bright sharp points where something nice happens and I'm all sunny and optimistic.

Five years ago at this time I managed to fall in love - and that was a real rollercoaster from hell. Nightly floods of tears and ecstatic laughing in the street. People must have thought I was mad - which, I suppose, I was.

After recovering - more or less - I set up this blog.

I especially do not need this kind of see-sawing now. A stranger in a strange land, doing a demanding job (at least, it will be when it starts), for a company run by a fantasist.

I wrote all that last night, then was overcome with the feeling that what I really, really needed to do was talk to someone. About being lonely, not knowing what to do, and just generally not feeling able to cope. So, at 2300 I left the apartment, walked to the office (which has skype and a net connection), and spent an hour talking to my parents.

I can't remember the last time I've cried down the phone to anyone, especially them, but we had a good, sensible, supportive discussion, and today I feel a lot better.

The weather is sunny, there's lakes and mountains to visit half an hour's walk away, there's a camera in the post, a letter to C going the other way, a small glut of emails from friends in my inbox this morning...and I've been given advice on housetraining puppies.

Instead of snatching your hand away, shout "No!" and give her something else to chew. And sit her on some newspaper after each meal.

The secondary school vacation is about to end, which means there should be lots of students soon, which means if there aren't, there never will be, which means if this school doesn't take of in six weeks, I can walk away.

My New Roommate

I drank milk today. For the first time in nearly six weeks. Neat, and in tea. Cheap watery UHT rubbish. Delicious.

The reason I drank milk is...I needed some to put in the dog's bowl (which is actually an ashtray) and she won't drink it all before it goes off. So...I have some, so it won't go to waste.

So much of our lives is habit, and habits get formed from such simple chance things like that. I didn't buy milk because I wouldn't use a whole litre carton in tea before most of it went bad. And I was happy to think I might never drink milk again. Now I've got a dog, and she drinks milk, so I drink it too.

Another habit is a film or serial episode eaten with my evening meal, which is yet another habit. I stopped watching The X-Files after season five. Now I've got season seven, and I'm working through it, one or two episodes a night...how many years since I used to tune in every week to catch the latest episode?

It's an immensely silly show - always was - but now it's no longer current, and there aren't quite so many people who think it's all true somehow, it doesn't matter that it's silly.

And William B Davis is really cool.

Wednesday has just figured out what the bathroom is for. Hmm.

I arranged the sofa cushions into a ramp and tower for her to climb up, so she can sleep on the end of my bed. She figured that out too, in two minutes. Before figure out what she really wants to sleep on is a pile of my clothes. Okay.

Hey, it's the closest I'm going to get to bringing up a child. At least, I hope so.

I got bleach mixed up with detergent and got my clothes multihued - in some cases quite artistically. Okay, so I got the distinction clear and washed my blotchy clothes again in detergent. Except it turns out that wasn't detergent either. It was washing up liquid, for dishes.

And the moral of the story is: In Bulgaria, there are no liquid detergents. They're all powders. If it's a liquid, you might not know what it is, but it's not detergent. Though it might be fabric softener.

Stephen P's got in touch, with emails full of questions about what's been happening in the two months (thereabouts, but seems longer) since we last met. We only got to meet occasionally, but it's a very welcome distraction from the poverty of the country and the ineptitude of the school.

Also welcome as a reminder that there are people back home who still care about me.

Speaking of which, I'm going to try posting a letter to C, a process which is significantly more convoluted (and slow) than in the UK.

I don't have an email address for him. Using Skype I can send SMSs - but not receive them - and whether they get through seems to be luck of the draw. Typically, his number is the only one that Skype can't seem to connect to. Gah.

Dog Day Afternoon

How do you break in a new home? How do you announce to it and yourself that from this moment, you are part of your home and your home is part of you? How do you...tie the knot, smash the champagne, slip on the ring, put an announcement in the newspaper, sign on the dotted line...or whichever metaphor appeals to you?

I do two things. I set up my computer on a convenient desk (from which it generally never moves until I pack for the next home), and I make a cup of tea. These acts signify that I have arrived.

A boyfriend and I lasted long enough to live in three separate houses - this was over a decade ago - and our "moving in" ceremony was to share a large portion of fish and chips, eaten from the wrapper. We also had regular "breaking up" ceremonies when I'd walk out on his drunken ass and he'd phone at four in the morning saying (a) he'd decided after much thought to forgive me and (b) could I please please come back because he really did love me. And after a week I would.

Hey, I'm a soppy old romantic. Either that or incredibly stupid. but anyway...

There's other little milestones. The first time you sleep, wash up, use the toilet, rearrange the furniture, or have someone back for a night of passion. Huh, I should be so fucky - fucky, fucky, fucky. Life should be so fucked up in love.

I've moved (I think) twelve times in my life. Not counting the move from the maternity unit. Um, although at least four of these were moving back to my parents house, where the desk was waiting for the computer and the kettle was on already.

Parents are good. Once they've finally grown up enough to realise (a) you're not going to stop being queer, (b) screeching about it looks silly, and (c) grandchildren are vastly overrated. I know this - for I was a grandchild.

I've got six gigabytes of ebooks on magic and mentalism. My excuse is that the principles of people reading and manipulation would be useful in the classroom.

But it has the fringe benefit that, should I ever get a car, I know how to drive it blindfolded. The trick when using the now standard "Osterlind" blindfold is...wait for it...to move the opaque part out of the way by raising your eyebrows.

I trust you're suitably impressed by how skillful and convoluted that is.

We've got a dog.

I came into the office, bright and early at midday, to find Radi the builder/plumber/farmer finishing off the new partition, and a very small dog sniffing around being friendly.

She's a "Dradkhaar", a variety of hunting dog for which I can't find an English equivalent. But she's a stray puppy about twelve inches long, black with brown and white mottling - escaped or more likely abandoned. I've given her some milk and puppy food, which she gobbled up like a mad thing. it's probably been days since she was fed, so I'm rationing her so she shouldn't get ill with the sudden influx of food, or throw it back up again. It looks like we've adopted each other.

She's found a box of soft wool in the corner and is curled up, next to the newspaper, whose purpose she figured out immediately. So I'm guessing this is a recently lost/abandoned/expelled puppy who had a few weeks of domestication beforehand.

Tania and I have one thing in common - we go a bit mushy over dogs. We're considering the name "Wednesday", after today's day, and the girl in The Addams Family.

The BBC are very keen for you to download their webcasts and stream their archived programs, but not download the programs. That's why the podcasts are in MP3 and the programs are in (hack, spit) realaudio.

I'm sure there's an elegant, simple way to download, but all the elegant simple ways I've tried haven't worked, so I've come up with an inelegant, complex way.

You need RealAlternative and Orbit Downloader to download the realaudio files, and something to convert them to WAV or MP3. I'm still looking for a good one of those.

* Load up Orbit
* Go to the streaming site
* Right click on the link to "Listen again", and save the RAM file somewhere convenient
* Open the RAM file in Notepad
* Copy the link to the RA file (ie the webaddress before the question mark)
* Click "New" in Orbit. The contents of the clipboard will be helpfully already pasted into the URL field. Rename the "save as" name if you want.
* Click "Ok"
* The RA file will "stream" to your hard drive, but only in real time, so it takes as long to download as it does to listen. But at least you can stream more than one simultaneously.
* Once it's downloaded, you can convert.

Not the fastest method in the world, and sometimes the audio glitches, but it's what I've been able to come up with so far.

Which only leaves one question. Why are the BBC so determined to prevent me listening to their science documentaries in my apartment? They're happy for me to do it in the office, but the place where I eat and sleep is somehow different.

Moving on up, Moving on out

I have an apartment. Kitchen, bedroom, living room and toilet/shower. Bed, sofa, chair, table, sink and wardrobe.

It's in one of those grim, grey towerblocks you associate with Poland or East London. I'm on the fifth floor, which I get to by pressing the button for "six" in the lift, which has a big clangy iron door, room enough for two at a squeeze, and the dimmist illumination ever.

The apartment itself is a-bit-large-for-one or a-bit-small-for-two, the three main rooms being about ten foot square. I'll still be cooking pasta and eggs in the kettle, drinking multiple mugs of milkless tea at odd hours, doing the laundry in a bucket, eating off the same one plate, and wondering whether things would have been different if I'd taken that job in the Czech republic.

I could get net access in the apartment for 30 leva per month with no restrictions - but I'll still be spending most of my time in this office, and it's easy to carry the laptop back and forth, so there's no great need.

There's an odd sadness in leaving a place that's become familliar, and another, not quite the same, in spending time alone in a place that isn't yet familliar. But hey, now I've got privacy, space, even a chance to make some music.

I've had requests for pictures on this blog. With any luck there should be some soon. In the meantime, here's an uplifting message.

Just say no, kids.

'Cos drugs are made by evil people.

They make you see funny things.

And they give you bad skin.

It's not scaremongering, it's real.

So remember, be normal, like normal people are.