Batty Man

Yesterday I had eleven students, today I had five, and tomorrow I have two. The big summer influx of eager young learners looks to be over.

So, two students for three hours. Oh, and I'm required to give them an exam - or "progress check" as we professional educators call it. No one's ever going to look at the results, but I have to give it.

After that I sit at the back of a seminar on "Error Correction" - which is like "error correction" but capitalised and with extra jargon. And then I get told whether I spend next week "on call" (ie jobless) or not.

65% Geek

Created by OnePlusYou

We saw Batman Begins. Actually the entire school saw it. But the students had pieces of paper with questions about the plot, so it was an English comprehension exercise. Honest.

I discussed it with my five remaining students, and we quickly decided Bruce Wayne is a sociopath. Together with every other character in the movie. But he's alone and kills all the other sociopaths who're in groups, which makes him a Hero.

Some years ago when I read Alex Cox's contention that a cinematic Hero is simply a lone thug on the side of whichever group you support, I was dubious. But having seen seven years worth of neo-con wank fantasies (aka post-9/11 parables) I reckon he's got a point.

I've Seen the Future (Part 2)

There's some emotional states we just don't have words for in English. We had to import "schadenfreude" from the German, even though we probably do more of it than the Germans. Some of it we do at the Germans.

"Feierabend" isn't just "finishing work time" but "the moment I stop being a bored employee and become a human being" - something we all understand, but for some bizarre reason don't have a word for.

There's the Portuguese notion of "pink dreams" - night and day dreams somewhere in no-man's-land between erotic and romantic. And the wonderful Yaghan word "mamihlapinatapai", meaning something like "the expressions on the faces of two people who both want to do something but which both want the other to initiate because they're scared to do it themselves".

What about that sinking feeling when you're halfway through confidently holding forth on some subject when you realise you don't understand it as well as you thought? I think there's a whole range of sinking feelings, ranging from "Why did I agree to do this?" and "This person was so interesting before they spoke" to "Why am I bothering to explain this to you, because you're clearly not listening?" and "Did I really enjoy doing this once?"

Then there's all those anticipatory feelings - from "It's going to be one of those days" and "Anything I do to make things better will just make them worse" to "It's going to be so nice when you finally get to the end of that sentence, because then I can say the really smart thing I've just thought of - so hurry up and fucking finish!"

Now, yesterday I lent an old reel-to-reel tape machine to an elderly lady who wanted to play back a large collection of tapes she'd inherited. Two hours later she called to say she couldn't work out how to make it play. I'd tested the machine myself and explained how it worked, but apparently it wasn't working. So could I come 'round to fix it.

It was at this point I got my own special emotion of expectation - the Technician's Anticipated Incredulous Stare. This is where you know the technical problem will be so mindmanglingly trivial that a four year old could solve it, but for some reason a sophisticated adult can't.

Don't get me wrong - there are plenty of technical problems whose solution is very simple, but also counterintitive, or relies on specialist knowledge, and the fact that an ordinary user can't solve them is a comment on the designer, not the user. The TAIS is reserved for solutions like "To switch it on, press the big button marked 'On'", or "You can't watch a DVD on a CD player", and "The computer doesn't know what you want because it isn't telepathic, you staggeringly moronic waste of carbon".

So, I felt that whatever the problem was, it would take one second to diagnose, five seconds to fix, and an effort of will not to gape in slack jawed incredulity. You think I'm being unfair? This was the problem:

For a reel-to-reel tape to play, it must be threaded from one reel to the other, via the read-head. The clue is in the name.

I asked if she'd ever used such a machine before? Yes, she had, but it had been nearly twenty years ago, so she'd forgotten.

She then asked me why her washing machine wasn't working, and how to change the PIN on her new phone. The latter went like this:

Lady: It says "Enter PIN".

Kap: Well if you know your PIN you can...

Lady: So I just put in four number?

Kap: Hang on, is it asking you for your existing PIN, or for a new...

Lady: It says "PIN rejected".

Kap: Um, okay. That means it was asking for your old...

Lady: Let me try again.

Kap: Do you know your existing...

Lady: It says "PIN rejected" again.

Kap: Okay, don't try it again. If you enter a wrong code three times...

Lady: Oh, it says "Phone Locked". What does that mean?

Kap: Um. It means you need to take it back to the shop and get it unlocked, and get them to tell you the phone's default PIN...

Lady: What's a PIN?

Nice lady, just not very good at technology. Or listening.

Apparently I was "very kind"

Mother's birthday. Tea and cream cakes. Shortly followed by more tea and more cream cakes.

The school has three televisions for playing DVDs on. It also has one DVD player and no DVDs.

So I made my own, and played a subtitled episode of Dad's Army to my Spanish teenagers. They rather liked it - but said they'd prefer Benny Hill. Before launching into a vocal rendition of Yakity Sax.

I reckon a film on Fridays would go down well. What do you think - Dr No or Quatermass and the Pit?

I've Seen the Future

"My teacher is a god one."
- Written assessment of me by a student

"I will miss you teacher. You are my boyfriend."
- Student leaving on Friday

"No teacher you wrong! English not say like that."
- One slightly overenthusiastic student.

My class loves playing Trivial Pursuit. But there are two problems. One is that it's designed for people steeped in British culture and trivia - and to some extent that of America. Students from Europe or the Middle East are not in this group.

As for the other...

Question: What colour was Judas Iscariot's hair?
Trivial Pursuit Answer: Red
Real Answer: There is a tradition that Judas had red hair, but it's based on no evidence, biblical or otherwise. There is no way to know what colour his hair was, or if he even existed.

Question: What is the official language of Papua New Guinea?
Trivial Pursuit Answer: English
Real Answer: The New Guinean people, media and government use a creole of English called Tok Pisin, derived from "Talk Pidgin".

Question: Who created a scare with their radio broadcast of "War of the Worlds"?
Trivial Pursuit Answer: Orson Welles
Real Answer: Only a few people thought the broadcast was of a real event. The story that whole states or the whole nation were fooled are journalistic invention.

On friday evening, an art show opening - complete with all the necessary accouterments of cheap red wine, bad finger food, and men in square spectacles and sports jackets lecturing each other on "aesthetics".

I came up with a rather nice pseudo-thoughtful expression for discussing paintings one doesn't understand - "I like what it does to my eyes". Feel free to use it yourself. I used it in every conversation.

No, actually a very pleasant evening. Over five consecutive glasses of wine, I met an interesting artist who made paintings out of food, another who wants to make installations from whatever she finds on the street that day. and a "socialist but freethinking" lady who insisted Spanish is a womanhating language because the word for "woman" is the same as for "wife". My observation that the German for "man" is the same as for "husband" was not greeted with interest.

Oh, and at the end I found that I'd somehow fallen on the floor. But that always happens. People expect it.

In some alternate universe, I get to change the world.

I have an idea in my twenties, tinker with it for thirty years, and publish in my hypochondriac fifties. The usual dullards say it can't be true because they don't understand it, the usual lunatics foam at the mouth that I'm a puppet of Satan, the usual progressives love it because they say it's what they've been telling everyone all along. And after a few years it seems quite sensible and obvious, though society hasn't really changed.

Then I get to die, and even if I explicitly said "No biography please", biographies get written. And then more biographies get written questioning the first lot, my pithy quotations get attributed to other people, and people I'd never heard of are called "influences" and "close friends".

A century after my birth, Hollywood make some cringily hagiographical films of my life, in which I'm provided with a loving wife, some emotional turmoil, a thundering speech or two, and the face of a six-foot-two blond heartthrob who later dies in a drug related car crash.

After another century, my basic insight is still broadly accepted among scientists, but most of my supporting work is "extensively revised", "not to be taken literally" and "of largely historical interest only". And then...

And then...everything I ever wrote to anyone gets published. Including the snarky letters I wrote when I was twelve - because in some way it prefigures what was to come.

How do I know this? Because that's what's happening to Charles Darwin. Interesting stuff, but just a little bit ghoulish.

Imagine it. All my childhood stories about spaceships and time travel. The notebooks on epistemology and logic I kept while pretending to be a computing student. All those emails to friends bitching about other friends. Those text messages arranging blowjobs in garages - lovingly monitored and stored by the Ministry of Defence.

Unfortunately, the blog will be lost in a bizarre snorkeling accident.

I Wanna be a Twain Dwiver!

"The others are in the toilet. They need to piss off."
- My students

There is something deeply stupid about asking an eighteen year old to close their eyes and imagine their dream job.

Partly because any teenager not destined for intensive psychotherapy won't have made up their mind yet. And partly because engaging in a visualisation exercise to answer a simple factual question is perverse and counterproductive, a bit like getting drunk to think clearly.

But mainly because anyone whose ambition involves doing one thing for eight hours a day to make someone else richer...doesn't quite grasp what "ambition" is.

One girl wanted to be a genetic engineer - which gave the class the splendidly off the wall opportunity to talk about "Adenine, Guanine, Thymine and Cytosine in complementary base pairing of deoxyribose nucleic acid meiosis". Oh yes, their scientific english is great - they just have trouble buying a box of headache pills in the chemist.

When I was eighteen I failed my english exams because I'd spent the previous two months reading about molecular biology - on the grounds that it was far more interesting. There is possibly an irony in there somewhere.

Another girl wanted to be a teacher of english - presumably because no one wants to learn her native spanish.

One boy wanted to be a lap dancer, which I thought was sweet. Then changed his mind and decided he wanted to be a dandy, which I thought was exactly right.

Today's Pavement Wit. For use in competitive singing to backing tapes.

Kara Oke? Kara not okay!

I'll get me coat.


Sometimes a fictional book review saves you the trouble of writing the book, and sometimes a fictional art review serves in place of the art you can't make yourself.

by Nabil Tarkovski
Published 2113, Journal of Temporal Art

Reflexive timelapse films have become an established minor genre in the digital arts. It perhaps started with JKs Living My Life Faster, in which the artist simply took one picture of their face a day for 8 years and played them in rapid sequence. Then Noah Kalina's similar but unnamed project became a lifelong artwork, inspiring dozens of related ideas including one where we see a baby girl's face change literally from day one.

Suzan Webb's work is slightly different. At age 18, in the first week of her first art degree, having just moved into student digs, she found an old laptop and webcam in a skip, plus a battered camera tripod. Later in interview she said the idea came to her instantly, but she didn't expect to continue it for more than a week, let alone twelve years later.

Her room had just one window, and she set up the camera and computer to take one snapshot of her view every hour - but only when she was in the room. When she later moved into a place with two windows, she begged another cam and laptop from a fellow student, and continued her project in stereo.

This timelapse would most likely have little merit if Webb didn't change living space quite so often - and indeed didn't now stay in quite so many cheap hotels in so many countries.

As it is the vista changes from the initial scene of derelict factories, to a split screen of park and kebab shop. to a back garden going through the seasons with occasional bouts of highspeed rain, split with clouds seen through a skylight, to views from homes of friends in New York, her mother's holiday home in Scotland, and a building site somewhere in London.

Occasionally there are black frames, sometimes one or two, sometimes as much as three month's worth, and these I think give a clue to the real meaning of the work. Webb only shows us her life through her views from windows. The black frames are from hours and days when she isn't behind any windows, or in any building. Occasionally she sleeps under the stars, and sometimes she hikes through hills and valleys - in Australia, Canada and the Hindu Kush.

Some use cameras to record their holidays and time outdoors. Webb records what she can see of the outdoors, when she's indoors. This is a record of a person's homelife - one that never shows the home or the person.

Play Nice!

"The authority of those who teach is often an obstacle to those who want to learn."
- Cicero

My mother's elder brother spent several years in the 80s living in Saudi Arabia. He was there for work, with his family, living in a "westerners compound". Back in England, he said the arabs he'd met were mostly decent people, often highly accomplished in their chosen areas...but all basically like children.

I was seventeen when I heard him talk about it, and thought there was more than a hint of a patronising colonial attitude (unconscious, of course) behind the words, but I couldn't prove it.

Some years earlier, his father had taken a holiday in Iraq. He said all the people he'd met were refreshingly friendlier than Britishers, but...psychologically like little children. Pleasant, open, helpful, honest, and simple. I had similar doubts.

Now I teach eighteen and nineteen year-olds from Saudi Arabia each weekday afternoon. I've got a boss who lived there, and fellow teachers with experience teaching them. My teens have the mischievous but easily cowed behavior that I'd expect of five year olds...and all my colleagues tell me I need to be a firm schoolmarm to teach them.

All of which tells us more about western attitudes to children than eastern attitudes to education. We don't like our children much, and if someone behaves in a way we don't like, we're quick to call it "childish". As an insult, it's quite revealing.

I read somewhere there's eight basic theories of "how to teach EFL" - or "classroom practice" as we're supposed to call it. The thing is though, almost all of them share an unspoken premise - that people learn language in a classroom by being given a little grammatical instruction, and a lot of varied activities to "consolidate" or "realise" or "internalise" the grammar theory.

Maybe that's true, I don't know. But it does mean most of the job involves having a raft of activities and games to fill up the ninety minute lessons and keep the students occupied, alert and interested - or at least busy.

Result: I sometimes feel a bit like a playgroup leader. which is fine, but I can't help thinking the real role of a playgroup leader is to keep control of children while their parents are away doing parent things. In effect, to be a warder - one half pacifier, one half gatekeeper.

Nevermind, I'll try to teach anyway.

So much for deep, let's do shallow. How many surfaces can one blob of chewing gum attach to?

I only ask because, either I've managed to sit in three separate blobs of gum in one day, or one especially runny stick currently occupies a park bench, two seats in my home, one pair of jeans, a towel and a jumper.

And as an extra bonus question: My bedroom contains an open window, opened packets of peanuts and chocolates, slightly stale cups of tea, lots of old paper, a sink connected to temperamental plumbing system, obnoxious liquid for cleaning it, three kinds of moisturiser (what?) and a first aid kit. And me. So why is the only smell a strong one of chewing gum?

Not shallow enough? I'm all alone in the house tomorrow, so I'm having a friend round. When I say "having"....

Now, in my modest little life I manage to offend a few people. Last week I offended everyone I work with at a meeting by saying the workbook we all pretend to teach from is "cack". There was an embarrassed tumbleweedy silence, then after the meeting I got private agreement mixed with admonition that I'd been "unhelpful".

Before that I put the odd nose out of joint on a discussion forum where some were advocating the death penalty for baby rape - I wondered why child torture was only newsworthy when the torture implement was a genital organ.

Though that was nothing to the abuse I got for say the Doctor Who final episode didn't make sense.

But now I know what I have to do the get death threats and nationwide vilification. I have to steal a biscuit.

My infamy shall be unbounded. Bwa ha ha.

The Stupid

"So I'm at the wailing wall, standing there like a moron, with my harpoon."
- Emo Philips

Mother: Have you met our new exchange student yet?

Daughter: Yes mum. Her name's Li Yun and she's from Thailand!

Mother: That's very interesting. What does she look like?

Daughter: Well, She's got long black hair and she wears a green dress.

Mother: She sounds really nice.

Daughter: Yes, she is really nice. I hope she and I will be friends.

Mother: I'm sure you will. Now you need to go you your Karate class. You don't want to be late.

Daughter: No I don't. Thanks mum. I'll see you soon.

Mother: Goodbye. Have a nice day.

Yes, it's EFL English. The linguistic water torture spoken only in the town of Stepford - and textbooks for young people learning English. It's like being nibbled to death by anodyne ducks.

I used to wonder why most of Europe had an image of England as both painfully inoffensive but also quite spooky. Now I think I know.

What kind of teacher keeps the only copy of important and detailed information, on a whiteboard? And gives no indication he's doing it? Presumably one who doesn't realise other teachers use the room too.

The school has a social program. Teachers get paid to take groups of students out in the evenings to experience local culture

Tonight it was a pub curry. It was all arranged a week ago - all except for two things. First, no teacher had been asked to be guide/guardian/general-decision-maker for the event - so one volunteered himself. Guess who.

And one had mentioned it to the students.

So I turned up, waited half an hour, and went home. And still got paid for it.

Sometimes blithering incompetence is nice.

Today's pavement wit, to be written on an assessment form following any introductory educational presentation:

Before the presentation, I was keen to know something about the subject. After the presentation, I was still keen to know something about it.

Dark Sarcasm in the Classroom

"Just think, right now as you read this, some guy somewhere is gettin' ready to hang himself."
- George Carlin

I could have done a lot of interesting things on Saturday. I could have gone on the Gay Pride march and flirted outrageously with the crowd of onlookers. I could have gone to the Marxism 2008 conference and debated the collapse of the political left over the last few years. I could even have accompanied thirty EFL students to Brighton and pretended to be a tour guide.

But I was too busy doing deeply uninteresting things instead.

Sometimes you write something on impulse, then look at it and think "That's quite clever, and it's funny with a hint of pathos. But mostly it's just a bit horrid."

So, with apologies to Tiny Tim, Cher, and anyone else who's ever sung the original song in public, I present...Cammy Boy.

Come onto my screen cammy boy
You are seventeen with your toys
You've no way of knowing, just to whom you're showing
And what you've shown to me, bummy boy

When there are gay guys, I don't mind the fey lies
you make it blue, webcam boy
Friends they fail to date me, won't even masturbate me
I've still had you, my nancy boy

You cam from elsewhere, into my place
You squirt a puddle for me, onto your face
I'm an old and fat queer, but you don't care 'bout that dear
My sonny boy

And apologies to Camy too.

Moving swiftly on...Monday.

Yes Monday. Named for the Aztec deity Mund, god of fuckups. We still celebrate his weekly rebirth by fucking up everything we try to do on Monday morning.

I got to work in good time with an adequate plan of what and how to teach my six Spanish students for four hours. The plan was: Seeing as they have absolutely no need to go over the grammar points in the book yet again, but they could use some conversation and writing practice, make up some games that get them talking and writing. It was a good plan.

Then I found neither of my whiteboard markers worked, so I put them in the mysterious magical whiteboard marker refiller device. Which promptly exploded, showering me, the floor and bits of the office in blue ink.

Now, I don't know about you, but I would have thought that "easily erasable" board ink would wash out of clothes without trouble. But no, my nice new shirt is now permanently redesigned in big splashes in two tones of blue. The students rather liked it, thinking I'd gone all fashionable.

The secretary got a few spots on her skirt, and went into that insipid upper-middle class routine of shrugging and smiling and "Oh never mind"-ing, before demanding my immediate sacking as soon as she thought I was out of earshot.

So, I directed a few educational games for a few hours, inventing some as needed. Meanwhile outside the classroom there was a sudden noisy influx of new students arriving from all over the world - the usual mix of those who weren't supposed to arrive for another week, those with incomplete or inaccurate paperwork, and those labeled "advanced" who can't make a one word sentence in English.

There was therefore much frantic rearranging of timetables. I started the first lesson with six students, and finished it with eight, five of them the same.

Then during lunch some of them amused themselves drawing on my whiteboard - with what turned out to be a permanent markerpen.

Oh, and my final class bunked off. Seven new students I hadn't met yet collectively decided they'd prefer to lie on the beach instead.


"I honestly think it is better to be a failure at something you love than to be a success at something you hate."
- George Burns

Kap: How many words can you think of about Spain that begin with "T"?

Class: Tacos!

Kap: Yes, that's good.

Class: Tortilas!

Kap: Very Spanish.

Class: Bullfighting!

Kap: Um...

Class: In Spanish it's "Toros".

Kap: Ye...s. I meant English words beginning with T that are about Spain.

Class: People who make sex with goats!

Kap: ...

For three or four years I've rented some cheap webspace for occasions when I needed to send or receive large files from people. But with email attachments getting larger and filesharing on social networking sites getting more common, I don't really need it anymore.

So I go to close it down. And find it's been down for three months because the host went bankrupt. Without telling me. Humph.

Kap: How many words can you think of about England that begin with "G"?

Class: Golf!

Kap: Golf? Good one.

Class: Great Britain!

Kap: Ha! Yes indeed.

Class: Gay People!

Kap: Er....

Class: Yes! Gay People!

Kap: Oh alright then. England has lots of gay people.

Apparently today wasn't just July the forth. It was also The Forth of July, which is much more impressive. Not only that, but Jesse Helms died too, which is even better.

Andrew Schlafly just pales by comparison. Whackjobs aren't what they used to be.

Kap: Can you make a sentence using one of these words on the board?

Student: [Looks hard at words, then smiles]. I love my teacher.


"Take away the right to say fuck and you take away the right to say fuck the government."
- Lenny Bruce

Last week I went to the jobcentre, stood in line for half an hour, and told a hardfaced lady bureaucrat where she could shove her training schemes, because I'd finally got a job.

Then I went to the jobcentre, stood in line for half an hour, gave up and drank three glasses of cheap red wine, and told a hardfaced lady bureaucrat where she could shove her forms, because I just didn't care anymore.

The first time was in a cramped and dimly lit office. The second was in a spacious and bright art gallery, containing a recreation of the mindless tedium and officious oppression found in the former.

Relational Art is the creation/recreation of a social environment - as an aesthetic object. The viewers participate, act and react, conform or rebel, within the artificial situation - both controlled by the artwork, and contributing to it.

There were interview rooms, a queueing system, a tannoy summoning punters by ticket numbers, threatening notices...and hardfaced lady bureaucrats behind desks.

I took a few snaps.

I also took along my real "jobseeker" documents, and ripped them up in the ladies' faces with much shouting and rude gesticulating.

Just to add to the verisimilitude, you understand. It was quite appreciated.

Recently I jokingly suggested to a friend that a good day trip for Arabic student might be...a gay pride festival. I was roundly told this was not a good idea.

Guess what day trip had already been organised. Oh not to see the festival itself, but there was no suggestion of changing plans when the coincidence was discovered.

One or two students were nervous when they were told - before being reassured that "It'll be great fun, with lots of dancing and music. Gays always have the best music". This from a teacher with two marriages and three children. Heh heh.

Oh, and one devoutly Muslim student proudly came out, declaring "It's my freedom".

So, either the laid back British culture is infectious...or the offspring of the Saudi Arabian middle class vary as much as everyone else.

My insect bites are coming along nicely. I may be teaching with a bandage on my arm tomorrow.

What is the difference between a great uncle and and grand uncle? And just what is the system of numbering for cousins?

I read that George Bush is ninth cousin twice removed to John Kerry. He's fourth and seventh cousin thrice removed to James Garfield...and ninth cousin thrice removed from Osama Bin Laden. But what that means, I've no idea.

Kapitano's current favourite band: Cause & Effect. New wave, synthpop 'n' guitars, mellow dance a la Camouflage and Cetu Javu.

Summer Lovin'

"Teacher, you eat your beans."
- My class yesterday, on seeing me eat some peanuts.

Yes, yesterday was my first proper day as a proper teacher. There was a textbook provided for me to teach from - one so dry and badly thought out that I threw it away after ten minutes trying to use it. That was when the students started to pay attention and I stopped hating the job.

A week ago, there were five arab boys who didn't know that hair can be "wavy", eyebrows can be "bushy" and the start of a beard is called a "stubble". Now, they know. Plus they're no longer puzzled by "Odd, init", "Mind the Gap" and "Eh?".

In today's lesson we supposedly covered the vocabulary chunks involved in negotiating an evening out - "How about...", "Do you fancy...", "Shall we...", "I'd love to but...", "Good idea" etc.

In fact we established (a) that raising middle and index digits with palm inward is an offensive gesture, while the same configuration with palm outward is not, and (b) the differences between "accept", "except", "expect" and "aspect" get quite confusing after ten minutes.

We also established that any textbook for low level students which includes the sentence "Let's meet up in the White Horse around one-ish" written by frauds and recommended by idiots.

I've mentioned what I call Pavement Wit before. It's similar to Staircase Wit, but you think of witty ripostes sometime before an occasion for their use arises. By which time you've forgotten it.

Today's example is:

Is the pope jewish in the woods?

More when I think of them. But before there's a chance to say them.

I had sex again tonight! :-).

I count five insect bites. Summer is truly here.