Plan B

I had a look at my contract today. It contained a few things I'd forgotten about.
  • I'm supposed to have 30 days off per year. Not that I need a holiday at the moment, seeing as how I have a grand total of three regular students. Plenty more signed up, but all disappeared after one or two lessons - usually when they were reminded that they hadn't paid yet.
  • I'm supposed to get a travel allowance. Not that I particularly need to go anywhere by taxi - hotel, work, supermarket, restaurants and computer hardware shop are all on one road.
  • The contract expires...erm, today. Which is a little bit unexpected. I thought I had another two months, and it does say I'm employed for 12 months from the day I sign my name on the dotted line. However it also says I get 12 months but not going past the 31st of August 2013. Which is
    (a) for no readily apparent reason,
    (b) a contradiction, and
    (c) a slightly strange way of turning a 12 month contract into a 10 month contract
So, the current plan is to:
  • Spend my day off packing
  • Stay for the final week of the month and teach the three students who've paid for a full month of tuition
  • Attempt to contact the boss, in the hope that this is one of the few times my phone works properly, and this is one of the few occasions his phone is both charged and switched on - and let him know
  • Remind him that one of the other things I'm contractually entitled to is a plane journey after termination of employment - in the hope that he might possibly honour that part of the contract
  • Take a plane (one way or another) to Riyadh
  • Get a decent job there where they actually pay me
  • Find accommodation
  • Spend rather a lot of time cuddling with B
I think it's quite a good plan. Especially the last part.

My work permit is good for another four months - renewable if things are going well. Who knows, my Arabian Adventure might turn out to be everything it was supposed to be, and more.

My Alphabet

I've tried several times to write about what's happening with B and me. But what it comes down to is:

We're chatting over skype instant messaging, and occasionally on the phone. I'm glad we spent those few days together, I get happy when I remember them, I get a little sad that we're apart, and there's a feeling that I can only describe as "romantic".

I fully intend to seem him again sometime soon, with no preconceived obligation on his part or mine, but with hope.

With D - my last significant relationship, nearly a decade ago - I was on an insane emotional rollercoaster, and quite prepared to drop everything to go and live with him. He dumped me, and he was right.

Then he found the man of his dreams. Hah.

With M I was on the rebound from D. Not helped by him constantly saying he wanted to be friends and there was no pressure to take it further. Followed by lots of pressure.

With H, we were good friends who several times stumbled into being bad lovers. I'm not sure how many times we had the "about last night" conversation. It went:

H: Last night was interesting.
Kap: Um, yes. but...
H: I'm hopeless at relationships, and too busy anyway.
Kap: Me too. I'm glad you said it.
H: See you again soon?
K: Love to.

It was H who suggested I'd make a good teacher. S said the same thing. Unfortunately S was a hopeless alcoholic and I was stupid enough to think I could cure him. Which is possibly the worst possible reason to be someone's boyfriend. Apart from staying with someone because they've decided they've fallen in love with you - which is the other incredibly dumb reason I was with S.

R was a good man, but he got confused between "being lonely" and "being in love". I got confused between "being wanted" and "wanting".

With P, our roles were the other way around.

I haven't run out of letters of the alphabet yet. C wanted an old-fashioned courtship, but not an actual relationship. Looking back, I've no idea what I wanted.

J always insisted that he was straight....but bi-curious. He just never stopped being passionately curious.

And my very first relationship, at age 19 with a couple, 10 years older. I ended that one, because I genuinely thought it was getting "too serious" and I didn't want to put their relationship in danger. I think I was not a very modest 19 year old.

Anyway, the point is: I've absolutely no idea what the B story will be, except that it won't be like any of these.

Time Off

What I Did In My Summer Holiday

by Kapitano, Age 41 and 3 Quarters.

Working for a failed business is a kind of working holiday.

Working for a failed business in the holiday season is therefore a working holiday inside another one. Like taking a snack between courses of a meal, or tweeting while blogging.

So, what is it when you take a long weekend break from work, in the holiday season...while working for a failed business?

In my case it's spending Eid (the climax to and end of Ramadan), in Riyadh (the capital city of Saudi Arabia), in bed (the place where you put all the things and people most important to you, including yourself, when you're not using them).

It's a law of nature that every holiday begins with something going wrong.

In my case that means arranging a taxi to the airport, then having to arrange another one because the first one can't make it, then getting an unexpected offer of a free lift at the last minute...which turns up late.

And promptly runs out of petrol, to be replaced with a borrowed car, which promptly bursts a tyre halfway to the airport and nearly flips over, requiring us to flag down a friendly car going the other way back into town, so we can borrow another car to get me to the terminal.

For the plane which is also conveniently late.

Two hours later I'm riding from Riyadh airport in another car. The driver is my guide and host, a man I've met once before. I'll call him "B".

If you want an idea of Riyadh, think of the biggest shopping district of New York, or the central five miles of London. Think of a place with the widest, longest highways, lined with enormous, expensive shops that each sells every concievable variation of one product. These rows intersperced with headqurters of companies with the vaguest of names and the most baroque, pointlessly perverse architecture.

Then make it go on for mile after mile. And then a load more miles.

Populate it with fifteen million men - and the occasional woman -  two thirds of who only work there, all dressed in identical and immaculate white nightshirts and headscarves. Put them in absurdly large SUVs and people carriers, and out those in traffic jams.

I say I've met B once - it would be truer to say we discussed comparative theology and culture for a few hours over sweet mint drinks...and then fell into bed together.

Now, months later he's invited me to spend Eid in Riyadh, arranged a hotel suite, showed me around the metropolis by car, bought us breakfast and lunch, and generally been embarassingly generous.

In the evening we discussed comparative linguistics and personal history for a few hours over strong ethanol-enhanced drinks, and fell, together.

Um, yes.

Two things you need to know about me. One, I have zero aptitude and zero interest in romance. And two, I go all soppy when drunk - emotional barriers come crashing down, but I still have zero aptitude. I get...affectionate, and open, and vulnurable, and uncertain. But in an annoying way, as opposed to a cute way.

So yes, there is a place in Kapitano's heart for relationships, but most of the time love is just too much hassle, with too many risks and too many sacrifices.

Next morning, no hangover, no regrets...lots of hugs, a little soreness, and the memory of an understanding reached after much tentative discussion. Whatever happens over these few days, neither of us has any claim on the other, but keeping in contact would be nice, and future visits would be welcome.

Did I mention, B is more emotionally secure than me - and, rather irritatingly, more intelligent too.

Saudi culture is still struggling to find ways to encourge intelligence and creativity for work, while remaining stolidly unimaginative and unthinking everywhere else.

So I've become a little complacent about being the smartest guy in the room. And also the least romantic, of course. But my friend B is at the far end of the curve.

My boss is on his own working holiday in Sydney, Australia - having been sent to learn the arcane mysteries of 'Quality Control' in universities.

The arabic word for 'arse' is, rather wonderfully, pronounced the same as the english 'tease'. So the next morning I took my sore 'tease' into the 'douche', put on my 'britanni tourist' clothes, and we went off to explore the many subtly different types of american fast food in Riyadh.

Herfy, McDonnalds, Dairy Queen, Dunkin' Donuts, KFC, and their various knock-offs. My only rule: Try a new brand, or a meal choice I haven't tried for a while

I think our respective 'teases' both expanded a little each day.

I have English Teacher's Disease, the main symptom of which is a compulsion to look for language mistakes, and point them out.

In a city where most of the signs are in arabic plus english translation, there are many mistake waiting for my symptom. Like a restaurant called "Wooden Grill", or many little offices called "Rent Car".

In a bookshop we looked at some book-and-CD courses on learning arabic for english speakers. The one with the fewest mistakes on the front cover had two.

Here for your delectation is the back cover blurb of another one, punctuation preserved:


The language that was chosen by Allah the All-Mighty to be the language of revelation that was given to his Trusted Prophet (P.U.U.H) the seal of the Prophets Muhammed (P. B. U. H) Learning it , is worship nd communicating by it, is Sunnah and speaking it,is a must on every Muslim that enters Islam and worshipping his Lord. It's an honor for Turath Center to present to the English- speaking Muslim's and to all who have interest in learning the Arabic language through this interesting program.

* One of the first programs that teaches the Arabic language based on a step-by- step curriculum that was prepared by the research supervisor based on his expertise in teaching the Arabic language to the non - speaking population (Year 1962).

* The program solves two major problems that other than Arabs have difficulties with while learning the Arabic language, (1) the many formations of each Arabic letter depending on where it lays in the word.

Observe the letter [ta] in these words:
[Examples of the various shapes of Ta]

* The many short and long vowels and (tanween) which makes for each Arabic letter ten different examples such as:


* The program contains a curriculum of step-by-step series.

* It can be used in schools as a complete curriculum to the English-speaking or even Arabs.

* The curriculum is divided into various different lessons enabling the user to highlight the lesson that he learnt and finished.

We ate too much ice cream, browsed netbooks and computer stuff, decided not to buy a phone, and drove back to the hotel - his hand in my hand, or sometimes resting on my leg.

In the apartment: crisps, cheese sandwiches and cocktail experiments with scotch and mixers. On the plasma TV...the romantic comedy "Resident Evil". On the couch: hand-holding, kissing, cuddling, and "I Love You"-ing.

The next's my last day. B has a long lie-in on his side of the bed, and I potter about in the kitchen - drinking 'teas' (with lemon) - and taking time to watch him sleep.

We shower, clean up the apartment, pack, and hug for a long time before we're due to check out. Which is slightly delayed when we fall into bed again.

A last fast-food late breakfast in "DQ", a drive to the airport with clasped hands, a browse around the gift shops - he wants to buy something for me, but I think 1000 SAR (166 GBP) for a pair of plastic sunglasses is far too much.

And suddenly we've said goodbye.

I'm in the waiting lounge, then on the plane where a grumpy stewerdess is barking "Sandwich or cake?" to each passenger in turn, a girl behind is playing the noisiest iPhone game in the world, and a man in front has a wet hacking cough that would suit an elephant.

An hour later in Arar airport there are no taxis. But a cute young man is visiting from america to see his family, and he offers me a lift...with his wife. He says if there's anything I want, he can help me get it. Turns out he's trying to sell me alcohol - I politely decline.

And I'm back in my own apartment. It smells bad and the wi-fi isn't working. I go to the shops to get some bleach and teabags, throw the bleach around the bathroom and fill the kettle. As it's boiling I try to fix the wi-fi...

... so I can write an email to B.

Why do I bother?

It's four months ago, and a man in early middle age wants help with revision for some exams that were coming up.

That's "revision" as in "hasn't opened any of the textbooks yet". More specifically "wants a teacher to read a few thousand highly technical pages for him on phonetics, phonemics, morphology, syntax and chomskyian grammar...boil it all down to bullet points and tell him the answers to the exam questions".

Oh, and something similar for a Lit Crit exam on Jane Austin and Shakespeare. Which he also hasn't started to read, after nine months of "home study".

Well, I like a challenge, and I taught myself most of the technical stuff in my 20s, and I'm enough of a scholastic pervert to enjoy talking about it. Plus, this charming man likes to feed and entertain friends at his home, so I become a dinner guest.

It takes three weeks just to hammer the phonetic alphabet into his skull - two hours a night, six days a week. He decides not to take the Lit Crit exam this year. I mention that he hadn't yet started paying. And he stops answering calls or coming to lessons.

One month later, slightly less charming, he calls my boss to charge him for the food he'd given me. They tell each other to fuck off.

Last week, a teenager walks in at midnight, just as I'm packing up. Says he wants to spend a month in England, learning English at a good school, and could I arrange it all please?

No, not tomorrow during actual working hours, now please. It'll only take two hours or so.

Oh, and he wants to leave in under a week.

Fortunately, I've already navigated the bureaucracy involved in student visas and overseas study - for another student who changed his mind three times before signing up with a school I used to work for, getting the visa, saying he'll buy the plane ticket...and vanishing into thin air. Neither I nor the school have been able to contact him.

So I spend a few hours making the arrangements. The school contact me a few days later to say he's not answering phone or emails, and do I know what's going on?

He seems to have changed his mind without telling anyone, and gone on holiday instead. My opposite number at the school in England says this is normal.

Yesterday, three businessmen arrive who're planning to spend five years in America...starting in a month. So they think it might be a good idea to spend the time brushing up their English, for an hour a day.

Today, they decide they want to study at a different time, so I add them to the highest level group, and we spend a happy hour picking apart the vocabulary of food shopping - the differences between a box and a carton, a packet and a bag, a jar and a bottle.

Afterwards, they say they want to change groups again, but there's no other group at the same level for them the change to, and no spare slots in the timetable to make one.

Two hours later, after I've packed up, gone home and relaxed with my nightly bowl of pasta and episode of Star Trek...I get a call from the boss. They've, erm "asked" for a special meeting, right now please, to discuss their needs. Which are:

* A special class just for the two of them - one's dropped out
* Six days a week - seven if possible
* Two hours a day - minumum
* A different syllabus - because they only want conversation and grammar, and learning new words is too hard. Yes, that's what I thought.

By rearranging everyone else's timetable, I make space for them. Which is when they mention they want a discount.

We make an offer - about 20% off. They want a bigger discount. We do not make another offer.

They decide they don't need any tuition at all for their five year plan. Not if it involves paying more than half the going rate, and especially not in advance.

They leave, without paying for the two lessons they've already had.