11:02 Saturday September 1st 2018

Today, another short story about the future.


The first generation of virtual reality was the written word.

Scratched into dirt, chiseled into stone, stained onto paper, stamped onto books, and eventually projected through a screen - the recording of speech was second only to speech itself as a way to make thinking communal.

And always among the first things recorded: Sex. Or rather, sex fantasy. Mankind is a social, political, speaking, thinking, imagining animal - one with an underlying need not to procreate, but to give and receive pleasure.

Wherever there is sex and wherever there is technology, there are moral guardians. Eternally offended prophets of doom, predicting imminent "moral destruction", a coded term for their own loss of power, always somehow associated with economic collapse.

Exactly by what mechanism this apocalypse was supposed to occur, and how a return to their favoured superstition could avert it, was never made clear. Likewise, the link between embracing religion and rejecting technology was kept vague. But the least understood fears are the greatest, and the least defined hopes the most alluring.

The second generation of virtual reality was a wax cylinder.

It recorded the waveform of a sound as the varying width of a groove, allowing a crude reproduction of speech and music. The wax became vinyl, which became ferrous oxide, which became silicon holding binary code, which became organic chemicals. To sound was added sight, first static on silver nitrate, then dynamic on celluloid, then on the same sillicon and chemicals.

Again, people instantly saw the possibility of storing their own sexual fantasies outside of themselves. And again, the moral guardians did all they could to create panic at the new threat, offering their usual solution.

The third generation of virtual reality dispensed with screens for vision and speakers for sound, plugging computers and data directly into the eyes and ears. Later, touch was added, with all the shades of hot and cold, rough and smooth, intense pleasure and subtle pain. Then smell, taste, and other bodily sensations for which no common words existed.

The sex fantasies changed from edited highlights of reality, to dreamscapes programmed directly to software. The user was no longer limited to experiencing the possible, or the expressible. Sex with dragons and unicorns never became the vanilla end of the market, but experiences like cooking and eating one's own body could be had repeatedly, and on demand.

The moral panic never evolved it's form, because it didn't need to. It always remained effective on the more backward of the population - who were of course also the most enthusiastic fantasisers.

The forth generation of virtual reality bypassed the sense organs altogether, directly stimulating the brain - and not just the sensory centers. For the first time, the user was able not just to satisfy desires, but to create them. One who had no desire at all for a forbidden taste, could nevertheless temporarily induce that taste, and sate it, inside a brain augment.

The guardians predicted the normalisation of the forbidden, as though this were in itself a problem. Some said the easily influenced (by which they meant anyone not themselves) would retain their new desires in the outside world. Others spoke of addiction, not to new satiations, but to the experience of attaining new desires.

Others feared the induction of emotional states that the brain had always been capable of, but which the mundane world had never called for. What actually happened was, people developed real-world uses for these hitherto undiscovered emotions. Unsurprisingly, these included the sexual.

It is true that natural reproduction dwindled as sexuality blossomed, but there is no evidence the link was causal. It was simply more convenient for a group to gestate batches of offspring in a fertility complex, as and when they decided.

As we write, work is proceeding on diverse projects for a fifth generation of virtual reality.

One line of research is into copying entire brain patterns to computer, so they can be manipulated simply as data, removing the need for wetware entirely. In this scenario, the already permeable distinction between sexual and non-sexual sensation can be entirely erased, making all experience erotic.

Another is a revival of the hivemind notion, whereby many users can collectively experience the sum of their individual augments. Thus in an encounter between N individuals, there are 2^N simultaneous viewpoints for each to sense it.

A third involves dispensing with the content of experience entirely, leaving only undifferentiated pleasure, inducted into nerve endings repaired and enhanced by nanobots. Some nirvanists even speculate that wetware can be mainained for centuries, or longer.

The political opposition to all these developments was inevitable, and it only loses ground slowly. We can't predict which, if any of the current projects, will become the way forward - and we will only know in retrospect when it has already happened.

It may be that sexuality has been transformed many times into unrecognisable new forms, and will be again. But it is our belief that, so long as the future is technological, the future is also sexual.

21:45 Thursday 30th August 2018

One of those days.

When I was asked to come here, I collected a load of old TV shows, music, ebooks and software projects, so I'd always have something to do - or be entertained. Part of my philosophy of life is: I refuse to be bored. Another part is: The world is full of fascinating stuff.

Now, Wessam is the learning disabled son of Jamal, my friend and host. And Jamal has employed Rana, a female therapist, to look after him. But it's part of arab culture that when you employ a woman like this, her husband and any offspring come along too. So there's Ibrahim that bullying 3-year old boy, and Anas, the husband, web developer, and completely functionless third wheel.

And he didn't bring anything to keep him active or entertained. Presumably because he's an idiot. So he's bored out of his skull with nothing to do. He's also a judgemental, interfering arsehole, or "devout muslim" if you prefer. And he's taken a dislike to the other children, seemingly on the grounds that they cry too loud when his son hits them. And he's decided the whole family (ages 1 and upwards) are alcoholics, on the grounds that, well, see above.

So, this moring, big stand up blazing argument. Lasted at least an hour, and every english-speaking person who heard it has given me a different, mutually exclusive description of it.

So alhough I'm pretty sure I know what it was <i>really</i> about, everyone's got a different version of the excuses.

Then, to get away from the bad feeling and help everyone calm down, Jamal takes his four daughters to the swimming pool - and invites me along. The pool is in a hotel/resort that promisses relaxation, and Jamal has hurt his back, so my alloted task is to watch the children paddle in the pool, while he gets a professional massage.

So once again, it's my job to watch the kids like a slightly paranoid hawk, making sure none of them drown themselves. Or each other. In spite of their oblivious incomprehension of risk, and determination to invite death by inhalation of water. And their refusal to do anything I say unless I shout it several times, sometimes grab them bodily to drag them out of harm's way - and occasionally slap them when they start hitting me. After which they cry and wail and screech for half an hour at the injustice.

One girl twice jumps into water twice as deep as she is high, and does the crying routine when I pull her out. I strap them into floatation devices, and they swim around happily for a good 90 minutes, only occasionally fighting or pretending to drown and laughing at me.

Then one decides she needs the bathroom. And can't go in the pool. And of course the toilets are on a different floor of the hotel. So I suppose I could take one to the little girls room, leaving the other three to possibly suffocate in chlorinated H2O. But not really. So I get them out of the pool, so they can make a group trip in the elevator and their swimming costumes, to the absurdly plush toilets.

Except one flatly refuses to get out. And I lift her from the water. Cue weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth, and dire threats that she'll tell her father what I've done.

After a complex half hour in the bathroom, which they mostly spend arguing in the dark about which combination of switches turns on the lights for ten seconds at a time, they refuse to return to the pool. Instead, it's time to find father, and get Kapitano in the deepest of deep trouble for spoiling their fun.

Father, as usual, gently explains that he doesn't want them to die, and they instantly accept it.

In the car home, there are only a few grouchy arguments about how I'm holding the youngest to let her doze off, wrong.

Then as we arrive, outside the house...is a police car.

It seems that Anas had gone for a walk in the day, and called his mother on his mobile phone. Some locals had witnessed someone they didn't know incomprehensibly making a call, and told the police they'd spotted a terrorist. Who, having nothing better to do, had actually investigated.

The police left, and Wessam started bawling his eyes out and furiously smashing the furniture, possibly for some reason. Or not. And his sisters tried their usual strategy of bellowing into his face even louder. This has never been known to work, on any child, ever. But after five years of Wessam, their hope remains strong that one day it might.

Two hours later, he and they did it again.

I have quite a lot of experience of teaching and taking care of children. But until now, all of my students - arabic, german, spanish and others - have been educated, dedicated, mature, intelligent and sensible people. Much better than your average adult, in fact. This is possibly my first experience with normal children. The kind smart enough to realise they don't have to obey, and dim enough to disobey on principle.

I really don't like teaching children.

18:57 Wednesday 29th August 2018

Recognise the difference between "I want to go home" and "I don't want to be here anymore".

Two weeks and three days to go, by current plans - always revisable. And after I've got home, had a little hug from mother, eaten a bacon sandwich, unpacked the laptop and had a doze...I'm absolutely no idea what happens next.

Oh, there's lots of small things to do, and one or two big things. Some cables and USB things to get from ebay, a load of stories to record and upload to youtube, a few friends to catch up with, some three-month delayed sex to have, a diet to continue, an upgrade computer to research, and some entirely pointless bureaucratic meetings to attend.

I could continue trying to be self-employed, searching for clients which don't exist. Or look for jobs working for other people - which also don't exist. Maybe find another school in another foreign country - which do exist but which mostly can't be trusted.

That's the trouble with "one day at a time" - too many days and not enough time.

22:16 Thursday 23rd August 2018

Oh great, I'm depressed again.

Not unhappy, not lachrymose, not even emotional. Just lacking in willpower, determination, motivation.

I don't know why it happens, though I'm pretty sure blood sugar makes it worse, but I've had it recurrantly my entire life and I wish it would just go away. It's the flat batteries of the soul.

Here's another definition: The inability to rise above it. "It" is any minor setback or frustration, of the kind which happens to all of us several times a day, which ordinarily we'd be able to get over easily. The weather is hot and sticky, your shirt won't wash properly, the cup of coffee has sugar when you asked for it not to, your friend said they'd be away for half an hour but it's actually two hours, there's a power cut when you want to charge your phone, etc. etc.

Molehills become mountains. And you know they're still molehills, but you still can't climb them.

It sounds like oversensitivity, but it's actually a kind of <i>in</i>sensitivity. You can't grapple with the handholds of the mountain, because you're wearing boxing gloves. You can't engage, which means you can't cope, and you can't solve.

15:42 Tuesday 21st August 2018

Today is Muslim Christmas. Specificlly, the bigger of the two Muslim Christmasses.

At least, that's how it was jovially defined to me this morning.

Eid Al-Athhar (Festival of the Sacrifice), also known as Big Eid, is the supposed anniversary of that time God told Abraham to kill his only son as a test of obedience, then at the last moment teleported a sheep into the son's place. This proving once again:

(1) Religion is for those who've internalised their victimhood, and

(2) Islam is just another sect of christianity. Which is just another sect of judaism. Which is a sect of zoroastrianism. Which no one knows much about because the jews, christians and muslims destroyed the evidence.

Little Eid is Eid Al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan and "Festival of Breaking the Fast". But I really want to translate it as "Breakfast Party".

If you're family on Big Eid, you put on your smartest clothes, exchange gifts, and spend time with family. And eat far too much. Yep, definitely like christmas.

But I'm not family, and neither are the other guests in the house, so we get to do...absolutely nothing all day. Festival of vegitating in front of the TV, dozing, and emailing family. And eating far too much.

We may be the lucky ones, as you're supposed to, in memory of Abraham, get a sheep from somewhere, cut it's throat, let all the blood drain out...and give the carcass to someone who <i>doesn't</i> have far too much to eat.

But, what what is it makes christmas special? The junk gifts in the shops, the terrible music in the shops, the terrible shows on TV? No, I think christmas is a special time simply because we agree to call it one.

Which is why I feel that today <i>is</i> special. But unless I'm here again for the next one, that one won't be. By which process, you can turn any day into a special day, and in result it will be genuinely special, so long as you and your circle agree to designate it as such in advance.

20:43 Saturday 18th August 2018

Today, a short story.


<b>AI: A Brief History of a Failed Dream</b>

In the 1950s, computer scientists confidently predicted that within 25 years, they could could produce working artificial intelligence. Specifically, computers that could do our thinking for us, but faster, better, and for longer than we could.

They wrote optimistic books about how the computers of the future would combine the rigour and reliability of algebraic formulas, with the subtlety and sophistication of creative human intuition.

By the 70s, they knew they were wrong. More importantly, they knew why they had been wrong. It wasn't just "The Hard Problem" of consciousness, nor "The Mysterious Problem" of creativity - it was that they couldn't define what qualities they were trying to distill.

Terms like "consciousness", "self-awareness", "thought" and even "reason" as distinct from "logic" - these are concepts from folk psychology. They had no direct neural corellates, and to describe them as "emergent" was simply to push the problem of definition one stage back.

Through the 1990s, multivalent "fuzzy" logic systems, smooth non-granular logics, and probabilistic randomisation were tried to mimic the spark of creativity which they thought distinguished "real" from "artificial" "intelligence". This was however to conflate indeterminacy with ambivalence, and tangential connectedness with unconnectedness.

In the 2000s, a new generation of computer scientists made the same confident predictions as half a century before, this time about neural networks. The problem would be solved within 25 years, they said, because humans didn't need to solve it at all.

Rather, each net would try trillions of decision trees, eventually finding the best one through brute force and dumb luck. However, it would do so more systematically and more thoroughly than any slow and ideosyncratic human could manage.

By the 2020s, they once again knew they were wrong. Their nets could indeed perform single menial tasks, without boredom or fatigue. But they required intensive expert training, on timescales and costs which expanded exponentially with the complexity of the task.

More than that, the notion of "the best solution" proved elusive. Much like "simplicity" which turned out to be extremely complex, "good" was different for every researcher, for every task, often every day.

The result was not the apocalyptic scenario of a computerised medical doctor concluding that the way to reduce cancer rates in patients was to commit genocide. Nor was it the pulp sci-fi plot of the machine doctor which exploded in a shower of sparks when told "I feel like a pair of curtains".

In the event, it was more like a doctor which concluded it could cure one patient's cold by persuading every fourteenth ginger cat to spell the word "coffee" with three Fs.

The new computers were insane. But it was no human kind of insanity where irreconcilable imperatives are reformulated and partitioned to achieve mental balance but real-world chaos.

Computer insanity was a meticulously plotted blind alley, a billion kilometers long, deriving from operational ambiguities and vaguenesses so subtle they were not expressible in ordinary language. Attempts to disambiguate and clarify inevitably had their own ambiguities and vaguenesses. The solution was therefore part of the problem.

Around the same time, other scientists turned their optimism to data mining. If, they thought, a human-but-better brain was impossible, a computer-but-bigger system might be the next step. They collected ever more vast quantities of raw data, feeding it through ever higher bandwidths of integration and model building.

The results were surprisingly similar. Applying massive amounts of complex logic to a small set of badly defined axioms might give us a cat-fixated doctor. Applying a little simple logic to vast amounts of badly defined data isn't so different.

The obvious answer was to increase the dataset even more, clarify it, and make the logic both expansive and clean. But increasing the resolution of an image is not the same as making it clearer. A detective looking for clues will see nothing but clues, even when there's no crime. The Pentagon's paranoid search algorithms showed that.

By 2050, it had become possible to scan the operations of a living brain, and even simulate small sections of it on an ordinary computer. Futurologists decided we would be able to keep our best and brightest alive for ever, as immortal wise advisors. When asked what was the point of recreating a single brilliant thinker as an office block that was only brilliant for one hour a day - as opposed to training a thousand students who could take their work further in a thousand directions - they had no answers.

At the same time, techniques were perfected of culturing real human neural tissue, in an organic support system. A "superskull" could be several square meters, living in a nutrient vat, being fed with constant multiple data streams, like an infant which grows up watching a thousand TV channels all at once. As "book geniuses", they were impressive. As willing slaves, they proved to be neither.

The "Back to the Brain" movement of the 2070s sought to hack the natural nervous system with implants that stimulated emotions toward problem solving, replaced sleep, auto-drilled learning, and linked to external information sources. Early successes led to excessive implantation, and burnout. With the ambition scaled down implantation is now a common part of education and employment.

As the 21st century draws to a close, there are projects to simulate brains which could not exist in the physical world. These "paraminds" operate in virtual universes with different laws of chemistry or physical dimensions. The researchers running these projects hope their creations can provide workable answers to real world problems that humans could literally never produce.

Others use languages and systems of logic that humans can design and define, but which the human mind is unable to use. Thus we are making for ourselves a council of alien friends who we can never hope to understand, but which can see problems we could never grasp, and solve them in ways we could never imagine.

Thinking is hard work. Technology lets us work harder by making the hard work easier. But we don't really want to work harder. We want someone else to do it all for us. We want someone who'll know what we need, and do it better than we could, without us even knowing what it was.

Perhaps it's fortunate that all our attempts to create an obedient god have failed. They failed because we can't really imagine what such a god would look like, and can't imagine how we could make one even if we could.

<i>Anas Malik, 21/06/2198</i>

19:34 Thursday 16th August 2018

Ah, the joys of watching young girls chase black cock.

What? No, someone in the street keeps chickens, which tend to roam, and that sometimes includes straying into our garden, where the girls are kind-of terrified but also kind-of fascinated by them. So sometimes you're not quite sure when it's the black-feathered rooster chasing after the screaming girls, or the other way around.

What did you think I meant?

Besides, I've never chased chickens, even when I was one. And if you, dear reader, are not a british middle aged gay man in around 2018, you probably won't know that "chicken" is what we called "twinks" back when I was...well, a chicken. Or twink. In the 1980s. I never chased roosters either. And I was certainly never into chicks.

18:23 Friday 17th August 2018

Some things people expect you to be able to teach, things they expect everyone should know without special research. Things like:

* What do we mean by Nth cousin?
* What do we mean by Nth cousin at Mth remove?
* Are there gendered words for cousins?
* Is there a gender neutral word for nephew or neice.
* Is there a difference between a step-sibling and a half-sibling?
* If your sibling marries then divorces, is their former partner an ex-in-law?
* If Fatima is my great-aunt, am I her great-nephew or her grand-nephew?

The answer to all of these is "I'm not sure". Sometimes it's "I've looked it up on Wikipedia and sort-of understood it, but then forgot. Several times".

I don't really do families.

UPDATE: According to my mother, half-siblings share one parent, and step-siblings are adopted by remarriage. Neither of which concepts exist in Arabic. In Arabistan (yes, they do use that word) your half-sibling is legally an equal sibling, and remarriage doesn't entail adoption. In fact the rules for adoption are absurdly stringent.

11:44 Tuesday 14th August 2018

There are two classroom skills I've never been able to aquire. Warming, and timewasting.

Warmers are short classroom activities that serve no pedagogical function, but get the students "warmed up" and "in the right frame of mind" for the lesson proper. And I can't do them. I can't invent them on the spot, and I can't perform them from a book. My pattern is just to jump in and revise the previous lesson.

Timewasting is more important. If you've got 60 minutes assigned, and you're finished at 50, the sensible thing to do is finish at 50. But the all-powerful timetable (blessed be the holy schedule) says you've got to keep going, doing <i>something</i>, for another 10 minutes. And everyone's got the pretend, to themselves and each other, that the extra 10 minutes is spent in useful drilling, practicing, revision etc.

And I'm no good at that either. It's part of a general tendency - I can't make small talk, do makework projects, or shuffle the papers on my desk pretending to be catching up on some filing.

I'm fascinated by fakery - art fraud, lies, magic tricks, propaganda, ideology, even optical illusions. And I'm repulsed by deception - pranks, bloviation, empty rhetoric. But I can't <i>do</i> any of it.

14:46 Monday 13th August 2018

Captain Obvious is Obvious.

Happy Chair is Happy

And stupid thief girl is stupid enough to steal an entire double-pack of chewing gum this morning, hoping I wouldn't notice. Also stupid enough to leave the wrapper behind. Then stupid enough to deny it when asked. <i>Then</i> stupid enough to try blaming someone else. <i>And</i> stupid enough to blame someone who wouldn't do anything like that.

Then smart enough to confess.

Then stupid enough to think we believe her promise to never enter my room and never steal again. Oh, and stupid enough to not notice the two timelapse cameras pointing at the non-hidden of the sweet caches, since I woke up this morning.

Only real question: Am I smart enough to not give her a damn good thrashing when she does it again? Dad says she's shamable - like all bullies, she's easy to bully. Okay, we'll see.

UPDATE: Minor mystery solved. What accounts for one stupid 8 year-old girl stealing random objects, and also taking sweets but leaving the wrappers? It's one stupid eight year old girl, and one normal three year old girl who doesn't grasp the concept of other people's property.

14:02 Sunday 12th August 2018

"A perpetual holiday is a good working definition of hell." - GB Shaw

There's a notion in psychology that each person has their own optimim stress level. Go significantly far below that, and you're not motivated to act. Go above it, and you get a whole range of results, none of them good.

The level and quality of your work suffers. You may panic, resulting in undirected, randomised action. Or you may feel strained, resulting in a progressive shut down, lock up, indecisiveness, paralysis, freeze.

The idea is that stress itself is just another word for motivation. But get the intensity wrong, and the result is de-motivation.

So here's a thought: Being trapped is similar.

Having a social group ... negotiating an incoherent, shifting web of interpersonal agendas. Owning a home ...  being tied down to one place. Having clear rules ... getting crushed by the system.

Jail is by definition a trap. And punishments in jail consist in reducing freedom even further. But some people <i>like</i> it, the same way some sign up to the army for the rigid discipline. Marriage is a trap. It's also called "a stable home life", "the warmth of close family", "having someone you can rely on".

So if you want to be happy, figure out how trapped you want to be.

18:41 Friday 10th August 2018

I keep well stocked with chewing gum.

It's an effective supplement to teeth brushing, it's a substitute for eating when you're not actually hungry but feel like chewing and tasting something, and it's probably good for breath too.

A week after I arrived, suddenly the girls were chewing gum too. Quite a lot of it - some of it they asked for and received from me. But my stocks dwindled faster than I expected. And one girl - the one who asked the most often - was always late for lessons, as though she always had somewhere to be in the 15 minutes between my leaving my room, and finishing setting up the whiteboard and screen.

Yes. She's smart enough to work out when I'm not in my room. And stupid enough to leave the wrappers lying around. Three unopened packets mysteriously turning into empty wrappers.

A few other things have gone missing and turned up in strange places - cups, cutlery, electrical adaptors, a towel. This is the girl who bursts into outraged tears when stuck in a cramped car, panics and starts hammering the doors when the elevator halts between floors for 30 seconds, and thinks the best way to stop the world inconveniencing her is to shout a single sentence at steadily increasing volume for ten minutes solid.

So, kind of crafty, but unable to recognise or adapt a losing strategy, unable to think things through. And hasn't learned a single thing in class for six weeks.

Probably the best thing for me to do is hide the gum, ignore her attitude, and leave life to teach her a few hard lessons - except she'll refuse to learn them, as a matter of pride.

Her father advises me to "treat her like the wall". And <i>he's</i> the one who calls <i>me</i> wise.

I can only promise to hide the gum.

01:39 Sunday 12th August 2018

You haven't lived until...

* A three year old girl wets herself while sitting on your knee.

Twice. On a car journey with half an hour to go. And so, to save the upholstry, and because moving her wouldn't really help anyway, you sit and feel the moisture creep around your right leg until you arrive.

You spend the time using google translate to help you work out how to explain your wetness, in your very basic arabic, when you arrive. Say "Bint Saghiir, Hamaam.", while pointing at the wet patches, and trying to look rueful.

The same three year old girl can't quite manage to climb onto a toilet seat. So she goes into the garden, very neatly and carefully takes down her pyjamas...and does an improbably large poo, next to the swings. In front of everyone.

This might be called lateral thinking.

* You've spent an hour in the morning walking to the local place of worship, locked yourself in one of its cubicles to give yourself a standing-up bed-bath with a cold, wet flannel, then dried yourself before getting dressed with the fleeciest bit of laundry you've brought with you.

Then done the laundry in the sink with a bar of baby soap, while a man behind you fills three 5-litre water bottles from the tap intended for foot-washing.

And meanwhile you keep yourself un-bored by imagining how you'd explain the difference between a Procedure and a Protocol, should an upper-intermediate level student ask.

Current answer: You can have a procedure, a series of steps to achieve a goal, for (say) washing your face - forehead, nose, mouth, chin, cheeks, ears, neck. And you can vary the order and the repeats, so long as you get the job done. But certain world religions have a <i>protocol</i>, just for the ears - right ear, insert wet little finger, wiggle around, do three times, repeat for left. Because if you deviate, there's a penalty - imaginary in this case.

Cookery has procedures, chemistry protocols. Calculating tax a procedure, filing it a protocol.

Procedures are defined by pragmatism. Protocols by authority.

* You realise your host has a doctorate, and you have a masters degree...which means The Doctor and The Master are living together.

Just like we always suspected.

00:07 Wednesday 8th August 2018

There's just no one to talk with.

And seeing as most thinking is done by talking, thinking gets hard too.

Of course, there's Jamal. I speak with him several times a day, occasionally about things more profound than how well his children can speak with me.

And of course, there's me. Specifically, my imaginary audience who I can explain things to - great for working on, and working out, and working through, programming problems. Did several of those today.

And there's these diary entries. Not an imaginary audience, but a distant one. Which includes me of the future.

But if living life requires batteries full of...whatever it is human interaction charges them with, my batteries have been flat for several weeks. And as one who's had intermittant depression their whole life, I can't think of a better analogy for depression than flat batteries.

This life - this job, this work - requires emotional self-sufficiency. But no one's completely self-sufficient.

Tomorrow it will be exactly six weeks. Half way through.

12:11 Tuesday 7th August 2018

We watched Blink yesterday.

The children screamed at all the right parts. Then asked for more.

Today it was Midnight, and tomorrow we might do Dalek. But I'm inclined to try a two-parter - Silence in the Library/Forset of the Dead, or The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit.

I've shown Dr Who to almost every group I've taught, and every time...well, I'm not sure they retained any of the vocabulary, but they certainly enjoyed it.

Which means, in the long run, it works. Just not exactly as a teaching tool, but as a priming tool. And most teaching is really priming.

Occasionally a student will have a specific or difficult question, and the teacher is expected to be able to give a specific and detailed answer. But most of the time, our job is to give the basics and a vague outline of the more advanced stuff, giving the students a grounding for their own, more advanced study - from books, experiment, field work etc.

Not that most students actually <i>do</i> any more advanced study, but it's not my job to make them. Just like it's not my job to get them to class.

But that means the vocabulary I taught and hopefully they learned for Blink - Gate, Climb, Weep, Angel, Move, Fast etc. - will be quickly forgotten <i>but</i> more easily relearned, if/when they get taught it in school later, or come across it in real life.

Priming is pre-teaching. It's sketching a map of major landmarks, which is only useful when they draw their own better map.

If I can inspire them to draw their own map, that's good, but a separate task.

12:39 Thursday 2nd August 2018

The western way of raising children is...confused. If it's based on anything, it's based on telling lies. Lies to children, lies about children, lies about lies. That and treating children as brain-damaged adults to be rehabilitated, with no clear notion of what a rehabilitated adult would look like. And it doesn't generally work.

The arabic way is clear. It's based on shouting. Shouting orders, making threats, and occasionally dishing out violence. And when that works, giving out treats. And it doesn't work either.

When adults fail at raising children in the west, the result is aimless children. Maybe creative, intelligent, curious, and sometimes happy, but the self-discipline is missing. When adults fail in the arab world, the result is... children who don't grow up at all.

The problem with shouting is it creates an arms race. You get children who require ever louder shouting and wilder threats and more beating to even register a simple imperative. A calm, polite request can be simply ignored. An instruction needs to be backed up by an implicit threat. Hence the fertile ground for religion.

I don't know how to raise chiren either. The closest I get to a method for turning children into adults is to treat them like they already are adults. But that's the western notion of adult - one who can make their own decisions. The arabic notion of adult is one who's internalised their sense of duty - one who does their own internal shouting.

My father always tried to shame me. Thus I quickly learned to ignore shaming. Which came in very useful later. Mother tried to sit me down and deliver a seminar. Thus my habit of resisting notions delivered from on high.

Arabic children are generally speaking a lot happier than western counterparts. The same may be true of adults. They just regard education as something to be passively received and mindlessly regurgitated. Rebellion is not independance but withdrawal. They seek sinecures in management, but refuse to manage.

Everyday problems are incomprehensible acts of god to be magically solved by the authority of others. I see this here in innumerable small ways. Can you imagine a ten year old child who doesn't know how to turn the TV on and off - and doesn't ask? A twelve year old who never considers trying to paraphrase a difficult idea into simple words - so doesn't try to speak? A 17 year old who disguises his own decisions as inviolable orders from his mother? This is commonplace.

19:04 Tuesday 31st July 2018

We have a housekeeper. She's a very good cook and a very good nanny. She's also about six foot tall and approaching 300 pounds.

We also have a bathroom. It has a non-working toilet, a broken-but-working shower, and an intermittantly working washbasin, this last with a nifty extensible arm for holding a shaving mirror. We flush the toilet by filling a bucket from the tap - on the occasions when there is water flowing. The room is also used as a temporary store for any clothes waiting to be washed.

The housekeeper has decided she doesn't want any adult males in the house to use the bathroom. On the grounds that some of the clothes waiting to be washed are her own undergarments. Suitably sized for a hefty lady intent on keeping herself fully covered, in several layers.

Because if we catch sight of them, we might become inflamed with lust.

Yes, that's her worry.

So, although she's the one being employed and taking orders, we've agreed to stay out of the bathroom. We use the separate toilet and/or the washroom of the mosque down the road instead.

Except when we need a shower, because we can't get that elsewhere.

So. The only time I'm allowed to be in the presence of the intoxicatingly suggestive feminine underthings... is when I'm naked and covered in hot soapy water. And presumably heterosexual.

This is called Morality.

17:18 Tuesday 31st July 2018

I think I know how I survived childhood. I didn't know any children.

In nursery school, I didn't speak to anyone. My parents thought I was deaf, so they sent me to a doctor to have my hearing tested. They said I had good hearing. Maybe I'd be a musician some day.

In primary school, I talked to myself. My parents thought I was retarded, so they sent me to a therapist to have my emotions tested. They said I was advanced.

In middle school - actually the same school - I occasionally talked to the teachers. I failed every single exam except "General Knowledge", where I was "exemplary". Had to look up the word.

In secondary school, I read books. So long as they weren't the ones I was supposed to be reading. I got sent to another therapist. They said I was highly intelligent. And eccentric. And egotistical. And emotionally detatched. The kind of person who writes a blog about their life, in fact.

In university...I read the wrong books, failed all the exams, talked to myself, and made music. Eventually qualified to run a museum.

And right now I'm a teacher in the morning, and a babysitter in the afternoon. Not a great deal of difference between the two - you let the smart kids take care of themselves, scream at the bullies till they cry, and hug the victims till they stop.

They would all be a lot happier if they didn't have each other.

18:45 Monday 30th July 2018

Well, that was at least a mercifully short midlife crisis.

Two days of vague romantic dreams - not even sexual, really - then I wake up and feel suitably ... uncrushing. Crushless. Unencumbered by crushiness.

Nice fellow, who need never know.

10:43 Sunday 29th July 2018

Don't you just hate it when:

* There's someone you fancy the arse off.
* You also like them as a person.
* They make you smile with their silly sense of humour.
* The impressive bulge in their jeans doesn't hurt matters.
* They also like you as a person.
* You make them smile with your silly sense of humour.
* And it's a totally adorable smile.
* But they're less than half your age...
* You've got basic arabic and they've got basic english, but there's still a language barrier...
* They're completely oblivious to how you feel...
* Because they're a sheltered innocent...
* And their dad is a close friend of a close friend of yours.

Yeah. Last year Mustafa was my unrequited mid-life crisis. Looks like I've got one for this year. Ah well.

13:58 Thursday 26th July 2018

This house has three front doors. Demonstrating the dangers of not thinking though your priorities.

I should explain.

Turks are very security conscious. That's "security" as in "feeling protected" rather than "being secure". All the windows have bars - though not all have glass. All the doors are metal - and some have two locks, both opened by the same key. Which is a tiny bit of insanity, all on it's own.

The driveway has a large, sliding metal gate. Nearly impossible to climb over, and you'd need an armoured truck to break through it. But it's too much trouble to keep locking and unlocking the padlock, so you can just slide it open.

Set into the gate is a door. You open it from the inside by pulling on a short horizontal chain, which pulls out the catch, equivalent to turning an ordinary door handle. You open it from the outside by pressing a lever which operates the same mechanism, and you can keep people from letting themselves in by disconnecting the chain, while still letting yourself out by pulling the catch directly.

But they can still slide the gate open if the padlock isn't fastened. Which of course they do because of course it isn't.

Yes, someone put a lot of thought into making sure no one could get in if you don't want them to. And then someone else put a lot of thought into finding ways to let yourself in if you've locked yourself out. And then a third person put a lot of thought into making sure it's only you who can do that. Etc, Etc.

Result: A pointlessly convoluted way to operate a pointless door set into a pointless gate. But wait, there's more.

The front doors can only be opened from the inside, or by someone with a key on the outside. Or more usually, by banging loud enough that someone already inside can let you in. That's the simple part.

The first front door leads into a hallway, and stairs leading to the second and third floors. The second front door is next to the stairs, leading to the main living areas - kitchen, TV room doubling as children's bedroom, downstairs non-children's bedroom, western style bathroom, and traditional arabic style toilet, this last complete with facilities for you to wash yourself at both ends.

And you can't open it from outside without a key. Which it why people are constantly locking themselves out when the wind blows it shut. Which is probably why there's an extra little mechanism which can be used to prop the door open ajar from the inside, or configured a different way, from the outside. Except the first way actually locks the door ajar, and is an absolute bugger to unlock.

So what do you do when you've locked youself out of your own home, and the holder of the single set of keys has driven off on business, incidentally leaving the gate wide open?

Easy. Because there's a third front door, leading into the kitchen. It's barred and covered with metal gauze, and can only be opened from inside. Unless you've made a hole in the gauze specifically for reaching through and turning the key on the inside. Which is precisely what we do.

This is what happens when you need to feel like there's security, but you also need to use doors.

20:37 Tuesday 24th July 2018

Just how early is the pattern set? At what age is the template formed for a person's personality?

I remember the precise moment, at age 4, when I decided to try talking to myself. I'd been told it was "the first sign of going mad" by varied relations, which never made sense to me, so...I wandered around the playground for half an hour, asking myself questions and trying to come up with answers.

And seemingly, I didn't go mad as a result. Thus proving my family didn't know what they were talking about. Just as I suspected.

But where did the suspicion come from? When around the same age I asked my mother what happens to you after you did, and she said something about "paradise", and I realised she didn't believe a word she was saying...what observation prompted the realisation, and what temperament prompted the observation? Presumably the same one that prompted the question.

For the first week or so, my oldest student was Ryaan, age 17. Liked to talk about how much he loved Islam and believed in the literal truth of the Qu'ran. While being intensely curious about why people chose not to follow the muslim path of prayer, marriage and children. Also curious about drugs, alcohol and shameless sex. So basically, your average teen covering severe doubts with overconfident bluster.

Bushra. I think she was 14. Enters the classroom and immediately goes into zoneout mode. Not rebellious, not dumb - just enters a dream world at every opportunity.

Next in age was Nau'ura - or Nora, if you prefer. She's 13, dresses like a partygoing 18-year old, loves pop music, tries to play the mature and sensible adult taking care of children, and isn't remotely interested in learning english.

Then Yusef, Bushra's brother, a 12 year old boy who combines wanting to be gregarious with social awkwardness. Good grasp of basic english, quick to learn new words and grammar, much happier in the classroom than the outside world. Watches violent war films but doesn't seem to actually like them. The Turkish Sheldon Cooper, and I like him.

Malika. She's 10, knows every meme going, loves flowers and memorising lists. Without a doubt the brightest of the lot, and has worked out the way to remeber stuff is frequent repitition. But can't manage to generate sentences. By which I mean, she's the only one to even try, but she just can't. Could probably memorise the dictionary, and do it well, and enjoy doing it, but putting three words together in a row is a paradigm shift away.

Aya is 8 and... there's not much to say about her. Dutifully does the tasks, but has no curiosity or passion. Like her older sister, she probably could memorise the dictionary, as a purely mechanical exercise, never asking why she was doing it. One of nature's civil servants.

Almassa is (I think) 7. And she's fiercely independant, impossible to dominate. Unfortunately she's also stupid and lazy. Stupid as in "It simply didn't occur to her that jumping up and down on a trampoline while holding a baby, whiplash might not be good for the baby's head". Lazy as in "never does anything unless she's asked". Stupid and lazy as in "hasn't mastered the alphabet of her native language".

Wessam is 5, but with a mental age of 2 or 3. Almost zero language, and a habit of taking off his clothes whenever he feels like it. And vaguely toying with his errect penis in front of his sisters. He's got two kinds of crying. First, the outraged howl of frustration when he doesn't get his own way. But second, an entirely different sound, that he can turn on and off at will, as a way to manipulate adults. Yes, he's got strategy, and tactics, planning, and possibly fallback positions.

Almaha is an absolutely adorable 3 year old girl. Endlessly chatty with basic Arabic and bits of English mixed in, takes every opportunity to get herself picked up and/or hugged by anyone. She's got something in common with Wessam - an absolute refusal to wear underwear and a habit of, um, displaying the fact in class. It seems only the teacher is bothered by this. But her crying is a simple response to anything she can't handle - being hit by a sibling, not being able to climb down stairs, or her schoolmarmish finger-wagging at some minor rule-breaking ignored.

The youngest person in the house is Emir. He's one, he loves being hugged by everyone except me, and he shows signs of problem-solving intelligence - untying simple knots, and planning which toys to use in which order.

So I think I know who will be what in 25 years time. Almaha probably won't be a flasher, but the gregarious innocence is there. Almassa will be amoral and selfish, but too disorganised for real crime, Bushra will float through life, Ryaan will call himself a muslim but will find excuses to break the rules - but only the minor ones. And Malika will follow her father into academia, probably something high up and medical.

Some would be tempted to ascribe this to genetics, by which they mean predestination, not heredity. Because we've got five people here from the same parents, and little else in common. But it does seem that when we say the childhood sets the pattern, it's very early childhood indeed. And the influences are as mysterious as they are powerful.

22:37 Monday 23rd July 2018

We're were supposed to be having a Philipino maid. Which is to say a young woman staying for a month, traveling from Dubai on a tourist visa, doing a little housework and a lot of remidial work with Wessam.

Small problem: She accepted that Jamal pay for her flight out...but said she didn't need a flight back. Which means not only was she planning to take the flight out and disappear, she was also stupid enough to telegraph the fact.

Which is why the authorities at Dubai picked her up at the airport. Which is why we don't have help in helping Wessam develop basic language and social skills.

That's social skills such as "not climbing on top of the car and jumping up and down on the roof". And "not climbing on top of the kitchen sink and crying in panic when he realises he can't get down".

It seems the latest fad in training children with developmental delays is: Behaviorism. Going under various three letter abbreviations and some technical-sounding terminology to make it sound both newer and more complex than it really is, it's the old model of "punishment and reward" to form patterns of emotional response.

Paranoia about middle eastern terrorists, strippers jumping out of cakes, and long discredited psychological theories returning. It seems the 1970s are back in style.

13:11 Thursday 19th July 2018

Next to the rural town of Iskanderun, is the seaside resort town of Arsuz. And that's were I was yesterday.

Now, there's two things I don't like: Mountains and sea. Which is to say, the vertigo of mountains and the enormous wide turbulence of the sea. Not exactly phobias, but I get nervous. So it's somehow inevitable I spend three months living in a Mediterranean paradise that's got lots of mountain's, and lots of sea.

So, yesterday we went to Arsuz, and I got persuaded to try a boat ride. An hour in a slightly rickety-looking, slightly petrol-smelling boat, with my host, and the pilot who speaks tourist vocabulary in several languages.

I didn't so much mind the dry heaving over the edge. Or the splashing of seawater all over our clothes. Or even the occasional big wave which knocked us and our cans of beer over.

(Oh yes, I got persuaded to try beer. Didn't like that either.)

No, it was just the vast...unsolidity of the water. You can't walk on it, I can barely float in it, you can't breathe in it, you can't reason with it and you can't even predict it. Two thirds of the earth's surface is trying to kill you.

But I did have an idea. Maybe it's not vertigo. Maybe it's something akin to agoraphobia. I can control my emotions enough to prevent panic or freezing, so it's not a classic phobic reaction, but I think I really, really don't like open spaces.

Jamal of course loved every minute. He even enjoyed getting soaked by spray. I have to admit the cold water was welcome, as a counteragent to the sun.

There then followed the routine round of eating too much excellent food in bizarrely cheap restaurants, sitting and digesting while Jamal smoked the shisha ("hookah" in Turkey), failing to blag our way into posh hotels...and then eating even more too much excellent food.

And I don't care if that sentence wasn't quite grammatical.

Turkish Bath

19:35 Monday 16th July 2018

If I'm ever mad enough to do this again, a few things to bring next time:

<b>A small towel</b>

As opposed to the large face flannel stuffed into my luggage. You never know when you'll need to wash - face or body - and you also never know when you </i>can</i> wash. When you can, even when you don't stictly need, do. And when you do, have something on hand to dry yourself.

The reason you can't always wash is: water isn't always trivially available from taps. For the last two days, we've been without water. Today, a man from Turkmenistan came, towing two megaton (he said) water tank with a tractor. As I write, his water tank on the ground is filling our water tank on the roof, by a hydrolic process I don't quite understand.

And yes, the Turkish for "Hydrolic" is, more or less, "Hydrolic". But probably spelled "Hidrolik".

When the man from Turkmenistan isn't available, the mosque down the road manages a constant supply of water, which an hour ago I used to give myself an improvised cold shower - by taking a deep breath and pouring a jug of water over my head - and then washed two shirts in the sink.

They're hanging on the line now, so hopefully tomorrow I can change out of this stickily sweat-infused shirt I've been wearing for three days. Why have I been wearing it for three days? Because all my other shirts are in the wash. But they haven't been washed. Because we've been out of water.

You can also get it damp, and use it to cool yourself off.

And you can clean the whiteboard with it.

Douglas Adams was right.

<b>A Long HDMI Cable</i>

For connecting the laptop to the TV, when the electricity is working, for showing videos to children, sneaking in a bit of English tuition.

But if you use your own cable, disconnect it when not in use. Because, as we found out yesterday, children have the magical ability to destroy anything. Including furniture, toys, and computer peripherals.

<b>A Spare Mains Power Converter</b>

...in addition to the non-spare one. Because not only do children destroy things, but non-children lose things.

<b>Knife, Fork, Spoon</b>

One of each, because they won't always be provided. To be cleaned with the towel.

<b>Laptop Recharging Battery</b>

One of those batteries you recharge from the mains, so you can recharge your laptop, phone etc. from <i>them</i> when the mains electricity isn't working.

Also, when you're not using your phone for calling or internetting, keep it in airplane mode. It's a small hassle to switch it out of and back into airplane mode once or twice a day, but you use less data, and it <i>really</i> saves the battery.

Switch on data, download emails, switch off data, write replies to be sent next time you switch data on.


For preference lightweight, possibly slip-ons, but durable. I brought tough trainers for walking the mountains, and carpet slippers for everything else that I can't do barefoot. They both work well, but a single good pair of sandals would cover all bases.

Turkish Resort

14:15 Sunday 15th July 2018

For me, a day off is when you do whatever interests you - without pressure of time or other people's expectations. For our Arab cousins, it's when we do nice things for each other.

Yesterday was a day off, and Jamal my host did nice things for his family, and me. The family were deposited with their friends, where they could run around, play, sleep, fight, sing songs and do all those things children love doing. Usually at the tops of their voices.

I got taken to a hotel resort. With beach, swimming pool, sun loungers ... and someone improvising jazz saxophone over a techno backing. Had I been warned, I might have been able to bring swimming clothes. But he lent me his. And I managed to rip them open while getting some bruises as I attempted to climb into the pool.

I've been through a few holiday resorts in my time, and I can't recall anyone looking happy in them. People stroll around, take dips, sunbathe, drink coffee in the restaurant and cola under the umbrellas. Sometimes they venture into the ocean, or strenuously pose for "spontaneous" family photos.

But the photos are the only places they seem to smile.

Perhaps holidays are things to only plan for and look back upon. Like wedding days but not birthdays, diets but not blow-outs.

But the main event was at another hotel. The owner was a friend of my host, and the event was a wedding party. Presumably there was a bride and groom somewhere around, but the garden was filled with around 200 guests, all in improbably formal attire...and all of it white.

Not just the clothes, but the table, chairs, cockery, lighting fixtures and stage were sparkly white. It was like something out of a disney cartoon. Or 1973.

The interesting thing is what it says about the Turkish economy. Like, you can run a hotel that's priced out of the range of ordinary folk, but that rich bastards would never think of using. Turkey has a social climbing middle class, specifically an <i>upper</i> middle class - one with kitsch bad taste, aspirations to live in a dream world, glamourous wives who run the large small businesses their husband's own, love of the police so long as they're not present, and lofty but vague ambitions to make it big while pretending all they really care about is family.

Which means Turkey may now be more part of Europe than part of Arabia.

There was catered food, which like all food at all formal events I've been to, was amazingly well presented, sometimes unidentifiable, and made me violently ill.

After a few minutes failing to throw it up in the toilet - while outside a man appeared to be changing his socks? - I settled for sipping coca cola. Which was labeled in Turkish "Orijinal Tat". Well, quite.

This is what happens when you do nice things for me. I embarrass you by splitting your shorts and being unable to eat your food, while wishing I was back in my little room, figuring things out on a computer.


21:03 Thursday 12th July 2018

I'm writing this with one fewer tooth than yesterday.

It wasn't a canine, and it wasn't an incisor, so I suppose it must have been a molar. It had already had a root canal, and at some point the root nerve had died, there was an enormous cavity which had been filled twice - once the filling dropped out, a the second one seemed to crumble into powder. It was my cursed tooth.

In the weeks before coming here, I kept telling myself I should have it looked at. And I kept putting it off because there was no pain. There was the minor inconvenience that after every meal the massive hole filled up with compacted food, and I kept some toothpicks around especially to dig it out of that one tooth.

Then on Tuesday it suddenly started to hurt. And on Wednesday it started to turn black. So today, my host very kindly introduced me to a Syrian dentist.

At the weekend, one of the daughters had developed toothache, which turned out to be three teeth fighting for one space, one trying to push out the other two from below. One trip to the dentist, several injections and quite a few tears later, all three were gone.

Tomorrow, one of the wives is going with a cavity.

But today, it was me. The fellow told me in broken english that it was far too late for treatment - indeed, that I should have had an extraction two or three months earlier. Pretty much what I expected.

There then followed a half hour titanic struggle between him and my tooth. Which managed to break into at least three pieces, while somehow refusing to budge. There was much drilling to create purchase points for the other tools, a lot of pushing to wedge it out, and some delving into gum recesses to make sure there weren't any stray bits still up there.

As I sat in the waiting room, lips numb but a dull persistant ache around my new hole, surrounding a sharp point of stabbing pain, we chatted... about the peculiarities of english spelling, the importance of religion in arab life, and about how the western media demonises muslims as terrorists.

I'm not sure how eloquent I was, waiting for the painkillers to take effect and with a wad of cotton in my mouth to stanch the blood. But we agreed.

I must say, he's an excellent dentist. Back in england something like this would have left me in pain for a week afterward. But the anasthetic has worn off, and I'm in no pain at all.

Two or three years ago, I had a recurrant abcess, which led to two adjacent teeth being pulled. With this one gone on the other side, I am now nearly symmetrical.

Is is "one fewer tooth" or "one fewer teeth"?


14:23 Tuesday 10th July 2018

An alternative view of teaching is that it's a job like any other. And thus, in most cases, a complete waste of time.

There's something in business called "The 80:20 Rule". 80% of sales come from 20% of customers, and it's 20% of sellers doing 80% of the selling. 80% of productivity comes from 20% of staff, and 80% of cockups come from another 20%.

This is obviously a gross oversimplification, but some gross oversimplifications are also useful as guides. In my times in universities, I've found that in classes of 19, around 3 students stand to benefit from the course they've signed up to - about 20%. And probably 1 in 5 lecturers manage a better job than a decent textbook. I'd even stick my neck out to say 1 in 5 textbooks are great, and another 1 in 5 are worse than useless, with 3 being mediocre.

And I've got five students. One never pays attention, three sort of grasp the basic point, and yes, one asks all the questions and does all the tasks.

It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that most people are just a bit useless at most things - and there's nothing I can do to change that. How useless? So useless that, in response to that sentence, they think it's a brilliant ripose to say "But have you ever thought you might be the useless one? I bet you never thought of that, did you."

Turkish Kebab

21:26 Saturday 7th July 2018

In Europe, the weekend is Saturday and Sunday. In Saudi, it's Friday and Saturday. They changed to that when I was living there in 2012, to help align their businesses with those of the west - an openly given economic reason. Even the government which habitially lies even when it doesn't have to, doesn't lie <i>all</i> the time.

In this house, during this holiday, for this family, the weekend is Saturday. I get a day to myself, the kids get a day out looked after by friends, the parents get a few hours off from cleaning and shouting...and I get treated to an astonishingly good meal at an expensive restaurant.

Bill Maher once described mobile phones as "food cameras"...and hopefully I'll be able to prove him right whenever I get to post this.

But after every weekend there is a week. Which  for a teacher with a class means revising the previous week's work. Which in practice means teaching it all over again because they've forgotten. Which means, on top of the monday morning blues at sunday lunchtime, a lot of slightly tedious grammar has to be (re-)re-taught, before we can get to the interesting stuff.

Which involves making sentences about scenes from kid's TV shows. Did I mention I don't like kids very much? But I do rather enjoy their TV.

If you ever find yourself teaching, find something they enjoy </i>and</i> you like. Whether it's manga comics, fluid dynamics or church history. If you can manage to twist whatever subject you're teaching around something that appeals to both sides of the classroom, the actual process of teaching should be easy.

Turk E-mail

21:28 Friday 6th July 2018

Yep, it's definitely bright makes me happy, and dim makes me sad. Unless it's life makes me sad, and bright makes me temporarily not sad any more.

But one thing which does make me happy is: I'm got a sim card, with internet. I've never had a phone data plan before - I was always just as connected as I wanted to be. But now, thanks to the kindness of my host, the patience of his family, and the helpfullness of the staff in the <i>third</i> phone shop we drove to in a boiling hot car on a sweltering day...I can chat about nothing by email on <i>my</i> scheduling.

And human relationships are built on chatting about nothing.

Turkey Neck

21:24 Thursday 5th July 2018

Why should darkness make me miserable? Why should a bright glowing computer screen cheer me right up? More to the point, why should dark <i>Turkish</i> night skies make me more homesick than I've ever felt, while bright Turkish sun makes me relaxed and carefree, whereas British light and dark has no such effect? Even <i>more</i> to the point, why should this start now? Assuming it's not all psychosomatic?

I don't know either. And maybe I'm just stuggling to find patterns in corellations. For now, I just leave the question open.

Plan for tomorrow's lesson:
* Revise the previous day's lesson - on names for major body parts.
* Optionally extend body part list with "toes", "tongue" etc, from flashcards.
* Extend earlier lesson on basic colours, introducing concepts of "light" and "dark". And possibly "medium".
* Use student's clothes as props, identifying "dark grey jacket", "light green skirt" etc. Clothing words already taught.
* Optionally, use photos of multi-coloured parrots to teach bird body parts, and get students to identify their colours.
* Treat (bribe) students with another Mr Bean video.

As for the day after...no idea. But a similar pattern.

Apparently I'm a good teacher. Which is to say, students say I'm a good teacher. Which is to say, students like me - which is not the same thing at all. So I've really got no idea whether I'm much good at all.

But seeing as I've met some seriously <i>bad</i> teachers - who are of course the one's who think they're brilliant - I reckon I'm pretty good at <i>not</i> doing what they do in the classroom. Which is mainly to assume that whatever they think they've taught, students have perfectly learned. Without checking.

I have never yet encountered an exam which measured anything more than how good a particular student is at that particular exam on that particular day. I've had students who'd been getting high marks for five years, who hadn't mastered personal pronouns. I've had students placed in my Lower Intermediate class, who actually had advanced conversational skills - they just hadn't memorised the theory. Such students are always useful, as they can explain things to the rest of the class in their own language.

Today, a girl student asked me what the English word is for "Shaanta". It's the large flexible container that contains your hold luggage on an air flight. It's the place you pack either bulky items, or things you won't need till you've landed and unpacked. It's probably got wheels and an extendable handle for dragging it along the ground. There's also a rigid plastic version that tends to be a horrible colour.

And I've no idea what it's called.

"Luggage Case"? "Hold Compartment Container"? "Non-Hand-Luggage Bag"? "The big one you don't carry with you on the plane"? I settled on "Case" for simplicity, but I would have failed that question in an exam.

The notion of "general fluency" breaks down when you look at it. I'm just fluent in most - but not all - of the kinds of english that are needed in the situations where I find myself.

Put me in charge of repairing a nuclear reactor, and I'm no longer a fluent user of English. Ask me to name every electrical item I brought with me from England, and I'm struggling. "0.25 meter black insulated thin audio cable with 2.5 millimeter male jack plug at one end and female equivalent at the other, designed for short extension but purchased for protection of frequently plugged and unplugged jack sockets"? It's just "where I plug my headphones into".


22:14 Wednesday July 4th 2018

One of the existentialists wrote about it - "That nameless sadness that comes over you in hotel rooms, places not imbued with your presence". It might have been Jean-Paul Sartre, or Maurice Merleau-Ponty, or Martin Buber. Is it really just a way of saying we need familiarity for comfort? That we relate emotionally to our surroundings by hundreds of habitual bodily interactions. That home is not where you feel secure, but where it never occurs to you to feel insecure?

The trouble with emotions is, they're rarely about what they're focused on. You think you're being impatient with scissors that won't cut, but you're really worried about how you're going to pay the rent. You think you love your ex, but really you want to start a family because you've never quite shaken the notion that it makes you respectable - to people who you despise and who you know will never respect you.

I've got almost no appetite at the moment. I'm simply not hungry. I've asked to receive only the final meal of each day, and when it comes, eating it feels more like a duty. It's fresh, well-prepared, healthy and tasty meditaranian fare - but half a plate is enough.

This is me who can munch through an entire packet of chocolate biscuits, just to have something to go with some cups of tea. This is me who can buy a variety six-pack of crisps, intending to have them occasionally as a treat - but knowing full well they'll all be gone within an hour. And when I'm depressed, I eat <i>more</i>.

I wrote a long, rambling email to mother earlier - mainly so I could miss her less by chatting "with" her for a while. But I hardly ever chatted with her while she was in the same house.

Aren't you supposed to get <i>more</i> emotionally self-sufficient as the years go by?

There was a moment, in October 2011, when I'd been living in Saudi for a week or two. I found myself back at home with my parents, happy to be there, happy to have returned. But then I realised I had no idea <i>how</i> I'd returned. And then I woke up, in my Saudi hotel room, and felt very sad for a few minutes.

But it was just a moment, and I settled in quickly. Now I'm homesick every night.

I think I know what this feels like. Not heartache but heartbreak. I've been briefly in love a few times, but the only one that really counts was with Nick. I was 32, he was closeted, and it would never have worked. And yes, I knew at the time it would never work even as I was desperately searching for a way to <i>make</i> it work.

We had one night together, and I held him close for so long because I knew I'd never get another chance.

So what I'm saying is, I feel like I've been dumped. This is...grief. But the only things I've lost are 24-hour wi-fi and a hot shower. While gaining half a dozen new friends, and time for the little creative projects I didn't have time for before.

There is a shower, but it's lukewarm.

At A Turk

18:18 Tuesday July 3rd

One reason I qualified as an ESL teacher, as opposed to any other kind of teacher, is that I much prefer to teach adults. It's many times easier to learn a foreign language if you're a child, but you're more likely to want to learn if you're an adult.

Business English is frighteningly dull, Technical Writing English has weird grammar, and Conversational English is basically a massive list of nonsensical idioms to memorise. <i>But</i>, there is demand for these things, and the demand is mainly from adults.

So...yeah. My youngest student is 3. My oldest is 17, and the one below that is 10. And there's a 1 year old wandering around, and a 5 year old with the level of a 3 year old having tantrums in the next room.

So I'm teaching my least favourite age group, and I'm teaching them basic grammar - my least favourite subject.

And I'm depressed. And I can't tell how much of that is nothing more than doing an easy job that I happen not to like. And expect to be doing for another few months. And possibly longer.

This morning I managed to make it somewhat easier, by getting the laptop to talk to the TV. Because children (and adults actually) are much happier staring at printed text on a glowing screen, than the same text handwritten on a whiteboard. And if they like static video, they <i>love</i> moving video.

The day before leaving, I loaded up on kids TV recordings - Shaun the Sheep, Doctor Who, The Sarah Jane Adventures, Wolfblood, The Dumping Ground and such - in the hope that I could use them in lessons. And now, I can.

This morning it was "Introduction to Phrasal Verbs with Shaun the Sheep". Tomorrow it will be...actually I've no idea how to do "Personal Pronouns with David Tennant's Doctor Who". But if nothing else, a slideshow of animal nouns is available - I put it together six years ago, from a clickbait webpage of "Amazing Animal Photos".

It gets dark here at around 18:00. After which, there's two or three more hours of children running and shouting in the house. Running, shouting, laughing, playing, fighting, falling, crying, arguing, slamming doors, scraping knees, squealing for no reason, from c07:00 to c22:00. Good thing I work better at night.

Turkish Delight

21:20 Monday July 2nd 2018

A middle aged man isn't supposed to cry uncontrollably for an hour. At least, not because he misses his mother. At least, not if it's only been a week since he last saw her. At least, not if it's 24 hours since her last email.

And he's certainly not supposed to do it in front of young children. Not when he's supposed to be an authority figure of some kind.

I should probably explain.

I'm in Turkey - again. Food good, scenery scenic, locals friendly if more than a touch parochial, mod cons minimal but comfortable, internet access close to non-existant.

Okay, I should probably explain a bit more.

Seven days ago, my friend and sometime employer Jamal contacted my by WhatsApp, saying that job offer he'd made six months ago, involving me teaching English to his various offspring by his two wives, while they were on an extended vacation in Iskanderon, a rural part of Turkey where wife number two lives, while simultaneously attempting to set up a longer term job doing the same kind of teaching to locals...

...yeah, that offer. Well it was all happening right now so could I leave on a jet plane the following day - at 07:10 hours from the unpleasantly unreachable Standsted airport, after 2+ hours on a coach and a sleepless night of panicked packing. On a airline that couldn't handle hold luggage, just a rucksack of essentials.

Well, we compromised. In the form of two airlines that <i>did</i> allow emigration-size luggage, on wednesday. From the easily reachable Gatwick airport. Just so long as I didn't mind (1) checking out the luggage at the connecting Izmir airport, only to check it back in again with a different airline at the same airport. And (2) a 14 hour stopover before the latter.

At Gatwick, you are permitted to carry up to 100ml of water (one fifth of a small plastic bottle) through security, just in case the water turns out to be a bomb. So once you've disposed of your bottles of water in the handy recepticles provided, you can buy identical (but more expensive) bottles of water in the waiting area.

Some airlines try to sell you stuff in flight - usually food and drink. Thomas Cook airlines try to sell you food and drink, and devices on which to watch movies and TV shows and incredibly boring documentaries...and then the media product itself. And their own brand of lottery tickets. And other things, all through the damn 2.5 hour flight.

They do this to families who've brought their own tablet devices, loaded with their own movies. Some of who inexplicably pay to dollar - well, top sterling - to watch episodes of Spongebob Squarepants and The Big Bang Theory on greatly inferior, airline rented devices.

So, at Izmir airport, I spent the first 15 of my 500 Turkish Lire (or is it Lira?) on a quite excellent toasted cheese sandwich at an open air cafe...and settled down with my 16.7kg hold luggage (of an absolute maximum permitted 15kg), and my 7kg hand luggage (of an absolute maximum permitter 5kg).

Ever slept on airport seating? I can attest that it's certainly possible. Just not for more than 10 minutes at a time. Now, I have quite a large collection of audiobooks, many of them classics that I'm always intending to listen to one day. Including Joseph Conrad's <i>Heart of Darkness</i>, which took up a good five hours - at double tempo.

It's about the bureaucratic insanity that comes with maintaining a colonial empire. And it's about the search for the mysterious "Kurtz", the kind of whackjob who can become hyper-charismatic to the subjects of such an empire. Really, it's a series of character sketches connected by a loose plot. It's worth the effort, just for them.

And so, onto the provincial airport of Hatay province, where I'm met, fed, and shown gratefully to bed by my host.

And a week later I suddenly can't stop crying. For a solid hour. Then suddenly I'm alright again, but those blog posts I've been putting off writing - I really feel the need to start writing them.

Maybe more on the last week later. There's no way I can post these as I'm writing - it's a rural area with almost no net infrastructure. There's electricity by pylons, and windfarms, and decent housing. But we are halfway up a mountain, and apparently there's wild pigs roaming around.

One thing: It happened as I was writing an email to my mother. One I didn't know when I'd be able to send. And I suddenly realised how much I missed her. Even though it's only been a week, and there's been SMS messages and a few emails.

I don't know. But someone once said most thinking is done by talking. This is my version of talking. So this is my version of figuring it out.

Turkey Trot

I've been living and working in Turkey for about a month. And I've been keeping a sort of diary.

Internet access here in the mountains is by phone only, and my phone is a bit rubbish. But I'm going to try and post what I've written so far.

My old friend and sometime employer Jamal has a second wife here, plus a house. He's taking a three month working holiday, with four daughters and a son by wife number one, a baby son by wife number two who has a much younger brother, plus there's a housekeeper with son and daughter.

Result: A lot of children on holiday, combined with an ambition they learn english.

Do we in know any ESL teachers? For preference with experience working in the middle east, popular with children, flexible in the classroom and interested in a little tourism? Perhaps known to the world as "Kapitano"?

So here I am.

More, if I can figure out how, to come.

Food Glorious Food

My attempts to do a 48 hour fast.

05/05 06:00
Actually start the fast, in the easiest way possible. Going to sleep.

05/05 12:30
Wake up. There's hungry as in "empty growling stomach", hungry as in "I'm bored so I'll eat something to pass the time", hungry as in "cravings", and hungry as in "I just feel like tasting something". I've got number 4. The bathroom scales tell me I'm exactly 15 stone (210 lbs). At the risk of becomming obsessed with how much I weigh at any given moment, my bathroom scales have become my bedroom scales.

05/05 13:30
The trouble with headaches is, so many things cause them, and usually you've got no idea which it is. Do I have a hunger headache, an "I slept in an awkward position" headache, an "I ate too much before going to bed last night" headache, or what? Let's assume dehydration, on the grounds that it's hard to go wrong drinking water.

05/05 14:30
Okay, according to most intermittant fasting plans, I'm allowed up to 500 calories per day. So, a stick of celery, some beetroot, two pickles, a dozen olives, and three glasses of water. Now feeling up to the task. Anything you eat produces a spike in insulin, taking at least an hour to return to baseline. Chocolate gives a big spike and a slow return, foods that are basically celulose and water the opposite.

05/05 16:20
I think I picked a good day to do this. It's sunday, and tomorrow's a bank holiday. The weather's bright and warm, there's a small crowd of children playing happily outside, I have no other pressing engagements...and thanks to the miracle of Tivo, I'm binge-watching season 3 of Babylon 5.

05/05 17:30
There is a moment when the empty stomach stops complaining. I'm not sure of the physiological details, but there's a definite shifting feeling in the digestive tract. But I can't tell if it's the stomach contracting, matter passing into the deuodenum, or into the small intestine proper, or the large. Something else to research, but whatever it is, it's just happened. So, provisional rule-of-thumb: It takes about 12 hours to stop feeling hungry.

Still got this damn headache though. Fortunately, there's no dietry restriction on ibuprofen.

05/05 18:00
Sleep for two hours.

05/05 21:00 - Celery, olives, pickle, beetroot, and onion. Didn't actually need to do that.

07/05 00:00
Hmm. Rather seriously fell off the proverbial wagon around 11pm. As in, an entire bar of galaxy caramel chocolate, snaffled in 10 minutes. Om nom nom. Maybe having a 24-hour headache isn't so good for the willpower.

Many years ago, I tried the Atkins diet with mother, for seven days. Apart from the mental constipation at one end, and non-mental conspipation at the other, it was seven days of non-stop head pain. Well, as of this moment, try again.

07/05 09:50
Once again I'm starting the day at 210 lbs - having evidently lost 2 lbs overnight. Once again the children playing outside, and the pleasant weather. But this time, no growling stomach and no pain behind the eyes.

07/05 14:15
I'm feeling absolutely fine, I've lost another pound while dozing, and I'm not even thirsty. My urine is clear, so according to some of the less insane youtube videos I've watched on how to do fasting, I'm not living off fat stores yet.

So in all, I wonder if I'm doing something wrong. Many years ago, when I joined a gym at age 27, I adopted the mantra: "If it hurts a little, you're probably doing it right. If it hurts a lot, you're probably doing it wrong.". Well this doesn't hurt at all.

07/05 15:30
I'm not, strictly speaking, supposed to have milk in tea during a fast. Because although tea has zero calories, a splash of milk has a few.

But, a few points. First, if this process is so delicate that two grams of (semi-skimmed) milk ruins it, then this process is too delicate to be performed in the real world. Second, there's little point in being on a diet you don't enjoy. The virtuous feeling of "I'm don't like this, so it must be good for me, aren't I so noble" is (a) hard to maintain and (b) bullshit.

I'm sufficiently british to not like black tea. I'm sufficiently middle-class to like lemon tea, or lime tea, or green tea. And I'm sufficiently eccentric to have a row or sugar-free fruit squash concentrates (lemon, lime, peach) specifically for putting in tea. Except...I've found that during a fast, I don't like sweet drinks. So, milky it is.

07/05 18:00
It's been 18 hours, and I've just eaten some slices of beetroot, in vinegar. Those four types of hunger I talked about - this was number four, "I just feel like tasting something". Being on guard against one doesn't mean you're guarded against the others. Fighting a war on four fronts - not easy. Knowing which fronts you need to fight, and which will take care of themselves - necessary.

07/05 19:30
207 lbs. Feeling moderately pleased about that.

Parents are tucking into a fry-up. Mashed potato, miscellaneous vegetables, slices of pork, all crisped in too much fat. Smells and looks very tempting. I've asked them to save me some, for if I really really want it later. "Later" being four hours or so.

Not a food/diet related item but: I've spent the day discovering the joys of pre-packaged background noise. Recordings of rivers, rain, thunderstorms, electric heaters and fans, distant traffic, birdsong etc. Exactly why the sound of rain pattering onto a tent roof should help you drift off to sleep, I'm not sure. And why underwater bubbling should enhance a podcast reviewing 90s sci-fi shows, I couldn't say. But they do. It's like the best part of ambient music is...not the music.

07/05 21:00
It's between 9 and 10PM - 21 hours in - that I generally get really hungry. That's in the first sense, of "growling, empty stomach". And drinking lots of tea or water doesn't help. This is the time I weaken and break the fast - and when I break it, I break it good and hard.

So, what to do? Try to get through it? Eat something small and vegetable, trying not to eat more? Try to sleep through it? See if I can keep myself distracted? I don't know yet.

07/05 22:30
I've just eaten an apple. On autopilot. The first bite was swallowed before I noticed what I was doing.

07/05 23:00
One pound is 453.6 grams. The scales have just informed me that eating one apple has taken me from 207 pounds back up to 210. So I'm 95,256 grams. And therefore 95.256 kilograms. My eventual target is 168 pounds, or 76,205 grams.

My BMI by the way is just under 33, which is officially "obese". My BMR ("Base Metabolic Rate") is supposedly 1,768 - the number of calories I need per day to just live. And one pound of fat is apparently equivalent to 3,500 calories.

I'm fairly sure these numbers don't mean much.

07/05 23:30
Everything I read today about ketosis contradicts everything I read yesterday about ketosis. Yesterday, Dr Google said it takes 12 hours to start in a water fast. Today, Dr Google says...3 days?

That fry-up I mentioned? I'll put it in the microwave, ready to reheat, anytime after midnight. Possibly after sunrise.

08/05 00:30
I'm going to try to sleep.

08/05 02:30
Can't sleep. A small experiment:

Me without clothes, and emptied bladder: 206 lbs
Me with clothes: 208
Me with clothes, and 3 cups of water: 210 lbs
Me with clothes, and re-emptied bladder: Don't know. Two hours later and it still hasn't filtered through.

Conclusion: I have really heavy clothes. And drinking water makes me hungry again. Bugger.

08/05 06:30
Well. One day and six hours. 30 hours. Looks like I might actually manage the full 48. Have another go at sleep.

07/05 09:00
Wake up to empty the bladder and do a quick weigh. 106 lbs. Feel quite pleased, and go back to bed.

07/05 12:00
Wake up properly and do a quick weigh. 105 lbs. Feel quite pleased again.

There are plenty of fasting vlogs on youtube - "My 8 day water fast", "What they don't tell you about not eating for 21 days", and the like. One common item is that days 3-5 are especially difficult. So far, I can tell you, in very round numbers:

* First 20 hours - Slightly difficult
* Next 8 hours - Significantly more difficult
* Next 8 hours - A lot easier. The temptation to eat through boredom, or just for pleasure, is still there. There is still a kind of empty stomach feeling, and it isn't pleasant, but it's more like a slight itch than an insistent pain. My stomach does feel delicate, as though it would react badly to a sudden heavy meal now.

As for the next 12 hours, we'll see. Another common item is increased mental clarity. That's part of it, but I spent a few hours last night listening to music, and that also was somehow clearer, more defined, sweeter, as though hearing through better quality speakers. This might be my version of hypoglycemic ephoria. Well, there's one way to check that.

06/05 16:30
I used to have a blood-sugar test gizmo, but it broke. So I got myself a new one today, and my blood glucose level, 40 hours into my first ever 48 hour fast is: 7.9.

So. Given the "normal" range is 5-10, and the last test I did using a borrowed kit after 22 hours of not eating gave me 11.5...I must have spent the last 30 years with blood you could ice a cake with.

08/05 16:45
Permit myself a salady snack. 1 slice of beetroot, two small pickled gherkins, and about a dozen green olives - plus the usual cups of water. First, it tasted amazing. Second, I now feel slightly overfull. This may be the way forward. It doesn't take much food to satisfy all the types of hunger I've mentioned, and (I rather suspect) the practical difference between hardcore water-fasting and occasional small low-carb meals is not much.

08/05 19:30
Second blood-glucose test out of curiosity. 9.2.

08/05 20:00
Maybe the snack wasn't such a good idea after all. Because I've got the growling stomach again, saying "You woke me up for that little tidbit? Where's the rest?"

08/05 21:00
In front of me is a 1 litre plastic bottle of fruit squash concentrate. It's Robinsons peach squash, with "No Added Sugar". It claims that a diluted 250ml serving contains 25 kilojoules, or 5 kilocalories. Which is absurd. 5000 calories? That's bodybuilder levels of intake over a day...in one small cup? The labeling defines "diluted" as 1 parts squash in 4 parts water, which is way more concentrated that I have it.

Five calories in a cup, that's believable. And indeed a quick google search finds calorie listing websites that agree. So, either the "5kcal" on the label means something entirely unconventional, or I'm missing something stunningly obvious, or the good people of Robinsons (which surely ought to have an apostrophe?) are no good at basic science nomenclature. Or fruit squash is the unhealthiest foodstuff in the universe.

Anyway, the upshot is: If you want to do a water fast, the indulgence of slight flavouring in your water is probably okay.

Especially if you live in southern england, which has horrible tap water.

08/05 22:15
This has been an experiment, and I think a largely successful one - in that I've learned a few things about what I can do, what I can't do, and what I can do but with difficulty. There's no point in drawing up a diet plan you can't follow. No firm conclusions yet.

09/05 00:00
There is now a large plate of fried food waiting for me. If the last three days have been for fasting...today is for slowing.