Sunday, 26 December 2010

Couldn't have written it better

"Is that Danny Swanston?" I asked my fellow Christmas Eve pubgoers and Currie High School Alumni, of the boy standing chatting to his friends round the corner of the bar. High school was seven years ago and few of us had kept up with many from our old school, outside of our circles of friends. Looking at this boy, we all agreed it looked like Danny Swanston, but we couldn't agree on whether it actually was him. I was sure it was, because it seemed impossible that there could be two people who looked that much alike. But at the same time I couldn't believe that he could look as good as he did. Most of the people I went to high school with, excepting my circle of friends, have gotten fat, ugly and dishevelled as a result of alcohol, cigarettes and dead-end jobs. The girls have all turned orange from excessive fake tan. It seemed unlikely that Danny Swanston could have escaped the ravages of post-school malaise.

After repeated observation, during which he must have started to worry about the attention we were giving him, Heather became convinced it wasn't him. From the side, sure, it looked like him, but when he was looking this way straight on, it wasn't his face. The other three disagreed, stating emphatically, "It is him. No no no, seriously, it's him. It's Danny Swanston." I started to come round to Heather's way of thinking as he looked our way a few more times. If it had been him, it would have been after cosmetic surgery. But I really couldn't be sure. There didn't seem to be a good way to resolve the situation. Someone could have gone up to him and asked, but the likeliest suspect - Heather - refused on the grounds that she no longer believed it was him. So I proposed a solution. "Is he on Facebook?" I asked. If he was on Facebook and had a picture, we could see what he looked like these days. Jenni got out her phone to check.

And at that very moment, when she was making her way to Facebook on her phone, someone walked in the door to the pub. We all turned round and looked. Then we were standing in fits of laughter. "Oh yeah...that's what Danny Swanston looks like," we thought to ourselves as the man himself walked to the bar with a couple of friends.

Perfectly timed moment of Christmas magic.

And to all a good night.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Gambling on The X Factor 2

So a month or two ago I blogged about gambling on The X Factor. Folly, it was! The public voters seemed to have attention deficit disorder and voted for different people each week, making predicting who would go a hit-and-miss affair. I gave it up.


I was pretty sure about who was going to win. It had to be Matt, with his high notes and mostly-absent hat. So I put some money on him. He was favourite to win, so the odds weren't fantastic, but it was early enough in the competition for it to be possible that it would go another way, so they were better than they were in the last week.

And he won. I am £75 richer. I think we all learned something.

If not, please accept my apologies and a picture from the awesomesauce that is Misfits.

Peace out

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Where I'm at

It occurs to me that I haven't really reported on what I'm doing these days, since I finished my CELTA course.

Well, I'm teaching the children. But not the British children. Not actually the children, either.

I've been able to pick up a few students by advertising myself. I've been heading into town over the last few weeks teaching either at students' homes or at Starbucks on Princes Street with Edinburgh Castle looming in the background. Although I kind of dread it every time I arrange to see a student, as I'm still dealing with an anti-social and awkward past self, I actually enjoy teaching. I like meeting new people, I like helping them, I like passing on knowledge.

Since Christmas is coming up I'm happy to let things wind down a bit, then in the New Year I'll get back onto the advertising. A lot of the foreign population is going home for Christmas anyway, at least the Europeans are.

Anyone got any tips on business cards? On Thursday at Starbucks a Chinese girl had an English dictionary and was looking over at me when I was teaching and I wished I'd had business cards to whore myself off with.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Funny Ha-ha

I was lying when I said I had nothing to report earlier. I got an email from Blog Explosion today. Blog Explosion is (is supposed to be) a community that helps get your blog seen and out there. When I first started my blog back in the spring, I read about the site and signed up. They said my account would be activated after my blog was moderated, which would usually take a couple of days. Ahem.

Over a week later, with no change on the status of my account, I sent an email to the admins. No response. Wondering what was going on I went to the forums to find a large number of people complaining about the site's recent change for the worse, with people (much like myself) waiting forever for their sites to be approved. It was there that I read a post from someone advertising an alternative. I checked it out and found that it was a burgeoning blog promotion community of refreshingly real and friendly people. I signed up and I'm sure a lot of the traffic I get to my blog I owe to them. So thank you Expose Your Blog!.

Anyway, this morning I got an email from Blog Explosion, who I'd almost entirely forgotten about. It said, merely,


Your site looks great, but must be in a blog format.


Just what about my site isn't blog format?

In all likelihood, the cowboys who apparently run Blog Explosion didn't even look at my blog. Their loss!

Nothing to Report

So I haven't left the house because it's not stopped snowing and I've had a cold since the weekend which makes my head all woolly.

In other news, today is the first of December, which means opening the first door of the advent calendar. Today was a cracker-shaped chocolate in front of a picture of Santa.

Here's a picture of a neighbour's car engulfed by snow:

Monday, 29 November 2010


 Snow update. In blind and selfish opposition to the weather forecast, the snow has continued for three days. Each day me or my parents have cleared it from the front path and every day it's come back. Here is the view out my bedroom window:

 The garden steps are completely buried and the bird table is becoming an igloo.

Out the front...

The cars are almost buried and all the neartly cleared paths have a thick, fresh layer of snow. I don't remember ever seeing this much snow falling at once. And it's still November!

Friday, 26 November 2010

The Consulate General's Reception

I was invited to a reception at the home of the Scottish Consulate General of Japan, as a sort of 'welcome back' (ignoring the fact that I've been back now for four months now...golly, is that all?) to the country. It took two buses followed by a walk up some hilly streets to get to his house. I rang the call button on the wall outside and magically the wooden gates opened in, light streaming down from the residence. It was pretty much as I expected - large, lavish - giant pictures on the walls. On the mantelpiece above the marble fireplace were two framed photographs - one of current emperor, Akihito, and the other of his wife, Empress Michiko. I found this deference to royalty mildy amusing, though it occurs to me that when I was at the British Embassy in Tokyo three years ago, there was more than one portrait of the Queen in the building.

Apparently, there were only three JETs returning this year, or at least only three who could attend (remembering that not everyone is willing to travel several hours for a couple of hours of wine and chit-chat), so the numbers were padded out by other former JETs and various people connected to Japanese organisations. The three of us who came back this year had to give short speeches then all the former JETs introduced themselves then everyone else introduced themselves and we all started eating and drinking. Apparently the Consulate General has the best sushi chef in Scotland, but since I don't eat sushi I couldn't tell you.

There was a former Tokushima JET there. She lived in Hanoura when Hanoura was still a place of its own - its been absorbed into Anan since. There were one or two people that we both knew of, despite being there years apart. It was weird talking about them, like we were talking about dead celebrities.

At one point the Consulate General made us stand round in a circle and watch him sing Moon River a cappella. I didn't know where to look.

When we left, around eight thirty, it had started to snow. Not proper snow, really - just little flakes that weren't lying for the most part. While many parts of the country had been hit by heavy snow over the past couple of days, Edinburgh had missed out. Of course, it's still been absolutely freezing out, which made waiting for a bus that little bit less fun. By the time I got home where was a thin layer of snow on some parts of the street, but it still didn't seem like it would come to much.

I was wrong!

Snaw! (Oor Wullie for 'snow')

Friday, 19 November 2010

The Hard Sell


I just spent forty minutes on the phone with someone offering to make me the greatest English teacher in the Edinburgh area ever. EVVAR!

He's part of this online directory that offers to get one person within a particular field in a particular area to the first page of google when people search for that thing in that area. So I was to be on the first page of google for anyone searching for an English teacher in Edinburgh. Unfortunately, he woke me up (yeah I was still sleeping at 10am) and my voice was all retarded and I didn't know what was going on.

Pretty soon, though, as I lazily agreed to everything he was saying like a good consumer monkey, it became obvious that he was taking my ill-considered assent as a form of encouragement as he asked for my debit or credit card number. I started to wake up around this point and managed to claw things back a few stages, trying to say I'd just started out in this game and wasn't ready to commit to major advertising. But, being a marketing man, he wasn't about to take no for an answer. He ran the conversation like a Socratic dialogue, making me agree to all of his points all over again before making me say 'no' again. I said I didn't have the £399.99 (650 dollahs, ladies and gentlefolk) he was asking for. Then he wound things back, said he could talk to his boss about bumping the fee down. I did my best to give the impression I still wouldn't be able to afford it, but magically his boss came into the room and he bumped his fee down to £250. Not bad. Still, it was too early in my tenure as a language teacher to be committing to this, and too early in the morning for me to be making this kind of decision.

Alas, he wasn't taking no for an answer, and ran be back through every self-evident truth about the opportunity he was proposing. I said something about having classes (meaning teaching students) and he thought I meant I was a student and that was why I didn't have enough money. Then he got even pushier, saying, "Well students have credit cards and overdrafts, don't they?" - cheeky git. Unfortunately I took on the 'being a student' thing as a possible out and accidentally implied I was living hand-to-mouth. He ran through things like, "So if someone asked you to go to the pub tonight, you'd have to say no?" and I was like, "Not exactly, but," and he'd chime in with, "Ah! See! So you do have spare money?" and it got to the point where I was trying to get him to appreciate some self-evident truths, such as, "Just because I can afford £2.50 for a pint, doesn't mean I can afford £250 on self-promotion. Idiot." He wasn't seeing it though, and in retrospect I think he may have been suggesting I go into debt because, "After a few months it's paid for itself, right?"

We went round and round in circles, me not budging any more and him using the same tired arguments, and then, out of the blue, he seemed to give up and said he was moving onto the next person. I'll be sorry, I'm sure.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Coming up Me

So I've gone from being concerned that I'll get nowhere with this private teaching thing to becoming quietly, tentatively confident. I can't remember if I've blogged on the subject before, but after going to the Japanese event a few weeks ago where I met my headmaster, I realised that the person in the JET Alumni Association who'd contacted me was in fact the headmaster's son. We chatted through email about Japan and teaching, and he asked if I was interested in doing private lessons with a Japanese guy he'd been put in contact with. I was worried about it clashing with the hectic schedule of CELTA, but as it turned out he wanted to start this week, so I had some recovery time. We had our first lesson on Monday and, with the help of people from Randolph, where I did the CELTA, I had some good materials to get things going. It was a confidence booster and I hope I'll be able to help him before he leaves the country in March.

While I was in town with this student, I got a text in response to my gumtree ad. On Sunday I paid to get my ad bumped to the top of the results for a week, and also altered my prices to become more affordable. The text yesterday was my first (and so far only) response to the ad, but if it pans out it's as good as four responses. The two Spanish girls in question want four lessons a week and want to start tomorrow. Yikes! But hooray for me - kind of a baptism of fire, but great experience and the possibility of moving out of my parents' house is looking ever so slightly more plausible.

Monday, 8 November 2010


I've put an ad on classified website Gumtree as a private English teacher. Not sure where I'll get with that but it's a step in the right direction. It's a tough marketplace out there.

Gambling on the X Factor

So for the last few weeks I've been having a bit of fun putting money on the X Factor. My motivation was realising that I correctly guessed last year's winner quite early on and could have made money off it if I'd been savvy. But then I was living in Japan and I probably would have been blocked from the gambling site.

So this year I thought I'd give it a go. A bit of a giggle. I stuck £20 onto the gambling site to play with, but instead of betting on a winner - which seemed uncertain early on - I bet £5 on John to be the first to go. My rationale was that he had failed to stand out and was the most forgettable of the 16 contestants. Alas, it was Nicolo who got the boot, someone I'd deemed safe by virtue of his cute foreign-ness. It was a double elimination, however, and I had a second chance to win when they put a time-sensitive betting opportunity on for who would lose the final showdown. I put another £5 hoping that Katie would go, but FYD let me down and I lost again.

In the second week I decided right away that Storm would go, and put a few pounds on him, and won. Then I put a few more pounds on Diva Fever going in the final showdown, and won again. However, I was more cautious with my betting this week and with the odds these artists had, I didn't quite make back my losses from the week before.

Week 3 was another week of losses, as I put money on Belle Amie - bottom three the week before - to go. But they didn't make the bottom two this week, and then I made some more minor losses betting on Treyc to go, considering that since she wasn't favourite to go, any amount I bet on her would give a much better return than a bet on John. However, I got back to how I was at the beginning of week 3 after betting on Belle Amie again in week 4, ending back around £16.

Last night, hoping that time was finally up for the Weasel, I bet on Katie to go. I was thwarted, however, by the abstention of Cheryl Cole, who wouldn't vote against either of her own acts. Usually on X Factor they go to the judge whose own acts are in play last. Cheryl stated she would take it to deadlock - so the results would be determined by the public vote - after Dannii and Louis had voted. However, the voice in presenter Dermot's ear told him that by refusing, Cheryl had lost her right to choose and the result would be determined by majority vote of the other judges. Simon had gone for Treyc to go, Dannii went for Katie, and Louis, the git, went for Treyc as well. £8 down the drain.

Next week I think I'll stick all my remaining money on the Weasel going, but there's the risk that Wagner ends up bottom two which would mean a death sentence for him from the judges. Just have to hope his cult following keeps up the good work.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

The Legend of CELTA - Dawn of A New Day (the end)

Friday's first morning session was about career progression, and what to do if you burn out. Then we did a lot of admin - making sure we'd filled out all the necessary records. After that we took turns in pairs to present an activity each from a number of books we'd been given to look at. It was a way of getting a sort of party bag of ideas to take away with us. I was with Carol from my teaching practice group and our activity involved showing pictures to students and having them write a story based around it.

In the afternoon we had the final teaching session. For the second day I just had to sit and watch for two hours, which is never that interesting. To pass the time I passed notes to one of the other trainees written in phonemes with a Spanish accent. Sad but fun.

After the day's teaching we did feedback then had a small wine and snacks party to celebrate, before going to the pub to see the students (briefly) then heading to a restaurant where we had dinner reservations. It was all nice and fancy and everyone was happy to be done and enjoying each others' company. We went to another pub later on, and after that some of us went to the flat of one of the trainees in my group until the wee small hours. At every stage there were goodbyes and it was sad and strange. Our lives for the last four weeks had revolved around that school and those people. What was Monday going to be like?

Which is now my question. Where do I go from here? But I've learned so much on this course, and I've found things that I can be good at, things that I enjoy more than I ever imagined I could. The road ahead has every potential to be harder than the last four weeks, but I'm feeling positive about it and can't wait to see what it holds.

So that's it for blogging about CELTA. The Zelda puns were getting a bit convoluted so it's just as well. Regular service will resume soon. But hooray, this is my 100th blog post!

Thursday, 4 November 2010

The Legend of CELTA - A Blink to the Last (Week 4, Monday-Thursday)

On Monday I was teaching the Pre-Intermediates for the second time. My Sunday evening planning session was a nightmare. The topic was phrasal verbs, which are a nuisance to teach because they don't really follow any rules. The lesson went well, though, for the most part and I had only one more to go after that. In the evening I did Assignment 4, which was about responding to a job advertisement and giving ourselves a critique on our progress for the whole course. I got it back within half an hour of handing it in on Tuesday and was told it was excellent, which was gratifying.

On Wednesday I was teaching my 60-minute lesson, the last big challenge of the course. The language point was on uses of the present perfect continuous form, and it went fine, or at least outwardly looked fine. I ended up skipping two or three sections of activities I'd planned because the time was eaten away. The lesson didn't really suffer for it, however. It was a relief to go home knowing I wouldn't have to teach in front of other teachers and trainees for the foreseeable future.

This morning we had two nice sessions. The first one was on teaching young learners, from children around 4 to young teenagers. In the session we were treated like children and made animal noises and played games. The second session was on using music and songs in the classroom, which involved playing a game where we were given words on slips of paper and had to stand up and sit down when we heard our word in the song.

In the afternoon, because I taught yesterday I was put into a different group to observe, which is the first time we've been able to observe outside of our own group of six. I was back in the Intermediate class where I'd started off three weeks ago. The atmosphere of the class seemed different, but it may have been more a result of the trainees' exhaustion than anything else. I didn't have to stay for the lengthier part of the post-match feedback, so I got home an hour earlier than usual, which was nice. And now there's only one more day before the end. This is, as they say, it.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

The Legend of CELTA - Quite like t'impress (Week 3)

As you may have guessed from the lack of posts, week 3 was quite a busy one on the CELTA course. It didn't help that I had a Creative Writing submission due in on Thursday.

On Monday, after the morning sessions those of us teaching on Tuesday were allowed to go home in the afternoon to prepare - we didn't have to watch the other teachers, which was a blessing. Of course, I wasted this time playing video games instead of working on my authentic materials lesson, which I mostly left for the evening.

On Tuesday, I did my lesson using a pamphlet for Edinburgh ghost tours - students had to read, answer questions on and respond to the material. The lesson went well and was followed by a tutorial with Boswell, which was about my progress in the course overall. We discussed my strengths and areas I needed to improve on.

On Wednesday we watched the other teachers in our group do their authentic materials lesson. We were also given teaching points for the following day, which was to be at the new level - Pre-Intermediate this time. This was the first instance where we'd be teaching a level without having observed the tutors doing it first. My first lesson was quite a simple integrated skills lesson - reading and listening, but I didn't have time to plan it the night before because of my Creative Writing assignment.

The Pre-Intermediate tutor had been Valmar when we started the course - the sarcastic and somewhat severe-seeming lady who I had my interview with. She'd gone on holiday from the second week, though, so another lady, who I'll call Mumsy, had taken over. I call her Mumsy because she has a very friendly, nurturing way about her, though this exterior does hide a bit of an edge. My lesson went fine, but my lack of planning showed a little bit. I was criticised for not doing a very good vocabulary analysis sheet - perfectly true, but something I just couldn't be bothered with on top of everything else we had to do. It was just frustrating because if it had been another tutor they would have known I could do the sheet but I just hadn't put a lot of effort into it that time because there was so little vocabulary in it and it was all easy to explain.

Thursday night was dedicated to Assignment 3, where we had to talk about our authentic materials lesson and change our plan to say how we would improve it, referencing a teaching resource. The whole idea seemed somewhat suspect to me - it assumed we didn't make the best plan possible the first time around. Which of course may well be true, but it wasn't putting a lot of confidence in us to be giving us an assignment saying, 'We know you're going to screw up, so here's how you're going to write about it'. I was torn for a while on what to write, and ended up erasing large chunks of edits when I realised my new plan was worse than the old one. In the end I think I did a good job, but I'll have to wait to get it back and find out if I have to resubmit. I haven't had to so far, so fingers crossed.

On Friday we had our teaching points for next week - all of them. This time we were expected to pretty much plan the lesson and materials ourselves using parts of the textbook as we saw fit. Our last lesson (Wednesday in my case) is a whole hour long, so we're firmly in the deep end on this one.

I haven't said much about the morning sessions for this week because they all tend to blend into each other. We had one on teaching a lesson devoted to vocabulary, one on future tenses and one on teaching beginners and advanced students. There must have been others but I can't remember them.

After lessons on Friday most of us went to the pub again, and we played some drinking games with the students, which was nice. I didn't get home until after 10. I'm going to miss this when it's done.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

The Legend of CELTA - Diminish Crap (Week Two Part 2)

I thought my lesson on Wednesday went quite well, considering the subject was collocation, a rather obscure aspect of the English language, but after the three of us taught that afternoon there was a lot of negativity in the comments we got from Boswell. In fact, she focused almost exclusively on the negatives, at least in group feedback. She has a habit of scowling during lessons, which is not the best thing for your confidence when you're standing in front of the class trying to remember what part of your lesson came next. But it seemed this was what this part of the course was about. Stamping out fundamental teaching errors. Keeping crap to a bear minimum.

On Thursday we started to look at what would be a big part of next week - teaching using authentic materials. On Tuesday and Wednesday we will, for the first time, plan a lesson from scratch ourselves using a real-world piece of listening or reading material. In our groups we had to decide on an overarching theme for our three lessons and then we had to decide who would do reading and who would do listening. We settled on Halloween/spookiness/fear as our theme in our subgroup, so that's what we'll be doing on Tuesday.

The Thursday teaching session with the other three teachers went fine mostly, though there was a hilarious point in Chris' lesson where he'd had the students reading interviews and then was getting them to interview each other. He demonstrated this by asking one of the questions, "When was the last time you cried?" to a student, who responded with, "At my grandmother's funeral." Chris' normally unbridled enthusiasm was given pause as he said, "Oh, I'm terribly sorry!" before it was let loose again with, "...but that's great!", referring to the student's ability to complete the demonstration. When this was taken out of context during post-game analysis we were struck with fits of the giggles for the rest of the session. In general the feedback was less negative, which made me wonder if their lessons really were better than ours the day before.

On Thursday we also got back Assignment 1. I passed, but I was in the overwhelming minority there. I think we were all surprised at how many of us had to resubmit. Some had more to do than others, but the whole thing is kind of a weight round everyone's necks while we have Assignment 2 for tomorrow (Monday), and we have to prepare our authentic lesson and then do Assignment 3, which is on how we would improve our authentic lesson.

Friday meant another lesson for me. This time Boswell instituted a new approach to feedback. She would write notes on pieces of paper and pass them along for us to write comments on. They were about things like whether whoever was teaching at that moment was doing things in the best way possible. When it came to my lesson I found it a little off-putting because there was some giggling going on as notes were passed, but it turned out to be about Chris being thorough with multiplication. When we got to feedback, mine was largely positive, which was a great relief, since my ego had taken a mild beating on Wednesday. I stayed on late-ish at the school to photocopy something from a textbook for the second assignment before going to the pub with some of the others. Alberto, a student from the Intermediate class we finished teaching on Monday, approached me asking me where I was from. He said he'd told his friend about a teacher he'd had who he didn't think was Scottish, didn't think English, maybe Australian or American, but very clear and easy to understand. I was flattered, and told him that I was Scottish really, but that maybe I watched too much TV as a child and Japan probably also messed up my accent.

This weekend I worked through Assignment 2 and still need to work on my authentic stuff tonight, because I have an assignment due for my Creative Writing course at the end of the week. Here commences the week of hell.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

The Legend of CELTA - Error-cull of Pages

Day 1 of week 2 started with a session on error-correction, and it was like the weekend had never happened. The school is starting to feel like a second home. We went over when it's appropriate to correct students' mistakes and different ways to approach correction, taking into account the target language (vocab/grammar) for the lesson and the feelings of the student. Our second assignment requires us to correct a piece of writing by one of the students from our classes.

The other session on Monday was a return to the phonetic alphabet, and we watched a video of a guy teaching how to teach the phonetic table, focusing on the physicality of producing sounds.
Sounds to the left of the 3x4 simple vowel set at the top-left involve the tongue/jaw dropping as you move down, and the mouth narrowing as you move from left to right. From now on when doing lesson plans we have to write things out phonetically so we have to be familiar with this chart. It's still fuzzy for me.

In the afternoon, those of us who didn't teach on Friday taught the last session with the Intermediate class. This was the first time that someone had a major hiccup during a lesson - they couldn't find their photocopies of a handout which led to delays and confusion and running out of time. Meanwhile, Roger and I doodled on our handouts again.

Last night was spent completing Assignment 1, which involved analysing the use of the present perfect in the sentence, 'He's been to Paris, he's eaten snails and he's done lots of things.' We then had to analyse the differences between future tense forms using 'will' and 'going to' and study the use of 'to fit' and 'to suit'.

This morning we had more on error correction, a session on teaching vocabulary and a bit about different practice exercises. In the afternoon we were in our new classes for the first time. My group has moved to the Upper Intermediate class, and we watched the tutor (Boswell this time) teaching for two hours after we discussed our lessons for tomorrow/Thursday with her. We got a lot less direction in dealing with the task we had been given this time round, which may have been because it was a new tutor, or may have been to make us more independent. This evening I planned my lesson, which is on collocation - the way we use certain words together for no other reason than custom (dependent on, obsessed with, saying 'wreck your chances' rather than 'break your chances'), which counts as a language lesson, but is more complicated than teaching vocab or grammar because it's about many different sets of words. Anyway, it's prepared, I just have some photocopying to do tomorrow and I'm set.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Japan meets Sukottorando

I almost forgot!

I got an email from the Scottish JET Alumni Association yesterday morning about a Japanese-themed event at a high school in town with food and workshops and stuff. Since I'd been wanting an opportunity to meet Japanese people but hadn't done anything about it, I decided to go along.

There were no signs or other indications outside the building that there was anything going on inside, so I wasn't sure if I'd got the information mixed up. There were people showing up intermittently, though, so I followed behind a family of four. They went up to a reception desk that was manned by none other than the my old high school headmaster, who'd retired in the year or year after I finished high school. My first time back in a school in Edinburgh and it's my old headmaster who's there to greet me. We chatted a bit (he seemed to recognise me after I asked if it was him) and it seemed the reason for his being there was that his sons have connections to Japan - both have taught there and one is married to a Japanese lady.

I went downstairs into the bowels of the school, where a stage of sorts was set up in what I guessed to be a foyer-cum-cafeteria. There had been a fashion show and there was some singing of Scottish folk songs and Japanese folk songs, with explanations about how many Japanese ones came from Scottish ones that made their way over after Japan opened after the Meji Restoration. They also sang the theme from Laputa: Castle in the Sky.

There weren't actually many Japanese people manning the stalls - the majority of them were staffing the kitchen (apparently Japanese playgroup mums) so I didn't know how I was going to get any J-hongo practice in. Eventually I plucked up the courage to randomly talk to a guy wearing a red happi coat and we chatted a fair bit. He's a consul working at the consulate (duh!), but not the main consul. I don't really understand how it works. It says consul on his business card. He seemed disappointed that I didn't have any of my own. Gotta get on that. After CELTA. Business cards are cool.

Anyway, he said he hadn't had a chance to get into studying English and his wife was the same, so I sent an email offering my services. Networking ftw.

I didn't stay long after talking to him since that was my main objective: talk in Japanese. Mission Accomplished.

Ongoing Frustrations

I've been getting annoyed at my old supervisor in Japan. I want her to send me the money that was in my account but she's been really weird about it.

First off she apparently wanted to wait until she could also send my tax refund, which is a thing that I should get after claiming back the pension money I paid while I was there. However, to get your pension refund you have to send a form to the Japanese Inland Revenue people, and it can take months for a response. In my case it's already taken around two and I've had nothing. After it arrives I can send another form back to my supervisor who can claim back the tax that was taken from the pension refund, which will take additional time. I know a JET whose pension refund took a year to arrive, and since I have bills to pay I couldn't wait that long, so I explained this to my supervisor. She finally agreed to send me my money and asked how much of it to send (since some would need to be kept to pay for the other money in future being sent...supposedly).

She told me the maximum that could be sent via postal money order is £2500. Not really knowing what a postal money order is, and thinking it sounds a bit retro and potentially unreliable, I asked if she could use a money wiring service that I'd used when I was in Japan. She refused to do that, but didn't give a reason. Maybe it's JET Programme policy or something. I said fine, just send £2500 now then.

Her next email read, " I sent your money through money order today. However, they are not supposed to send money by money order. They can use wire to do so, which means I'm not going to send the paper of money order. You are going to get ten 250-pound checks in two or three weeks. You had better change them into cash within three months."

What does that even mean, seriously? If they're wiring the money, how am I getting cheques? And is this going to increase the number of times I'm paying for currency conversion?

I really wish I'd just given Emily my bank card and transfer card and got her to send it. If my supervisor had sent an email saying, "A lot of money has gone from your account!" my response would have been,

"Deal with it."

Saturday, 16 October 2010

The Legend of CELTA - A Preener Off-Time (End of Week 1)

After my lesson went well on Wednesday I was able to relax a bit. I didn't have anything really to prepare for Thursday since I wasn't teaching - I just had to look over the instructions for my lesson on Friday so I could dicuss them with the trainer. Our morning session included analysing the concept behind parts of language. The example was "managed to" as in "I managed to open the window", which is split into "I tried", "It was difficult" and "I succeeded". One reason for doing this is that when we do lesson plans in future we have to write up language analyses and file them with our other materials. We also learned about the basic stages of the two types of lesson (language and skills) which we also have to write for our plans.

The afternoon was a little boring because I wasn't teaching, and we had to watch the lessons of the other three trainees. Not that it was particularly boring, but when you have to sit still without participating for two hours you can get a bit antsy. Me and kindred spirit Roger passed the time by filling in silly answers on the handouts our classmates were using, though always aware of the threat of the teacher-trainer, who had warned us that she would have stern words for anyone laughing or talking during other trainees' lessons.

That evening I was feeling a bit like I'd drawn the short straw along with the other two who had been teaching on the same days as me. Not only had we had the first 40-minute lessons of the group, the day after our first 20-minute lessons, we also had 3 lessons in the first week and for the first time had to write lesson plans for them and hand them in by 2pm of the day of the lesson. The other three wouldn't have to do a lesson or plan until Monday, so got the whole weekend to work on them. I got my stuff together for my reading lesson okay, but I had trouble writing the plan, mostly because we hadn't been given an example of a lesson plan for a skills lesson. I did half of it and left the rest until I could ask a trainer.

I wasn't as nervous on Friday morning as I had been on Wednesday, but in a way my lack of nerves itself was a cause for concern. I thought my lesson was a good one, perhaps even an easy one to pull off, so I started to think that it would all just blow up in my face for my cockiness. I'd gotten good comments for my Wednesday lesson so it was almost inevitable that things would go downhill.

In the morning session we did a bit on language lessons where the target language (the grammar point, vocabulary or construction) is introduced through a text (listening or reading) as the context before studying it in detail. We then had a lesson on phonology, and spent a lot of time on the phonetic alphabet (that thing with the upside-down 'e's). At the end we were given either the question or punchline to a joke written in the phonetic alphabet and we had to work out how to say it and then find the person who had the other half of our joke. Mine was the old classic, "What do you call a deer with no eyes?".

I was last to teach in the afternoon lesson, so I was a little worried the students might be worn out, but I managed to get them interested in my lesson on holidays quickly with a picture of my trip to the Great Wall on my ipad. Using the technology for the win. They had to talk about different kinds of holiday, then had to guess the winners of five categories in the "100 places to visit before you die" survey. I put their predictions on the board before giving them the handout with the article on, and they had one minute to check their answers. I really enjoyed this part of the lesson because they were really into it. The problem was that I'd expected to have to go over more vocabulary, but they seemed to understand everything. At least, they said they did. In retrospect, I should have gone over it anyway. At the very least I could have helped with pronunciation. Anyway, after speeding through the first half of the lesson it became evident that the last parts would be stretched a little. After the second reading exercise (which they managed, but they didn't do the 'scan reading' as well as I would have liked) they had discussion time in pairs, but there was still 15 minutes left in the lesson so they had a LOT of time to do it. I got a "to standard, with strengths" for the lesson so it wasn't as good as my Wednesday lesson (according to the trainer) but maybe it's better I don't get overconfident and cease to learn anything.

After the day's teaching we went, as per CELTA course tradition, to the pub with the students so we had the chance to freely chat with them. It was nice, since we didn't have much time to talk to them in class except where it related to the lesson. I got home after 8, but I didn't mind since it felt worth it. The first week of CELTA was over and I was still alive, and having gotten my third lesson out of the way I didn't have as much to do over the weekend as some of the other trainees.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The Legend of CELTA - Legs A-Shakening (Days 2 and 3)

I didn't post last night because after a day at the school and prep in the evening, I needed a break. But I have no prep to do for tomorrow (other than a little checking over of Friday's lesson) so here's my second two days on CELTA summed up.

The morning sessions at the school follow the same pattern. After everyone's arrived we have a class about either an aspect of teaching of an aspect of language. Yesterday, Boswell, who's one of the three teacher-trainers who's running the course told us we were going to cover the present continuous form, and we should take out our notebooks and copy down what she was saying. She spoke quickly and went over the uses and construction of the form and then told us to write ten example sentences. Most of us had had a hard time keeping up with the explanation but everyone was going along with it until Carol, who's in my teaching group asked, "Are you having us on?". "Yes, yes, I am," was the reply. The point of the exercise was to show us everything that was wrong with that style of teaching, how it alienates the students by giving them no involvement and how 'teacher talk' should be kept to a minimum. She then started again and used a scenario drawn on the board to introduce the grammar, and got most of the information from us. In a good language class, teaching should be about almost getting the students to teach themselves. It's a bit like when Socrates coaxes the slave in the Meno to answer his mathematical questions. It's a far cry from anything I was doing in Japan.

Yesterday afternoon all six members of all groups had a 20-minute teaching session with our classes. Mine involved going over the grammar of answering questions of the forms, "Did you...?", "Have you...? "Are you...?" etc and then playing a game with cards to practice. It went well, the students were engaged and I got good comments (a "to standard, with strengths" according to the course criteria), though I was nervous the whole time, despite my three years' experience. I was also told to stop "echoing" - repeating what the students (or I) have said. I never saw it as a problem before, since in Japan I was teaching 40 students who would answer very quietly, so I would repeat the answer so everyone could hear. Repeating instructions was usually necessary because the students' level wasn't so high. Anyway, it's a habit that I now have to try to get out of.

I got home late yesterday after doing photocopying at the school to prepare for my lesson today, which was 40 minutes on grammar. I spent an hour or so writing out exactly what I was going to do in the lesson in addition to preparing my handout. I went to bed at a reasonable hour, and my dreams were filled with people from the course and lessons and planning and waking up was a bit of a relief.

I was nervous and for the second day in a row I struggled to eat breakfast while watching the Chilean miners on tv. The stomach butterflies won out and I couldn't finish my cereal, and I had to head to the school so I could do some more photocopying. I finished my two-sided handouts and made a transparency for the OHP (how retro is that?) before the morning session started.

This morning, we watched a DVD that looked to be from the 80s where a teacher taught a class on the past perfect tense. She did it by telling a story about her car breaking down on her way to a Simply Red concert (LOL) and through lots of questioning managed to turn the students towards the 'marker sentence' "When I got to Wembley, the concert had started." It was impressive how much she got the students to do themselves and how late in the lesson it was before she actually wrote anything on the board. After this session we had one with Sabadi on using texts, and about different kinds of reading and listening. There was then time in our groups for those teaching tomorrow to discuss their lessons with the trainer, while the rest of us stressed about our after-lunch lessons.

I was second to go in our group after all, and I was able to fulfil the aims of the lesson in the 40 minutes I had, though some stages perhaps ran too long and others didn't have enough time. I got the only "above standard" in our group, which I was really happy about, though I was aware that I was still echoing some of the time. Those of us who taught today got our lesson instructions for Friday to look at and ask about tomorrow, but other than that I don't have any prep to do tonight. Phew. It gets tougher from hereon in, though, because in addition to lessons we will soon have to start handing in proper lesson plans, and we also have four assignments to do over the four weeks. Still, it's a relief to know that tomorrow I don't have to do any teaching.

Monday, 11 October 2010

The Legend of CELTA (Dawn of the First Day)

I set my alarm for 6.45 this morning, which was a bit of a shock to the system after months of long lies. I played it safe by getting a bus just after 8, and I got to the place about quarter to nine, the second one there of the eighteen doing the course. While waiting for everyone to arrive we chatted amongst ourselves, and at 9 we started.

The first half of the morning was taken up doing ice-breaker activities. We threw a stuffed parrot around until we'd learned each others' names, then did the classic 'Find someone who...' game. Later we were taught Lao by one of the teachers to show us some of the things we need to be aware of when teaching a foreign language. Sabadi! Later we were split into the three groups in which we would be teaching for the rest of the course. Each group spends about a week with a class of one of three levels before changing round. I'm teacher number 1 of group 2, and so we're starting with the intermediate class before moving up to upper-intermediate, and finishing the course with the pre-intermediates. Being assigned number 1 means that I'm down to teach first when we do our first main teaching sessions on Wednesday, which is for 40 minutes. We all also have to do a 20 minute session tomorrow, for which I have to do a little preparation tonight.

In the afternoon we met the students for the first time, though for most of the 2-hour session we just watched the teacher-trainer teach the students. After teaching in Japan for three years I was comforted to see a class that was active and interested, able to communicate in English and eager to contribute. I'm hoping teaching in this situation is going be easier than the blood-from-a-stone experience of being a JET at non-academic schools.

We finished around five, and by the time I got home a little before six I was completely exhausted. I was starving but I barely had the energy to eat. I had a bit of a power nap earlier, though since I still have to cut out some things for my session tomorrow. Will post a report of how that goes.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Big Changes

So I've slowly been easing myself out of the complacent torpor I'd been living in since I got back from Japan. The main reason has been the starting of my Creative Writing course, which has begun to activate my brain in news ways, which is exciting. I've been writing something (nothing really that will develop into anything, but things that are good for exercising creative muscles) every day, and I've been more eager than usual to stay ahead of the workload. Of course, there's another reason for being more than up to date with the creative writing course, and that's because my Cambridge CELTA starts tomorrow. I did two pre-course tasks designed to brush up on my knowledge of English, so I now know the difference between simple past tense and past perfect, I know what register and collocation mean in relation to word use, and I know what a modal auxiliary verb is. Sort of. I'll need to keep going back to the reference material every now and then until I have it down properly.

Anyway, the course starts at 9 tomorrow morning, and runs from 9-5 for the next four weeks with additional preparation work at home, so it's a bit scary to be on the brink of it all. I hope it will be fun and that I'll be able to share some stories and experiences here, for people interested in the field or just for giggles. If I can find time in the busy schedule.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Flies on us

Taking advantage of an unexpected resurgence of warm weather, I went for a stroll along the convenient stretch of countryside that's in walking distance of the suburban area in which I live. It would have been completely lovely, but apparently it's larva hatching season and the flies were out in serious force. And not just along the river, they were floating around the main road as well. They had no qualms about landing on clothes, faces and in hair. It was not nice.

I wanted to take some nice pictures, since there's likely to be more dull skies and rain for the foreseeable future, but because of all the flies I ended up just taking the one. Enjoy.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Japan Mess

Just as I was settling into my life back home and getting used to the possessions and space I had, guess what arrived at the door!
 It wasn't long before my room turned into this:
I had a whole life in Japan's worth of stuff to fit into my life back home. It wasn't easy, but after a few days I managed to get everything under control. Now everything's nice again.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Back again

I've been out of the blogosphere for the last week, mostly due to my laptop being in the shop for repairs. It was overheating playing Age of Empires 3 and the speakers had been broken for a while. I suppose if I'd been desperate to write I could have done it through my iPad, but I got frustrated dealing with the smaller screen.

Anyway, in the week I've been away I managed to finish my CELTA pre-course task (took me a while, but I got there) and I went to a meeting on Saturday because I'm doing a Creative Writing course with the Open University, starting in October. Should be fun.

Also, I've had a lot of driving lessons recently. Before the end of August, I'd never driven a car before, and I didn't even understand the basic principles involved. Now I'm cruising along merrily, at least until I change gear too fast and stall the car with a queue of traffic behind. This week we started on three point turns, which may be a bit of a mental block for me. Too many things to think about at once.

Also, I got a pinboard onto which I have stuck my Creative Writing course schedule and a weekly planner in the hopes that it'll get me on track with the various things that need doing. I'll see how that works out. I've cleared my desk of most of the unnecessary items and turned it into more of a work space.

Productivity, here I come.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Terminal Procrastination

As I mentioned in the last post, I'm learning to drive. I had my first lesson a few weeks ago. Next week I'm sitting my driving theory test.

From the 11th of October I'm starting my CELTA course. Before I start I have to read up on stuff and learn everything about grammar that I didn't know during the interview.

I haven't mentioned this before, but I'm also starting a course with the Open University in October on Creative Writing. This one lasts until next June, and I'll have coursework to do while the CELTA course is going on. There's a lot of reading and thinking about ideas that needs doing.

And here I am, doing nothing.

In fairness, I have done a fair bit of preparation for the theory test. But that's probably the easiest part of what I have to do. The problem is that when I have a lot of things I know need doing, I end up starting none of them. And playing computer games instead.

Sometimes, the efforts I go to to avoid procrastination are in themselves a form of procrastination. "I procrastinate because I don't have whiteboard markers to write down what I have to do on a whiteboard, which will make all the difference." So I wait until I have whiteboard markers. Procrastination. Then I have whiteboard markers, but suddenly the whiteboard seems insufficient so I need a pinboard. Order one on amazon, and in the meantime, procrastinate.

Then, when I've run out of excuses, instead of doing the things I'm supposed to be doing, I'll blog about not doing them. Procrastination on the subject of procrastination.

It has to stop. Not the blogging, necessarily, but the excuses. I'm back in the real world, now, and it's time to get real.


Pope's in town

The Pope started his trip to the UK today in Scotland, landing here this morning at about 10.30. I had a driving lesson from then which I wasn't sure was going to happen, what with traffic diversions and whatnot, but the roads were actually quite clear. I was near Holyrood Palace - the Queen's official residence in Scotland - yesterday, and it was surrounded by security and media. This morning, the man himself was there and gave a speech after being given a tour by the Queen.

I was looking through some of the stuff in my cupboard after I came back from Japan and there's some things in there that are from when I was at primary school. In primary six or so we were learning about Europe and each of us had to do a project about one of the member states of the EU. I chose Italy since I seem to have that ancestry, and I made a tissue picture of the Pope (perhaps not knowing that the Vatican City is an independent state). When I found this picture, it struck me that it looks a lot more like the current Pope than it does of Jean Paul II, who was obviously the Pope at the time. See what you think:

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Fish and Chips

I had fish and chips from the chip shop last week. Or, I should say, I had a fish supper from the chippy. Supper means with chips. I realised that I hadn't actually had this trademark item since before I first moved to Japan. Three years without a chippy (chippy also refers to food that comes from the chippy). Anyway, here it is:

Friday, 10 September 2010

CELTA is win

I had my CELTA interview today. I passed, though it seemed like you would have had to have given them cause for concern for them not to offer you a place.

We had to do a short test at the start, which tested your sense of the language and also knowledge of the names of tenses. I didn't do too well on that front, but we were told that most people didn't; these were the things we needed to be confident of by the time the course started. There was also some spelling to correct and we had to write a response to the statement, "You don't need a teacher to learn a language, only a grammar book and dictionary."

After finishing our tests we were asked a few questions, but it never felt like being grilled, as job interviews often do. Then we had to do a short teaching session with something we'd prepared. I brought my friend's Perudo set and taught them that. It's a dice game (also called "Liar's dice") and after that we had to assess our own performance.

Finally, we had to spell ten words read out by the interviewer, then write the correct punctuation of ten sentences. I got 19/20 for putting an apostrophe in "1920s" - fool that I was. I knew it felt wrong, but as the lady said, you see it written incorrectly all over the place.

After being given the opportunity to ask questions, we were told we were okay to go on the course if we wanted and so we paid our deposits.

We were warned, however, that the course is very intensive, and in addition to the 9-5 of the classes, we would have between eight and and twelve hours a week planning our forty-minute lesson slots that we would be doing every other day.

Expect much blogging on this subject when the course starts on the 11th of October. At 10am.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Steve update

I got up earlier than usual today and as I was rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I caught my first glimpse of Steve for a couple of weeks. This time he was going from right to left, apparently heading back the way I usually see him come. As soon as I saw him, I grabbed my camera, but by the time it was on and ready, he'd already jumped over the wall into the neighbour's garden. I got close to the window and pointed the camera at the gap between two bushes where he would have to pass through, but apparently he noticed me, and stopped to stare at me for a while from a small gap between two other bushes.
You can just espy him behind the black pole. I was a little creeped out by his staring. I didn't think he would be able to see me since he'd already passed through our garden. When he finally moved off I got another unsatisfying snap of his retreating form.
I'm determined to get a good shot of him someday.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

How to get on the JET Programme Part One - The Application

I thought it was about time I posted something useful.

It's September, which means in a month or two the application forms for the JET Programme year 2011-2012 will become available. JET is a potentially life-changing experience, but it's not the easiest thing to get on. True, some are lucky and get through the process with little difficulty. Based on what I know from my own application experience and what I learned from meeting the other JETs in Japan, I'm going to give some tips for the first stage - the application. Some of the advice will only be relevant to those applying to be an ALT, but much of it applies to anyone looking for a place on the JET Programme

1. The Application form
The JET Application form is very long and detailed. Here's a link to one from last year.
Going in order, then.
i. Placement
The form lets you choose three prefectures or designated cities in order of preference. I wouldn't worry about this too much. Very few people get a placement that's anywhere near what they asked for, but you shouldn't worry about that either. Most often, people request to be placed in places they've heard of, or visited before. These tend to be famous towns and cities, and there are so many people who want to go to these places that very few can get their wish. My advice is either to choose where you really want to go, prepared for the possibility that you wont be allowed to go there or - and I think this is the smart option - research lesser-known prefectures and put down a place that sounds interesting. I was placed in Tokushima Prefecture which wasn't among my choices and seemed really out of the way, but it was only two hours on the bus from Kobe and Osaka, and the Prefecture is the home to Japan's biggest dance festival, which I've also heard is the second largest dance festival in the world next to the Rio Carnival.
The form also asks if you'd rather live in an urban, semi-urban or rural environment. Now, rural Japan can be very isolated, and while the scenery can be stunning, you should remember you may be the only foreigner in the local area. It takes a particular kind of person to take on that challenge. Not to say, again, that you will necessarily get the kind of area you requested, but if you choose rural, because of the huge number of rural placements available against the smaller number of inner-city placements, you are more likely to end up in one of them.

I should note that if you have good reasons for wanting a placement - a spouse or dependent in that prefecture, for example, you are far more likely to get it. The only people I know who got their choice of prefecture were married to Japanese women from that prefecture.

ii Teaching Background
A lot of people on the JET Programme are passionate about teaching, want to be full-time teachers, or are already teachers in their home countries. Some have done a TEFL course, but most haven't. What I'd say here is that, as you would expect, any relevant experience or qualifications will be useful, but you shouldn't worry if you don't have a lot. In my case, I took part in a student support scheme where students from my university were placed in local high schools to help in classes. I did it the semester I was applying for JET so I'd have something to put down. Maybe it worked in my favour. If there's something you can do, even at the last minute, so you can put it on your form, it's worth considering.

iii International/Intercultural Experience
I think this is probably at least as, if not more important than teaching experience. One of the purposes of the JET Programme, as written in its charter, is to promote grassroots international understanding. I was a member of the Japan Society at my university. I also visited Japan for two weeks, two years before I applied for JET. That was about the extent of my experience, but it showed that I had a strong interest in Japan and, more importantly, went there for a while and came back wanting to go again. One of the things that concern the people who look over the applications, and who interview you if you pass this first stage, is the possibility that you'll get sent to Japan, find out you can't cope with the climate, the food or whatever, and have to go home. They lose thousands in plane tickets and other fees when this happens. These are the things to bear in mind while applying.

iv Japanese
There are plenty of people who go on JET that have zero language experience. It's perfectly fine to say you're a beginner in all areas of the application form, but showing an effort to learn will obviously do no harm. I'd been learning through evening classes and self-study for a couple of years before applying, and when I got to Japan I studied most of the time I was there.

That's about it as far as the application form goes. Just...don't lie, obviously. It may come back to bite you.

2. Personal Statement
I don't have much to say on this subject. Most people who apply for JET come from Arts degrees rather than sciences, so should know how to write an essay, and even if I was qualified to tell you how to write the perfect one, it would probably take a whole book to do so. All I can say is that when you write something like this, it's about selling yourself, making yourself sound better or different than everyone else, and making your education and life experience seem like it was geared from the start towards applying for the JET Programme. Make every paragraph do its job. Make it clear why you think everything you've done would help you if your application was successful. If you have too much experience to fit the space you have, choose the best and most relevant pieces.
Anyone reading this who wants more specific advice on the personal statement can comment or email me.

3. Other Preparation
There are a lot of things you have to get sorted out before you're ready to send your application. Make sure you leave plenty of time to get academic transcripts, proof of degrees etc. and ask for your references well in advance. In my case, I got references from two tutors of courses I was taking that semester. I'd never had these tutors before (and never did again) so they didn't know me so well, but I asked them in advance and they gave me the references after I'd handed in essays to them, as well as my personal statement. When you have everything you need, of course send the thing off early enough so you don't have to worry about it arriving on time. The person I got to write my second reference did so a little late, so I ended up sending by (expensive) next-day guaranteed postage.

So there you have it. A brief but I hope useful guide to the first stage you need to pass to get on the JET Programme. If you pass this stage - and as far as I know, most candidates with at least some relevant experience do - then you'll get an interview in January or February, which is the real challenge. More on that later. Please leave comments or questions, or you can send me an email.

CELTA Update

After much email wrangling and getting nowhere, and time ticking away until what happened last month seemed doomed to repeat itself, and the October course filled up before I got a chance to interview for it, I did the sensible thing. I went to the office in person. Should have done it a lot sooner. Now I have an interview on Friday at 3.

I think sometimes I avoid having to deal with people directly and use email for that purpose. It's a bad habit and I should try to get out of it.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

The Fabulous Bacon Boy

We get bacon from a delivery boy now.

Well, not all our bacon. But it's only natural to have bacon needs that the major supermarkets can't fulfil. Actually, I'm not sure why my mum has decided to get bacon from the bacon boy. Maybe it's just a way to support a local entrepreneur.

Anyway, last Wednesday my mother was going to see Alexander McCall Smith in the Edinburgh book festival, so she left me in charge of getting our unsmoked back bacon and giving him the money, if he were to stop by while no one was in. This was just in case he came round - he was supposed to be there on Tuesday. Anyway, I completely forgot about the bacon boy very quickly. Let's call it a freak brain malfunction. Thus early on Wednesday evening when the doorbell rang, I assumed it was a door-to-door cavity wall insulating company and didn't get up to answer it. But I went to the front window upstair to catch a look of whoever it was as they were leaving. When I saw what looked like a teenaged boy in a white coat with a bucket (o' bacon!) I realised my mistake.

My mind works in weird ways, sometimes. I can be entirely ruthless and detached at times, and at others I get stupidly emotionally involved. As I watched as the bacon boy walked down the road, glancing back just in case someone had taken their time in coming to the door, I started to feel really guilty. What if this poor boy needed the bacon money to pay his way through university? What if my failure to buy his bacon led to the collapse of his business? Such things I think. But then, in an effort to make myself feel better, I remembered that he was supposed to come on Tuesday. That'll teach you, Bacon Boy! Come when you're supposed to! Still, the guilt remained.

This week, with my parents away on holiday, once again bacon buying duty fell to me. I was determined not to make the same mistake twice. However, a hitch occurred to me when I realised that my second ever driving lesson was scheduled right around the time would have been due - between 7 and 8 on Tuesday. Emily suggested I leave a note on the front door to the effect of, "I'm not in right now, but don't give up on us, Bacon Boy!". I ended up being too much in a rush to leave a note, but it didn't matter, anyway. The Bacon Boy came this evening.

I was looking out the front window because the ice cream van was there (there was always an ice cream van when I was growing up but I didn't remember there being one for years) and I wanted to see how much business it did. And there, coming along the street, with shoulder-length hair and unshaved lip-fuzz, was the Bacon Boy. Hooray for the Bacon Boy! I ran to get the money my mum left and went to answer the door.

When I answered the door, the Bacon Boy didn't say anything. He just sort of stared at me, or behind me, I couldn't quite tell. I assumed he was wondering where my mother was. She had, after all, been the authority in the house vis a vis bacon purchasing, so I explained that the parents were away. He still didn't say anything about what he was giving me, or even asking what I wanted, so I started to wonder if he was a bit special. So I just told him what it was that I thought my mum would buy and he finally responded and gave me the price when I asked. When I gave him the money and the goods were handed over, he finally looked at me, and at my hoodie, and asked, "Is that a Fullmetal Alchemist top?" Aha! The weird looks and silence are kind of explained. So we chatted about Fullmetal Alchemist and I told him that I'd been living in Japan for the last three years. His response was, "That is so cool." Finally, recognition!

He left, saying that Wednesday was now the day for bacon, and I was left feeling much better about the whole business.

This was about twenty minutes ago. Who says you need time to reflect before writing about the really life-changing events?

Tuesday, 24 August 2010


While I've been away in Japan, there has apparently been an infestation of rabbits in this particular part of the suburban sprawl in which I live. When I was growing up I never saw wild rabbits in the gardens or streets, but now you see them almost every day.

I'm not sure if it's related, but over the past few weeks I've seen a fox out the back. It crosses our garden from the neighbours on the left, goes into the garden two houses down on the right, then heads through the back bushes into a garden in the street behind. Urban foxes are not a new phenomenon, though the news of one entering a house and attacking two baby girls a while back has made people more aware of them. Though I had seen a fox a couple of times in the garden before I went away to Japan three years ago, like the rabbits, the frequency with which I've seen them recently is really surprising.

Today, I was able to take a picture for the first time. My earlier sightings had both occurred in early evening, when the light was growing yellower but sunset was still far off. Today, I saw it in the morning. I wasn't able to get a picture of it in our garden because it caught be by surprise, but I grabbed my camera and took one from the hall window. This is the fox in the garden two doors down.
Click for the larger version (where you can actually see the fox). I've seen the rabbits in the garden as well so I'm wondering if some of them have become a food source for the foxes. Urban foxes are known to have a worse diet than their forest counterparts due to scavenging the crap that humans call food. Or that humans called food three days ago and threw out. I wonder if this guy has cubs somewhere that he's going back to. I find it interesting that he keeps going through these gardens - it might mean he has a den in one of them. The way he was heading doesn't lead to any wild land, though the direction he came from does.

For the time being I shall call him Steve and report if I see him again.

Friday, 20 August 2010 FAIL

I got an email to say the CELTA course in September is full. When they'd asked me in for an interview the last time they'd had three people who hadn't paid deposits, but now all the places have been filled. It's my own fault for taking too much time to decide to do the course, but I think I needed that time. Anyway, I can probably do it in October, but there was something else I wanted to do then and I'm not sure I can do them both at the same time.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010


One of the things I thought would be good to do as an interim sort of job was teaching English to exchange students and other learners here in the UK, preferably here in Edinburgh. However, to do that you need a good TEFL qualification. One of the most highly regarded is the Cambridge CELTA course. I looked into it and there was one in town, so I got the application form and sent it off late last night. It included a brief English test and an essay on what makes a good language learner. I didn't expect such a fast response, but this morning I was told my application looked fine and they wanted to see me for an interview to see if I was up to the course. I should point out here that the course is quite expensive so it feels weird to have to jump through hoops for them, but whatever.

Anyway, if I want I can have an interview next Wednesday. During the process, which is a group interview, I have to 'teach' the others in the group how to do something. Suggestions included the operation of a camera, or origami. I've not decided finally, but I think I'll try to teach Perudo - or "Liar's dice" - a dice game that appears in the second Pirates of the Caribbean film. My friend/daughter Heather has a set (she taught me how to play) that she will let me borrow. I should probably do a practice run so I don't mess up.

The only thing is that if I'm successful on the day, I'll be told immediately and will be expected to pay a deposit for the course. Still not sure I want to pay so much for something I left Japan to avoid having to do.

But then, I need a job, or at least something to do, to avoid the crushing shame of living in my parent's house and sleeping till 1pm after staying up all night playing Left 4 Dead 2.

Friday, 13 August 2010

At the Boom-bassa-boom Festival

On Wednesday, Lenn came to town. Lenn is one of our old gang of high school friends who abandoned Edinburgh in favour of Glasgow, which makes her a blood traitor in some circles. I should clarify at this point that Lenn is a girl, and that her 'real' name is Kathleen. We had this Iranian physics teacher at school who pronounced her name 'Kathlenn', and this was picked up on by someone else in that class, and eventually we all started calling her 'Kathlenn', and eventually just 'Lenn'. It's the one nickname I've encountered so far in life that hasn't come off as forced or contrived. When I think of her now, I think 'Lenn', and 'Kathleen' sounds weird.

Anyway, she came to Edinburgh to see me, but as we were arranging plans, Kirsty texted me to ask if I wanted to see an a capella singing act called Out of the Blue in the festival. Naturally, I asked Lenn if she wanted to go too, and after a brief tirade about how much she hated the festival, she said she'd love to. Sorted.

Lenn and I met in the afternoon after some delays, and after asking me to wiggle my ears for her amusement (something she asks any time she hasn't seen me for a while) we set off to meet Kirsty. This was easier said than done, however, since neither Lenn nor I really knew the city very well. Street names are often meaningless to me. Which is a shame because Edinburgh has some wonderfully-named places. Kirsty had told us to meet them at George Square, but both Lenn and I had gotten this confused with St Andrew's Square, which is found at the end of George Street. Word association FAIL. After contacting Kirsty and arranging a different meeting place, we headed for the High Street - an upper portion of Edinburgh's Royal Mile that leads from the Castle down to Holyrood Palace at the centre of the City's historical Old Town. On the way, we passed a man in a cloak and hat giving a tour of one the area to a small group. Lenn grumbled about the audacity of the man - English by his accent - by thinking himself qualified to talk about a Scottish city. I laughed because this was classic Lenn.

There was much more cause for grumbling as we hit the centre of the pedestrian tourist traffic. The street was heaving with people watching street performers, going to and fro between show venues, or just soaking up the atmosphere. Someone told me recently that they hated the festival because for two weeks, Edinburgh turns into London, and all the reasons you wouldn't want to live in London start applying here. Lenn certainly wasn't impressed by the business of it all, especially not by the leafleters who shoved flyers for their shows in your face every few steps. Lenn complained about how she'd been brought up to be polite, and therefore couldn't tell them, as she wanted, to 'F*** off and die'.  For myself, having lived in quiet Tokushima for three years, I felt a little unaccustomed to the activity and was relieved when we reached the venue, which was either an Edinburgh university building or a theatre nestled among them.

The show was good. Out of the Blue are an all-male a capella group out of Oxford University. Yes, they are as preppy-looking as you would expect, but during the performance at least they manage to avoid coming across as arrogant snobbish twats. They opened with "Don't you want me" by the Human League and traversed various genres and eras of music before closing the show with a Poker Face-Sexy Back mashup with a teeny bit of Barbie girl thrown in, followed by an encore of "Backstreet's Back" with a touch of "I want it that way" thrown in. Aside from the singing and human beatboxing, the songs included various gestures and simple dances that made them more entertaining. It was a good show. Still not sure if it was worth £10 for 45 minutes, but I'm a bit tight with British money. I was more of a spender in Japan.

Watch this space to find out if I go to anything else this year.

Friday, 6 August 2010


On the Thursday before I left Japan I did what I'd been wanting to do for a while - socialise with my tai-chi teacher outside of the gym. He told me to meet him in the morning in the city and we'd go to karaoke. What I didn't realise was that we'd also be meeting other people from his tai-chi classes, most of whom are elderly Japanese ladies. There were a few younger people there as well, though, including a Korean girl and a Japanese girl who was born in Vietnam.

It meant that we were singing in four different languages - Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean. Although the majority was taken up by Japanese enka songs - enka being a kind of melodramatic 'oldies' style of song. They're really easy to sing along with because they all sound the same, but you have to be good at a kind of vocal flourish to do them well. Anyway, I recorded my tai chi teacher singing a song in Chinese. Enjoy:

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Ghost and Horse

This picture was on my wall for a while in my bedroom in Japan. It was painted by an ex-girlfriend of the guy who is now the husband one of my best former-ALT friends. I'd always thought it was missing something, so with a few days left in Japan I called Emily into service to improve it.

Here is the result:

A festival of conviviality

The Edinburgh festival propers starts in a day or two. There are all sorts of plays, street performances, musicals, comedy acts etc all over the city and the town is full of people promoting their groups. Yesterday I was with Euan, my oldest friend, and some other high school friends in Princes Street gardens, sitting enjoying the nice weather, when we were accosted by a young American guy and girl promoting their stuff. They'd actually only met each other the previous evening, and were representing different shows. Her's was an improv musical show, where they take a title from the audience and make up a musical around it, from the music to the lyrics and script. His was...well, I have no idea actually. He was an odd one. He represented himself as a kind of life coach, who used improv performance to help people with self-confidence issues. After hanging out for a while they gave us flyers and departed to bother other people. I checked his website earlier. It seems interesting.

The whole experience made me feel better about being back home. It's nice to be somewhere where stuff's happening. I've been sitting in limbo for the last week. Time to wake up.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

キャラクターグッズ(Character goods)

I have this student...or rather had this student that I exchanged a diary with to help her practice written English. One day, a month or so ago, she asked me the question, "Do you want character goods?"

I Japan, anime and video game merchandising is big business. I myself am a fan of a few Japanese animes and mangas, but there aren't many places to get these so-called 'character goods' in Tokushima. Unless you want Ghibli stuff. You can get Ghibli stuff anywhere.

Anyway, I wasn't sure whether she meant to ask whether I like character goods, or if she was making an explicit offer, but I replied with a simple, "Yes."

Oh Lordy.

The next time I saw her, she gave me three One Piece folding fans (One Piece is a long-running manga/anime). Later, she asked me to choose items from pictures she had on her phone. There was loads of stuff on there - figurines, lunchboxes, watches, stickers etc. She said I could have anything. Since I'm a fan of Fullmetal Alchemist, I said I'd take a figurine of one of the characters from that, and a One Piece watch, since I'd been getting by without a watch for two years.

However, the next time we met she was carrying a One Piece bag containing the watch, a set of figurines, some sound fx buttons and various other items. Then, on my last day at school, she was carrying a huge bag containing even more of these character goods. I asked her where she got all this stuff from, and she told me her mother won them at game centres from UFO catchers and the like. This thought disturbed me not a little. By this time my desire for free stuff had to do battle with my desire to keep my luggage down, but the former proved the stronger force and won the day. Here's a picture of my final spoils:

I love stuff.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Pin badges

This was my bag yesterday, as it has been for a couple of years now. Since I started sticking pin badges on it.

I love pin badges. Perhaps too much. But I have rules.

The rules of acquisition for pin badges (version 0.89)

1. Only one pin badge may be bought from any one series. That is, only one from any machine of the same type.
Machines in the same city or representing the same location - but with a different set of pins - are fare game.
2. On receiving a pin from the machine, no matter how much fishy Japanese food it represents, the pin must be accepted.

One of my favorite things about travelling around Japan is the promise of new pin badges. I managed to get a whopping seven on the trip to Okayama and Hiroshima. Of course, now I've left Japan, I worry I wont be getting many new ones any time soon. I had to get rid of my old bag which I'd been carrying around for three years wherever I'd gone. It was my primary means of displaying my pin badges. It looked so bald and barren when I took them all off:
 I was inspired when I was in China in March and saw a giant world map covered in pin badges. I want a collection like that some day. I'd like to start a blog in future dedicated to the acquisition of pin badges from around the world, where people would send me badges along with stories about the places they came from and I'd post them along with pictures of the badge.

That's if I got enough readers to make that possible. A man can dream!

Friday, 30 July 2010

Well, I'm back

It's over, I've left Japan. Here begins my life after JET.

The end was nice. I got to say goodbye to almost everyone important before the end, and felt that if I wanted to make it happen, we could meet again in the future. I'm sure I'll get the chance.

I was expecting the end to feel like a tragedy. Sad and dramatic. Kind of like this:

But really it felt more like a celebration. More like this:

Is it a bad thing that I can only thing of the big events in my life in terms of fiction?

Anyway, I still have some stuff from Japan to blog about. Then I have to work out what to do with myself. Finally, the point of the blog sharpens to a....well, anyway.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Last day at school

Tuesday was my last day at school. I took the remainder of my contract days off since I had a surplus of nenkyuu (paid holidays). The most nerve-wracking business of the day was giving my farewell speech to all the students and teachers at a farewell ceremony in the gym. On paper it shouldn't have been any scarier than the one I did at Kagikou two weeks before, but at Tokusho I know more of the students, more of the teachers, and the place has been more of a home since Higashi closed.

The ceremony, like all Japanese ceremonies, was complicated and confusing. I had to sit down in a chair at the front of the room at the end of the regular end of term ceremony. Then the student guidance teacher harangued the students about discipline in the worst possible way - that way teachers talk in assemblies without having anything written down, and they just cover the usual cliches with lots of pausing while they work out their next line. Then the career guidance teacher gave a spiel, this one at least prepared. Then the teacher in charge of school business gave another speech about things the students needed to be aware of over the summer. Finally, I was announced, and I went up to the stage where the Principal spoke briefly about the wonder that is me. Then I gave my speech, which despite its hasty preparation the morning of, my forgetting it at home and even hastier rewriting it in brief memo form, went off quite well. At the end I took out my concealed camera and took a picture of the students, to better communicate what it's like to stand up in front of everyone:
After my speech, the head of the student council said a few words and I was given a giant bouquet of flowers. The students sang the school song at me and I descended the stage, and walked out with the students clapping and the teachers bowing. It was a nice moment.

I stayed at school for most of the day, and some students dropped by to say goodbye and give letters or gifts. I took pictures with them so I would remember them if I ever saw them again. I think I probably owe these kids more than they owe me for being their teacher.

On Tuesday evening Ada had a farewell party, which was pleasant. I made Mario order Uma no karaaage (an inside joke from our Momotaro musical of two years ago), much to the consternation of the waiter. I found it, and still find it difficult to feel really sad about leaving, even though it's less than two days away for me, but maybe I'll fall apart before the end. We can only hope.

Day 3 - Mountains again, Gandalf

On the last day of our trip - Monday - we decided to head back to Miyajima to take the ropeway up to the top of Mt Misen.
First was a four-person gondola:
Then a larger cable car the rest of the way. Not satisfied with the views from the transportation, or from the top of the ropeway, we steeled ourselves for climbing the rest of the way to the top of the mountain. But first, we took at look at the warning signs:
Luckily for our luggage (less so for my camera) there were no monkeys out that day. Perhaps it was too hot. It was certainly too hot for any sane people to be climbing a mountain. Mad dogs and Englishmen and all that. Not that I'm English.

We made it to the top after much sweating. There were many views to enjoy. The looks out over the Seto Inland sea towards Shikoku, "our island" (though I don't think you can see it here).
After making it down in one piece, we headed back to the mainland, back to Hiroshima city, and timed things perfectly so we could jump on the fastest Shinkansen this time, the Nozomi, which was a first for me. The Nozomi apparently can reach speeds of 300km/h over this stretch of track. We did the journey back to Okayama in 36 minutes, a cool 25 minutes faster than we did the same distance the day before.

With little time until our bus back to Tokushima, we rushed to the town of Kurashiki, which is famous for its preserved historical quarter. I wish we'd had more time to spend there, as there are so few places in Japan where the old isn't encroached upon by the new on all sides.
We literally had just enough time to walk out to this area, do a lap around it, then head back to the station. I feel like I'm cheating when I take photos of a place I haven't properly investigated. Ah well, maybe another day. Far into the future.

We got our bus back to Tokushima, which despite the rail link seems by far the best mode of transport between the two prefectures. On the bus I nabbed some sunset pictures. Behold!
Who needs rose-tinted spectacles when you have a digital camera, eh?