‘Stuff’ is like stones full of blood: I’m not always teaching, you know.

By, there's a clemmy!
By, there’s a clemmy!

Life abroad isn’t all massive prawns and fatal insect bites – sometimes it can be rough, too.

Today, I tore my hair out over a simple banking transaction in a foreign language. I then glued my hair back on and tore it out again over a simple online banking transaction in a language I thought was my own. It all ended in me ranting to some poor bloke in an online call centre somewhere on Planet Outsource. He seemed quite sanguine about the whole thing. We parted on good terms.

All this has left me with very little to say about teaching and learning. (I very nearly farted out a ‘Gamify Language Learning with Duolingo’, but quickly came to my senses.) But, whilst I am a teacher, I’m not ‘always on’. Perhaps, for once, I owe myself a little non-teachery blog?

Oooh, what to write about? The election? Hmm… doesn’t seem too much fun, does it? Seen from this distance, it looks to be a rising crescendo of binary back-biting: the antithesis of debate – no locking of horns, no clashing on real issues; just a series of false allegations from a not-so well-meaning group of people with more money than morals.

I’m not fully up to speed on the educational politics debate, but wouldn’t be surprised if it mostly involved one side’s attempts to import Coca Cola Schools from the US whilst the other side frantically regroups in a mostly reactive way – trying to appear tough on something AND tough on the causes of something. And so it goes.

So, I won’t write about the election. Perhaps I’ll write about this bracelet I’m wearing. It is made up of hundreds of tiny gunmetal grey beads and is locked in place by a burnished pebble plucked from the shores of Lake Michigan by my friend what made it. It is beautiful to look at, and beautiful to think about – because of its little narrative. I love the idea that a story can reside, like a portable Proust, in the most modest of objects.

The spectacles through which I am looking at this screen, were procured in an opticians in a southern suburb of Prague. They have Christian Dior written on them and are of a style popularised by Elvis Costello in the late seventies and early eighties.

As a student, I spent a summer working in the gift shop in the Statue of Liberty. I shared an apartment with four colleagues from the gift shop; one of whom could sing ‘Oliver’s Army’ quite well, if a little too often. He was quite a melodramatic chap – toward the end of the summer, he came out. More to his own surprise really.

Things are pretty amazing, aren’t they? They can adorn, like the bracelet; correct vision, like my specs. But it’s more the provenance and the associations that bubble up to the surface of them if you look at them for too long. I’ll bet if you scan your desk, you’ll have a ‘Best teacher’ mug from your most troublesome student or a Disney Land pen from a student whose name you can only remember because they appeared before you unbidden, inexplicably holding aloft a pen from Disney Land, for you.

Stories accrete around stuff like this. Stuff is like stones full of blood: you’ll be surprised what you can get from them.


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