CARTOON: Oaxaqueño sailor shipwrecks onto a desert island

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Sunshine in the Bin

sunshine in the bin

This made me laugh today. A quick glance at it incorrectly informed me that…

“Those who say sunshine brings happiness have never danced in the bin!”

It made me laugh and chortle. In fact it also, as I write this, makes me consider the new statement. As, if you were to be dancing in the bin, one would assume you’d be happy doing so. Therefore, sunshine would bear no relevance. Or, at least, if it did bring happiness, it wouldn’t be worth mentioning against the vast joy that comes from dancing in one’s bin.

Café etiquette?

Originally written on 27th May 2009:

This is interesting. I’m sat in a Waterstones café, notebook out, writing about a disabled boy and his father, when I realise A: I’m thirsty and B: if I’m sat in a café, I should probably buy something to justify my sitting there in the first place. So, I put my coat back on (as it has my ipod in it) and leave my notebook, bag and good pen to buy something non-dairy (gave it up for Lent) from the unbelievably slow café till. I get into the queue and am instantly overwhelmed by the worry that someone is going to chief my stuff (or take it, as the entire world outside London say). I stare at my table for a few minutes while I queue, but try to look like a normal British queuer. I then develop a technique in which I am able to look normal – albeit a little disgruntled by the time this moron behind the till to serve coffee and biscuits – but still constantly checking on my table. I’ve basically become the guy who stares off into the distance, completely unaware that he’s in a queue.

However, the more I look at my awaiting table, the more I notice people coming into the café; purchasing a coffee and then hovering, confused as to why, in such a busy place, this one table has been left untouched except for a notebook, pen, glasses case and bag. I begin to be able to hear people saying “well, just go and sit there.”

“I can’t. Someone was sitting there and their stuff is still there.”

“Harumph… Well, that’s their fault.”

Instead of feeling worried that someone is going to nick my stuff, I start to feel sorry for the poor sods who looked for tables, found mine, danced around it awkwardly (Should I sit here? What if the person comes back?) and then reported back to their queuing ringleader that there were no tables available, only to receive an earful about the enigma by the entrance.

RINGLEADER: “What about that one?”

FINDER: “Can’t. It’s taken. Someone’s stuff’s there.”

RINGLEADER: “Well…take it anyway! Who gives a monkey’s? Their fault, innit?”

I started to feel as if I were being unfair. Is it unfair to turn up to a café, sit down, leave your table unmanned yet bagsied, queue for ages in front of some dawdling twerp and then come back, knowing that good, honest people had simply turned up, bought coffee, then looked for a table? It probably is, but it’s not worth thinking about.

Still, there’s café etiquette that we should all abide by. You wouldn’t push in the queue to get on a ride at Disneyworld, so why would you push in at a café? Alright, so maybe I was being a bit naughty, but it was hardly ruthless. Far worse things happen at sea.

Even still, it was fun to imagine the look on the face of Queuing Ringleader when I sat down at the empty table, right beside him and his far lesser table.

RINGLEADER: “Grr…”

As I queued behind Ringleader, hearing him mouth off ever so slightly about people who bagsy tables and then queue, I could feel myself getting more and more anxious. “Please don’t attempt to sit there,” I was thinking. “I don’t want to have to go through an unpleasant scene of Britishness, where we end up umming, erring and eventually I give in and move, however in-the-wrong I feel I’m not.”

My arms crossed were slowly tightening across my chest as I watched and listened in worry. My mouth – already dry from having to wait for Matey Boy to serve his tiny line of customers – had become so dehydrated that my tongue would stick to the roof of my mouth. I’d try to swallow, but no new saliva was being created.

Even as I write this, I am re-experiencing the drought.

By the time I got to the cashier, I was so frustrated by his slow work and the lack of fluids in my body that I was barely able to speak the words, as I pointed to the Orangina I had placed on the counter, saying “just this, please mate.”

As soon as we exchanged monies, I ripped the orange bottle from the counter and darted to my abandoned table. I didn’t realise I was rushing until I’d planted myself at my table and taken in the relaxed atmosphere of the place. Yes, there is a large turnover of nameless customers here but, once they sit, they slow right down. There is still the constant clattering of crockery and blasting of espresso, but the tables are all very slow-moving. Everyone is living out their own lives on one-and-a-half metre diameter tables, about two metres from the next real lives.

Exam day

Originally written on 28th October 2009

Aren’t adults so much more conscientious than kids? I’m sorry kids, but sometimes it’s true and here’s an example: I, an English teacher, get two main benefits in this life, one; the large amount of holidays thanks to term times and two; gloriously silent, written exams.

It’s not that I take pleasure out of watching students squirm – as a teacher, that’s the last thing I want. I only enjoy written exam day because it means I can put my feet up and read or write in silence for an hour and a half. It also means I don’t have to plan a lesson the night before. Believe it or not, not a lot of thought goes into the act of turning up at school a few minutes early to collect the exam papers and then hand them out to eager students.

With this in mind, the hour or so of free time also means that you can people-watch quite comfortably without getting caught and, if anyone does catch you, they’ll most likely think you’re just ensuring no cheating’s going on.

Sat in the classroom now, as one of my adult classes scribbles away, I’m thoroughly impressed. At the beginning of the exam, I offered to end the class bang on time, thus robbing them of their allotted hour’s final ten minutes but, securing them a prompt arrival at their respective offices. To me, this seemed like something to have jumped at – who wants to stay the full hour when instead you could skip off merrily to the local café for a quick espresso before work?

They very quickly declined to cries of “no way, Jose!” or something along those lines. In agreement, we finished ten minutes later than usual.

This was the first thing to surprise me as I thought, much like my teen class doing the same exam the week before, they would rather get out of the proverbial Dodge faster than a speeding bullet than stay the entirety. Oh well, I thought. They’re bound to finish early, at least. I’ll get the tea brewing before everyone else finishes teaching this morning. It can’t possibly take the whole hour when, the week before, one of my teens practically ran out the door when he could.

Back in the adults class however…by about the forty-third minute, it was clear that most of the students had finished. They did the old check-over to see if they had missed anything and then…what’s this? Writing more? What are you doing? You’re supposed to be spilling the contents of your pencil case in desperation to leave! Why are you still here? You what? You want more paper? You’ve got a shed-load more paragraphs to write? Well alright, but this is very odd, you know…

Each one of them ended up taking the full hour offered to them. Imagine that! Someone offers you an hour to do something and you take exactly an hour without any thought of giving your teacher a free tea break after he’s just had his feet up for the last fifty minutes. This would never have happened in the teens’ class. I even gave one adult student an extra minute out of pride for him having his head screwed on so tightly.

It’s interesting how, when you grow up, you take certain things more seriously. The adults and teens are doing the exact same exam and yet the fastest adult took fifty-nine minutes to finish, while the fastest teen needed only forty before he was happy to shoot off into the sunset. Some adults would have you believe that, after school, it’s all just regret about not having tried hard enough, but the super-conscientious adults I have under my wing would certainly do well in persuading you otherwise. I just hope that they see the fruits of their labour. Not that I want my quick-finishing teens to fail, but to borrow a friend’s phrase, the proof will be in the pie.

TRAVEL BLOG: The Road to Cusco

Originally written on 11th February 2010:

I made it! After worries of stupidly forgetting my Yellow Fever documents and leaving them at home like a plum, I was a little nervous to be fair. However, short story even shorter (regardless of how horrendously long travelling by bus, collective taxi and bus again ended up being), I got here. I´m now sat in A Mi Manera; a restaurant well recommended by Footprint – a book which, after all the praising the BBC´s Michael Palin gave it (bearing in mind that the BBC own Lonely Planet), I now trust it more than any other guide.

In the restaurant was great peruvian(?) food and a soothing, yet powerful, pan pipe/spanish guitar/wooden bass box band. I now wonder how much the CD they tried to palm off afterwards would´ve cost. I ended up handing over four soles as a donation for their unexpected (and, to be honest, a little unwanted) performance. But, what if their CD only cost five? Laughing at this gringo all the way to the bank is what they would be doing. Well, at least someone won. I have a feeling it wasn´t me though.

Enough. Good food. Decent price. And, once the band arrived, an atmosphere emerged. However, it was only me and an old Brit couple to begin with, so I´m not sure how much atmosphere there was to muster up.

Either way, I´m in Cusco. Yay! So very close to Machu Picchu, but no closer to touching it than some lad up a tree in Churchdown. They do that sort of thing there. Probably…

Left the hostal early this morning – after a 10-hour sleep session and the hottest shower on this trip to date – to meet up with Jana and Zach in the centre and go to the Sacred Valley´s Urubamba (Jana´s village, where she works at an orphanage) with them for the weekend, joining in with the carnival activities by hitting 5-year-old children in the face with water bombs. I love the smell of children´s tears in the morning…

A Haiku or two

Originally written on 20th June 2010

I vacated the flat at around 1:07pm, leaving behind both a cute-but-ever-so-poorly princess led up in bed and, at least I thought, all the raucous noise from today’s celebrations for Chile’s win against Switzerland. I reached Universidad Católica underground station and stopped to drink in the happy mayhem brought by throngs of beflagged pedestrians taking over the main Alameda avenue just before giving a grateful cheerio to it all and hopping a train to Peñalolen. I stopped staring smugly at the fracas and skipped to the metro station but, alas, the bugger was closed.

For some reason fancying my chances more walking up the Alameda to the next station than simply crossing the swarming road and going to the open station there, I joined the army of Chileans by marching up the Alameda which seemed, by the fact that everyone’s heads were pointed towards me, to be completely the wrong direction. It was the direction I wanted, all right, but no one else was going that way. Subsequently, I fought and danced my way past sounding horns, bellowing packs of fans and the occasional street vendor.

It really is extraordinary how quickly these vendors change their stock focus to fit the moment. Only this morning, the same men and women who were palming off flags and hats at midday were selling thermal undies for the cold, harsh mornings. A week or so ago, on a another bitter cold morning, I had gone to work in my recently purchased anti-itch long johns and been met with an expected downpour. As I surfaced, along with the rest of the rat-runners, from the underground station, a street vendor – who I could have sworn had been selling thermal undies earlier that very morning – awaited us; one brolly covering his dry head and another in his free hand ready to sell. It was as if Jesus Christ had turned up and performed the miracle himself, swiftly transforming the fellow’s entire stock to suit the change in clime. I was suitably impressed. I didn’t buy one though; don’t trust those miracle umbrellas – fall apart in seconds.

As a side note to brollies and street vendors: I don’t think I had ever been witness to so many Chileans in one place like today (not even when I caught Piñera giving a public speech one Sunday night outside La Moneda). Football (or sport in general, but football especially) has an uncanny way of bringing people together. I don’t think I saw a single sad face in that crowd flooding Plaza Italia. They even started singing chants like “He who doesn’t jump isn’t Chilean!” so I, of course, jumped, not wanting to look to obvious and yet making myself even more of an obvious spectacle. So much so was I something to behold, in fact – a tall, German-looking bloke jumping around pretending to be South American – that I had one cheeky geezer try his luck and ask for change. I may look like a gringo, mate, but I am certainly no weon.

Make a quick change

Originally written on 22nd June 2010

I vacated the flat at around 1:07pm, leaving behind both a cute-but-ever-so-poorly princess led up in bed and, at least I thought, all the raucous noise from today’s celebrations for Chile’s win against Switzerland. I reached Universidad Católica underground station and stopped to drink in the happy mayhem brought by throngs of beflagged pedestrians taking over the main Alameda avenue just before giving a grateful cheerio to it all and hopping a train to Peñalolen. I stopped staring smugly at the fracas and skipped to the metro station but, alas, the bugger was closed.

For some reason fancying my chances more walking up the Alameda to the next station than simply crossing the swarming road and going to the open station there, I joined the army of Chileans by marching up the Alameda which seemed, by the fact that everyone’s heads were pointed towards me, to be completely the wrong direction. It was the direction I wanted, all right, but no one else was going that way. Subsequently, I fought and danced my way past sounding horns, bellowing packs of fans and the occasional street vendor.

It really is extraordinary how quickly these vendors change their stock focus to fit the moment. Only this morning, the same men and women who were palming off flags and hats at midday were selling thermal undies for the cold, harsh mornings. A week or so ago, on a another bitter cold morning, I had gone to work in my recently purchased anti-itch long johns and been met with an expected downpour. As I surfaced, along with the rest of the rat-runners, from the underground station, a street vendor – who I could have sworn had been selling thermal undies earlier that very morning – awaited us; one brolly covering his dry head and another in his free hand ready to sell. It was as if Jesus Christ had turned up and performed the miracle himself, swiftly transforming the fellow’s entire stock to suit the change in clime. I was suitably impressed. I didn’t buy one though; don’t trust those miracle umbrellas – fall apart in seconds.

As a side note to brollies and street vendors: I don’t think I had ever been witness to so many Chileans in one place like today (not even when I caught Piñera giving a public speech one Sunday night outside La Moneda). Football (or sport in general, but football especially) has an uncanny way of bringing people together. I don’t think I saw a single sad face in that crowd flooding Plaza Italia. They even started singing chants like “He who doesn’t jump isn’t Chilean!” so I, of course, jumped, not wanting to look to obvious and yet making myself even more of an obvious spectacle. So much so was I something to behold, in fact – a tall, German-looking bloke jumping around pretending to be South American – that I had one cheeky geezer try his luck and ask for change. I may look like a gringo, mate, but I am certainly no weon.