REAL TALK: Feel Good Hits of the Summer…

‘Ey up! Allora, It’s been ages so here’s summat for anyone who’s interested (high-fives to you if you are interested. I like you and you get a gold star or some other cheap-yet-cheerful token of merit). I’m back here writing because I’d like to take a moment to reflect on a summer full of stuff before hurtling into the autumn. If you follow me on Instagram you’ve probably seen me chronicling various (mis)adventures on Stories. For what’s it’s worth, though, I’ll write up a general update here and I’ll endeavour to keep it as concise as possible.

[tl;dr – Travel! Teaching! Looking out into the sea and in the sea embracing all and Eternity and the Infinite. THIS IS THE MOMENT OF JUST LETTING GO]

(By the way, you should follow me on Instagram ’cause I’m fun and draw stuff and am a better distraction than brands and celebrities that just make you feel bad about yourself and exploit your stolen attention for insidious ends. YOU DESERVE BETTER. I WILL BE YOUR BETTER.)

In total, Summer 2018 will go down in my silvermists of memory as an enchanting spell of great jobs, enjoyable journeys and mind-opening experiences. I’ve been very fortunate this year to have been able to teach in good places with good people (students and colleagues alike) while also having chance to travel.

With regards to teaching, I had a lot of fun in very different situations in both Oran, Algeria and Salisbury, Wiltshire. (Quick pause to shout-out praise and send warm salutations to all the lovely people at both BSC Algeria and the Babylon School of English in Salisbury. I wholeheartedly recommend these schools.) I learnt a lot in both places – both on the teaching front and more generally.

Outside of school, I’m slightly dismayed that I didn’t really get to immerse myself in Algerian life (it was a ‘Closeted English Teacher Enclave’ existence, sadly) but I got enough of a feel for a very different culture and my horizons were certainly broadened. Highlights off the top of my head include: sharing jokes with Algerian students; constantly being asked “Are you married?” then “Why not?“; the sweetness of Algerian dates; trying to get my head around Ramadan and the entire re-orientation of life it necessitates; sunsets over minarets; communication breakdowns, most often occurring over a confusing coinage system; getting stabbed in the chest by a baby tortoise; walking through ‘the forest’ (scrubland) near the villa where I stayed to look out from the cliffs to the Mediterranean Sea.

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Every day I’d walk out into the forest – doing my best to avoid the Infernal Stray Dogs and Friendly Tracksuited Blokes Who I Befriended But Was Later Advised to Avoid But I’m Still Not Quite Sure Why ‘Cause They Seemed Nice – and gaze upon that sea. As I gazed upon the sea I saw it stretch out to the horizon and I reflected on its reaching out to distant lands and I felt connected to my Mother Continent and the rest of the World. Beyond, I felt the truth that life is all everything flowing into everything and that everything is connected as part of a whole made of many and I found peace and serenity in the Universal Oneness of everything. Eternity. The Infinite. Ah…

Similar profound, reverential moments came around Salisbury as I had the opportunity to hang around a few castle ruins, impressive cathedrals and – most awe-inspiring of all – Stonehenge. (I get high off of history and art and I realise that not everyone can appreciate my beatific reaction to old stones and suchlike. Just ask the students who watched me freak out when confronted with the King Henry III’s toilet tower at Old Sarum.)

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It was a privilege to live in Salisbury’s Cathedral Close for a month and teach in such an ideal location (a location that allowed me an opportunity to get to know the South of England a bit more). It was also a privilege to work with teens from a whole host of nations – Spain, Russia, Oman, Italy, France and more – and the classes I taught were tremendous. I enjoyed it all immensely and, altogether I’m rolling on creative momentum psyched up for my next teaching gig in the autumn (which I will detail below).

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To general-travel-for-leisure-and-without-lesson-plans, then, first up I went to Nuremberg (Nürnberg) in Germany in June. I went there with my Dad to celebrate his 60th birthday and we had a blast wandering around picturesque Bavarian environs, dropping into dungeons and torture museums and following in the stumbling footsteps of Kaspar Hauser. We had eerie moments exploring an unnerving toy museum and the ruins of the Nazi Party rallying grounds. On more upbeat notes, Dad enjoyed the beer and I enjoyed sauerkraut and the revelation that is sauerkraut juice. In conclusion, we love Germany (so ordered and beautiful) and I look forward to returning ASAP.

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More recently, I went to Brussels (Bruxelles) with my brother on one of our Super Claton Bros. Culture-Vulture Voyages (if you can call taking the Channel Tunnel train ‘a voyage’). Brussels is an ace place and it can be summed up pretty much as: urinating statues; waffles and hot chocolate; morose clouds over marvellous gothic halls; art, art, all the art with a special shout-out to our man Bruegel the Elder because we really, really like Bruegel the Elder.

Honestly though, the main reason we went to Belgium was to make a pilgrimage to the Hergé Museum because both of us were raised on the Adventures of Tintin and we’ve wanted to go for years. As I noted in this tribute post, I read Tintin stories when I was tiny and they made me want to write, draw and travel. Tintin is where it all began and to spend an entire day in Hergé’s world – looking at original art, immersing ourselves in adventures we’ve enjoyed over and over since childhood – was something precious and life-affirming.

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As a bonus, en route to Belgium I hooked up with some old friends in London and went to a wedding for the first time and that was also beautiful. More recently, I also hooked up with another old friend in Liverpool and went to see the Terracotta Army exhibit at the World Museum and that was mind-blowing. In total, the summer has been a pretty jam-packed blast of culture-vulturing and cartwheeling around with suitcases and, on reflection, it’s quite overwhelming and I appreciate it all.

A few other things before I sign off and summon up the autumn agenda. Other excellent things have happened over the past few months. Manchester City won the league in style and the World Cup happened. (I really enjoyed both of these things.) Thinking on film (because I can’t shake off this film geek thing I’ve got going on), even though I’ve not been getting to the cinema much I got a massive kick out of Incredibles 2 and Solo (inevitably, even if I’m still a bit miffed that I wasn’t playing Young Han Solo). Avengers: Infinity War broke my brain and heart but The Wasp and Ant-Man pieced it back together again. The last film I saw was BlacKkKlansman and that was superb but made me shake with even more sadness and anger as I consider the state of the World and the empowerment and rise of bigoted, malign forces. (Don’t get me started. Suffice to say, I’m pretty flippin’ far beyond furious about things rumbling on in the World right now.)

Musically, aside from those long country walks where I look at cows, goats and squirrels while listening to psychedelic rock, lately I’ve been mainlining Mitski’s new album Be the Cowboy. The soundtrack of my summer, however, has been Prequelle by Ghost, because it is sublime and a thing of deep, dark beauty. Awww, I bloody love Ghost in all their (erm, his?) occult theatricality and gothic-prog-pop majesty. This album – a concept album about the plague – is ’70s Euro horror soundtrack sounds mixed with big ’80s arena rock numbers flowing into lush antique instrumentals and morbid, mercilessly catchy dance hits. It is my beautiful music of the night and a memento mori that moves me to meditate on the transcendental beauty of life and death every time I listen. Aaaaaah…

… and with that, I will put an end to this and go and live. Looking to the future, my next gig is in Rome and I can’t wait to return to teaching English full-time in Italy and I’m psyched to return to the Eternal City (this time to live and work there). First, though, I’m going to go away (again) with my lovelies and lie on a beach and read some sci-fi novels before throwing myself into the academic year and the challenge of moving to another country for the long haul.

With all that in mind, I’m all up for ‘Scroll-Free September‘ and am going to step back from social media and the internet for a spell. Aside from a few Instagram posts to commemorate a few key dates in September, for the next month (at least) I’m going to be very quiet to ensure that I optimise the experiences of travel and settling in and starting a new job abroad.

I’m also very aware that I’m too wired and that I need to shake things up a bit to ensure that I’m living my best life and not burning myself out. I’ve come to realise that I have this fantastic problem in that my brain doesn’t shut off and is always hungry for stimulation and information. This, combined with a compulsive personality, means that my mind constantly thrums on and on, flitting like a butterfly between ideas and inspirations and thoughts and feelings and questions and fascinating things here, there and everywhere and I eventually end up exhausted and overwhelmed by a beast that will not be sated.

I calm that monkey mind by trying to focus on one thing, and that’s why I like losing myself in a narrative, immersing myself totally in a book or a film. Devoting myself to a drawing, a lesson plan or any odd task or project is good. Meditation – when I make time and space for it – is good. Long walks, listening to podcasts or albums or simply being involved in face-to-face conversations are also ways to tune out (or, rather, tune in).

I find, however, that very often social media and the internet can lead in the other direction and I end up voraciously scrolling through the news or feeling like feeds are assaulting me with more noise and information than I need or can handle effectively. (True story: once upon a time I was an avid user but this week I got them to terminate my Twitter account with extreme prejudice because I stopped using Twitter ages ago because I simply couldn’t use the thing without feeling nauseous and completely overwhelmed.) Thus, a break will be beneficial. If anything, if it lowers my position on the News Junkie Index (current status: Minister of Muchness), gives me more mental space and allows me to be more productive/creative and experience life to the utmost, then alright, alright, alright, too right.

Allora then, I’m gone. In terms of writing stuff here, I don’t know when next time will be or what next time will be but I’m sure I’ll be back. (I have some vague notions. I may try and manifest them later this autumn, because Halloween is auspicious and I’m going to be hanging around in ancient Roman ruins so aesthetically it’ll be on point.) Thank you for reading, and I hope you’ve enjoyed this. I also hope that your summer was a good one. Take care of yourselves and much love from me… ❤

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