Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Seven Things You Probably Don't Know About Me

Happy New Year everyone.


I'm not even going to say that one of my New Year's resolutions is to start blogging regularly again, as I think I said that last year (and it didn't work out - probably because I was so busy elsewhere). This year, however...well, this year it'll be a different story...

So, wondering how to start the year off, I was going to post more resolutions, but Lindsay Clandfield asked me if I'd write six New Year Web 2 Resolutions for his blog, so I needed something else.

Then I found I'd been tagged by Gavin Dudeney for the ‘Seven Things You Probably Don’t Know About Me’ , which will make a perfect start to the year.

Here are the rules:
  • Link your original tagger(s), and list these rules on your blog
  • Share 7 facts about yourself in the post - some random, some weird
  • Tag seven people at the end of your post
  • Let them know they’ve been tagged

Well, here goes nothing...

1. Before becoming a teacher, I worked in London for a number of architectural and design companies, starting off in document control/data management and moving onto administration / office management. This is where I started using computers, and I remember well the green on black screens of the first IBM PCs (I'm still sure it's the reason why everyone working there started wearing glasses) while working at SOM back in 1986. When I first started there, there were five employees. Three years later, when I left, the London practice had grown to well over 350 during the construction boom that saw the practice being mainly involved in the building of Broadgate and Canary Wharf.

It was here that I worked with Mark Dytham, who then won an architectural competition and moved to Japan, setting up his now prestigious company. Years later, I came across his name again as co-creator of the pecha kucha presentation format, which subsequently I've used both with students, at the 2007 ETP Live conference and at the second pecha kucha night in Barcelona. Pecha Kucha is becoming a popular ELT conference event, thanks to Lindsay Clandfield, who has started a special pecha kucha ELT site to help promote this fun experience. I'm happy to say I'll be part of the pecha kucha event to be held at the IATEFL conference in Cardiff in April 2009.

2. The most embarrassing moment of my childhood was when I played Aladdin in the school play (I must have been aged 7 or so) - I was dressed in a splendid oriental costume, complete with make-up and a fabulous Chinese hat with attached ponytail. At the end of the rehearsal performance in front of the entire school, I took a bow and my hat fell off. Everyone in the audience burst into laughter. I think that is the reason I never considered a career on the stage.

In later years, my most embarrassing moment was probably when, as a new player of a company softball team, a gorgeous girl suggested we go for lunch together. I turned up the next day with the whole softball team in tow, thinking that was what she'd suggested. At the end of lunch, she came up to me and said "Hey! That was nice, but maybe the next time we could have lunch just you and me."

3. My most famous private student was Spain's 2002 Eurovision candidate, Rosa Lopez (Rosa de España) , who I was introduced to by a friend of a friend. She had been catapulted to fame as the people's favourite in the first edition of Operación Triunfo (OT), the music reality show.

I met her after the show and after Eurovision. It seemed then that she was the most famous person in Spain - there wasn't a magazine or a newspaper that didn't feature her on the front cover. Everytime you turned on the TV she was there, and the paparazzi staked out her flat waiting on her every move. Her management's idea was to rework what they saw as an uncut diamond into a dazzling gem, and among other things, this included extensive dental work, daily gym workouts (she was the only OT candidate who was over-weight), elocution lessons and English classes!

Before I could start, her brothers and bodyguards had to give me the once over (presumably to make sure I wasn't a journalist in disguise) then I went up to her flat in Barcelona to start. The first couple of days went well. She was almost a total beginner, which is difficult to find in Barcelona these days. And this, despite the fact that she had sung in English during the TV programme. Later I was to find out that she had learned the words phonetically. This was one thing in her favour - she had an excellent ear for music and sounds.

A very kind and sociable person, each class, before we started, she insisted on making us breakfast (usually a turkey salad sandwich and coffee). Once we started, I found that she was easily distracted and getting her to turn off the TV during class was a trial. I tried to reach her with music, and brought in Delaney & Bonnie's 'Superstar' to listen to in class. She loved it, and asked to borrow the CD. At one point, the word 'something' came up, and she started to sing the George Harrisson song (which she had learned phonetically) , belting it out as we sat at the table. I was blown away, both by how well she could sing, and also the fact that she remembered all of the lyrics without being able to speak much English. Shortly after we started, Rosa mentioned she now had an English teacher called Graham when she was interviewed on TV and in the magazine Que Me Dices - the first and probably the last time I'll be featured in a gossip magazine.

Unfortunately, things weren't working out for Rosa in Barcelona, and the pressure soon got too much for her - she had some kind of breakdown and returned to Granada in the South of Spain. We'd made little progress - cancelled classes, others that were spent with her in tears, unable to speak any English. Once, she told me that the moment she decided that she wanted to learn English was when she was at a party in New York. Introduced to her idol, Whitney Houston, she realised she couldn't say a thing to her, not even "I love your songs" - a missed opportunity that she didn't want to let happen again. However, there was just too much going on in her life. The last time I saw her, I turned up for class and she was in the middle of a photo-shoot in her apartment. She was sorry, but she would have to cancel. A week later, she was back at home suffering a crisis.

Fortunately, she's back on track now, and seems to be doing well, despite the fact that many people in Spain thought she'd end up giving it all up and going back to her family. Good on her. I sometimes wonder if she's managed to learn any more English.

4. I've been an extra in a Woody Allen film (Vicki Christina Barcelona) - read more about the experience here. It's now out and I'm on screen for about half a second towards the end, buying flowers for my film-wife behind Rebecca Hall as she's on the phone to Javier Bardem.

Since then, the agency has called a few times asking if I could do more extra work. At first it didn't work out, but I finally got to do more extra work last November - this time it was for Suspicious Minds, a Spanish psychological thriller. I played the manager of a garage and spent three hours signing receipts on film in the middle of the night in an industrial estate in Barcelona. Hmmm, the cinema world isn't as glamorous as people make it out to be. With a bit of luck, though, I'll be on-screen for a second - if things continue at this rate (doubling my on-screen appearances every year), I reckon I could be a star by 2016.

5. Hundreds of hours of my teenage years were spent rolling dice over my parents' dining room table with a group of three friends. We mainly played AD&D and Traveller, and met to do so most Wednesdays (13.00-23.00), Fridays (19.00-23.00) and Saturdays (13.00-23.00) for at least a couple of years. At 24 hours a week, around 50 weeks of the year (allowing for holidays, etc), that makes around 240 hours. Phew! My parents worried that I wasn't going to school discos and classmates spread rumours that we were meeting to perform 'strange experiments'. Strangely enough, that time spent playing role-playing games has paid off creatively, especially as I was usually dungeon-master, mainly involved in creating the story for others to follow, writing and imagining scenarios for the others to follow.

6. While in my twenties, and living in the UK, I was called to do jury service. I spent the best part of a week in the waiting room, then was called to sit on a case. At the first session the judge told us that because of the nature of the crime (armed bank robbery, policeman shot) and the fact that a gang was involved, each juror would be assigned 2 armed bodyguards 24-hours-a-day. So, I went home on the bus with 2 policemen following me and that was the case for the rest of the week-end and week afterwards. At first it was a novelty, and I delighted in turning up at a friend's house and telling them to look out the window. But after a few days of this, it became a real pain - I became self-conscious and everything I did I had to keep in mind that there'd be two coppers following me. I went to a pub to play pool and there they'd be, at a safe distance (I had been told not to approach them) keeping an eye on me. After a week of being followed I was really cheesed off.

On the Friday, some of the jurors asked for permission to go out for lunch. We'd been cooped up all week (so that the bodyguards wouldn't have to be called), and really needed to get out. We were told to go as far away from the Old Bailey as possible, to make it less likely that family members / friends of the accused would bump into us. Four of us (and our 8 bodyguards) went to have lunch in a pub. On return, one of the jurors I was with said that he thought he'd spotted someone from the visitor's gallery in the pub. The judge heard about this and decided to suspend the case. The four of us who'd been to the pub were told that we'd almost been charged with contempt of court (even though we'd had permission) and the front page headlines in the national newspapers turned the court case into a 'gang tries to reach jury' story - I still can't believe the rubbish they wrote about the case...

7. My great unfulfilled ambition is (like so many other people) to write a novel. I wasted a good part of my twenties standing around in pubs boring the pants off the people who were kind (or stupid) enough to listen to my ideas for plots. In my thirties, I stopped talking and actually started writing this rubbish down on paper. Then, I discovered NaNoWriMo, and, as I'd become a blogger, actually started blogging a novel, trying to put down a minimum 60,000 in 30 days. Soon, I discovered I'd actually built up a readership (of four!), which inspired me to continue. After 20,000 words I gave up, unable to persuade my dull and earnest main character to leave his flat. I suppose Sandy's right - I should've injected made it a comedy. Maybe the next time...

Now, in my forties, I find the sum result of these long hours: the last section of a blog post about 'Seven Things You Probably Don't Know About Me'. Still, I have recently been given a new glimmer of hope, after seeing the success a colleague, Adam Dalton, has had with his novel, Necromancer's Gambit. If you like metaphysical fantasy, I can highly recommend it.

And now I'm tagging, Lindsay Clandfield, Bee (Barbara Dieu), Sean (EFLGeek), Nick Noakes, Dennis Newson, Isa F Munn, Language Lab (Grammar Girl)