When ‘No’ is a Cultural/Moral Faux-Pas 

Of all the misadventures on this earth, I didn’t expect to wind up in the cardio ward of a general hospital during my stint in Morocco.

No, don’t worry. It’s not me. It’s the mother of my host family; there was an accident involving a police car and now she’s hospitalized. I’m just sitting here to show face, typing this up on the old iPad (and, if I might be so selfish, feeling very hungry). The entire family were here a couple of hours ago, but they’ve all filtered out and left one by one. It’s just the old guard, now. The old guard and me.

And of course, it’s Dārija on all sides. My posts from Jordan from last year imply that within two weeks I’d tuned unto 3mia. Not so with Dārija. It’s just too different a sound. Some of the words are the same but the accent is just too strong. I guess it’d be like studying the Queen’s English and then being exposed to Cajun. 

The trouble is, I was asked if I wanted to come along. I certainly could have stayed at home and got some more of that essay done, but what was I supposed to say? No, thank you, I’ve actually got a lot of work to do? How soulless is that?

But then, this is exactly how I’ve ended up in these scrapes before. I went to a funeral in Uganda once, for a family member of a former member of staff. We’d never met her, but one of my companions got it into her head that it would be kind of us to go along. That meant a five-hour drive out into deep country, far away from the English-speaking hub of Lira, to attend a lengthy service in a language none of us understood a word of for a woman none of us had ever met. That I spent the entire journey there and back wedged between the two fattest women in Africa didn’t help matters.

The trouble is, I guess, that I’m just very bad at saying no. I think a lot of Englishmen are. Maybe that’s why we have the word awkward and so many other languages don’t: we need it. What does that say about us as a nation? I’m just throwing ideas about here. Anything to take my mind off this Dārija.

Everyone’s off now, except the father, of course. One of the family took the car with them, which means I’m stuck here, I guess. Stuck in the general hospital with no power in my phone and a missing pen. For how long, I don’t know. We’ll just have to wait and see.

The good news is that the mother seems to be recovering. Also, food has arrived in the form of biscuits and a Danone yoghurt drink. I’m even feeling a little guilty for venting like that back there, I guess that’s what hunger does to you. Thank goodness Ramadan’s over. In a while, crocodile. Let’s hope it’s not all night. BB x

Fast Breaking

It’s funny, the difference a day can make. Twenty four hours ago I’d have been tempted to title this post ‘Man vs Food II’ and it would have come across as a rather negative, Ben-gets-defeated-by-dinner-again sort of post. Right now I’m a little groggy, having just woken up from a much-needed afternoon nap, but the high that’s kicked this post into action has taken Monday’s negative finish and given it a firm kick out the door.

Coming back from Rabat and a more relaxed attitude to fasting has thrown the first two weeks’ routine off the rails, I confess. Apparently one of the various excuses for not abiding by the fasting laws – besides illness, pregnancy and being on one’s period – is travel. As a non-Muslim I’m under absolutely no obligation to fast, and it was only because it seemed the logical thing to do that I started fasting in the first place, but it has since occurred to me that there’s no shame in backing down over a light lunch here and there. 

There’s a lot of misconceptions about Ramadan. It’s a bit like the phrase Allahu Akbar: people tend to take it on face value. Here’s a really eye-opening insight I picked up today from a friend of mine. The Akbar part can be comparative or superlative, and if you let the media and its endless portrayals of gun-touting rebels carry you away, it’s easy to assume that it’s a gesture of defiance; ‘Allah is greater than any other (false) God’. In truth – or at least, in this interpretation of it (which I fully endorse) – it’s a simple reminder to the faithful that God is greater than whatever it is you’re doing right now. Harmless, right? Now that’s a pretty effective call to prayer. Better than a couple of church bells, at any rate.

Back to Ramadan. As far as I can tell, Ramadan isn’t about denying yourself food; it’s about getting closer to God. Fasting is just one way of focusing on such matters, reminding you daily of your obligation to the man upstairs. It’s that drive that gives believers the strength to persevere. I’m not a Muslim, so it’s little more than an act of respect or cultural appropriation on my part to act like the world around me. Fasting isn’t easy: I challenge anyone to try throwing their daily routine amiss with that two o’clock suhūr and still trying to get up for seven for that fifty minute walk to class. Faith is a greater fuel, however, and it’d be foolish of me to fight on without it. One day, I hope, I will find my way to God, but until then I would only be going through the motions, playing at mimicry. I’ve always been frustratingly stubborn, but on some matters the light, I find, is a little easier to see. Faith is one of those areas.

So without further ado, it’s out with the false scruples and in with the £2 tajines.

Now that the shackles are off, I’m going to tackle the meat of this post (there’s a knee-jerk reaction in pun format, if there ever was one). After a solid two hours’ research on the Barbary pirates, I ducked out of Dar Loughat this afternoon with comrade Alex to investigate our options for lunch. For the first time in two weeks I actually felt really rather hungry today, not to mention nursing an odd, woozy feeling in my head. In the latter I wasn’t alone; there were a fair few complaints about fatigue today across the board, even more than might be considered normal during Ramadan. The only difference is that the Levante has been blowing warm and strong all day, that westerly wind that’s supposed to dull the senses and even drive men mad. Believe what you will, I was tired and hungry. Alex offered to show me a local joint he’d uncovered and I was game.

Over lunch – a ridiculously cheap and delicious kofta stew – Alex shared a little of his knowledge of Egyptian Arabic with me. Something clicked upstairs, something that’s been dormant for a long time. Here was a guy who had had just as many years at the Arabic game as I, but one who, like my Parisian classmate, had beaten the language into submission over the course of time through a combination of drive and maintained interest. I found myself inspired to go home and study, and that takes some doing. Between the two of them, they’ve shown me that it’s not impossible to get to grips with the grammar. I’m no pessimist, but I do need reminding of my own capabilities from time to time.

It’s taken two and a half weeks to get to this stage. Two and a half weeks out of eight and only five remain. But I’m here at last. That’s what matters. And I haven’t even started the culture classes yet.

Watch out Arabic. I’m going to take you down. Just you wait and see. BB x

Headcase

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Predictably, my first session in Dar Loughat was a bit of a shock to the system. Perhaps even more so than my attempts at conversation with my hosts. That would be because striking up a conversation doesn’t tend to require case-marking every single letter.

As lessons go, it was superbly taught. The whole asking-you-for-the-word-in-your-own-language thing is new and a serious improvement; it put a stop to me nodding my way into ignorant oblivion from the get-go. I’m not sure why other teachers haven’t tried that in the past, I needed it bad. I guess it’s the sign of a truly capable linguist, if he’s able to field three languages at once on top of his own.

Nevertheless, I can’t help but feel I was trailing. The placement test landed me with a Parisian postgraduate who had taught herself Arabic alongside Farsi, Urdu and Russian. As if that wasn’t enough, she case-marked everything she said or read almost perfectly, tanwiin fatHas and mansūb endings all over the shop. Like an Archie 2.0. I pretty much gave up on cases in Year Two… and boy, does it show. Some find hardworking people like that inspiring. I just feel cowed. I spent most of that class with a weak smile on my face, like some kind of vestigial ape expression of fear. I brought this on myself, I suppose. I wanted to meet new people, to have a non-Durham class. I got what I asked for.

At the end, the teacher asked us how the lesson went. My classmate said it was very basic. I personally felt like I’d just finished the first assault course in boot camp. He laughed and said that Arabic is a bit like sports.

Great. Exactly what I wanted to hear.

I never said it was going to be easy. To make matters worse, we’re starting from Al-Kitaab 3 again. Not that that’s a bad thing – it’s pretty clear now that I’ve forgotten almost everything I learned out there, except possibly all the bird names I taught myself (escapism – because it was in my interest) – but the first topic is politics. Anybody who knows me knows how pigheaded and closed-minded I am about politics… That is to say, I hate it. I don’t like talking about things I don’t know and I know grand zilch about politics. Again, my classmate proved the yin to my yang: she loves it, takes a passionate interest in the subject and wants to pursue it through journalism.

So just as conversations at home tend to err towards the one-sided field, so too may classes here. All I have to offer is that I study books… A firm background of literature, art and music doesn’t make for an easy playing field when the subject is politics; specifically, the political ramifications of the Iranian Revolution in Islamic nations around the world. Give me the sleazy wine poetry of Abu Nuwās any day.

There’s an orientation at half three. Lessons last from nine to twelve and it sounds as though students spend the afternoon involved in projects. Which projects exactly I’m hoping I’ll find out today. That might be the key to staying alive. There’s little use in heading back to the flat… I have everything I need here, and it’s a tad too far to walk (dammit). So just for today I’ll stick around and take advantage of the speedy WiFi.

The first class was always going to be tough. Nevertheless I’m determined not to give up, not this time. If Arabic were only vocabulary, it’d be a dream… But we must be realistic. Besides, I guess it’s like maths – another thing that floors me. It’s simply a matter of knuckling down and mastering the technique. I gave up on maths too early. As a result, I can’t do division. I never could. I won’t make the same mistake with Arabic. BB x

The Notebook Kid

My parents used to tell me it was exceptionally bad manners to carry my drawing book around with me. Something along the lines of attention-seeking, they said. In my defence, the idea behind was quite the opposite. As a kid I was simply looking for just about any means of avoiding conversation. That it usually backfired and had people asking me about my drawings was beside the point. It was a defence mechanism and a habit I never really grew out of, as proved by the fact that even today, in my job as a teaching assistant, I still give classes with a sketchbook on my person at all times.

The hardest thing for me to do in any language is to explain my novel, for no other reason than that I have difficulty summing it up in English. It’s one of those books that requires a fair amount of backtracking, it being historical fiction. Until the day I find a means of summing it up succinctly in English, attempting to do so in Spanish or even Arabic should be beyond me. But that doesn’t stop me from trying. And as carrying the sketchbook around with me practically guarantees that somebody will ask after the subject, I put myself in the firing line on an almost daily basis. It’s a real bastard of a task, but I do have a knack for constantly setting myself up for challenges that are very almost beyond me. You’ve got to keep yourself on your toes, after all. There’s no use in securing the moat when besieging the keep is the perfect practice.

In two weeks’ time it will all be over and I’ll be at home, enjoying the second half of a forty-eight hour respite between shifts before I’m needed in Tetouan. But let’s not talk about that. It hurts.

Villafranca isn’t half rolling out the party parade for my final week. I’ve got a two day trip to the countryside coming up with my 3° ESO class, which will largely consist of forty-eight hours of birdwatching, hiking and singing campfire songs. And, of course, speaking the most beautiful language on God’s earth. Then it’s two more days with the Carmelitas, and a whole bunch of farewells there – especially to my seniors, who I will miss terribly when they’re gone. It was the Day of Santa Joaquina yesterday and the school took the day off to celebrate in style. Touchingly, the lower sixth put on a celebration last night for the upper sixth; a fifteen-minute sequence of dance from the entire year group, ranging from classical dance to salsa – at which almost all of them were reasonably professional. Something you wouldn’t expect in an English school.

For some reason I don’t get much contact with the upper sixth in either school. There’s just a handful of leavers in my Cambridge FIRST class, and the others know me only because they usually stop to wave and scream at me when they’re going past one of my classes on a Thursday afternoon. Kids. Last night I went to watch the show (under orders from lower sixth to photograph the event) and the leavers seized upon the chance to grab a conversation last night. Two on-the-go portraits and several photoshoots later, I was enjoying a decent conversation with two of the girls, who I’d met – apparently – on a night out in Alemdralejo once. I should show face to these of events more often.

It’s only recently occurred to me that I no longer need that warm-up period to get into the driving seat as far as Spanish is concerned. These days it’s simply a case of jumping in and off we go. I thought I’d settle any lingering doubts by taking that CEFR Spanish Language Assessment that’s been hanging over me for some time. When I left, it graded me at B2 level, which stung a little. I had high standards.

This time it came back C2.

So, officially, I’ve done it. Fluent. I already knew I could handle myself in just about any situation in Spanish now, but it takes something like an official grading to drive the point home. It’s easy to overlook how far you’ve got until you’re out of the native country. I recall feeling like I was failing massively when I left Olvera, only to find myself half-fluent when I got home. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Must dash – the upper sixth are graduating today and I do believe I’m expected. And tonight, the final gathering of the guiris in Almendralejo. It promises to be a grand finale. BB x

Volver

‘What is he saying?’
‘It’s closed.’
‘Wakha. Fermé. No ferry.’
‘Closed? Why?’
‘I think he said there’s a strike… Huelga? Uh… grève? Est-ce qu’ils ne travaillent pas aujourd-hui?’
‘Ah! No lanchan ferry! Wakha, sadiqii, wakha!’
‘Pero, en serio Ben, tu te has enterado?’
‘A mí me gustaría mucho enterarme…’

You know what I was saying a couple of posts back about loving the multilingual melange that is Tangier? Well, I guess I got my comeuppance this afternoon. After a long shopping trip in the medina, loaded down with suitcases and food for the return journey, we hailed down a grand taxi for the harbour. But for the photography hiccup in Chaouen (and Booking.com refusing to refund me for a bungled payment), our four-day trip to Morocco had gone without a hitch.

So it’s only natural that the taxi driver would leave it until we got to the harbour to tell us that, due to exceptionally strong winds, the port was closed. This was swiftly backed up by both the police and the FRS office, as if we weren’t already doing a bad job of playing the trust card. If we wanted to get home, there was only really one viable option: we’d have to catch the big FRS ferry from Tanger Med near Ksar Es-Seghir, some forty kilometres up the coast.

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We should have seen this coming just looking out from the hotel, really…

That’s how I found myself still in the same taxi some twenty minutes later, rounding the bends of the twisting coast road for the port and trying to make one intelligible sentence out of the five-language jumble of our taxi driver. His Classical Arabic, French, Spanish and English were all perfectly reasonable, but his mixing-up of all four of them mid-sentence with his native Dārija made it nigh-on impossible to understand a word of what he was saying. Speaking four languages is one thing, but trying to make sense of them all at once is a step too far for me.

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So green – but how much longer will it last?

By some streak of luck we made it to the docks in time, and for a fair price, too; 180MAD for the car from Tangier, for the record, and not quite the 2500MAD that was his first offer (trumping even the villainous Oulad Berhil cabbie in greed). Predictably enough, we weren’t the only ones caught with our pants down by the closure of the Tangier port: at least two other boatloads turned up for the 14.00h, which was necessarily shunted back to 15.00h, and then 16.00h. Passport control was, for the once, the least of our concerns; a succession of connecting buses came and went, none of them bound for the FRS service. I don’t suppose I minded too much. I spent the last hour playing Peep-O and making silly faces at a little girl who seemed only too pleased at the diversion. By the time the FRS shuttle pulled in it was coming on to five minutes to four and tempers were running short. Mufasa would have been all too familiar with the stampede that followed.

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God, I’m so evil

Despite repeated warnings from the bridge, I spent almost the entire journey out on deck in the hopes of seeing a shearwater (I’d seen a few dusky shapes in the gloom on the way out, but I needed to be sure). The Strait is also a very good place to look for whales and dolphins, so I had an eye out for them, too… whenever it wasn’t shut tight in a wince in the game-force winds, that is. The sea was choppier than I’ve ever seen it, making whale-watching a no-go and rendering photography difficult. At its worst, the ferry was tilting at a twenty-five degree angle from side to side, giving spectacular views down the deck into the ocean or the open sky at any given moment.

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Not the healthiest angle for a ferry

A sensible mind would have given up the ghost and retreated. But I’m not all that sensible, and I was rewarded for my obstinacy just short of the bay of Gibraltar by a single, chocolate-coloured seabird gliding effortlessly between the waves and a far-off but recognisable vertical jet of steam. Stubbornness has its rewards.

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The Bay of Gibraltar (plus very distant shearwaters)

Let’s just take a step back for a moment. This is now the third extracurricular adventure I’ve had with my colleagues, following Andorra and the Romanian exchange. Before Meléndez Valdés I’d never imagined life as a teacher to be anything like this. I’m completely and utterly sold on this way of life. This is my life, opening up before me: traveling Extremadura as a qualified English teacher until I have enough experience under my belt to settle for good. The oposiciones sound tough, but my colleagues here are encouraging me to come back and go for it, which makes it all the more worthwhile. Spain, you just keep winning me over. How I love you with all of my heart and more…

It’s coming up to ten o’clock, Spanish time. The sun set an hour or so ago. Eight o’clock start tomorrow morning. Ive had worse. On the whole it’s been a very good weekend, and my appetite for the summer is more than whetted. Only next time, I think I’ll catch the plane. BB x

A Step in the Right Direction

I love blackboards. They’re quirky, they’re the very definition of old-school and, more importantly, they’re reliable. Grab yourself some chalk and you’re good to go. The sad thing is, they’re on the way out.

Wait, what? I thought they were done away with years ago, I hear you say? I remember a grand total of two years of blackboards in primary school before whiteboards and whiteboard markers edged them out, to be replaced almost instantly by the firestorm that was the first wave of interactive whiteboards. Well, blackboards are still the status quo here – or rather, they were, until last week. The twenty-first century has arrived in Extremadura, it seems, and the herald is the interactive whiteboard.

It’s been highly interesting to watch the reactions, as my scope as a teacher covers kids from five to eighteen along with several seniors. Unsurprisingly the youngest are the most in awe, and I’ve had to play the fool and feign ignorance, living through the ‘brand new toy’ atmosphere along with the rest so as not to spoil it for them. How are they to know that I was no older than nine years old when I had my first encounter with an interactive whiteboard, some twelve years ago?

As such, I’m long since past the shock-and-awe stage, and I see them as more of a nuisance. Not only have you got to spend time mucking about with the computer and projector, but you’ve got to keep an extra eye open, because kids just love to touch the damn things (I’ve already banned its use in my two primary classes because they just won’t keep their hands off). On top of that, if you’ve planned a lesson that requires the technology and it decides, for whatever reason, to screw you over by playing up, that’s the entire lesson out of the window.

And that’s without mentioning the calibration nonsense. How does one even draw properly on one of those things? As such, I’m definitely in Camp Blackboard.

All I can say is that if my generation made the same fuss over this new technology, I’m truly sorry. The last two weeks have been comparable to trying to plug a burst water main with one’s hands.

So, apart from lapsing into his old Luddite ways, what else has yours truly been up to?

In a complete turn-around from the way things were at the beginning, my state school kids have been nothing less than complete angels of late. Our school hosted a charity event last Friday in aid of the Syrian Refugee crisis, which I agreed to sing for. When my backing singers bottled out, I ended up having to improvise a new number, which was a mish-mash of several of Tolkein’s walking songs set to music, half from the 1981 BBC Radio adaptation (my childhood, right there) and half from the 2003 Return of the King movie – specifically, Billy Boyd’s The Steward of Gondor. And what do you know, it worked! I’ve had people coming up to me all week telling me how it sent shivers up their spine (or the Spanish equivalent, piel de gallina), which has done my crushed ego a world of good.

Alicia of 4º ESO delivers a brilliant monologo

On top of that, I had a wonderful surprise yesterday when I turned up to a class to find four people missing: three students and, crucially, the teacher. Of course, nobody thought to tell me until that moment that she’d be on a school trip. As it turns out, I’d arrived just in time, as most of the kids were on the verge of following their three classmates’ example and doing an early runner. For reasons I still can’t fathom, instead of making a break for it – unwisely, I did give them the opportunity – they stuck around to see what I’d got in store for them, after giving me a demonstration of the songs they’d prepared for this year’s chirigotas (satirical songs, often covers with the lyrics rewritten to local effect).

It was halfway through the second when a cover teacher showed up and tried to take over. I managed to persuade him that I had the situation under control (Nixon never told a bigger lie) and let him have the afternoon off. From the moment he shut the door behind him I had the unwavering attention of the whole class for the presentation I’d prepared, and that in itself was nothing short of a miracle.

But better yet was when I got to school the following morning to be told by their teacher that not only had they enjoyed the lesson, but that they’d told her that they really learned a lot from it. It’s little moments like that that really make teaching worthwhile. It truly is a vocation and I can’t help but feel I was called a long time ago. And so what if it’s a family tradition? I’m a traditional sort of guy. I can handle that.

Not so nice was what came later, when I voluntarily took an hour out of my free time to pay a visit to the Upper Sixth class, which (for reasons beyond my understanding) is the one year group in the school which has no contact with me at all. Most of them were really keen to see me at last, but I also had the first example of hostility I’ve ever faced in a classroom when one of the students, pressed to ask me ‘a question, any question’ by the teacher, said in perfect English that he ‘quite honestly couldn’t care less about [me]’. He shut up pretty quick when I revealed that I was actually part-Spanish myself, but it did sting a little.

It didn’t hurt for long. I had a primary class right after which took my mind off the whole thing, to put it lightly, and for the rest of the afternoon I had my hands full trying to keep the restless upper tiers of my private school kids under control – which came to a head in one of the funnier instances of the year so far.

We were discussing Netflix, illegal downloads and streaming on the internet and, naturally, the subject of porn came up – what do you expect in a Catholic school? Now, one particularly chatty kid always gets that class’s goat and today one of them decided the kid had simply gone too far and brought him down to size royally, joking that he watched porn, but on his Smart Watch, ‘because it’s a lot more practical that way’.

He didn’t need to demonstrate. I couldn’t keep a straight face for ten minutes.

On the whole, there’s been lot of reasons to smile over the last two weeks; ever since I wrote that post on reasons to smile, in fact. Troublesome though they are, I still cherish the hugs I get from my primary kids on a Wednesday. It makes me feel appreciated. So too do I accept the hero worship I get from my cuarto class every time I pass their classroom, because it makes my heart soar when they scoff at my facts, laugh at my jokes and generally get so involved in my classes.

Oh, and the swallows and the martins are here. Already. In January, for Pete’s sake. I’m practically on tip-toes I’m so happy.

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Couldn’t grab the swallows, but the siskins that stopped by the park were pretty obliging

But perhaps the best thing that’s happened over the last two weeks has been the arrival on YouTube – at last – of last summer’s A Night at the Movies concert in Durham Cathedral. I wrote a blog post about it at the time, which you can read here to refresh your memory if you like, but needless to say it was the single best night of my life, and remains so to this day. To have the chance to watch it all over again has had my head spinning. I’ve put a link to the grand finale below. Listen carefully at 3:10 and you might just hear yours truly belting out the Zulu solo, despite having next to voice left by that stage of the night!

It’s been a love-filled few weeks, and I’ve needed it, all of it, as after what was supposed to be the date of the year became the friend-zoning of the century, I’ve not had the easiest start to 2016. As it is, I’m coming out fighting.

I’ll leave you with that Smart Watch image, I think. It stills gives me the giggles, in the most shameless, puerile fashion. But then, I am shameless. You know that. BB x

Go West

For once, it’d probably be better if, whilst reading this, you’re not hearing my voice saying it to you – because my voice right now is wrecked, and you wouldn’t recognise the guy on the other end of the line if you could hear him.

I put that down to three things: three hours of choir practice (most of which spent singing at the top of my range as there are no tenors or basses here), two hours of conversation with Upper Sixth-level students and one hour of wrangling with one of my two very-almost-out-of-control primary classes. First and foremost, I blame Ariana Grande, but that primary lot don’t help much. Still, I got my first hug from my two favourite kids in that class today, which was heart-warming, to say the least. Tasha’s been getting hugs since the get-go, and I guess it’s normal procedure for the female auxiliares, but not for me. It made my day, anyway. When they’re not launching a full-on assault against my sanity, my will to live and my voice-box, it’s nice to know they see me as a human being.

I catch myself saying to myself almost constantly: remember the Iraqi kids, remember the screaming, remember the chair-throwing incident… It can’t possibly get any worse than that. I think that’s probably the right way to go about it.

In truth I’ve not got all that much to report at the moment. In a couple of days’ time I’ll hit the road as it’s the December puente (when a national holiday falls close enough to the weekend to create an extended weekend; literally, ‘bridge’). This year it’s only (!) a five-day weekend as the national holidays on the 7th and 8th fall on a Monday and Tuesday respectively, but that’s enough for a mini-adventure at least. I’ve been juggling several ideas over the last few months as to how best to use the time – surprising my friends in Cantabria, Morocco or Granada was the main plan – but it wasn’t until last weekend that I hit upon a decision, and my decision is PORTUGAL.

Yeah. I don’t speak any Portuguese.

It’s only occurred to me recently to take an interest in this nation that just so happens to be lying RIGHT ON MY DOORSTEP. No, seriously, it’s less than half an hour’s drive in the car if you just keep heading west. I suppose the main thing that stopped me going in the first place was that, quite simply, I know nothing about Portugal. I can read Portuguese almost as well as I can read Spanish, but understanding it spoken is… well, it might as well be Russian. The odd word might sound familiar, perhaps, but otherwise it’s a different language in its own right. And rightly so. But, just as Andrew and I decided in Kiev, the mere fact that I don’t speak the language shouldn’t be a barrier in the slightest to an adventurer like me, so… there we go. I’ve booked a couple of nights at a hostel in Lisbon, and I’m leaving it until I get there to decide whether the plan is to head south and check out the Algarve whilst it’s still tourist-free (a tempting prospect) or the gob-smackingly-beautiful north, peppered with unforgettable villages like Monsanto, Marvão and Piódão. It’s a tough call. As always, I’d rather leave that decision until the day. I’d feel better, that way. Come the day, I’ll know which way to go.

As for the Portuguese, well, I’m not going in completely unarmed. In Kiev all I could say was a feeble ‘спасибо’ (thank you). I’ll brush up as many little phrases as I can before I go, as a little always goes a long way, however badly you pronounce it. I’m told the Portuguese are a fascinating people; proud, polite, gaudy and brilliant linguists. My bachillerato class also seem to think that the women have moustaches, but I’ll be the judge of that.

With any luck, I’ll return doubly keen to pick up another language and add it to my belt. I was planning on making my next big language attempt in Zulu, but it is a bit of a jump… Perhaps it would be better if I worked my way towards Zulu, say, via Portuguese…?

Oh Monty Python. How I miss you. BB x