Foiling or being foiled

The telephone switchboard at Santa Fe University answers with a recorded message which (in Spanish) says thank you for your call (at least it doesn’t pretend that my call is important to it like many UK based phone systems) and if you want department x you should now enter the number 103 or if you want department y then enter 104, otherwise hold the line and you will be attended shortly.  I didn’t want departments x or y, but having been passed from pillar to post on my prior attempt, this time I am clutching the internal number that I do want, so I plan to ask the operator who will shortly attend me, to transfer me to this extension.  As the message ends, there is a gap of approximately two seconds worth of silence, followed by beep beep beep, and a dead line. 

Repeating this exercise twice more confirms that the promise of being attended shortly is no more than a malicious untruth from the camp of “your call is very important to us”.   However, a couple more tests (bet you wish your day had been this fun) I discover that if I interrupt the robot by bashing in my number as soon as he starts talking (ha, that learned you) then I can transfer myself to the chosen destination.  Unfortunately this resulted in being told by human beings on eight occasions that my guy was unavailable, and, on the ninth that he had now gone home.  So I’ve sent him an email. 

Joni meanwhile has a far more pressing dilemma.  He’s five and a half, and I’m guessing some of his classmates have started losing their baby teeth, because he came home from school today full of questions about wobbly ones.  Predictably, he is very enthusiastic about the idea of exchanging old teeth for hard cash.  But his question is, exactly who will be collecting his discarded gnashers?  Should we look out for the tooth fairy (UK), or in the tooth bunny (Argentina)?  The issue is this:  If I’ve got a wobbly tooth and it came out while I was eating something hard like an apple, then I might swallow it by mistake.  So then the fairy and the bunny wouldn’t know that they were supposed to give me some money.  So then I’d have to write them a note to say sorry I lost the tooth so they can give me a coin.  But if it is the fairy then she might only be able to read English, but the bunny might only be able to read Spanish.  So how can we find out which language to write it in? 

It’s all an education

Joni dresses up as San Martin, liberator of Argentina:

Joni dressed up as soldier

The main detail that everyone can remember from their primary school here is that San Martin rode a horse across to Chile.  So this could well be Danny’s take on the same subject:

Danny with a bucket on his head

I’ve just started doing some home reading practise with Joni in English.  Spanish is beautifully phonetic, and English of course isn’t.  At the moment we’re playing around with the early years key words, trying to do a few minutes of something “educational” every day, so here is our “cat in the hat” game; cut two for matching pairs, or four for snap or happy families.  The words also can be used to make key phrases from the Cat in the Hat book (e.g. “no no said the fish”):

Cat in the Hat cards

And Joni and I drew this take on snakes and ladders with felt pens on a piece of cardboard like we used to do on teaching practise when I was 18 and computers had barely been invented:

snakes and ladders game

When we were in the UK over Christmas, I was particularly looking for the “next stage on” in terms of bedtime reading material for Joni; he’s kind of outgrowing pre-school picture books, but he doesn’t have a huge amount of patience to stick with involved plots or lots and lots of writing.  So I rooted in a few charity shops and gathered a few possibilities to bring back with us.  Thus we have discovered Horrid Henry:

book cover from Horrid Henry

It has shot straight to the top of his favourite bedtime books.  There are 86 pages and he already has significant chunks of it committed to memory.  As a "good parent” (aspiring) I’m fairly certain that I’m supposed to disapprove of some of the content;

“Don’t call me baby”, said Perfect Peter.  “OK, Duke of Poop”, said Henry.  “Don’t call me Duke!” shrieked Peter.  “OK, Poopsicle”, said Henry.  “MUUUUUM!” wailed Peter….  (page 30, one of the many quotes that Joni knows by heart). 

But, it ticks my boxes in that we’ve moved into books with chapters, where we don’t necessarily expect to read the whole work in one sitting, and where the line drawings generally take up less space than the text.  And he loves it, which really has to be the main criteria for 5 year olds’ literacy skills.  In fact my main regret is that we didn’t pick up a few more in the series when we didn’t have to pay for international postage.

Meanwhile I discover that my first paying English conversation client is probably going to contribute more to my education than I to hers.  I went along to the first class without much of a plan, thinking we’d have a bit of a chat, and go with the flow.  She brought along her Kate Moss biography, having already underlined the vocabulary that she didn’t understand.  And her suggestion for our next session is that we set up a typical scenario that we might come across while  on holiday; in a jewellers shop.  So I need to ditch my list of useful travelling phrases, (Can you give me a list of budget hostels? Is the campsite down this lane?) and do some emergency reading on jewellery and supermodels.  “MUUUUUUM!” wailed Peter.  “Nah nah ne nah nah” boasted Henry.   It’s all an education. 

Two reasons to be cheerful

One.  I actually managed to spend half a morning behind my computer, sans bratlings for the first time in goodness knows how long, and without any other interruptions (it was raining which is always good for keeping doorstep salesmen, and others of doubtful reputation at bay; people in Argentina generally believe that rain might cause them to dissolve).  So my inbox is down to a mere 28 outstanding mails and there is light at the end of the tunnel. 

Two.  We have an Argentinean pope.  It’s not just his Argentinean-ness that causes me to cheer, although since Latin America is the continent with the highest proportion of Catholics one might argue that it was high time.  But by all accounts Bergoglio / Francis 1 seems like a darned good pick.  If you have been kidnapped by aliens for the last 24 hours and missed all the analysis, then check this out from the Independent newspaper, not normally given to excessively pro-church content. Alternatively this endorsement by Anglican Bishop of Argentina Greg Venables has been quoted on various websites (including his own Facebook page!) and we can personally vouch for Greg as a diamond geezer;

The Bishop of Argentina and former primate of the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone, the Most Rev. Gregory Venables, has praised the election of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio saying the Argentine Archbishop is a devout Christian and friend to Anglicans, who has stood in solidarity with the poor against government corruption and social engineering.
In a note released after the election of the new Pope, Francis I, on March 13 Bishop Venables wrote:
"Many are asking me what Jorge Bergoglio is really like. He is much more of a Christian, Christ centered and Spirit filled, than a mere churchman. He believes the Bible as it is written. I have been with him on many occasions and he always makes me sit next to him and invariably makes me take part and often do what he as Cardinal should have done. He is consistently humble and wise, outstandingly gifted yet a common man. He is no fool and speaks out very quietly yet clearly when necessary. He called me to have breakfast with him one morning and told me very clearly that the Ordinariate was quite unnecessary and that the church needs us as Anglicans. I consider this to be an inspired appointment not because he is a close and personal friend but because of who he is In Christ. Pray for him."

Be interesting to see what lies ahead for the Catholic church.  I might even become one.  That could make life interesting…  Sadly ecumenism hasn’t yet made it to San Francisco, but given that there is a thriving movement in Cordoba, I’m hoping it’s only a matter of time. 

Cause and effect

This graphic caused me to giggle in a manner probably not entirely becoming…

I've been a scout since I was very small, sperm picture  “I’ve been a Scout since I was very small…”  We found it while looking for some Scout-ly images to put on our advertising posters for this year’s recruitment campaign.  Needless to say it didn’t make the poster, but we all took a copy of it for “personal use”. 

This quote caused me to go “yes and how” in a wryly knowing sort of way thinking of some institutions that we know and love (?)… “Many people believe that although individuals might behave irrationally from time to time, companies that are run by professionals with boards will always operate rationally.  I never bought into this sentiment, and the more I interact with companies, the more I find that they are actually far less rational than individuals (and the more I am convinced that anyone who thinks that companies are rational has never attended a board meeting).” (from “The Honest Truth About Dishonesty” Dan Ariely)

And this thought caused me to go “yes yes yes” at various points over the weekend… Danny starts nursery tomorrow!  Don’t get me wrong, I love him, adore him even.  But I am also really OK with the idea of having a couple of hours a day where I don’t have to have eyes in the back of my head.  He has taken to calling himself a “good boy”; “bob boy” he says, which has no relation to morality (he’s not two yet, how could it?) and everything to do with when he thinks he’s doing something really clever… like turning the bidet up full so that the water hits the ceiling and then running out of the bathroom, or unpacking the plates from the crockery cupboard, or dragging his bedclothes around the house, or filling the dog’s water bowl up with anything he can find to drop into it, or, or, or…  Far be it for me to cramp the style of one clearly destined to great things, but the experimental phase surely is having its trying moments.  I haven’t quite figured out what I’m going to do with all this free time, but for day one I’m planning on cleaning the floor, following by marvelling at being able to drink a whole cup of coffee without anyone interrupting it. 

Stick a deckchair up your nose

Anyone remember the spitting image song?

Hold a chicken in the air
Stick a deckchair up your nose
Buy a jumbo jet
And then bury all your clothes
Paint your left knee green
Then extract your wisdom teeth
Form a string quartet
And pretend your name is Keith
Skin yourself alive
Learn to speak Arapahoe
Climb inside a dog
And behead an eskimo
Eat a Renault Four with salami in your ears
Casserole your gran
Disembowel yourself with spears

Now you’ve heard it once
Your brain will spring a leak
And though you hate this song
You’ll be humming it for weeks…

I have been humming it all day… hopefully not for weeks or I might end up in a padded cell.  Sadly I am definitely not allowed to explain why or I really will be drummed out of the Brownies.  I might explain if you ask me offline.

It may just be that mild hysteria is setting in.  There were a total of seven children including mine trashing the house for most of the afternoon.  I finally shut the door on the last of the invaders while simultaneously posting my own into a bath at 8 o’clock.  We do have an open door policy in general, and I do like having kids in, if the truth be known.  When we first arrived here we used to get quite a lot of visits from the local primary aged kids; old enough to be out on their own, but young enough not to have learnt to hide their curiosity about how the English people live and whether they might have anything interesting in their house.  Once our novelty value faded it has been pretty quiet on the marauding children front for the last couple of years, but now of course Joni is at school, so there are a new crop of visitors coming to play with him.  In an ideal world it would probably be easier to referee if they arrived one at a time, but “this is my friend, and this is his brother, and that’s my brother, and that’s his friend…” and really where could I have drawn the line to say you’re in and you can wait outside?  So there we all were. 

Fortunately Joni’s getting better at helping to clear up.  And now they’re all asleep like little angels.  Until tomorrow.

I have come to the conclusion that I am definitely superstitious despite supposedly being a full-time-Christian-worker (whatever one of those might be).  So I fear if I tell you this then I may bring a bad outcome upon myself.  At the same time if I do tell you then you might pray.  The question is, will your prayer be effective enough to counter the negative effects of my superstition?  Well, don’t tell anyone I said anything, but there’s a guy in the University in Santa Fe who has taken all the paperwork (copies of, obviously) relating to my qualifications, and he thinks he might be able to help me.  He’s had it for the last two days and I didn’t get a response yet.  In fairness there is quite a lot of it and a third of it is in English, a third of it is the Spanish translations of the English and the other third are the certificates legalising the translations as genuine, so it might taken him a few days to figure out how it all relates to each other before he even gets as far as reading it.  It is so hard not to get excited about this even though I know from the many many experiences so far that the most likely conclusion is nothing at all.    So I’m drumming my finger nails on the desk and humming a little tune… hold a chicken in the air stick a deckchair up your nose….

On Teaching English

I’m personally not a great fan of teaching English, not because I have anything against teaching English in principle, but because I find I don’t care very much whether people learn English or not, so I find it hard to give it my best.  That and the fact that most of the students I’ve worked with here have been kids sent under sufferance by their optimistic/desperate parents because they’ve got an exam next week and everyone’s hoping that I’m somehow going to perform the miracle that makes up for the fact that they spent the rest of the year at school flicking pencils and sending Facebook messages to their mates. 

But I’m coming round to thinking that I might try and do a bit this year, partly because I’m going to have time on my hands when Danny starts nursery (given that I haven’t managed to make any progress at all with my own bureaucratic mine-field).  And in the city here at least, teaching English does make reasonably good mission sense since teaching English is a good way of reaching the nominal/secular Catholics from the middle / professional classes who are the vast majority in San Francisco.  To quote Martin from a recent email… “The evangelical church here exists among the poorer parts of society and therefore the less educated. The Catholic church is much more middle class. Because of this, they tend to think that the Evangelical church lacks theology, is not thought through and is all based on emotionalism. They are so surprised to hear that the Evangelical church in England is mainly middle class. Unlike England, it is socially acceptable to discuss religion and most of my clients are practicing Catholics. So, I can do missionary work there and get paid for it.”

Instituto Londres San Francisco, Córdoba, ArgentinaMartin works for the Instituto Londres (you can find the bones of a website here or slightly more filled in on Facebook)  This is very much a symbiotic relationship; it meant that to start with there was a ready made pool of potential clients, an advertising campaign underway and a physical space to work in, in exchange for the “kudos” of having a native language speaker on the staff list.  A couple of years down the line and he/we could very easily branch out on our own with some existing clients and probably enough contacts to gather a few more.  It might even pay better given that there wouldn’t be an institute taking its cut in the middle.  But, a couple of years down the line we have also discovered that we like the brand, we have friendship and loyalty to the other people involved, and it also cuts out a whole lot of hassle.   Firstly we can slide away from anyone who we don’t want to teach (like reluctant kids being dragged along by their desperate parents) by referring them the institute and that lets us off the hook of either having to take them on personally, or let them down by saying no.  Secondly it means that we aren’t responsible for setting prices or collecting money.  This is quite important here.  San Francisco has an average household income which is twice that of the rest of Argentina, and yet they also perceive us to be millionaires merely by the fact that we have English birth certificates.  Added to which, the Piamonteses (the dominant socio-ethnic group) are also the butt of many “Jewish/ Scottish” type jokes regarding tightfistedness, which all in all means that we have too many times been on the wrong side of a conversation in which members of the pony club are trying to persuade us that we really should be teaching their children English for free because we can afford to and classes are so expense you know darling,…  Yesterday was a case in point,  “But we could have a discount if we just did it privately?”  The real answer might have been “Actually I have no interest in teaching your kids, and as for a discount, not only have you never given me a penny off in your shop, but I’m lucky if I make it out of the door before you have made some just-short-of-barbed comment about los ingleses, so if anyone was going to get a discount it certainly wouldn’t be you”.  So the fact that I am able to say “Actually no, all our work goes through the instituto londres” might mean exactly the same thing in practice, but it sounds so much kinder.