Friday, August 31, 2007

Status: exhausted. Nelson picked up a virus on Sunday last weekend and he had a fever for the best part of the last few days. As he wasn't allowed to go into his play school we had to share the baby sitting duties between Rachel and I and the extended family. Most of the time this meant we were running around like headless chickens and not sleeping much at night either! Pleased to report he his better, except for a bum rash (also nearly better!) which causes him no end of discomfort and sends him climbing up the nearest wall. The agenda for this weekend: sleep whenever possible.

Diana's death remembered. The anniversary of the death of Diana. We probably all remember where we were... I was on the minibus on the way back from Wales where I and some school pals had just completed the 14 peaks challenge. Brazilians ask a lot about the Royal Family in the UK, and I expect I'll be using some of the media coverage of Diana in my English lessons. She remains an iconic figure, even here.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Change of weather. Natal is moving out of it's winter period and it's starting to feel like swealtering summer again. There are only two seasons in Natal: 1) rain and sun 2) just sun. Of course, "winter" stretches the definition of the former. Basically, it means you might not wear shorts every day of the week, but now the baking sun is back you probably will. Unfortunately, the changing weather sometimes brings bad health. A lot of students are spluttering and coughing their way through the semester and today Nelson has a small fever.

Grandpa Barlow. I forgot to mention this last week, but Grandpa Barlow - Rachel's Dad's Dad - has been unwell and in hospital. We visited him there last weekend where he had lost weight and was quite out of it. So, he and the family are in our prayers.

Stop Press: Male student opts for vegetarianism! Vegetarianism in Brazil is a fringe cult reserved for lunatics. That's how the majority view it, anyway. So you can imagine how surprised we all were in my Saturday English class when, during a discussion about McDonalds, a young lad chirps up that he is going to decline all burgers as he about to start being a vegetarian for ethical reasons. "I tried last Sunday but failed so I'm starting again", he points out. "Sometimes I think I get on with animals better than people". For a red-blooded young north eastern Brazilian male this revelation is on a par with Billy Elliot telling his coal mining Dad that he wants to be a dancer not a boxer. The rest of the class were largely incredulous and we will monitor our young friend's progress in the next lesson.

I've seen eleven goals netted in my last two visits to watch my local team, America RN. Sadly, they only scored two of them. Four of us went to watch America play again yesterday. They were playing Santos, Pele's former team. Santos' no.10 shirt was illustriously worn by Pele in the 50s, 60s and early 70s where he brought unprecedented success to the club. More recently, the number 10 shirt has been worn by the Brazilian international Ze Roberto - but due to the threat of kidnapping to his family and insecurity he has returned to play in Europe. Santos' manager is former Brazil and Real Madrid manager Vanderlei Luxumbergo.

Anyway, Santos rode over America comprehensively beating them 4-1 last night. Our local team were diabolical. But, whereas I think British fans of a struggling Premiership team would show a bit of pluck and rally for their local team, Brazilians are very bad losers. British fans can't tolerate their players and manager not trying, but if the team DO compete and still lose, they are often given a rousing send off. And, although this is rare - it's true, if one team comprehensively outplays the other, British fans might sportingly clap the opposition at the end in the name of fair play. In the season when Arsenal went unbeaten this occurred a number of times.

Not in Brazil. Brazilians are fickle about success. The fact is, for a small north eastern town to have a team in the top division is already a fantastic achievement. My, how they partied a few months ago when they were promoted! But now that America are rooted to the bottom "holding the lantern" as the Brazilians say, nobody wants to give them the time of day. My students keep schtum on the subject of football now, like America RN are some king of unspeakable embarrassment. I've just come back from teaching a class and when I asked Thiago, an avid fan, if he bad been to the match he said this: "No way, teacher. It's a waste of money. I'm forgetting all about it. It's better to wait until next season when we are in Division 2".

And gate receipts for the club are way down despite the fact that some of the best players in the country are coming to Natal to play. When Santos scored their third goal yesterday, the two guys next to us got up and walked out. It was only the 47th minute. The team were boo-ed off at half time and at the end. Somebody near us threw a cup of coke at the goalkeeper. In Brazil the referee and linesmen are given armed escorts when they enter or exit the field of play. After yesterday, I felt the riot police should've been covering America's manager. Oh, for a bit of British stiff upper lip. Chin up, tally ho and all that.

Teaching English to a Premiership footballer. Have you ever wondered how the latest International signings who come over to play their football in England learn how to communicate with their English-speaking teammates? Answer - private English lessons. Chelsea's new Brazilian defender Alex (pictured above with Jose Mourinho) is being taught by my friend Julian Kenny. Actually, it seems the majority of people at Chelsea speak Portuguese and other languages so if Alex sticks at it for a few more weeks he'll be one of the most fluent English speakers there...

Julian, who is a very experienced English teacher and trainer and fluent Portuguese speaker, is staying with us in Natal for a few days and he came to watch the Santos game with me. One reason he came is Alex is a former Santos player and JK thought it'd be good to see his client's old team in action. Julian teaches English to Alex three times a week. (You may or not be interested to know that he teaches from the very popular English File Elementary coursebook). Alex, along with his wife and 3 year old daughter are living in a hotel while they sort themselves out in London. Alex is an Evangelical Christian and made it his priority to find a church, asking Julian for advice on where he could go. Julian has been filling me in on the inside story of life for a footballer earning a 6 figure-a-week salary. And here's a scoop: Julian says that Alex says that Mourinho is a very nice, caring man who is really fun to be around! That I find hard to believe.

Anyway, Julian is slowly getting his head around football lingo as he hasn't been a huge fan up to now. He even sent Steve and I a vocab list to help out with. I had to seriously think through the implications of indirectly helping a Chelsea player, especially one who knocked Arsenal out of the Champions League last season. But this Alex chap sounds like a nice guy, and he'll never know that I translated "boot it clear" as "score an own goal".

Tim Vickery, who reports on football in South America for the BBC, has written about Alex here.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

(Several) amusing uses of English. I need to thank Ruth Leckenby for this startling picture from a public toilet near here in Natal. I hope you don't mind me posting it here, Ruth. All credit is yours for finding this use of Engrish. I wonder if Won would let me take a whizz?

But, it's not only Brazilians with amusing uses of English. I had to read a very dry Policies and Procedures document from an American agency who monitor a certain kind of English test. Before this particular English test, candidates have a picture taken of them. There were two pages of detailed description on how to take this picture. A highlight (or, perhaps, lowlight) was this description:

The examinee's nose should point toward the camera and be centered over the breastbone. This aligns the camera and the examinee's head and shoulders to produce the square frontal pose commonly known as a "mug shot". etc. etc.

So, what you're saying is we want a passport-style shot of the person's face. Summon the "Simple English" Police! And then:

Glasses may cause a glare to appear in the picture. If the examinee is uncomfortable without glasses, tilt his/her head down until the reflection of ceiling lights is no longer visible in the lens of the glasses. Then have the examinee raise his/her eyes (not the head) to look into the camera. Note that under certain lighting conitions, no amount of head tilting will completely eliminate reflections of overhead lights.

I'm glad we've cleared that up. Speaking of Simple English I have recently started teaching a group of four Lawyers from the Brazilian MNC Petrobras. One of them is his company's top dog for Tax Law in the Brazlian North East. I can't think of a more boring thing to know a lot about, although it has to be said he drives a very swanky car. Anyway, they want English to help them with Contract and Business Law. They even helpfully brought me a sample of the sort of stuff they need to read. I took one look at it and have decided that I need a crash course in the new language of LawSpeak before I even have a hope of teaching this to somebody else... Any lawyers out there with some Law 101 textbooks you could lend me? I don't yet know my mitigation from my litigation.

Amusing use of names. Brazilians, as has been mentioned before, do have some mighty unusual names. Rachel met a shop assistant with the name Jamaica last week. It turns out her father, a fan of the names of nations, called her siblings Jordan, Libya, Israel and Argentina. (I imagine Argentina's ex-boyfriend singing "Don't cry for me...").

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Random things round our way: English language schools. We're just into the start of a new semester and the competition amongst the English language schools is fierce for the business of the local population. English schools are fat on the ground in Brazil as state education does not provide enough of a headstart for language learners, and top employers want English fluency. I took these pictures within the space of 10 minutes - all these schools, competitors of my employers Cultura Inglesa, are within a mile or so of our house. I know of at least one other private school run by an English guy, and I didn't get to photograph FISK school whose building is about 100 yards from Cultura. The language schools have creative names and logos - my favourite is the English and Spanish school "Watford": why has Watford suddenly been incorporated into the London underground? What does Watford have to do with learning Spanish? I'm sure there's a story there somewhere, but I don't quite get it...

To be fair to my Parents-in-law who run our school, Cultura Inglesa has a reputation for excellence and strives to be a market leader with respect to it's modern methods of teaching, use of technology (internet/DVD/e-boards etc.) and teacher training. Teachers at Cultura are expected to have Cambridge FCE (First Certificate in English) and now preferably CELTA (Cambridge English Language Teaching Award). Ironically, I have a young lady in my class who was an ex-Wizard* teacher. It seems that sometimes teachers from other schools come to Cultura to brush up...

by ex-Wizard I mean, of course, that she was once teaching English at Wizard school, NOT that she was formerly herself a Wizard NOR that she used to be a teacher of Wizards, for example at a place like Hogwarts.

Things I miss about England #51: No dubbing on films. This evening I will be watching the new Simpsons movie at the cinema with my friend teacher Diego from Cultura. The word is that it will be dubbed into Portuguese for the benefit of any young ones who want to see the film and can't read. Homer just ain't Homer without his voice and, for me, "D'oh!" just doesn't have the same ring in Portuguese.

Things I love about Brazil #93: Clothes dry quickly. I've just hung out the washing. It's a nice sunny day and I know that within 10 minutes all my shirts, shorts and undies will be nice and dry, positively crispy in fact. Beats hanging soggy jumpers over radiators in York...

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Home Alone. I shall be doing my best Macauley Culkin impersonation and setting boopy traps in the house this weekend as Rach and Nelson go down to Recife leaving me "sozinho" to fend off any burglars. I have to teach on Saturday which is why I can't join them. So, it'll be a case of getting the beers in and watching some Premiership on ESPN... oh and I might go to see the new Simpsons Movie with teacher Diego. On Sunday I drive down to Joao Pessoa to pick them up and also see the latest addition to the family. Rachel's Uncle and Aunt have a new baby: John Barlow, born last week. With a name like that you'd think he'd been born to a family on Coronation Street. Still, everybody is very excited - except perhaps Nelsinho, who slips down one place in the "cute babies who need spoiling" league.

Plastic Bags revisited: Saving the world one bag at a time. A small environmental victory was scored today in the sleepy city of Natal, North East Brazil. Due to an unexpected set of circumstances (which shall be relayed later) we are now quite well acquainted with the Manager at our local Nordestao supermarket. Nordestao, you may remember, is our favourite local place to buy groceries. You may also remember (see blog entry for June 12) that it is here that we accumulate an uncountable and vast number of plastic bags. Well, Rachel expressed her opinions about the wastage generated at Nordestao to our new Manager friend and he assured her we could bring our bags back - (although, we are unclear if he means we can return them to the shop to be re-used/re-cycled or whether we can re-use them ourselves through the tills).

As he put it in his best English to me: "You must deliver your bags here. It is important for the world". It is, indeed, important for the whole world to re-use ones plastic bags...

Noise pollution second thoughts. After posting my comments on the fireworks outside out house (see Sunday's post), I realised that I should have mentioned how lucky we are here in Natal compared to my folks in Chad. At least we don't have a panel-beating garage next to us, farm animals at our bedroom window, the mosque minaret calling people to prayer at far-too-early-am or, for that matter, gunfire in the street. At least fireworks are pretty to look at...

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Feeling better. Thanks to God and a pampering wife, no more fever. Back to work tomorrow morning.

Things I miss about England #62: Minimal noise pollution.
Sure, if you live, as we did, in a place like Clifton in York, you have to put up with the odd post-pub chant outside your window, but I am pretty sure that on average most urban places in the UK will be quieter in the evenings than most similar urban places in Brazil. Most of the time the booming music, arguing neighbours, local traffic and exotic wildlife don't actually bother us enough to make a point about it... but the fireworks, meu Deus! For some unknown reason (unknown as there is no festival requiring fireworks anywhere near this part of August in the calender) some bright spark (literally) has been setting off cheap but ear-drum-burstingly loud fireworks within the vicinity of our, and more importantly Nelson's, living space.

It's not as if they blast them all off and then stop - I could cope with that. No, they randomly string together half a dozen of their mini-grenades then wait for half an hour before lighting another six or so. I don't like fireworks or loud noises much at the best of times, so you can imagine what this does to my nerves by the end of an evening. I liken it to having a sadistic clown with a very loud toy gun pointed at your temple for several hours. The joke is he may pop another blank in your ear, but you don't know when he will do it again, or even if he is finished...

Last night was the worst. Nelson has proved his ability to sleep through fireworks displays (New Years Eve fifty yards from a beach party is the point in case) but just as he his settling down, having a volley of machine gun-like noises rip through your bedtime story isn't likely to stimulate those eyelids shut. No sooner had he dropped off to sleep when off went some more. Waaahhhh!!!! Twenty minutes later and he's nodded off again then off go the fireworks. Waaahhhh!!!!! etc. etc. Of course, each time this happens it also sets up a barking competition amongst our estate's canine population.

I'd complain if it wasn't considered social suicide in a country where poopoo-ing a party is on a par with killing the president.

Things I love about Brazil: #35: The way they do Father's Day. Today has been Brazilian Father's Day and now that I am in my second year of eligibility I thought I'd milk it for what it's worth. Cunningly designated for this Sunday in August, Father's Day in Brazil falls on the first day of the Premiership Football Season. Two years ago exactly, when Rachel and I were also in Brazil, my Father-in-law Steve took the opportunity in his position as Dad to call the shots on what the family would do with their day. I watched two back to back Premiership games, then went with Steve to a live football match, came back and watched another Brazilian football match on TV. With this in mind, Rachel babysat so I could watch uninterrupted on ESPN the great Arsenal play today in their first game of the new season. They nearly spoiled it for me, but turned a 1-0 shock deficit round to a last gasp 2-1 victory.

Already in a good mood therefore, I was chipper as we went off to our favourite beach just outside Pipa.
Ruth, Rachel, Nelson and I joined up with Amy and her entourage of four "gringos" that she was hosting. Even a random Irish guy called John was brought along for good measure. After lunch and once in the sea it was time to try out my Father's Day gift... a body-board, oh yes! The Atlantic tide was coming in and quite high so I summersaulted a few 360s in the water and ended up with sand in places the sun don't shine but I was hardly going to let that spoil a perfect day.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Estou com febre. At home twiddling my thumbs with dull headaches and a fever which I can't shake off after three days. Like last term, I got ill at the start of the semester...

Goodbye to Amy. Firstly, Mark returns to England at the end of July and now Amy has moved out to her parents apartment. Ruth is off home on Monday leaving Rachel and I and Nelson home alone for practically the first time in Brazil: shock horror!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

France revisited. Just a quick note to say what a great time we had in France at the end of July. In the beautiful country house of Seb and Jane, with space for the kids and Nelson to run around. Nelson's favourite things were there in abundance - steering wheels (on cars and farm machinery), "au-au"'s (in this case, cats) and lots of kinds of "bodga" (that's "bola" or "ball" to me or you). It was great to meet, some for the first time, some of my extended family and celebrate some key dates: JR's 40th, Aunty Margaret's 70th, Mum and Dad's 30th...

In France, we mainly relaxed although this did not mean we necessarily slept more (think jet-lagged baby waking up at 2am ready to play). A trip to the Asterix Park proved a highlight for me as a I relived my childhood (and, perhaps, adulthood) obsession with comic strips. Seeing Mum and Dad and letting them have time with their grandson was, of course, the key reason we were all there. An extra bonus for me: I benefited from some excellent discussions with the likes of Jane, Seb, JR and Joelle on life, parenting, our family history, Politics, travel... plenty of food for thought.

Random things round our way: the Machadao. I've cheekily copied the picture above from the Wikipedia entry for the stadium which resides less than half an hour walk away from our house. This huge disk is probably the best stadium in the North East of Brazil, and according to Steve, was designed in such a way as to remain breezy and cool despite being filled with 35,000 sweaty bodies. I have been lucky enough to visit stadia in Fortaleza, and several in Recife and another in Natal and none of them match the Machadao on all accounts of size, aesthethic appeal. access or general (pre-game) cleanliness. Natal's own America RN were promoted to Serie A (the Premiership of Brazil) last season and so they have entertained the likes of Sao Paulo and Corinthians here. In fact, the first game of the season - versus Romario's Vasco de Gama - attracted the biggest gate receipts for anywhere in Brazil.

With all that in mind, it was a pleasure to take Ruth to her first football match at the Machadao last Saturday evening. America RN were hosting Nautico, a team from Recife and the darlings of my Father-in-law Steve. At possible risk to our well-being we sat in the Nautico end, with Steve clad in a Nautico shirt, for the encounter. The game was a cracker and Nautico - recently buoyed by having a new manager - overturned the Natal team 5-1. As you can imagine, there was bedlam in our end of the stadium. The drums were out, everybody was hugging, jumping, dancing and hollering... By the final whistle most of the depleted America crowd had already gone home. You can see highlights of the game on YouTube here. The best goal of the game was from Nautico's right back Sidny (whose Father meant to name him after the Australian city, but misspelt his name). Look out for any gringos celebrating the goals... that would probably be us!

Recife to Joao Passoa to Natal.... without any trouble, you'll be pleased to here. Some pictures of the BRA desk in Madrid. Note the people sitting/sleeping on or around the check in, and compare the real time (19.29) with the supposed time for our flight (15.10). Now remember that after 19.29 we still had to wait five more hours, ay caramba!