8 March 1994/ 8 March 1995

International Women’s Day recorded in two diaries – the first, when I was teaching English in Symi, Greece; the second, when I was teaching English in Rhodes, Greece.

Tuesday 8 March 1994 – I start the day on painkillers, lack of sleep has left me with a blinding headache and work to do means there’s no chance of a lie-in. The sun is hot and the wind only light, so I spend as much time as I can outdoors. I walk to Nimborios and back for much-needed exercise; the experience is tranquil, breezy and restorative. Yet, once back in Gialos, for a reason I can’t fathom, everything seems to me to happen stupidly and in slow-motion until 6pm, when, out of the blue, V comes to school to give me wild crocuses – their beautiful scent permeates the classroom. I’d forgotten it was International Women’s Day – he reminded me. Other gifts include an octopus and the unsolicited loan of three books from a young man’s ‘philosophy’ (his definition may work with his mother, but is vastly different from mine. Let’s just leave it at that, shall we?) collection. This last donation to the cause arrives in a battered supermarket bag with a large bar of chocolate, which I am told I can keep and eat. I do. I don’t touch the books. One student, who prides himself on rarely even attempting assignments, has decided his gift to me will be all work set since January finally completed and submitted. That’s my reading sorted for the next week, then. After school, I collect a cassette of music from M, take it back to my apartment, and cook, drink and sleep while listening to it.

Wednesday 8 March 1995 – Extremely strange dreams overnight, but still wake feeling rested. A soaking wet start to the day has meant that the screaming schoolchildren normally outside my window from early in the morning are all indoors. The rain soon stops and the day becomes sunnier, hotter and breezier. I head out to visit private students, before coming back for lunch, then going in to school. It’s a quiet day, the boss’s mother-in-law died yesterday, so he’s out. This delays being paid yet again. Feel fed up, am owed money by my private students, too. I resent having to ask for my earnings, as though they’re charitable donations. In a fit of pique, decide to spend my remaining drachmas on a movie ticket. At 21.15, meet up with three friends to go see ‘When a Man Loves a Woman’. The cinema is almost empty. Looking around, there are 11 other people in the auditorium – all of whom I realize I know. Six of the audience are my students, two are bar staff from the ‘in’ place round the corner, and the other three are a colleague and her sisters. We all sit together and chat through the less-than-inspiring show. I head home, broke, and spend 40 minutes on the phone to my sister having a moan. That done, I decide to read myself to sleep with a book I haven’t picked up in two months. Inside the back cover, tucked away for safe keeping, is 35,000 drachmas. I love a happy ending.

February 1, 1996

I was back in my home town of Colchester, at Colchester Institute, studying for my teaching diploma. These notes are taken from the diary I kept at the time.

Up at 5 a.m. after very vivid dreams in which I’m haunted by visions of my college tutors. Is there no escape? Spend the time I’ve gained from being startled awake on writing an assignment. As ever, I keep BBC Radio 4 on in the background – they cheerfully announce that January was the dullest since records began in 1909. Great. I’m tired, it’s cold and it’s dull (though to be fair, it does brighten up later). Assignment done, I go to get a haircut, then visit one of the tutors who’s haunting my sleep. I’ve passed my teaching practice, he tells me. Massive relief until I realize that I now have to plan the next one and finalize my project proposal. Briskly teach my two hours’ cover class at a nearby school (the extra money is very welcome). After college, I go with half a dozen other students to ‘The Hole in the Wall’ ( the nearest pub – built in a hole in the Roman Wall. The joys of living in Britain’s oldest recorded town). I treat myself to a swift tomato juice with way too much Worcester sauce, then make my excuses and leave as the assessment post-mortem begins. I can only take so much. To switch off, I head to the Odeon to watch ‘Heat’ – decide that as life mantras go: ‘Have nothing in your life you can’t walk out on in 30 seconds flat when you spot the heat around the corner’ is pretty cool. Fixate on the Pacific-view villa used as a location in the film – it’s stunning. My two hours of escapism done, I catch the bus back to my railway-view house – it’s dark. There appears to be a large black bin bag on the doorstep. Luckily, I carry a torch as there are no street lights. In the flashlight, the large black bin bag turns out to be a former colleague who has found out where I live and wants to bitch about work while fishing for it. Get rid of him sharpish as I’m unlocking the front door, though he continues to lurk, Hammer-horror style, outside for a while. Cook, eat, bath, write, then to bed – after checking the street view. All the shadows have now joined forces and there’s a blanket of darkness in the sky and on the ground. Good night.

That Noun-Verb Thing

Many years ago, I started teaching the English language and, as a result, learned much more about my mother tongue than I’d ever picked up at school. The more I learned, the more I fell in love (a novel experience for me – usually, enduring mystery is the clincher), and the more I wanted to know. I embraced all forms of English, welcomed them to the fold, while firmly promoting a standard I held dear. A standard based fairly and squarely on my parents’ and Eric Blair’s.

After a while, I became an examiner. It’s probably the work I enjoyed most. Meeting, and listening to, people from around the world, whilst assessing which exam board profile they fit, was both challenging and frustrating. I tried to be as flexible as possible, within the rules, to accommodate varieties of English which were mutually comprehensible. I have never been a hardliner with language: change ensures survival, and it’s that quality of English which has paid me adequately well over the years. Some colleagues were not so tolerant. An oft-repeated, post-exam, heated discussion was ‘that noun-verb thing’. Colleagues unfamiliar with iTunes would erupt into rage over a candidate using ‘gift’ as a verb.

To be fair, when I’d first encountered it, the American trend for making nouns into verbs had caused me to shudder (occasionally, it still does – ‘to desk’, anyone?). However, as with other changes, I realized that I needed to acknowledge it to deal with it. Ignoring what we don’t like does not make it go away. English is user-led, another secret to its survival and success, so respect for the user shows respect for the dictionaries of the future. A usage is coined, people adopt it, people like it, it endures, it enters the dictionaries.

Yesterday, I reflected on ‘that noun-verb thing’ again. There was a Greek General Election, billed as an opportunity for Greece to rethink itself and its relationship with the outside world. Going the rounds on social media was a Greek cartoon – easily translated and immediately understood. A man at a podium asks the crowd in front of him ‘Who wants change?’ Everyone raises their hand. Then, he asks ‘Who wants to change?’. No-one raises their hand.

This speaks to all of us. To paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi; if we want change, we have to be that change. Acknowledge it, take ownership of it. The verb activates the noun. Let’s do it!

On the Third Day…

of December 1993. Taken from my diary when I was teaching English on the island of Symi, Greece.

Can’t write well, was up to 4 a.m. thanks to a party and am forgetting how a good night’s sleep feels. I’m stale and my throat is sore. The school owner is visiting from Rhodes, so I take myself to a quiet corner of the classroom and prep there. That done, I go out to buy bread, biscuits and veg. Take coffee with K at her very quiet cafe, after collecting D’s music centre. Bigger! Louder! Better! (Well it will be when this fug clears…). A walk around the harbour reveals the pack of male teachers at Elpida’s, talking in a hearty-blokey way. Not in the mood for that at all, I go to visit MA. She’s miles better company and we chat about constructive use of time – y’know, making it matter. I eat too many biscuits because they’re warm from the bakery opposite and she tells me I’m too small. I’m easily persuaded! The weather’s fine, the laundry’s done and I’m back on the bicycle enjoying the scenery. Return from my ride in time to take a ‘phone call from my sister – she’s just landed a new, permanent job at County Hall. So happy for her! That conversation had, (my former employer) Mr J rings to discuss getting me back to work in Rhodes. He’s lined-up a group of civil servants as students to start after Christmas and has found a teacher who’s willing to come over here to ‘replace’ me (who is this mad person, I ask myself?). Anyway, no time to ponder as DS (fresh from his male-bonding at Elpida’s) is outside, at the bottom of the steps, waiting to walk me up to a teachers’ party at Dolares. It’s a Salonikan celebration and we stay until 03.15, when we walk back down – smiling and laughing all the way. Bed by 4 a.m. Again.

of December 1994. Taken from my diary when I was teaching English on the island of Rhodes, Greece.

Wake early, plagued by thoughts of no pay (again). The temperature is colder than in London, there’s an icy wind. It’s overcast, so there’ll be no hot water – nothing like a cold shower to dowse self-pity. I have an odd rash on my body – standing in front of the mirror, it appears to be a fire starting from the big toe on my left foot and spreading upwards with its flames licking my thighs, abdomen and chest. I itch. A lot. Calls from S & H to meet by Agios Athanasios church at 8 p.m. for a night out. Next, I reserve a seat to Cairo for the new year with Ethiopian Airlines at the closest travel agent. Visit M to tell her the good news and she goes to check ferry times for the trip. Nervously excited! Especially as I don’t know how I’m going to pay for it. Meet D at Academia, where we wait for our students to emerge from their FCE papers. We’re definitely far more nervous than them. KL passes and invites me over to Koskinou for a ‘final’ dinner before he leaves for Australia on Tuesday. In the afternoon, I try to nap, but it’s too cold, the girl next door is shrieking again (having forgotten being ‘shot at’ by J as a warning the last time – where’s a firearm when you need one?) and the ‘phone keeps ringing. My private lesson is OK, though my concentration is poor. I pass my bill to the student, it is not paid (of course). In the evening, D comes round to take a call from her mother in the States, the rest of the gang come round, we go to meet S & H and all go to eat at ‘Vrachos’ in Ialyssos (lovely setting and place). Back to ‘ νυν και άει’ in the Old Town, with a great DJ, before going on to a very crowded ‘Melrose’ at 1 a.m. Well, dear reader, I danced, I drank, I smoked, I sang. All with no thought of tomorrow. That can wait.

A Long November Weekend

The weekend of 6 – 8 November 1993, on the island of Symi, Greece. Recorded in my diary of the time, when I taught ESOL there. The 8 November is the festival of Archangel Michael of Panormitis. The Greek Orthodox Church states that the miraculous icon of the Archangel Michael on the island of Symi is one of the four miraculous icons of the Archangel in the Dodecanese, Greece.

Saturday dawns and I still feel rough. My fever is running high, my voice is running away and my nose is just running. There’s a teachers’ lunch in Horio but I don’t go, instead I walk the few meters to the Vapori to sit with D for a medicinal drink. She has one, too. Prophylactic reasons. Back to the apartment, I listen to old cassettes to divert myself from unproductive hovering and feeling doom-laden. F comes round to tell me I’m getting better, she’s always right, so I must be. Apparently, my illness will pass by Monday. Have a hideously bad night’s sleep.

Despite this, Sunday comes and I am feeling better. Well, a bit anyway. I then contrive, through hovering-with-intent, to spend the day at a friend’s house. This helps me avoid housework very nicely until 4pm. Then, fed up with mess, I clean and tidy the apartment. In the meantime, even more people have left for the festival at Panormitis and the harbor area is becoming quieter. Further attempts at hovering-with-intent-to-be-invited-in fail miserably but I have a greater reward in going for a walk in excellent company with M and S, two of this year’s teachers. Not for the first time, I thank my lucky stars for this group of good people.

The three-day weekend rolls into Monday, and the harbor’s almost completely closed up as it seems the entire local population have headed off to the monasteries at Panormitis and Michailis. Elpida’s is the only cafe open. My fever has passed, F was (as ever) right. I have lunch with her and D. She’s cooked – it’s a lovely meal, washed down with heart-searching talk and retsina. I sleep soundly for two hours in my newly-cleaned apartment, woken only by a call from a student’s father. Him: Come and collect food. Me: OK. I go. The ‘food’ consists of two bottles of wine, something described as ‘marmalade’, and a lobster. Gotta love gratitude! By the evening, Pachos has re-opened. I go for drinks with S and H over from Lindos for the day’s festivities and we’re joined by some teachers. My Lindian friends are worried for my peace of mind and want me to leave with them. I won’t. I’ll stay. But I am tempted. Really I am. The urge to bolt is never far away.

21 October

1994. Rhodes, Greece.

Two days of thunderstorms. And the rain, the rain! The streets become rivers, the air so drenched it is hard to breathe. Nothing feels dry, indoors or out. Dreadful road accidents leave a trail of casualties – four British tourists drowned in Archangelos. Concerned colleagues make sure I have lifts to and from work, and students keep advising me to be careful (especially after the tourist accident – the British obviously can’t handle rainy weather). On a dash into town I manage to reach the bank and withdraw my rent money for the Cretan florist. By chance, I bump into a couple I know who are leaving Greece to go and live in Sweden. We make time for coffee in a café full of the sound of dripping. I wish them well, they are good people. By the time I hand the rent over, the brown paper envelope containing my hard-earned drachmas is, just like everything else, completely sodden. The landlord nods, smiles and spreads the notes out on the shop counter to dry. I leave. My Level 1 class is calling (not very loudly, mind you). My beginning students learn many weather-words as we watch the drama of the storm unfold outside, safe in our (almost-dry) room. There are unlimited ways to describe rain. I’d not realized this before. 50 minutes with Level 1 in a downpour will teach you this. In the break, splash across the road to the main building to receive phone calls, trying not to be jealous of those who have landlines at home. By the way, I fail miserably at the not-being-jealous thing. Once in the main building, I have to queue for the bathroom. After five minutes, I’m in and I try to dry off. Don’t know why, but I do try. Then, I hang around, feigning casual disinterest, in the office. I circle the phones, to no avail. One of the secretaries has a worried mother in Athens who needs to know her middle-aged daughter hasn’t drowned/ been swept out to sea/had lots of other bad stuff happen because of rain that only distant mothers can imagine. That’s that, then. Break over, I swim back to spend two fun hours teaching one-to-one (there are few times I am able to use that phrase; those words, in that order) with the student known to other staff only as ‘Jane’s Albanian’. My callers get through while I’m in class. The not-drowned secretary leaves me notes, all of which say the person will phone back. If they can, of course. My lift home from work on Friday night, sparing me from the rain, is on a scooter – seriously. Wetter than walking – how is that possible? Forget the wet for a while at a birthday party. One of my colleagues is celebrating her 22nd, and a large group of us squelch noisily into a nearby pizzeria where a good time and many beers are had by all. Diving back into the rain on the Vespa gone midnight, I reflect that tomorrow I will have a sore head and wonder if I will ever feel dry again.

(Taken from the diary I kept at the time)