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Baring all in Bordeaux

Thursday January 11, 2007

John Shackleton

Has the dream of becoming director general and owning two ponies and a large house in Alderly Edge failed to materialise? Is work a nightmare of repetitive tasks that have no discernible impact on the real world? If so, and you?re thinking about giving up your job and doing something a lot more interesting, there are probably a few questions that you want to ask yourself before completely taking leave of your senses, like:

Exactly why am I doing this?

In my short but ever-lengthening time on our little planet, I?ve come to the conclusion that we?re quite often motivated by rejection. I don?t mean the kind of rejection that leaves you wanting to jump off a bridge because your wife left you for the Hungarian plumber who installed your new bathroom last summer. I mean the sort that makes you stop doing something because you don?t like it. That makes you walk to the office in your underpants because you?re fed up with scrabbling at the button flies of your work trousers every morning, and you know that if you have to slot six enormous metal studs through six ridiculously small holes one more time, you?re going to do something violent enough to get your picture in the Manchester Evening News alongside a caption that reads: ?Civil servant in garment factory bloodbath?. You didn?t choose to do it, not really; you just rejected what you could no longer put up with. You didn?t stop to think about the alternatives ? like your zip-up jeans lying at the bottom of the laundry basket.

What I?m saying, in a rather roundabout way admittedly, is don?t do what I did. Don?t give up work, sell your house and move to France simply because you?re fed up taking orders from pygmies. This is a rejection. It's negative. In the Great Escape, there needs to be more than a dislike for prison food, suffocating proximity to people whom you would normally cross the road to avoid and an overwhelming sense of absolute futility. You need to be going somewhere better, not just running away.

And that?s not all. You also need a plan. A watertight, well-advised, wizard plan. Because if you?ve got nothing lined up when you come out on the other side of the perimeter fence, you?re likely to get picked up a long time before you get to Switzerland. Another good question then, is:

What am I going to live on?

Because it?s very likely, if my own experience is anything to go by, that the positive reason you chose for throwing in the towel doesn?t have any financial return associated with it whatsoever. So what, as Lenin put it, faced with an entirely different problem, is to be done?

A possible solution, before you swap your comfortable existence for a cardboard box and a squeegee, is linked to your nationality. One of the many advantages of being English, it says here, is that there is an unquenchable thirst for our language. People all over the world are lapping it up in huge quantities. Which is both nice and handy, if you happen to be proficient in it. Bless the geography of your birth ? you?ve got something other people want. Easy enough then, to roll up at a local language school with your passport and 25 metre swimming certificate and demand a job in the teaching profession. And, as a complete change from the bureaucratic grind, what could be more enjoyable and less taxing than helping a room full of foreigners learn the correct use of the present perfect, or how to ask for a milkshake in Canal Street ? or funnier still, how to pronounce the word ?thirteenth?? Easy.

But in return for being a doddle, TEFL (Teaching English For Love), or as it is sometimes called TESL (Teaching English Saturday Lunchtime) ? or even as those irreverent Americans call it, TESOL (Teaching English to Silly Old Ladies) enjoys the lowest status of all forms of teaching. This comes as a bit of a shock if your previous job allowed you to afford some of the luxuries in life, like food and somewhere to live.

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