Note: this post is a response to Vicky Loras’s blog challenge. It was fun to write – hopefully fun to read as well? Thanks for the inspiration, Vicky!
(Dot 1: That’s also possible)
It’s late in the evening. We’re sitting in the kitchen, my Dad and I. We’re going through the first few pages of my first English textbook. My Dad asks a question, and I think long and hard before giving an answer.
“Yes,” he says, surprised. “That’s not what the answer key says, but that’s also possible.”
My first conscious memory of dealing with English (I can’t have been older than 7) is still an important one. For the past 21 years, learning languages has been my hobby – then a passion – then an area of study – then a job description.
I don’t often think about this in these terms, but I’m sure it started there and then. This convoluted path has led me to here and now – and will probably play a major part in what’s to come.
Relating the entire story of my affair with English would be long an boring even from a writer’s point of view My idea for this post is a series of mini-stories about moments which, I feel, became turning-points – moments in which a new episode of the story could begin.
Dot 2: Study like you mean it
It’s 2001, and I’m preparing for my university entry exams. It’s English Philology or nothing: two universities, but only one area of study. My parents are uneasy about the lack of other, “safer” options – but they support me to the point of delivering a proper motivational ass-kicking when needed.
So I prepare. I write and read, listen and speak. The details – and the flow-inducing circumstances – were mentioned here already. Pearl Jam arrive in Poland and play unforgettable concerts near my home town – I don’t go. It’s a lovely, hot summer – I don’t care.
I take the exams and absolutely, totally ace them – one of the most competitive study areas in Poland! My parents are impressed, and visibly relieved.
Dot 3: The fluke
We’re sitting around our favourite table in our favourite cafe, smoking nervously. Beckett comes to mind: “Nothing to be done.” Our university has assigned two places on a study exchange program in the UK, at York St John.
There are three of us.
Three folks with the absolute highest grade average. Three people who have tried really hard, pushed themselves and made the most effort. Three good friends throughout this time.
I put out my cigarette and take three matches out of a box. I snap one of them in half. Our best friend makes us draw them.
I draw a lucky match.
My future wife draws the other one.
Dot 4: The birth of the “No”
It’s been a few days since the school term has ended. I’m expecting a new contract from the language school I work for. When I get the email and read the contract, I’m shocked and furious.
I’m shocked at the changes introduced to the contract – changes which, in effect, make it very hard for self-employed freelancers like me to find extra work anywhere else. And I’m furious because my employers have avoided an open discussion about the contract – sending it to me and my fellow teachers after we’ve split for the summer, and trying to sugar-coat it with a pay rise.
I text my colleagues. They’re angry and bitter, but decide to tough it out. You know what it’s like, they say, kids, home, I’m lucky to work here in such a tough market. Maybe I should just play it safe and sign?
I email them back, saying “thanks, but no thanks.”
A week later, I’ve got a job in my favourite city in Poland. We’re moving.
Dot 5: Not dreamy, but close
It’s a dark, cold day, as dark and cold as Polish winters get. We’re on our mini-break, wandering around Krakow’s Jewish quarter. I’m sitting down somewhere for tea, and checking my email.
When my wife joins me, she immediately knows something’s going on. “You were, like, pale and blushing at the same time,” she told me later.
“I’ve got the interview,” I say. “Swansea.”
“Wow,” she says, confused. “What’s in Swansea?“
Over the next few months, we’re finding out bit by bit: about Swansea, Wales, the school (small, but ambitious) and the job (DoS). Then, after a final trip to Wales in February, I get the big news. The job is mine if I take it.
We both remember a sunny day in York, when we both realised that living and working somewhere in the UK has been our dream – nurtured and fuelled by study, stories, music, friends. And we remember watching London from my dorm window during a summer school once: “one little room and the biggest of plans.“
This is not London, or York. It’s not dreamy.
But that’s also possible.
I ring the school. “Yes,” I say. “I’ll take it.”