Friday, May 14


Went to the Isle of Ischia, to stay in an apartment in my flatmates mansion overlooking one of the islands aquamarine water ports built around the rim of a submerged secondary crater cone and several of the islands beaches of powdered volcanic rock. Know as the Viridian Isle for its many trees and gardens (the former planted by the French three centuries ago to build a navy) and combined with its many 'thermic' spring therapeutic water resorts, the place is a cone of luxury with a generous dollop of fresh greenery overflowing down its sides.

I took the opportunity to visit a tropical English garden planted into the side of a cliff complete with equatorial climate greenhouses for humming birds and carnivorous plants, birdhouses with parrots, many intertwining and frog populated water features and a general sense of tranquillity enhanced by the faint harmonies rising from the intimate on site renowned classical music venue, all planted by an inspired Argentinian Lady in honour of her deceased composer husband.

Following this, time was spent wandering one of the secondary volcanic cones, its black rock sides turned green and spongy by the ankle deep moss covering every boulder and stone, from between which gape dark arm sized holes (that should you gather the courage to plunge your hand into) vent either ice-cube cool air as from a freezer or humidity rich warmth as from the breath of a monstrous subterranean horse, all dappled in the shade of oak, beech, ash, birch and other varied deciduous trees ripe for clambering.

Then back. To the overflowing streets. Dust dried cracking lips. Hoots and horns. Rushing traffic, pedestrians, work, school, children. The calm was ephemeral yet addictive like fresh fruit juice on a Summers day after hard work.


Imagine trying to explain through sign language that your kidneys hurt, that its uncomfortable to urinate and that the colour is wrong. Failing that, call in your flatmate to help you translate, but take into account that he has no medical or body parts vocabulary and that his girlfriend is required to help gesticulate and explain the explanations. Now realise that you are talking to very junior practitioner and that he needs to call for support. By this time your private examination room is getting fairly crowded, so the addition of a greybeard who is grumpy from being disturbed mid fag with the security guard might hinder your improvisations. Finally allow yourself to be karate chopped in the kidneys and poked with a stick, your kidney infection declared and your antibiotics prescribed to your flatmate (requires less paperwork)... and you might get an idea of why writing this account of my trip to the doctors doesn't rank very high on my embarrassment scale.

Sunday, April 11

Martyn Vs Martin

A few days ago one of my co-workers, a former professional opera singer from Dublin, scuppered a deal, negotiated by the 'Old Man' over the last month or so, with a Trinity language school, in which I was to gain a foot in the door, to ensure that we all kept our jobs for the next two months. Although I met the guy on my first day and we had spoken occasionally in the close confines of the daily taxiing on a number of neutral subjects, we didn't really get to know each other and then become drinking buddies until around a month later after he had threatened to deck me.

Now I really should have realised that his predilection for unnecessary subterfuge was going to get us into trouble some day, I even regret suggesting that he just be upfront about it and save the 'Old Man' some hassle as my ability to say 'told you so' is not going to help the situation very much (although, in retrospect, it would have been very peculiar for a 40 year old egocentric to take advice from me!). You see, this is not the first time that I have come off worse because of this guy, due to his habit of taking sick-days to go to auditions I have worked when actually ill myself and had classes doubled up. Until recently this has been fine, as he is genuinely a good singer and its important to follow you passion, on the other hand he regards teaching as a stop-gap measure and boy does it show when you cover his classes.

Teaching deficiencies aside, he is necessary company. It is vital out here to have someone to talk to in you own language, not just English but colloquial English: in which you make mistakes, slur, insult and generally bitch, moan and swear to you hearts content and be understood. These are all practices that are very much aided by the imbibing of relevant quantities of premium bottled and barrelled pale Belgians, German lagers, dark bitters, stouts, honey beers, with labels ranging form Krombacker to Fischer to Guinness to Erdinger etcetera, etcetera... Which is precisely what we did after he discovered I had “inner fire”; that I was not some TEFL teaching machine from middle-class middle-England. This was discovered when e both tried to call each other at the same time to apologise for our previous harsh words relating to the aforementioned decking.

So anyhow, over the course of the last few months of drinking session I have grown more accustomed to his heavy drinking sessions with myself as an ear, his grumblings about how the Anglican church doesn't pay him for elevating the quality of its granny choir, that he deserves this solo performance and that Le Scala choir contract... And I can tell you it begins to drag. Yes he has interesting stories, but boy they don't bear up so well on the fifth hearing when the increasingly exaggerated details cease being so amusing. But I keep telling myself that the conversation of an intelligent critically minded sceptic is worth it... just so long as I don't let myself become the monster.

Thursday, March 11

Lost and damned

Get lost in Naples sooner rather than later” I'd thought to myself as I boarded an amateurishly tagged Cumana headed in the general direction of the 'new metropolis'. I'll know the place by the sole of my boot by the end; the sandal worn cobbles of hidden Roman courtyards, the freshly imported granite cubes of the Piazzas, I'd know how to follow the tarmac ribbons of the avenues with their constellations of potholes or the diminishing angles of paved back streets. I contemplated this naivety as I stood, dripping, on an 18th century rococo mosaic, iron and glass dome towering above, as I took a brief respite from the incessant rain, utterly without clue as to my whereabouts.

The reality of exploring a vast unknown metropolis during a two-day downpour, with dwindling daylight and deficient language, was dawning upon me at last. Feet damp, umbrella failing, I move on. Pausing for a few moments near a street shrine to gaze up at a crumbling Roman arch in the old city wall, itself beneath a greater arch with a five meter high depiction of the crucifixion, “I feel your pain, dude” I mutter, “at least it wasn't raining when The Man came for you”. Peering over my shoulder in paranoia for black suited tails, I dart across the square past a crumbling church, another victim of the '81 quake, long dead, yet held upright by the crowd, its vacant windows laughing silently at my verminesque scurryings past overflowing gutters.

The city drowning around me, I tread past mounds of detritus; a wheel-less moped propped up on bricks, a metric ton of potato peel half glimpsed in the yellow light of a restaurant's kitchen door, a dumpster with ominous rolled carpets hanging out like soggy cigarette butts from an overflowing ashtray, little pyramids of sawdust and metal shavings from the bottom floor wardrobe sized workshops grudgingly dissolve; reminding me of the the grizzled moustaches ritually melting teaspoons of sugar in shots of espresso, throwing them back and sighing in the 'bars' that I passed at the entrance to this Medina, these labyrinthine canyons of fabrication and fornication glistening with their raw, teaming life.

Recovering from my lapse of concentration, I focus upon the task at hand; exploration. A blessed oasis of calm and dry is found at the end of a street lit only by the escaping light of shuttered homes, a café. Not a 'bar', but a rent-a-table-for-an-hour-as-you-sip-your-latte kinda place; intellectuals converse in French as I drip into a corner seat, order my latte and write. Gazing out of the ivy I glimpse a square of tenements clustered around a central pit; some kind of communal ashtray come urinal that I realise is a small section of preserved Roman baths; the current street level being four or five meters higher now. Thinking upon this I come to understand a little of the disregard for ancient architecture and casual disinterest in history of the city; these are its foundations not in some learned in the classroom, few precious relics of a distant golden age kind of sense but a very literal one. The city is build upon the flattened road-kill corpse of its predecessor, generation upon generation of stones used and reused to build upwards, first floors becoming cellars becoming crushed foundations. An organic agglomeration of material. It is little wonder that the 'old' enshrined in Britain for its rarity is, in its plenty, considered building material here, that and there are no building regulations to speak of... hmm better reconsider the analysis, though it makes a pretty image.

Time to move on; winding up a switchback stairway in a cliff of restaurants I emerge onto a plateau. Looking down the next side street I realise that I can see for about two miles in a straight line! A gap the width of a mini extends in an arrow straight line down a curving ski-slope and diminishes in the distance, streetlights blurring in their infinite replication. The eye is drawn to a red glow atop a tower (like the eye of Sauron), “I know that tower!” from there the bearings are simple, navigating by my red star, the warrior turns for home.

Wednesday, March 10

Visigoths, Elves and Zerg

'Visigothic' best describes how I feel walking to work each morning. Like some kind of ignorant barbarian interloper in a high visibility jacket caught traipsing through a rose garden. And yet this is more down to the similarity of dress and physical appearance of the local Neapolitans than much effort on my part. Hair on men is slicked back/up and short, I've rarely seen hair past the shoulders but when I have it's oiled into ringlets. Jeans are ubiquitous, tight and blue. Because they think it is unseasonably cold I've not often seen below the shiny blue/black plastic hybrid puffer-biker jackets usually reserved for bouncers in Britain. Maybe it's like some kind of personal air-bag system for when they come of their scooters...

But I digress, the sneakers+tight jeans+plastic puffy jacket trend is unanimous and indiscriminate, no matter age, gender or profession. I could choose to understand this as some twisted form of social equality... perhaps there is some deep subtlety to labelling/coordination/form that my inexperienced eye cannot as yet pick out, but mostly I just wonder; what happened to fabled Italian style? I have come to realise that Italians are like Elves; while renowned for impeccable poise, an innate sense for fashion and goblins, style by the designer Wellington boot load, and possessed of a culture many centuries more developed than the lesser races, the reality is... well, more realistic; Elves, like Italians, have a well developed stereotype that is really difficult to overcome (bravo Susanna Clarke).

Now I'm not really one to speak, I've never been particularly fashion conscious, but I have been cursed with a deep rooted imperative to display my own personal sense of style whilst having been left devoid of the sensibilities required to do anything stylish. This leads to a tendency for me to wear things that appeal to me and that are vaguely alternative but a far cry from fashion... thus I suspect I look more distinctive than anything else. Maybe I'm just too used to the kind of tolerance displayed by Aberites towards the self styled weirdos that sweep the streets with the hems of their red silk lined black leather trench-coats. Then again, maybe this place needs some more of that kind of weirdo willing to go against the grain. Where are the piercings? The tattoos? The one man gay-pride parades of colour? The ball-gowns worn to get the shopping? I even miss Emos!

Somehow its as if wearing an ankle length cotton duster, unbound shoulder length (increasingly) auburn hair, comfortably baggy combats, boots, plus octopus bedecked t-shirts/linen shirt combos is more alternative than can be born. Staring, laughter, shaken devil horns, cries of 'Mamma mia!', more in shocked surprise than hostility as far as I can gather, are not uncommon. It sort of helps not understanding the lingo at times as it makes one far more able to turn the other and maintain a semblance of dignity amidst adversity. Now I'm used to a bit of this back home, but really get over yourselves dudes! Get out and see the vast variety of materials and colours in which humans clad 'emselves, break free of the mould and celebrate the diversity. You are not Zerg!

Friday, February 12

Naples in the style of Kerouac

The story so far: In search of work and new horizons off the back of a near anonymous email, without contract or checked references, I take the leap into the unknown. My preconceptions hazy, my bags packed and flights booked within a week, half expecting to be kidnapped by the Mafia or sold into back-alley sweat shop servitude or become an IDless body dumped in a river... I land in Naples.

First impressions: a Mafia infested, semi-active volcanic, beauteous, crumbling, Romano-Greek-Aragonese-Sicilian ruined grandeur metropolis of Southern Italian sprawling condominiums, washing flapping in the stiff coastal breeze smelling of fish, pizza, rubbish strewn in the street. My contact an erect, greying, warmly wrapped in dark overcoat, Roman nosed Neapolitan seignior; my Mafia looking manager speaks near no English, though coveys his socialist political stance, troubles with his book, disgust with the weather/other drivers/pedestrians/weak coffee/Americans on the drive to my hotel 'Solfatara'. Ensconced in a room with a view (ships, docks, coastal fortresses, a hundred thousand homes, Islands, bays, lagoons and Vesuvius) sniffing the sulphurous fumes of the local crater, I rest weary, readying to teach who-knows-who-what to Caribineri's kids with super model mums as boy-racers on scooters running combs through slicked hair zip through red lights under my window.

The week that was: Rising at the civilised hour of ten, croissants, coffee and cereal as I prep the afternoon's lessons in the warm welsh summer weather. Read 'All Tomorrows Parties' (William Gibson) then 'Lonesome Traveller' (Jack Kerouac) on the Metro down the coast to hook up with the other teachers; an Irish pro classical singer improvising for cash, a lifelong teacheress pickled and sustained by olive oil and golden sunshine, a semi-native graduate son of a Glaswegian ex-pat (interesting accent!), to be taxied by the 'Old Man' to our various classes in various schools. Teaching from a tin, we deliver Trinity grade English to state school classes. In order to begin one must pass through three ordeals, first; grapple with unfamiliar consonant clusters (to great hilarity) in the register, second; subdue/entice/fraternize the inevitable alpha male malefactor to desist his public cock comparisons, third; cut through the solid wall of sound raised by over-many teenage Italians placed in close proximity... And so on and so forth. Evenings spent in relaxation and wind down mode in pizzerias with glass of delicious local wine, wandering ruined amphitheatres imagining gladiators and chariots, walking docks admiring many coloured wooden boats raised and upturned for repairs, then home dodging though madness traffic of armoured cars, lorries, three wheeled fruit motor-vans heaped to the brim, battered and beat cars with scooters nosing through the needle eye gaps here there and everywhere, in the distance the scream of ambulance sirens a little needed warning.

Now: It is Carnival week. Eggs, flour, firecrackers, rotten veg, are the ammunition of choice for the students; experience of re-enactment shield-wall comes in handy while fending off missiles with umbrella. Packs of wild children stalk the dusk preying upon lonesome travellers and grannies. Religious effigies mounted on poles accompanied by brass bands, choirs of undulating voices, swarms of scooter-mounted leather jacket horn tooters, are paraded through the streets to gather alms. Church bells summon the masses to their dawn-dusk hourly opiate. My heedless irreligious flatmates cook fantabulous meals and waft the scent down stair wells to taunt the lent-fasting tenants, then insistently lay bowl upon bowl butter dripping broccoli-pasta, spiced olive oil roasted veg, ubiquitous pizza and desert pastry deliciousness upon underfed looking me (oh the woe!). Duty calls, my fork is restless, salivations drip upon the keyboard.