Hail to the Home Comforts: Things I Miss When I’m Not in Britain…

I'm packing my (tote) bag and heading off, but I'm keeping home close to my heart...

I’m packing my (tote) bag and heading off, but I’m keeping home close to my heart…

Picture E.T., its glowy finger held high to the skies, croaking out “phone home“. Now imagine E.T. walking into a small supermarket in a backstreet in Milan and emerging with a rare packet of Weetabix. E.T. then returns indoors and tries to fulfill the “phone home” objective, except the phone home is a Skype call on a laptop. If no one answers, E.T. opens up YouTube and starts watching vintage Britcoms. That’s what life looks like for me when I have those odd moments of feeling like a homesick alien in Italy. That was also an overlong and awkward intro to what’s meant to be a brief blogpost and it put me inside the saggy skin of E.T. Right, I’m now taking this skin off and getting to the point with pointed glowy-finger precision, right heeeeeeeere

Very soon I’m going to do that thing where I trip off to Italy for a couple of months. This is excellent news because I love Italy and I’m up for a fresh adventure. Still, even though being in Italy is a great – if not, the best – thing there’s stuff I’ll miss about Britain (and it’s stuff that I always miss). Here is a brief list of things that just aren’t there or just aren’t the same in bella Italia, noted down for posterity so that I and any other British people can savour them and appreciate them while they are so close…

Family

Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em. My brethren aren’t physically near me when I’m overseas and that’s a bit sad. (And the same is also true for other distant friends. Guys! I miss you! Oh, I’m so lonely!) My bloodclan are crackers and drive me up the wall but, hey, I love ’em and miss those clan gatherings where we just share the same room and talk all over each other for ten hours non-stop. Those Skype calls home? They go on for a long, long, long time…

When in Italy: I’m fortunate in that I’ve got a great collection of Italian friends and Italian family units who welcome me with unbelievable generosity and warmth. I then end up making more friends each time I return and the children I teach come to hail me as a hero, so I’m not bereft of affection. As for my real family: long, long, long Skype calls…

Tea

Italians survive on teeny-tiny cups of coffee (real coffee and not ‘overpriced big mug o’hot milk carelessly prepped for you by an underpaid barista’). I don’t like coffee – I’m English so, naturally, I drink tea. Tea is a a bit of a mystery to most Italians and here we find a complete cultural disconnect. Far from being considered essential (the most important household item), kettles aren’t common in Italy. The rituals and regular brews that keep British people surviving and thriving – the habitual hot drink that helps us cope, comforts us and inspires our creative and constructive output – are entirely absent. No, I just don’t know either. I just shake my head – a head now experiencing a slight headache because I’ve not had a cup of tea – and sigh…

When in Italy: With a stash of teabags I can survive. With water boiled on a hob or in a microwave (yes, I know), something resembling regular tea can be made to happen. Needs must…

Curry

Italy may be a diverse country and Milan may be a cosmopolitan city but multiculturalism isn’t as potent as in the UK. What’s more, Italy – quite rightly – has a firm sense of tradition and identity that prevails and cuisine is one area that you can really see (erm, taste) that. Italy has the best food in the world and I eat a lot of Italian food at home (partly because I don’t like what might be considered ‘traditional British food’). That said, when I’m in Italy I do sometimes feel like I’m missing out on the international flavours that are in abundance back in Blighty. You can find ‘ethnic foods’ but, in the land of pasta and pizza, it feels a bit odd to be eating them. Even so, I miss curry and Indian cuisine is scarce and much misunderstood in Italy. When I tell people that the most popular dish in the United Kingdom is chicken tikka masala and that going out for a curry is a social institution I get disbelieving, quizzical glances. “You see, the best curries are in Britain!” I cry, adopting the tones of a batty aristocrat. “You shall come over to see me, chum, and I will make you eat, understand and come to love this hot stuff that we stole from the subcontinent, back in the days of the Raj, what what?!” And then it turns into a outrageously bullshit alternate history lesson in which I whitewash the past and claim that Queen Victoria travelled to Bombay with bicycles and cricket and traded them for tea and curry so that the Empire could become truly great. At the end of this the Italians are still looking at me as if I’m crazy and I’m still hungry for a curry.

When in Italy: Eat pasta and pizza and be happy.

Films

In the UK I can just take myself off to the pictures anytime I please and watch a movie. Most of those movies are American movies starring British actors and everyone speaks English. I can’t do this in Italy where films are, obviously, screened with Italian dubbing. My Italian is nowhere near good enough to follow the dialogue so I don’t get the full experience. Furthermore, I find dubbing disconcerting because I see the face of, say, Sir Ian McKellen but hear a voice that sounds dissimilar to Sir Ian McKellen’s. Altogether, in spite of Italy’s proud cinematic heritage, I feel a bit at odds with regard to this particular personal passion when I’m miles and miles and kilometres and kilometres away from my local multiplex.

When in Italy: There are ways to see original-language Hollywood flicks in Milano and, if I get chance and miss the cinema too much, I may try that. Otherwise I could also just go and watch new movies in Italian for kicks (staggered international release schedules may mean that I’ve already seen the film in English). Alternatively, I could take a Friday night trip out to the legendary Cinema Mexico to catch one of their audience-participation screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Hot-patootie, it’s pretty groovy…

Accents and Dialects

The anglophone world is vast and diverse. The ways people use (and abuse, misuse and confuse) English fascinates and delights me. Being in a country where English isn’t the first language, though, I find that I start to miss the sound of English in its infinite varieties. I inevitably encounter English speakers from all over the world but the ‘anglophone presence’ obviously isn’t the same. Simultaneously my own English speaking becomes slower, clearer and shorn of quirky colloquialisms in work and day-to-day speaking (when I’m not mangling Italian). Altogether, there’s a deficit of idiomatic language, slang and dialect and my ears start yearning for accents. I’m not just talking about the accents of North West England – I’m talking all parts of the UK, Ireland, North America, the antipodes and Africa.

When in Italy: I end up procrastinating on YouTube, watching videos of people spitting out all sorts of slang and dialect and speaking in an array of accents, lilts and brogues. I subsequently come to find awful sketch shows and sitcoms funny, even though they aren’t funny and trade in ropey-ass regional stereotypes and duff gags. (Hey! There’s amusement in novelty!) I also find myself occasionally slipping into silly voices and bad impersonations of thick anglophone accents when I feel bereft. I sometimes do this for effect when I want to scare children (it’s easy to scare Italian children with a Scouse accent). Allow me this indulgence, guys. I’m a foreign land and 60% of what’s happening is incomprehensible to me. Just give me a moment where I can blast out something like “Eeeeeeyaaah, by ‘eck luv, s’like pea-soup out th’urrgh t’day, like. Summat’s up wit’ t’environment, like. S’at clim’ut ch’haaange int’it? Int’it just, reet?

There are lots of other little things that I miss when I’m in exile: the BBC; British politics; famous British folk that have no celebrity presence or elsewhere (I weirdly end up missing newsreaders, celebrity chefs and BBC documentary presenters); porridge; the moors; Manchester; complaining about crap public transport; and so on. Allora, as alluded to a little earlier, Italy is possibly the best place to be and I’ll be there. In the meantime, this evening I’m going to go out to the cinema to watch Star Wars with my family and then we’re going to go and get a curry. Home comforts, y’know?

Home comforts...

Home comforts…

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Four Things I Learned on a Four Week Course to Become a Better English Teacher…

Remember when Antarctic explorer Lawrence ‘Titus’ Oates said “I am just going outside and may be some time” and didn’t come back? Well, I said similar things around a month-and-a-half ago but, hey! I came back!

(Note: I’ve got doubts about Titus Oates’ death. They never found his body. Personally, I like to believe that Oates encountered Shoggoths outside and that they took him to the resting vaults of the Elder Things. There he discovered incredible extraterrestrial technology which he used to increase his longevity and radically alter his physical form. Neo-Oates is now 135-years-young and reigns over a subterranean krill kingdom beneath the South Pole. He will eventually come back – supported by his devout crustacean subjects – and you will know him by the whistling of his gills. Yes. Absolutely.)

Way back just a shade over a month-and-a-half ago I shut everything down and stepped outside because I had a mission. That mission: go through an intensive course to gain a CELTA qualification. Progress through and successfully pass a CELTA course and you acquire special skills and fresh status as an especially qualified, quite-excellent Teacher of English as a Foreign Language. I can break that down into an appealing, easy-to-understand 16-bit format: CELTA is like the power-up Super Leaf that transforms you from regular Mario to Tanooki-Suit Super Mario. Then you have a funky weaponised tail and the power to fly and with that ability you can reach the secret bonus areas hidden in the clouds and the roofs of the haunted castles of the Mushroom Kingdom.

In total, it was an intense month of giddily bouncing about on a quest to become a better teacher and sometimes it felt like Super Mario Bros. 3. (It was nothing like Super Mario Bros. 3. but I wanted to drag out the crap analogy for cohesion. Yeah, that wasn’t great. One thing I’m better at thanks to the course is necessary self-evaluation and I acknowledge that crap analogies are a weakness and I will strive to improve in this area.) I learned a lot about teaching English and mastered double-sided photocopying but I’m not going to regurgitate it all here. Instead, I’m putting down four particularly significant things I (re)learned over the four weeks for posterity. 1-2-3-4! Let’s go…

I really like full classes and I love teaching in a classroom possessed by the spirit of Professor Brian Cox... *awestruck smile...*

I really like full classes and I love teaching in a classroom possessed by the spirit of Professor Brian Cox… *awestruck smile…*

#1. Teaching is brilliant

I love teaching. Getting back to teaching action and returning to the classroom re-affirmed this and reminded me that I’m pretty good at it and have a lot of fun doing it. Give me a chance to craft lesson plans, create extra materials and assault a whiteboard and I will go all out and be a happy guy. What’s more, the other people in the room will have an engaging, stimulating experience and may even learn something. (I’ve failed if they don’t.)

To be involved in learning, to share knowledge and to actively play a role in other human beings’ developments is a beautiful thing and a privilege. Teaching is hard work, but it’s enjoyable and rewarding. Teaching a language is even more rewarding because you’re helping people to communicate, enhance a whole set of practical skills and potentially bridging cultural gaps (among many other things). I had a good time with the international ensemble of students during my teaching practice sessions and I’m psyched to get back teaching real students again as soon as possible. (Self-promo-moment: “I can help you with your English, whatever your needs are! For personalised assistance and tuition from a qualified and experienced mother tongue speaker, call now!” *thumbs up, cheesy smile*.)

I'm all about pizza and grammar lessons...

I’m all about pizza and grammar lessons…

#2. The English language is brilliant

The English language is rich, beautiful and endlessly fascinating. It is vast, dynamic and it can be played with and creatively handled to infinite ends. I knew that, but over the past few months I’ve been getting down to the nitty gritty and focusing on the fundamental mechanics of the language – not the fancy stuff I can do with all these words, words, words. I’m talking grammar, guys, and grammar is groovy. (*struts and clicks fingers at the beat of the drop of that full stop*)

I’ve been expanding my language awareness and will continue to study this stuff because it’s important and actually really interesting. It may be that I’m a bit affected after a lot of hardcore study. I mean, it’s been an intense period and there were moments where – deep in the cut-and-thrust of lesson planning – I started getting very (too) excited about pure modals, collocations and the Second Conditional. I realised that things were getting serious during a ‘conversation’ with a relative in which my contribution to the dialogue was nothing more than “Y’know, it’s interesting that you’re using the First and Second Conditional a lot.” And then there was another time – once upon a daydream – where I was musing on word classes and became aware that the word ‘adjective’ is in fact a noun. That must be a terrible identity crisis, poor thing. Imagine if your entire existence was built around the purpose of defining something that you are not and could never be. Only verbal nouns can be happy and free in this Universe, ordered as it is.

Yeah. Absolutely. But seriously, English is brilliant. I get high off studying it and have high times fighting with online dictionaries when they don’t agree with my Northern pronunciation.

It's the Zippy from Rainbow dressed as Electro-Santa Christmas market lightshow...

It’s the Zippy from Rainbow dressed as Electro-Santa Christmas market lightshow…

#3. Manchester is brilliant

By ‘eck, I love Manchester, I do. This one I didn’t really, truly know, and it sort of blindsided me. Being in Manchester city centre every day and being in a open and reflective state of mind I had a ‘seeing what was under my nose all along’ epiphany. Manchester is the best city in Britain (yes it is) and I’m happy that it’s my hood.

It’s also easier to appreciate how excellent your hometown is when you’re meeting outsiders from all corners of the globe telling you just how happy they are to be here. (Especially true of asylum seekers freshly arrived from Sudan after a month in transit.) All the foreign students I engaged with liked Manchester and it was only the weather that was a downer. In truth, it’s only bad weather and an increasingly unacceptable homeless crisis that bring Manchester down. Otherwise, Manchester is wonderful and it’s even more wonderful in the build-up to Christmas. Yay for Manchester’s Christmas markets!

I’m now resolved that, whenever the opportunity arises, I will harp on about how great Manchester is where once I was a bit indifferent and ambivalent. In brief, this place has got pretty much everything – Manchester’s an idiosyncratic mix of tradition and modernism, gothic industrialism married to shiny 21st century style. It’s gloriously cosmopolitan, is full of distinctive character and has a youthful spirit. It’s always moving forward but it knows its roots. Plus, the population are friendly, good-humoured people and the sound of the city is Northern accents. In total, eeyy-aaaah, Manchester’s aaaalriiiiight.

#4. Disconnecting from social media is brilliant

Titus Oates was never on Twitter, but when it came to starting the course I realised that it would be best to channel his spirit with regard to social media. I needed to concentrate. I needed to cut out distractions. I needed to focus on what was really important, get on with the work and devote all my energies and attention to the mission. Thus, I uninstalled all the social media apps on my phone and abstained from Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr for over a month. (I also didn’t go to the cinema and watch TV. I basically just did the course and in downtime spoke to my family and watched the news. I told you: give me something to do and I will go all-out and method actor-ish on the task.)

What did I miss? Aside from keeping in touch with distant friends and being in the loop with some news, nothing really. I also – in spite of the heavy workload and all-consuming rush of the course – felt more relaxed when I wasn’t hooked up to social media. My mind wasn’t as cluttered with trivial stuff, irritations and constant noise. I also found that I was, actually, more aware of the wider world because I was reading the news rather than reading reactions to the news (or just reading unfiltered, self-indulgent stream-of-consciousness ramblings or memes).

I had such a pleasant time being offline that I turned it into a lesson for my teaching pratice on the CELTA course (inspired by this article on a Danish study of people taking a break from Facebook). Now, having finished the course, I’m back connected and it’s good to be in touch with lovely people again but I feel a change. I intend to be less attached to these cyberspaces so I can reap the rediscovered benefits.

Those then, are things I learned and relearned on an excellent course that levelled me up as an educator, galvanished me and made me a happy Mancunian. On to the next quest… (possibly trying to find the Lost Kingdom of Neo-Oates, Lord of the Krill.)

Summer Camp Lunchtime Doodles August/September 2015: Drawing Pictures in Padova…

You know what I doodly-do when I do English-language summer camps in Italy every summer? Well, one of the things I do – aside from singing, dancing and struggling to control Havoc Beelzebambini while I teach them essential vocab like ‘tape’, ‘shame’ and ‘toilet plunger’ – is draw diary sketches during the lunchbreaks. Sì, signore e signori! Its time for another round of lunchtime doodles from summer camp! *fanfare*

As it was in Torino in June, so it was again in the countryside near Padova in late August/early September. Technical background and insight into ze process for those interested: this time I had to use standard paper rather than canteen placemats because there was no canteen arrangement at this school. Doodles were therefore done in the public park next door and were powered by packed lunch (mostly tuna sandwiches). Furthermore, I was determined that I’d make these daily diary doodles the most Jamazing yet and I sought to raise my game from ‘Yeah! Alrighty!‘ to ‘Oh Gods! Thor Almighty!‘. More sketches! Better sketches! More imagination and in-jokes and off-the-wall absurdity and semi-topical creative lunacy!

I think I did a decent job of that and rate these as my best batch of lunchtime doodles so far (until next year, if I make it that far and if they have me back). I won’t go into detail or try and explain ’em – just appreciate them for what they are. Then again, if you wish you can always try and dive deep into esoteric theory and try and discover the occult symbolism and the secrets of my subconscious manifest in miniaturised ink dribbling.

Here are the fortnight’s daily doodles from Summer Camp No. 2 collected together for convenience (you can also see them and my other arty bits on Instagram y’know). And stick around after the two weeks are done with – I promise that there are bonus extras…

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Homecoming, Hailing the Best Summer and Creative Action Ahead, Ma Dai…

Allora, “kingdom of trash, came home at last“. Yeah, I’m home! Home from the latest fresh exile in Italy. It’s been four (quattro!) in total this year and I kept on going away and coming back and going away again but now I think I’m going to stay put for a bit. Though, of course, nothing is certain (everything is uncertainty) I’m pretty sure that I’m going to be based in the UK over the coming months.

So s, I’m home but home is strange after a lot of time away. It’s also hard in the winter, especially right after the highs and sunny haze of the summer. This year was the very best summer so the comedown is brutal. It’s cold! It’s wet! The Italian culture, la dolce vita, all the friends and the amped exhilaration, activity and adoration of summer camps (aww, I miss my pre-teen fans) all feel so far away…

*weeping…*

So , I’m in that strung-out post-summer state of confusion and I can’t stop saying “ma dai!“, “ma perché?!” and “non lo so!” because I have acute Italianitis. Regardless, now that I’m here and not set on flying away for a longish time again, I’m going to get on with doing stuff – namely doodling, writing and wrestling with and through other assorted forms of creative action. (Note: there will be wrestling and my ring names are alternately ‘Jamezilla’ and ‘Miss Apocalypse Sweetheart’).

I’ve been doing a lot of doodling lately, and in coming days I’ll put together a compilation blogpost collecting more lunchtime doodles from another English-language summer camp (this one from the countryside near Padova). Otherwise, watch this space – I have the wish and will to blast out a whole lot of stuff and I’ll let keep you in the loop. Please, feel free to be loopy with me…

I’ll leave it there, because the rest is just me bleating about the weather, bemoaning the absence of decent pizza and altogether turning into a quasi-Italian version of Jon Snow. (“Winter is coming… ma dai!“). For now, here’s to the home where your heart is, kicking out creative jams and, for the final time, memories of the magical summer.

Andiamo, autumn action…

Back-and-Forth, To-and-Fro: an Update Between Italia and Britannia…

H’oookaaay’aayyy! (That’s how many Italians say ‘okay’, y’know) I’m back! Yeah, just to update those interested, last week I came back again from bella Italia. Again? Yes, again. I keep on doing this thing of going to Italy and coming back to Britain only to then swiftly go back to Italy again and then it’s back and forth and to and fro and there and here for a little bit and so on, so on, per sempre. And now I’m going to tell you that I’ll be taking off back to Italy again in under three weeks time. I see a pattern here. Do you see a pattern here? I hope you’re not bored of all these ‘Sorry guys, gone to Italy’ notes. (If you are, well, sorry guys, I can’t do owt about that ’cause I’m going to Italy again.)

Whatever, for a relatively brief moment I’m here in England and it’s nice to be home in many ways but at the same time it’s not so nice in others. Do you see my sad face and pouting? Just know that there is a sad face and pouting and sometimes anguished, forlorn and teary-eyed outbursts of “ma perché?!” Leaving Italy is always a wrenching ordeal (punctuated by lots of expressive hand gesturing). I have all these feelings, guys, and the comedown can be (nay, is) sometimes brutal. Here, share in my grief pizza…

Grief Pizza: quick doodle 'cause I'm home from bella Italia after the best time ever and, aww guys, it hurts… #GriefPizza

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Ah, I miss pizza – and pizza is not about the pizza but about the people you’re eating pizza with, and I miss the people I’ve eaten pizza with. Anyway, putting my grief pizza to one side, I realise that all this to-ing and fro-ing has sorta-kinda positioned me in a constant state of flux. Right now I’m a bit of a drifter caught between two lands not knowing exactly where he’s up to or even who he really is anymore. Being back here in the summer, things don’t make sense. How can I can reconcile my Italian side and the rock-star status I have over there with my humdrum homeland state? (Rock star status from being an all-action almighty hero English teacher) I keep on thinking “Where are the children?! Where’s my fan club?!” and automatically using Italian words all over the place (and even though I’m nowhere near fluent, a lot of basic words trip off my tongue faster than English ones if I’m not thinking about things).

These are strange days I’m floating through, often in a dislocated haze. But that’s okay, because life is perpetual confusion and constantly trying to work out who you are, where you are and what this world and existence are all about (possible answers: “I am a pizza“, “I’m going through chaaaaaanges” and “don’t ask me“). In total – to try and make some kind of point before I pass on the maybe-important information – I’ll say this: there is a lot of movement and some confusion, but there is living in the moment and in the moments there is bliss and the realisation that life is living in the moment and that life is perpetual change. There’s my deep, philosophical, spiritual point.

Allora, the point I originally aimed to get in this blogblast at was this: I’m sort-of in-and-out-and-off-and-away at the moment but I am creatively juiced and regardless of where I am I’m going to be knocking stuff out (all kinds of stuff) and uploading it onto the interwebs. New projects are being spawned and they will see daylight fairly soon on all the usual channels. I’m also thinking about makeovers and upheavals and ripping-up-and-starting-agains and fresh conjurings. We will see and you will see in time…

For now, there’s a lot of doodle action happening up on Instagram and, simultaneously, on my doodle blog. In addition to that tonight – Friday 24th July, from 10pm to 1am – I’ll be making a cameo appearance comeback rocking out and sharing anecdotes on BBC Radio Lancashire’s FNAT show. The rest is all secrets and esoteric mysteries, conceived in a hot ambivalent mess of bittersweet emotions and beautiful memories. Oh, and it’s also partly fuelled by grief pizza, so I’ve got to go back and get some real pizza and share it with great, real people. That’s what I will do and the adventure carries on, so here’s to adventure, creative action and being alive…

H’oookkkaaay’aaay? Good. Bear with me, watch this space and I’ll keep you in the loop. In the meantime, take care of yourselves and each other – live in the moment as much as possible and live good… 😀

Summer Camp Lunchtime Doodles June 2015: Arty Tricks in Torino…

You draw is very beautiful! Is very good!” Awww, you’re too kind, kids…

That is what I doodly-do when I do summer camps. I get sketching, mesmerise Italian children with my doodles and then bat away their compliments because I’m not Moebius and am therefore not satisfied with my artistic (in)ability. Regardless, when I’m away in Italy I really look to raise my game and get art action on and amped up to a higher frequency. I do this because: 1. Camps require arts and crafts and visual didactic materials; 2. Italian children love drawing and love looking at drawings and art is a great communicative art and means of providing entertainment; 3. I love doodling and it makes me feel good and when you’re in a beautiful place with beautiful people feeling good anyway, yeah, perché no?

Drawing is fun, but it’s most fun when you’re doing it for and/or with children because of their childishness (‘good childishness’ in terms of a sense of wonder, curiosity, playfulness and an open-hearted and ever-present willingness to be amazed). At summer camp, the best drawing time is at lunchtime and that’s because I’ve sorta-kinda created a tradition of ‘lunchtime diary doodles’ (like these from two years ago! And these from last year! And those! And yeah, them as well!).

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Returning Home So I Can Return to Italy…

Allora, ragazzi! I’m back home. You may remember that I left home to go back to Italy for a month. That month has now passed so, yeah, ecco! I’m here to drink proper tea, watch Jurassic World (dinosaurs fighting dinosaurs! Yay!) and get my regular, essential Captain America-style supersoldier serum shot. (Last time I got said shot I was in Italy and it was delivered by J.K. Simmons’ Italian doppelgänger in a twilight mystery district of Milano and it was an unnerving and absurdist affair conducted without any word of English and I had the disturbing sense that I’d stumbled into a mildly-harrowing Coen Brothers movie. When we’re talking about sticking needles in my arse I think, yes, this time I’d rather go and see my local GP.)

Anyhow, home is nice, home comforts are nice and these things are all good but, hey, I miss Italy. As ever I had a blast and highlights include *clears throat*: visiting and catching up with old friends; making new friends; rocking another all-singing-all-dancing English-language summer camp in Torino and drawing for children and acquiring a fan club at that camp; going to Verona for the first time on a bro-trip with my, erm, bro; enjoying the treasures of Torino all over again; seeing the Shroud of Turin (so, in effect, seeing Jesus); pizza; and so much more in the brilliant heat alongside brilliant people.

It was beautiful, and because I’m missing it all already I’m going to head back next week and enjoy summer in Italy some more. I feel that this trip was cut too short and I’m missing too many things and have left too many things behind (for one, my favourite t-shirt, left behind in Torino) so I’ve got to go back. Then when I return I’m going to get on with working up some creative action and I’m amped to do that. I have some ideas…

I’ll be thinking over those ideas in Italy, but before I bugger off again I’ll put up a blogpost chronicling my daily lunchtime diary doodles from summer camp in the coming days. Also, while I was away this article I wrote on Mad Max: Fury Road – a gushing lovefest exploring the masterpiece’s inspiring philosophy and empowering nature – went live on Den of Geek. It may be of interest. More things that may be of interest will be written up and doodled up in the near future.

For now, though, bear with me because Italy is calling and my soul is yearning and I’ve got to return to the place from whence I recently came. Once more, here’s to Italian summer adventures and la dolce vita. Again then, andiamo

Italy has my heart and soul in a spaghetti tangle grip and is pulling me back…

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Back to Italy for Adventures: Andiamo, and Bye Bye for a Bit Again…

Allora, andiamo! I’ve got to go and do what I’ve got to do, and what I’ve got to do is go back to Italy again. I’ve got a thing for Italy, y’know? In fact I have several things for Italy. I’m going to jump on a plane at the crack of dawn tomorrow, touch down in Verona and share some of those things with Italy and Italy will inevitably share its own very special things with me. Ah, bella Italia: grande amore

… and that Eurovision flashback reminds me that, hey! I’ve got tickets to the opera! I’m going back to summer camp! I’m going back to see old friends! I’m going back to practice Italian conversation in real life with real Italians! I’m going back to the best food in the world! I’m going back to the culture and the scenery and the atmosphere that I just dig so much…

(Yeah, I’m very excited and that might all sound very nice to you but I’d also like to note that summer camps are brutal. By this time next month I’ll probably be a traumatised and exhausted husk, beaten up physically and mentally by Italian children. Why do I do this? Because I’m a masochist, a sucker and deranged zealot who can’t conceive of summer without English language summer camps in Italy. I may need help.)

So, summer camps are just what I do (it’s an irrational compulsion) and Italy is a place I just get (possibly also an irrational compulsion, or maybe that’s what real love is). Over repeat visits this natural affinity has grown and, even though I can’t shake off my Britishness and am far from fluent in Italian (ways and language), I think that there is something strong deep inside tying me to the place (and/or the Italian spirit). I really realised that when I left Milan in April after a two-plus months stay and stopped by Zürich for three days – it was nice, but simultaneously alienating. I felt foreign where I don’t feel totally foreign in Italy.

I could ramble on, navel-gazing and analysing my relationship with Italy (and indeed myself and the wider world) but I should really be packing, so I’ll leave this short and sweet. Just know that I’ll be in Italy for a month doing my things (gesturing wildly, awkwardly mangling the Italian language, trying to teach the English language to Italian kids, exploring and generally having an array of adventures, etc.). Because I aim to travel light (*the Universe laughs at such delusion*) and because I want to unplug a bit, I’m not taking this laptop and, thus, regular services and communication channels may be a bit erratic. I may occasionally fling something out on Twitter or some of my doodling on Instagram but it depends. My energies and mind are all going to be directed towards travelling, summer camp work and creative activity in notebooks. Oh, and hanging out with good people, searching out good pizza and soaking up the art, history, culture and overall experiences on offer in Italy – my home-away-from-home.

Until July, then, take care of yourselves and enjoy your June. Here’s to summer adventures. Andiamo, indeed… 😀

Andiamo! I'm being pulled back to Italy by giant spaghetti so, yeah, away I go… 😀

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Epic Cathedrals, Awesome Cow Boxes and Italian Kids: An Update from Milano…

Allora, amici. I’ve got a morning without lessons, it’s snowing in Milano and I’ve got an itch to kick out blogpost and provide an update from bella Italia. Do you want a brief update? I hope you do, because I’m gonna give you a brief update and I’m going to begin it with a GPOY that sort of sums it all up…

Mugging before Milano's immense marble masterpiece...

An idiot abroad…

Hey! I’m in Milano! I’m in Milano and I’m getting to be silly! It’s my job and it’s my city and it’s all feeling really good. (Except for the fact that I’ve been addled by the flu-bugs that have struck down half the children in Italy and seemingly most of the teachers but, hey, we’ve got to fight on through froggy throats and sniffly noses, right?). Over the course of the past fortnight I’ve returning to Italian rhythms and settling back into the country that clearly has become my second home. To get back into the groove I stayed with my very good friends near Lake Como for a couple of days, learned how to make Risotto Milanese and caught the same kind of ailments that my future work colleagues and students had. (“When in Rome, or indeed, Milan…“, y’know?)

I then hit Milano and moved in with yet another fantastic family, hooked up with a host of other mother tongue English-speakers and we all got down to prepping for our new gig. That new gig is work as a linguistic assistant in the city’s schools, acting as a tangible, real-life English-speaking presence and teaching Italian children through informal methods (activities, games, songs, art, etc.) Basically, my objective is to be fun and be English. My first week has revolved around me walking into a classroom, beating my chest like King Kong and showing children a shoebox decorated in cow-print paper that contains five objects that represent me. The following doodle sort-of showcases some of the things in my amazing (seriously Jamazing) cow box…

 

 

The five objects are: teabags (because I love drinking tea and because English people drink lots of tea); a pen (because I love writing and drawing); Boston Celtics wristbands (because I love NBA basketball and support ‘dem Celtics); an ‘A Trip to the Moon‘ pin-badge (because I love films and because I love science fiction); and a Super Mario figurine (because I love Nintendo videogames, am a fake Italian like Mario and because Mario reminds me of my childhood and my family but I don’t go into all that ’cause it’s too complicated for the children and I’d probably start crying and squealing “Aww, man, I miss my brother!“). The lessons have been a blast and the children’s English ability is astounding. They’re really enthusiastic, ultra-keen to show off all the vocab they know, ask for new words and ask questions. The most common question is “Manchester City of Manchester United?“. Other questions I’ve been asked include  “Do you prefer it in Manchester or Milan?“, “Are you married?“, “Do you have a girlfriend?” and “Is your brother married?” Aww, them kids. It’s good to get back to engaging with Italian children again.

Altogether, it’s all really sweet and I’m excited about all the things I can do here (hopefully making some comics, composing some educational songs, imagining up some new games and so on). I also keep having “Whoa!” moments when I realise that I can just pop out to Piazza del Duomo on my lunchbreak, admire that epic marble masterpiece and grab a slice of pizza (genuine Italian pizza). Anytime I want I can drift off and dig Milano’s history and culture. I’ve still not quite got over the “Hey! I’m living in Milano!” state of elation.

I’ll now go back to that and cut this brief update short. More blogposts and bits of writing may surface soon (I’m still seeing how my time and work are working out). The snow’s now coming down thick and I’m going to charge out armed with a cowprint box to play Pass the Bomb with i bambini. From me in Milano then, buona giornata, be excellent and have fun with whatever you’re doing. (Having fun is my job, so I’m very serious about it…)

To Italy – Again! – for Adventure and the Unknown and a Fresh Exciting Exile…

GPOY, badly drawn but showing kind of what I’m about right now…

Allora, andiamo! It’s time for me to say goodbye, go and get my ass to Italia. Why? Because it’s time for a new adventure and I’m heading back to my favourite place to work a new gig and hang around in a slightly warmer climate. I’ve got children to teach English to (hey, I can try), people to see and experiences to experience. Aside from those knowns the rest is mostly mystery. One of my favourite Coen Brothers movies once advised me, “Please, accept the mystery” so I’m going to do that.  Indeed, I don’t know how long I’ll be off home soil and what’s going to happen with my online activity and various other usual bits ‘n’ pieces.

I do know that I’ll be back in the UK at some point – if only to check in with my family, pick up my summer wardrobe and vote those sick, sick, sick and venal fiends out of Parliament when the election rolls around (if they’re still in power come June I’m never coming back to this country again). Erm, yes. Anyway, moving onto more positive things, as far as creative action goes I can guarantee that I’m always going to be creating.

Some stuff might end up online and I’ll probably file a few things on this site at intermittent points – maybe some blogging, maybe some short stories, maybe something altogether entirely different. Definitely less Twitter, probably same-to-more Facebook, maybe Instagram. As Italians say: Boh?! Who knows? I don’t know! The future is enigmatic and as-yet-unwritten (unfilmed, unillustrated, etc.) and I’m venturing off into some unknowns. I’m not sure what’s going to happen but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be good because I’m an optimist -an optimist going to the land that he loves to live in Milano, the city of miracles, for a bit.

Andiamo, then. Having celebrated my farewell cinema trip (Ex Machina – a perfect science fiction film) and shared a final family meal at my favourite curry joint, I’m done. I’ll now wrap up this overwrought and overlong rambling farewell thing (I’m really bad at goodbyes) and go get my bags together ’cause I’m not completely ready yet and am in pre-travel all-over-the-show anxiety state.

I’m in this state because I’m excited (read: EXCITED) and an adventure lies ahead. Onto that then. Thanks for reading and I’ll be thinking of you all while I’m in bella Italia (yes, I mean you, you). Take care of yourselves while I’m in exile and enjoy the very British things that I’m going to be missing. Ciao ragazzi! Adventure on… 😀

I picked up a new travel buddy. It's-a almost a-time to go…

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Summer Camp Lunchtime Doodles – Part Three: Wriggly Squiggles in Rescalda…

Allora, I miss summer camp. Just over a week on from last Friday’s grand finale and the ultimate Lo Spettacolo show of summer 2014 and I’m already thinking “awww, I’d like to do it all again!” I miss making an ass of myself in front of Italian children. I miss all the singing, dancing, uptempo activity and all the rest that is the remit of an English language tutor in the field (the trenches?). I miss the kids – even the ones who may be identified as ‘otherwordly, disturbed and possibly deeply evil’ – and have withdrawal symptoms. Honestly, I’ve put my red company t-shirt back on and am shouting “listen and repeat!” at the mirror. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way so solidarity shout out to all kindred spirits who get what I’m talking about and who’ve come home and are staring down the barrel of a long winter. Bereft, I’m going to deal with these difficult emotions by opening up my bag and bringing out my camp diaries for some fond reminiscence…

As per convention, my camp diaries are the lunchtime doodles I did every day at camp. The ninety-minute break bang in the middle of the madness is probably the best segment of the schedule for everyone involved. For the kids, it’s a chance to eat, not worry about speaking English for a bit and play freely doing whatever they want to do (play football, swing on swings, construct elaborate death cult grave sites, whatever). For me, it’s a chance to relax back and take a breather, get some much-needed food myself and – most importantly – draw. My sketches tend to reflect the theme and events of the day and my headspace at the time, so in effect they do stand as sorta-kinda journal chronicles. For old examples, see the June collections from Camp One and Camp Two

Alternately, see below for this fresh bunch from Camp Three which was located in the town of Rescaldina, just outside Milano (though the camp was called Rescalda, which is one of the subdivisional zones of the place). Some context before I begin and bring out the bad sketches: this camp didn’t have a special mensa/canteen area for us to eat in or any catering arrangement so we had packed lunches and ate them outside in the front yard. (Parents were the main driving force behind the camp and the school was ultimately just a location with a couple of classrooms, a hall, a front yard and a smelly toilet block for us to use. The school really didn’t want us there but that’s a rant for another time and place.)

These are not what I’d call ‘ideal lunchtime doodle’ conditions – ideal conditions would be paper placemats for drawing on, tables for resting on and seating arrangements where I’m with the children while they’re eating. I may be a Control Freak Princess who’s very precious about certain things, but I’m not going to let minor obstacles get in the way of my fun. As it was, I got some of my own paper, dragged chairs and a desk outside with me and doodled anyway because I have a reputation and a tradition to uphold. I’d then sit there for that hour-and-a-half alternating between eating, talking and laughing deliriously with my colleague Sandy while doodling. The moral to this story is either “You can make your own fun anywhere in spite of inauspicious circumstances” or “Control Freak Princesses will get always get their way”.

Anyway, that’s more than enough rambling so let’s get to self-indulgent sketch action. Here are the daily doodlings with some explanatory annotations…

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The Overall Italian Odyssey Overview…

Pronto! As you may have noticed, I’ve been away recently. I spent a month in Italy doing some touristing, then training to teach English-language summer camp, then working at English-language summer camp, then spending time with old friends to recover from it all. It was a great big adventure made up of many great mini-adventures. I had a brilliant time and now I’d like to bore you into a coma by blah blah blahbling on about it and going over every single thing in highly elaborate detail…

No, actually I’m not for several reasons. Firstly, altogether I did a lot, saw a lot and experienced a lot. If I regurgitated all of it and told you of every single momentous little occurrence with extra annotation we’d be here until August and, y’know, we’ve all got lives to get on with. I could send you my personal journal to skimread if you wanted though I warn you that it’s iffy pseudo-Kerouac rambling done in illegible handwriting and the most frequent phrases are “beautiful!” and “I gotta look this up on Wikipedia when I get home!

Furthermore, friends, smug blogposts by people fortunate enough to travel and have extraordinary life-affirming experiences can get really irritating. The full-thwack should probably be reserved for family and the closest of close friends only. I’m saving all of this up for my anecdote stockpile, for personal encounters or for, erm, Facebook which is a social media network built on the foundation of “Look at all my photos! Like! Like! This is what I’m doing, guys! I may not have a baby or a marriage but, hey, these photos prop up my self-esteem and self-worth and act as evidence that I do have a worthwhile life of value! Give me your approval and show me that you’re impressed! Acknowledge my exciting existence! Like!

Having got home, sorted through photos and luggage and managed to semi-sync myself to the British (Sub)Standard it’s time to draw a line and get on wit’ the gettin’ on. If you’ll indulge me for a moment, this marks the seal-it-up blogpost to properly put a lid on my 2013 Italian Odyssey and it may be of interest and give you hints on some of the high times I had. I don’t want to be insufferable or smug so I’m trying to keep it short and sweet. To do this I’ve really condensed it all into a few succinct paragraphs – like an abbreviated Res Gestae illustrated with a few GPOYs (I’m sorry but I can’t feature photos of children and unconsenting adults for legal reasons. It’s mainly  just photos of me and the concept of ’embarrassment’ is now completely alien to me so, hey, bad photos). It acts as a personal reflection piece and may make intriguing reading for you. If you don’t want to know, don’t click “read more” (you chose wisely) and if you want to know more I’d be happy to hook up either in cyberspace, in real life or in the afterlife. Better yet, let’s get together and go on a new adventure together…

Allora and no more ado: here’s a quickfire graphic run-through of some stuff I did and stuff that did stuff to me in Italia…

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Lunchtime Doodles for Little Italians…

Allora! The post-exile re-organisation continues apace and that involves going through bags, plastic wallets full of printed paraphernalia, photo archives on digital devices and much much more. One of the plastic wallets contained these: paper dinner placemats I doodled all over during my two-week stint working as an English tutor at a summer camp for Italian children in the town of Candiolo just outside of Torino.

Sketching is fun. It’s even more fun when you do it with enthusiastic children during lunchtime. What follows is a pictorial diary of the fortnight, all of the instalments quickly inked up in the half-hour breaks from all the singing and silly games when I got a moment to free-create a bit while quickly cramming some pasta in my mouth.

The theme of the camps was ‘The Seven Seas’ which explains all the nautical and piratical pics. Each one also has annotations so you can get insight into what inspired ’em and where my mind was at the moment. The children enjoyed ’em, I enjoyed doing ’em (damn it, I enjoyed the whole experience!) and I hope you enjoy them as well (click on them to see them bigger if you so wish)…

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