I think I could teach English. All you need is a Longman textbook and a plausible air

It occurred to me that I might be able to set up as a teacher here. You can’t throw a brick without hitting an English language school .

NS

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

I was sitting in L—’s drawing room with her and D—, who used to be my agent. We were talking about my circumstances, the fact that I was on the move again.

“I can’t quite understand how you’re coping with this so well,” she says.

“It’s being so cheerful,” I reply mournfully, “as keeps me going.”

This gets a laugh, but sometimes it’s only when someone tells you how well you’re doing that you pause, and suddenly find the burden unbearable.

“I’ll leave you to it,” I say. “Packing to do.”

And there are worse places to be packing for, I reflected at the time. I may be Fate’s football these days, but right now it feels as though I have been subjected to a sweetly executed pass just outside the box. If that pass were 500 miles long, that is. As I mentioned last week, I was to be in Brighton, for the first time in about a year and a half. It is sunny, and the whole town reeks of weed and incense, like a teenager’s bedroom, and I love it. I may miss Scotland keenly, but, really, there are worse places to end up.

Once again this is thanks to the kindness of Laurie Penny, who is currently being a Success in America, which pleases me greatly. I may only be here for a couple of weeks longer, but I intend to make the most of it. Yesterday I passed the time in the Battle of Trafalgar, a very nice pub about two minutes’ walk from my front door that I had hitherto scorned on the grounds that any pub so near a train station can’t be any good. Oh reader, how wrong I was. There are very few pubs in Brighton that are not any good.

I’m listening to my friend B— tell us the latest instalment of his never-ending battle against cold-callers and scammers. He believes that the longer he keeps these types on the phone, the fewer people they can con. This time someone had unwisely called him asking for details about the car accident he had been in that was not his fault. B—’s speciality is in constructing long, mad yet strangely plausible fables on the spur of the moment. (“You gotta have a backstory,” he says.)

“Can you describe the circumstances of the accident?”

“Glad you asked me that. OK, so ever since 1992 when I came out as gay and left my wife and three kids I’ve been going out with this bloke called Gareth Large, who is known on the scene as Glam Boy Gal. Proper catch. Anyway, yeah, last year, we moved in together and initially things were fine. Cos, you know, love ’n’ shit.”

“Sir? Sir? Can we talk about the car accident?”

The weather is glorious. I had spent the day walking around town, soaking up the sun, reading on the beach. I am determined to get myself fit; Brighton has a quite unnecessary number of hills, many of them absurdly steep – steeper than anything I encountered in Scotland, which seems bizarre – and I am bracing myself for the climb back home. The Battle of Trafalgar is about a third of the way up a ridiculously steep hill, but I think another pint of Harvey’s will take much of the edge off it

“So me and Glam Boy Gal move in together and we agree on the whole decor thing. Grey, yellow and green, yeah? But then it comes to the floors, and he’s like, ‘We have to go with Carrara marble.’ And I’m like, ‘No way, cos I am not going down on my hands and knees to polish that stuff.’ And he’s like, ‘But it’s so sexy.’”

“Sir?? The accident???”

Yesterday I sat on a wall in the Churchill shopping centre eating a Bratwurst hot dog and listening to the conversation beside me.

An English language teacher was chatting to three of her pupils; one German, one Chinese, one French (I think). It occurred to me that I might be able to set up as a teacher here. You can’t throw a brick without hitting an English language school and not all of them are going to be that fussy about qualifications. I suppose you have to do a course of some kind for the prissier sort of establishment, but surely all you need is a Longman textbook and a plausible air.

This teacher had been sending her pupils off to ask people about their gambling habits. The young German had come back puzzled because one of the people he’d interviewed had said that all the horses he’d ever backed had been dead. “How can this be?” he asked, in honest puzzlement, not picking up on the gambler’s hyperbole.

B—’s story, which gets ruder and ruder – far too rude to be included in a family magazine such as this one – reaches its conclusion (“… and he goes completely garrity and rams his Range Rover into Dave’s Audi TT…”), and everyone, including people we do not know but who happen to be in earshot, is in hysterics.

I think I am getting a tan. 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 24 May 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit earthquake