Three Kings’ Day write-up
I think that we as a species often look forward, we look ahead to try and have an idea of where we’re going, or what we’re doing, but often it’s equally as important, if not potentially cathartic, to look back. Hindsight is often quoted as a wonderful thing, and there is clearly truth in that. Sometimes we need to look back to where we were six months or a year ago, maybe even three or five years ago in order to better understand where we’ve come from. It can apply to the simplest, most basic things, such as the length of your hair, your weight, your financial situation, and so on. Then again, it can be for deeper, more meaningful things, like how long you’ve lived or worked somewhere, how long you’ve known and loved someone. Let’s try it now, let’s think back to January 2022: What were you doing? Whom were you with? How did you feel at the turn of the new year? How was the weather in and around that time? You don’t have to remember every detail (unless, of course, you’re autistic like me, and so you have a natural tendency to remember very specific, often irrelevant details about things!), but just try and have a general idea by looking back.
I started a new habit at the end of 2021: I made a list of all the things I had achieved, experienced, and lived through during that year, so naturally I continued this new tradition and did the same for 2022. When I look back on the year that has just passed, it was, without a shadow of doubt, the toughest of my thirty four-odd years on this earth; it was marked by episodes of extreme highs and equally extreme lows – much like a rollercoaster! Before 2022, I rarely went to hospitals, always avoided them because of an in-built disliking for them, always trusted my own immune system, and so on. Of course, we all have to go once in a while for some kind of medical help or treatment, but, broadly speaking, I’ve been very lucky with my health in my adult life…so far. However, last year was a year in which I spent a lot of time in hospitals, both because my partner was pregnant and endured a highly complicated and risky pregnancy, and also because someone whom I hold dearly suffered (and continues to suffer) with mental health and consequently physical health issues. I did my best to support them in any way I could, but it was a living hell at times, make no mistake. In my view, mental health is the true pandemic that we all need to reckon with, never mind any virus or flu; it affects all: young and old, rich and poor, black and white, male and female. Ultimately, we’re all human. But, I don’t want to paint a dark picture of my experience of last year, for there were many highlights, too: in July, I became a father for the first time, which was unashamedly the most incredibly magical thing I’ve ever known! I’ll never forget the first time I set eyes on my daughter: I cried much more than she did, the poor wee thing!! Then, when I held her in my arms for the first time, it was utterly indescribable; only those who’ve known such a thing themselves can ever truly understand. What I will say is this: I only wish for every man to experience such a thing at least once in their lifetimes, if fate should ever bestow upon them such a heavenly, sublime gift. Becoming a father unearthed aspects of my soul that I never knew had existed before, plus, having had a girl, and having always been surrounded by smelly, boisterous boys, it seemed to me like some kind of divine balancing act to then find myself waiting hand-and-foot on a little lassie, rather than another screaming lad! Our little Freya is already six months old, it’s simply incredibly how time flies, and how ‘they don’t stay like that for long’, no matter how cliché it might sound. She’s currently teething, bless her little heart, so that means that there have been some restless nights, as well as seemingly longer-than-usual days due to endless cleaning, feeding, winding, and getting to sleep. It’s all part of the ‘teething process’, as they say, and I won’t excuse the pun here!
I also considered the small but significant things that I achieved over the past twelve months, such as hobbies of mine. Somehow, amidst all the chaos and patchy sleep, I still managed to read eight books. I was quite proud of myself when I sat down and worked it out, and it’s whetted my appetite for further reading, learning, and, hopefully, a further broadening of my horizons through knowledge. I also managed to join a boxing club at the back end of the year, something which I’ve been meaning to do for quite some time; I’m enthusiastic about the idea of my body working properly again after two and a half years of sitting down in front of a computer screen! What’s more, I want to be fit and strong for my kids, I want to be the kind of father that is active, one that takes part in the children’s fun, not just a bystander.
I also reflected on the number of different people that I’ve worked with over the last year, by that I of course mean students, but I prefer to word it this way simply because I believe a teacher-student relationship should work both ways and be both interactive and reciprocal, rather than being purely didactic and instructive, as is the traditional style. As you may have read/understood from previous posts, I mainly work with Poles, a people for whom I have the utmost respect; however, I’ve also worked with people from Ukraine, Russia, Israel, Italy, and other countries this past year. I love this aspect of my work as it indubitably enriches my job, and therefore me as person. I’ve been culturally intrigued by foreigners since I was a little boy, fascinated by the different-sounding names, and alien pronunciation systems; this has, thankfully, been a flame that has never been doused, despite the many challenges and hardships that life tends to throw at us. As with all things in life, my professional life tends to have an effect on my personal one, and vice versa. So much so that I’m determined to bring my daughter up to be bilingual. How so? Well, since she has been born, I try to use a few words of Italian with my daughter Freya every day, even if it’s only a handful. Why Italian? Why not a ‘more useful’ language like Spanish or French? Yes, I did consider this at great length myself, although I decided in the end to go with Italian as it’s firmly rooted as my second language, and therefore it feels more fluent and comfortable than my rusty French or Spanish do. I thought that fluidity and a more natural approach would be better than something less natural and familiar. Now, she hasn’t really started speaking yet, although she’s very much on her way as she seems to be testing her voice box, and trying out her range of screams from dusk till dawn! Only time will tell whether or not this bears fruit, although I remain very optimistic about this. After all, as I have professed many times, by speaking a language other than your mother-tongue, you’re given a knee up in life, it has its natural advantages and benefits, both for the brain and for your mindset towards the world, its folk, the tongues you might hear, the culture you will surely come across.
Amongst the many things I have thought about regarding last year, one indelible mark that has been left upon me is that of my students; as I mentioned before, I have been working with many different nationalities from all around the world – something I’m most thankful for, has to be said. As is quite normal, we don’t just learn about grammar, vocabulary, and syntax; we meet each other on a more human level, which is something inherent to me as a person, not just a teacher. I can’t do superficial, I can’t do shallow, I like to go deeper with people, but in a healthy and respectful way. So, as I have been doing this across the twelve months, I’ve come across some remarkable accounts and stories of the struggles they have been facing in their own lives. You see…I’m often guilty of living in my head, and assuming that I’m the only one in the world that’s struggling, but it’s naive at best, don’t you think? Everyone struggles in their own way – everyone. I’ll do my best to give you an insight into what I mean by this… There’s one Russian lad that I’ve been teaching for a few months now, and so you can imagine how intriguing that was for me when we first started working together; he’s based in Moscow, so he’s there on the ‘other side’. I was naturally fascinated and curious by his perspective of things on the war in Ukraine, and how the regime in power is viewed over there, rather than having the Western version of events which we are force-fed daily to be rammed down my throat. In the beginning, he was a little reluctant to talk about it, it seemed to make him uncomfortable, so I didn’t push and prod too much. After a handful of lessons though, I came back to the topic in a more subtle way, and I got a little more insight from him as to what life is like at the moment for normal Russians, what with all the trade sanctions, cost of living hardships, and so on. In what was quite an astonishing account, he told me in a roundabout way that he as well as a number of his friends (those considered to be men ‘of a fighting age’) ran off into the woods when the war broke out, so as to avoid being called up to the military. Had he been approached, he would’ve been obliged to sign up, or else face imprisonment for his lack of ‘patriotism’. Unbelievable, isn’t it? Sounds like something out of an old novel set a century or two ago, never mind now…
Another of my Russian students is now based in London, and she came to this country just two days after the ‘Special Military Operation’ had started. From what she explained to me, she married her then-partner so as to facilitate her arrival here in a quicker way, they both obtained their visas as swiftly as they could, and they simply got out. They left their homeland because of what they saw was happening there, and they’ve come to the U.K. for a better life, a safer life, with better career prospects, and no real threat of her now-husband being forced into the military to serve. Again, it’s like a story from an old war film or something, certainly not something you could ever have imagined hearing even a few years ago – at least, not in Western Europe.
Then I have all of my Polish students, those who have been affected in a less direct way by the war, but who have been struggling all the same. For those who are a little rusty on their Central and Eastern European geography, Poland shares a border with Ukraine, as well as with a few other countries. Poland is part of the E.U., and is the last E.U. member state that may have to stand in Putin’s way should he prevail in his attempts to conquer Ukraine – heaven forbid. So when the war broke out in February of last year, thousands upon thousands of refugees poured across the Polish-Ukrainian border in search of safety, fleeing from the incoming Russian soldiers. When I last checked the official figures a few months ago, it said that something like more than two million Ukrainian refugees are meant to now be residing in Poland, temporarily or permanently, no one truly knows yet. In many ways, the Poles and Ukrainians are like siblings, they’re cut from the same cloth: they have a shared history of having suffered under the old USSR, and their respective communist regimes. They’ve also been parts of different empires or commonwealths at different times, and at one point Poland didn’t even exist due to having been colonised by invading foreign powers. In short, they’ve both borne the brunt of Russian imperial aggression for hundreds of years (not only the Russians though, it’s important to state). So many of my Polish students have really struggled this year due to the fear that they might be next. Plenty of them were telling me stories about ten months ago of how they had packed their bags, ready to leave, in case something happened and Poland was invaded. They had solid plans to get out and escape to somewhere like Germany or Switzerland. It’s the kind of stuff I learnt about as a kid in school when reading about the Second World War! On a lesser scale, so many of my students have told me how they’ve given up a lot of their hobbies over the past year due to a lack of money, and because of stress, too. I know, it’s a very first-world problem, but it’s something that they’ve had to reckon with. I also have students from Belarus whose futures are up in the air; they don’t know whether or not they can stay in Poland due to visa issues. They may have to go back to Belarus, which is essentially a puppet state of Russia, tied in both politically and culturally. Any form of dissent towards the regime in power means a loss of liberty and jail time.
It has certainly given me plenty of food for thought. Despite all the difficulties of living in the U.K. over the past few years…Brexit, the pandemic, the overly strict and often bewildering Covid rules, cost-of-living crisis, the predictable, dreary winter weather here, and so on. In spite of all of these things, things aren’t anywhere as near as tough as it is for those fleeing a war zone, be they Ukrainian, Syrian, or any other nationality.
I guess my message for the new year is this: no one truly knows what someone else is really going through, for many reasons. First of all, we don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors, we don’t know the hardships that others may be suffering in private; what’s more, there are many people that feel as if they’re alone, that they have no one to speak to about their troubles, so they’d rather keep tight-lipped and say nothing. Then, there are undoubtedly those who struggle to speak, full stop…those who can’t open up and say how they feel simply because they don’t know how, or because that’s how they’ve lived their lives since…forever. We all have our own crosses to bear, all of us. No one has it all rosy and sweet at all times; life ebbs and flows, just as the tide does by the seashore. Maybe as we head out into the world on a day-to-day basis, we could all be a little more empathic and understanding, for the people we come across in the streets and shops share many of the same fears and doubts as we do in these challenging times. So many share the same financial worries as we do. It doesn’t matter whether or not you have religious views, it’s a simple message that has always rung true: treat others how you would like them to treat you; what comes around, goes around. Karma. If we can perhaps invest some thought and effort into that maxim, then we might have a more compassionate year this year, one of understanding and hope. One of shared moments, and memories made with those we hold so dear. What memories would you like to make with your nearest and dearest? Just a thought…
All my love from a blustery East Kent.
P.s. I’d like to get some feedback if I may to those of you that have kindly taken the time to read my post: I’ve had an idea over the festive period, and wanted to put it to my readers… Are you happy with this blog as it is, or would you prefer to hear it as an audio blog of sorts, or perhaps even as a vlog (video blog)? I’m toying with a few ideas, and I appreciate that reading long texts isn’t for everyone. Perhaps I could combine a few ideas. As always, your feedback and support are always welcome. X