© Copyright 2012 by Bea Hyde-Owens
Walking through the narrow cobbled streets of Cordova in August you may be struck with how quiet and desolate it seems. ‘Where are the people?’ you may reasonably ask yourself, ‘I thought this was supposed to be the historical capital of Spain?!’ You exchange perplexed glances with a passing group of bewildered tourists in khaki shorts and unflattering hats, the only other people around. Then you remember where you are. Of course! You turn to the poor sod that followed you out here and explain with a worldly air that this is Spain and that, obviously, everyone is having what is locally known as a siesta. After a few minutes of bitching about the stupid Spanish and their incessant need to sleep all the god damn time the rationale for this hits home when you realise that you are dehydrated, cranky and too hot. Frankly a nap is in order.
This more or less sums up the first impression of what I hoped to be my new home for the next year. I had known I wanted to live in Spain since I was 19, when my friend and fellow barmaid turned to me and said:
' It's awesome there - Caves, hippies, drums on the beach. You'd love it.'
I finally managed to get it together at 21, when I was accepted for a job teaching English to Spanish kids at a small school in Cordova, run by a Mr Terry O'Brian. He agreed to hire me over the phone - much to my astonishment because he'd made me so nervous that I found myself expleting half-formed clichés into the telephone without the experienced bullshitter's confidence but in a bleating, stuttery whisper. He had a way of talking in which he disguised simple sentiments with a posh voice and big words that didn't actually fit the context, so half the time I didn't really understand what he was trying to say but assumed (wrongly) that he knew what he was talking about and that I was the idiot for not getting it. However, despite all this I got the job.
I had saved up a bit of money working for a horrible little Jewish beetle with a bad case of small man syndrome and lechery and finally made enough to run away to Portugal with Niall. We made an inebriated impulse decision to go and work on an organic farm in the mountains near Coimbra. There we killed time gardening and swimming in idyllic pools during the month before my contract began. I wrote to O'Brian saying that unfortunately I didn't have an address to which he could send the contract and he replied:
Don't worry about the pre-contract - I'll trust you if you trust me!
I'm back to work on Tuesday 1 September - telephone number - call me when you want.
We look forward to meeting you on the 7th, or thereabouts,
So with that little note of security I made arrangements to head to Cordova. The coach trip was arduous and filled with a load of Portuguese who detest the British. Everyone seems to detest the British, I think it’s because on the whole we’re a bunch of arrogant, insensitive morons who expect to get by in foreign countries by shouting;
‘I SAID, TWO LARGE CHIPS AND A PINT OF STELLA!’
We alleviated the bad vibes with the aid of fine Portuguese wine and as a result by the time we got there Niall and I had a few hundred Euros left. I agreed to meet up with Terry just for a preliminary chat about last minute details. It was an incredibly hot day, the streets smelled of burnt piss and you couldn't stand in the shade without sweating profusely. I wore a sleeveless top and shorts, thinking that it wouldn't matter seeing as I had already been hired based on my experience and competence. The naivety of youth eh? Of course my skill and efficiency as a teacher didn't matter; the guy took one look at me and audibly sighed with a mixture of disgust and regret. He then forced me to undertake another interview, during which he referred to my previous post in Czechoslovakia. Perhaps I shouldn't have corrected him because he then became incredibly embarrassed and hostile.
‘You see actually I hadn’t realised that only 6 of your weekly hours were spent teaching children’ he admitted, straining to sit as far away from my repugnant form as possible.
‘Well it’s stated on the CV I sent you’ Perhaps you should have read it properly before you agreed to hire me, I craved to add.
. He fannied around making other derogatory comments before finally arriving at the issue which had clearly been upsetting him throughout the entire exchange,
‘You wouldn't be wearing that kind of thing to teach in, I assume?'
'Of course not!' I replied, annoyed that I hadn't been given a chance to point it out before because he was grilling me to a crisp. I was ordered to come back early the next morning wearing suitable attire. I should have told him to **** off then and there, but I was worried about not finding another job.
The next morning I arrived, as instructed, wearing some hideous grey flannel trousers which sucked the moist heat from the air and kindly deposited it on my groin, and a 'muted' striped v-neck that Niall disgustedly referred to as 'Maud'. I looked like a single mum who'd stopped making the effort. This time I was made to partake in an even more absurd farce than the last one. It involved Terry and his retarded Spanish wife - who had obviously through some unfortunately placed language barrier taken Terry to be a decent human being, or perhaps just the best she could do - openly discussing my appearance in front of me as though I was not capable of independent thought or recognition of words.
‘She certainly looks better today, doesn’t she?’
‘More professional anyway’
And then, addressing me and therefore bestowing upon me once again the power of comprehension – ‘I was wondering about your references Bethan. Who is this Petra again?’
If all this wasn't ridiculously humiliating enough, as I was answering a question about my teaching methods, he interrupted me (having clearly not been listening to anything I was saying) and said
'Nyes, could you just hold out your hands?'
Hold out my hands? Hold out my fucking hands you pompous imbecil??! He wanted to inspect my hands for dirt, as if I were a public school pupil called Wilkins from the 40's. I really can’t overstate how much of a social nightmare this guy is, I mean he seems to completely lack any semblance of people skills at all. When he finally turned his disdainful nose to the heretofore unregarded curriculum, the only thing he could think of to say was;
‘Tell me Bethan, how’s your relationship with your parents?’
Apparently the fact that I've been involved in a lot of children's rights activist work seemed to imply that I'd been abused or something, a possible cause for my unsettling demeanour. Then he called up a few housing agencies and set up viewings for me. One might conclude from this behaviour that he was intending to hire me, but no, the coward rang half an hour after I had left the building to inform me that I hadn't got the job. Despite the fact that I was qualified, experienced, had very good references AND they were short on staff as another girl had wisely opted out. When I asked why he said 'because of the reasons we talked about'
'and which reasons might they be Terry?' I queried
'about your appearance'
'but I came dressed suitably like you asked. You even said it was appropriate'
'I'm very sorry but we're unable to offer you the job'
'I've spent hundreds of pounds getting here, I'm living in a F**KING HOSTEL and now I don't have a job!'
'Yes well I'm very sorry about that'
At which point I swore at him and hung up.
One thing I've learnt from this experience - don't compromise with idiots. They are not worth your time or energy and will continue to stagnate in their small, pathetic world while the rest of us evolve and adapt to the environment around us. Where they shrink from change and wallow in their little gollum-pitts, we shall learn from it and gaze with awe and renewed wonder at the fluctuating world around us.
Also, Niall and I got loads of laughs out of it, thinking up hilarious new ways to enunciate his name, such as:
Terry? (quizical) Oh! Brian! (surprised)
Terry? (hopeful) Oh. Brian. (disappointed)
TERRY! (shouted angrily) Oh! Brian! (embarrassed)
in the subject line of the message
we won't know where to send it.)
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