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Expect the unexpected

Until recently I worked for the Civil Service, I have done for years and have always seen it as a safe option. I had good pay, decent holidays and a pension (always a crowd pleaser). Unfortunately, getting to work meant a rather hefty commute of an hour and a half each way and a 5:30am start each morning. Not great, but not the end of the world. Anyhoo, one dark rainy day in February I looked out of the train window and thought, I am done here.

I was done with sitting in the same seat every day, looking at the same view from the window, going to the same shop for my lunch and hearing the woman who used to sit across from me recount the exciting antics of her ‘crazy’ Alsatian (who wasn’t that crazy but by the looks of her black trousers, was very hairy!). So I looked online for a different job. I scoured the jobs pages and somehow came upon a teaching English as a foreign language course in Spain (TEFL). SPAIN! Now we were talking! Sunshine, cheap beer and yummy tomatoes. That was one of my five a day right there and Vitamin D…and the beer was just a bonus!! What was not to like about this?! So I applied with gusto. I had a Skype interview with a very nice woman and they snapped me up. I could start early June. Hey presto.

So the course was advertised as follows – for four months I would work at one of the company’s language schools in Madrid for thirty five hours a week and teach English while being mentored on the job. This mentoring would help me to gain my TEFL qualification at the end of the four months and in return for my time, the company would provide me with accommodation (which on the website looked great) and also cover all the costs of the qualification. For four months of my life, I figured this sounded fine. Afterwards, I could use the qualification to get a job anywhere I wanted teaching English.

Can you feel it coming? That sinking feeling of it all being a bit too good to be true?

So I handed in my notice at work and once finished, I embarked on a journey, the shortest journey I think I’ve ever been on with the exception of the time I fell asleep on the train and went to Blackpool by mistake. I flew out to Madrid, arrived all excited and fresh faced at the address I had been given for the apartment and found it to be…yes, you guessed it, a nightmare! I was sharing with three men who already worked for the language school. The apartment was filthy and by filthy I mean squalid.

The occupants were in various drugged up states and the room that was to be mine for the next four months was the smallest room ever to be called a room with no air con and a window the size of a postage stamp. The day I arrived it was 30°C. As for the kitchen, well it was very reminiscent of the scene from Withnail and I  with ‘things’ growing in the sink and a fridge that could have started a new epidemic of the plague.

For the next two nights the ‘boys’ partied and drank like they were reliving V-Day as scores of random people spilled in to the apartment, drank absinthe, made bongs out of buckets and sang at the top of their voices all night long. There were no locks on any of the doors, so every trip to the loo or shower was filled with the utter dread someone might walk in, which several people did, one guy even tried to strike up a drunken conversation with me about football. The only problem was, I wasn’t due to start at the language school for a few days and couldn’t get hold of anyone I’d been in contact with. All phone calls and emails were ignored and then the clincher came when someone left a pan of garlic mussels on the cooker at 4am and it caught fire. Enter the Bomberos!! (that’s the Spanish fire brigade to you and me and not a song by the Gypsy Kings) with their special firefighting foam and dislike for drunken English people and who can blame them? The result? A gutted apartment and despite all my emails and calls explaining what had happened and asking if the company could move me to another apartment in time for when I started the course, I have still had no reply from them. Bizarre!

I just couldn’t understand how I had got it so wrong. I was usually so suspicious, so careful!

The website seemed fine, there were no bad reviews of the company. I had watched their online videos of the apartments and the interviews with other students who all said it was a great experience. This certainly hadn’t been what the others at the apartment had been saying, the phrases ‘slave labour’ and ‘con-merchants’ had been worryingly thrown about. So after three long nights and a very long day at Madrid airport I decided to cut my losses and fly back home. Reeking like a smoked kipper and jobless, although fortunately only down by the cost of two flights.

So, while I look for a job and hope to find one soon, I have all this time to write another novel, no pressure you idiot…I’ve been to the gym every day, although not sure how long that will last…

At the moment there is only one five thirty in my day and its in the evening, when I’m eating fish finger sandwiches watching re-runs of Where The Heart Is. My friend asked me the other day if I felt bitter about the whole thing but strangely the thought hadn’t even occurred to me. At the grand old age of 35, I’ve realised that sometimes life is just a bit pants but sometimes it’s the kick in the pants we need to change and do something different, whatever that will be….

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