Xmas Letter 2016

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December 19th 2021
Published: December 19th 2021
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In 2016 I left Renaissance School and began my second stint at ISHCMC - a year of English teaching that proved to be my very last. Here is the Xmas letter I wrote to friends:

Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon)

December 10th 2016

Dear Overseas Friend(s)

The story of my 2016 has been about leaving my old job, starting a new job, solving the problems afflicting my wife’s family and following the sagas of Brexit and Trump.

My final 6 months at Renaissance School were bitter-sweet. Nice classes, good colleagues, but crap admin: the triple whammy of a dire Headmaster, servile Deputy Head and obnoxious Head of English.

I left Renaissance in June, having failed to find a new job in HCMC (where I am determined to stay). Some of my applications were rejected on the grounds of old age (I’m 65 this December). All the interviews I attended came to naught: either the school didn’t want me, or I didn’t want the school. I spent July doing private tutoring and was all set to continue when, out of the blue, an opening appeared. My first school in Saigon, ISHCMC, needed an emergency replacement for a sick English teacher. I signed on, so now, in my 39th year on the chalk face, I continue to deaden the minds of the young with the giant bores of literature.

Work apart, it has been a year of domestic happiness for Thuy and myself, punctuated by minor calamities in her family, all of which have been solved.

I’m 65 on December 22nd, thus qualifying for an old age pension. I worked for a mere 10 years in the UK before moving overseas, and I stopped paying national insurance, so my pension is small – but it’s enough to keep me in liquor all year. I’ve been receiving my UK teacher’s pension since I was 60. Will the state give me another pension if I reach 100?

Highlights of this year have been, as usual, connected with my passions: music, reading, current affairs, writing, TV, sport, chess and single malt whisky. The older I get, the more I rely on the internet for entertainment, instead of going out. A pity, but there we are.

MUSIC: The Bob Dylan Nobel award led me back to the man’s music. I have no doubt that his best songs are amazing but, equally, he does not deserve the Nobel for Literature. He is a song-writer, not a writer. He deserves all the music awards going.

The Rolling Stones’ new album of blues covers led me back to the original versions. I was mightily impressed by Howlin' Wolf’s 'Commit a Crime', a brutal song about attempted murder:

I'm gonna leave you, woman, before I commit a crime.

I'm gonna leave you, woman, before I commit a crime.

You tried so hard to kill me, woman, it just was not my time.
You put poison in my coffee, instead of milk or cream.
You put poison in my coffee, instead of milk or cream.
You bout the evilest woman, that I ever seen.
You mixed my drinks, with a can of Red Devil lye.
You mixed my drinks, with a can of Red Devil lye.
Then you sit down, watch me, hopin' that I might die.

CURRENT AFFAIRS: I immersed myself in Brexit and Trump and am now heartily sick of both. Brexit has caused sterling to plummet, thus scuppering any notion I had of selling my Reading house in 2017. I will now have to work until I’m 80.

READING (the activity, not my hometown): I don’t read much any more (apart from internet articles). I read George Eliot’s ‘Middlemarch’ for the first time since school days - a memorable but not entirely pleasurable read. Then I reread Willy the Shake’s 'The Winter’s Tale', another one of my A Level books, and was bowled over. And my friend Steve Clayton sent me a bunch of old Playfair cricket annuals, which allowed me to wallow in nostalgia for the Cowdreys and Comptons of yesteryear.

WRITING: I enjoyed lampooning my vile HoD at Renaissance School and then circulating the poems among teachers.

TV & YOUTUBE: I rarely watch TV – just the news, David Attenborough and the odd game of football. I did, however, make a point of watching the second TV debate between Hillary and Trump, where he threatened to lock her up. Nowadays I do most of my serious TV viewing via Youtube. Outstanding was a BBC programme where Simon Schama analysed Rembrandt’s last paintings, including 'The Jewish Bride', probably my favourite painting. Van Gogh was so overcome by it that he said: "I would gladly give up 10 years of my life to sit in front of the painting for a fortnight, with only a dry crust of bread to eat."

SPORT: In a year when celebrity deaths were commonplace, the death of my great hero, Muhammad Ali, stood out. Leicester did the impossible and won the Premiership. Mo Farah fell over but got back up to win the gold in the Olympic 10,000 metres.

CHESS: I started a chess club at my new school. The world chess championship final between Carlsen and Karjakin was a fascinating struggle.

WHISKY: There were two highlights. My friend Jonas turned up in Saigon with 7 single malts. One of them – Invergordon – was over 40 years old and superb. Another one – Port Charlotte 2007 CC:01 – was peaty beyond belief. Then the owner of my former school, Renaissance, invited me to his house for a whisky session. The star exhibit was Kavalan Solist, a lovely single malt from Taiwan.

I wish you all a very happy Xmas and New Year. May you be inundated with tidal waves of whisky, wine, ale, joy and prosperity!




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