“Phony careers and meaningless lives”

This week comedian and writer Jerry Seinfeld won a Clio award, intended to “reward innovation and creative excellence in advertising, design and communication”.  I don’t know why he won the award (indeed, he didn’t seem to know either), and I don’t really care: advertising and marketing are aspects of the modern consumerist world that make me feel ill if I think about them for too long.

“I love advertising because I love lying.”

Seinfeld comes close to illustrating my sentiment when it comes to advertising, and did this whilst on stage accepting his Clio (named after the Greek goddess and muse, not the Renault).  With the trophy in hand, he tore into the world of advertising:

He goes on to support materialism with such subtle irony that most of the audience, presumably made up of execs there hoping to win one of these awards for themselves, applauds and cheers apparently in a delighted state of ignorance.  Jerry also talks about the 1991 Clio debacle, in which the presenting company suffered so poorly from mismanagement that it had run itself into the ground and its employees had walked out, leaving the award show to be run by the caterer and a few drunken volunteers.  It doesn’t support what I’m saying here, but it’s a grimly amusing anecdote that you can read about on the Wiki page.

I’m writing this blog not because I thought Seinfeld was particularly funny or insightful – in fact, accepting an award only to ridicule its sponsors is a bit of a dick move, when he could have simply refused – but having worked in the world of corporate marketing and sales I hope it might go some way towards explaining why I chose to abandon Western business and take up teaching in the East.

“In advertising everything is the way you wish it was.  I don’t care that it won’t be like that when I actually get the product being advertised … We all believe that ‘Hey, maybe this one won’t stink!’  We are happy in that moment between the commercial and the purchase.”

Advertising has become inherently dishonest and manipulative.  It doesn’t need to be this way: an ad in the paper advertising a car with its specs and price is something that you still see from time to time.  This is all an advert needs, and the product will speak for itself.  But as businesses produce shoddier products, their advertising must become proportionately deceptive in order to make it seem appealing.  I spent over a year writing sales material for a global company and felt unclean the entire time.

“I think spending your lives trying to dupe innocent people out of hard-won earnings to buy useless, low-quality, misrepresented items and services is an excellent use of your energy.”

I spent most of my down-time avoiding television.  I don’t listen to radio, either.  Advertisements bother me to the extent that I don’t even go to where they might appear.  I’m tired of seeing TV ads with misleading charts and statistics, where spurious data is manipulated to appear legitimate.  Anyone who looks closely can see through these ruses, but many do not look, and others accept that deception is a part of advertising.

I look forward to the day when the only marketing I see is in incomprehensible Chinese hieroglyphs.

— db




After four weeks of lessons, teaching practice, planning for teaching practice, reading, studying and assignments, we’ve finally completed the CELTA training course.

It was not easy.  Sleep deprivation, prolonged stress and total absence of down-time made it tough for everyone on the course.  There were arguments.  There were tears.  There were moments of genuine stage-fright.  There were penguins.  But somehow we all pulled through and aced that sucker!

It’s amazing how quickly bonds of friendship are formed when you’re trapped in the same room as a dozen people every day for a month.  It almost becomes a survival story.  By the end of week three we were one step away from madness and cannibalism.

I owe my pass grade to my awesome teammates, Kat and Palwasha; to my five tutors at the ELTC who made things as simple as possible for our weary brains; and to the class in general, who made it a much more enjoyable time than it ever needed to be.

So, what now for David?  Task 1 is getting a job.  I’m in talks with one promising looking school in Xi’an, Shaanxi province of China.  More on that later.  For now I’m going to put my feet up, drink unhealthy amounts of tea, and try to remember what it feels like to relax.

It’s coming back to me quite quickly!


9 reasons to STOP AVOIDING Learning English

The FUTURE of Learning

lazy personIf you know someone who you think desperately needs to learn English, here are 10 convincing ideas to share with them

1. English is the most commonly used language in the world. Throughout the world, when people with different languages come together they commonly use English to communicate.

2. English makes you more employable. These days employers want staff who not only do the job but enhance the company. English will do exactly that.

3. English is the language of choice in all professions. Despite there being many countries teaching professional subjects, in the end all the readings and documentation is based in English

4. English is not just for England. Over 30 other countries in the world use English either as their first language or second language. (If you live in Europe the new generation tend to be totally bilingual)

5. English is the language of Science. To excel…

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Getting out of Skid Row

I’m about seven years old.  After school, my little brother Chris and I spend two or three hours at a child minder’s nearby until Mum can pick us up after work.  Our minder, Maureen, is a large smiling women with two dogs, two cats, at least two grown-up kids and a grandchild.  She also minds between two and four other kids like us.

Amongst her various methods for keeping us all entertained is the obvious modern choice: the TV.  Back then there are no flatscreens and no DVDs.  We have beautiful, lovely VHS tapes.  We little ones scour the cupboard for the film we want to watch.  We invariably fall on either of two favourites, depending on the boy-girl ratio in the group: Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” or the 80s comedy musical “The Little Shop of Horrors”.

“Little Shop” has been one of my favourite films for the last twenty-odd years.  It came out during that brief period in Hollywood when Rick Moranis was in everything.  The film is equal parts cheesy, exciting, gruesome and hilarious.  I still love it.

Why am I telling you this?

I originally was going to write a post about why I’ve finally given up on finding decent, honest, fulfilling work in the UK.  I was going to describe the drudgery of getting in an office, switching on a computer, saying ‘morning’ to similarly depressed co-workers, and getting down to the usual tiresome crap in the usual context of office politics, management bullshit, and corporate moneymaking.  I’m so tired of it I barely care anymore whether I perform as expected, get any kind of good reference, or whether my CV looks like shit.  It does not suit me at all.

Most mornings, I’m reminded of the opening song from “Little Shop”–

Cue a downtown New York street: filthy, stagnant with rainwater and litter, gloomy in the early morning where the sunlight can’t make it down into the alleyways.  A lone woman carrying heavy bags walks with obvious weariness down an alley, through startled pigeons and overturned trash cans.  Her soulful voice echoes out across the grimy streets of Skid Row:

Alarm goes off at seven
And you start uptown
You put in your eight hours
For the powers
That have always been
‘Til it’s five PM

Slow applause for the last ten years of my life.

The rest of the song is about the hopelessness of living in that downtrodden, god-forsaken ghetto in NYC.  I can hardly claim that my life is terrible, but even in the exaggerated misery of that tune I can still relate to the feelings of despair and worthlessness the characters belt out (in admittedly camp Broadway fashion – I make no excuses).  Corporate life is soul-destroying, and office life is demeaning.

Worse, the people you meet in such places turn into caricatures: the sharply dressed Capitalist businessman (secretly hiding a shrinking spirit and a desperate fear of being discovered as a fraud), or the downtrodden admin staff who are so convinced of their inferiority that they grovel at their office superiors.  As someone who studied psychology at college, it’s fascinating to witness.  As an aspiring writer and someone who lets his feelings get away from him too often, it’s hideously depressing that these are the social structures that we have in place and refuse to dismantle.

The life of a teacher is far from perfect, but it’s something that’s been at the back of my mind for a few years.  Funding in the UK for English teachers is desperately low, and places for teaching qualifications reduce year on year.  At this point I’d like to thank the right honourable Michael Gove for his stellar work as Secretary of State for Education the last few years.  Here’s hoping his recently appointed successor  can make some small progress repairing his damage, rather than making things even worse.

And so off I go, to be called Mr Brookes by overseas students.  It will be as much of a challenge as it will be an adventure, but that’s no bad thing.