At Home | More Scheming, Less Steaming

You wouldn’t know it – I mean, how could you know it – but I write these diaries all the time. I just never publish them. What usually happens is that I begin doing some other thing, like working or reading a book, and at that instant I am struck by inspiration, and I throw everything aside and sit down and hammer out 2000 words in an insane blur that I barely even remember. Then I sit back and crack my knuckles and read what I’ve written, and while I read my jaw gently slackens, until finally I think ‘nobody must ever discover how shit a writer I am, how inane, how poundingly mediocre my thoughts are’ and I delete them all in an orgasm of self-loathing.

But not today! Gooood morning!

I’m still living in Leeds, with my family. I’m still teaching English. I still love teaching English, but equally it’s a pain in the arse because my online students are flaky and cancel all the time without warning. To me it’s an income, a full-time gig, my life – while to the majority of my adult students it’s basically a passing fancy, something to sign up for when they’re feeling productive and then forget about. And then I don’t get paid.

I tried to be all business-like about it at the outset; doing little sums, making growth predictions – if I can gain 2 new students per week at a rate of 25 dollars an hour (I get paid in dollars) minus 18% platform commission, minus conversion rates, then in X amount of months I can make enough money to [redacted]. Unfortunately I’ve come, very gradually and peevishly, to realise that it’s never going to bring in a full-time wage. I earn about £1000 a month these days, gross, and I’m working harder than I’ve done before. But that’s alright – I’ve learned an enormous amount, and I’m proud of myself. Six months my own boss. Pretty cool, I say.

I got big plans. For many months I had too many plans, like fifteen different plans at once, but recently I’ve been more pragmatic about things and one by one I’ve separated the good from the bad from the fucking mental. No, I’m not gonna go to Buenos Aires and live in an Airbnb for 6 months and teach English during the day and learn to dance by night. It’d be fun, sure, but – well, then what?

That’s my new simplifying trick: if I can’t answer ‘and then what’ about a plan, then that means it isn’t a plan, it’s an escape. No more escapes. They’re no good.

For now, the most sensible thing to do is to move back to London and find a writing job there. I wanna do London differently this time around, however. Less boozing, less isolation, despairing on Friday evenings alone in a little grey box of a bedroom. I wanna go to classes, man. Learn everything. Salsa classes – there are dozens. French classes, big group ones where I can make friends. Writing seminars. Boxing classes or whatever martial art, more confidence, better health.

And I want to start my own classes too: teaching English, live and in-person. I came to the decision like this: I feel guilty charging any one person more than about £20 an hour for an English lesson. I just feel like £20 is a lot of money, and how much English can you realistically learn in one hour? How many new words, how many grammar rules is twenty quid worth? I don’t want to feel I’m ripping people off – so there’s an upper limit on what I can charge for 1-to-1 lessons.

Group lessons, though? Eight people, each paying £12.50? That’s £100 right there – for an hour. That’s much more workable, and no guilt. I wanna set it up down in London – I wanna find a venue, maybe some village hall or something, maybe just at my own kitchen table (once I find one), and I wanna make a website and a logo and business cards, and put up posters with my Whatsapp on them, and two or three or four times a week I’ll set up these group language classes, affordable for everyone.

I’ve pictured it already: I’ll interview each new person, first hour free, and I’ll sort them into different groups based on their English level. Maybe I can have them do a little test or something. So then everybody will be learning with people who speak English around the same level as themselves. And I can get a whiteboard, buy teaching materials, print stuff off, make teaching plans.

And maybe I could open each class with a song, some famous pop song we all listen to and we talk about the lyrics, just to make everyone feel loose. And I’d dress snappy, too – to build that reputation, hook people with charisma. I reckon I can do it man, fuck it.

It’ll work in London, I’m sure of it. London has millions of people looking to improve their English, and they’d certainly be more motivated than anywhere else in Europe – they have to improve. I could help them find jobs, pass citizenship exams. There are language schools all over the city already, and I can undercut them. I’m just one guy, I can do it cheap and I can do it well.

You know why else it’s a good idea? Because adults are lonely as shit man. So, so many lonely people – and I know because I’ve been one, I am one, only I’ve gotten used to it by now so I’m fine. It’s pandemic. And what an opportunity – what a ray of sunshine – to take the price of one-and-a-half pints of beer and instead spend it on an hour of friendship and laughter and stimulation and learning. I could put out snacks. I could make games. We could do role plays, silly stuff. We could read novels together, a few pages per class. I could set weird homeworks, creative writing assignments that I’d have loved as a kid. I could set up events outside the classroom, cultural afternoons where we go to a museum or something and discuss it afterwards.

Imagine it: people work hard, they’re tired, they don’t have many friends, and once or twice a week they step into a room filled with smiling faces and laughter and the humbling buzz of self-improvement. I dunno, maybe I’m mad – maybe there are huge great swathes of factors I’ve failed to consider here – but doesn’t it sound great? Real human connection, a vital new skill, kindness, and crucially, not extortionate.

Future proof, too, I believe: I know AI is freaking people out and deleting jobs like nobody’s business, but I have a feeling in my gut that, just as vinyl records have seen a phenomenal resurgence, we’ll soon reach a tipping point with our tolerance of tech. I’m so bored with cyberspace. Yes, you can probably learn English with ChatGPT or some other AI, but sooner or later people need, simply need to go outside. Loneliness, bone-idleness – they’re as bad for  you as smoking cigarettes. I’m sure of it.

I’m enamoured with this plan – I really am. I think it’ll be difficult and scary, but that’s a good thing. As for travelling, I’ve done as much as I want to, for now. I’ve seen far more of the world than I ever set out to, ten years ago. What I haven’t done yet is see what I can build when I put my mind to it – when I apply myself, 100%, taking whatever courage I once mustered for hiking volcanoes and riding motorcycles, and instead using it to plant my feet a while and build something.

So – there’s the plan. Not an escape: a plan.

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