Thou Art Hither Now Get Thee Hence

One of the fun parts about being a foreign teacher in Japan is that I can get away with a lot. One of the problems of being foreign teacher in Japan is that I can’t get away with a lot forever.

On rare occasions I’ve taken students to the principal’s office or to their homeroom teacher in the teacher’s office. With junior high this is rather risky, not only am I foisting my problems off on someone else and admitting I can’t control my class, but I’m also “forgetting” that education is both compulsory and a right until the end of 9th grade and removing a junior high student is a questionable legal act. It’s better to stick them in a the corner, or at a desk just outside the door. Also, in Japan, the Group is very important and being removed from the Group can be quite shocking. With high school students this isn’t as big a legal deal, but removing them from the group is.

That said, I’m also the only teacher I know who’s thrown students out of class during observations.

The first time happened in a first year high school class. One of my worse students, let’s call him Mr. Sato, was famously bad and the kind of student who immediately goes to sleep and counts on his friends to take notes. Since my class was a speaking class, that wasn’t possible. He had to be awake and he had to work with a partner.

However, on the day of open classrooms (during which other teachers in the school could observe our classes) Mr. Sato’s usual partner was absent and he believed that meant he didn’t have to do anything. After the warm up, he immediately went to sleep. I woke him up and he pointed to the empty chair next to him and went back to sleep. I woke him up again, he pointed to the chair again and I pointed the empty chair next to another student and said be his partner. This repeated a couple more times. Finally, the fifth time I woke him up, Mr. Sato snapped and said “WHAT!” which is Japanese for “leave me the fuck alone already”.

I told him to get out and, surprisingly, he left without any argument. This, in it’s own odd way, is telling. As I said before, In Japan, the Group, in all its forms, is important. Mr. Sato clearly wasn’t feeling a part of the group.

The teacher observing my class was visibly shocked, but he understood.

The second time it happened was fairly recent and occurred during open school when three mothers were observing my class. The open school happened to fall on a presentation day when my students had to get up in pairs and do an original conversation. The first couple pairs were okay, but the third refused to go up. I wasn’t too surprised, as one of the partners, let’s call him Mr. Kato, had been sleeping, trying to do other homework and generally being unhelpful during the writing phase (prompting his partner to declare “I don’t have a partner.”) I said they didn’t have a choice. They had to go up and do their conversation.

After some “negotiation” they finally went up and, well, first Mr. Kato tried to take his script (not okay) then he tried to cheat (also not okay) then he tried impress me with his attitude (fool). I pointed out I have a nine year old daughter with more attitude and better English and put him and his partner out in the hall to practice. I apologized to the mothers and, surprisingly, they stuck around apparently to watch the end of the match.

Eventually Mr. Kato and his partner went up and did a decent job, which earned me some points with the mothers. Although that’s exactly the kind of stuff I have to worry about and I reported what had happened to the homeroom teacher (I also told him the other students had done well). It’s also the kind of stuff I really ought not try a third time.

Special Things and Unspecial Things

Tonight’s topic is based on this probably apocryphal conversation:
Isadora Duncan to Anatole France: Imagine a child with my beauty and your brains!
Anatole France to Isadora Duncan: Yes, but imagine a child with
my beauty and your brains!

I think it’s a truism that if you want to know what you love about your spouse, imagine what features of theirs you hope your children inherit. If you want to know what you hate about yourself, imagine what features of yours you hope your children don’t inherit.

Since we already have kids, I spend a lot of my time watching them and going: lucky, lucky, lucky, push, damn sorry about that, and well, it could be worse.

Luckily for the girls they inherited most of She Who Must Be Obeyed’s face. Especially important is they actually have lips, which is something I was pretty much denied which makes me look pensive even when I’m not, um, pensed. They both did, more or less, inherit a version of my nose, but that could be worse. They also inherited my creased eyelids which will save them a lot of make up and/or plastic surgery in the future.

The push is that they both seem to have inherited my height. Our oldest is already taller than her mother and the youngest is getting closer and closer. The oldest has big feet, which makes this a push. Being tall is a mixed blessing in Japan, especially when you try to buy shoes.

Unfortunately our oldest inherited my oily skin and the youngest at least some of my allergies. The odds are more or less against their hair. She Who Must Be Obeyed’s hair went completely white at a young age and white hair runs in my family. Mine waited a while, but is getting there slowly. My Dad’s hair was completely white by the time he was my age.

They both have good eyesight, which comes from me, but have inherited She Who Must Be Obeyed’s inner ear disturbance which makes it difficult for them to hear and understand the male voice.

Our oldest has inherited my propensity for putting off until tomorrow what is due the day after tomorrow. She’s already pulled her first almost-all-nighter and is, as I write this, finishing up the homework she had all summer to finish. (It’s 11:45 Japan time.) The youngest inherited She Who Must Be Obeyed’s work ethic, mostly. She likes to help out, but mainly on her own terms and she distracts easily, which she got from both of her parents.

Our oldest has a well developed back-talking skill, which she got from me, and she frustrates easily, which she also got from me. These are things of mine I really wish she hadn’t inherited.

Our youngest has a remarkable ability to make a small mess into a big mess when she doesn’t want to clean something. She didn’t get that from me as my skill is stretching a small five minute project into a seven day project, which means she must have got that from She Who Must Be Obeyed.

They are both much more aggressive about getting out and making friends than I am. They aren’t exactly extroverts, but they seem to enjoy people. They also aren’t easy to push around. I’m glad they inherited all that from She Who Must Be Obeyed. What they would have got from me wouldn’t have been as helpful to them.

Money Beauty Queens and Boy George Boys

Soon after I got to Albania, for reasons having to do with politics and me be posted to the Faculty of Foreign Languages in Tirana and the fact you can fool most of the people most of the time early on in the relationship, I was asked to chair the entrance interview for what was described as the first free and fair entrance exam in the faculty’s history.

This amounted to first double checking the written test and then convening with four of my future colleagues (which they were, sort of, in a way) to interview and rate potential students. I vaguely remember that we agreed on which order we’d ask questions and what kinds of questions we would ask.

To this day I don’t remember what questions I asked or even if I asked questions. All I remember is that I welcomed the candidates and introduced myself and that things proceeded from there, for better and for worse and for interesting.

Most of the interviews were relatively bland and I remember faces more than what they said. The first interview that stands out was a stocky kid with a rustic look that screamed farmer. He spoke English slowly, but seemed to understand everything. One of us asked what his family did and he said they were vegetable farmers. One of my fellow interviewees then said. “You must be making a lot of money now.” I went “What the f–” but he gave the greatest knowing smirk and soft “yes” I’ve ever seen and we all knew he was getting in because money.

The second was an especially attractive young woman–you’ll see why that’s important in a second. Her English was excellent and she had the Balkan poise the vegetable farmer didn’t. One of my fellow interviewers, who had a bushy head of hair and aviator/Elvis style eyeglasses asked her if she’d ever heard of the Miss Albania pageant. She said yes. He asked her if she’d ever considered entering it. She said no. He said “but you’re very beautiful” and encouraged her to enter it right about the time I was thinking “Are you fucking kidding me!” but saying something like “ANYWAY, moving on to the next question.”

The last one I remember was a frail, rather effeminate kid with a style that would later be described as Emo. He was wearing dark aviator sunglasses that were twice as wide as his head in the interview, so I was torn between liking him and thinking “poser”. His English was good, though, so it was hard to complain about him. Later, the man who’d asked about Miss Albania, asked the kid if he’d ever heard of Boy George. The kid said no. The man said “But you have a lot in common with him you–” I never heard exactly what they had in common because I interrupted at that point. I don’t even remember what I said. I just remember interrupting.

All three of those candidates were chosen for the faculty, although I would only teach Miss Albania and the vegetable farmer (both were really nice, although it was a lecture class so I spoke at them more than to them). I saw Boy George boy a few months later. He was still sporting the aviator shades and actually looking more confident and cool.

All I could think was “poser”.

The Corner Marks the Time and the Punishment

A short one today for your mercy and mine and since I’ve been in an Albania state of mind I think I’ll stay there.

Even though the Albanians were surprisingly fast language learners, my students all had a casualness toward class and studying that I think stemmed partly from Balkan machismo and partly from doing everything as a group under communism.

The first issue I encountered was keeping my students quiet and keeping them doing their own work during exams. Earlier in our first year, our TEFL trainer and her colleague from the British Council concocted one of the most complicated honesty schemes I’ve ever seen. They had a short test but the first few questions in the first part would be chosen randomly from 30 possible questions. The questions from the second part would be chosen from 50 possible questions. They gave the questions out only a day or so before the test.

Despite their best efforts, every student had the exact same answers.

I can’t even do the math on how the students arranged for different students to write the different answers and then share them with all the other students so that they could memorize them. I can only imagine they just had a giant group collaboration session somewhere and wrote them all together.

In my case, as soon as I handed out my British Lit exam–yes, I was in the United States Peace Corps teaching British Literature and no, I don’t understand it either–the men in the back row started consulting on answers. I stopped them and all was well.

However, the thing that bothered me the most was all the random student holidays the students used to take. The Faculty of Foreign Languages was a long walk from my apartment and at least twice a month I’d show up for work only to discover it was the 3rd anniversary of the fifth student summer uprising. Finally I told my students that I liked holidays, too, and I wanted a list of all their holidays. I told them that if I made it past the corner of the US Embassy (which was on the way to the Faculty) and discovered it was a holiday, I’d find a way to fail the entire class.

The students did all that. One time I knew there was a holiday but I had to go to the Peace Corps office (which at the time was just past the Faculty) and four different students told me it was a holiday.

I don’t know if that was the best thing to teach them, but at least I know they learned something.

The Beating Will Continue Until Morale Improves

It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that I spent a good portion of my Peace Corps experience preventing myself from being kicked out of the Peace Corps.

Granted, my charming personality didn’t help things much and neither did my tendency to blather on and on about things (more on all that in another post). Mix all that with shocking levels of bad people skills and obliviousness and, well, I didn’t win many friends or influence many people, except to have them avoid me at all costs.

The first time I knew something was afoot was when I applied for the equivalent of a grant to help partially fund a trip out of Albania. I’d been helping out the local branch of the Open Society Fund for Albania (a George Soros joint) and they’d invited us to some shindig or other in Hungary. This request led to a long, well conversation is too weak but argument is too strong, so perhaps bitchfest would be more accurate. Our country director, let’s call her Bitchy (I normally use another word that rhymes with punt, but I’ll refrain from mentioning it, sort of–see, told you I had a charming personality) recited a litany of Peace Corps crimes I’d committed–and there were many–and I argued, er, bitched back.

Eventually I paid for the trip myself (and never went to the conference) and all that went away, until the the end of my first school year. At that point, Bitchy Punt (her full name) approached me–and in all fairness, she was quite nice and genuine–and asked me to leave Tirana. She said she’d mistakenly allowed a huge chunk of Albania 001 to be clumped together in the center of the country rather than spread out around it. She gestured to a large map of Albania with all our faces pinned to it. (Still one of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen.) She asked me to move down South to Gjirokaster on the Albania/Greece border.

She paid for me to travel down there and look around and I will say it was a beautiful town. It’s old quarter may be one of the most beautiful places in Albania. Also, because it was within an hour of a national border, I could leave Albania at my leisure without needing any kind of special permission or official leave. Also, there was another volunteer there who could show me the ropes. I did consider it, but I realized 1) all my friends were in the North 2) you can only look at pretty buildings for so long before going insane 3) I didn’t have the money to zip back and forth across the border enough to actually enjoy being able to do it.

I told Bitchy Punt I was happy where I was and didn’t want to move. She more or less crossed her arms and went “Hmmm” which is Peace Corps speak for “We’ll see about that.”

A week later, Peace Corps staffers, US and Albanian, were in my school passing out surveys about me to my students and conducting short interviews with them. This freaked out my students who said it was just like the old ways under the old communist government.

A few days later I was “invited” back to Bitchy Punt’s office. At that point she basically said “I’m not asking; I’m telling” and told me if I refused orders I would be kicked out of the Peace Corps. (And you thought the name Bitchy Punt was just me being an obnoxious punt.) She also praised me for getting such positive evaluations from my students. At that point I went “Hmmm” which is Dwayne speak for, well, use your imagination and as many bad words as you can think of.

I consulted with some friends, both in Albania and in the USA, and they encouraged me to find a compromise. The compromise was that I would move an hour or so away to Elbasan, which had lost its volunteers for various complicated reasons, but I could still teach two days a week in Tirana. The Peace Corps would pay for the travel and the hotel and Bitchy Punt could move the pin with my face on it a little bit away from the capital.

Elbasan was nice enough, and the university was nice too, but I didn’t really know anybody there and it never felt like home. I had a much better time teaching in Tirana. That said, I lost out on being the gathering place for my friends who were left to wander the cold nights in search of warmth and cheap food in Tirana.

The move to Elbasan would eventually give Bitchy Punt the chance to get rid of me, but that’s another post.

Audience Without Joy Teacher Bringing Anger

Yesterday I mentioned a failed business and how I ended up teaching the classes I’d hoped to teach, sort of. I also mentioned there were some issues. Today I thought I’d talk about those issues.

Basically, you have to keep in mind that although Japan managed to reduce its workers unions to empty, somewhat  noisy shells, the teachers’ union still maintains a certain amount of influence and prestige. The mandatory four skills classes were, essentially, a shot across the bow from the government to the teachers’ union that they’d be facing new rules and, possibly, regular evaluations. They also took place during summer vacation.

I taught the classes in two phases. First I was called in as a substitute on weekend for a shortened proto version of the course I still don’t understand. The Japanese English teachers were polite enough but there was a lot of sighing and eye-rolling every time I said it was time to do an activity. (It was a lot like telling a teenaged daughter to clean up her stuff and/or a lot like me when I’m forced to attend such workshops.)

Not a lot happened, to me but one of my friends came back from a break to find “Fuck You” written on the blackboard–remember what I said about teenaged daughters. He went through their handwritten assignments and using handwriting analysis figured out who wrote it and then strangled the guy and threw his corpse out the window. (So I heard; my friend may have simply discussed the issue with the guy but that doesn’t seem as plausible to me.)

Eventually the courses went “live”. They were Monday through Friday six hours a day. At first the students were actually pleasant because the ones who went early were keeners/ass kissers apparently intent on impressing someone. I came away from the first classes with several friends among the students until the voice came down from on high “Thou shalt make no friends among thy charges! Neither shalt thou have any friends amongst these masses which are around thee!” (Something like that.)

Towards the end of the four years, as the deadline for teachers to complete the course came closer, we got the diehards. We got the teachers who’d fought the course as long as possible and when I arrived to teach my class you could feel the anger and hatred.

Oddly, they were not the ones I managed to piss off.

I started class by saying I appreciated them being there because I was sure there was nothing they’d rather be doing on a beautiful summer’s day than sitting in a room in a school having some foreign guy tell them how to do their jobs. I then told them that I sympathized because there were a lot of things I’d rather be doing too–I just left out the part about me being there voluntarily, which is not, technically, lying–and that I hoped I could give them something to take away and that I didn’t waste their time.

Everything went well after that. They relaxed and participated, even when the curriculum was clunky. While I and the other teachers taught, we had a woman from the Tokyo Board of Education office roaming around listening in on us. At some point I told them my students were lucky. Because they teach at public school and when the students asked “Whey do we have to study English?” they could just say “Ask the Ministry of Education”.  (I said it with it’s Japanese name “Monbukasho” This brought some laughs. I said because I was at a private school I couldn’t say “Ask Monbukasho.” This brought more laughs.

Then, at the start of lunch time, I was told by a Japanese staff member from my company that there were some issues about my class making fun of the Ministry of Education. I said that’s not what happened and I’d talk about it after lunch. By the time I got back from lunch things had hit the fan. The staff member panicked and high level people from my company were already there. Apparently the woman from the BoE, who’s English wasn’t that good, heard:

Me: blah blah blah blah Ministry of Education. (snort)
Students: LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL They suck.
Me: blah blah blah blah Ministry of Education. (snort)
Students: ROTFLMAO ROTFLMAO ROTFLMAO They are evil.

I explained everything and apologized and during their brief interviews/interrogations–yes, this is how things are done where I work–my students vouched for me as well.

Luckily for me, other teachers were doing worse. The course was supposed to be conducted only in English and one guy was holding a major graded discussion in Japanese, which actually did make his students angry. In the end my students rocked their final presentations much to the delight of the woman from the BoE. I praised the students but she said they had a good teacher. I thanked her and said “Do you have any BoE positions available?”

Apparently she didn’t, but I was invited back the next year, so it wasn’t a complete loss.

 

Business Dreams and Breaking Down

Because I tend to dabble in writing, put off doing a lot of stuff while I over think it and, until recently, had way too many hobbies, the handful of business ideas I’ve had usually end up filed away somewhere until someone else does them. However back in the early aughts, a year or so after I moved to Tokyo, I attempted to start a small side business. This is miraculous enough, but that I attempted to exploit connections to do it is also a small miracle.

Not much else about the endeavor was miraculous.

What happened is I learned that teachers in Tokyo were going to be forced to attend “Four Skills” training. (Reading, Writing, Speaking, Listening) and the company I work for was planning on competing for the contract. My mad idea was that such things would probably happen in other prefectures and if I could get organized enough, I might be able to get similar courses started in Niigata. The teachers could then tell the government: see, we already did that.

I contacted a friend from Niigata who besides being a good Japanese English Teacher, was also very well connected in the prefectural education department. I pitched the idea to her and we started working on the preliminaries. I put together fliers and the curriculum (in my free time, of course, not on company time) and she was going to contact her contacts in both the prefectural and regional education departments and get back to me.

She didn’t get back to me. I sent her a copy of the fliers and information and waited. I didn’t want to be too pushy partly because I knew she was usually rather busy.  After a few weeks I received a letter dripping with, well, nervous breakdown.

I won’t get into details but let’s just say, as a rule, it’s a bad omen when your future business partner begins decrying money and materialism in what is supposed to be commentary on future business propaganda materials. I called her and it’s the second time in my life I’ve spoken to a person who was so upset her voice had changed. (The first was a good friend who wasn’t having a good time in her first year of teaching in my hometown.)

I was able to determine that my future former business partner had encountered some direct verbal bullying and had suffered a whisper campaign that had pretty much freaked her out and more or less caused her to burn her bridges with her prefectural connections.

The business never happened, as I suddenly found myself without any contacts in the prefecture. Luckily it only cost me some postage, a couple phone calls, some time and some printer ink. I realize that I should have immediately gone to Niigata and said “take me to its leaders” rather than letting things get put off. Although I have my moments, I don’t know if I could have pulled that off, but at least it would have been an active mistake and perhaps left me with a few contacts of my own. (If that makes sense.) I also realize that I needed to be more aggressive in pushing my business partner.

I did end up teaching a lot of the four skills classes when my company got the contract. (Those will require another post to describe. Preview: huffing and sighing, “Fuck you,” and “I’m sorry you misunderstood.”)

Also, for the record, my curriculum was better.

 

The Long Way Home From Farthest Away

When I first got to my schools in Niigata the first thing I noticed was that a lot of my Japanese English Teachers (with a couple exceptions) were young. In fact, a good percentage of the staff were young. At the end of the year, I also noticed that a lot of the young staff went away and were replaced with more young staff. (With exceptions.)

This is partly the result of the way a lot of prefectures in Japan treat their teachers. They tend to do military style assignments of three years before moving on. In the case of Niigata, the prefecture tried to send young teachers as far away from home as possible for their first job. Since Nou-Machi was hell and gone from Niigata City, it got a lot of young teachers.

After three years, the teachers moved to a new school a little closer to home for another three year assignment. After that the explanations got confusing and I started to get a headache trying to understand it but the gist was that by their third assignment teachers began to have some choice in where they wanted to go. There is also some politics involved because the school boards also get some say in who they want.

This system had a lot of odd effects. First, it guaranteed that every district, no matter how small and/or undesirable could get teachers. (This would solve a lot of problems for district in Western-Kansas.) On a personal level it also forced the teachers to be less dependent on their families for support which was great for their personal development.

On the other hand, it also meant that Nou-machi was full of new teachers suddenly discovering that a couple weeks of practicum (not a joke) with little time in front of the class didn’t really prepare them for teaching.

The other effect was that, because Nou-machi was rural and out of the way (I could get to Tokyo just as fast as I could get to Niigata City), not a lot of teachers volunteered to work there once they had enough experience to make a choice. The school boards then played some politics and a lot of older teachers ended up having their choice taken away and were sent to Nou. That also had some interesting effects.

When I was working with younger JTE’s I could pretty much raise them up in the way I wanted them to go. They were also really good at speaking English. My last year though, Nou Junior High School was issued two older teachers who very much wanted to be some place else. Because they were older, it was difficult for me to raise them up in the way I wanted them to go and that led to a bit of tension. I, of course, was very flexible and did my best to support them. Well, not really, I didn’t get along with them at all. I don’t remember a single class I taught with them even though I can remember at least one class from every teacher I worked with. I don’t even remember their real names.

The first I remember only as The Airhead. I all fairness, she  was much more concerned about her pregnancy than dealing with a loud foreigner and/or doing much teaching. She did her best to fit in but she was distracted.

The second I remember mainly as the Bitter Bitch. She resented being in Nou-machi and was convinced that everyone and everything in Nou was backwards and illiterate. (Especially the loud foreigner, who I’m pretty sure she remembers as “that self-righteous asshole”.) I would try to show her that the students already knew the alphabet and the days of the week, etc. but she just went ahead and taught as if they didn’t. The tension eventually led to swearing (the f-word was involved at one point) but we learned to get along and just do our own things.

Eventually, I was the one who went away. My successor, who was a heck of lot nicer than I am, said that the Airhead improved a great deal and that he pretty much kept his head down around the Bitter Bitch and they got along to get along.

 

Responsibility the Oldest Boy and Quiet Desperation

My in-laws and She Who Must Be Obeyed are currently engaging in negotiations that can only happen in families in ways that can only happen in Japan. As Mother of She Who Must Be Obeyed undergoes a second surgery, this one for a hip replacement, it’s clear that someone is going to have to be close by to take care of her and Father of She Who Must Be Obeyed.

They’ve asked my sister in-law to watch over them and, if possible. to move into the house. The problem is that her husband is the oldest in his family and they may someday be expected to move into his family’s house to care for his father or mother. My brother-in-law lives in Yokohama and it would normally be his responsibility to move back but he can’t drive, which makes him less useful if he moves back. That leaves She Who Must Be Obeyed, who is the second oldest child, but she’s also the only one with kids and the only one married to someone with familial responsibilities in another country.

It’s all very complicated and I personally suspect there’s less to worry about than everyone thinks, but how it works out is how it works out.

However, it has reminded me two of the saddest stories I’ve ever heard that didn’t involve death.

When I was in Niigata, after my first year, my Japanese English teachers switched out and I started working with Mr. Oguma. He told me that he originally went to Tokyo and became a punk rock musician (I’ve got his CD somewhere in the Variety Closet. It’s okay.) But when his father died it was his responsibility to come home and take care of the family.

In his case, he may have actually found a calling. Not only did he improve the crappy boys rock band that all junior high’s in Japan have, but he was also one of the few JTEs I worked with who was concerned that everything he put on the board was correct. For all his energy, though, he did seem to be rather sad and on a lot of pills as I think he lost his second love as well. I’ve mentioned before, that he seemed to want to work in crappy schools. Being in a school where he was dealing with pettiness and family conflict was clearly eating away at him.

The other sad story involved Mr. I, one of my JTEs at my other junior high. He was in every stereotypical way imaginable the cliche Japanese English teacher: old, male, always in a suit, bad English, conducted class mostly in Japanese and didn’t seem to care about anything other than the book which made my classes, to him, useless distractions. He was one of the few teachers I ever got angry with in the teachers’ office.

Then, at his retirement party, out of the blue, he came up to me and said with a wistful laugh “I never wanted to be an English teacher.” He explained how after university he’d gone to Tokyo to work in a major company as a “salary man” (office worker). Then, after his father died, he moved back to Niigata to take care of the family and about all that was available was teaching. He then said that he’d told the officials involved in his hiring that he wanted to teach social studies. They told him there were too many social studies teachers and he had to teach English even though he didn’t speak it. He then spent the next 35 years or so doing a job he wasn’t trained for and never wanted to do.

It was one of the few times in my life I was so deeply moved that I was speechless and to this day the story makes me sad. Mr. I and Mr. Oguma are the few true examples of Thoreau’s “lives of quiet desperation” I’ve ever seen.

I don’t know where they are now. I hope they’re doing well.

Quite Comically Droll Really

I have a couple hundred things I could and should have done today but rather than waste time playing World of Tanks or other games, I decided to waste it binge watching Inspector Morse and that has me thinking about British television and the odd influence it’s had on my life.

When I was growing up, I would occasionally catch snippets of British TV on PBS. Please remember, we only had four channels at the time, one of which was “educational” The first show I remember seeing and being freaked out by was The Tomorrow People. which is basically the X-Men with annoyingly perfect people and lots of 70′s hair and clothing.

There was also bits of The Benny Hill Show, which I’m still not actually sure I was supposed to watch. I mostly remember him not speaking very much and him being surrounded by lots of occasionally clad women. I also learned the many meanings of “crumpet” from that show.

The other comedy show was Monty Python’s Flying Circus which I mostly remember for the Spam sketch and people getting hit with fish. Later I would see all the Python movies. Yes, I can recite them all word for word, and no, I’m not going to do it now. The best part about Python was revisiting the shows years later and finally getting the jokes.

I also remember, a late 70′s series called Blake’s 7 which was gruelingly pessimistic, full of moral ambiguity, didn’t have seven people, got rid of Blake for a while and wasn’t afraid to kill off main characters. That said, it’s the kind of show that I suspect I’d hate if I watched it again. (Which means I have a moral obligation to watch it again. I’ll add it to the procrastination viewing list.)

The biggest show, though, was and remains Doctor Who. It was another show that I’d watch in fits and starts because, in those days, a week was a long time to have to remember the time something was on. It was also the first show I remember triggering a “What the hell is that?” when I saw a version with a different Doctor. (I didn’t yet know yet that Time Lords regenerate as a new person when they die/ask for more money per episode.)

The first Doctor I saw was Tom Baker and, quite frankly, he’s still the best Doctor. David Tennant did a great impersonation of him as did Matt Smith, but only Tom Baker could properly deliver a line like “I say, what a wonderful butler. He’s so violent.” He was also good at being the clown and then suddenly getting dark and moody. The worst Doctor was Colin Baker followed closely by the guy who had celery on his jacket.

Since then I’ve seen, I think, every available episode of Doctor Who and a couple webisodes. I’ve even watched bits of The Sarah Jane Adventures, based around former Doctor Who Companion Sarah Jane Smith after Elisabeth Sladen’s dazzling return to Doctor Who.

I’m not sure why I liked British TV. I think it was just different enough to count as vaguely exotic and I tended to latch on to things most other people didn’t like or didn’t yet get (Styx; dark beer; sci fi; mustard on French fries; potato chips on sandwiches; peanut butter on celery; Christopher Eccleston as Doctor Who).

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got more Inspector Morse to watch. I just wish I had a pint of real ale nearby.