englishman abroad, stories

The bunny ranch…

This is the story of how we all accidentally went to a brothel.

Aurelia is the proud owner of two Zwergkaninchen (dwarf rabbits) called Angel, a boy, and Thunder, a girl. They’re very well looked after, with everything a bunny could want: a nice rabbit run, an underground den, a shelter made out of an old copper drinking trough, a wickerwork tunnel and lots of food. Aurelia wants the best for her bunnies; when we fly off to the UK this Christmas, we’re going to have them looked after by a nice enough place. A bunny sitter, if you will.

My wife and I Googled around and found a couple of places online, one in Oldenburg for a fair price and another in Delmenhorst for a bit less. We asked if we could have a look at the place beforehand, the lady said yes. On Sunday we went to the pet sitter in Delmenhorst.

First thoughts:

  1. This is an industrial area, a business park. Could it really be here?
  2. Haha oh wow. That place next to the printer’s looks like a strip club.
  3. Why are we stopping?

The strip-club-looking place was number 7 on the street. The address we had was number 7. It was the same street. I started to think that the online advertisement was a joke, that some troll had sent us here for a laugh. We decided to have a look around anyway. Just in case.

My noticeably pregnant wife, my six-year-old daughter and I got out of the car.

Second thoughts:

  1. There are an awful lot of doorbells on this strip club. “Candy, Jesse, Katja…”
  2. This isn’t just a strip club, is it?
  3. There’s a gate around the side that says “private property”

“Love?” I said, “I think we should leave. Now.”

“no, we’ll look. It said around here”

My courageous wife knocks on the gate, to an eruption of aggressive barking, and asks if this is where the bunnies are looked after.

The lady who opens the gate is thin, with long, red, fake talons for nails.

“Yes,” she pleasantly replies.

Third thought:

  1. WTF

The lady, Candy, gives us a tour of the various rabbit hutches available behind this house of ill repute, and I start to think that maybe, just maybe, this happens to be a legitimate pet-sitter with an awful location. Maybe the bordello was built afterwards?

Google has all the answers: “No, and here are some other pictures of ‘Candy’, just FYI”.

Final thoughts:

  1. I should have trusted my gut.
  2. Is this a brothel that diversified into pet sitting, or a pet sitter that diversified into whoring?
  3. Business must suck, either way.

We said that we’d be in touch later. We won’t. I don’t want Thunder to come home with long, red, fake talons.

englishman abroad, stories, Teaching English

Who bothers to learn English? Interesting people, that’s who.

I’m an English trainer in Germany, NOT an English teacher. Teachers work in schools where learning is mandatory, whereas I teach English to those who learn voluntarily. Not everyone who chooses to learn English is ‘normal’ so here’s a sample of my more memorable students.

1.       The Eccentric

The Eccentric had worked as a civil servant for many years, had an industrial accident and left with a nice, big payoff. He also had some not-so-nice constant pain. With his payoff, he’d impulsively decided to get some extra education at a university. For his course he needed English, and so began a last-minute, month-long intensive course to transform a very eccentric guy with attention deficit issues into an English-speaking savant who would pass his English exam with flying colours. Every hour, on the hour, The Eccentric would take a ten-minute break. He’d zoom out the door, chain-smoke four cigarettes in record time, down an energy drink and make himself a latte macchiato which he would nurse, scowling, for the next 50 minutes. Every two days he needed a heavy metal break, and we’d load up whatever he fancied and blast it at high volume, before discussing the relative merits of e.g. Deftones in comparison to Korn. Every day I would teach him the same lesson because he’d forgotten 90% of what we did the day before. Every five days, like clockwork, he would be blessed with total recall of everything and we’d move on to the next lesson. Eventually, we completed the course and he went off to study something unusual.

He was just one of those special people, I suppose.

2.       The Rule Breaker

The Rule Breaker was an interesting man, he was a senior partner in a business and was about to leave and start his own. He was a wealthy and successful workaholic who ostensibly needed English for an upcoming business deal. But halfway through every lesson he would discuss other things: his ongoing marital problems, how he was going to stitch-up his old business partner, how he had turned an office building into a home to circumvent zoning laws and how he periodically had to pretend that his apartment was an office block to keep up the illusion. It seemed that although he was paying for English lessons, what he really wanted was a confessor. Several others have come to me seeking confession, or therapy, under the guise of a ‘conversation course’.

My philosophy at such moments is: “If it’s in English, it’s an English lesson”.

3.       The Social Media Guru

The Social Media Guru is a very likeable woman who does the social media for a medium-sized German company with many English-speaking customers. We spent Friday mornings brainstorming what posts might work on the company Facebook page, how we could broaden her customer base, what seasonal or topical themes could be worked into Facebook or Twitter… April Fool’s posts, Christmas Carols, you name it, we did it. She’s taking a hiatus right now but I still get the occasional email asking for ideas or translations.

I’m always happy to help.

4.       Mr Robot

Mr Robot works in programming and looks a lot like Rami Malek, hence the nickname I’ve given him. Mr Robot was going through a period of great change in his life: divorced, going nowhere in his IT job, living next door to the neighbour from hell… let’s just say that Mr Robot needed some encouragement. Mr Robot came to me with practically no English skills at all but left at level B1, an impressive new freelancing job, a new house and even a new name.

I still see Mr Robot around sometimes, he’s a new man.

5.       The Academics

The Academics are professors and doctors from a university, they have papers to write, conferences to attend, research to perform, studies to conduct. They are important people in a behind-the-scenes kind of way, and their work will probably go on to shape German social policy in years to come, indirectly, of course. I’ve been privileged to see a little of their research and translate parts of it before it’s gone to press.

Far from being stuck up and awkward, they have a healthy sense of humour and self-deprecation to keep them sane.

6.       The Biker

The Biker is a wonderfully accepting, friendly, down-to-earth man with kind eyes and a charming manner. He is a respected boss, a competent manager, a great motivator, a doting father and a loyal husband. He is also in a world-famous biker gang and likes to tell stories about the wild parties he’s been to, the people he’s associated with, the scrapes he’s got into with the police, his membership of certain other dangerous clubs and political movements, the hardware that his bike gang entrusts him with and what happens to people who cross the gang.

The truly scary thing about The Biker is not that he’s a dangerous man who has done bad things, but that you’d never realise it when he’s a mere pedestrian.

Whoever said that teaching English was boring?

englishman abroad, stories

The strawberry who didn’t listen

I previously mentioned that I make up a lot of fictional characters for my daughter, as well as some short stories. What follows is a bedtime story that I made for her a little while ago, it’s called The strawberry who didn’t listen. This story really needs to be read aloud, it doesn’t work quite the same otherwise. Here we go:

There was once a little strawberry who lived with his family in a flowerpot in the garden.

One bright, sunny day the strawberry was looking around the vegetable plot and saw round, red things (they were tomatoes). He saw long, green things (they were cucumbers). He even saw pointy, orange things (they were carrots). But the little strawberry couldn’t see anything that looked like him.

So, the little strawberry went to his mummy and said “Mummy, what am I?”

“that’s easy,” said Mummy Strawberry “you are a strawberry!”

“a sore belly?” asked the little strawberry

“no, a strawberry!” said Mummy

“a snore jelly?” wondered the little strawberry

“no, you silly little strawberry!” said Mummy Strawberry “go and ask your father!”

So, the little strawberry went to speak to his father.

“Daddy?” asked the little strawberry “what am I?”

“That’s simple!” said Daddy Strawberry “you’re a strawberry!”

“a claw deli?”

“no, a strawberry!”

“a raw telly?”

“no, you foolish strawberry! Go and bother Grandpa strawberry with your questions!” said Daddy Strawberry.

So, the little strawberry went to see Grandpa Strawberry, the wisest and oldest of all the strawberries.

“Hello, young strawberry!” said Grandpa Strawberry “what are you up to?”

“I’m trying to find out what I am!” said the little strawberry.

“haven’t your mummy and daddy told you? You’re a strawberry!”

“a poor smelly?”

“no! A strawberry!”

“a jaw Shelly?”

“No! you confounded little strawberry!” said Grandpa Strawberry, who was also a very grumpy strawberry

“you are wally! a twit! a twerp! a nut!”

“OH!” said the Little Strawberry “a strawberry! why didn’t you just say so?”