Books, Uncategorized

The Retro Reader

Retro is all the fashion. VSCO takes my photos and adds film simulations from the heyday of analogue photography. Whenever that actually was. We could debate it, but I’m going to put a shout out for the 70s. My Fuji camera itself, like most Fuji X series cameras is designed with an eye to popular cameras of the 60s and 70s. Music from the 70s and 80s is back in fashion, and Hollywood remakes have now moved onto 90s ‘classics’. My oh my, films from my teens are now classics.  Continue reading


And The Mountains Echoed

I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited about a new book as I am about And The Mountains Echoed. Nor so happy that it’s available on Kindle. Or will be, when it’s released on May 21st. I’ve pre-ordered it, with a single click. It’ll be automatically delivered to my Kindle the second it’s released. Isn’t Amazon wonderful? Except when they don’t pay their fair share of taxes, but that’s another story. RIP the High Street.

Did you read The Kite Runner? Or Khaled Hosseini’s second book, A Thousand Splendid Suns? They were both masterpieces. The latter was the last book my dad read. I can’t think of a better last book to read. The stories were so beautifully told, you’d believe they were true. So tragic, you’d sincerely hope they weren’t. They both gave such a bitter sweet account of Afghanistan, a land that’s so far away and yet so often in the news. Of how things used to be in that distant country, and of how they are today. The books are both eye openers and I can’t recommend either of them highly enough.

The quote below is one I remember most, from the Kite Runner. It’s so brutally simplistic. Yet so very true. How did we make everything in the world so complicated? And The Mountains echoed is, as you’ve probably gathered by now, Khaled Hosseini’s third book. It’s been five long years since the last one. I can’t wait.

There is only one sin, only one. And that is the sin of theft. Every other sin is a variation of theft. Do you understand that? … When you kill a man, you steal a life. You steal his wife’s right to a husband, rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone’s right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness. … There is no act more wretched than stealing.




The Amazonian

Daniel Hernadez, in my opinion one of the best Mexico City bloggers currently blogging, has a new book out. I haven’t read it, so I can’t offer an opinion. But the link that lead me there got me wondering if my book, published with Lulu, had made it onto Amazon in paperback form. It has! I am a published author at last…..mwahahaha! An Amazonian. Who doesn’t want to have their name on a book sold by Amazon with a proper ISBN number et al? Having it on Amazon Kindle was nice, but having it in paperback is just more real.

I bought a paperback copy of the book through Lulu at the beginning of January. This wasn’t pure vanity, just partial vanity. I had to buy a copy in order to approve it before Lulu would list it on Amazon. It was nice having a real paperback in my hand for all the work I put into it though. It’s not bad. It’s like…a real book. The text on the spine is a bit big. The font choice inside was spot on though. Better than the recommended font and font size in the template I used.

So mission accomplished. From downloading a template, copy and pasting pages and pages of blog entries, editing, uploading to final product in just a couple of months. It can’t hurt my CV to be able to declare in small text at the bottom that I’ve had a book published. It didn’t hurt with ‘Dear UK Retailer‘, of course, who appear not to have read my CV beyond the first line. Do I have a really offensive name? It could be worse. I’m not Adolf Stalin, or Saddam Pot. But who knows, someone somewhere might be impressed. With the book, not my name.

It has been pointed out to me that the title of the book could be construed as being a little misleading. Is there any TEFL related stuff within the pages? Sure. But he made a fair point. There’s a lot of non TEFL stuff in there too. It’s my blog. If someone bought the book on title alone, there is the possibility he or she might feel they didn’t entirely get what they thought they thought they were getting.

But there is a description that can be read before clicking the ‘Buy’ button. And besides, one of the main objectives, in fact the main ojective was to be a published author of a book which bears employment relevance to my six years in Mexico. So TEFLers Guide – Mexico City it was. For anyone thinking of making a career in TEFL in Mexico City, or elsewhere in the country then, to be fair on myself, I think it makes a useful read.

I am going to create a new edition though. Or rather, a new book. Call it what it is – The Mexile. Change that spine text. Remove some of the TEFL posts. Add some of the posts I’ve written in the last couple of months. A new photo for the front cover, and a load of new photos inside. And where on my CV it says ‘my first book was published in 2010‘ I shall add ‘my second book was published in early 2011‘. Who’s gonna buy a copy of both to check they aren’t essentially the same book?!



Thirteen Days

That’s how long you have to buy my calendar. Well, you can buy it any time in 2011, but obviously, you lose a certain amount of value as each day passes! You can buy it direct from Lulu for a under US $14. Or, if you live or are visiting Mexico City and happen to know me, I can sell you one for the bargain price of 180 Mexican pesos. No extra shipping costs. I’m ordering myself one tomorrow morning (Sunday) to be shipped to Paola’s mum in the US,  so you have till then to let me know. The down side – I won’t be able to get it to you till January 8th.


Person of the Year 2010

Time magazine has declared Mark Zuckerberg as their Person of the Year for 2010, and it’s hard to argue against such a decision. I can’t think of anyone who has made more ‘friends’ this year. But for the inaugural, and for imminent changing locational reasons, final, Mexile Person of the Year, I thought I’d look elsewhere for the person who has brought me most joy over the year.

Tempted, I was, to pick President Obama. Just to irk all the doom mongers. But hey, he’s had enough awards for doing nothing already. Perhaps Gordon Brown? It was a pitiful year for the former Prime Minister, but he has given us all a good laugh really. No one can pull a fake smile like Gordon can pull a fake smile. Dour Scotsman? Not a bit!

But no, there is a stand out candidate. The slightly eccentric comic genius and wordsmith Stephen Fry. For all that he’s done before, but mostly for the watching, listening and reading pleasure he’s given me over the last twelve months. I have indeed only just finished listening to his audiobook autobiography, The Fry Chronicles.

It’s an honest and continually amusing, entertaining and informative account of his life, right up to the moment he was introduced to a brand new sort of line. another book is promised. His ever so upper class English tones whisked me through the twelve odd hours of the audiobook in what seemed like a flash. Never before has someone so ‘other wordly’ been able to also be so thoroughly human.

Stephen Fry is, like most English comedians of his age, rather overshadowed by Rowan Atkinson’s Mr Bean. And his partner in comic crime, Hugh Laurie, has undoubtedly made more of a name for himself in the US, with Dr House. But for my money, Fry has always been the most likeable, affable and instantly funny of them all. Whether as Lord Snot in the Young One’s University Challenge episode, or Melchett in the unforgettable Blackadder.

But this year Stephen Fry, together with his new television partner of late, Mark Cawardine, gave us Last Chance To See. Repeating the global adventure by Douglas Adams and Mark Cawardine of 20 years ago, Mark and Stephen searched high and low for six of the most endangered species on the planet.

There is a Mexico link to this, of course. One of those places was this country, in search of the Blue Whale. But I appreciated the episode with the release of a bucket of baby turtles a little more. But unquestionably the finest moment was with the randy Kakapo parrot in the video below.

Books, Tefl

TEFLers Guide Mexico City

All finished. I made a number of adjustments to the final edition, including a better front cover (without any copyright issues this time), a table of contents, a heavily revised intro, a few extra posts, a couple more ‘useful links’ in the back and some photos.

It’s been a fun project. And I’m happy with the results. Lulu is pretty intuitive to use for print books – decide what size you want the book, what binding and what paper quality. Download the Microsoft Word template, copy and paste your book into the template, format it all to your liking, convert to PDF, upload to Lulu and voila …. a book.

You can then upload the covers and set the price/rights etc. You even get a free ISBN number. In fact, it’s all free, although to get a book distributed on Amazon, you do have to buy a copy (at cost – just over $8 in my case) and then approve it for distribution. Seems fair enough to me.

Books, Tefl

The TEFLers Guide

It started as a bit of fun, this self publishing thing. And it is rather a lot of fun. Since my first post on the A to Z TEFLing Guide to Mexico City, I’ve thought about the project more and learned a fair few things. Which I will put to good use in publishing the second edition of the book. And then that will be that – I leave Mexico forever and ever in just a couple of months, so at that point I’ll really have nothing to add.

Things I’ve learned. Publishing on Amazon for Kindle is easy. Formatting the book isn’t. I’ve decided that seeing as I’ll never set a price above a couple of dollars for the Kindle edition, there’s only so much work I’ll be willing to put in to producing a professional looking ebook. Not that I’m intending to publish a mess of a book. Just a very simple, clean style without complications and without formatting errors.

I’ve also discovered that the reason the Kindle version of the book keeps showing up as $3.99 on Amazon, despite my setting the price at $1.99, is because I’m in Mexico. The price is automatically adjusted accordingly. Nothing I can do about it really, and I guess it’s not big deal – the book is aimed at those who are in the US or UK anyway.

I’ve learned that proof reading is important. Meh. I knew that before. What I should have done is slap a virtual Beta sticker on the front cover. Work in progress. Although the PDF version I’ve been sending out has fewer mistakes than the Kindle or Lulu versions.

Where do I go from here? Firstly, the name of the book. A to Z of blah blah blah. Way too much of a mouthful. The Tefler’s Guide – Mexico City. Concise. More to the point. The front cover needs changing too. I used my photograph, but of someone else’s artwork. Potential copyright issues there methinks. I’ve done a new front cover, which is the left hand image in the picture below. Looks a little bit smarter and more ‘bookish’. I think so anyway. Took my name off the front cover too.

Inside the book I have changes planned too. I think I’ll keep the A to Z format, but I need to add a table of contents. I may weed out some of the weaker posts and add a few more relevant ones. Hopefully I’ll get time to write a few more posts on my blog between now and publishing time to include. I’m also giving thought to the A to Z categories. Perhaps Bullfighting could be moved to sports, and open up ‘B’ for another topic. But what topic? I’m not sure I have enough Beach posts. I’ll add more Useful Links at the back as well.

When I last blogged about the book, I moaned that the cheapest publisher grade paper option, which gave the book a manufacturing cost of just over $5, doesn’t come with an ISBN. So no selling on Amazon. I’ve since discovered that by doing the interior of the book in black and white on standard paper, a 200 page book only costs $11, and they will attach an ISBN to that.

Whether this is the cost to make it or the minimum retail price I’m not yet sure. I think it is the latter, but I’ll work it out. I’d hoped to have a sub $10 book, but I could live with a sub $15 price. As an added bonus I can add photos to the book, albeit black and white ones. I have no problem with B&W photos – look a little classier if anything.

So that is it for now. Except to say that I’m very open to suggestions. I’ve sent out a dozen or so free copies of the PDF to those who have asked. I’ll continue sending out the free copy of the first edition (not least because the second edition doesn’t yet exist!)  to anyone who is interested. It’d be great to get some feedback.

Anything you thought was totally pointless? Can you think of any better categories? Any obvious errors I haven’t mentioned above? Do you think the book would be a useful read for the market it is aimed at? That market being inexperienced/semi experienced travellers in the UK, US, Australia and any other English speaking person who fancies a career TEFLing in Mexico City.

Was there any info about moving to/living in/teaching in Mexico that really should be there? Any crucial links to websites for the Useful Links section at the back?  A free copy of the final edition for any one with time to give me some constructive criticism! And did anyone notice that I used American English instead of British English throughout the book…? 🙂


Books, Tefl

TEFLing in Mexico City

Self publishing has become pretty popular, but the mainstream publishing tools have really only gone so far as to make it possible for the average person to produce a handful of rather expensive books that are sold on low traffic market places. I’m thinking of outfits like Blurb and Photobox.

But then I came across Lulu. They can make a book using cheap publisher grade paper. It’s going to be all text and black and white, but seeing as you can produce a paperbook at a cost of little more than five US dollars – score. But they do more. They’ll assign the book, free of charge, an ISBN number, so you can sell it on Amazon, or Barnes and Noble. Score two. But they’re not finished there. They’ll even distribute it on Amazon and elsewhere for you. Sure, they take a slice of any profit, but still. Score three.

We’ve all got a book in us, or so it is said. I appear to have at least ten books in me, working on the basis I could turn 200 blog posts in a 200 page publication – this is my 2,000th post. I’m not sure I’d have the patience to create ten books. But one? Yes, I could do that.

So I donloaded their MS Word template, added a hundred or so posts, and turned it into a PDF. I created a front and back cover. And voila. One book. It took just a moment to upload it to Lulu – and then I discovered a major drawback. They’ll assign a free ISBN number to any book. Except for those printed on publisher grade paper. And therefore, they cannot distibute it on Amazon.

Come on Lulu, sort it out! The cheap publisher grade book/free ISBN/Amazon distribution combination is the killer deal that could make your business a hit. Their ePub ebook process was also far more difficult that it should have been. I gave up on that in the end and used Amazon directly.

I finished the process anyway and have the book up for sale on their own marketplace.  I also turned it into a ebook and uploaded it to Amazon. If you have a Kindle, you can buy it for $3.99. Which is a little expensive if you ask me. I did specify $1.99, and have checked my entry since. It does say $1.99. But on the Amazon store it’s listed at $3.99, or $2.49, depending where you look. Weird. Pft. Hopefully it’ll be fixed soon. It’s also available for Kindles in the UK on the British version of Amazon for £1.49.

So anyway, I am now a published author of sorts. A book for sale in paperback, electronic and very soon PDF formats. The title of the book is TEFLing in Mexico City and is simply a collection of relevant articles I have published on my blog over the years. Bits about language, TEFL courses, banking, getting about….a bit of everything. I imagine it might appeal to someone thinking of abandoning their home country to come to Mexico to teach English. A taste of what is in store.

I’ll post more on the book in a few days, once I have worked out a convenient way to sell the PDF version on my blog using PayPal. I think $1.99 is a good price. I have to say I’ve done this for fun and for my CV far more than for profit. But if you want to have a look at it, send me an email or leave a comment and I’ll send you the PDF ebook. Gratis. Free. Por nada. This offer will expire when I’ve got it up on my blog with a dollar sign attached to it. Some feedback will be nice. Even better, leave a review or rating (or both) on Amazon…


Decision Points

Having listened to Tony Blair’s audiobook a couple of weeks back, I thought I’d check out what George Bush had to say for himself. Not a lot as it turned out. Whilst there was no confession or plea for forgiveness from Blair, there was a hint of remorse and regret, if only in the style, context and reflection contained within the audible pages. Rather than in the words themselves. And it was fun listening to him giving Gordon Brown so many snide digs.

I’ve never subscribed to the ‘George Bush is stupid’ mantra. Inarticulate, yes. Eloquent, no. Stupid? No. Too stupid to be president? Hmmm. Questionable, I guess. Stupidity is sometimes hard to qualify, quantify and define. But I did think this book might, just might, be his opportunity to show the world he is something of a thinker. It was an opportunity wasted. The best way I can think of to describe this literary effort is ‘dumbed down’.

I can’t be bothered to go into Fox News George Bush’s account of the Iraq war. Nothing new, unexpected or revelationary there. His version of the economic crises from 2007 to the end of his presidency were interesting. There’s so much I could say regards the economy. I’d like to rant on a bit about how the US, UK and other economies have been placed in a position where we are effectively held hostage by the Chinese. I like globalisation and free trade.

I’d like other countries industries to be invited to compete with our own. Fairly, on the basis of producing quality products that meet demand, that are produced by companies paying a fair wage for a fair days work. As opposed to industries that compete by chaining their employees to their workstations, throwing them peanuts now and again in lieu of wages. In which case, there is nothing wrong with ‘protectionist’ policies.

But Bush didn’t really delve into that. He did mention his surprise at the global economy tanking so badly. How many times have I heard ‘experts’ claim to have been totally taken by surprise with the recession? I have noticed that the experts who were surprised tended to be the ones in charge. There were plenty of people on record with documented warnings of an imminent economic meltdown. I can’t claim to be an expert, and I can’t claim to have foreseen exactly how the crises unfolded, but neither was I surprised. I had, if I might be so bold to claim, predicted a bust. Way back in 2003, maybe before.

It was ever so simple, I thought. I’ll take a couple of very visible situations which I felt were always going to have some financial hurt at some stage. Housing first. I had so many friends rubbing their hands with glee as house prices rose, making them richer. I tried to explain that the rises were actually making them poorer. But I don’t think I got through. They just knew that their homes had been purchased for £100,000 and were now valued at £175,000. So they were richer.

That might be the case if they were about to downsize or emigrate. But they weren’t. They were young and looking to move up the property ladder. Fact is, if they stayed where they were, the housing market, valuations et al made absolutely no difference to them whatsoever. You have to sell to make. If they sold, to move up the property ladder, they’d find that the next rung up had increased in value too. Whereas once there was a £50,000 difference between their rung and the next one, now it was £75,000. They just became £25,000 worse off.

On top of that, increased property and land prices drives up business costs, and they’re paying more for everything. That was largely obscured by the new cheap imports bringing prices down in reality, but the factor remains. And sooner or later, the housing market, inflated not only by demand, but by artificial means too, would come back down to earth. One way or another. A growing housing market needs first time buyers, and once they have been priced out of the game, then there is going to be a problem.

Then there was credit. Loads of it. Didn’t anyone else notice that everyone was borrowing, through mortgages, loans, credit cards etc, vast amounts? It had to be either paid off or written off sooner or later. The figures in the UK were clear long before the crises. The growth of the economy of the previous decade had largely been due to credit. Put the housing markets, the credit bubbles, artificial globalization and a war of two in the East into the cooking pot, add a pinch of currency manipulation, a dash of short sighted greed and…well, did not one of the experts really see what was coming?

Ah well. There’s always Plan B. Blame it on the black guy.

Books, Politics

Tony Blair Book Review

I’ve just finished listening to Tony Blair’s book, A Journey: My Political Life, whispered into my ear by Tony himself. I’ve been listening to more audiobooks than reading real books for the last year or so. It’s easier to do on the metro than to read a real book, or try and use one of those new-fangled ebook readers. Although I can see the appeal of the Kindle.

I don’t particularly dislike Tony Blair, despite the little incident he had in Iraq, which seems to have set almost every living person in the UK against him. Bizarre, really. In the run up to the war, the citizens of the UK were, albeit by a small majority, in favour of invading Iraq. I know, there were the mass demonstrations. Somewhere in the region of 750,000 to 1,000,000 on the streets.

But then there are the silent majority, and you have to count those guys too. How do you count silent majorities? Well, the sole UK tabloid to take an anti-war stance before hostilities began lost a huge chunk of its readership. Then there were the polls. It’s Kennedy Syndrome. After the fact, everyone voted for Kennedy, apparently. The election results beg to differ.

Was I for the invasion of Iraq? There’s nothing wrong in theory with getting rid of a tyrant. And I think people who quote the number of casualties since the war forget, conveniently, the number of deaths between the end of Gulf War I and Return of the Bush. If done right, with minimal casualties, with a speedy exit…I was all for it. On the other hand, if it involved a prolonged stay, a bloodbath and a destabilised region….well. Less keen. There’s nothing wrong with sitting on the fence, so long as you have a comfy cushion. I was never under any impression other than the fact I was a spectator anyway.

I voted for Blair once.  Really, he’s well to the right of me as far as ideology goes. I recognise the difference though, in what I want to happen, and what is realistically possible. I wouldn’t inflict half of my socialist ideologies on the population of the UK if I were in a position to. The UK is one cog in a global treadmill, and you have to work within the constraints of that treadmill. Getting off isn’t an option, although given that the treadmill is still rolling along the edge of an abyss, getting off is a tempting thought.

The book itself reveals no great surprises. No massive controversy. Nothing more than a few raised eyebrows really. There is of course a huge, continual dig at Gordon Brown from beginning to end. Blair isn’t a liar per se. I don’t think so anyway. He’s just ‘got a way with words’. I bet even now, months after Brown’s defeat in the 2010 General Election, Blair’s neighbours can still hear him gut laughing himself to sleep every night. Oh the luck of it. He leaves, is replaced by his nemesis, Chancellor Brown, and within months the world economy, Brown’s forte, collapses. But back to the book. It was an interesting enough read. Or listen. More for the walk down memory lane that Tony treated me to.

I voted for John Major in 1992 and 1997. In 2001 I abstained. I couldn’t bring myself to vote Labour, even New Labour, largely because of Brown’s economic policy. But the Conservatives had swung so far to the right, they were utterly unelectable. It’s been a repeating fashion in the almost 30 years I’ve been conscious of British politics. The electorate generally bring in whoever is closest to centre. And the defeated party will reel in shock, decide they need to reinvent themselves, to differentiate from the party in power, and take an extreme position either left or right.

That pretty much guarantees defeat next time out too. That’s why I voted for Blair in 2005. Not in a million years would I have cast a vote for Michael Howard. Right wing? Yes. A Wing Nut too. And it’s why I almost certainly won’t vote Labour at the next election. Their immediate response was to bring in Ed Milliband as leader….they’re swinging hard to the left. Predictable. Normally suicidal, but what with the economy being what it is, anything could happen.

You might think that’s where I am, on the left. If you look at the chart though on my previous post, I’m bottom left. Milliband is top left. Cameron and the conservatives are bottom right. Hmmmmm…..centr-ish right. Neither are in my block. I have a hard choice to make. Do I go for the party that appeals to my libertarian sensibilities, or socialist sensibilities. Although I wouldn’t really regard myself as socialist, you know.

As for the last election. I abstained again. I’d have liked to vote. The election is supposed to give one an opportunity to be heard. So where was the box ‘None of the above’? That would have been my option. I appreciate that sometimes, usually, you have to vote for the party that is least worst, which is why Obama may yet get a second term in the US, and why the PRI may field the winning candidate in the Mexican presidential election in 2012, but I won’t vote for a party or leader that I have no faith in. There was 0% chance I’d vote for Gordon Brown. He has many talents, genuine talents. But none make up for the fact that he’s an indecisive imbecile incapable of leadership.


Night Letters: Inside Wartime Afghanistan

I’ve just finished reading a book so good that I had to post about it! It is as titled above and is an account from a journalist looking to discover more from the world, who found Afghanistan. He made a number of trips there, diving over the Pak-Afghan border during the years of Soviet occupation and muj resistance.

It’s not terribly long but it is a true gem of a book that I recommend to all!