I know you, too, secretly want to do this.

Got a wee bit annoyed today when I couldn’t find my bus stop.

It’s not that I was in an unfamiliar area, looking for a bus stop, oh no! I got off the tram in the usual spot after a class I teach every week, crossed the road to my bus stop, and there it was… gone. What sort of sadistic bugger goes around stealing innocent people’s bus stops?

Muttering to myself about random abductions of methods of public transport (my tram line disappeared the other week, I’ll tell you about that another time. Yes, tram line. Disappeared. Overnight.), I skulked around for a while trying to locate my missing bus stop. I found the one I’d arrived at earlier, on the other side of the road, where it was before and therefore where one might reasonably expect it to be. I wandered up the road, down the road, around a corner, up a hill, across a confusing set of tram lines… but alas! my bus stop was nowhere to be found. I do not know what became of it, because I was fecking freezing and conveniently very close to a metro station anyway, so I gave up and went underground.

I can just as easily catch the metro from that tram stop as the bus (more easily, in fact, if the bus stop has been stolen. Much trickier to remove an entire subway station.), but it’s usually less hassle to just get off the tram, cross the road, and get on the bus. The metro involves stairs, escalators, annoying crowds, and changing trains in the packed city centre.

Oh, and in the case of today, a cordoned off downwards escalator, a load of workmen’s arses, and a sullen-looking staff member hovering around the ticket office.

I looked uncertainly at him, and then at the disaster zone, and then back at the staff member, assuming he was about to give me some very necessary information. I have been coming to a slow but steady realisation, however, about customer service in the Czech Republic, so I snapped out of my assumption more rapidly than I might once have done. Excuse me, I said politely (and slightly nervously, as members of staff in various places have either yelled at me or glared at me for daring to speak to them), um, how do I get down to the platform? I gestured at the broken escalator, cordon, workmen’s arses etc.

Surly staff member somehow glared at me and rolled his eyes at the same time, which I thought was quite impressive. You can’t get down, he said, as if it was perfectly obvious. Which it was, I suppose, but I had been hoping he might provide some kind of solution. I looked helplessly at the broken escalator fiasco, back up towards the missing bus stop chaos, and wondered if I was destined to just never get to my next class.

Go to the next station, said Mr. Surly, surlily.

I trudged dejectedly back towards the doors, with no idea where the next station might be, and then paused to watch how the other potential passengers would deal with the situation. A few got the same response as I had, and turned away in annoyance. One man looked incredibly stressed out and tore back up the steps to the street as if his life had depended upon him catching the next train. I was just turning to leave when  a group of French travellers arrived, and sauntered noisily over to the surly staff member in a cheerful mess of backbacks, scruffy hair, and general sexy Frenchness. They were surprisingly unperturbed by the escalator chaos, and refused to be scowled off. I edged closer to them, hoping that they would get more out of the surly staff member than I had. Can’t we just go down the up escalator? asked one of them. Mr. Surly looked – for about half a second – vaguely outraged at such a suggestion, but almost instantly regained his “I really have lost interest in life” composure. He shrugged, and made a “whatever” sort of gesture, then did his impressive dual glaring and eye-rolling trick as one of the guys sprinted comically towards the ‘up’ escalator, yelling something that might have been French for “tally ho!”, “geronimo!”, or similar. Everyone laughed, and then cheered as he took off at a run, down the up. I couldn’t help going over to join them and peer down curiously, and sure enough, there he was, running away and managing to beat the escalator, leaping off at the bottom and bowing dramatically. One by one, the French people took off down the up escalator, amidst much cheering and laughing (and equal amounts of blank stares from the locals). One of the last ones gestured to me with a grin. Haven’t you always wanted to? he asked.

And the thing is, I always kind of have. Haven’t you?! I mean, not that it’s a lifelong dream or goal of mine, or anything – but, well, you know. Some of those underground escalators are really, really long, and it gets pretty boring standing there trapped in a crowd of people moving up or down, and my mind wanders. And the truth is – yes! I have often wondered what it would be like to go up the down or down the up.

So I thought, feck it!, and joined the crazy travellers in their sprint down the up.

It wasn’t quite up there with riding wild horses in Mongolia or walking across Brooklyn Bridge at night, but I did it, and I’d do it again, I tell you. Slightly unnerving, a tad risky (there’s no way Mr. Surly would’ve let us do it if he’d been British – health and safety, chaps, you know), and surprisingly fun.

And that is the story of the missing bus stop, and how I got from one class to the next today.

The End

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Merry Christmas… Satan is coming to town!

For some reason, Santa Claus skips right over the Czech Republic on his annual present drop.

I made this startling discovery today when I watched a pre-school teacher hanging up the first of the Christmas decorations created by the children. I smiled happily (you know how I love all things Christmas), looking at all the glitter, the angels with their sparkly wings and golden hair, the shepherds with their… bishop hats… uh… the… devil… hang on…

The teacher saw my expression of wonder mixed with confusion, and asked if I wanted to take a photo, which I did.

Czech Christmas: the main players

Czech Christmas: the main players

I tried my best to communicate my intrigue in faltering Czech. Ummm… I know this, I said hesitantly, pointing at the angels. This is an angel… but who is this? And who is this? I pointed at the devil creatures and shepherd-like men. Actually, what I kept saying was “Where is this, where is this?”, because I got all grammatically befuddled, but she realised what I was trying to ask, and proceeded to give me a very confusing lesson on the Czech Christmas. Honestly, though, having looked it up since I got home, I have to say it wouldn’t have been much less confusing if she’d been speaking English.

The angel is an angel: fine.

The shepherd is not a shepherd, but a bishop-like figure called Mikuláš (pronounced meekoo-lash), who is the Czech version of St. Nicholas. THERE IS NO SANTA.

:-/

And the little black and red figure on the end there, well, he’s a devil named Čert (pronounced like chair, only with the ‘r’ rolled, and a ‘t’ on the end. I can’t say it.)

Mikuláš, Anděl, and Čert will apparently be wandering around the streets for the next few weeks in the run-up to their big day – December 5th. On that day, they will come to houses and schools to terrify lots of small children. Mikuláš is the central figure, dressed like a bishop and flanked by Anděl   (dressed in white and carrying a scroll) and Čert (dressed in rags with a coal-streaked face, wearing horns, and carrying chains). Erk!

Mikuláš takes the scroll and reads out the names of the children, who approach him individually to say whether they’ve been good throughout the year. If he’s been informed of any bad behaviour, he’ll get Čert to publicly chastise the child – and if the crimes are really serious, Čert may drag the child off to hell in a big sack.

WTF?!

Apparently younger children get quite scared and start to cry, but you can’t really blame them. If I was 4 years old and that thing bounded in with its chains and horns, threatening to take me to hell, I might shed a panicky tear myself. There does seem to be a chance at redemption, though, by singing a song for Mikuláš, or giving him something made especially for him. In that case, the child will get a small gift – along with a piece of coal to remind them that their incidents of bad behaviour throughout the year have not gone unnoticed by this intimidating trio.

I cannot wait to meet them. I’ll be out searching for them in the streets of Prague over the next few weeks, and I am hoping and wishing that they burst into one of the pre-schools while I’m there. I’m so getting my photo taken with them. Not quite like my pictures with Santa of Christmas Past!

And that’s the Czech Christmas story, part one. I haven’t even got to the swimming pools full of carp, and the golden pig, and the bringing of presents by “the little Jesus” (in a non-Christian country!) – which, incidentally, happens on the 24th, not the 25th. That will all have to wait for another post, as my mind is currently blown to pieces with the whole devils-terrorising-pre-school-children thing.

December is going to be interesting this year!

The Demon Child

I think I can finally write about it without being driven back under the duvet in an attempt to block out the world.

This is the main reason for my utter, utter despair over the past few months. Not the only reason, of course, but the biggest one – and the one that has made everything else feel a million times worse.

The Demon Child is a cute, chubby-cheeked, 3-year-old girl who attends the pre-school run on the premises of the school I work for. Unlike her companions, she is not picked up by her parents after lunch, but has to stay there until her dad is free to collect her around 4 or 5. In her defence, that can’t be very nice. The parents are super-busy with their careers, and she doesn’t get to spend a lot of time with them. She has to watch all her classmates being taken home, one by one, until she is left alone in the quiet schoolroom with her teacher. She’s confused and sad and wants her mummy.  I understand all  of this.

But OH HOLY JUMPING CATFISH, that girl makes me want to curl up sobbing in a ball and never see another child again for as long as I live.

I was really excited about working at the school’s kindergarten, but it didn’t turn out at all as I expected. Because my mornings are all full, they slotted me in for two afternoons a week, meaning that I arrive just after all the other children have gone home.The Czech teacher is also there. Two of us, babysitting this one child. However, I must say that before the Demon Child, there were two other girls in their final weeks at the pre-school, and I had a lovely time with them, just hanging out, playing games, singing songs, and doing arts and crafts. We all enjoyed ourselves, and the girls quickly started to pick up English from our time together.

This child, however, is determined to hate everything about life.

I walk in the door, and she cries. I speak to her (even in Czech) and she cries. We take her to the playground, and she sulks in a corner. We try numerous projects and activities with her, and she whines. Sometimes you can see her getting drawn into an activity and starting to enjoy herself, and then there’s that moment when she catches herself on and remembers she must make everyone miserable, so she starts crying or whining again for absolutely no reason.

I have tried everything. I’ve brought toys, games, and sweets. I’ve sat on my own building a Lego castle or painting a picture, trying to encourage her to join in of her own free will. The Czech teacher and I have played simple children’s games together, making a big show of having fun, in the hope that she will see what a good time she could be having if she would just stop trying to punish us for her being there. I’ve tried following her around like a devoted puppy dog, and I’ve tried ignoring her, and I’ve tried being kind, and I’ve tried being strict, and I’ve tried comforting her, and I’ve tried speaking sharply to her, and I’ve tried pretending I don’t notice her whining, keeping up a pretence of unreciprocated cheeriness that takes me to the brink of insanity. None of it works.

One particularly horrific day, the Czech teacher left me alone with her so she could go to a doctor’s appointment. It was possibly the most traumatic afternoon I’ve ever had in my life. She screamed and screamed and screamed as if I was beating her up, and none of my above approaches made any difference. When I tried the ignoring method, she shoved her hand in her mouth and forced herself to gag in an attempt to make herself sick. I was panic-stricken when she started turning a weird colour, and eventually yelled furiously at her at the top of my voice, which shocked her into stopping but didn’t make any difference to the screaming and crying. I even found the Teletubbies in Czech for her on Youtube on my phone, and found myself actually choking back feelings of pure hatred when I saw her laughing in delight at it, suddenly remembering she wasn’t supposed to be happy, and forcing herself to cry again, throwing my phone to the floor.

I can’t deal with her. I can’t. I love children, and most of the kids I’ve taught have come running to me for big hugs, with excited greetings and requests for games or songs. Even the children who’ve been “problem” ones were never anything I couldn’t deal with through a change in tactics or with a little help from a colleague. And none of them looked at me with pure, undisguised loathing in their eyes. No, she doesn’t speak English… but neither have any of the others, and it has never brought about this kind of pure hatred and hysteria.

The moment I broke down in tears during my end-of-trial-period interview with my director of studies was when I talked about the Demon Child. I was mortified and horrified, but once the tears started, they wouldn’t stop. I’m just not qualified to do this, I bawled unprofessionally, doing that huh-huh-huh gasping thing you do when you’re trying your hardest to stop crying and speak normally. Some days I go in and literally just sit there quietly in a corner, trying my best not to catch her eye in case it sets her off. It’s not teaching; it’s not even babysitting! It’s an endurance test, and it’s not benefitting anyone. I’m a teacher, not a child psychologist. I want to teach. Take this away from me and I don’t care if you replace it with several advanced level classes of adults – whatever. At least I would be working.

Apparently there was nothing they could do.

The Czech teacher called me last Wednesday to say that I didn’t need to go in the next day, as the child would be away on holidays – and I swear, the difference it made to my Thursday morning teaching at the big school had to be seen to be believed. I was happy, enthusiastic, and energetic instead of my usual bad-tempered self with the sword of Demon Child hanging over my head. I don’t care how melodramatic this sounds: a three-year-old has been ruining my life.

I decided to just stop trying. Go in, read a book, wash the dishes, sweep the floor. The CELTA really paid off. I’m fecking Cinderella, only she didn’t have to look after a Demon Child.

I can continue in the same manner, because it makes not a hair of difference one way or the other, and I’m getting paid for it regardless – but as I tried to explain to both my DoS and the Czech teacher, I don’t want to be paid for nothing. It is mind-numbing, demeaning, demoralising, and depressing. Sure, I would have to work harder and prepare lessons and suchlike if they gave me actual classes in place of this, but that’s my job, and it’s what I want to do. I want to work, not to be forced to spend time counting down the minutes somewhere I’m not needed, and where my presence is actually making things worse. The child hates my existence, and she’s doing her best to ensure the feeling is mutual. I cannot for the life of me understand why they’re continuing to keep me there. I suppose they have to say there’s an English speaker there at all times, for advertising purposes… but I assure you that absolutely no English is being taught or learned. All that’s happening is screaming.

Oh, the screaming.

I actually had a dream last week where the class was taken off my schedule, and I woke up so ecstatically happy that I practically felt the world crashing down around my shoulders when I realised it wasn’t real. My one ray of hope came today, when my DoS approached me to say “something’s in the pipeline”, so I should “hang in there”… perhaps escape is imminent, I don’t know. Maybe the universe/school is going to reward me for picking myself up and working my way back towards being upbeat and positive?

Damn, I really thought I could make this amusing and entertaining, but I can’t! Too much resentment, frustration, and despair. Honestly, things I would rather do than spend those 3 hours with that child twice a week now include:

  • 3 hours of hard labour, like breaking concrete blocks in a prison yard, or picking fruit in 40-degree heat
  • drink a full carton of that vile acid buttermilk
  • watch my unrequited love enjoying a sickeningly romantic date
  • let my cat scratch and bite me
  • hike up a mountain
  • teach for a full day while horrifically hungover

I’m not even joking about any of those.

And so, fingers crossed that I am indeed about to see my recent more positive attitude paying off, in the form of this twice-weekly torture ending soon! If anyone has any tips about how to handle this sort of situation, feel free to share them, because I’m out of ideas. Just don’t – DON’T!!! – start telling me she’s probably got a difficult home life and emotional problems and blah-blah-blah – like I said at the start, I already acknowledge all that, and feel sorry for her if she does, but it doesn’t change how absolutely impossible her behaviour is, or how deeply it makes me want to head for the hills and become a hermit in a remote cave. Alright?!

The Velvet Revolution, and a Wine Fridge.

I like coffee and I like vodka, but I don’t like beer or…. um… insects, I said shyly.

That’s fantastic! exclaimed Jana and her husband, excitedly. Say something else!

I should probably explain that I said the sentence in Czech, and that the enthusiasm of my co-teacher was more about my grammar and pronunciation than the deeply profound nature of my statement.

It was Friday night, and I had forced myself to accept an invitation to the home of my co-teacher from the big school I was telling you about, where I teach every Thursday. It’s not that I don’t like her, it’s just that actually getting dressed, stepping outside, making my way somewhere, and engaging in conversation has been something of a mammoth task lately. However, I made myself do it as part of my current “baby steps to happiness” plan, and found myself in something of a madhouse, surrounded by platters of Czech food and wine glasses that magically refilled themselves thanks to Jana’s husband and an actual Wine Fridge.

In doing so, I finally remembered why it is that I do what I do, and what I’ve been missing by locking myself away in my room. I met a couple who had so many stories to tell that I sat there, enthralled, for the first half of the evening. I listened to their tales of life in a communist country, retelling events I’d learned about in history class from their own personal experiences. It was the seemingly little details that made life hard, said Jana at one point, seeing my interest. I mean, no, you couldn’t speak out against the government, and you couldn’t trust anyone – walls had ears, and all that. But forget about that for a second – I remember we once went months without any toilet paper.

I sort of laughed. Not a great, unsympathetic guffaw, but an uncertain laugh – the type you give when you’re not really sure how to react. Obviously a shortage of toilet paper couldn’t be equal with the fear of being arrested for talking to your neighbour… but Jana shook her head with a smile. No, it seems insignificant – but can you really imagine your family going for weeks on end without toilet paper? No paper towels, no tissues… and for girls, no ‘feminine products’?

I listened in a mixture of awe and horror to their stories, and then with some envy to her husband’s tales of being part of the Velvet Revolution. We was all out the street, he said, his English uncertain but his face alive with memories and passion. And we sang.

And then out came his guitar, and the night descended into a delightful blend of traditional Czech songs and traditional Hayley karaoke songs, and me attempting to hold conversations in my beginner-level Czech, and teaching them Northern Irish slang, until I fought them to let me go home sometime after 2am and trundled home sleepily on the night tram – cold from the chilly November air, but glowing from the wine; tired from my 6am start, but buzzing from the evening.

This is why I travel. I just forgot it for a while. :)

The New Kids

In the interests of being positive, I’m not going to write about the Demon Child who has been making two days a week a living hell for me since September. Granted, I could probably make it quite entertaining, but I’m not quite ready to laugh about it yet, and would probably spiral back down into the depths of despair if I attempted it!

I’ve decided instead to write about some of the positive things about my job here in Prague. It’s hard to highlight them when you’re feeling miserable, but when I do, I realise that it’s not so bad!

I do really miss my Korean students. That’s not going away. Having my own classroom, all cheerily decorated with works of art created in my own classes, by my own students, who I saw every single day… I didn’t realise how lucky I was to walk right into that set-up as my first ever ESL job. It’s rare. What I’m doing now is much more common: splitting my time between more than half a dozen different schools, and only seeing most of the children once a week.

It’s harder for me to get invested in their learning and progress, or even to see it. It’s harder to form bonds and attachments, which are very important to me as a children’s teacher. But there are some moments that make me smile, as I’ve realised over the past few days!

My Wednesday pre-school, for example. It’s just perfect. Ideally, I’d love to just work there, every day, and I’d never want to leave. It’s a bright, cheery place, with a big classroom divided into a large play area full of the popular kids wagons, all kinds of toys and books, and a “work” area with all those little miniature tables and chairs.

classroom

teacher

Like most of the pre-schools, they have the structured day that I’ve  mentioned before, but this one has an incredible teacher who really sticks to the routine, disciplines the children, and loves them unconditionally at the same time. As a result, it’s a pleasure to teach there, and the kids are full of enthusiasm and affection. I walk in at 7.55am once a week and have a group of excited 5-year-olds hugging my legs and mispronouncing my name while I’m struggling to take my coat off in the cloakroom – a faint and welcome reminder of my Korean babies.

One part of their daily routine is when the Czech teacher nominates two of them (she keeps a list, so each child regularly gets a turn) to update the colourful felt information boards. What day was yesterday, what day is today, what’s the date, what’s the weather like… as an added bonus, I can now have flawless conversations in Czech about those matters. ;) I join in their classes with all the eagerness of the kids, often a bit lost, but with the teacher seeing my desire to learn Czech and helping me out when I look confused. She speaks no English, to the extent that she generally waves and confidently says “hello!” when I’m leaving – another thing that makes me smile! (A couple of Czech greetings can be used interchangeably for hello and goodbye.)

One little boy is desperate to be able to communicate with me, and has discovered that he can do this by pointing at random objects or pictures and asking “English?” – he remembers most of them, too, so each week when I arrive I have to spend increasingly long periods of time upon my arrival being led around by the hand while he proudly tells me what various things are and I go “yay!” like it’s the only word I know.

Snack time, as in all the pre-schools, happens just before my lesson, and the children are encouraged to be independent and careful. No plastic plates and cups – they have proper crockery, and warm tea in heavy mugs, which they carry to their desks with both hands, tongues sticking out of the corners of their mouths in concentration. When there’s a spill, the teacher quietly stands back as they deal with it – someone making sure no one steps in the puddle, others getting a cloth and helping each other clean up. It’s refreshing to see!

Snacks usually involve some kind of bread and spread (cheese, meat, or fish), or yoghurts, and fruit or raw vegetables. They feed me, too, and I have as a result become addicted to a particular children’s yoghurty dessert thing which I buy ashamedly in the supermarket, hoping they assume I have children.

I spend the first part of my lesson in the playroom, doing vocabulary revision games, action songs, and story time. I spend the second half helping them with colouring/drawing worksheets related to the day’s new topic. The Czech teacher sits quietly at the back to ensure everyone’s behaving, and helps me when someone doesn’t understand what to do. It’s an effortless, fun, perfect class, and I truly love it. I think that would be my ideal job – to have my own class like that, to establish routines with them and teach them every day, and to watch them develop. I’m genuinely sad when it’s time for me to go home!

When it's a child's birthday (in this picture the girl standing, in white), they stand in a circle while the birthday child goes around shaking hands with each classmate. Everyone repeats a (lengthy) birthday greeting of which I can't yet understand more than the occasional word, kisses the birthday child on the cheek, then sits down. When everyone's finishes, the birthday child gives a sweet or lollipop to everyone. It's adorable. :)

When it’s a child’s birthday (in this picture the girl standing, in white), they stand in a circle while the birthday child goes around shaking hands with each classmate. Everyone repeats a (lengthy) birthday greeting of which I can’t yet understand more than the occasional word, kisses the birthday child on the cheek, then sits down. When everyone’s finished, the birthday child gives a sweet or lollipop to everyone. It’s adorable. :)

The other thing that really makes me smile is at the huge school where I teach 5 classes every Thursday. I’m gradually getting used to the set-up – my first experience of co-teaching, with the classes’ regular English teacher in the room with me – got to say, really not a fan of that at all, and I begged to be transferred after my first few weeks. My request wasn’t granted, so I’m now trying to Just Deal With It. It’s getting better, but I’ll always vastly prefer being in charge of my own class.

However, what delights me about this school is that instead of bells ringing between classes, they play music. There’s a quick “ding-dong” alert a few minutes before the class, which is when everyone’s meant to get to their next classroom and be ready for the bell music. The start of class is marked by what I can only describe as Disney-style music (think of the sounds in Under the Sea) playing instrumental versions of music in no particular genre. Today we had Barbie Girl at the start of 2nd period, followed by When I Need You at the start of 3rd period. It’s hilarious. I’ve heard several Beatles numbers, a few Elvis ones, and one day I swear they played a Disney-style version of I’m Too Sexy by Right Said Fred.

It’s strange how the little things can really brighten up your day, but that’s one small detail I really do love, no matter how much I dislike teaching at the school. Oh, and the children stand up when the teacher walks into the room, and wait to say good morning and be told to sit down, which is a nice touch. We did that at school, too, but I’d forgotten all about it. It’s so much more better than walking in to find them running around, yelling, and completely ignoring you as you try to get their attention and start the lesson!

So, there. I can be positive. Discipline and hugs and respect and weird instrumental versions of random blast-from-the-past songs… no, I suppose it ain’t all bad!

I want to write!

My last post was ultra-depressive, so sorry about that. Following an epiphany, reached when I plummeted to rock bottom the weekend before last and spent the entire weekend in bed with the curtains shut, surrounded by empty fast food wrappings and vodka bottles, I realised that this was absolutely not going to work, and so I had a few choices:

(a) Continue in said fashion until I die of obesity / alcohol poisoning / lack of mental stimulation and social interaction

(b) Give up and go home

(c) Try to pull myself together and work on creating a life for myself here, instead of despairing about the lack of one.

I settled on (c).

I really do want to stick it out for the duration of my contract – the school’s name and a good reference from them will set me in good stead for the future, and they also offer a lot of great professional development opportunities that I really should take advantage of while I have the chance.

Not only that, but I’ve come to hate Prague. Hate it. Practically nothing about it has given me the happy traveller glow I’ve experienced in a great number of places across the world – and yet it’s supposedly a beautiful, charming, beloved city. You might think my hatred would be a reason to opt for (b), but no. There must be a million things to love about this place – it’s only my depression that’s preventing me from seeing them. Hatred by association: I’m miserable, therefore I hate this place. Something in me refuses to leave while I feel like that. I can’t write off a place like Prague before I’ve truly attempted to enjoy it.

And so, I’ve started taking little baby steps to catch a grip of myself and reestablish contact with the outside world.

I opened my curtains, threw open the window to let in some fresh November air, and cleaned the flat vigorously while blasting Queen’s Greatest Hits.

I resolved to start cooking proper meals again, and only eat fast food when it’s an absolute emergency and there’s not even the option of quickly grabbing a sandwich from a shop before my next class.

I spoke to someone. Actually forced myself to make small talk in the staff room. Granted, tears welled up in my eyes while I was in the middle of this, and the poor girl was possibly quite concerned for my state of mental health, but it was the first step – and led to her dragging me out to a cafe for a chat, and inviting me round to her place for “cat therapy” (turned out she has a cat who looks like Kat’s long lost sibling). Cat therapy involved poking at the poor creature with a feather on a stick while it looked at me with an expression of utter feline contempt. It was perfect. We went for a walk in a nearby forest (the colleague and me, I mean – the cat stayed at home, recovering from its ordeal), chatted about nothing in particular, and I returned home caked in mud and feeling ridiculously euphoric about having chosen socialising over the next season of whatever endless TV show I was currently staring at in my litter-strewn flat.

I spoke to someone else. Had Sunday brunch in a bookshop-slash-cinema-slash-cafe, went to Prague Castle, wandered around. I’m still genuinely not that impressed, but we had coffee and cake in the world’s largest medieval castle, on a balcony with a stunning view, and who could complain about that, really?

I made plans to go shopping this weekend for some new clothes to make me feel less meh. Have also asked around about English-speaking hairdressers, for the necessary “fresh start” haircut, much like after a crushing break-up.

I booked my flights home for Christmas, and am determined not to count down the days, but to enjoy the festive season in Prague, visit Christmas markets, drink mulled wine etc., all in the knowledge that it will take me just a few hours to get home to my family, Kat the Cat, and general merriment and cosiness, after my final class of the year.

I am not full of the joys of life, but I’m working on getting there again. Three specific moments today made me remember what it’s like to feel normal. Well, I say “normal” – I mean more like myself, you know.

The first was when I chose to be 2 minutes late for work when I was so tired I could barely stumble up the steps from the metro. I’d kept hitting snooze for so long (I’m sorry, but the alarm going off at 5.30am will never feel acceptable to me) that I hadn’t had time to make a pot of coffee, and I was filled with utter dread at the prospect of spending 3 hours with pack of 5-and-6-year-olds without any caffeine in my system. I found a hole-in-the-wall coffee place that served me the most enormous and potent espresso I have ever had in my life, and it had practically blown my head off by the time I walked to the pre-school. I had one of the best teaching mornings I’ve ever had, and left smiling.

The second was when my vacuum cleaner exploded. I’m not being melodramatic – it actually exploded. Chugga-chugga-click-clunk-BOOM. smoke, flames, the works. It was at least a decade old, and hasn’t worked all that well since I got here, anyway, but still. No one likes a small house fire in their lunch break. Sneezing and choking, I dealt with the disaster, secured the area, went to the shops, bought a new one, vacuumed up all the dust and dirt spewed over the floor from the Great Vacuum Cleaner Explosion 2013, made myself a cup of coffee, and read a bit of Bill Bryson. None of this may sound terribly thrilling, but it was such a vast improvement on how I would have dealt with it a week ago (cry, scream, swear, throw things, drink, go to bed in a temper, die from massive dust-induced asthma attack in my sleep) that I felt like I’d just discovered a miraculous cure for some awful disease, or won a marathon, or something.

And the third? The third was just now, when, as I turned down the heat on the stove to let my pot of Korean dakbokkeumtang simmer for an hour, I thought to myself for the first time in months: I want to write.

Onwards and upwards, one small step at a time.