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Danny's Reading: Bored?

Average: 3.9 (10 votes)

Danny's been teaching English at EC Malta for 10 years. Every month he writes us a new article. This month he tells about what he did when he was feeling bored.

At the back of my house is a small yard. There's nothing much to say about it, to be honest, because there's nothing much in it – a grapevine that has adamantly refused to yield any grapes since forever, a small tree of unknown genus which I only mention because I like the word 'genus' and wanted to somehow crowbar it into this article in order to sound clever, a bush that occasionally sprouts pink flowers that smell of what the colour pink would smell like if colours spoke to the nose rather than the eyes, and a wooden bench. Other than that, my back yard is simply a tiled square surrounded by four walls.

One hundred and forty-three bricks were used to make the wall directly opposite the wooden bench, and if you count down from the top, the sixty-third brick has a nail sticking out of it. I have no idea why. I don't remember hammering it in myself, and it seems to serve no purpose. Nothing is hanging from it, and it doesn't seem to be holding anything in place. I'd pull it out, if I could be bothered to look for a claw-hammer, or a pair of pliers, or for whatever it is one uses to pull nails out of walls. But I can’t be bothered. Besides, what would be the point? I’d only end up with a hole in the sixty-third brick in my wall, and that would end up annoying me so much that I’d probably find myself hammering another nail into it just to block my view of it. Which, come to think of it, is probably how the original nail got there in the first place.

It is these thoughts, and others of equal triviality, mundanity and banality that have kept me entertained over the past three or four weeks. Since the birth of my son Jake, four years ago, the back yard is the only place in the house that I can smoke the occasional cigarette, and I have found myself sitting there on the wooden bench quite a lot recently – the occasional cigarette having become a constant companion – as I contemplate the wall opposite, the nail in the sixty-third brick...and wonder why my grapevine refuses to grace me with a single grape.

I quite like grapes.

In other words, to summarise the three paragraphs above into a single sentence...I've been bored out of my skull lately.

Boredom. It's a horrible, horrible place to find yourself. It's not like I have nothing to do. In fact, I have tons to do. I'm quite possibly the busiest person alive at this particular moment. The problem is that none of the things that I ought to be doing are the things that I want to be doing. And don’t ask me what it is, exactly, that I want to be doing, because I haven't a clue. Hence, you see, the boredom.

The month didn't start out this way. In fact, I started May with a determination to cram as much novelty into it as I possibly could. I even compiled a to-do list with the kind of enthusiasm normally reserved for people packing a suitcase for a long holiday in Bora Bora. It only had three items on it, but I figured that was okay because they were quite ambitious items, each of which would enrich my life in places that a lottery win couldn’t quite reach...

Item Number One: Learn How To Play The Guitar.

I've owned a guitar for about six years. It lives on the top of a cupboard in my office, and it was a birthday gift from my wife, whose faith in me is so touching that she can mentally translate a throwaway 'I'd love to learn how to play guitar one day' comment into 'Get me a guitar and I'll be composing ballads within a week.' She also bought me a book, called 'Teach Yourself Acoustic Guitar', the first page of which contained a diagram of...well, either the neck of a guitar, or Mendeleev's periodic table. There was also a little call-out box, with an arrow pointing to part of the diagram. In the box, the single word – 'FRET'. So I fretted, and closed the book, never to open it again. Until May, six years later...

With renewed vigour, I unzipped the guitar case, grabbed the instrument by the neck and pulled it into daylight, feeling very much like I imagine King Arthur felt when he pulled the legendary sword from the stone. I positioned the guitar expertly across my lap, and strummed down like a heavy metal hero bringing the song home. A string – according to the book, it was Sodium Nitrate – instantly broke with a twang, and whipped me across the eyeballs with the ferocity of the world's largest, and angriest, elastic band. I fell to the floor, whimpering and feeling very much like I imagine King Arthur felt as he lay there dying on the Isle of Avalon. Thirty minutes later, I zipped the guitar back into its case, and crossed Item Number One off my list. And went down to the yard for a cigarette and some self-pity. At least I hadn't ruined my eyesight...there was a nail in the wall opposite, and I could see it quite clearly...

Item Number Two: Learn A Foreign Language.

I admire polyglots, and have always wanted to be one. Since my next holiday destination of choice is Zurich, I decided to start with Swiss German. I went on the Internet, and I must say that I learned quite a lot in a mere hour. I learned, for example, that there is no way you can learn Swiss German off the Internet, mainly because no one can be bothered to teach it. I also learned, by accidentally clicking on the wrong link during a moment of disillusioned distraction, that in order to successfully grow grapes, you need to know about things like soil preparation, pH balance, nutrients, vine spacing and row direction. Which I don't. I checked in 'Teach Yourself Acoustic Guitar'. They don't either. Shame...I quite like grapes.

Not one to give up so easily, I decided to go for German instead. The first online lesson I found taught me how to count. A couple of hours later, and feeling quite pleased with myself, I went out to the back yard for a well-deserved cigarette break. As I puffed away, I practiced my German by counting the number of bricks in the wall opposite...there's 'ein hundert dreiundvierzig' of them. The 'dreiundsechzigsten' one has a nail in it...

So...German. Es ist schwierig und ich spreche kein Deutsch. A polyglot I'm poly-not. But if you ever need someone to count to a hundred and forty-three...I'm your man.

Item Number Three: Learn DIY

There are a number of fortunate people in this world who, when given a ball of string, an old toilet seat and a tube of glue, can build a beautifully crafted bookshelf complete with sliding doors and paneled sides. And then there are those who have to phone for professional help whenever a lightbulb needs changing around the house. I am, and always have been, one of the latter, but the third and last item on my to-do list was going to change that - I decided that it was about time I learned how to do...you know...useful stuff. With bits of wire and sticky tape.

I decided to start small. Our toaster in the kitchen didn’t work properly – I'd push down the lever and it wouldn't stay down, which meant that the only way to make toast was to hold the lever down physically and stand there for eight minutes like a dribbling remedial while the bread toasted. But not for much longer! With determination and a screwdriver...

...I fixed it!

Now, the lever doesn't come up. At all. Ever. Which means that plugging it in could potentially burn the house down.

So now - my to-do list exhausted and abandoned - I'm bored. I have learned nothing, and achieved nothing except for a smoker's cough and mild burns on sieben of my zehn fingers. I sit in the back yard and stare at the wall opposite. Occasionally, for a change of scene, I stare up at the sky. Occasionally, an airplane flies by overhead...

Hmm. I've always wanted to learn how to pilot a plane...

By Danny, teacher at EC Malta English school