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The Art of Derek Dohren

painting, writing, photography



The Class of Oct '09

Posted on July 5, 2010 at 2:39 PM

As my fellow trainee TEFL colleagues begin to depart this great city the class of Oct '09 is finally scattering to all corners of the globe. Of the 13 of us that sat the course, 11 of us have been in Granada living and working through most of this year. Half of us remain but half have now gone on to bigger and better things. It's been a privilege to know them all and we've had some great experiences and shared many laughs. I think we have all forged lasting bonds. 


I turned this photograph taken on our final training day into a painting this week. It was a surprisingly emotional exercise for me. The end of an era - the start of another.


From left to right:

(Back row) Chris Irwin, Steven Julius, Brittany Cheviron, Sara Goldfarb, Loren Davy, Laura Ffrench, Lizzie Andrews

(Front row) Steven Sheridan, Mate Varadi, Derek Dohren, David Crow, Paige Ratleff, Paola Borelli (teacher), Chris Dover

I love you guys.

The Class of Oct/Nov 09

Posted on November 11, 2009 at 3:47 AM

Hasta Luego

Posted on November 7, 2009 at 7:18 PM

Je m'appelle Julien.

Je suis professeur.

It was an awesome four weeks and it was an honour (hey, another 'h' word with the 'an' determiner in front of it  instead of 'a') and a privilege to work with you guys.




I Did It!!!

Posted on November 6, 2009 at 1:15 PM

And now for paella, sangria and mas cerveza. Adios amigos...


And Now, the End is Near

Posted on November 5, 2009 at 3:42 AM

My final class was dealt with last night. It was a tough gig. I gave them £50 each to spend on auction items (including my yellow shoes) and ... oh I can't be bothered writing it all down. It's your own fault for not being there.


The 9 of us staying in the Residencia went out to celebrate. We had Chinese and then Japanese tapas - a nice procession of noodles, rice, chicken, salmon, eel, and something else from the sea whose origin was indeterminate but who nature had rather cruelly decided to make delicious. Then we went to a French bar and rather disappointingly had a plate of nuts - but you've got to admire the French for not joining in haven't you?. I did get talking to a Frenchman who'd just spent a year in Liverpool and I also had my first glug of pastis, a French pernod. We finished the night in a reggae bar where Dylan had had his finger bitten last week. We spent a cheery half hour swilling down lager and peeling off the slices of cold meat that had been laid out on the bar. I dread to think.


Frankly, my stomach isn't amused this morning. Nor is my head.


We have two days now of not very much. I'll probably start packing today. It would be nice if we could do that Officer and a Gentleman thing tomorrow and throw our hats into the air when we graduate.


We don't have any hats though.


Fascinating Fact, number 568: The Pomegranate

Posted on November 2, 2009 at 11:57 AM

The Spanish word for pomegranate is granada. Was Granada named after the fruit or the fruit after the town?


Well, frankly, no one cares much.


But the fruit appears on the city's (did I just call it a town?) coat of arms.


Walk around the place and you see them everywhere, from the real things in the market places to stone, glass, and wooden sculptures.

I haven't eaten one here yet. Unforgiveable, and soon to be addressed.

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Posted on November 2, 2009 at 4:51 AM

Week four and a glimmer of hope. We've just sat a long dreaded grammar exam, our student profile work is done (for most of us) and we only have one, maybe two classes left to teach. There is a feeling of pressure lifting a little and thoughts are beginning to turn to post-course life. Dare I say I'm even getting fed up with tapas and am having wistful thoughts of fish and chips and pots of tea.


We're still basking in glorious summer temperatures here. It was in the high 20s most of last week. This time next week I'll be basking under slate grey skies with my overcoat on. It's hard to believe as I glance out of the window of our whitewashed old town apartment and focus on the cactus plants staring back, that it's Christmas next month.


Apparently an Indian summer of this quality and duration is unusual, even for Andalusia. The cold weather we had during our second week was merely a temporary blip. Even the snow on the Sierras appears to have vanished.


One irritation is that I fly back home the morning after the course finishes. I was a bit short sighted with that lack of planning and should have stayed on a day or two, just to unwind and to have a few beers with the rest of the crew.


I'm envious of the ones staying for a few months. Five of the girls have got themselves a flat and look to have good prospects of getting work. One of the guys is staying on too. At least I'll be able to pass on some of the stuff I've accumulated - not least my really bad travel iron which wasn't worth anywhere near the 15 Euros I paid for it. One of the girls may want it as a doorstop in the new flat.



Now That's What I Call Tapas

Posted on October 31, 2009 at 6:53 PM

I get it now.


The whole teacher thing. I finally experienced that magic I had been hoping for when I set out on this crazy path.


I felt the 'wow' factor after teaching a lesson tonight.


It was in my one-to-one class. My student gave me her time purely out of politeness - I'm sure of it - but I think I made something in her understanding of English click and when I saw the light in her eyes suddenly go on it nearly made me cry. It was very moving to see that happen.


I  can do this.


I did the 'painting an abstract picture' trick. That's twice out of six lessons. I can see students labelling me as that twonk who brings his paints and brushes to classm, but there you have it.


Sure, I had my moments in my past working life; times when I did something that went down well or made people think good things of me (few and far between it has to be said). All well and good, but that moment when you make a real connection and do something that may change someone's life is 100 times more powerful than getting some kind of self aggrandising pat on the back because you've done something clever.


It's a very uplifting thing to do something that directly effects someone's life in a positive way. To me, at this moment in my life, that's priceless.


I get it now.


I'm happy to call myself a teacher and an artist. It sits right with me.


I can do this.


A quick tapas update:

Irrespective of the earlier update and the disappointing tapas experienced this evening, I nipped out around 2pm today for a touch of the blazing sun and a cool coca-cola. The nearest bar geographically delivered splendid tapas. I had two cokes and two corresponding plates of scran. The first was a paella mixta (meat n fish). Very good - even though the pork rind went to one of the local cats (Ramon I call him). The second plate was garlic bread crumbs with sausage. Nae bad.


Matters pertaining to soccer:


St. Mirren 0 v 2 Hamilton Accies


The Reds lost 1:3 at Fulham. What's going on?








I Wanna Know What Love Is

Posted on October 31, 2009 at 6:34 PM

I found a bar.


It's down at heel. All the seats wobble. I went into the toilets and I'm sure parts of my clothing have contracted E-coli or whatever Bird Flu's called.


The landlord's manic. 


I love it.


He has a laptop on the bar wired up to his speakers and he has his iTunes account churning out late 70s/early 80s power ballads all night. Not particularlty my bag but when you've had a couple of cervezas and you're mellowed out it 's kinda nice. Foreigner, Toto, Air Supply, Starship, The Bangles - you get the drift.


The tapas is dodgy too. First course was some sort of spam burger. Ok, not great but as an appetiser with the first 'cerveza grande' not something to quibble over. The cheeky smile from the serving senorita was nice too. The second tapas was what could only be described as looking like a discarded plate of vomitted tomato puree onto a ladle of boiled rice.


It wasn't at all bad.


Bladdy good in fact. The third (a long time coming, it has to be said) was a disappointing array of mixed nuts. I was forced to forage amongst the discarded bread baskets of the tables that had had formal meals (by this stage I was also pretending to read leaflets left at the bar and written in Spanish).


Still, I'll be going back.


I like the pub and I like the landlord. The music took me back to a time when I was an indestructable kid. Music, ale, food, the whiff of youth. It's an  irresistable cocktail. And all for a few Euros.




Some of the Team

Posted on October 30, 2009 at 7:04 PM

Some of the class of, erm, 2009 (Oct/Nov)



David, SteveJ and Mate



SteveS, David, Loren and Sara (and my orange juice and apple on the table)

Paige and her unfeasibly large hand.


Schwas and diphthongs and SatC

Posted on October 30, 2009 at 6:34 PM

Glorious glorious sunshine today and temperatures an unlikely 29 degrees. At lunchtime I took myself off to nearby Plaza Larga for a refreshing ice cold coke. I got a free plate of sausage and chips. Those simple treats make the difference between being alive and merely surviving.


Tomorrow I go to the Alhambra. I bought tickets on the internet and even though I have an impossible amount of work to do I figure some things are more important. All work and no play etc etc. My time for visiting the main area is 10 am. Apparently if you miss your slot then that's it.


Here's a recent shot of the palace from our rooftop...



We had a phonemics test today. Horrible. Not as bad as the grammar test promises to be next Monday. Anyway four of our number failed it and they have to resit. They got their schwas, monophthongs and diphthongs all in a tizz. If they do it again they've had it.


We also had a visit from an agency lady this afternoon. Most of the guys here on the course went to see her about getting fixed up with TEFL work when the course finishes. I didn't bother. I'll be going back to Scotland and looking for something there.


Five of the girls are staying on in Granada. They've got themselves a flat and are all looking for work. Three of the males already live in Granada and another two are thinking of staying on. I feel I'm going to be missing out a bit but real life for me (at least in the short term) is a cold dreich climate and a visit to the dole office on Monday week. At least I won't have to sit through another four million episodes of Secks and the City in the Comedor. Since the girls found the DVD stuffed behind the back of the overhead projector it's never been off the telly.




Day 19 - Happy Birthday Spud

Posted on October 29, 2009 at 3:06 AM

Day 19 in the Big Brother house and Derek is hovering outside the shower cubicle. He has a class to teach this morning and he´s decided to wash but the hot water´s cold and he won´t dunk himself in.

He puts what remains of his clean clothing on and pads down to the kitchen. It still resembles a war zone. Lizzie and Chris enter. Derek doesn´t know whether they have just woken or if they are simply returning home from last night.

The coffee takes manky.

Derek goes back upstairs. He still needs a shower.

Eating elephants

Posted on October 27, 2009 at 7:16 AM

There is an old Chinese proverb that asks, "How do you eat an elephant?", and answers with, "one bite at a time..."


I'm more than half way through my elephant now. I've just got the head and trunk to go. I think those pesky tusks may require a superhuman effort though.


Anyway, a bit of light relief. I just finished my 4th teaching class. I think it's a sign of progress to report a rather hum-drum lesson with very little happening in the way of excitement or (thankfully) disaster.


They filed in, I taught them, they filed out.


I forgot to show you this. I worked a bit more on my painting at the weekend. I think it's pretty much done...




Anyway, I've got shedloads to be getting on with, so I will catch you again whenever.


When the going gets tough

Posted on October 27, 2009 at 2:54 AM

Week 3 and the pressure is beginning to bite. We have lost one of our students. She flies back to the US tomorrow. I guess you don´t always know if this is for you until you actually get to grips with the course. Her empty chair sat forlornly in class yesterday.

I fear the wheels may come off one or two more bandwagons this week.

Several students have gone into lessons this week woefully under-prepared. The workload is intense and we are all now trying to background on our individual student project too. In addition a heavy cold is rampaging through the group. Four have gone down with it and have missed various classes.

I teach an elementary class in an hour and a half´s time. I´m not even sure which building to go to just yet.

His wristband says he was a Red, Torres, Torres

Posted on October 25, 2009 at 3:55 PM

Alfonso's tapas

Posted on October 24, 2009 at 6:12 PM

I got some valuable recovery time in today. Yes I had work to do but I'm pretty much on top of things and I didn't do more than a couple of hours. This afternoon I sat down and worked on my San Nicolas painting. It really needed moving on as I hadn't touched it for a week. Still a work in progress though...



I needed some air and a stretch of the legs by late afternoon and it was a great time of day. The sun was still warm (summer has returned) and the town was buzzing. I bumped into some sort of procession outside the Iglesia de los Santos Justo y Pastor - a magnificent church not too far from the cathedral. A large catholic icon with silver wings was being taken into the church to the accompaniment of trumpets and drums. It was very dramatic and the music was deafening but really funereal. The large crowd of locals who had gathered appeared becalmed by a respectful mood. I don't know what it was all about and regrettably I never had my camera.


Around the corner the atmosphere couldn't have been more different. A large wedding had just taken place at another enormous church. The nearby cafes were full of suited men who I guess had been at the wedding, top buttons undone, ties loosened, having a smoke and watching the Spanish football on the tv screens. As the bride and groom clambered into their car the powerfully mournful music swirling in from just round the corner seemed to take on a more celebratory air.


The whole rhythm of life here is totally different to that in the UK. Nothing happens till midday, then the shops and bars open for a few hours. Around 4pm everything shuts down again for siesta and then, as the sun drops away around 7:30 it all comes alive again. The streets become mobbed with a complete spectrum of demographic types, young, old, whole families, whatever.


Nobody seems to want to eat til way after 10, and the cafes and restaurants are open til midnight. The thing is you've no need to go to a restaurant here. Go into any bar in Granada and order a drink and you'll be served free tapas. Have 4 drinks over an hour or two and you'll get 4 different types of tapas, one after the other. It's fantastic. I'm told Granada is the last bastion of free tapas in Spain and they obviously pride themselves on it. You don't know what you're going to get either. I've been served all sorts from mixed nuts to tomatoes and olives, spicy sausage, chips, crepes, burgers, and fish.


I love it here. Tapas is such a civilsed notion.


A brief history lesson then: A popular theory is that when the 13th-century King Alfonso fell ill, he was prescribed small bites of food with wine to aid his recovery. After discovering the benefits of snacking, he is said to have decreed it law that all bars begin to serve food with alcohol.


Ole to King Alfonso then.





Art for art`s sake

Posted on October 24, 2009 at 6:28 AM

So we have a task out here to produce two sets of teaching material that can be used across different levels of language student class, from beginners and elementary up to advanced levels.

One of my ideas was to paint this abstract painting...

With beginner and elementary students I can point at certain areas and ask ´what colour is this?´ We can talk about shapes and we can describe things as being ´to the left of´, ´to the right of, above, below, on top of etc. ´How many circles/squares/triangles?´- there are many possibilities.

More advanced students can talk about aspects of the painting using whatever grammar lessons are being given at the time. We can talk about it in past, persent and future tenses, or use conditional clause language. Do I sound like I know what I´m talking about? I think it´s half the battle.

A turn for the better

Posted on October 23, 2009 at 8:07 AM

musings meteorological:

The weekend is almost upon us and the weather has improved. Three days of cold and damp have passed and the sun is shining again. There is nowhere near the same heat in it as last week though. With snow on the Sierra Nevadas I fear we have left summer behind but things are on the up.

I did a lead-in to one of my lessons this week with some comments on the weather. The students thought it hilarious to see such a national stereotype as an Englishman talking about a favourite subject. I did learn from one of them however, that Granada excperiences the biggest temperature ranges between morning and afternoon in Spain.

Anyway I hope to get out and about again this weekend and maybe get some more painting done. I´ve got work to fit in as well. We have all been given the assignment of taking on a single student during our ´spare´ time and formulating a specific customised teaching plan and lesson for him/her. This is a big project which counts towards our overall mark. I have agreed to do this with a Slovakian student who is staying here in the residence for another course. It should be interesting.

The Albaycin - and my first painting.

Posted on October 22, 2009 at 11:46 AM

The Albaycin area of Granada is the old part of town. It's origins are rooted in the Moorish conquest of the city in the 11th century. The roads are extremely narrow and paved with cobbles. Whitewashed buildings give a North African feel to the place.


It's fantastic.


We are staying in the heart of the Albaycin in accomodation that dates from the 17th century. It has a central courtyard and a rooftop garden but all the rooms are very small. Ten of the 14 students are staying here and we have a nice atmosphere going. The school is 3 minutes walk away and we often have to make our way through organised tourist groups who when they aren't taking photographs are peppering their harassed tour guides with questions. 



The traffic here is incredibly dangerous. Some of the roads through here are barely wide enough for the buses that trundle through. Right outside my window is one such route. Each bus has to crawl at 3 or 4 mph to ensure wing mirrors are not ripped off and masonry is not damaged. If you happen to be walking through such a road at the time a bus is making it's way down you have to dive into the nearest crevice or spread yourself out over a wall surface. If you are overweight here then you won't survive going outdoors, it's that simple. The bus, car and motorbike drivers show no concession to pedestrians.


It takes five to ten minutes in any direction to wander out of the Albaycin into 'modern' Granada, with it's typically wide boulevards, hotels, banks and globally known department stores. The contrast between the two areas is as stark as it's possible to be.


For different reasons the traffic here is equally dangerous for us Brits. They all drive on the wrong side of the road. In the Albaycin of course there are no 'sides of the road'.


There is a magnificent viewing point at Plaza San Nicolas. You can see the Alhambra in all it's glory from here...



The Alhambra from the San Nicolas viewpoint (Mirador).


The Mirador attracts lots of people and has a real Bohemian feel. Guitarists, jugglers, street hawkers, tourists all come here - to soak up the 'vibe' I suppose. 


I took a picture of this guy (below) when I was here last weekend and decided he'd make a good subject for a painting. I got started on Saturday but haven't had any time since to work on it so it remains very much a work in progress.


The Alhambra - at last!

Posted on October 22, 2009 at 11:28 AM

Well I got away with it. The boss man said he really enjoyed the 'art' lesson. I was given a warning though about taking such outrageous risks with a class. I don't see any risk myself. Show a group of people some art and you have instant conversation, right? They'll love it, hate it, or feel ambivalent about it, but they'll have things to say. Give them brushes and paint to make some changes too and that really gets them thinking - and talking.


Anyway I have other stuff to share here.  Last weekend I had some time off to explore the town. The weather was still magnificently hot - yeah last weekend it was still summer here. I got to the Alhambra. It was filled with hordes of tourists and the queues were depressing. I only got to see around the parts you can see without paying. I've yet to get into the really juicy stuff and I hope to see that before I come home.


Here are a few pictures to give you a flavour of what I saw...





I'll post more later.


I got my bearings around the town just by walking about for a few hours. Granada is an amazing place. The old cathedral in the town centre is utterly huge. Many of the Catholic churches here have a lot of ornate decoration and are adorned with statues of saints and so on but it's fascinating to see mosques, many of them probably as old, sit side by side.


Residents of Granada are called Granardinos.

A future pub quiz question you may wish to note.