Alex and I met when he came to my school to do the observed teaching practices and exams for his Dip TESOL, the higher qualification for EFL teachers. The Dip is notoriously stressful and very hard work, but Alex had the additional discomfort of doing it a long way from home and teaching students he had never met. Despite this, he was charming and amusing, and I immediately warmed to him. It helped that Alex clearly liked Swansea a lot and wasn’t fazed by the things that usually upset (English) newcomers: the hills, the rain and the Welsh language.
I heard a few casual comments in the staffroom about Alex moving to Swansea and encouraged the idea, firstly because I can’t imagine a better place to live and secondly because I knew Alex would be an entertaining and interesting contributor to the staffroom banter. I was delighted when, after the Christmas break, Alex walked in to the staffroom and told me he was here to stay.
That was two years ago and I have been proved right on both counts: Alex is quick and clever with a witty comment, and he enjoys living in Swansea as much as me.
From the outside, La Fina doesn’t look very promising and I thought had been chosen purely for its proximity to work. The outside is an unprepossessing sixties concrete box, but the inside looks like a Spanish bodega, with a truly lavish amount of old wooden beams for decoration. The menu is Spanish too, as was the waiter who served us, although his accent had many of the cadences of South Wales, including the habit of pronouncing one vowel as if it were three. (If you’re not sure what I mean, ask someone from Swansea to say ‘there’s lovely’ and listen for how many syllables it has).
27 February 2015
La Fina, Swansea
I had a feeling that this lunch would go well as Alex has demonstrated many times that he is a good listener. He isn’t intrusive, but when he asks a question he seems genuinely interested in the answer. This is not common in my experience; it’s a rare and precious quality.
Another thing I value is our common interest in language. Alex did languages at university, we met while he was studying for the Dip and he is currently doing an MA in teaching English – he likes languages. I speculated on the way to the restaurant as to the meaning of ‘La Fina’. I often do this about a new word but am usually met with, at best, resigned tolerance. Alex joined in and when we were able to ask our waiter (we had got no further than singular feminine noun substantive) and got the answer – ‘a fine lady, a beautiful woman’, joined in with me to speculate about its usage: would it be more Judi Dench or Angelina Jolie?
Another thing Alex and I share is a love of sport. We both run and even though he is much, much better than me often discuss training issues. Our other sporting common ground is football, although he is much more knowledgeable than me. He plays well too and when I asked if he enjoyed playing or watching more, was able to say, with no attempt at pretension, that he enjoyed being in a trophy winning team. He really does love the game, lunch was the day after his team (Everton, nobody’s perfect) had beaten BSC Young Boys 7-2 on aggregate and 3-1 on the night. This is, of course, a brilliant result, but Alex wasn’t happy. Everton didn’t play particularly well and won because the opposition was poor. It wasn’t quite that he would prefer to see his team play well but lose rather than win badly, but it was heading in that direction.
So lunch was a delightful affair. The food was tasty, the venue pleasant, the company excellent. We strolled out of there, walked back to work, and by the time I had grabbed my cycle helmet and bag to slowly trundle home for a Friday afternoon of pottering around until it was time to open the wine, Alex was back at his computer working hard – so that’s how you get to run so fast and play football so well – LOTS of self discipline.