It's good to talk...

6th December 1996 at 00:00
One call pushed Douglas Donnachie on to the bus to Slovakia.

It all started with Aunt Edna's phone call. Her friend Cathy had just called her to offer me a job in Thailand. It was to teach English to the staff of a chain of hotels. The money was good and the location - an island just off the Malay border - was like a dream come true. There was just one slight problem. I didn't want to go. I'm a great believer in instinct and something was telling me that this wasn't to be one of "my" countries. Besides I've only just returned from Asia after four years there.

So why did it all start with Aunt Edna? Well, she started me thinking that it was time to move. Eleven months in this country seemed too long and I was getting itchy feet. One copy of The TES later and I was in a dream world of exotic places. The itch was so bad I had to take my socks off.

Barefoot and bored I eventually made the first positive step and wrote eight job applications. At 2.30pm on a Thursday afternoon I posted them and copies of my beautifully hand-typed and hand-Tipp-Exed CV. On the Friday morning at 9.50 am I had my first definite offer of a post in Ixmir. By the following Tuesday I had received seven offers of employment and was in a more confused state than when I started.

Thailand was still on the go and there was Ixmir, Istanbul, and Ankara. Turkey - according to my horoscope for 1996 - is one of my countries, and having visited it twice last year to stay with friends of friends, I can honestly say that I quite like it. But by this time I had had Eva's phone call.

I can't remember much about it. It was one of several and my head was spinning with all the promises, conditions of employment, travel arrangements, starting dates and day dreams.

But I do remember that it was one of the most pleasant phone calls I'd had. She had called to offer me a place in Slovakia - or words to that effect. She gave me a choice of locations. Actually that's not strictly true, she only gave me one choice - anywhere! Clueless as I am, I flicked frantically through the pages of my mini-atlas trying to find a map of the country. As I skimmed the place names, noticing one I couldn't pronounce, without thinking I spelled it out to her over the phone. She pronounced it for me and also took it to be my preferred choice for employment. Then she abruptly said she couldn't tell me any more over the phone and asked me to go to see her in London.

The Czech Tourist Agency opens at 10am. I arrived at 8.30am, straight off the overnight train from Glasgow. Nothing happened until about 9.45am when three women passed me. One gave me a half smile which I more or less returned and then paid no more attention to them. Twenty minutes later I opened the door to the tourist office and there they were - those same three women. They didn't look Czech or Slovak, or maybe they did. Surprisingly they were in colour. I still get mental pictures of the Eastern Bloc in black and white. The one who had smiled at me gleefully shouted out; "I knew it was you." I blushed and smiled, then nervously asked to see Eva who worked in the Slovak department. She hadn't arrived. Her colleague said she was parking the car.

To kill time I was given a cup of coffee and some brochures to look at. I hadn't started either when Eva staggered in quivering, having had a near miss with an old man and three other cars. She told her story in Slovak and then in English. When she had calmed down and had had a cup of strong coffee, she introduced herself to me. Two hours and a lot of brochures later, I was sold.

So, thanks to Aunt Edna's telephone call I'm off to Levice next week - by bus!

Douglas Donnachie is from Fairlie, Ayrshire and graduated from St Andrews in French and social anthropology in 1989. He studied for a PGCE, then a diploma in teaching English as a foreign language

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