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Sunday, 30 December 2007

Cash Crops

‘”It would seem that you have no useful skill or talent whatsoever,” he said. “Have you thought of going into teaching?”’ Quote attributed to Mr. Liona Keeble, employment agent of Ankh-Morpork on trying to find a new career for Death. Terry Pratchett.

I thought I’ll start with a literary quote this time, more about it in a minute. As this is also meant to serve as a diary for myself (so next year when we have the arguments like: ‘last year December was really warm’ – ‘no way we had snow!’ we can just look back on the blog), some of the more mundane details first. The last couple of days I was busy pruning olives and chopping the larger bits into firewood. Susan in the meantime dug over a new bed for planting veg and lit a fire to burn the smaller prunings. Yesterday we had the first real frost, something we didn’t have at all last winter. Even at lunchtime the lower terraces were still covered in white. Hopefully this means the mosquitoes and other insect pests are not going to as plentiful next year. Today it’s grey and damp, so I have a bit of time to write again.

Now to the quote above. According to John Seymour’s Guide to Self-Sufficiency, every self-supporter needs a cash crop of sorts. It may be one in the literal sense of the word, i.e. something you grow more of than you can consume and sell the excess at a profit. However, everyone knows there isn’t a lot of money to be made in farming, unless you have a top vineyard site where you can charge a premium. The other way is usually, that one or both of the partners do some sort of work to earn some cash, because completely without cash it is not really possible to survive in modern times. In John Seymour’s case it is him writing his books and teaching other people to become self-sufficient on his farm in Ireland. I should think he does quite well with this. In our case this was supposed to be the wine business. However, this is proving to be difficult, firstly because of the economic difficulties in Europe at the moment and secondly, during the times where I have most work on the land, spring and autumn, I am always away traveling to see clients.

So looking at other options we came up with, you guessed it, teaching English. The first qualification they ask for is that you have to be a native speaker, which excludes me. Now Susan has all the right qualifications: a degree in French and one in English, she is a native English speaker and she has taught English and French before. Unfortunately this is Italy and things are never that simple. To apply for a job she has to produce, among other things, documentary proof of her degree, an Italian VAT number, a work permit and preferably references from previous employers, and all that translated into Italian and stamped by the magistrate courts to verify that they are true translations. Not only is the whole process time consuming and expensive, it is also in Susan’s case not possible. In almost 30 years no one in the UK or France has ever actually asked her to show her degree and hence she has no idea where it might be. She asked at Edinburgh University, where she studied, whether it was possible to get a copy, but they do not give out copies of degrees taken before 1989. The VAT registration would pose similar problems as they also demand proof of qualification and/or experience of your chosen field of business, also translated, verified and, in the case of employment references, a verification and verified translation of the existence of the company concerned. When I did all this for my VAT registration it took several weeks, a lot of shoe leather and several hundred euros.

Next plan is to maybe stick up a couple of adds in public places for private lessons, and I shall try and find something in the tourist business during the summer, like life guard on the beach or do tours or something. We have registered with a language translation web-site offering English, German and French, but haven’t had any work from there yet. We’ll just have to eat lots of lentils over New Year, as according to the Italians, each lentil represents money you will have in the coming year…


pedals and paws said...

A Terry Pratchett fan? Here is another one. Did you know that he has a form of Alzheimers disease and thinks that he might only manage one or two more books?
On Susan's degree, I find Edinburgh's response difficult to understand. I was in the same situation with my degree from Bristol - also pre 1989 - but they were able to produce a copy.
Here in France it is possible to teach English in schools with a TEFL and BA. Isn't it the same in Italy?
Still have not received details from your friends with regard to the B&B.
A successful and self-sufficient 2008

Heiko said...

Unfortunately, she does not have a TEFL and did go straight to an MA, no BA. Any degree would be sufficient, but she does not have any documentary proof. She does however also have a degree from Bordeaux university, which has not bothered answering our requests yet. So this may be a way out. Edinburgh Uni said they did not give out any copies at all, only a confirmation that a degree has been passed, but as I say not from before 1989. People here have been quite shocked by this as well. In Italy any member of the public can check if a doctor for instance has really passed his medical degree.

I spoke to Susannah and Marco last week and they should be sending you an e-mail any day.