North London's Cultural Guide

Ich Bin: John Bedwell, language teacher

Tti School of English in Camden has just opened a second branch in Kentish Town. We meet one of its eloquent profs

John Bedwell: ‘I’ve learnt that life, on the whole, is ridiculous, and therefore much funnier than we take the time to realise.’ Photo: Tti School

With a “somewhat useless Masters in the Arts”, John Bedwell worked through his twenties in bars and restaurants before becoming a teacher, and has since taught his way across Italy, Mexico and Argentina and the Americas. For the past five years he’s been at Tti School of English in Camden Town, an independent organisation which has been running since 1999. Last year it opened a second centre at 158 Kentish Town Road NW5, where John is currently stationed.

When were you happiest?
My wedding day: late spring, young love, shiny red leather shoes, everyone that matters to me in the same room, fine wine – and two whole turbots.

Where would you like to live?
In my small painted wooden hotel on a beach in a country with more sun than cloud and the odd tropical storm.

What is your favourite sound or smell?
Fire, in all its facets: burning, crackling, roasting, blazing, incinerating, dying, and even the smell of ash. And fire not only destroys but cleanses.


What is your greatest life achievement?
Seriously? I’d have to say getting to this point without cracking up. I’ve learnt that life, on the whole, is ridiculous, and therefore much funnier than we take the time to realise.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
I have a fridge magnet which says: “If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember things.” I used to lie to avoid getting into trouble or to appear greater than I was. It never worked – everything catches up. I look at that little fridge magnet quite a lot.

What is your earliest memory?
One of my earliest memories is being told off for eating with my mouth open – I stopped that soon after. Another is holding a frog in my grandparents’ garden and considering eating it. Thankfully for both parties I didn’t.

What makes you unhappy?
Off the top of my head: being a hypocrite; hangovers (fewer these days); eternally overcast weeks; lack of sleep; being hungry; not having time to exercise; our political culture; and Westfield Shopping Centre in Stratford.

In the classroom teaching. Photo: Tti
In the classroom, teaching. Photo: Tti
What simple thing would improve your quality of life?
A brand new, shiny-black, well-oiled bicycle! My current racer hasn’t been stolen in six years, surely a record in London – but the chain is so worn I’m getting overtaken by men in suits on Bromptons.

What is your most unappealing habit?
I guess you should ask my wife. Although, I have been gradually programmed in appropriate dining, bathroom and social etiquette over the years, I still display flashes of untameable arrogance; which, on reflection inadequately serve to disguise a deep insecurity.

Where do you hang out?
Well, over the years my choice of locale has evolved from parks to townie bars to seedy Shoreditch basements until I final arrived at the good old English pub; around small wooden round tables preferably. It goes without saying that there are plenty round these parts.

Who or what do you hate and why?
A particular family member (long story). The skeleton of all skeletons. In fact, were she a real a skeleton we’d have to bury her in Wembley stadium – if we could be bothered.

What’s been your best experience? Worst?
The death of my grandparents, to whom I was very close. They both died in the past six years and as raw as watching those you love leave this world forever, I look back and recognise how enriching the experience was, how natural, and how blessed I am to have gone through that with them both.

What do you most dislike about your appearance?
I guess I’m as vain as the next person. This said I spend too much time worrying about various facets of my appearance. Presently, I’m most concerned with my disintegrating hairline.

He loves a good basic pub: the Southampton Arms. Photo: Stephen Emms
Southampton Arms: John loves a good basic pub. Photo: Stephen Emms
What’s the worst thing anyone’s said to you?
Some years ago: “When are you going to grow up and be a man?” Words like this hurt the more you respect the person who said them. I respected this person above all and they cut like a knife. Whether I have grown up remains debateable.

Tell us a secret.
I have been known to pee in the swimming pool – you do it too!

What has your career taught you?
All work, whether washing cars, waiting on tables or teaching, has intrinsic value if done with conviction. Working just for the money seems ludicrous to me.

What is your favourite dish and why?
Without doubt: Tacos. I used to teach English in Mexico and the sublime combination of corn, lime, chilli and coriander always transports me back to the street corners of San Cristobal.

What did you do today?
It was a slow grey Sunday so I roasted a free-range chicken in butter, garlic and thyme while listening to Magic FM. You can’t beat Magic.

Describe yourself as an animal.
I would say kestrel because I’m observant, solitary at heart, and move quickly through the world. I have a tattoo of this bird on my shoulder.

Who or what do you love?
It took me a while to learn how to love someone more than myself. But I got there: my wife.

For more info on classes at the Tti School of English in either Camden or Kentish Town, head here

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