Sunday, 30 November 2008

Tasnif e Iran

I love Persian music. I've been trying to post a beautiful performance from a CD of dastgah shur with Faramarz Payvar on santur, but this is beyond my computer competence for the moment. (Help!?) Here instead is a tasnif, a rhythmic part of a performance, with singing. This is a patriotic song, but you don't need to be told that to cotton on. I have no idea what the lyrics mean and perhaps that's just as well, as nationalism is something I cannot be doing with. It might be an Iranian equivalent of Uns're Fahne Flattert uns Voran for all I know. It's a very masculine sound, and I particularly like the percussion in the second half of the piece.

I entertain thoughts about some Iranian men that could lead to my being hanged by the crudest means (let's not worry about the placing of the knot, or length of drop to body weight) or pushed off a cliff if realised in Iran. Officially, of course, Iran has no homosexuals, but they keep on hanging these non-existent homosexuals nevertheless. Let us not forget that this is happening.

Now enjoy.

Saturday, 29 November 2008


'A tantrum is an emotional outburst of ill humor or a fit of bad temper wherein the higher brain functions are unable to stop the emotional expression of the lower (emotional and physical) brain functions.’ Wikipedia.

tantrum n.

A fit of bad temper. Also called regionally hissy, hissy fit, conniption fit, huff, passion, temper.

[Origin unknown.]
Early hours of the morning, a kebab shop in Hove. I’m with an old friend, Michael, and his partner, Alison. Ahead of us in the queue, a man is huffing and snorting at a member of the shop’s staff, telling him what a disgrace the service is, and how he proposes never to patronise the establishment again, and so on. Then he stalks out.

‘You see how unattractive people look when they get stroppy in public?’ Alison says pointedly to Michael, who is prone to throwing similar self-righteous wobblies at helpless service personnel. It’s true – definitely not a pretty sight. But some switch gets thrown in the male brain at forty or so, and suddenly it seems to you that your affairs are in the hands of incompetent, obstructive and impertinent dopes.

I had a whole day of strops yesterday.

Strop the first, 12.20.
I go to Boots to buy some special shampoo recommended me by a doctor. A chit of about ten serves me and wants to know why I need this shampoo. I tell her it’s for pityriasis.
‘You’re ainley suppaste to use it if a doctor recommends it?’ she says.
I tell her a doctor did recommend it.
‘You’re ainley suppaste to use it on your scalp?’
I glare at her, intending wordlessly to convey that I'm paying for this stuff and can therefore use it on whichever body part I dashed well please.
‘I’ll gay and talk to the pharmacist? I’ll ainley be a minute, bear with me?’
After a while she returns to tell me that the pharmacist will be along in a mayment, and asks me to bear with her again.
‘Oh, forget it,’ I snarl, and stalk out, hearing Alison’s remark about unattractive huffing even as I do so. Oh, but for Christ’s sake, this is an over-the-counter preparation and I’m a grown man, not some kid trying to wangle a miniature of brandy from the off-shop ‘cos me Gran’s took badly. And I’m on my lunch-break. Well, honestly.

Strop the second, 16.14.
Central Trains, God rot them, lay on a two-carriage train at Leicester, where enough people are waiting to fill a train twice that length. Half of them do not manage to board. Those of us who do board are jammed immobile into the aisles and vestibules for the onward journey. I get off at Stamford, go to the guard and ask for a complaints form.

‘Ain’t got none left, mate, I give ‘em all out at Melton.’

‘I’m not fucking surprised’ I say, shocking myself with the vehemence with which this comes out. Poor sod, it wasn’t his fault and probably people have been cursing him out all evening.

Strop the third, 21.00.
Out to dinner with two friends. I order salmon. It arrives, riding a plate the size of a tyre hubcap, a piece of fish some five inches long, with one sliced potato, about 15 french beans on a puddle of whitish sauce, for an asking price of fifteen pounds. I ask the waiter, who acts personally wounded, to take it away on the grounds that a dish so meagre and unremarkable is not worth that amount of money, and pass straight on to the cheese. When the bill comes I am so mellowed out on red wine that I end up paying for the bloody salmon I didn’t eat rather than risking another confrontation. So the third strop was all directed at myself as I walked home, for being such a pussy.

The moral, obvious to anyone but me (and Michael) is that strop is impotent, a dead end. I didn’t get my shampoo, I didn’t get to blast the idiot personally responsible for not providing a long enough train, and I paid fifteen quid for not eating the dish I sent back for not being worth the fifteen quid I paid for it after all. I reckon a fortune awaits the geek that can devise a strop-level monitor for men, or for those of us born without one, perhaps something that causes a little red blob of light to flash in the bottom left quadrant of the lens of your specs when you are approaching boiling point and about to lose it. You could then bite your tongue, quickly reframe the situation and walk away with what you wanted, rather than just ending up looking a cunt.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Central Trains have got no Rhythm

I hope that Central Trains are daily besieged with complaints about their overcrowding and frequent delays. I do as much fuming about this as anybody else condemned to a daily commute along the Stansted Airport – Birmingham New Street line, but what I really want to write to head office about is the guards’ mangling of English stress patterns. (‘Dear Mr Suola, Thank you for your letter. The contents have been noted. Get a life.’)

You see, I have always taught students that the stressed words in an utterance are the words the speaker regards as salient in the discourse. With lower level students, you can be economical with the truth and say that we don’t (usually) stress prepositions, because these for the most part carry edge-of-the-action info, not right-in-the-thick-of it info:

‘The doorbell rang.’ (What basically happened.)

Steve opened the door.’ (Who did what.)

On the landing he saw a drop-dead gorgeous young hunk…’ (Prepositional phrase creates a setting, a starting point. Main point is the hunk*)

‘…and invited him into the flat at exactly eight P.M.’ (The prepositional phrase might actually be the true focus of interest here.)

Now if you were to utter the phrase, ‘on the landing he saw a drop-dead gorgeous young hunk and invited him into the flat at exactly eight P.M.’ I submit you would probably stress it thus:

‘on the LANding he SAW a DROP-DEAD GORgeous YOUNG HUNK and inVIted him into the FLAT at exACTly EIGHT P.M.

you were a guard who'd been taught public speaking by Central Chuffing Trains, when you might well stress it something like this:

ON the landing HE saw a drop-dead gorgeous young hunk and invited him INTO the flat AT exactly eight P.M.’

thus making a pig's mickey of all the clues as to the relevance and salience of the various components of the sentence. Why do they do it?

‘Ladies and gentlemen we shall shortly be arriving AT Melton Mowbray.’

‘This train is FOR Stansted Airport, calling AT Melton Mowbray, Oakham, Stamford…’

It doesn't impede communication, I know, but it bugs me. It bugs me almost as much as the people quacking into their mobile phones as loudly as if they were alone, or listening to those frantically fizzing MP3 players that are audible half the length of the carriage.

Guards also stress auxiliaries in counter-intuitive ways:

‘We shall shortly be arriving AT Peterborough. If you ARE leaving the train at Peterborough, please remember to take all your belongings with you. Peterborough, our next station stop’

It sounds rather as if some people had been expressing reservations as to the wisdom of alighting at Peterborough, and the guard is addressing those who have decided to chance it.

Oh, and don’t get me started on ‘station stop’ for Christ’s sake, or we’ll be here all night.


* Who might well have been a Turkish Oil Wrestler.

Friday, 21 November 2008

WOULD YOU ADAM AN’ EVE IT! Christers: ‘Sex is OK after all!’

If you find the above image cute and comforting, this post will offend you. Tough.

First off, I have to admit I cannot be objective about Christianity. For some years as a teenager I was involved with a group of Christians in a theatrical package of Baptism of the Holy Spirit, healing, speaking in tongues, denouncing Satan and driving out demons. This, of course, is far from a representative sample of Christian belief and activity, and many Christians would thoroughly disapprove of the Pentecostalists I knew, disapproval being something Christians have down to a fine art. At about seventeen I had begun to shed the load of guilt and sense of mission and superiority that I had been encouraged to carry around, and inclined to the calmer, more impersonal atmosphere of Taoism and Zen, but I still cannot read anything concerning Christianity without gulping back gouts of un-Taoist bile. I felt so cheated by the Christianity I had been involved with and so foolish for accepting it so uncritically that I could not contemplate it without my blood pressure rising. Still can't. Only the other day on the train I started reading Silence and Honey Cakes by Rowan Williams. I realised by the time we hit Melton Mowbray that I had been busy scribbling exasperated notes in the margins but couldn’t remember what Williams had actually said. Very, very unfair of me, that, and I will start again on Honey Cakes when I calm down, but as I admitted, it is not easy for me to be objective about a religion for which I have conceived such a visceral loathing. What I loathe is the Christians' conviction that they have been privileged to receive a revelation that we, due to our blindness, stubbornness and hardness of heart, perversely deny ourselves, and it is their duty to communicate this to us by erecting flip charts and lecturing at us in shopping precincts, or knocking on our doors when we are enjoying solitude, or publishing hair-raising accounts of visits to hell, or urging us to shun or boycott any person, book or idea that does not uphold their views, or singing scout-camp type songs outside the local library on Saturday afternoons, or being nice and kind to others with the ulterior motive of bringing them to a Life in Jesus – a life that evokes in me a sense-image of being stuffed into a dusty drawer and suffocated with a hanky smelling of TCP and rosewater.

Here behold Jentezen Franklin, a Pentecostal preacher who is a big crowd puller in the United States. None of your men with comb-overs and mud-coloured macs lecturing in the market square here, no warbling choruses of 'Kumbaya'. JF fills whole stadia with his all-singin', all-dancin', all-praisin' youth-oriented mega-gigs. Here, in perhaps the least offensive of many Jentezen Franklin videos on You Tube, he gives us his take on the story of Adam and Eve, designed to appeal to the youth market: Adam was a hunk, Eve was a babe, and the pair of them were at it like nobody’s business all over the Garden. OK, there’s no scriptural evidence for that, or chapter and verse for Adam’s six-pack, but myths get reinterpreted. (Not that anyone there takes the story for myth – it happened in the flesh, dude.) Franklin’s etymology is well screwed up (woman derives from 'womb + man', for Christ's sake) and I wonder about his choice of vocabulary too: he says Adam was ‘cut’ – does he mean ‘ripped’? Or did God make Adam a Roundhead? If so, how come Adam's progeny had foreskins that had to be lopped off? Did foreskins... evolve? No, squelch that thought immediately, he musta meant 'ripped'. Well anyway, Adam was all man and Eve was all woman, and just listen to the roar of approval when J.F. announces that there is no confusion about what a man is and what a woman is. (Who was confused, anyway?) Notice the shocked delight, hands clapped to mouths, as he elaborates for his young audience the wank-fantasy of the horny pair bonking one another silly in the beautiful garden. Note especially the tone of his remark ‘I don’t understand all that same-sex marriage stuff’ which manages to sound at once amused, dismissive and superior, and invites the audience to share the amusement, dismissiveness and superiority. He doesn’t know it, but he is trivialising the deepest feelings of about one in ten of his audience, kids mainly, who are forced by pastors, peers and parents to chuckle along with the rest of the herd. ‘I don’t understand all that same-sex marriage stuff.’ We know you don’t, Jentzy, but, come on, imagination? Empathy? ‘…humani nil a me alienum puto’? I admit there’s a dark, primitive little patch of my brain that refuses to believe heterosexuality is possible, but I recognise it as a dark primitive little patch, and override it. Try doing the same thing.

So Pentecostal Christers are pro-sex after all? In a pig’s arse they are. They can only approve of sex if they are allowed to dictate whom you may desire. A boy may not respond to Adam’s six-pack, or a girl dream of Eve’s womanly curves. ‘But beauty has its own laws', says Camille Paglia, 'inconsistent with Christian morality’. Boys and girls so inclined will continue to desire in the only way they know, and be made miserable unless they escape the psychic prison of those Christians who are still, in Alan Watts’s words, ‘Bible-bewitched prudes’, the sparks of the Hell they all love so much dancing on the edge of their field of vision. Curiosity, different thoughts, different desires and appetites: all these will send you to the Lake of Fire, so shun them, suppress them, conform to obedience and blandness, and know that by keeping your nose clean you are doing His will.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Sort of like, random stuff about grammar an that?

Everyone who teaches English to speakers of other languages has come across the ‘Victorian medicine’ attitude towards grammar: if it tastes bad, it’s good for you. If you're not enjoying it, it's improving the mind. Most adult students will tell you they hate learning grammar, but you can still count on their rapt attention if you go into teacher-centred talk and chalk mode on, say, narrative tenses or modal verbs. You might have difficulty keeping people focussed on the liveliest of reading texts, but ditch it in favour of a disquisition on count and mass determiners, and they will be writing notes like fury. The value of this kind of activity is probably very limited, as teaching explicit grammar 'rules' hardly ever translates into improved spontaneous output. This is not to say you should never go into heavy grammar mode – of course you should, sometimes. You didn't get your TEFL Diploma for nothing, after all. But so much English language teaching around the world elevates the memorising of grammar rules into a virtue in itself. It’s like valuing the Highway Code booklet above the ability to drive well. There are some whacky ideas about ‘good grammar’ out there.

In a private language school in Athens where I went to observe a trainee teacher do her stuff, I overheard the following exchange between the secretary and a teenage boy:

She: Simple present
He: Simple past
She: Present perfect
He: Past perfect
She: Past perfect
He: No change

It sounds like some linguistic version of the game Mornington Crescent* but in fact she was catechising the boy on the changes that verbs undergo in reported speech:

‘I am ill’ > He said he was ill
‘I was ill’ > He said he had been ill

What a waste of time. In true Greek language school fashion, the kid had done as he was told and memorised a whole list of changes from this tense to that. All this ignores the following considerations:

Such changes depend on context, not on mechanical application of so-called rules.

We don’t, in conversation, provide line-by-line accounts of past conversations with all the tenses meticulously back-shifted, but instead give a summary of what was said.

More important than tense changes are the reporting verbs, because they are attitudinal. The kid would have been much better off learning say, tell, warn, advise, recommend, suggest, and so on, and the patterns that follow them.

None of the international language exams ever requires candidates to produce specific tenses in response to prompts for that tense.

Piling on grammar rules without accompanying clarification of meaning is pretty common in Greek language schools. Actual quote from a Greek teacher to her class, circa 2003: ‘δεν μας ενδιαφέρει τι σημαίνει, μας ενδιαφέρει να το κάνετε σωστά!’ (‘We don’t care what it means, we just care about you getting it right!’) No recognition that you can’t really get it right unless you first know what it means.


Moaning about slipping standards in one's native language has been a pastime of the middle aged and elderly for centuries, and amateur language fanciers have some eccentric remedies. My niece’s Latin teacher forbade her students, for the duration of her lessons, to use the contracted forms of English auxiliary verbs, on the grounds that it’s, can’t, won’t and hasn’t and so on are lazy and degenerate, and that to use it is, cannot, will not and has not instead is to show respect, backbone, grit and spunk. Now, we all know intuitively that it is and it’s don’t - sorry, do not - mean exactly the same thing. If you look out of the window and announce as an opening gambit in an exchange ‘it is raining’, you will sound very over-emphatic and stuffed-shirt. If however you use the full form in response to an opener, that’s different:

‘Take an umbrella in case it rains’
‘It is raining – where have I put it?’

Here the full form means ‘what you suggested is indeed the case’. If someone says ‘don’t bother lugging your umbrella, it isn’t raining’ and you reply ‘it is raining’ you are contradicting the first speaker. If you have to say to your kids for the umpteenth time ‘It is raining! You can’t play out!’ you are really laying it on the line. So, full forms show us there’s a subtext, of confirmation, contradiction or strong assertion, which contracted forms do not convey. Far from defending ‘the Queen’s English’ the batty Latin lady was denying her students choice from a whole range of shades of meaning. Fortunately, none of them took a blind bit of notice of her.

Still, I’m as grumpy about young people as the next middle-aged male. Passing by an open classroom door a couple of years ago, I overheard the 22 year lady teacher addressing her students in this wise: ‘aykay, say, tomorray, yeah, we’re sord of like gaying to London? Say you’ve godda be here like rarely-rarely early?’ I had to restrain myself from going in there and bawling her out. ‘You cannot ‘sort of’ go to London, you either go or you do not! And stand up straight!’ The rising intonation on declarative sentences, the use of creaky voice (aka 'glottal fry' - brill name, that) so prevalent among young women nowadays, the flattening of the RP diphthong in ‘go’ to one almost like that of ‘gay’, the lexically empty use of like and sort of… Jesus. The woman has just demonstrated everything I loathe about modern usage in two sentences.

But…but…language changes, pronunciation shifts, and there isn’t a thing anyone can do about it. We might deplore the padding of sentences with the meaningless verbiage of ‘like’ and ‘sort of’, which sort of, like, tones down the assertiveness of an utterance, but let’s be consistent. Listening to colleagues in meetings making steeples of their fingers and intoning ‘I feel the introduction to the course ought perhaps to be more… gradual, if you like’ I wonder why they think young people are vaguer and sloppier than they are themselves. If you like, as it were, perhaps, I feel – aren’t these just the older generation’s likes and sort ofs, for more formal situations? Creaky voice to signal ‘it’s OK, I’m not threatening, I’m nice’ is not new, and I suppose I have to admit, grudgingly, that it might simply be a sign of people just being nice, although it still pisses me off. Also, this whole bag of verbal and supra-segmental tics is a tool kit for sounding homey and just-folks, and it can be ditched by anyone who decides to do so should a more formal style be called for.

So we gotta stop like getting involved an givin kids evils, and look at the plank we got in our own eye, innit.


* Game on BBC Radio comedy show in which participants take turns to name stations of the London Underground. Someone will say ‘Tower Hill’ and the next player ‘Morden’. This move will be greeted with appreciative noises, as if great skill had been exercised. After a series of moves, a player will shout ‘Mornington Crescent!’ thereby winning the round. The point of the game is that there is absolutely no point.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Occult Blood

Not the title of a Hammer House of Horror movie, but a symptom, possibly of colon cancer, possibly of Crohn’s disease, or more prosaically, of piles. Faecal occult blood cannot be seen (obviously, or they wouldn’t call it occult) until a sample of poop is dribbled with some chemical or other, when the blood, if blood there be, will turn blue.

I have booked myself in for a medical later this month, the sort of thorough going-over you can only get if you pay for it. They will test my blood, urine and stool, and I get my first digital rectal exam to detect any enlargement of the prostate. This I suppose is some kind of a landmark in a male life; it might be far from the first stranger’s finger you have had up your arse, but hitherto only in a social setting. Nobody in the past would withdraw the digit and then possibly say ‘I’m afraid it’s bad news.’ Certainly the gesture would never have communicated ‘well, you are getting on a bit now, aren’t you?’ At least this time it might be a relief not to be expected to reciprocate.

The DRE doesn’t bother me that much but the haemoccult test did. You have to take a sample of poop each day for three days, and take them with you to the medical. Having watched the appalling Gillian McKeith, the food-police harpy, and her antics with people’s cack samples on her programme You Shit what you Eat, or whatever it was, I was apprehensive. I have a ninety minute train journey to the surgery in Leeds. Would it involve conveying one’s entire three day output, say in a shoebox, with fellow passengers checking their soles and edging away to disown the surrounding air? And how should you actually go about collecting the stuff? After all these years of simply flushing it out of your life as quickly as possible, here you are, having to pay it serious attention, working out the logistics of wrapping it up, packaging and transporting it.

In fact, you don’t need to do any of this, you will be glad to know, for when it’s your turn. The test kit I have been sent is tiny, a card with three circles on it, onto which you dab the merest tweezering of poop each day until each circle is completed. It looks more like a book of matches than the bucket and spade I had envisaged.

I don’t think there is anything wrong in the bowel department, really. I worry more about my head, and the way I am experiencing all those things everyone says you will experience as you approach fifty. Today something jogged a previously unvisited memory from 1978. I was flying from Toulouse to Frankfurt via Lyons. At Lyons we had to get off the aircraft and board again. I had left a book on my seat (a copy of Volpone – I can still see the cover, with an Aubrey Beardsley drawing on the front) On re-boarding I couldn’t find the seat I had occupied earlier, until the middle-aged German lady who had been sitting next to me stood up and said ‘Sie verstehen etwas Deutsch, nicht wahr? Wir haben drei Reihe nach vorne gesessen’ (I don’t vouch for the total accuracy of my memory of German but she said ‘You understand some German, don’t you? We were sitting three rows further forward.’) I can remember this so clearly, thirty years later. But just now I went to check on the progress of the chicken I thought had been slowly roasting for the last ninety minutes, to find it stone cold and raw, sitting bedecked with thyme in the dark oven because I had not remembered to switch the power on.

Far more humiliating than carting one's own turds by train to Leeds in a shoebox would be to have to answer gentle, encouragingly enunciated questions like ‘what’s the date to day?’ and ‘do you know who the present prime minister is?’ That is another landmark I hope is a long way off.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008


Christmas decorations of more than common tawdriness already disfigure the centre of the city where I work, a city centre that arguably is soulless enough without these great dusty bows and bells festooned across the pedestrianised streets, looking like knock-off from a disbanded circus. We’ve had George Michael singing ‘Last Christmas’ in Smiths now for two weeks. Soon we will have Wizzard and ‘I Wish it could be Christmas Every Day’ (Be grateful that wish can never be granted) and Slade thumping out ‘Merry Christmas, Ev’rybody’s havin’ Fun’, and you will inwardly be screaming ‘I am not having fun, to hell with fun, let us have joy, let us have beauty, let there be mirth and reverence within us, but fuck fucking fun.’

I’m not anti-Christmas, not really. I still get same the sense of something magical about to come upon us as I did when I was five. It might have failed to materialise for the last forty years, but I still fall for it. It’s like Linus’s unshakeable faith in the Great Pumpkin.


When I lived in Athens, from 1990 to 2002, the build up to Christmas always seemed promising. The decorations are genuinely pretty, being simply thousands of little white lights in the trees, none of your crappy Snowmen and Santas gibbeted on lamp-posts. In Kolonaki, the district in the centre where I lived, the owners of the posh shops of Haritos Street would, on the last Friday afternoon before Christmas, place tables in the street and offer wine, beer, roast ham, spinach pies, cheese pies and kourabiedes (crescent shaped shortbread biscuits) for passers-by. You could begin at the top of the road and spend all afternoon wandering slowly along in the cold and the waning light, emerging with glowing winter cheeks and pleasantly pissed at the other end. Before our flights back to the UK, colleagues and I would have dinner out two or three nights on the trot. I would get mildly slooed on the flight home – easy to do on BA, where British staff instinctively know you need two vodka miniatures per order, but requiring more determination on Olympic Airways, where staff see no pressing need to serve you at all, still less to allow you extra rations.

Syntagma Square, tarted up for Xmas

Then suddenly, here’s England.

After all year in Greece, everything here seems quieter, damped down. You notice it the moment you walk into the airport building. Everyone has smaller features and smaller teeth. Passport control officials smile and say hello: they have a peculiar bouncy cheeriness that is profoundly irritating. You get your train. Railway officials have this same jolly, verbose obsequiousness. You show them your ticket and they say ‘that’s lovely’. What do you reply? ‘Glad you like it’? Some bloke pushing a drinks trolley down the carriage is twittering ‘any refreshments today for anybody at all?’ which surely is six words too many? Later, in Marks and Sparks, check-out persons will parrot ‘thank you for waiting’, as if you had had a choice. Then they say ‘any cash back for you?’ and you are truly stumped – what the hell does that mean? Then you hear Noddy fucking Holder warbling on about ‘everybody having fun’ and you think, sod it, that’s killed it for another year.



I will have Christmas on my terms sooner or later. There will be no other houses and no TV within a ten mile radius, and no music heard that is less than 200 years old. (Special requests will be considered, however, submitted in good time in your best joined-up writing.) Electric light will be kept to a practical minimum, and instead there will be candles, candles, and again candles, and pine incense. Food will be plentiful, but not in such quantities as to make you sick of the sight of it by the end of Christmas Eve. There will be wine, champagne and brandy available at all hours, and although I do not partake myself, I will be encouraging the smoking of vanilla-scented tobacco, because I love the smell. I don't do lunch, so forget about mountains of turkey and stuffing on the afternoon of the 25th, and bring sandwiches if you can't wait until seven or so, when the leisurely approach to dinner will begin with talk, drinks and Nigella-inspired nibbly things. Forget about the turkey-and-trimmings as well, because I loathe the dry meat, gluggy gravy, soapy veg and starchy spud type of meal, and know too that I have made it an offense to grow and traffic brussels sprouts. Expect something much lighter and spicier - I haven't decided what yet. You have permission to mull your own wine, but not mine. I can't see the point of making good wine taste like cough syrup. I will have arranged for temperatures not to rise above freezing, so bring warm clothes if you want to go walking in the nearby frosty woods, which I have laid on specially by demolishing all houses within the ten-mile radius already mentioned. And there will be no Noddy Holder, no George Michael, no Bruce Forsyth, no old movies, no Matchmakers, no After Eights or Quality Street, no paper hats, and absolutely NO fucking family fun.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Been there, done it, bought the, etc....

I am paid by the hour and cannot afford to be ill. I had a 'flu jab on Saturday morning, so as to be safe this year from anything other than Bird Flu. A week off could cost me six hundred pounds. How nice, though, sometimes, to enjoy ill-health: some brief, trivial but incapacitating illness would beat teaching, just occasionally. To stay in bed of a dark, wet morning with a big mug of tea and read - one could bear the discomfort of fever cheerfully. I mean, how many more times do you want to discuss food with lower intermediates as I did today:

'Turkey food is wery deliss-use, with madge fresh frewit and wedge-tables, and good for our healty.'

Heard that one before, more than once. Dozens of times, in fact. We got onto booze.

'I drean a loddoff alcohol'' said Luis (Ecuador)

'How much?' I ask, sensing a kindred spirit.

'A loddoff. Two bierce a day.'

'Two bierce a day?' says Cecilia (Ecuador) incredulously. 'Jew drean two bierce a day???


'Salodda bierce!'

Two beers a day hardly registers on my scale. I would feel deprived on such a regime. I keep quiet. I also keep quiet, with more difficulty, when my Algerian students, who are lovely, have a good snigger at the idea of lesbian and gay civil partnerships.

It is not the students' fault, obviously. It's just that ELT can so often feel like a recurring dream, the same conversations, the same prejudices cropping up over and over.

How about this for an intro to lesson #1? 'Right, before any one of you raises any of these issues:

  1. Dogs are intelligent animals and they only bite if they are raised by arseholes. 
  2. I'm unmarried 'cos I'm a pouf. I like blokes, but probably not you, so relax. 
  3. I drink like a fish. 
  4. I'm English but I'm a pretty good cook. 
  5. I believe consenting adults should enjoy guilt-free sex with any number of partners and in any combination of sexes, so long as I only get the men. 
  6. I know Allah will provide milk, honey and wine in the next world, but why wait? I can get all that from Sainsbury's tonight. 
  So let's move on, shall we? Please turn to page two.'

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Six carefully chosen random things about me

The pensive look was in fact the by-product of a strong desire to pee. Thanks to George for the photo.

If you get tagged, you are supposed to do this business of writing six random things about yourself. I wasn't going to, but it only took a day to capitulate.

1. I love male beauty to the point of worship. For me, there is nothing in this sublunary world more beautiful than a healthy, naked young man.

2. I really admire Temple Grandin: she is so eloquent on autism and must have been the first autistic person to convince the neurotypical world that autists can have an inner life. Her insights into animal thought processes in Animals in Translation are fascinating, and made me observe my cat with completely new eyes. Grandin's directness and lack of guile are almost shaming. I am fascinated by autism because I have some traits of Asperger's syndrome myself: obsessions, emotional aloofness, inability to tune out distracting stimuli, and a sense in social situations that I am like an insufficiently rehearsed understudy in a play.

3. I adore cats.

4. Red wine!

5. I think Evangelical Christianity is a boil on the arse of humanity. I escaped it at about fifteen, thank Gods.

6. I love rain. In winter in Greece it comes slamming straight down like bars, and I loved to go out walking with a golfing umbrella, listening to it battering the canvas.


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