Friday, 31 October 2008

Being tagged



I've been tagged! Actually, I'm buggered if I know what this really means, but these are the rules in case anyone else can make head or tail of them:

1. Link to the person who tagged you.

2. Post the rules on your blog.

3. Write six random things about yourself.

4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.

5. Let each person know they’ve been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.

6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

I was tagged by Bo, whose writings and erudition I admire enormously, so go there immediately and check him out and stop arsing about on here. I'm not sure he quite gets the point of tagging either, but I hope it may be taken as a complement. I don't know any other bloggers to tag.

Six random things about yourself... Look, if you blog, odds are you are not someone who would confuse an entrance with an exit, so for 'random things about yourself', read 'carefully selected things about yourself, with artfully arranged lighting'. The inevitability of the posing involved, even subconsciously, made me decide not to make a list.

Not yet, anyway.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Nut cases



Few who have worked in private language schools would deny that the owners of these establishments tend to... eccentricity. Some are certifiably bonkers. Samuel, the owner of the school in England that gave me my first permanent contract, had advanced, inoperable bats-in-the-belfry and was famous around town for this reason. He was Mr Toad, his humourless enthusiasm for his various projects quickly aroused, easily dashed and swiftly shifted to new ones. If his mania was at its height, he could speak of nothing but the proposed installation of a new video projector, or of the carol concert he was planning for our Christmas delectation, so you did not want to get cornered. People would dive out of second storey windows at his approach. Plans for the end of term Christmas party were usually drawn up about the end of July and circulated for everyone’s approval, meaning only approval was permitted. Come October, Sam would have recruited a number of students for his Christmas choir and be rehearsing them to the screaming limit. On the night of the do, every member of staff would be pig-sick of the bloody party before it started. Flashback:

Ten of us are huddled in the kitchen as though mulling the wine were as labour intensive an operation as separating conjoined twins. Students arrive expecting a disco, but find seats set out in rows as for a lecture. The choir is assembled, looking self-consciously smart and staid. Sam eventually turns up in bustling seriousness, wearing evening suit, bow tie and silken cummerbund. He peremptorily expels teachers from their hiding place in the kitchen. He welcomes the students formally, oblivious of their long faces. He extracts an ivory baton from a velvet pouch, taps the music stand, and the concert begins. It’s not bad. It just goes on. And on. Applause gets more and more desultory. At (considerable) length, Adeste Fideles has rung out and Sam, spent, is escorted home by his lady wife. The teachers dash for the mulled wine and the disco finally gets underway.

Greek language schools are so numerous that in the Athens suburbs there is one in nearly every street. If you do a commercial seminar for OUP on some new book, you will meet quite a few people with eccentric views of language and learning. Coffee, sticky cakes and fizzy pop will be served after the seminar and you will be required to partake, smiling, smiling, and answering questions. You thus are a sitting duck for bores with theories. Someone wants to know what you think of the Theory of Language Acquisition / Accelerated Learning / Grammar Book he’s been elaborating in his head for years. You smile and nod and say that’s interesting, yes, yes, indeed, aha. You are actually thinking ‘aw, fuck off, you pompous git, go bore someone else into catatonia, please. Your ideas are as cutting-edge as the phlogiston theory of combustion.’

Nutter in chief, the real whacko’s whacko, was Géza, Hungarian owner of a failing school in the Midlands where I worked for eighteen months. He would arrive every so often from Hungary with a list of ideas to rescue the whole moribund mess. These never included renovating the crumbling building, which would have been a good start. They usually involved plans to organise some series of cultural events which nobody local would have given a toss about. On one visit, Géza announced that we would invite local parents to a series of talks on how to tell if your kid is doing drugs. We said, no, this has been done to death, and lots of local parents are on drugs along with their kids anyway. ‘So zis is serious!’ Géza said. ‘Outside of the school ve vill place coffins, so people vill know how it is serious!’

Now, here speaks the true looper. Your language school is dying on its feet, and what do you do? You display coffins around the main entrance – that’s the way to pack them in.

Despite Géza’s tenacity and enthusiasm for the idea, the coffin display was shelved during my time as director of studies there. The school limps on though, and whenever I go past I check to see if G. has got his way after all.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Heaven and Hell, guided tour.



If you go here, you can listen to the testimony of one Mary Katherine Baxter. Mary ministers at the National Church of God in Washington, D.C. ‘Her services are characterized by miracles and other demonstrations of the Holy Spirit.’ Mary is clearly somewhat more beloved of God than most of us, as He lets her in on stuff the rest of us are not allowed to know, and she has been vouchsafed sneak peeks of Heaven and Hell. On You Tube you can learn about her visits to both places, with especial emphasis on the latter. Now you don’t (believe me on this) want to listen to all fifteen instalments, so here’s a brief summary.

Hell is located in the core of the Earth, and has the shape of a human body – shades of Swedenborg here. Jesus took MKB there for three hours a night for thirty nights, and it’s pretty much what you might expect. It’s real nasty. My Goodness, it’s bad. The Damned are nothing but near-skeletons, their skin burning on their bones and then regenerating even as it is consumed by fire and glowing maggots, for their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. Demons have lots of inventive methods of torturing them and they moan and writhe and scream and beg Jesus for mercy. No deal, though; it’s too late for that now. He's a great finger wagger, is Mary's Jesus, full of shoulda-dones, and despite the warm lart she perceives in his arze, they ain't a blame thang he kin do. Heaven, on the other hand, is even nicer than Disney Land, if you can imagine that, and when she went, Mary saw a trumpet thirty feet long and a piano forty foot across, and people spend their time (no shortage of that) dancing to music of all nations. So it’s all good, clean, wholesome fun up there and you know which one you want to go to when you die after listening to all this. The Lawd willuv opened up yur arze.

Far more interesting than Mary Katherine’s semi-literate maunderings are the comments appended to the videos by You Tubers. For every one denouncing her as bat-shit crazy or shamelessly on the make, three or more extol her and sing the praises of Jesus, who saves men from this torment without end, if only they will bow down to him. People really do believe this Grand Guignol fantasy of Hell, and really do think God is to be joyously worshipped for providing us with an out, rather than despised and rejected out of hand for having created Hell in the first place. I have been unable to resist commenting myself, now in earnest, now flippantly, and I get smacked down most times by people who take this stuff mighty seriously, and would have me look to my soul. This sort of thing:

‘This was a powerful move of God. I guess it takes a person filled with the Holy Ghost, saved and sanctified to discern it.’

Meaning not me, obviously.

‘Chose this day whom you will serve. Either its God or Satan, one or the other. It seems as if you love the world more than God, and you will die in your sins if you do not repent.’


One contributes this piece of inspirational poetry:

‘follow the satan and you shall see
the flames of hell for all eternity
turn your back from god and you will get
tormented day and night in the darkest pit
christ died for man , woman and all
so that none of us would have to fall
follow satan the serpant and liar
and your body will burn forever in fire
So understand what god have meant
before its to late you should repent.’


I like the way he rhymes 'get' and 'pit'.

‘I see that you cannot tell when Jesus reveals things through mankind. Do you really not believe Jesus is behind the revelation of Mary Baxter and others? I can figure out which side you are on, do you still follow Satan? Do you watch porn, get drunk, having sex and not married? The truth lies in your answer.’

Spot on about the porn, booze and sex there, although I don't actually get drunk having sex.

I would like to know how these people manage to reconcile their idea of a loving and compassionate God with their belief that Hell exists, and is condign punishment for anyone who does not believe in Jesus. It’s rather like defending Auschwitz. I used to know a few Evangelicals when I was about fourteen. I attended Bible study meetings where these kind people sat in the hosts' cosy living rooms, praying, discussing and having tea and cakes, the gas fire puttering, all of us somehow managing to ignore the smoke and flames and screams of Hell that we were enjoined to accept and see, by some feat of logic-chopping, as the creation of a just God. I just want to know now how ideas of Hell and Just God can sit peaceably side by side in anyone's mind. A conclusion I am trying to avoid is that they simply lack imagination, empathy and maybe intelligence, but that is too sweeping. Anybody?

Monday, 27 October 2008

Porno


Will McBride. Boys Pose for Locker Room Painting, Casoli, c. 1980.

There is only one criterion for judging the success or failure of a piece of pornographic writing: did it give you a hard on? A piece of porn that does not provoke the desire to knock one off is pretty much a waste of your time. I’ve just been thumbing through a dispiritingly anaphrodisiac collection of stories called Boys in Shorts: English Schoolboy Short Stories, by somebody or other. I remained zipped. Pity. Could try harder.

I thought the English schoolboy bit held some promise. We know that boys’ public schools in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were the settings for all-male bacchanalia that all upper class males knew went on, but did not discuss once they were out of it. The pompous arse in a gown and a silly hat who sentenced you to two years for cottaging in the 1950s probably privately caressed his own memories of the sodding, frotting and wanking of his school days. ‘For two years or so we were utterly abandoned. An intoxicating, almost deranging mood possessed us. Of course there were one or two men who never joined in, who slept or pretended to sleep while the rest of us writhed round in passionate couplings or orgiastic free for alls.’ This is Lord Nantwich in Alan Hollinghurst’s The Swimming Pool Library. Details of this boy-to-boy passion and boy-on-boy action might have made for some horny reading, Mr Porn Writer. Tell us about the longing for a beautiful new boy, the medical inspections, the changing rooms, sitting for hours in tedious lessons with a straining erection you can do nothing about: it could have been hot. How about getting the masters involved, and forcing them to remember they did the same stuff themselves?

Anyway, none of this is envisaged by the author of Boys in Shorts. Instead of feeling aroused I was snarling and pshawing like a schoolmaster marking a slovenly essay. Doesn’t he know a boy is ‘a blond’ and not ‘a blonde’? Hmmm? Twink A watches Twink B jerk off. Such is Twink B’s orgasm that he passes out. Twink A is scared and gets the hell out. Later A calls B and says ‘I got scared. I panicked. Will you forgive me? I should have stayed until you woke up.’ OK, given the genre, we can accept the shattering orgasm and the buckets of spunk, but 14 year old boys apologising? Since when? And this simply will not do, boy: ‘his hands stroke the length of my sides, his thumbs smooth their way over my starfish nipples and into my armpits’. Starfish nipples??? What shape are they, for Christ's sake? Do they have innumerable small tentacles writhing about? It's quite a feat to make stroking a lad’s nipples sound revolting. Now this is more like it: ‘he had beautiful, muscular tits, with small frosted nipples, quite hairless’. That’s The Swimming Pool Library again, making male tits sound every bit as sexy as they are, and it isn’t even a porn novel.

I didn’t actually scribble irritable comments in the margin, but I mean, honestly.

Will McBride Boys in Locker-room Munich 1978 

Yağlı güreş



I find all sports tedious in the extreme, so it was nice to come across one sporting event I'd actually pay to witness. It has nothing to do with the sport but everything to do with the participants. These boys are Turkish oil wrestlers. The lad on the left has amazingly beautiful eyes, like a young man in the Fayum mummy portraits, but it is the lad on the right who is almost my fantasy made flesh; beautiful eyes and the hint of rough lent by the stubble make a combination that has always caused me to lose myself completely in their owner's beauty. I gawp and am unaware of gawping, as if I had disappeared. I am at once disappointed and relieved that the photo is not more revealing. I imagine packed muscles, hard and dense rather than bulky, some soft dark hair on his sternum and round his nipples, legs rough with dark hair, thick dick and a sturdy pair of bollocks. I will never be able to confirm any of this, but will be able to create it mentally every time I gaze at him, gobsmacked.

I am just emerging from a month or so of depression, when all emotion just switches off. A period of purest lust usually heralds the return to life. Hallelujah! And Thank God for Men! (A slogan that ought to be carried by protesters wherever the appalling Westboro Baptist Church hold one of their foul pickets.)

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

The Cat and the Tortoise



I don’t know much about tortoises, or care much that I don’t know, but I shared six months of my life with one and I want to commemorate him. Or her. I never knew which.

I had this brilliant fifth-floor flat in Pangrati, Athens. Huge terrace, beautiful view of the Acropolis and Lycavittos. The flat itself was pretty ropey, but I filled it with plants, candles, shells, interesting pebbles from the beach and incense burners, and soon it was kippered in candle smoke and frankincense and felt almost like home. It just needed a cat. I had never lived without at least two cats, and a catless life for me is no life at all. However, I didn’t know how long I would be staying in Greece, so I had to content myself with petting the whorish cats in the Zappeion Gardens, who sprawl belly up on the grass on warm days, to be tickled by British tourists. The tourists go away all itchy.

One day, my then boyfriend Danny turned up at my place with a little tortoise. The appalling rich bitch he worked for had found it in the garden and asked him to chuck it in the rubbish, and so he rescued it and brought it to me. It was animate and four footed, was it not, so he reckoned it would do instead of a cat. I felt very foreign: a Seychellois boyfriend who thought a tortoise a fair substitute for a cat, and his gruesome Greek employer who got off on having a black ‘servant’ and thought it OK to chuck live tortoises in the trash to be burnt. I'm British and I tend to have greater compassion for animals than I do for most people.

Well, anyway. This tortoise seemed to eat bugger all, but produce prodigious amounts of crap. I didn’t catch on to this at first. I mean, I knew it must shit, but I imagined it would be like goldfish poop, extruded in a long pale string that would probably just dry up and blow away. It is not so. After a while I started discovering under chairs and tables pats of shite as from a herd of small cows. This little thing the size of a Cornish pastie could eat a lettuce leaf and then piss a puddle that would not shame a Labrador.

While the tortoise was hibernating, I finally got a cat, and called his name William. Cats respond, purr, talk to you, love being cuddled and played with, everything tortoises can’t be arsed to do. They are also vicious to other animals. William would exhume the hibernating tortoise and belt him round the marble-floored flat like an ice-hockey puck. I would get home from work and find the poor little reptile shut up like a spectacles case under a chair, or I would skid on him in the hall and measure my length on the cold marble.

My mother, on a visit, tried to establish a relationship with the tortoise. By chucking it under chin she got it to poke its round, smooth head further and further out of its shell. ‘Oo, that looks just like a penis, darling’ she said. I knew she was addressing the tortoise because she would never call me ‘darling’.

Then the tortoise disappeared for about two months. We lived on the fifth floor, and it was hard to fathom where it might have got to. It was eventually returned to me by the owner of the empty flat below mine, where it had been munching the plants on the balcony. Obviously the cat had kicked it over the parapet, in youthful high spirits. Finally one hot day, I came home and found Tortoise on the terrace, on its back, dead. It had fallen over backwards – or been pushed – whilst trying to climb over a brick. The effort to right itself, perhaps with the cat rocking it like a seesaw, must have brought on a heart attack.

Poor tortoise. If we had taken it to Zappeion Gardens when Danny brought it to me, it would probably still be alive, and still have a good eighty years or more to come. Or maybe not. Once they fall over backwards, tortoises have a hell of a job getting back on their feet, and thus mating season is a risky time for males. I wonder if my small tortoise was actually trying to give that brick a damn good shafting, and I hope he departed this life in a frenzy of reptilian lust.

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