Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Pissing against the Wall: Passing Water for Christ

OK, this is probably the last bit of Christer Fundie bashing I'm going to indulge in for a while, but I really couldn't resist this, which I found here and thought worth bringing to a wider audience, although it may be that I'm among the last to come across it. That nice, clean-cut young man you heard playing the ghee-tar and singing hymns a couple of posts ago may be seen here preaching and telling it like it is, or how he thinks it is, or would have it if he could. His views are most definitely not nice. He is Pastor Steven L. Anderson, he preaches hell fire and biblically-justified hatred including, inevitably, routinely, tediously, hatred of homosexuals. His views are especially vicious and benighted. 'It is time that preachers and Baptist people take a stand against the Sodomite freaks and turn off the television that tries to shove their perversion down our throat. God help a generation of Christians that does not think that homosexuality is “that bad''. We need a revival of old-fashioned righteous indignation and hatred for sin and perverts. What the world needs now is more hatred. Anyone spot any flaws in Stevie's argument? Hands up, don't all call out at once.

According to his website Steve 'holds no college degree but has well over 100 chapters of the Bible committed to memory, including almost half of the New Testament.' Here he has taken as his text the memorable 1 Kings 14:10: 'Therefore, behold, I will bring evil upon the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel, and will take away the remnant of the house of Jeroboam, as a man taketh away dung, till it be all gone.'

The burden of Stevie's sermon here is that these days way too many men pee sitting down, in defiance of God's requirement that they should do so proudly upright. Pastors, perhaps even the President, probably micturate while seated, soft-armed effeminates that they are, and look at the state of the world! Germany, would you believe, actually requires men to drain off sitting down, which is bending the knee to Satan and faggotry. Steve is off to Germany soon, where he will defiantly stand up and Slash for Jesus, making a joyful plash unto the Lord, stirring up the waters of the lavatory pan in His name, a standing rebuke to the effete, sessile widdlers of Deutschland.

The sermon elicited this response from a reader of Hitchmo's blog:

As you can imagine, being a good Hebraicist, I was prompted to do a bit of research on this one. The phrase ‘one who pisses against a wall’, (transliterated Hebrew ‘mashtin beqir’) is a contemptuous expression for masculinity/men. If we want to get the real force of contempt we should not translate the phrase as it dumbs down the original language! There is a lesson in translating the Old Testament. Interestingly the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament, translated probably sometime before the time of Jesus) does not translate this phrase as ‘male’, but retains the edgy phrase ‘one who pisses against the wall’). Interestingly it is not a command from God for the righteous man to follow. Hence the pastor in your clip gets the wrong end of the stick (if you pardon my metaphor). It is not something we are commanded to do but rather a phrase designed to heap contempt on certain men.

Pray pee upstanding

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Niyaz 'The Hunt '

Here's a beautiful Persian song performed by Azam Ali with the group Niyaz. The song is a dialogue between two hunters. One proposes the hunting of rabbits, deer, pigeons and pheasants, and the other says no to the killing, because the animals remind him of his beloved. (The second bloke doesn't sound much of a hunter, really.) Many thanks to Emma for furnishing us with the translation and the Persian lyrics, and sincerest apologies to her for the mix-up over attribution.

Let's go to the field.
Which field?
The same that has rabbits, oh yes.
And my dog has a rope on its foot, oh yes.
Don't kill my dog nor my rabbits,
For the dream of the rabbit reminds me of the dream of my lover, oh yes.

Let's go to the mountain.
Which mountain?
The same that has deer, oh yes.
And my dog has a rope on its foot, oh yes.
Don't kill my dog, nor my rabbit, nor my deer,
For the grace of my deer reminds me of the grace of my lover, oh yes.

Let's go to the garden.
Which garden?
The same that has pheasants, oh yes.
And my dog has a rope on its foot, oh yes.
Don't kill my dog, nor my rabbit, nor my deer, nor my pheasants,
For the amble of the pheasant reminds me of the amble of my lover, oh yes.

Let's go to the well.
Which well?
The same that has pigeons, oh yes.
And my dog has a rope on its foot, oh yes.
Don't kill my dog, nor my rabbits, nor my deer, nor my pheasants,nor my pigeons,
For the flight of the pigeon reminds me of the flight of my lover, oh yes.

Let's go to the mountains.
Which mountains?
The same that have eagles, oh yes.
And my dog has a rope on its foot, oh yes.
Don't kill my dog, nor my rabbit, nor my deer, nor my pheasants, nor my pigeons, nor my eagles,
For the clutch of the eagle reminds me of the clutch of my lover, oh yes.

Biyâ berim dasht,
Kodum dasht?
Hamun dashti ke khargush-na dâre, ây bale
Bacche sayyâb be pâyash tâb dâre, ây bale
Bacche sayyâb-râ mazan, khargush-e dashtom râ mazan
Khâb-e khargush be khâb-e yâr mimunad, bale
Khâb-e khargush be khâb-e yâr mimunad, bale

Biyâ berim kuh,
Kodum kuh?
Hamun dashti ke âhu-na dâre, ây bale
Bacche sayyâb be pâyash tâb dâre, ây bale
Bacche sayyâb-râ magir, khargush-e dashtom râ magir, âhu-e kuhom râ magir
Khâl-e âhu be khâl-e yâr mimunad, bale
Khâl-e âhu be khâl-e yâr mimunad, bale

Biyâ berim bâgh,
Kodum bâgh?
Hamun bâghi ke qomri-ta dâre, ây bale
Bacche sayyâb be pâyash tâb dâre, ây bale
Bacche sayyâb-râ magir, khargush-e dashtom râ magir, âhu-e kuhom râ magir, qomri-e bâghom râ magir
Charkh-e âhu be charkh-e yâr mimunad, bale
Charkh-e âhu be charkh-e yâr mimunad, bale

Biyâ berim châh,
Kodum châh?
Hamun châhi ke koftar-na dâre, ây bale
Bacche sayyâb be pâyash tâb dâre, ây bale
Bacche sayyâb-râ magir, khargush-e dashtom râ magir, âhu-e kuhom râ magir, qomri-e bâghom râ magir, koftar-e châhom râ magir
Tâb-e âhu be tâb-e yâr mimunad, bale
Tâb-e âhu be tâb-e yâr mimunad, bale

Biyâ berim kuh,
Kodum kuh?
Hamun kuhi ke oghâb-na dâre, ây bale
Bacche sayyâb be pâyash tâb dâre, ây bale
Bacche sayyâb-râ magir, khargush-e dashtom râ magir, âhu-e kuhom râ magir, qomri-e bâghom râ magir, koftar-e châhom râ magir, oghâb-e kuhom râ magir
Chang-e oghab be chang-e yâr mimunad, bale
Chang-e oghab be chang-e yâr mimunad, bale.

Monday, 23 February 2009


click and look a bit closer.

Many thanks to Argentum Vulgaris in Brazil for the link and plug over at 'Things that Fizz'. T.T.F. is a blog dedicated to curiosity and appetite, and to anyone whose eyes are bigger than their belly. All manner of curiosities are introduced here, and your every-day recipe may be a new thought to someone from another part of the planet. Did you know Laotians eat crispy mulberry leaves with chilli sauce? I didn't, but thanks to A.G. I do now, and I'm kicking myself for all the years spent among Greek mulberry trees whose leaves I could have bloody eaten but didn't. Shandy is not well known around the world, it seems, but AG brings it to a wider audience. It is not for me, shandy, but there is something here for everyone. I rarely drink beer and if I do, I only go for hooligan-strength stuff like Carlsberg Special Brew, which the local off-license man used to sell me in quantity when I was fourteen. I wasn't a hoodie avant la lettre, they just didn't fuss about kids so much then.

'You have a short-drinker's tastes, and a beer-drinker's capacity' my father used to say to me re. my love of booze. If this description fits you too, check out Argentum Vulgaris's blog.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Yo, Banana Boy!

God's original, non user-friendly banana before human beings tampered with it.

I had a red, bold, upper-case wobbly at those who took my rather heavy-handed parody of a Fred Phelps sermon at face value and supposed me to be as toilet-mouthed a homophobe as Freddy himself. Some people, honestly... I huffed and tutted at such literal mindedness. But us too-clever-by-half smart-arse ironists miss the point too, sometimes. Watch this hilarious send-up of a pair of smiling, squeaky-clean Creationists extolling the perfection of God's creation, as evidenced by the banana. It's a pitch-perfect parody of creationist piffle, from the bosky setting to the folksy joshin' through the goody-two-shoes clothing to the intolerably smug conclusion from no evidence whatsoever. But maybe you know what I didn't: they are not joking. The pair of them are for real. They really do think that explaining how come bananas are so cool is 'the atheist's nightmare', God bless and keep them.

The banana man, Ray Comfort, believes every bloody word he's saying, and he has just written a book, entitled You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence but You Can't Make Him Think. The very title makes you want to rip his head off and piss down his windpipe. (I threw in that bit of gratuitously violent language just so any of Ray's mates who might read this can congratulate themselves on how right they are and how timely is this book.) The Christian Post tells us the book 'soared to the top of's sales charts, nabbing top spots in the Atheist category and Apologetics category... The book, subtitled "Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics," is a response to a movement known to many evangelical leaders as Militant Atheism, a new breed of atheists who aim to eliminate Christianity.'

Eliminate Christianity, quotha! This stance of embattled hero fighting off Evil is common in the Dungeons and Dragons world of Evangelical Christianity, where they enjoy thinking themselves widely persecuted for their beliefs. In that world they are also convinced that acceptance of Jesus as saviour is a moral duty, and a sign of maturity. Anyone who refuses to accept, or who like me is an apostate, has not arrived at disbelief via thought and study of evidence, but is merely a stubborn, rebellious child.

In Western Europe we have probably gone too far down the road of syncretism and skeptical spirituality for these people to seem like any kind of threat to us, but fundamentalism in the USA, Africa and Asia needs watching. Dangerous people, these self-righteous paranoiacs.

The phallic analogies (sits comfortably in the hand, etc.) have been done, we won't go there.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Rapture Ready


I've been banging on about Christers quite a bit of late, and I haven't finished yet. I know that the WBC are far from representative of all Christians, and we should be grateful for that. The kind of Christianity I was involved with as a teenager - the US-style Born Again variety as cultivated in the 1970s UK - is also far from representative, but it's the kind I know best and loathe most, so I'm about to have a go at it. There are many other branches of which I have no experience. I have a friend who was brought up among Plymouth Brethren and her description of their precepts makes the Taliban sound frivolous. Anyway, here's another diatribe.

I mentioned The Rapture earlier. The idea here is that pretty soon (it's been 'pretty soon' for quite some time now) all us Born Again, Showered in the Blood of the Lamb Christers will be assumed into Heaven, leaving the rest of you poor saps to fend for yourselves during the reign of the Antichrist. If you go here you can learn all you need to know to avoid being left behind with the unrighteous after the Rapture. The answerer of these FAQs knows God almost well enough to deputise for him, and The Lord has as many opinions, views, action plans and guidelines as any party steering committee. Let me give you a taste of what you need to be doing or avoiding in order to shape up.

Is jerking off OK? Guidelines on spanking the monkey are scant, but it seems you can probably get away with it so long as you don't think as you do it. If you fantasize, you might be committing adultery in your heart, which is every bit as bad as doing it for real, except of course there will be no possibility of unwanted pregnancy, transmission of STDs or even knowledge on the part of the object of your fantasy that you have knocked one off while thinking of him / her. That makes no never mind in God's eyes, though. Try wanking without fantasizing. Or try not wanking at all. You probably can't last either course for long, so you are stuffed - one more thing to feel guilty and grovel to God about.

What if you fear that your son is growing up a bit of a pouf, playing with barbie dolls instead of killing toy soldiers and beating up his buddies like a normal boy? 'Just calmly explain that God loved him so much that He made him a little boy—just like Jesus.' You might want to say this out of earshot of your little girl. Have an answer ready in case he gets all excited and wants to know where this little boy Jesus made him is. 'Then take him out and let him pick out a special new toy to play with—just for him.' And pray to Jesus he doesn't go for Tiny Tears or My Little Pony. If he does, ' ...this is a great time for Dad to spend some alone time with his boy doing something special. Some great and prominently [sic] male activities are fishing, hiking, hunting, building a model, cutting the grass…' Oh, please! When do these innocents get it through their skulls that butch activities (don't you just love to watch a man mowing the lawn!) won't make anybody straight if they are not already? In my experience, and that of dozens of other gay men of my acquaintance, all attempts to involve us in sports and model making and playing at fighter bombers and all that dreary stuff were doomed to frustration - we just didn't give a shit, and no fatherly or school-masterly threats and blandishments could change that.

There are no guidelines on the site for parents who are worried about a daughter growing up butch. 'Just calmly explain that God loved her so much, He made her a little girl, just like...' well, who? Thank God girls don't matter so much, huh?

Did Adam have a navel? This is classified under 'silly questions' and the writer is commendably honest here: 'There is no way to verify if he actually had one or not.' True, true. But if God made Adam from spit and clay, like, why would he have bothered with a navel, right? Duh! The question of whether or not Adam had nipples, and if so why, is not addressed. (Nor why God needed spit.) There was no immediate practical application for them, but perhaps God already knew that six thousand years later we would see the development of the velvet tit clamp as yet another fleshly temptation to be avoided on the path to heaven. Truly, God loves us.

Of course, homosexuality is top of the Born-Again God's hate list, and... oh, sod it, we won't go there again, not today.

Finally, let me give you an example of what God does like, just in case you are getting the impression he's just a curmudgeonly ole Crosspatch who's like, totally no fun! Below is a nice young man playing the sort of music it appears God can never get enough of, so start singing along now, if you know what's good for you.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Ignore the Filth

On Sunday I published a post about the ghastly Westboro Baptist Church and their plan to come to Basingstoke to picket a performance by sixth formers of that smash-mouth insult to Mr G. Almighty, The Laramie Project, a piece of special pleading on behalf of faggotry, which causeth The Lord's dentures to rattle and black smoke to issue from His ears while he stokes up the fires of hell. Within an hour of posting the piece I got about 27 hits from Topeka, Kansas, where the Phelps clan are based. So I checked the WBC site and saw they have provided a link to this blog: 'this is pretty nice, but ignore the filth'. This is what they call a back-handed complement, I suppose. Anyway, since Sunday evening the number of hits on lathophobic aphasia has risen from the usual modest average of fifteen a day to just fewer than a hundred a day, most of them via the nauseating 'God hates Fags' website maintained by WBC, and most reading the post 'He that Sitteth in the Heavens shall Laugh'.

Bit of a bugger, that. By far the most visited post on the blog is one that took no more than ten minutes to write when I was scraping the barrel for subject matter, when ones I took a great deal more care over are ignored like letters that have fallen behind the dresser. Well, that's blogging for you. What really pissed me off, though, was that some readers missed the heavily-applied sarcasm and took me for a Westboro-type homophobe instead of the proud homophile I am. I mean for Christ's sake, could I have laid the sarcasm on any thicker?

I don't know what the WBC thought was 'nice' on here. I don't do nice. I do know what they think is filth. The 'filth' is my open appreciation of masculine beauty, as expressed in the inclusion of a few Tsarouchis paintings and a couple of Will McBride photos. God in His inscrutable ways makes young men of heart-stopping beauty, then has a fit if other men are transfixed by such wonders. The WBC has nothing beautiful on its website. They sing a few clunky popular songs with re-jigged thumb-nosing lyrics and perform them with bright-eyed Schadenfreude. They include reams of rant, which they interlard with bible quotation and eisegesis. They see sex as nothing save a mess of foul exudations and humours, and Phelps rattles on about semen, feces, blood, spit and piss because the sad old fart and the vindictive God of his fantasies are blind to sex as beauty, affection, mirth, reverence and pleasure. Nothing the WBC produce is haunting, witty, moving, funny, appreciative, mysterious, reverential, intelligent, inspiring of wonder or in any way interesting except as an example of how ugly total religious certainty can be and what a waste of brains and zeal the whole WBC crew are. Of course, the more they are reviled, the more vindicated they feel and the more scorn they set out to provoke.

Thanks for the link, anyway. Cheers for queers.


As you were. It turns out that the WBC will not be visiting our shores after all, and the ruttish populace of Basingstoke will continue to fornicate unrestrainedly, in blissful ignorance of the fury of the Lord their God, who is about to burst through the clouds just as he has been any time this two thousand years. Meanwhile there will be no WBC picket of The Laramie Project because the Home Office has decreed that if Fred and Shirley Phelps attempt to enter the UK they will be bundled straight away onto the next plane home. So relax.

Or rather, don’t relax. For Christ’s sake, are we such pussies that we cannot handle a couple of visiting crackpots waving signs outside a theatre for half an hour? "Both these individuals have engaged in unacceptable behaviour by inciting hatred against a number of communities" says the Home Office. Oh, leave it out. Up to a little more than a decade ago the British tabloid press spewed out homophobic vitriol as a matter of routine, and we survived. Thrived, in fact. Most people have the wit to see that the Westboro crew are merely ridiculous, but the Government does not credit us with such powers of discrimination. They think we are swayed by every bit of rant we are exposed to. So let us beware lest any point of view uncongenial to New Labour be deemed ‘unacceptable’ and banned.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Reassurance from Tim and Jerry

Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins are the authors of the novel 'Left Behind', which is about the world after The Rapture. That long-awaited and now imminent event is when Christians will be gathered in a twinkling into the air to meet the Lord, leaving non-believers gobsmacked. Cars will slam into one another as drivers shoot up into the clouds. Surgeons will be flabbergasted as patients with their guts still gaping vanish from operating tables. Lunches will be left smouldering as pious housewives go hightailing it to Heaven. Airliners will come crashing to earth, cockpits untenanted, their born-again captains swooping upwards as the aircraft hurtle downward. Thus all God's lucky elect will have been plucked from the Earth before the reign of the Antichrist,  which is going to be rather nasty. Tim and Jerry, who ought to know, have recently issued a statement to reassure us that Obama, pace Fred Phelps and crew, is not in fact the Antichrist, as you might have been thinking, although they concede that the mistake is entirely understandable.

'I can see by the language he uses why people think he could be the Antichrist,' says LaHaye, 'but from my reading of scripture, he doesn't meet the criteria. There is no indication in the Bible that the Antichrist will be an American.'

Indeed. Nor is there any indication in the Bible that he will be Chinese, Australian or Eskimo. He won't be Scottish or Portuguese or come from Samoa, Papua New Guinea or Japan. He'll be none of these, but he will behave like he's a saviour. There now, we're really narrowing it down. Be vigilant. Maybe he's Jamie Oliver.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

He that Sitteth in the Heavens Shall Laugh

It's important to raise your kids for The Lord

I have never been to Basingstoke, nor now shall I, for that Christ-rejecting, Satan-worshipping town is accursed of Almighty God and its inhabitants lost to shame. Yes, God hates Basingstoke, and I’ll tell you why. Those evil, fornicating, faeces-eating fag-enabling bastards of Basingstoke, those nekkid merchants of anal copulating, have taken time out from bestiality, adultery and urinating on bibles to schedule a performance of The Laramie Project at the Central Studio at Queen Mary’s College, and the Suffering Saints of Westboro Baptist Church are coming from Kansas on the 20th of February to picket the theatre in Religious Protest, NOT at the sphincter-winking awfulness of Brits doing American accents, no, but at the vile impudence of a show that presents the filthy face of fag evil, suggesting that Matthew Shepard might not have deserved to be beaten up and left in a frozen field to die, just because he was a vile, feces-loving, semen-drinking faggot who went trolling for strange flesh in a sodomites’ bar one evening. So listen up, you limey faggot-loving fornicators! Hear ye the words of Shirley Phelps-Roper, and tremble – NOT THAT YOU WILL, oh, no, because the Lord God Almighty has already hardened your evil, faggot-kissing hearts!

‘We will picket them, [actually, they won't]and see if they actually believe those lies they tell about how tolerant and accepting Brits are. RIIIIGHT! Just because you rage against God and make laws that say you cannot use "hate speech" (a/k/a - you may not speak of the Bible standards) in the UK does NOT mean you will not get the message that God Almighty intends for you to get. God Hates England; Your Queen Is A Whore; You Hate God; God Hates You; You're Going to Hell; Matt Is In Hell; Hell Is Real Ask Matt; God Hates Fags (Buggers); Obey God, etc. Some of the best Bible preaching in the history of the world came out of that dark dismal land, but now it is full of all abominations! God will shortly destroy the UK and the world, but not until they have gotten the plain, clear message so that they will be WITHOUT EXCUSE!’

That’s telling you!

Anyway, since we are all off to Hell in a hand basket, let’s at least have a giggle on the way at Pastor Fred Phelps his sermons, from which the choicest pearls are strung together below. Ol' Fred is a festering, roiling, slurping mess of sexual repression and self-hatred, disgorging embossèd sores and headed evils into the general world. Sodomite semen, sodomite faeces, sodomite rectal blood, presidents masturbating horses...dear, dear... then he calls us perverts: 'tasty, that fag sex, oh, so good!'. It was George W. Bush who masturbated horses, by the way. Bet you didn't know that! he's gone, of course, but don't relax yet, as things are much worse now. Y'all're gonna wish you still had a president who just innocently pumped equine peter, 'cuz the time has been at hand for 2000 years and WBC now reveals that Obama is the Antichrist, come at last!

Go here for a curious tale of friendship between Shirley Phelps-Roper and a drag queen.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

EOP - English for Onanistic Purposes

Greek education is test mad. Few teachers are able to see testing and teaching as separate, and so very few students can either. What are the effects of such a learning culture? How can it fuck things up? Here is a worst-case scenario.

First, in such an environment, teachers are only interested in answers, not in the mental process their students go through to arrive at those answers. Learning is therefore a hit and miss affair for those kids whose curiosity and critical faculties lie dormant. They think ‘I got that right, I got that wrong’, not ‘how did I get that right? What did I do to get that wrong? How can I make sure I get the process right in future?’ If your students’ thought processes don’t concern you, there will obviously be no acknowledgment that processes are happening and that they can be midwifed and nurtured.

Well, them’s mighty fancy words, ain’t they?

Spring 2004. I had a small group of six teenagers, all of whom had failed Cambridge First Certificate and were going to attempt Michigan Certificate, an exam they believed to be easier than FCE because it consists of multiple choice questions with which you can ‘play lotto’, as they put it. They expected that lessons with me would proceed as follows:

1. We do a test from the practice book.
2. He’ll read out the answers, we go ‘sostó!’ (correct) or ‘gamóto!’ (fuck it!) then total up.
3. We ask him for the meaning of a few words just to keep him happy.
4. We all get the hell out.

None of this requires the language to pass through anyone’s brain, let alone take up permanent residence there. What is needed to help bring this about is the kind of activity that will get the students to USE the language, but this is what they don’t want to do. ‘Oh, they don’t want to communicate,’ teachers would tell me, as though I were some naïf greenhorn full of big ideas. ‘They just want to pass the exam.’ They could never see the stupid contradiction here: they want to pass the exam without being able to do the very thing the exam sets out to test.

Anyway, one day early in our acquaintanceship, we played a game to practice recently taught relative pronouns, who, that, where, when. Merely knowing of their existence is of little use – it’s like owning a pack of cards but not knowing any games to play with them. There’s a pile of twenty-odd cards face down on the table. On each card is a word: it might be a thing (pencil sharpener) place (police station) time (Easter) or person (taxi driver). The first person to play takes a card and has to define the word: ‘it’s a thing that you use to… ’ ‘it’s a place where you…’ ‘it’s someone who…’ ‘it’s a time when’ and the first person to guess the exact word takes the card, keeps it, and then takes another card from the pack. The winner is the one with the most cards at the end. With any luck it might even be a laugh.

Paris plays first. Linguistically, he is not the sharpest tool in the shed. He frowns with intense puzzlement at the card like a caveman who has just found an i-Phone. Long silence. I smile encouragingly. I raise a quizzical eyebrow. I make eliciting gestures. I clear my throat. I tell a decade of the rosary, then play 'Bohemian Rhapsody' on the CD player. He's still thinking.

(For those of you at home, the object is: A BOUZOUKI. A BOUZOUKI.)

After about a geological age he says 'I have one, and I play it every day.' A perfectly satisfactory opener, even if it did take a bit of time to encode. But 'I play it' (το παίζω / to paizo) is Greek for ‘I jerk off’. This cracks everybody up, and Dimitris bellows 'YOUR DICK!!!', Artan says, ‘yeah I have one, and I play it every day as well’, and Stavros roars ‘Kyrie*, how do you say 'το παίζω’ in English?’ and Litsa and Anna look down their noses at all this laddish ribaldry. Saving the girls' presence, I teach the boys to wank, sorry, ‘to wank’, thinking, well, he did ask out of genuine curiosity. Brilliant! All the contributions from the lads thus far have been in English. The possibility of teaching English for Onanistic Purposes occurs to me:

Simple present for habitual action, with adverb of frequency:

How often do you wank?

Present continuous for action in progress at time of speaking:

Are you having a wank in there?

Present perfect for recently completed action:

Have you had a wank today?

Deontic use of modal verb for advisability (Advanced)

How frequently should one wank?

I'm only joking. Well, a bit. Obviously the parents would have had a fit, but I submit that such a discussion would have been genuinely useful in fixing grammatical forms in the minds of horny boys, but possibly not the girls, who in true Greek provincial style have been told always to be ladies. (‘Η μαμά μου λέει να είμαι πάντα κυρία.’ 'Mother says I must always be a lady'.)

Later in the term, we played another game to practice conditionals. This was another of the ‘pick a card’ variety. This time each card describes a hypothetical difficult situation or dilemma. ‘You have invited all your class to a party, except one boy whom nobody likes. He asks you why you have not invited him. What would you say?’ The card-picker reads out the situation, and everybody notes down how they would react if they found themselves so challenged. The asker then chooses one of the other players and says how he thinks this player would react. If he’s right, he gets a point. Well, this was far too complex a procedure for this group to adhere to, and the game element was abandoned in favour of a free for all discussion of the situations. ‘You find a wallet in the street. It contains 600 euros and the identity card of the owner. What would you do?’ For the lads, this one’s easy – pocket the cash and chuck the wallet and ID card in the nearest skip. (A good opportunity here, which I missed, to teach the expression ‘finders keepers, losers weepers’.) Litsa says sententiously that she’d take the wallet and the cash to the cop-shop and hand them in. This piety elicits the scorn of Stavros, who hoots that knowing her, she’d do no such thing, and as he elaborates on what she probably would do, Litsa gets indignant and bottom lip trembling, she bangs the desk with the flat of her hand, bawls ‘ego eimai sostos anthropos, Stavro!’ I’m a decent human being!’ turns away and bursts into tears, to much male mirth.

It was a pity that this was a monolingual group, with such young participants. If Litsa and Stavros had not shared the same mother tongue, and been a year or two older, she might have given him that piece of her mind in English. The indignation would have been a genuine reason to communicate, and a brief negotiation to repair the breach would have been a valuable exercise linguistically and socially. This genuinely motivated language production and exchange is what we are always trying to elicit, usually far more peaceably, of course.

My fellow EFL teacher and blogger Fionnchú over at Blogtrotter was kind enough to write an appreciative review of lathophobic aphasia by which I was immensely flattered. I would like to correct one impression, though, an impression I might have given without wishing to. I rarely did dull lessons flogging finer points of grammar to kids. Indeed, I tried as hard as I could not to – they had had more than enough of that sort of thing. On those occasions when I resorted to grammatical hard-core, it was because I occasionally got fed up of the kids’ resistance to what I saw as more useful and enjoyable ways of assimilating vocabulary and structure. If you are punch-drunk with school (‘This is my fiftieth lesson this week’ one girl told me at eight o’ clock of a Friday evening. She wasn’t joking.) it is a relief if your teacher can be manipulated into doing a bit of talk-and-chalk grammar preaching, because then you can just switch off and ignore the poor sap for a while.


*‘Kyrie’ = sir.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

' a Vision once I Saw...'

Dream last night in which I am watching a TV documentary about an eco-friendly house. The loo is of that kind where bacteria break down the shite, and we cop a close-up of the massed turds roiling and boiling therein like some evil, chuckling, festering gunk in a Quatermass experiment. 'This,' says the Kirstie-and-Phil voice over, 'is a hairy toilet!'

Tuesday, 10 February 2009


‘Arkas’ is the nom de plume of a popular Greek cartoonist. His real name is unknown and he is remarkably self-effacing, not a quality I would readily associate with Greeks as a rule. (Συγγνώμη, παιδιά.) He gives no interviews, and there are no photographs of him in his books or on the net. Back in the nineties, I learned a huge amount of vocabulary very enjoyably from reading his cartoon strips. A favourite series of mine was ‘O Isovitis’, ‘The Lifer’. Isovitis (he doesn’t have a name) is a mild-mannered intellectual who has been sentenced to 500 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. The prison is a place of unrelieved grimness, with downtrodden prisoners banged up in solitary and chained to dripping walls, callous warders and a world-weary and embittered prison doctor. The humour is black as pitch. ‘Doctor, am I going to die?’ a sick prisoner asks. ‘Maybe,’ the doctor replies, ‘but I can’t promise.’

Arkas frequently uses the prison to satirise Greek burocracy with its Alice-through-the-Looking-Glass logic and dedication to buck-passing. Isovitis, stir-crazy in solitary, begins to recite little dialogues. A guard shunts open the spy hole of the cell and demands to know who he is talking to. 'To myself' Isovitis replies. 'Απαγορεύεται! It's forbidden! If this continues I'll put you in separate cells!' A special committee concludes that the prison is not to blame for a spate of suicides where prisoners jumped from the roof – the responsibility lies with the law of gravity. Admittedly this is funnier if you have lived in Greece for a few years.

The other main character is Montechristos the rat. Montechristos was born in the prison, knows no other life, and thinks the place is pretty cool. Prisoners feed him for the privilege of a few minutes of his flea-ridden company, and he always has goods to flog, and an inflatable plastic woman that he hires out to prisoners by the hour.

Prisoner: Can you imagine me making love to that plastic doll? I find the idea UTTERLY DISGUSTING!

Montechristos: So do I, but that’s her problem!

Lacking any conception of a life beyond the walls, Montechristos has little sympathy with human sadness at the loss of liberty. Early in the series the despairing Isovitis asks him ‘But for God’s sake, what can you DO with 500 years?’ Montechristos has an immediate answer: ‘you can cook 5256000000 hard-boiled eggs!’

The strip below translates as follows:

Montechristos: You know, Isoviti, there’s an old lag in the next wing over a hundred years old. Been in here since he was eighteen. Imagine - he can’t even remember what he got convicted for. He's completely lost it

: My God… that’s what I’ll be reduced to. I’ll get old and go gaga.

Montechristos: So enjoy yourself now, while you’re still young.

Kitchen Nightmares

When overseas students decide to moan about England, gripe number one is always the weather, and gripe number two is the food. The British attitude to food baffles them. ‘What’s the matter with you?’ Anderson from Brazil asked me. ‘Don’t you LIKE eating? And you have such fantastic kitchens as well!’ The ‘fantastic kitchens’ seem to be for show only, if my students are to be believed. The most important items are the fitted cupboards, the halogen lights, the fridge full of Stella, and the freezer full of pizza and ready meals waiting to be bunged into the microwave. Food preparation is definitely not the priority. Food is hidden in the glacial darkness of the freezer, not sitting out in the open, looking tempting and providing inspiration for pleasing, satisfying meals. Eating is seen as a combination of nuisance and relief, like going for a crap.

This is not to say that you cannot eat well here if you make the effort, but many male students from abroad are just not used to making any effort in this direction. I knew mothers in Greece who would regularly courier roast chickens to sons studying in Britain, as though no such animal could be found here. I would not have been surprised to hear that the boys couriered back the washing up, along with their scuzzy socks and underpants. I thought this whole business was bloody ridiculous, and I had no patience with the Greek lad who told me he had lived for two weeks on Snickers bars before he’d allow a forkful of British-made food to pass his lips However, I did excuse the colleague who couriered spinach pies to her daughter at Essex University. Spinach pie is a Greek speciality and Barbara’s spinach pies are peerless; they must have been a real treat. But chickens? Jee-Zus, how mamóthreftos (mollycoddled) can you get?

I tell my students that you can eat well here, but that you must seek out good ingredients and on finding them, probably pay through the nose. Two years ago I shared a house for the summer with an Albanian girl, Lindita, whose visiting Italian boyfriend kindly offered to cook us dinner one evening. Fabrizio sourced his ingredients from the Londis* up the road, innocently trusting that the quality of the bread and cheese would be as reliable here as it is in Italy. O sancta simplicitas! His seafood risotto was unspeakable; leggy, keratinous crustaceans in a soggy mess of patna rice glued together with tomato purée and Dairylea cheese… think acne and teen-boy sock…or rather don’t, that’s horrible, but I’ve said it now anyway. There was a limp pre-packed salad, like a pile of used green snot-rags. Obviously nobody could remark on this, me because I was the guest, and they because they probably supposed this was the kind of shite I was used to, and knew no better. Incidentally, I am surprised I remember the meal as well as I do, because I had been to Londis myself to get in the quantity of wine I regarded as necessary for the evening, three bottles or so. I drank most of them myself. Later in the week, I noticed that Lindita and Fabrizio had bought a lone bottle of wine and managed between the two of them to make it last three evenings. Brits might want to read that last sentence again. I assure you it’s true.

The British indifference to food might well be the result of the period of rationing during and after World War II. Everyone expected food shortages, but nobody expected rationing to last as long as it did. It remained in force until 1954, by which time British cooks were so fed up of improvising and making the best of a bad job that they had simply given up trying. My parents were twenty in 1956, and they and their parents had this weary attitude to food: whatever it was, you ate it, and got the business of eating over with. The British made virtues of stoicism and frugality and anyone who complained about soggy cabbage, grey beef and gluggy gravy was seen as a moaner, or worse, a social climber. There was simply nothing to be said on the subject of food. It was just a tedious necessity, a bore to shop for and to prepare. To be slightly adventurous was to step out of your class a bit. One day in the seventies my father’s mother, known to us kids as Nana, and a friend of hers were shopping in town and they made the decision to push the boat out and lunch more sumptuously than was their custom. They went to a bistro. Nana couldn’t remember the name of the dish they had eaten, but conceded that it was not bad. It was a sort of meat stew, she said, tasty enough, but full of big sheets of fat that you had to pull out and leave, which seemed very wasteful. It turned out they had ordered lasagne and carefully removed and discarded all the pasta. On another occasion she had the same friend to tea, and I took them some bread rolls. ‘They’ve all like seeds or summat on’ she said, examining them suspiciously.

‘Sesame seeds’ I said, probably with intolerable condescension.

‘Well, never mind,’ said the friend, comfortingly, as if something minor had gone wrong but it was up to her to jolly things along. ‘You won’t be able to taste them.’

The class attitude persists: good food is still seen here as the concern of the middle and upper classes, and you can observe this easily enough. The better-off emerge from Waitrose or Marks and Sparks with bags of fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, fresh meat, herbs and spices. Come down the scale a bit and people are loading up the car boot outside Sainsbury’s with slightly cheaper versions of the same thing. (Sainsbury’s exists, said Alan Coren, to keep the riff-raff out of Waitrose.) Then at Morrison’s or Aldi they’re trundling across the car park with trolleys full of white bread, tins of Cook-in-Sauce, frozen this and that and huge plastic bottles of sugary pop. Jamie Oliver demonstrated that many British working class kids couldn’t identify a single fresh vegetable: they knew not a carrot from an onion, a leek from a turnip, a beetroot from a cauliflower. They were not sure whether crisps (US: chips) were made from potatoes, apples or eggs, and thought spuds probably grew on trees.

So to Anderson’s question ‘what’s the matter with you? Don’t you like eating?’ the answer has to be that Brits find discussion and open enjoyment of food faintly distasteful. ‘…I find the detailed discussion of tastes and sensations nauseating and very distressing to read. Like a sex scene, I want to get it over with.’ That (to me) jaw-droppingly incomprehensible remark is from Boris Johnson in 2005, quoted in Joanna Blythman’s Bad Food Britain.

When I worked in France, I sat in the staffroom at breaks, listening to teachers argue passionately about cheese, wine, menus, restaurants, coffee. Food mattered to them in a way most Brits cannot get their heads round. Where I work now, none of the teachers mentions food, ever. For lunch we buy sandwiches from the Students' Union shop, where they sit in their triangular cardboard packets in sub-arctic temperatures. (Rule number one about bread: do not put it in the fucking fridge.) It is quite remarkable that all these sandwiches manage to taste exactly the same, whatever the ingredients. 'Crayfish with rocket and lemon and black pepper mayonnaise on wholemeal bread' might sound good, but it will have no more flavour than the sausage rolls at the hot food counter, which are tubes of pastry enclosing a smooth pinkish slurry that tastes of precisely nothing. Not surprising that there is no intense discussion over lunch, then. Shall we comment on how well-saunaed the 'baked' potatoes are, or how the chicken sandwiches are especially cold today? 'This sausage roll tastes of something, better take it back'. Nah.

Wherever they flog this sort of stuff, you will see displayed a little plaque with five stars on it. Do not get your hopes up: the stars are awarded for food hygiene, not for flavour and flair. Where once we saw food as a bore and a chore, we now see it as a carrier of salmonella and e-coli, to be prepared for us in glacial, antiseptic laboratories. So there we have it. Food as dreary necessity, food as health threat, food as expensive hobby for the posh and pretentious. 'Είσαστε παράξενος λαός' one student said to me 'You're a strange race'. Yeah, well. If the cap fits...


Londis - UK chain of convenience stores.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

'In your Head, in your Head, Zombie, Zombie...'

I’ve had quite a bit of time on my hands these last few days, but instead of making any inroad into my pile of unread books from Amazon, I have been wasting time arsing about on the internet. Once again I have been looking for online questionnaires that test your IQ, tell you how multiply intelligent you are (or aren’t) and where you stand on the introvert-extravert continuum. I have done these dozens of times before, so there were no surprises. I haven't changed.

IQ is quickly dealt with. I have the same IQ as the banana I sliced into my Weetabix this morning. I cannot do IQ tests. I can stare at a series of numbers for ever but the next one in the series will not be obvious to me. Same applies to those rows of abstract shapes, where one of several choices supposedly completes a pattern. Even when presented with the correct answers, all I can think is ‘OK, if you say so’. My lack of success could be connected with the fact that I find it hard to give a fuck which number or shape comes next. Maybe if coached for a while I could improve my score – it couldn’t in any case be worse – but for the time being I can rationalise it, yeah, could do it any time, just don’t feel like it right now.

For those of us with the IQ of grocery, Howard Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligence is heartening, even though I have a nagging suspicion it might just be bollocks. Here’s part of the Wikipedia entry on M.I.:

‘Gardner's theory argues that intelligence, as it is traditionally defined, does not sufficiently encompass the wide variety of abilities humans display. In his conception, a child who masters multiplication easily is not necessarily more intelligent overall than a child who struggles to do so. The second child may be stronger in another kind of intelligence, and therefore may best learn the given material through a different approach, may excel in a field outsidse of mathematics, or may even be looking through the multiplication learning process at a fundamentally deeper level that hides a potentially higher mathematical intelligence than in the one who memorizes the concept easily.’

That’s more like it. I’m not stupid, just differently brained. The first time I did one of Gardner’s tests about twelve years ago, I scored zero for mathematical intelligence and top marks for linguistic intelligence. Neither result came as any surprise. My intrapersonal intelligence (understanding of self) also got top marks, but my interpersonal intelligence (understanding of others) was dodgy; only middle of the range on that one. I was surprised that I got a high score for musical intelligence, since I don’t play an instrument, and analyses of symphonies in CD booklets mean nothing to me: ‘...these are not just introductory, but modulate unobtrusively from the preceding Moderato’s C minor to the Adagio sostenuto’s E major…The musical argument will be readily apparent.’ Not to the likes of I, it bain’t, but I did get a good score on Gardner’s test, so that’s OK.

The problem with the MI theory is that it is tempting to rationalise one’s failures as evidence that one simply has a different kind of intelligence, and you can thus excuse yourself for performing badly in any area. As a kid I loathed maths and sat uncomprehending for hours through lessons of ball-aching tedium. I was so spectacularly bad at it that I must have been the only kid in the history of the school, maybe of the County, to be allowed to drop it before ‘O’ levels and go and study Spanish on my own instead. At the time, this was a huge relief. When I heard of Gardner’s theory twenty five years later, my number-blindness seemed to be explained, but now I’m not so sure. I think I just refused to work on things I didn’t like. I didn’t DO maths, darlings, just as I didn’t do football or have any truck with Heavy Metal and the Bum and Tit magazines other fourth form boys were so obsessed with. It was a pose and a form of rebellion, not a want of the right neurones.

No surprises on extroversion-introversion either. Whenever I do those quizzes where you tot up your score then see what it says about you, I get ‘you are a miserable bugger’ every time. True. I get very uneasy in gatherings of more than three people and I’d sooner fake my own death than go to a party. They say that the brains of introverts are measurably noisier and more active than those of extroverts, and so the former seek to reduce stimulus from outside, while the latter seek out stimulus to compensate for the lack of inner fizz. Well, my cerebral cortex is always jumping. I wish I meant by that that it is full of fire and creativity, but I don’t – I just mean racket. Words, snatches of song, prattle, nonsense, memories, rubbish, burble burble – it never lets up. So yes, my candle lit, incense scented, blanketed and cushioned flat is designed to keep external stimulus to the minimum, and I spend a fortune on wax ear-plugs.

One mental phenomenon that drives me scatty is Music-on-the-Brain. I have a good memory for music in the sense that I can decide to listen to, say, Sibelius Symphony no 7 in my head, and I will be able to hear it pretty accurately. The problem is I won’t be able to turn it off. Pieces of music just get stuck there and then it is like having a noisy neighbour. If it is a piece of music I like, it is tolerable, but for Christs’s sake, I recently had Marie Osmond belting out ‘Paper Roses’ at all times of the night and day, and considered ending it all. It is also very frustrating when I am trying to recall a tune heard only once or twice and it keeps getting mixed up with another one. This week, thanks to Bo, I heard for the first time the beautiful ‘Daylight and the Sun’ by Antony and the Johnsons. When I was trying to recall it to listen to in my head while away from the computer, the melody would segue again and again into ‘I belong to Glasgow’.


‘Look, I'm just wondering, is there going to be a conclusion to this post?’

Er, no. Got shit-loads of washing-up to do now, so that will be all. Run along.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Get Well Eventually

Yesterday, climbing the ice-sheeted steps to my flat, I skidded, fell and swore industrial strength oaths, because I had managed to jolt a nerve somewhere between shoulder-blade and cervical spine that has been hammered before; once in a car accident, once when I slept on the floor and trapped it, and two or three times more in the days when I used to use weights. It never quite stops nagging at me, and now I have to move with robot-like deliberation to avoid jarring it again. Anyway, this explains why I am typing this sitting up in bed, with a big cafetiere of black coffee and a bowl of Marks and Sparks Middle-Class Poncy Porridge ‘with cranberries and blueberries’, instead of sitting on a train en route to five hours of academic writing with my Arab students. Actually, even if I had not gone arse over tit on the steps I’d still be here, because the trains were all cancelled this morning, but my bad back means I will not have to go in at all until Monday, even if the snow evaporates by midday. (No chance.)

The view from my window is enchanting, pure Christmas card, and the little square around which these houses sit looks like a huge trifle. When I have finished this coffee, in my own good time, I shall bloody well make another pot. I have over a dozen books as yet uncracked and four days in which to crack them. I am definitely not complaining.

Monday, 2 February 2009

There's More to Life...

To the previous post, a passer-by has added the comment ‘there’s more to life than just sex’. The post is about language teaching materials and contains no reference to the erotic, so the remark might as well say ‘handsome is as handsome does’ or ‘Persil washes Whiter’ for all the relevance it has.

This blog makes it plain that I like men, but it also makes it quite clear that I like music, language learning, wine and cooking, among other things. Out of sixty three posts to date, two deal directly with sex. I recently tarted up the blog with photos of people and things I consider ‘reasons to be cheerful’ and these include one photographed penis, attached to a beautiful young man. There are quite a few musicians and writers there too, for anyone who hasn't noticed. I’d add more dick, were it not for the prurience of many blog readers (lathophobic aphasia regulars of course excluded) who flag blogs that acknowledge the unremarkable fact that humans have desires and genitals, including, shock horror, desire for those who have the same genital equipment as themselves.

In my You Tube favourites I have Eric Idle performing The Penis Song in the film ‘The Meaning of Life’. Schoolboy terms for the male member are delivered in the clipped, fastidious style of Noel Coward to the glittering clientele of a top-drawer restaurant. This, and the knowledge on the part of a modern audience that Coward was a gay man kept closeted by such as those simpering over this song, is what makes the piece so funny. A Pentecostal minister added a comment to my channel: ‘The penis song in your favourites is utterly sickening’. Fair dos. I had said something less than kind about the words of a guest speaker on one of his videos, the dread Mary Catherine Baxter. (Mary Catherine says she has been to hell and back - literally.) Now, I have about 250 videos in my favourites, most of them music from India, Iran, Greece and Turkey, but didn't your man have to home in on and listen to the only one with ‘penis’ in the title, then choke me off for it. (Sorry, not the best choice of phrasal verb there, perhaps.) Well, you know what your boss said, Rev’ren, ‘if thine eye offend thee…’? You know what to do now, if penises bug you so much. The Rev'ren believes in and preaches hell fire. In his world, the suppression of the critical faculties, stifling of empathy and want of conscience required to preach such a doctrine is not sickening, and a comic song about the organ every man has between his legs is. Go figure.

In his diary, Joe Orton made a note to himself to hot up his play ‘What the Butler Saw’ when he came to redraft it. ‘More fucking’ he wrote,’ and they’ll be screaming in the aisles’. This may no longer hold in present day Britain among the general populace, but it does still seem true of some Christians. Sex is like some bright red thread that runs through the fabric of their lives, never blending in with the other colours, but constantly nagging them with its obviousness and persistence. It is to be hidden, agonised over, denigrated. Its salience to them among scores of competing stimuli is indicated by the reactions of such as my visitor and Rev'ren Whatsisname, and they must rebuke me, us, for not being as hung up as they are and actually liking the shiny red thread.

I left the visitor's comment: stet! I went to his blog to ask him why he thought it necessary to leave such a remark, but he did not choose to publish the question. It took three attempts to leave a reply on the channel of my shocked Pentecostalist as well, as he kept deleting my message. So if anyone else feels moved to leave me any further such comments, I would ask them to go here first and get a grip... sorry, I mean get some perspective.


«Un phallus dressé est un symbole de vie, une croix est un symbole de mort»
'An erect penis is a symbol of life, a cross is a symbol of death.'
Jean Daniel Cadinot


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