Friday, 31 July 2009


I’m feeling a bit of a rotter at the moment, not entirely logically, as I have done nothing unkind. This weekend just gone, I marked nineteen or so essays from my students. Some were crap, some were good and most were fair to middling. I am a generous, perhaps over-generous marker, always aware of the size of the challenge people face in trying to write in a language not their own, and attempting to adopt ways of selecting, ordering and evaluating information that are quite unfamiliar to them. Chinese student, it’s be have difficult write English many: part of speech, auxiliary verb, mistake high frequency in writing by confusion with. Thus an essay can take a fair bit of decoding.

A young man called Siming (say ‘Shirr Ming’) gave me 2000 words on ‘Globalisation’. Sorry, mate, that’s brought you down a notch or two before we even start; the limit was 1500 words, we don’t grade essays by weight. The title, which I have forgotten now, was a fair bit more detailed than that as well. At first I dismissed the essay as a piece of impenetrable translatese, as reader is be have problematic follow, on account of because syntax was have shot to buggery, vocabulary choice to cock in addition big time also. Then I re-read it. With patience, you could just about follow what the lad was trying to say, and discern an attempt to organise the material. You could see he had put a lot of effort into finding the information, interpreting it and getting his ideas and conclusions down on paper. It must have taken him ages; a hell of a lot of hard work in what is for him a very foreign language. I was tempted to award marks for sheer effort. After all, some students don’t scruple to copy and paste from websites or pay some third party to write their essays for them.

Unfortunately, his essay fails. Everyone at the standardisation meeting agreed, the rotten buggers. When Siming goes into his department in October, no tutor will devote any time to construing his essays the way we do in our little antechamber to the university – they’ll simply dismiss them as incomprehensible straight away. So sorry, sunshine, you get 40%. Galling, innit? Especially when the lady I mentioned last week got away with a heavily plagiarised piece just because there was no way of proving once and for all that she was not the writer.

Siming was glum but accepted that the essay was not up to snuff. I bigged up his progress in the six weeks he has been in England and pointed to the marks but not the names of several people in the group whose grades were lower than his after six months here. Even so, not coming out with top marks leaves a dent in the young male ego, and he left very deflated.


Today all the marks for the tests were calculated and announced. It was bedlam, with students in search of their tutors knocking on the teachers’ room door to pester us while we were frantically rifling through papers and clattering on keyboards.

‘Sarah is here?’ the umpteenth young Saudi in ten minutes would ask, surveying the obviously Sarahless room.

‘Does it bleeding well look like it? Can you see her? Maybe she’s hiding in the filing cabinet; I’ll just check, shall I? No, definitely not in the filing cabinet, I expect she’s gone to the ladies. Do you want me to go and drag her out, or can you hang on until we post the results outside the office?’

‘Sarah is not here?’

A young man comes looking for me. I have never seen him before. He flashes me an astonishing movie-star smile, and says ‘I am Fahad.’

This rings a bell. It’s the name on the register I have never been able to put a face to. He missed the entire course because he’s been back to Saudi Arabia to have his teeth fixed, but he returned, as promised, for the assessment. I get a print out of his results, which predictably are not good. His presentation had been given 30 percent. He is not pleased, and says so. He had missed the course, had he not, and had therefore not been taught those ‘many teckerniques’ for giving presentations that had otherwise guaranteed his success. He seems to think that he should have been awarded the grade he might have got had he actually been present for the last five weeks. In your dreams, sunshine, I give him to understand.

Next, we have a look through his essay, and I point out its chief failings: repetition, want of direction, general pointlessness. I had numbered what I took to be the main ideas in his introduction.

‘But my teacher have said me, I must not write numbers!’

No, son, I wrote them there so I could sort out the strands of the essay, over-optimistically, as it appears. Where do you provide an action plan?

‘I say this, here’ he says, affronted, rifling through the essay. ‘Here, also. Maybe too here. I write this things, you can look them here.’

Sorry, I tell him. I have to be able to read and follow without the need to consult you at every turn. Your teeth are to die for, but your essay sucks ass. Eventually he decides to take his print out and pester the course leader about it, which gets him off my back, and I know he’ll get equally short shrift from her.

I got off lightly today, really. One student was so displeased with his results that he had a tantrum, and blamed his teacher. ‘Why Adam hate me so much!?!?!?!’ Anyway, it’s Friday, I am going up the Tobie Norris for a few glasses of Merlot with a friend, and I have all next week off, so ELT can go hang.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Last Thursday Revisited

Bo’s enviable relaxed day last Thursday made me reflect on my own experience of the same day. He got the better deal, I reckon.

Thursday 23 July 2009.

I’m awake at three forty-five as usual, groggy of mind and heavy of body, feeling as if I were pressed to the bed by centrifugal force. By four forty-five a sense of urgency is beginning to stir, a need to be up and getting on with things. This is very irritating because athough the feeling is real, the fact is that my train doesn’t leave until five past eight and I live precisely seven minutes walk from the station. There is absolutely no need to rise three hours before I leave the house. Nevertheless I am up and preparing a great big cafetiere of powerful black coffee by five fifteen. This I take back to bed and absorb it whilst doing the rounds of the blogs on my blogroll and half listening to Farming Today on radio four, possibly the world’s least interesting programme.

By six, my neighbour is also up. I know this because we live in a jerry-built eighties building with thin walls, and I can hear the bugger pissing. It is a source of unending exasperation and wonder to me just how often and how copiously this man can slash; every twenty minutes and he’s staling like a shire horse. If only, pace Pastor Steven L. Anderson (q.v.) he could be prevailed upon to do it sitting down, it wouldn’t put me off my Weetabix. I don’t have the effrontery necessary to ask him to do this, though.

As I am getting dressed after the shower, Thought for the Day comes on the radio. ‘We all know about that terrible thing that happened last week. But if people thought more like Jesus, it wouldn’t have. Thank you very much.’ If changes are proposed to this regular slot, such as allowing humanists to deliver a little homily now and then, or better still, scrapping it altogether, listeners have a fit. Out there beyond my unopened curtains, thousands of people are sipping their tea and nodding gravely through this three minutes of platitudinous tripe. Very depressing.

I go to the bathroom looking for high protection-factor sunscreen. You cannot stop the ageing process, but neither need you aid and abet it. I haven’t got my glasses on and so pick up the wrong can and squirt minty green shaving gel between my eyes.

On the train I read an improving book, the content of which I will have forgotten by the time I get to the university.

On the last course I had a delightful, talkative group of students who got on with each other like the proverbial house on fire. My present lot are subdued. We are not helped by the room we have been allocated, which could accommodate a ballroom dancing championship. If you are seated at one end of the horseshoe arrangement of desks you need a walkie-talkie to communicate with the person at the other end. Material that my last lot took and gleefully ran with now divebombs. They go through it with all the joyful enthusiasm of civil servants rubber stamping invoices, so I put the session out of its misery five minutes early.

‘Excuse me, sir?’ This is the new Chinese boy. I have already asked the new Indian ladies to call me Steve, not ‘sir’, as I dislike this sort of deference. Now I discover that from a cute male twink, it fairly turns me on. He shows me the rambling introduction to his essay. Here we go... I once spilled a bowlful of beaten egg all over the kitchen worktop, and when someone shows me their work in progress for my comments, I am reminded of the tedium of mopping up that sloppy, viscous, shapeless mass.

Afternoon class. Same room, but livelier students. In groups they have prepared Dragon’s Den style pitches. The presentations vary from one unspeakably dull one that actually fails to mention the product once, to a hilarious one that begins with a song and dance routine led by Annie the Taiwanese livewire, who is a delight to have around.

My afternoon sessions are planned around making a quick getaway. You can forget anything that requires me to return mounds of dictionaries, or CD players or laptops to various offices around the building. There’s only one train each hour and I want the earliest I can dive onto.

At home there is another book and CD from Amazon waiting to be unwrapped. Much as I love opening these, I really must stop ordering them, as there isn’t room for many more books, either in my flat or in my head. I shower off the dust and crash onto the bed in front of the computer again. It will all be much the same tomorrow, and the day after, and the month after. It’s a depressing thought, making me nostalgic for Greece, where just about everyone I know still lives.

It won’t be soon – not this year and probably not next – but I will be jacking this in eventually. I don’t want this routine until I retire.

Saturday, 25 July 2009


As everybody knows in his heart of hearts, the universe was created when a duck made its nest on the knee of the Nature Goddess, and laid an egg in it. The lady got excited at the potential for um... potential, and in her excitement, she trembled and the nest fell off her knee. The white part of the broken egg became the moon, and the speckled bits became the stars. Scientists arrogantly refuse to believe and peddle their propaganda about the Big Bang. Christians think God is a bloke, thus wilfully rejecting their Inner Duck. They will all pay for this in due course.

Here is Sibelius's tone poem Luonnotar, composed in 1913. Luonnotar is the Nature Goddess of Finnish mythology, the words are from the Finnish epic Kalevala, and this is the story of the Creation. The first time I heard Luonnotar, around 1984, it amazed me with its evocation in the opening notes of form emerging from emptiness, then of violent storms, and finally the rapt, holy moment of the creation of the earth, the sun, the moon and the stars. I found the Finnish words fascinating when I first heard the piece, so I learned them by heart from the record sleeve (Paavo Berglund with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Taru Valjakka soprano) so as to be able to sing along, though I only know in vague outline how they map onto the translation. Fortunately you will never have to endure listening to me singing along. It is fiendishly demanding to perform, which explains why it is so rarely heard. The soprano has to span leaps and drops of an octave in a single word, and her voice must be powerful enough to carry over the tsunami of the orchestra. I like the video here. It reflects the violence and desolation of of the music beautifully.

Olipa impi, ilman tyttö
There was a handsome maiden in the air,
Kave Luonnotar korea.
Luonnotar, the daughter of nature.
Ouostui elämätään,
She grew tired of her life,
Aina, yksin ollessansa avaroilla autioilla.
Of always being alone in the vast plains of the sky.
Laskeusi lainehille,
She descended into the sea,
Aalto impeä ajeli.
where the waves impregnated her.
Vuotta seitsemän sataa
For seven hundred years
Vieri impi veen emona
she drifted about as the water mother,
Uipi luotehet, etelät
swimming north-west, swimming south,
Uipi kaikki ilman rannat.
to all the shores of the skies.
Tuli suuri tuulen puuska
Then a tremendous gust of wind
Meren kouhuille kohotti.
threw her up on the foamy waves.
‘Voi, poloinen, päiviäni!
‘Oh, poor me, and my life!
Parempi olisi ollut ilman impenä elää.
It would have been better to remain the Virgin of the Air.
Oi, Ukko, ylijumala, käy tänne
O, mighty Ukko, supreme god, pass here by the one
who implores you!’
Tuli sotka, suora lintu,
A gull appeared, an agile bird.
Lenti kaikki ilman rannat
It flew to all the shores of the skies,
Lenti luotehet, etelät
it flew north-west, it flew south,
Ei löyä pesänsioa.
unable to find a place for nesting.
‘Ei! Ei! Ei!
‘No! No! No!
Teenkö tuulehem tupani, alloillen
Do I build my house in the wind, my living quarters on
the waves?
Tuuli kaatavi, tuuli kaatavi,
The wind would knock down my house,
Aalto viepi asuinsiani.’
the waves would carry away my nest.’
Niin silloin veen emonen
At that moment the water mother
Nosti polvea lainehesta.
lifted her knee out of the waves.
Siihen sorsa laativi pesänsä
There the gull made its nest,
Alkoi hautoa.
and started hatching.
Impi tuntevi tulistuvaksi
The maiden felt an ardent fire
Järkytti jäsenehensä.
shaking her limbs.
Pesä vierähti vetehen
the nest fell into the water
Katkieli kappaleiksi
and broke into pieces.
Muuttuivat munat kaunoisiksi
But the eggs changed into things of beauty:
Munasen yläinen puoli
the top of the shell
Yläiseksi taivahaksi,
became the firmament;
Yläpuoli valkeaista
the upper part of the egg white
Kuuksi kummottamahan;
the shining moon;
Mi kirjavaista tähiksi taivaalle,
and the speckles turned into stars in the sky,
Ne tähiksi taivaalle.
stars in the sky.

Text from the Kalevala
Translation © The Decca Record Company

Friday, 24 July 2009

Don't make Waves

'Oh, my, I'm sure she meant well...'

We spend ages hammering into our students that plagiarism is Jolly Bad Show. We even set essays on the topic in which they define the term, discuss its origin and how this 'academic crime' can be avoided, and dutifully underline that knowing all this, only the utterest cad or bounder would crib some other fellow's work and hand it in as his own. Chaps like that deserve all that's coming to them, that's what they all say. Hear hear.

So when after six months of all this, one student handed in an essay obviously not her own, we expected that the cheat would be discovered and the essay disallowed. Not a bit of it. After a day or two of dithering on the part of course leaders, we got 'oh, well, we can't prove it, can we? Better just pass it, eh?'

We could have spent six months telling overseas students that they might as well plagiarise, as it will make bugger all difference in the end.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Tryst with the Plagiarist

First I had better apologise for that toe-curling post title – sorry, couldn’t resist it. It has been jangling about in my head since this morning.

Right, well, as I said the other day, there’s this Saudi lady who is studying English with us, and she has handed in a perfect end-of-course assessed essay. It is grammatically, orthographically and stylistically so far in advance of her last effort only four weeks ago that nobody buys her line that it is her own unaided work, which it must be in order to pass. I mean, there’s admirable progress, and there’s divine intervention, and this would have to be an instance of the latter.

The lady, whom I shall call Khulud to protect the less than innocent, had her lines well rehearsed when she sat down today with her sceptical tutor to discuss her masterwork. She was able to say exactly what she meant by this phrase or that, and to account for the placing of a semi colon, a punctuation mark few foreign learners of any level make accurate use of, if they use it at all. ‘You know, Sharon,’ she said, ‘I listened to everything Steve [i.e., me] said on the last course, and I listened to everything you have told us on this course, and I have made really good progress thanks to you, and I am very pleased you are impressed with my essay.’

Right. Well. It is not the essay that impresses us, darling, so much as the sheer brass neck you are displaying in handing it in and claiming it as your own. We have ways… well, we thought we did. There is no sign of the essay or any of its component parts online, so it isn’t simply a question of brandishing an incriminating print-out at her. The only ruse anyone has managed to come up with so far is to announce an impromptu writing test for um… research purposes, which selected students including Khulud will be required to sit. Then we can compare her effort with the disputed essay, against which it will seem as holey as a worn out loofah.

We have learned from another member of Khulud’s group that a bloke has been hanging around the campus, buttonholing overseas students and making them offers. This is the deal: if you can get three fellow students to pay him to write their essays, he’ll chuck yours in for buck-she. This probably explains Khulud’s elegantly crafted piece, and any more that we might receive by the deadline tomorrow. I’m curious to know what the bloke charges. I certainly wouldn’t sell myself cheap if I were offering this service. I just wonder if there’s a money-back guarantee when the essays are rejected out of hand, as they will be. Otherwise he had better go into hiding. Poor sod – whatever he might be, he’s not an EFL teacher. If you are, you can to understand easy what wrote a student of intermediate, and what wrote a people who he has born in a country where it’s English speaking. Moreover furthermore on the other hand, the teachers, they didn’t borned yesterday. You better believe it.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Tea leafing

It’s test time once again, and on this occasion those who pass (they need only score 50%) will be spared yet another five week course of English for Academic Purposes. The Crème de la Crème will be able to take a break, while the mere café au lait will be slogging their way through an August of essay preparation and writing, note taking, reading, and so on and so on. Not surprisingly, many are anxious to pass now, so as to have done. ‘What I must do for make a pass?’ they want to know. Well, the answer is unexciting: work hard at those things you find difficult. If essay writing does not come easily to you, get out your grammar reference books and your dictionaries, and plough on until you have produced the best essay you are capable of putting together. It might seem to you that it would be less arduous to chisel the words onto a marble slab, but think of how smug you can feel when you did it and it was All Your Own Work.

Not everyone sees it this way. Some people, who three weeks ago were cobbling together essays that were barely comprehensible, are now handing in first drafts written in flawless formal English prose, perfectly organised. After six months here you would think they’d be beyond this kind of transparent ruse, and have cottoned on to the fact that the smell of rat is quite overpowering to tutorly nostrils. A spot of googling will usually lead to the source, and a print-out an a bit of face-saving waffle (…‘you forgot the quotation marks, I quite see, these things happen, not to worry. No, we tend to prefer quotations of fewer than fifteen hundred words’) will communicate to the offender that s/he’d better get his/her finger out and start writing for real.

It’s more complicated when you cannot find the source online. A Saudi woman has submitted an essay that she could not possibly have produced herself, so she must have had a very kind native speaker do it for her, or more likely, paid for it. In this case her tutor – not me, thank God – is simply going to have to confront her and if she insists it is her own work, accuse her of lying. Knowing this student as I do, I expect that the inevitable tearful wobbly and stamping of little feet will be audible all through the building. (About three o’clock tomorrow afternoon.)


A colleague told me today that one of her students had come up with the phrase ‘scrotal management’. She had intended to write ‘section management’, and I’m really not sure how the confusion arose, but I do like the phrase. It’s the perfect term for the utterly unselfconscious tugging of the sack and family jewels that Greek blokes go in for, especially on hot days.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Our Lady of the Cloaca

We humans have a propensity for face-seeing, do we not? In the woody knots and grain of wardrobe doors, in tree stumps, cloud formations and tea leaves, in smoke and water we see them; ladies in poke bonnets, leering devils, old men in periwigs, monocled toffs. The swirly anaglypta wallpaper in my parents’ sitting room is, for me, alive with sheikhs and sprites and mice. Some circuit in the brain configures these curves and nodes into human and animal simulacra. It’s entertaining, as in the case of a hill in my hometown known as the Fat Man’s Arse – not a face in this instance, obviously - and for kids sometimes a bit scary, but that’s about all there is to say about the phenomenon. 

I’ve just seen this over at Heresy Corner. The Pachuca family of Texas have received a Sign. A bird cacked on the windscreen of their pick up truck, and in the skid-mark they discern the figure of the Virgin Mary. ‘We just all feel protected’ Mrs P. told the press.
 Marian vision in a blob of cack. (It's the one on the left.)
Well, that’s nice; better than feeling, um, shat on. But really, now bloody dim can you bloody get?  Even at my most spiritualistically credulous, it would never have occurred to me to believe that the cast of characters I see in my mother’s wallpaper were souls trying to communicate with me. If I had, I hope someone would have had me sectioned. If the figure I perceive as a robed sheikh were taken by someone else to resemble the Virgin Mary, though, living rooms across the land could become local shrines. It’s no dafter than seeing the old girl in a bird turd. Or a tree stump. Another blogger who commented on the image saw in it not Our Lady of Guadalupe, but a cunt. To each his own simulacrum. 

I seem to remember hearing somewhere that some people consider getting crapped on by a pigeon to be a good omen. Once in a busy street in Athens I thought some nutcase passer-by had given my left hand a damn good slap. I looked and found it splattered with what looked like a generous tablespoonful of tartare sauce, warm from some columbiform bum. Since my immediate concern was to get rid of it somehow, I didn’t inspect the poultice for signs and portents. How blind I was! This explains why my luck did not improve after being so singled out and why Our Lady had to shit on the Pachuca family instead.       


The photo at the top, looking like Akhenaten among the palm trees listening to his iPod, is in fact part of Canada seen from space.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Το Γιασεμί

Savina Yannatou again, with 'Το Γιασεμί' (To Yasemi, 'The Jasmine') a folk song from Cyprus.

I came to prune the jasmine at your doorway, my jasmine flower, and your mother thought I had come to steal you away, my sweetheart.

Those sweet black eyes, those heavy brows, my jasmine flower, have made me forget my mother's milk, my sweetheart.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Well I never

 When I was a kid, I would show my grandma surreal cartoons that amused me, or read out bits of The Goon Show Scripts, or require her to watch the telly, poker-faced and mystified, while my sister and I rolled helpless on the floor in front of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. ‘Well,’ she’d say, attempting to respond appropriately, ‘makes you wonder who thinks it all up, dun’t it?’ I am so glad that I never said ‘well, actually it isn’t a matter of who thinks it all up, so much as of what thought-processes one might engage in, what associations of images, if you like, one might pursue, consciously or unconsciously, in order to ‘think it all up ‘, as you put it. Yeah?’

She was right, though, as on so many occasions when I refused to give her the credit. I mean, who does come up with such ingenious ideas as mayonnaise and coffee, for example? There must have been a train of logic, so how did it go? Mayonnaise was most probably an accidental discovery, but if you dropped your shopping on the floor and smashed six eggs and a bottle of olive oil, would it occur to you to whip the resulting mess up into something to dip radishes into? Same applies to coffee. Did two Ethiopians sitting by a coffee bush muse as follows?

A: You know what?
B: What?
A: See them berries?
B: Yeah. So what?
A: I reckon if we was to roast em, smash em up an boil em, that’d be nice with a digestive biscuit.
A: Fackinelle. Go for it.

Now look at the cartoon I chose for the header: a couple of cats diligently ironing strawberries, bananas and carrots into flat, blowzy objects like vests, stockings and knickers for the obese. Like the lady said, makes you wonder who thinks it all up, dun’t it?

Métro, Boulot, Dodo*

Sharon is English and she lives in Greece with her Greek husband and kids. When she realised I was working in her hometown, she contacted me on Facebook to ask if I could suggest anywhere suitable for summer teaching work over here. ‘Get your CV to the university,’ I said. ‘The pay’s twice what any one-eyed language school would pay, and you’ll have a fair bit to take back home.’ So here she is for a five-week stint, slaving over writing skills and what-not with the rest of us.

‘I’m knackered’ she said this morning, the day that marks the half-way point of the course. ‘I don’t know how you guys stand it, week in, week out.’

Well, indeed. In the four years since I came back from Greece I have been financially much better off, but have felt almost permanently rushed and chronically sleep-deprived. There’s also the dreary Thank-God-it’s-Friday / Oh- Jesus-Christ-is-it-Fucking-Monday-Again syndrome that is endured by most of the population of the English-speaking world, but which I hardly ever experienced in the years I taught at a teacher training centre in Athens. The three years I subsequently spent at a school in the Peloponese had something more of the treadmill about them, but to be spared this dull loping from weekend to weekend for twelve years, well, that definitely spoiled me. Don’t imagine that I didn’t find other things to complain about, because I did; I like a good moan as much as anybody. Greece may seem laid back to holiday makers, but in fact it’s total bloody chaos if you work there and there is plenty of scope for grumbling. Most of the ex-pats I worked with in 1990 had gone by 1992 and were relieved to have escaped.

Ah, but the edge, the intensity of Athens! They got to me. And what gets to me even more, especially now it’s too late, is the importance the Greeks place on conviviality and leisure, which are valued far more than work. ‘Job satisfaction’ was a concept few people could understand. Satisfaction in working for a boss? Satisfaction comes, surely, from family and friends and leisure, all the things you are concerned with when not working. Your job and any other commitments must therefore take second place to these in terms of the time and importance you are willing to accord them. I used to get so exasperated if trainee teachers missed deadlines or input sessions just because they happened to coincide with the same week as their father’s name day, but I have belatedly learned to see things their way just a bit more.

Sharon goes back to Oropos in two weeks. Another friend of mine, an old Greek hand who has reluctantly lived in England for five years, is in the process of selling up to return to Kalamata. She is happy to sacrifice a British salary for more opportunity to enjoy just being. And me… shall I? Shan’t I? I need the money, so I can’t up stakes and sod off quite yet, but in the not too distant future, I have to get the hell out.


* French expression 'underground/subway-work-bed', i.e., the daily grind, the same old same. I don't know a Greek expression for this and can't imagine many people there would be willing to put up with such a lifestyle

Friday, 10 July 2009

Dream Therapy

I didn’t sleep well last night, merely dozed, wandering in and out of senseless grey dreams. One dream stood out, though. I am, λέει, with two strangers, a woman and a man, who seem to be therapists of some sort, and I their client. Their faces are close to mine as I lie on a couch. The man asks me a question; I am required to evaluate my degree of enthusiasm and appetite for living, how fully I believe I grasp opportunity for enjoyment of this world and what it offers. The question leaves me utterly stumped and tongue-tied. The two of them exchange looks, raising their eyebrows in exasperation at my inability to answer, rather as if I were some malingerer pleading sickness when there’s work to be done, or a hopelessly under-qualified applicant for a top-flight post. We proceed to the therapy, which involves bringing a smoking thurible of headily fragranced incense close to my face, almost into my mouth, for the perfume to permeate my mind and awaken it to the beauty and richness it seems to be missing…

Well, how about that? Certainly I have felt oppressed by routine and my solitary life lately, and by the sense that I am trapped in a profession that holds little interest for me any more beyond my present post’s unusually good pay. The question posed by my dream therapist was a tough and pertinent one, and I have been thinking about it all day. I was disappointed by the therapy itself, though. Someone who can ask so searching a question at just the right time ought to be able to do better than that variation on the crackpot practice of Hopi ear-candling.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Behold a Miracle!

The tree stump pictured above looks to me like a rather dumpy Muslim lady seen from behind, as in a bus queue perhaps, but to some of the residents of Rathkeale in County Limerick, it's another of the Blessed Virgin’s mysterious public appearances, this time in a lump of dead tree rather than an Arctic ice field, cloud formation or tortilla. Almost two thousand signatures have been collected on a petition to have the stump made into a permanent feature at the local church, so people can go there and light candles, or whatever it is they propose to do in its honour. The Parish Priest, auld spoilsport that he is, has said ‘there’s nothing there…it’s just a tree…you can’t worship a tree.’ Oh, but you can. Will you just look at the candles offered there already? One Mr Hogan, a local shopkeeper, defends this loony plan by pointing out that the lump of wood is bringing together people ‘from all walks of life’ to pray and ‘what’s wrong with that? There’s enough violence and intolerance going on in the world.’ Good man yerself, Hogan. Absolutely right. The adoration of dead tree stumps is the perfect antidote to such stupidity.

A spokesman for the Limerick diocesan office was called on to put his two penn’orth in and said: ’While we do not wish in any way to detract from devotion to Our Lady, we would also wish to avoid anything which might lead to superstition.’

That's rich.

Monday, 6 July 2009


The Bishop of Rochester has called upon queers to ‘repent and be changed’. I have to work very hard to psyche myself up to a state of anything stronger than indifference when it comes to pronouncements issuing from the Anglican Church, especially when they are fussing about what people do in the sack. Consider the universe: millions of galaxies, exploding suns, hurtling comets, black holes, trillions of miles of dark, silent nothing. How can any mind be so parochial as to imagine that the Creator - if Creator there be - of this bizarre, pointless complexity is so tiny-minded as to give a monkey’s about who fucks whom on our spinning mote of dust? How could this Creator be so demented as to be exercised about how or whether we mutilate our children’s genitals, on what days we trade or desist from trading, eat fish or fast, get bladdered or smugly abstain, or rip the beating hearts out of selected citizens every day to ensure that the sun will rise tomorrow? The Bish seems to think the Creator does indeed care – about some of these things anyway. How odd.

The Deity has a particular dislike of homosexuality, especially as practiced by men. In this, His position coincides remarkably with that of many straight blokes, so maybe it’s no wonder they cite Him in support of their prejudices. Perhaps like many straight blokes, God secretly gets his divine rocks off with thoughts of dykes making out, for certainly He has little to say in His Books against female homosexuality. We know Paul didn’t like lezzies, as he tells us in Romans 1:26, but then he seems not to have liked women much anyway, so this may not be yer actual Word of God here, but just Paul being a miserable git.

I shall ignore Nazir-Ali’s call to 'repent and be changed' and continue to ‘burn in lust’ toward other men, for in this I see nothing unseemly or against nature. If God made male beauty, I see no reason not to appreciate it to the full. And if God didn't make male beauty, I still see no reason not to worship it. So yah boo sucks to the 'Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans', and if this new group ‘splits the Church’ as the Bish of Sherborne now fears, tough tit. I don't give a stuff.


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