Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Menswear



I’ve just done something few people do: been on a visit to Peterborough, entirely of my own free will. Two young railway employees were checking the tickets of those leaving the station.

‘Sir?’ Click. ‘A pleasure!’

‘Madam?’ Click. ‘Pleasure!’

‘Sir?’ Click. ‘A pleasure!’

‘Oh, stop eating shit, you little twerp.’

I didn’t say that, just thought it. After all, the poor buggers are probably required by some management pillock to lay on this smarm, and this same pillock might well have been kibitzing nearby to make sure no boot went unlicked. I hope he was, and that otherwise these young lads would not thus have abased themselves. What sort of batty ‘personal touch’ will they think up next? Will they check that our shoe laces are tied, do up our coats, burp babies? (In Marks and Sparks lately, after the inevitable ‘thank you for waiting’, the check-out staff bid us farewell with the exhortation ‘enjoy your goods’. Oh, please.)

My purpose was to buy a jacket, and I went into Gap. Now, Gap are always very concerned with the customer’s ‘shopping experience’, and the kids who work there will not leave you alone to browse unless you make it quite clear from the off that you do not wish to be pestered. Even then, as you are leaving, a manageress will pounce on you.

‘Were our staff helpful today for you today, at all for you?’ she will ask.

‘Yes, they were.’

‘Anyone in particular at all today was there, who was most helpful for you today?’

‘Oh, I reckon the lad with the shaved scrotum.’

Leave her guessing. I hope I am not depriving kids of commission or anything by being so unhelpful. It’s just that this sort of manipulation makes my gorge rise.

I used to like buying clothes. Shoes are just boring affairs that I replace when they disintegrate, but shirts and trousers were always important to me. I’ve never been wholly comfortable with the body I inhabit, though, and after the age of about forty-five I found that I really could not stand the sight of the middle-aged grump who confronted me in fitting room mirrors. Fitting rooms are rarely adequately lit; one here in Stamford has just a little yellowish strip-light above the mirror and it makes you look as you probably will a couple of days after you are dead. The pleasure of shopping for new duds is much diminished as a result of all this, and self-confidence severely dented. I suppose I could get some therapy for this, but I fear the diagnosis would be ‘in fact, it isn’t body dysmorphic disorder. You are genuinely misshapen.’

(Incidentally, I wonder what they say to all the unsuccessful applicants for ‘Ten Years Younger’ and ‘How to Look Good Naked’? ‘Sorry love, but you really are a dog. Live with it.’)

I looked in Marks and Sparks and felt old. I was the youngest man there by quite a wide margin, and Blue Harbour stuff looks OK on plastic mannequins and the tanned and husky blokes whose enlarged photographs are all over the walls, but I’m not such a bloke, or a somatometrically perfect plastic doll, and everything I tried on looked wrong. I inhabit the No Man’s Land between medium and large, neither one nor the other, and you have to be tall and slim to wear all this stuff, not short, stocky and barrel-chested. This is a source of much repining to me, but no surgery will correct it, so there you go. I am not overweight, and that's official, but the way clothes hang on me, the casual observer would probably think I was. Actually, the casual observer, by definition, probably wouldn’t give me a second thought, but years of self-consciousness create the delusion that everyone is thinking, oh, Christ, look at that bugger, you couldn't bend wire that shape.

Well, after much debate internal I ended up with a Tommy Hilfiger winter jacket from John Lewis for £140, more because I was fed up of looking than for any more positive reason. It is sober navy blue and quite unadorned, not Ali G yellow. Mooching around other shops afterwards I saw jackets indistinguishable from my new purchase at half the price, but sod it, it will serve.

What I wear tends to be loose-fitting and voluminous, as I hide behind clothes rather than use them to draw attention, having nothing to draw attention to. I’m reminded of my grandma. Roominess was her main criterion, both in selecting garments and in appreciating those of others. ‘You look to have plenty o’ room in it’ she’d say approvingly, if one of us kids had some new item of clothing. If we could do a twirl while the garment in question remained stationary, she would commend it the more. I still feel strangled and self-conscious in anything labelled ‘slim-fit’, and I long for the day when it might become fashionable for men to wear black kimonos.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Tourists and Travelers


 Fuck's sake, stop faffing and take the bloody picture, my G&T is going flat.

Over at the excellent Blogtrotter the other week, Fionnchú reviewed ‘The Smell of the Continent’, a history of British tourists abroad, by Richard Mullen and Robert Munson. He says:

‘John Ruskin, always lofty, did accurately observe "the poor modern slaves and simpletons who let themselves be dragged like cattle. . . through the countries they imagine themselves visiting." (qtd. 197) Mullen & Munson find his reaction typifies that of British travelers: they dislike their countrymen on holiday, and they tend to find that travel was always better before the crowds came, when adventurers preceded the mobs, and the journeyer was of "better quality" than the yobs today.’

Now then, go here to find out if you are a traveler or a tourist, but just make sure you are back soon.

I don’t travel much now, but when I did visit the Greek islands regularly, I always packed my iron. Companions would groan at this, but I knew that before we went out to dinner on the first evening, they’d be queuing up to borrow it. I won’t go anywhere that has no bars or restaurants, I want at least three showers a day if it’s hot and I have a horror of squat toilets. (Of course a man can pee with a certain detachment from the surroundings, but as for the other business, I’d have to be pretty bloody desperate.) Two years ago, I was offered a ten-week contract teaching Academic English in China, and two days in which to say yes or no. Well, I iffed and butted, not very enthusiastic about the prospect but feeling that to say no would be unadventurous and incurious. I called my sister, who predictably urged me to go for it. I phoned my mother, who just as predictably was horrified, and went on about China’s abysmal human rights record and insalubrious prisons.

‘But I’m not going to bloody prison,’ I pointed out, testily.

‘Well, I hope not,’ she said.

So I have never been to China, and it was not the vanishingly small chances of being incarcerated, dispatched by lethal injection or shot in the head that put me off; it was the prospect of squat toilets. What if there was one in my flat? I couldn’t say, ‘look, I’ll go if you can guarantee me a decent sit-down khazi’, and expect to come off as an adaptable, culturally sensitive instructor. All this places me squarely in the tourist category, according to that web-page. Yet I’ve never thought of myself as one.

In the seventies in Cambridge, there was a brief vogue for wearing badges bearing the legend 'I'm not a tourist, I live here', for anyone who wanted to be distinguished from the gawping, ignorant herds. In college bars, students would snigger about the visitors who asked such dumb questions as ‘where’s the university?’, and claim that they had directed the questioner to Addenbrooke’s Hospital or the Unemployment Benefit Offices. This was intolerably cliquey and inhospitable and I never bought the badge, but only because I already had too many gay badges. I was as snotty about tourists as any other Oxbridge undergraduate snob.

When I moved to Greece, my snooty sense of utter separation from the instantly recognisable Brits Abroad always made me think of that badge. Henry Miller’s extravagant pronouncement in ‘The Colossus of Maroussi’ that the Englishman in Greece is ‘not worth the dirt between a Greek peasant’s toes’ is taking it a bit far, although in 1941 such Brits as got to Greece may well have considered themselves the school prefects of the world. Even so, in the hard, bright light of Athens, a middle-aged British tourist in socks and sandals being diffident and polite to a waiter or taxi driver looks timid, pallid and ineffectual, just asking to be smiled at and charged double. I always felt pleased when Greeks took me for French or Italian.

It was not only the British who looked daft and out of place. I remember standing at a pedestrian crossing with a bunch of elderly Americans, in an astonishing collection of stripes, zigzags, dots and paisley (them, not me) as an elderly vagrant came shuffling by. There was murmured comment on his appearance, and then one old boy beamed and announced with a sort of dutiful, chipper piety: 'y'know, it could be Christ!' eliciting a chorus of obedient yea-saying. ‘Get these people out of my adopted country!’ I thought, petitioning Zeus to send thunderbolts. I knew I was as much a foreigner as they were, but my attitude to tourists in general was like that of a kid in the second year at school, who can look down on the new intake and feel superior for knowing what they cannot possibly yet know.

Last week as a tourist wandering around Athens I was pleased to realize that my old snobbery has gone and I don’t want to be taken for anything other than what I am. The tavernas in Plaka and Anafiotika around the Acropolis were jammed with German and American coach parties being entertained by bouzouki players, and although I could never happily be a member of such a group, I wonder why I was once so contemptuous of such utterly harmless pleasures.

If I go abroad again, I want to do so for work, and live in the country for an extended period, so long as it has a high standard of creature comforts, a good cuisine and no hole-in-the-floor shit-houses. If this limits my options, fine. I’m neither traveler nor tourist, more a sort of international stay-at-home.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Scrapbook



I’m writing this on my last day in the Peloponnese, sitting on a friend’s veranda in the boonies somewhere near Koroni. It’s a blessedly cool evening after a day of enervating heat and humidity when my clothes felt like shrink-wrap and my balls reached my knees. Yorgos is asleep, or at least he’d better be. Otherwise I’d feel resentful at being ignored. Cicadas rasping in the many trees, moths battering the lamp. The occasional whine as a mosquito comes sailing through the dark. We have no insect-repellent spray or incense coils to burn, so I am sitting here generously slathered with Body Shop men’s cologne, hoping it will make mozzy eyes water as much as it does mine.



It’s been a curate’s egg of a trip, nice bits and less nice bits. Nice to see people I had not seen for some years, less nice when what I had hoped would be a nostalgia trip often made me think ‘shit, that’s one of the things that really used to get up my nose.’ I checked in to a hotel in Kalamata for one night, and felt I was inconveniencing the owner and staff by my presence, as they all gave the impression of having better things to do than make customers feel appreciated. Some of these irritations are shamefully trivial, though. Elderly and middle aged men are much given to faffing with komboloia, metal chains threaded with chunky beads which the owner whizzes round his index finger, or tells like a rosary, or tosses up and down in his palm, and so on. Komboloia are said to calm the nerves. They do not have that effect on me. Five minutes in a café next to some old bugger rattling and clacking one of these things and I want to snatch it out of his hand and drop it down a drain. Go here for a tutorial on the handling of your komboloi, but do not come practising your technique near me.



*****

There’s an old joke about two Englishmen marooned on a desert island for many years. When at length they are rescued it turns out that neither knows anything about the other, because ‘we were never introduced’. There’s some truth behind this. There are people I see every day on Stamford station with whom I have never exchanged a word. If a third party introduced us, this would ‘break the ice’ that Brits assume must exist between strangers. Greeks find this quite baffling. You should not fall for the Greek line that ‘we are all so gwarm and freddly’, for this is self-flattering hyperbollocks, but do please note and maybe admire the sense of being utterly at home, entirely en argumentative famille, that obtains between Greeks everywhere, whether they have been introduced or not.

On the tram today from Palio Faliro on the coast to Syntagma in the centre of Athens, a young man from Bulgaria or Romania was playing a squeeze-box and holding out his hand for money. Nobody gave any, as times are hard.

‘They should go back to their own countries, all of them,’ said a lady opposite me. ‘Far too many of them here now. Enough’s enough.’

‘Well by that logic,’ rejoindered the elderly woman next to me, ‘all the Greeks in America, Australia, Canada and places should be sent back here.’

‘I’ve been to America’ said the first lady, looking away with Hellenic hauteur, ‘but I didn’t go to steal.’

‘To steal?’ said the old lady contemptuously. ‘Is every Greek that ever went abroad to find work a thief? E, mi milás esy! Don’t give me that!’ This was delivered as a real telling-off, and at this point I lost track of the discussion because everyone in our corner of the carriage chipped in to support one side or the other and there was quite a debate. I was entirely with the second lady but said nothing. Blaming other people for escaping economic deprivation by emigrating to other counties is something Greeks especially have no business doing.

I don’t say it doesn’t happen, but I have never seen such an unrestrained exchange of views among strangers on public transport in England. The educated reserve such discussion for private places with trusted friends, the underclass just hold drunken slanging matches. In Greece, though, it is commonplace, and everyone behaves as though they were all members of one big querulous family.

*****


My last night here. I’m in Athens, sitting on the terrace of a top-floor flat in Palio Faliro at dusk, surrounded by concrete and television aerials. It’s about eight o’ clock, and below and around us the district is coming to a gentle simmer as people go shopping, sit in cafes, have a natter on their balconies, crash their cars, remonstrate with kids. Back home the streets will be dark and silent by eight. But I'm ready to go now and I can't wait to climb into my own bed.



My bed, waiting for me.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Postcard from Athens



Dear All (Whoever you all are)

Well, I haven't been here twenty four hours yet, nor have I been out of the flat where I am staying, but it feels as if I have been here a long time. (Athens airport v nice, btw; spotless toilets.)

Now then. Most oral tests for students of foreign languages assess the student's ability to produce a monologue (describing a favourite place, for example) and then their ability to engage in a conversation with the examiner. Counter-intuitive as it may seem, the monologue is by far the easier part. The examiner does not interrupt, change the topic, or raise objections; you can just maunder on as you like. In conversation, on the other hand, you have to formulate your utterances and modify them even as you do so, in response to the fact that your interlocutor is responding to what you are saying with disagreement, interruptions, changes of topic, requests for clarification, and so on. This need for constant negotiation is known in the jargon as 'reciprocity conditions'. In your native language you accomplish this constant shifting of gears as easily as you breathe. In a foreign language, though, you can become painfully aware that reciprocity conditions impose quite a burden, especially if you have been away from the language for four years and only read or talked to yourself for practice in that time. You become aware of every clanking gear and rusty cog in your battered head, as I am becoming aware of them now.

An examiner won't interrupt you. Still less will he ply you with coffee, fruit, bread, cheese, honey and tahini as you are organising your thoughts, or cut you short to have you smell the basil growing on the balcony, or interrupt your cerebration with thunderous denunciations of Kostas Karamanlis whenever he appears on the telly, which is often. Here in Greece, you must be prepared for this. I was, sort of, but staying with my generous, hospitable and intensely verbal friend and her daughter, bang in the centre of Athens, it's still quite an assault to the old language centres of the brain after my monkish life in tiny little Stamford. It's like being asked to play basketball after you have spent a long time simply being a blob on the couch.

Possibly because of this, I slept like a baby last night for the first time in years, despite the cars, buses, trucks and kami-kaze motorcyclists that hurtle round us. Also for the first time in years, I woke up feeling refreshed instead of feeling like crawling right back into bed after my first coffee. I don't have to get a train today, I don't have to do my thing in front of a class, or indeed do anything I have not myself chosen to do, and it is not often I feel like this. I could get used to it.

Weather v nice, not 2 hot. Going to Kalamata on Friday.

S.
xxx

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Καλό Ταξίδι*


I'm leaving tomorrow, so L.A. (the blog, not the city) will go on hold for a week or so, unless I find time to write the odd post-card. It's odd, and very maddening, that after such a long wait (I booked the flight in June) I feel nothing right now beyond a mild weariness at the thought of traveling and staying in other people's houses for ten nights. I have so little social life these days that I have almost forgotten the few rules of social interaction I used to know. One I do remember is that people expect you to talk to them, even when you don't want to. I’ve turned into a creature of the most rigid routine, like an elderly cat, and the realization that a major disruption is imminent is tarnishing the sense of anticipation I had expected to enjoy.

Well, anyway. I've been reading Greek magazines and talking to myself in Greek, spieling monologues and holding imaginary conversations, in preparation for the onslaught of words that is to come when I arrive at my friend's in Athens. I have not seen her for sixteen years, and in the meantime her son has died, so I'm not sure what the atmosphere will be like. I suppose that in the four years since his passing, the stark fact will have been accommodated to a certain degree, but it’s like the loss of mobility or eyesight, and the world can never be the same for her again.

After three days in Athens I’m getting the bus to Kalamata, the extraordinarily parochial town in the Peloponese where I spent the last three years of my time in Greece. Here let me generalize horribly. Your Kalamartian, look you, he sees no reason ever to leave Kalamata, because as you will hear over and over, ‘έχουμε ΚΑΙ βουνό ΚΑΙ θάλασσα εδώ’, we have both mountain and sea here, conditions which obtain πουθενά αλλού στον κόσμο, nowhere else in the world. Local patriotism is intense. When I decided it was time to leave, the owner of the school where I worked warned me that I would be unlikely ever to find a comparable job, thus giving voice to a general agnosticism about the viability of life elsewhere. This was surprising from him, as he had lived abroad himself, and dealt extensively with Kalamata’s parochialism when helping Greek kids choose and apply to British universities. One father demanded that he find his daughter ‘an easy university with lots of Greeks, a direct air link with Kalamata, and no Pakistanis’. Mothers who had sons already studying abroad would send them roast chickens by DHL. I imparted this snippet to the teachers in the staffroom, expecting howls of derision, but they thought it perfectly reasonable.

OK, I need to go and sort out that heaped mess of a suitcase, so, τα λέμε, /ta 'leme/ meaning literally ‘we’ll say them’ or more idiomatically ‘we’ll talk’, that is to say, bye for now.

*****

*Καλό ταξίδι /ka'lο tak'siδi/ '[have a] good journey'. Memorably and toe-curlingly, this got into the film 'Shirley Valentine' as 'kalo taxadis' or something like it, along with 'Greek' waiters who used Spanish words for the food they served. Kalamata hasn't got the monopoly of parochialism.

Friday, 11 September 2009

We Value your Feedback - Honest.



Somewhere it is written (by the Briddish Kyncel, probably) that feedback shall be elicited from English as a Foreign Language students at the end of their courses. This gives them the warm feeling that the institution is interested in their views. Did they but know with what shovelfuls of salt their feedback is taken, though, they probably wouldn’t waste time on completing the questionnaires, but repair at once to the cafeteria before it got too crowded to get a seat for lunch. I do not say this to criticise the institutions. The views of someone who is just passing through, knowing nothing about language teaching, are of little concern beyond the obvious one that she or he be as happy and diligent as possible within the system. It’s unlikely that any great changes would be made on the say-so of some twenty-year-old malcontent such as the puerile French twerp who has been getting on the wick of one of my young colleagues for the last five weeks with his arrogance and scorn for all things British. Everyone was asked to make a ten minute presentation on a topic of their choosing. 'Ten minoot?' Sebastien sneered, in gallic deprecation of the demeaning triviality of this requirement. He wanted to be exempt from it. 'In Fronce, I ave make a présentation for a hower!' Yeah, in French, though. Classic case here of heaping contempt on an undertaking because you don't feel equal to it. Anything you say in feedback will be taken down and passed round the staffroom for everyone to have a good guffaw at, before it is filed away in the dark for the rest of time.

The feedback ritual was duly observed today at Pre-Sessional’s end. I distributed the questionnaire after the final listening test, allowed time for its completion, collected it, stood smiling for group photographs, bade everyone farewell and bolted for the staffroom. The students in the group that I shared with a colleague had been quite happy, it seems. Only one had ticked ‘no’ for ‘did you enjoy the course?’ on the grounds that it had been ‘too much work’. Every teacher had instances of the kind of contradiction you always get in such feedback: there was too much work but there ought to have been more writing; listening is boring and there wasn’t enough of it; there was too much reading and we ought to have had more practice at reading. It's like moaning that the food in the cafeteria is lousy, and not only that, the portions are too small. One young lady had been displeased because the staff had shown insufficient concern for the recovery of her lost umbrella.

Eliciting feedback and expecting it to be wholly truthful before students have been given their grades and reports is a bit over-optimistic. It is common in some cultures for teachers to be swayed by flattery and deference and declarations of how they are the best teacher ever, but hell, dat don’t mean shit up hiya in dis bitch, motherfuckah: we’ll fail your essay if it’s crap no matter how many hearts and exclamation marks you slather on your feedback form, although admittedly it will have to be egregiously bad, truly a thing of darkness, before we’ll be allowed to do that. On the other hand, expecting students to fill in a feedback questionnaire after they’ve got their marks is even more unrealistic, as by then the teachers have served their purpose and become irrelevant.

Personal comments are obviously more interesting than ticked boxes. At another university, a young man from Thailand said to me 'I like your lessons because you’re not serious’. Yeah, well… I had to think about that. He meant it admiringly, but it still made me wonder if I had been perceived as a push-over. We often get overseas students telling us that we are the best teacher they have ever had. There need be no false modesty here, as people specifically trained as teachers of English as a Foreign Language to diploma level are a comparative rarity in world terms, so students accustomed to the lessons of irascible time-serving tediosities or twenty-year-old vivacities doing gap years are frequently impressed when taught by those having authority, and not as the scribes. The thought of what you are being compared with prevents your head from swelling.

The grades will be announced next week. Few need worry that they will not be accepted by their faculties. A marking system was devised that mapped percentages onto grades with such a wide middle ground that there was not much difference in the end between thirty six percent and sixty. The customer is as right as you can possibly make him.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Happy Blogoversary and Who are You?



This day have I blogged a twelvemonth, and a twelvemonth have I blogged. Thank you to everyone who follows publicly or privately for reading my rambles and rants, and for kindly commenting and commenting kindly.

I'm going to nick an idea from Bo, and ask people who pass by to leave a comment introducing themselves. I know only two 'followers' personally, and one or two more from reading their blogs, but I know nothing at all about the rest of you, or whether you ever drop in. So come on, speak up. Tell us who you are, where are you from and anything else you'd like to impart.

Monday, 7 September 2009

To Hellas

 Kavala, old town.

Only a week to go and I get my first break since Easter. Despite the fact that there are still lessons to deliver and assessments to make, I’m feeling very end-of-term and demob happy. On the fifteenth I’m going to Greece for ten days. Given that I lived there for fifteen years it may not seem like much of a change, but after four unbroken years in England I am looking forward to deep lungfuls of exhaust fumes in Athens, where I lived 1990 to 2002, and as an antidote, some sea air in Kalamata in the Peloponnese where I spent 2002 to 2005.

I became fascinated by Greek when I was nine. My mum had a part-time job in a café owned and staffed by Cypriots, and I used to have her collect and write down vocabulary items for me to memorise. I evolved a romanticised image of Greece derived largely from travel brochures and an incomprehensible seventies TV series, The Lotus Eaters, that was set in Crete. I visited Italy on a school trip when I was fourteen and was absolutely bowled over by the light, the colour, the ubiquitous smells of good cooking, good bread and good coffee and, astonishingly, the easy availability of wine to pre-pubescent boys. (That dates me. No boy would be surprised now.) The sunlit sensuousness of Liguria, the warm, fragrant nights with fireflies sparkling in the trees and grass verges, made me decide there and then that Northern England was not the ideal habitat for human beings. I stayed in France for six months in 1978, and this confirmed my view that the English simply didn’t know how to live. I expected Greece would be pretty similar to Italy and France, and anticipated good food, good wine, lingering over late dinners with good conversation, and similar Bovaryesque fantasies. When I first fetched up in Greece in 1985 as a teacher in a language school in Kavala, I knew diddly squat about language teaching and no Greek beyond a lexical set of café vocab: cup, saucer, teaspoon and so on, many items garbled by my mum’s mishearing of them. I entertained high hopes of reliving Italy and France, but this time for a whole year.

Ah, but Greece is Greece, not Italy or France. It’s much rougher around the edges. God, I hated it. Absolutely fucking hated it. So many people seemed unsmiling and suspicious. I was paid peanuts, given lessons to teach at seven in the morning and generally taken for a mug by the school owner. Winter in Northern Greece is bitterly cold and the house I had been allocated was glacial. I remember the bedroom had the most hideous lampshade I have ever seen: a glass up-lighter in the shape, approximately, of a nipple: the areola was reddish and the centre frosted mustardy yellow. It looked like a huge pustule dangling over the bed. You felt if you popped it, it would splatter the room with gunk. The custom of propping coffin lids outside the door of a house where someone had died depressed the hell out of me. People held stentorian conversations outside my window. The woman opposite supervised her kids’ play in the street from her fourth floor balcony, and her relentless deafening squawk gave me headache. One day as I was walking down the street to the school, an elderly gentleman in front of me stopped, bent forward, applied a forefinger to his nose to close one nostril, and from the other he blew to expel a green pendulum of snot that swung briefly before hitting the cobbles like a blob of Swarfega. I looked at the cheese pie I was eating, and slung it into an open bin-liner. Eventually I went and bought a plane ticket, packed my bags and did a bunk.

I had done what so many do when experiencing culture shock; allowed everything to irritate or depress me. After all, a lampshade that looks like a gigantic zit can be replaced - it need not lead you to loathe an entire culture. I had not stopped to consider how many people had been kind and helpful and hospitable to a very unworldly and thoughtless young man, and how horribly ungrateful I must have appeared, and how it was incumbent upon me as a resident, not a tourist, to adapt. Back in England a week or two after arriving home I was watching a concert on TV from the Herodion in Athens. Nana Mouskouri was singing some popular Greek song, ‘Aspri Mera’, maybe. I burst into tears.

‘Greece is like fly-paper,’ someone said to me years later. True. After leaving in 85, I taught myself Greek and went back on visits every chance I got, until a colleague pointed out that it would probably be more sensible to go and live there. So I did. Now I’m waiting to see what this visit will do for me. It may convince me that I did the right thing in leaving, or that I need to get back as soon as I can.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Quote... Unquote



I'm marking essays again. (Again...) Students from overseas could be forgiven for thinking that globalisation is the only issue examiners care about, since it crops up in essay titles with clockwork regularity. Fortunately for my punchdrunk brain, most of my students have chosen other titles this time round, and only Sulaiman has handed me fifteen hundred words on 'The Effect of Globalisation on Saudi Arabia'.

'...Saudi Arabia is going to build many industrial cities which mean that tens of thousands of foreigners will have to go there to work.'

I hope here he means that foreigners will have the opportunity to go there to work, and that the noun simply slipped down a hole in his laptop. Otherwise beware - maybe they are planning to enslave other nations.

The Saudis, who 'love the religion', are worried that with increasing foreign influence, unwelcome changes will be forced upon them. 'One of the areas that is very strict is the women.' He means of course that Saudi Arabia is strict on women, not that women are strict. 'In the country is not allowed free mixing between men and women and women are not allowed to drive or go out by themselves... women must cover their bodies and wear a Hijab.' This, then, is the natural order, not to be tampered with, but what with all these foreigners coming in to work, a Saudi lady might get ideas. She might abandon the veil, start pressing to be allowed to drive like any adult woman in any other country, and generally demand that she be treated like a mature human being instead of a permanent infant at the disposal of her male relatives. The men are backed up by such robed and bearded old goats as this one, discoursing on when and by what means it is permissible to beat ones wife. Have a look at this smug bastard - astonishing.

Enjoying such formidable support, naturally Sulaiman is unperturbed. Come on, the ladies of Saudi are not going to rise up against this kind of opposition, and in any case:

'...in Saudi Arabia the women enjoy all of the things from globalisation without breaking the rules of the religion, for example they have their own Boutiques, they can have MacDonalds delivery to house without paying for delivery and there is also a Debenhams that is manage by only women. Moreover, women have access to lots of designer names and cosmetics and have actually surpassed the more liberal Dubai as the biggest importer of German fashion products in the Middle East'

Clearly, the silly little flibbertigibbets will be too busy dressing up and slathering on the top-drawer lippy to worry their pretty little heads about being treated like caged birds.

I'm not expected to comment on this in my feedback, of course. I only have to grade layout, organisation and language. There is a box on the feedback form for general comments, though, and this is what I would really like to write in it:

I hope the day will come when your wife, or daughter, or grand daughter, will rip of her veil and fetch you a sharp knee to your precious nads before she sweeps away in the new BMW she's just bought with her own wages. I'd pay to watch.


Yours ever, etc.






Here is a link to an interview in English with Wajiha Al Huwaider, the woman in the video, telling it like it is.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Chez Moi.

I bought a digital camera the other week, and I've been footling about with the bloody thing to try to get the hang of it. Bo's recent photoshoot of his tastefully appointed quarters inspired me to offer something similar. My style of interior decoration might be termed 'Budget Eclectic'. It is to be found chiefly among those who returned relatively recently to the UK with no possessions except a spoiled fat cat, after several penurious years overseas.

1. View from Living Room Window


That's right, it's a tree. I'm sorry about this; when I took it, torrential rain was slamming down from a sky the colour of pewter, and it looked magnificent, honest. Absolutely my favourite kind of weather. Anyway, you will just have to take my word for it.


2. Commode 


Chest of drawers in the possession of the author. Origin disputed. It may be from the Homebase studios, but a case might with some confidence be advanced for an Ikean provenance. The piece presents an interesting balance of tensions: opening the middle drawer will cause the front parts of the two lower levels to detach, and this human/artefact-artefact/human interface will give rise to intemperate language and on occasion blasphemy. The piece is shortly to be transferred into the care of Kesteven District Council, and will briefly be available for viewing at the municipal dump.

Cornball and teengirly it may be, but I just love fairy lights! This over-exposed photo doesn't do them justice, they're like rarely, rarely pretty?

Look, OK, the fireplace is fucking tragic, I know. It's nothing to do with me, though.



3. The other Side of the Fireplace.




CD tower ('Oak Effect', fools nobody) by Homebase. I have to put the bloody CDs somewhere. The only other shop in Stamford that stocked CD towers at the time I bought this was selling coffin-shaped things decorated with skulls, to be bought by weasly men with inky tattoos, rottweilers and bits of metal stuck in their shaven heads. Dried flowers by Miss Pickering of Stamford, an establishment most definitely not patronised by the men with heads full of studs.

4. The West-facing Wall of the Main Chamber.


This is where I am reclining right now, but I am not going to publish any of the gruesome mugshots I took of myself - no self-respecting queen d'un certain âge would dream of it. I'm waiting until someone else can find my best angle, if I still have one.  



Same again, please.

5. Mugshot


This was taken by my friend Yorgos in Greece a year or two or three ago, but I haven't changed. Well, I mean, I'm not actually still wearing the same jumper and socks, but I don't look any different, apart from a better haircut.

6. A propos of nothing



US Christer Gospel singers communicate their joy in being saved.

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