Sunday, 28 March 2010

Sad Confession

Ladies and gentlemoulds, our subject today is classical musey, and classical musey is without a doubtloader one of the wonders of the great Worm. Wherever two or three are gathered togeb with a viola, piano or tromboner, a trumpy and clarineppers, or a cheap tin whistly-huff and bongle drums, there we find deep joy in the free espresso of the profoundimost feelies of the human beale. Some time spent devoting the brain-bocker to an understandy of the Western Classified Cannon will pay dividends twice or thricefold, up to threw and six, or sevenpence farthing on the effort expendled. Oh yes indeed.

Over at The Expulsion of the Blatant Beast, Bo confesses to an inability to make any sense of non-vocal classical music, and reading the post I thought, yes, that is exactly how I feel, words out of my mouth. My rather modest collection of a hundred and fifty or so CDs contains only two Mozarts, one Beethoven and one Haydn, this last a recent addition. They sit on the shelves undisturbed among Indian ragas, Persian dastgahs, African folk songs, Gregorian chant, songs from the Cancionero Musical de Palacio, some Dead Can Dance, a lot of Joni Mitchell, ecstatic Sufis, most of Sibelius, a little Japanese flute and koto music and some frantic crashing, sobbing and wailing from Azerbaijan.

I got a bit fed up of all this. I bought an MP3 player to drown out my fellow passengers on my commute to work but I began to find it every bit as intrusive as I do them. I’d have the thing on shuffle but keep on fast forwarding it, thinking, ‘oh, God, not that one again.’ It was time to try something new, something not an ululation, an amanés or a joyous hymn to Allah. This is where the Haydn came in.

The CD is ‘The London Symphonies’ and it lasts upwards of 150 minutes. I put it on the CD player and let it run and frankly, it drove me nuts. The first movement of Symphony no 95 (he wrote a lot of this stuff) in C major ‘begins with an abrupt five-note unison challenge, which, together with the attractively-scored second subject, provides the material for the fine, dramatic development section.’ You see, it does make sense, it does have meaning, it does have development and conflict and resolution but I simply cannot hear it. To me the entire two hours' worth goes huppity-hopperty-hippity-jipperty-dipperty-huppity, repetitively, relentlessly, interminably. There is for me a mechanical, jerky quality about it that is profoundly irritating, and it’s the same mechanical, jerky quality I hear in my Beethoven and Mozart CDs. The truly saddening thing is that it is ENTIRELY MY FAULT and I am left gloomily mystified, forever excluded from a source of abiding pleasure enjoyed, indeed revered, by so many very discerning people.

I don’t know why it is that music from the 18th and early 19th centuries should be so impenetrable to me. Sure, I have absolutely no technical or academic knowledge of music of any period or tradition, but why is it that while Old Ludwig Van, Handel and Haydn feel intrusive and drive me to screaming point, an Indian raga or piece of Renaissance sacred music will feel clear and soothing and refreshing? How is it that even though I do not really understand them, I feel as though I did?


One of my favourite pieces of ‘serious’ music is the Sibelius Symphony no 7, completed in 1924. The wikipedia article on this symphony is quite beyond me and might as well be written in Navajo for all the sense I am able to make of it, but the music itself, which is by no means simple, somehow does make sense to me. I can follow the development of the ideas in a way I cannot with the Haydn stuff. Here is one listener’s reaction to the symphony's closing bars: ‘Delivered from mortal bonds of earthly understanding, rising above mountains we cannot conquer, gathering with the force of revolving planets, thrust into the chordal Om of the universe, to where the stars dwell.’ Yeah, well. I’m not sure I fancy being thrust up anybody’s ‘chordal Om’ but the thing is, I suppose, that us purely intuitive listeners to western orchestral music have to rely on the visual and the emotional and are forced to invent a narrative, as though the music were the score of a movie, excluded as we are from being able to appreciate the purely abstract interplay of notes and chords and um… stuff. Listening to Sibelius and to Indian and Persian music, I tend to see abstract shapes and three-dimensional patterns rather than narratives and landscapes, which habit might, if I have the patience, help me to get closer to Ol’ Joe Haydn. But I would have to work at it.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Στους καλοφαγάδες - Up the Trenchermen!

Click here to visit an excellent foodie site - no, no, no, not now, I haven’t finished with you yet. The site is called ‘Kalofagás’, and there’s the matter of how to pronounce it. Give it a ringing stress on the last syllable - oooO - and try your best not to say something like ‘callow fag-ass’. because that would be wholly inappropriate and insulting to the man who maintains the site, a Canadian Greek who is certainly not callow and the rest is none of our business. The site name ‘Kalofagás’ could, I suppose, be translated as ‘gourmet’, but I have reservations about that. There is a small bunch of Greek masculine nouns terminating in ‘-ás’ that all have a rather well-hung and hairy-chested quality:

Bratsás, hunk, muscled bloke
Gamiás, cocksman, bloke who gets a lot of pussy
Leftás, rich man, bloke rolling in money
Psolarás, bloke with a big dick
Kolombarás, one who is always the 'top' in a man-on-man butt-fuck.

So ‘Kalogafás’ ought perhaps to be ‘trencherman’ rather than ‘gourmet’, I reckon. 'Gourmet' sounds a bit too pernickety.*

The site is attractively designed and beautifully photographed and the food is the real deal; healthy, appetising, colourful and imaginative without being showy or pretentious. It aims first and foremost to make you feel welcome and to nourish you, and only then impress you. The writer starts with the Greek cook's basic ingredients - fresh vegetables, pulses, fresh fish and seafood, feta cheese, olive oil, lemons, dill, parsley – and often adds little twists to classic recipes that never seem smart-arsed but instead make you wonder why you never thought of them yourself. I would never have thought of adding a tiny drop of ouzo to tsatsiki, for example, but from now on, I will.

Tonight I’ve made a vegetable soup based on a Lenten recipe from the Kalofagás. I have made similar veg soups before and always the results were bland, watery and boring, but this one sings. You slice an onion, dice some carrots, shred some white cabbage and chop some celery. Fry these in olive oil with garlic, and throw in some smoked paprika and some chilli flakes. Pour in vegetable stock and some vegetable juice cocktail such as V8, about 50/50. Add a bayleaf and some fresh thyme, and cook until the vegetables are tender. Then chuck in some marinated red peppers out of a jar. The paprika and the chilli are the smart ideas here, I think, along with the V8 for body. The recipe also included courgettes, but I am not a fan, so I leave them out. My minor adaptation is to add fillets of haddock to the boiling soup and then cover it and take it off the heat until the fish is done. Well, I like it that way. You can suit yourself.

Here from the same site is an unusual salad with potatoes and blood oranges. To combine spuds with oranges would never have occured to me in a million years. I haven't tried this yet but it looks beautiful and I am certainly going to. The Greeks I know are fond of citing the combination of fruit with savoury as an example of the barbaric eating habits of foreigners, chiefly the British and Americans. I once had Christmas dinner in Kalamata with an American friend who is married to a Greek, and her assorted in-laws were present. She had cooked turkey and with it provided apple sauce and cranberry sauce. One arrogant little twerp of a brother-in-law went on and on about the inappropriacy of eating fruit with meat. 'It's like putting Merenda on a souvlaki!' he jeered. Merenda is a sweet, gloopy chocolate spread, bearing no bloody resemblance to cranberry sauce. Although I was itching to point this out and shut the cocky little twat up, I forbore, as it would have been almost as rude as his pouring scorn on a meal he had been invited to. I also forgot to point out that in the Mani, only a few kilometres from where we were sitting, they make delicious meaty sausages flavoured with orange zest. If I meet the little shit again, I really must get that one in.    

The sun is past the yard arm, I bought some new wineglasses this afternoon and it is high time I christened one, so that will be all. Run along and look at ‘Kalofagás’ now.


*As JK points out, I missed tsaboukás off the list, because I didn't know it. It means a bully, somebody who likes throwing his weight  about. From Turkish çabuka, an offender with a previous conviction, according to Wikilexiko. The stuff you learn on this blog, eh?

Thursday, 18 March 2010

It is written...

You should spend one hour on this question.

You may not use a dictionary. Turn the damn thing off now.

Allow yourself time to check your work before you leave the exam room.

Many people say that we have developed into a “throw-away society” because we are filling up our environment with so many plastic bags and rubbish that we cannot fully dispose of. To what degree do you agree with this opinion and what measures can you recommend to reduce this problem?
In nowadays, every pipel is use many things who they thro them away. This is terrabel and dredful and dire broblem the goferment must solution it. In this essay will confine some discussion to the solve of the broblem, and discuss about it, which is terrabel and dredful broblem. Also finally in a conclusion I will give my obinion will be give an obinion for the solve of this terrabel dire and dredfull broblem, at the end.

First and foremose, why this a terrabel dire and dreadfell broblem? is because e.g. faragzambel, a child who he eat a ice cream or maybe a sweat or a chokelet, after he will thro away the baber, and position this rubbish in the street despite regardless of dustbin is even slap-bang next. Also one man he have a waif, his waif is go for shopping alone with not her husbund, she will throwing away rubbishes also, and maybe don’t angry to her child who throw away rubbishes, as a reselt, he throw away any rubbish everytime. Womans isn't should go for shopping with no husbund. This is reason for many child and waif throw away rubbishes to became a throw away society who we are filling up our environment with so many plastic bags and rubbish that we cannot fully dispose of, to what degree do you agree with

All Though On the other hand, however, we can recommend measures to reduce this problem. To what degree do you agree with this opinion. I am agree the goferment must panish the people. In my country, if woman go for shopping with no husbund, is very bad crime. In addition to, if one man kill other man, my goferment kill him. If one man steal other man, my goferment kil him. If one man steal a man waif, my goferment kill him.

Overall, from the above and foregoing discuss about, we can see this is a terrabel problem. Also on the one hand it is dire. On the other hand in addition it is dredfall. On the next hand to conclude, sum up and sunrise all this point, if I have to choice what’s the solve of this problem of throw away, goferment must arrest a people who throw away the society, and kill him. This my opinion, like I said you at the begin.


Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Daft as a Brush

An easy time I had of it today. For three days out of five, I work with groups of enthusiastic, hard-working, self-starting students who pretty much teach themselves. Today was a particularly good day. We did a simulated business meeting in which a variety of proposals were to be put forward, defended, debated and voted on. The class carried the whole thing for four hours. Beyond setting up the activity and supplying the odd item of vocabulary when called upon, I was pretty much redundant all day. There is no greater complement a student can pay a teacher than this, that they no longer need his help. So long as he is still getting paid, that is.

It is not always such a piece of piss, of course. A colleague had a bad morning the other day, and after considering the usual excuses for displays of student dimwittedness, such as culture shock and unfamiliar task types and the strain of operating in a foreign language all day, she decided they were just stupid. I work on the principle that this conclusion is to be reached only when every other possibility has been considered and dismissed. There are students from China and the Arab world who arrive here so teacher-dependent that they scarcely know which way up to hold a pen without instruction, but they do eventually catch on. Sometimes though, you have to wonder if some people are just dumb as trees.

A while ago I had a group who were required to read a book in their own time and be prepared to come to class and discuss what they had read, giving a summary of the plot and recommending the book to the group or advising everyone not to waste their time on it. First up to the OHP is a Chinese lad who calls himself Kevin. He shuffles his papers, arranges his transparency, clears his throat and addresses us thus:

‘OK, so, ummm… How is very big one, and, ummm, litch. So, boy is be must to steer the how. Yeah.’

He doesn’t appear to register that in his listeners’ minds, in Arabic, Chinese, Spanish and English, the same question is being formulated: what the fuck is he on about?

Kev goes on. ‘So, boy is whiz Beer Psycho.’ Checks notes. ‘Yeah. Beer Psycho. Beer Psycho is lobba and danger man very.’

Gotcha! ‘Bill Sikes is a robber and a very dangerous man.’ Kev has been reading Oliver Twist. I am now able to construe his opening. ‘The house is a big one and very rich. The boy must steal (i.e., rob) the house.’ This is now clear to me but I am probably the only one in the room apart from Kevin who knows about Oliver Twist, and definitely the only one who can decode rampant Chinglish fast enough to follow Kev’s drift.

Let us not mock (too much, anyway) attempts to communicate in a foreign language. But let us wonder why it is that someone who is after all about to start a Master’s launched into an account of a book, utterly without preamble, at something like chapter twenty five and expected us to know what the hell he was trying to tell us. I have one excuse in reserve for him. Maybe he thought I was testing him on a book I knew well (I don't) and he was addressing only me. Why would he have been asked to do a presentation if that were the case? What was the point of everyone else being there? Why would I have spent ages telling everyone that they were presenting something as a basis for discussion, not as a test? Oh, I don’t bloody know. Maybe Kev was just not the sharpest tool in the shed, and that was all there was to it.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Absolutely nothing at all

I'm zonked. Knackered, drained, brain dead. All week I have been wondering if they're putting something in the tea I get from the vending machine on the landing outside my classroom. It still has the usual acrid taste of boiled-up sweepings from the warehouse floor, but I have been so yawny and bleary I have to blame something. I've been running on empty, hence the bloglessness. Alas, unblogged! I can't think of a damn thing to say. It is most frustrating.

My brain may be slowing down but man, my blood pressure sho as hell jumpin'. I achieved a personal best this week of 222 over 107. It was a one-off reading, unusually high. Normally it's just high. Could be that my home monitor thingy is on the blink, or that it was due to having just sunk my customary morning cafetiere of thick black coffee, but I suppose I had better go and get this seen to. What a fucking bore.

My students have been great. Every day this week has gone well if you discount Wednesday with my talented group, which was like pushing a heavy truck up hill. This means, unfortunately, that there have been no amusing errors or misunderstandings and no obnoxious or outrageous behaviour to recollect in tranquility.

So it's been dull as beans round here this week, and likely to remain so until the end of term in two weeks time, which is ten teaching days, or forty teaching hours, or 2400 teaching minutes away.

In the meantime, do drop by now and then, though.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Become a 'Witch'!

We've missed the boat for this course, I'm afraid. It would have been four dollars well spent. Click on the ad to enlarge it. 

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Wires crossed

I collected some homework yesterday for the colleague who had set it the previous day. She had given the students ten or so half-sentences which they were required to complete with their own ideas, probably using connectors such as because, however, although, and that sort of thing. To make the task totally foolproof, she had given the class her own examples for each sentence. On receipt of the homework, she found that most of them had simply copied out her examples, and handed them back to her.

I sometimes think we ought to have a rubber stamp made, one that reads ‘what was the fucking point of doing this, then?’, and you'd see this in red ink at the bottom of the screwed-up exercises and 100% plagiarised essays we will be receiving over the coming three months. Most of these students are graduates in their own countries. Surely they cannot imagine we are setting them tests of penmanship? If they do not imagine this, what the hell is going through their minds as they copy out the teachers own words to hand back to her? Buggered if I know, but a lack of congruence between the minds of teachers and students is not uncommon. Here's an example.

In the mid-nineties I used to teach a group of nurses at a large private hospital in Athens. We had only two hours a week and they never did any homework, so progress was two steps forward and ten steps back. The proceeds of the enterprise contributed to my rent, but otherwise it was pretty pointless. The nurses naturally wanted to learn the names of the parts of the body. We did parts of the bloody body every lesson for weeks, and every week it was news to them. Imagine the strain on the creativity when you have to come up with a new way of teaching the same vocabulary items every week for a whole term. Labelling pictures, untangling anagrams, attempting crosswords, listening to invented dialogues between nurses and the halt, lame, bedridden, constipated, poxed and scrofulous, sticking labels on one of those creepy plastic teaching dummies that come equipped with functioning lungs and catheterisable snatch… they did the lot, and every week with the same sense of discovery. Every week the same reminder that the ten things on the end of your feet are, for medical purposes at least, ‘toes’, not ‘toys’. I deserved twice the money I actually got for that, no false modesty there.

Anyway, one day I had taught a number of phrases such as:

take a pulse
take a temperature

give an enema
give a bed-bath

and one or two others with another verb that I no longer remember. To round off the lesson and recap on the new vocabulary, I gave the ladies a task sheet on which the verbs GIVE, TAKE and the third one appeared at the head of three columns, and the nouns pulse, bed-bath, temperature, and so on appeared in a separate box in random order. (Can you have random order, or is that a contradiction in terms?) The aim of this bog-standard exercise is for the students to match the nouns with the right verbs, although I never terrified my nurses with abstruse terminology like noun and verb, as it would have freaked them out. Well, I set up the task, did one example for them, and asked them, in pairs, to get on with the matching. Silence. Bafflement. Then argument. They had no idea what the hell I wanted them to do, or why. If I had asked them to pair up and remove their partner’s appendix, their confusion could scarcely have been less. I repeated the instructions and these became, as usual, the subject of heated and noisy debate in Greek. I went behind the screen to where the plastic lady lay on her bed in eternal rigor mortis, and shouted ‘fuuuuuuck!’ before emerging to try again. But it was no good. The task made absolutely no sense to anybody and so we ditched it and went home.

I thought a lot about that bloody task, the like of which I had done with younger students a million times, and why it had fallen flat on its arse. I decided that since these ladies thought not in terms of verb-noun collocations but of seamless physical actions, they saw no sense in my splitting up the words, jumbling them and then requiring them to sort out the chopped up bits and pieces. Fair enough. If only that had occurred to me at the time I could have re-elicited all the phrases using mime, and we’d all have left earlier and happier. I don’t really think I would fancy having to mime ‘give an enema’, but you get the point. Chopping up language is my cabbage patch, not theirs.

So, yeah, sometimes we make assumptions about students’ knowledge of language and teaching methods, and we forget that they have no reason to see the matter in the same way as we do. I still have not managed to work out why a group of graduates imagined that they were required to hand in stuff they had simply copied from the board, though.


As the TEFL Tradesman points out in his comment, I'm showing my starry eyed innocence here, innocence that even fifteen years in Greece didn't manage to extinguish. The reality of education in the Arab world is depressingly described here. I did know this, but thought 'no, not my students!'

Monday, 1 March 2010

Comes round fast...

Today's my birthday. I'm fifty-one.

'Fifty-one!' said my mother on the phone, nostalgically. 'Lucky bugger.'

That wasn't exactly how I felt about the matter up to that point - all I had been thinking about was how close sixty is beginning to feel, and how I'm entering the decade when those of us who have been lucky enough not to look our age for a long time must finally resign ourselves to joining the grown-ups.

I dragged myself to the University, resigned also to my weekly lesson with Hassan, the bumptious little twerp whose speciality is winding teachers up and finding fault with all things non-Algerian. A colleague told me that the other day Hassan had been railing against Swiss cheese: it's the holes, they offend him. I had brought with me some little bars of organic chocolate in assorted flavours, in accordance with the Greek custom whereby the birthdayed one offers round sweets to colleagues and friends. 'Hassan will no doubt have some reason for despising the Swiss and their chocolate', I though, as I set off for the classroom, bearing sweeties like a kindly uncle. Well, sod him. Why do I let this little twat bug me so much? He spoils Sunday evening, he makes me nervous and forgetful in class, and it's always such a huge relief to pack up and leave on Monday afternoon. For me he's an example of what a colleague in Greece used to call one's 'people hooks', i.e., the sort of person that you know will be a thorn in your side, and must be prepared for when you spot one. My 'people hooks' are loud, aggressive, know-it-all males who are oblivious of their own obnoxiousness.

There were three students in the classroom. No Hassan. 'Is anyone else coming?' I asked, keeping my tone neutral.

'Only Faisal' they said. 'Mohammed and Tayeb and Hassan have gone for a fitting.'

A fitting! What for? A straight jacket, maybe? Perhaps the Air Force has heeded the voice of our department and decreed he be hung in chains?

'For uniform.'

'Where's he having this fitting done?' Nowhere local, I hope.


Might as well be Moscow. This falls out better than I could devise! I won't see him for another two weeks now. The gods' little gift for the birthday boy.

There's a new restaurant opened in Stamford, Asian Fusion, or something like that, Thai, Chinese, Indonesian and chips, probably. Another place with a suspiciously long menu, so it cannot possibly be entirely fresh, but they will have assorted spicy gloops of various colours to serve stuff in and with. We are going to try it out this evening. Fingers crossed. It's new enough to have big ideas and originality before it inevitably succumbs to the demands of those retail management types, hen parties and beery lads who slowly forced a lovely, original little Italian restaurant to deteriorate into into yet another pizza and pasta joint.


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