Saturday, 22 December 2012

Fabulosa, fabulosa, fabulosa

I read last week about a new Gay Bible. They obviously don't realise it's already been done, and better. Varda, I bring you bona tidings of dowry joy.




Herd-homies varda'd flocks by night,
All seated on the ground,
The angel of the Dutchess trolled,
And Gloria sparkled round.

Bencoves and heartfaces, for the quarter Sunday in Advent, our text is from the first chapter of the Gospel of Matilda, verses 18 to 25, from yer actual Polari Bible - mince over there in a bit and have a varda. Meanwhile, let us put aside for a bijou mo the swiftly-trolling fakements of this world (the gildy clobber, the prezzies, the bevvy and the bona manjarries to come) and get us sat for a serious cackle. We varda here that Gloria Her Absolute Very Self Herself swep' into the world, becoming carnish like other homies, only better: never cottaged, never had the trade round, never took it up the chocolate starfish or even had a J. Arthur so far as we know from the Bona Glossy. She jarried with the landladies and tax-collectresses, and trolled all over, healing the nanti varda and the nanti wallop, and casting out the wicked fairies. Then - and here is the Fantabulosa Gossip - she snuffed it for all the  kertervers* of homie-kind, however manky, and on the third journo, rose from the stiff. Well, after all that, natch, She’s absolutely in bits, bless Her - three to be exact: The Auntie, The Homie Charver and The Fantabulosa Fairy. We’re getting ahead of ourselves here, cos all this is part of the Holy Cackle Fart story, but this way you get a through picture and can see it all makes perfect sense.   

(*Rom 6:23 - 'For the parkering ninty of kertever is death' - but not necessarily!) 

The Gossip of Matilda


18 Now the birth of Josie Crystal was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Josephine, before they trolled together, she was found up the duff of the Fantabulosa Fairy. 
19 Then Josephine her homie affair, being a just homie, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. 
20 But while she thought on these fakements, varda, the fairy of the Duchess appeared unto her in a dream, cackling, Josephine, thou homie chavvie of Davina, fear not to lell unto thee Mary thy palone affair: for that which is conceived in her is of the Fantabulosa Fairy. 
21 And she shall bring forth a homie chavvie, and thou shalt screech his name Josie: for she shall save his homies and palones from their kertervers. 




22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was cackled of the Duchess by the prophet, cackling, 
23 varda, a nanti charver shall be up the duff, and shall bring forth a homie chavvie, and they shall screech his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, Gloria with us. 
24 Then Josephine being raised from letty did as the fairy of the Duchess had bidden her, and lelled unto her his palone affair: 
25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn homie chavvie: and she screeched his name Josie. 

OK, now let's remember the prezzies, the bevvy and bona manjarries (the mustard-infused artichoke hearts in Riesling, the traditional hot-smoked organic Cornish Pasties, the limited-edition kimchee Pringles) and how much the Homie Chavvy, Sparkle of the World, sets you back every bloody December.


You might like to troll over here and have a varda, an all. 

*****

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Why the Sandy Hook Massacre was OK Really

William Lane Craig Ph.D explains it all for you: the massacre of children and the wrecked lives of their parents combine to bring home to us the true meaning of Christmas. Warning: computer keyboards react badly to vomit, as do screens to fists.


Friday, 14 December 2012

Well said, Dave mate.

Hugh Grant was termed a 'pain in the ass' by an American talk-show host. 'Dave', commenting on the Yahoo News article, says:

'Brits hate our actors being pre-maddona's.'

Grant must be looking into the possibility of gender reassignment.




Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Raga Khamaj



Ravi Shankar (R.I.P.) and his daughter Anoushka perform Raga Khamaj.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

The Night Shift


Thirty-odd years ago, my dad arrived at work in the early morning and was surprised to see the boss's chauffeur there. He had been in London and was not expected back until much later in the day. When in London, the driver stayed at a flat in St John’s Wood, and on that morning he had frantically slung his gear together, bolted from the flat, and gone high-tailing it back up the M1 in the small hours. This was because he had awoken to find a malevolent being glowering down at him, and his body flattened against the bed as if by centrifugal force. 

Many years later I found that this experience is called sleep paralysis, and it is not uncommon. It happened to me on Wednesday last, and I do hope it won't happen again. I woke to find that I was sandwiched between two bodies, indeed attached to them as though we were conjoined triplets. The one behind of course I couldn’t see, but the one in front was clearly Linda Blair from The Exorcist, in full demon make-up. I was struggling mightily but vainly to push the two bodies away, and hollering ‘insanity, insanity!’ as my panic level rose. (Odd choice of vocabulary, that: no idea what prompted it) Eventually my slamming heart beat must have brought me to full consciousness. The experience cannot have lasted more than thirty seconds, if that, but it was a fucking long thirty seconds. When I first understood that the chauffeur's experience required no supernatural explanation, I remember feeling disappointed. In the early hours of last Wednesday morning, however, I was bloody glad I’d heard of sleep paralysis, and was able to turn over and nod off again instead of leaping out of bed and abandoning the flat.  

A respondent in the Guardian article I linked to above often experiences multiple episodes of sleep paralysis a night. Not all of them are unpleasant - occasionally, he says, there's a sexual element - but it all sounds rather trying:
 
Common images are bearded, goblin-like demons laughing or whispering sinister speech, a faceless girl (usually covering her face with hair, moving around in bed moaning and feeling my body), hands appearing from the wall and attempting to strangle me. A hung man talking in the corner of the room, and some of the most bizarre experiences may include up to a dozen 'critter' entities (think Gremlins movie) laughing and talking about me.

I'm not sure whether he means a hanged man talking in the corner of the room, or whether that was one of the sexual episodes.

*****

I note all my dreams but can rarely make sense of them. Every so often, as a special treat and a change from the banal stuff involving standing in front of a group of students with no idea why I’m there, there’s a Big Dream, one of those that you feel has been sent down from the Top Floor to keep you guessing. My biggest Big Dream I dreamed in the early nineties in Athens. It was extraordinarily intense and focused, in a manner entirely unlike waking life.  

I’m in bed in my flat in Astydamandos Street, Pangrati. The room begins to spin – no, it is not the room, but me; my body is rising from the bed, whirling round as it ascends, as if in water going up a plughole. I manage to focus my attention on a candlestick, and this steadies me. Now I’m bobbing against the ceiling, looking down at my sleeping other self. An OBE! Fuck! I’m dead chuffed, but then I worry: is this body exactly the same as my physical one? I check, and yep, I still have my cock. Much relieved, I decide to explore. I float downwards and pass through the bedroom floor, seeing and feeling the floorboards, the concrete and then the wallpaper on the ceiling below. 

It’s the ceiling of my parents’ living room in England. It’s night, and there is nobody here. I float through the sitting room, through the dining room, and then through the kitchen window and down into the back garden where a boy is waiting for me. I know that unlike me, this lad is permanently out of his body; in our terms, he is dead. I reach and touch the back of my head. What feels like a steel cable protrudes from my skull and connects this temporarily discarnate me to my body, asleep back in Athens. An astonishing, thrilling thought occurs to me. I ask the boy if he can take me to see Nicolas, a young man I knew and had hoped to know better, killed in a car accident a few months earlier. He agrees to do this. I take his hand, close my eyes, and then… he’s gone. I’m alone in the monochrome garden, and Nicolas is as far away as ever.  

*****
     
My sister just texted me to say she had experienced sleep paralysis frequently in her late teens, but never told anyone about it. 'I was pressed against the wall or bed by what felt like a vortex'. Sod - it's in the family. I'm really not looking forward to turning in tonight. 

Sunday, 25 November 2012

North Korea - Wish You Were Here!

Here, a cheery bunch of Aussies is sumptuously entertained in Pyongyang, the Kim dynasty's bizarre film-set capital of North Korea. You needn't watch it all - they had a bloody nice time, eating well, drinking beer, joshing, dancing and posing with carefully selected locals. That's all you need to know.

   

Can my frequent visitor from Seoul translate the texts on the banners in the photo above? I'll lay odds they are all about death to the Imperialist Bastards, but I'm open to correction.

Human Rights Watch Report 2012 tells us:

'The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) systematically violates the basic rights of its population. Although it has signed four key international human rights treaties and includes rights protections in its constitution, it allows no organized political opposition, free media, functioning civil society, or religious freedom. Arbitrary arrest, detention, lack of due process, and torture and ill-treatment of detainees remain serious and endemic problems. North Korea also practices collective punishment for various anti-state offenses, for which it enslaves hundreds of thousands of citizens in prison camps, including children. The government periodically publicly executes citizens for stealing state property, hoarding food, and other “anti-socialist” crimes.'
How far up your fucking arse do you have to be to put out a video of 'What I Did On My Hols In North Korea', and show no awareness, no acknowledgement, that you are in a state that appears to have modeled itself explicitly on Nineteen Eighty-Four? (Christopher Hitchens speculated that some time around 1950, somebody must have given Kim Il Sung a Korean translation of Orwell's novel and said 'what d'you think? Reckon we can make it fly?') How crashingly bloody insensitive do you have to be to recommend people visit this Hell on Earth 'before it changes'? This is a state where in the nineties two million people died of starvation while the Dear Leader stocked his 10,000 bottle wine cellar and sent his sushi chef to source caviar from Iran and sea urchins from Japan. (On the latter expedition, the chef managed to slip his minders and escape.) In a country where sex is not deemed a fit subject for discussion, Kim Jong Il hired girls to dance naked for his favourites while they sloshed down the Hennessy. This is a country where every individual, whether one of the privileged permitted to live in Pyongyang (so long as he behaves himself) or a serf in a forced labour camp, is state property. Did that jolly little bunch of visitors not wonder where everyone went in Pyongyang after dark? If the people are not on parade, they're under curfew. Seen from space at night, North Korea is a field of black between the lights of South Korea and China. How much is revenue from tourism going to benefit the people in that darkness, subsisting on grass and tree bark, given that the Kims have always seen them as so many expendable extras in the drama of their own greatness?

Kim Il Sung, the Great Leader, always had himself depicted as sleek, plump and benign, dispensing hand-shakes and homely wisdom to his grateful and admiring people. Sometimes he was shown with a ciggy in his hand, to add an air of down-home just-folksiness to his image. The goitre that afflicted him in later life is omitted from all representations, naturally. Kim Jong-Un seems to be playing the same easy-going, noblesse oblige card - see below. Like his dad the Dear Leader, he has a fondness for the top-drawer smokes and Scotch. One day, according to Jong Il's sushi chef, Jong-Un got to thinking a bit. Picture him gazing meditatively into his Johnny Walker Black. 'We are here,' he mused, 'playing basketball, riding horses, riding Jet Skis, having fun together. But what of the lives of the average people?' Well, you horrible little cunt, read the Human Rights Watch Report, since you don't operate under the same IT restrictions as your subject populace. You needn't go further than You Tube if reading wearies you. Since Jong-Un took over that little parallel universe from his father, the young things of Pyongyang have a brand new funfair to play with and may gab to one another on cell-phones. It's impossible to make international calls, of course. The attempt alone could get you shot.. Play nicely, or else.

Here's The Dear Successor with his Mrs, opening a supermarket in Pyongyang. It looks as though the architect of Kim Il Sung's mausoleum designed it, incorporating an addled memory of  Manchester Airport. Anyway, the design way upstages the merchandise. The ritual involves the same saluting, handshaking and bonhomie that attended Kim Jong Il's visits to factories and offices, the same sense of empty display. We do not buy it.

 

In his book The Aquariums of Pyongyang, Kang Chol-Hwan, who along with his family spent ten years in the Yodok concentration camp, tells of being forced to witness executions by firing squad or hanging:

I attended some fifteen executions during my time in Yodok. ...they were [almost all] for attempted escape. no matter how many executions I saw, I was never able to get used to them, was never calm enough to gather herbs while waiting for the show to begin. I don't blame the prisoners who unaffectedly went about their business. People who are hungry don't have the heart to think about others. Sometimes they can't even care for their own family. Hunger squashes man's will to help his fellow man. I've seen fathers steal food from their own children's lunchboxes. As they scarf down the corn, they have only one overpowering desire to placate, if even for one moment, that feeling of insufferable need.                        

Well, at least those Aussie trippers got shown a good time. Here for balance is another who's less wide-eyed



*****

Stuff I've read recently:

Demick, B. (2010) Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea London: Granta.
Kang,C. (2001) The Aquariums of Pyongyang London: Atlantic Books.
Kang, H. (2005) This is Paradise! My North Korean Childhood London: Abacus.
Myers, B.R. (2010) The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans see themselves and why it matters. New York: Melville House.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Queer Meme


I stole this ‘meme’, if that's what it is, from somebody who stole it from somebody else who’d stolen it from somebody else.
How old were you when you knew you were gay?
I remember my first thrill of homosexual attraction. I was transfixed by a shot on TV of a bare-chested boy diving into a river. It was in a TV adaptation of ‘Swallows and Amazons’, and it must have been the 1962 BBC version, but certainly a repeat, as I was only three when it was new. Even so, I don’t think I was older than six when I decided that shirtless and pantless boys were a bloody sight more absorbing to contemplate than girls in any state of dress or undress. Obviously at that age I didn’t associate this aesthetic pleasure with sex. I must have been about seventeen before I made the connection and acknowledged that for me, nothing in this sublunary world matches the beauty of a fit, naked lad with a twanging hard-on. When did you realise you were straight? Or did you just take it as read that you would be?    


Have you ever had sex with the opposite sex?
Yes, at university. Odd experience: a mixture of genuine enjoyment of the company of the women involved and the peer pressure to get laid as often as possible exerted on one another by young men in an all-male college. I suppose I appreciated the ‘penis exercise’, as we practically and unromantically termed the act, but knew that my heart wasn’t in it even if my other relevant organ was. Have you ever has sex with the same sex?

Who was the first person you came out to?
My sister, I think.  Who did you first confide in that you were (gulp) straight?

Are you out to your family?
Yes. I arrived at my parents from Cambridge one day circa 1982 wearing a sweat shirt I’d ordered from Gay News. It bore a lambda symbol on the chest, and I waited to be asked what it meant. On hearing the explanation, neither of my parents could honestly pretend it was a surprise. My dad never had any problem with it, but my mother had visions of me being eternally mocked and queer-bashed and took a few months to come round. It wasn’t long before she was calling me in Cambridge to inform me of anything of queer interest coming up on on the telly.

Do you want children?
No. I only eat white meat.

Do you have more gay friends or straight friends?
They are nearly all straight.


Were you out in school?
Are you kidding? It was a boys’ Grammar School in working class northern England in the seventies: announcing you were queer would have been like publicly confessing atheism in Saudi Arabia. Anyway, I didn't know at the time that I was. I was aware of being different in a manner I couldn’t define, and of being frequently reviled and sneered at. I might have been slightly camp in a Nigel Slater-ish sort of way, but I can’t really remember. Publisher Stephen Pickles and TV producer David Liddiment were respectively three and five years ahead of me. Both are queer as coots and they deflected the taunts of those days by developing extravagantly stagey personas, Pickles waspish and camp and Liddiment (a prefect) like a Kapo from Belsen. That they both treated me more kindly than they treated other little oiks suggests they recognised one of the brethren even if he didn’t recognise himself at the time.      
      
Have you ever done Crystal Meth?
No. Never even met her.


Have you ever been in a sling?
Not of any kind for any purpose.





Have you ever done a 3-way?
Yes, three or four times.  All terribly busy. 




Have you ever dressed in drag?
I did two female parts in school plays. You can imagine how this enhanced my reputation, which when all’s said and done is all a girl has.


Cher or Bette?
Eh? Oh, I see, the Diva thing. Neither. Us thinking poufs go for Joni Mitchell, and at 
university I played no music but hers, which drove everybody around me nuts. I feel vindicated these days when I learn that people who knew me then now have Blue and Hejira in their CD collections. Nearly all my CDs are of female artists - Mari Boine, Miriam Makeba, Lisa Gerrard, Mamak Khadem, Savina Yannatou – but the attraction of Cher, Bette, Barbra and Judy is lost on me. 



Have you dated someone of a different ethnicity?
How old are you, fourteen? You seem to have led a rather sheltered life. I've had (as opposed to 'dated') men from all over the place, but my only extended relationship was with a young man from the Seychelles, now resident in Sweden. We are still in touch sporadically, twenty-odd years after we met in Athens. He was 21 and I a decade older. He was naïf, generous, loyal, stubborn and tough. He was not out of the top drawer intellectually and I’m afraid I was a bit of a bully. Was there any point, I would sometimes ask him, in our staying together?

Him: It’s deep end.

Me: Whaddaya mean, ‘it’s deep end’?

Him: It’s deep end on you!

 


Been to Fire Island? Saugatuck? Key West? Ft. Lauderdale? Palm Springs?
No, and highly unlikely that I ever will. Never even heard of Saugatuck.

Have you ever barebacked?
 No. I’d as soon have a gin and tonic. I put in the side bar a quote from Christopher Hitchens:
“The four most over-rated things in life are champagne, lobster, anal sex and picnics.”

How many Madonna CDs do you own?
None.

Name of your first love?
I can’t tell you that. Needless to say it was wholly unrequited. I’ve decided unattainablility is a great aphrodisiac.

Do you still talk to him?
Yes, by e-mail.

Does size matter?
Absolutely it does, and the 'size-doesn’t-matter' twaddle is a sad piece of rationalisation made up by men with scrawny knobs. If you detect here a certain self-confidence on my part, well, then... Your really huge plonkers are, for purposes other than micturation, pretty useless. I once had a strikingly handsome boyfriend, rather like the lad on the right here, whose member on the jack was gargantuan.  Such was its girth that no hand, mouth or ring-piece could encompass it without risking trauma.
You could only really look and say, ‘right, yeah, it’s big, isn’t it?’ When the point of climax was inevitable, Glen would sit astride me wanking that pole, massive bollocks aswing, and I swear you could hear the stuff coming. No, what matters more is proportion. Big dicks on skinny boys look silly, and vice versa.

 


Biggest turn on?
Youth. Wiry muscles. Lascivious smile. Stubble. Bollocks. Hairy thighs. A fat bulge in a lad's Jockey shorts. Light dusting of chest hair.

Biggest turn off?
B.O.  Those blokes who single-handedly turn an encounter into a threesome: you, him, and his tool. God-botherers who babble about 'the gay lifestyle' and never stop to consider how vacuous the phrase is.

Ever been harassed due to your orientation?
All the way through school. It took me a long time to realise the extent to which as a kid I had internalized the constant, low-level verbal bullying and rejection and turned them into the body dysmorphia that has been a source of misery (and celibacy) on and off for most of my life.

Worst gay stereotype that applies to you?
Err… Once when a (gay) guest was coming I had to dash out and buy two matching tumblers for vodka and tonic because although I had several, they were all different and more suitably shaped for whisky. Does that count? 

                                                        Would you marry if you could?
No. I long ago decided that those of us who lack a talent for intimacy had better do everybody a favour and stop trying.

Would you rather be rich and smart or young and beautiful?

Rich and smart, and pay for surgery.

Ever had sex with more than one person in a day?
Yes. There is a club in Athens called Lambda that has a not-too-dark dark room, where those of us who see sex as a contact sport rather than a divinely-ordained sharing of souls can get it on, or at least in my case could get it on – it’s all in the past for me now.

Do you have any tattoos?
No. My generation associates them with petty criminals, thank you very much.

Do you have any piercings?
Dear God, no. The sight of a Prince Albert makes me wince and cross my legs.

Would you date a smoker?
That question dates you, or my answer dates me. I don’t think I’ve ever had sex with a non-smoker. Persecuting smokers and ostentatiously wafting your hand in front of your face when you pass one is a prissy habit that hadn’t really taken off when I left for Greece, and most Greeks smoke like Battersea Power Station used to.

  
Do you know anyone who has died from HIV?
Not personally. I know some people with HIV though.

Grinder or Scruff?
I don’t understand the question. 'Grinder and Scruff' sound like a pair of cartoon dogs.

Are your best years behind or in front of you?
Christ… I have a horrible, horrible feeling they are behind me.

Got Porn?
Yes. Looking at beautiful, joyful, naked ithyphallic males is a source of unending delight. Bloody Christers burbling about porn addiction make me want to rip off their heads and piss down their necks. Before any literal minded idiot reports me to the Blogger /Twitter Thought Police, I don’t mean that I would literally do that or advocate it as a course of action. Still… I dunno.

Make out music?
Never really been important to me. Since I can't ignore music, it'd put me off my stroke... I remember being ravished on somebody’s living room floor to the accompaniment of Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto, but I suspect that isn’t what you mean.

                                                       Ever been in love with a straight guy?

Dozens of times. Here, for example.

Did you ever have sex with him?
Of course not.

Have you ever been to a nude beach?
Super Paradise on Mykonos a couple of times, and another on Angistri. I bloody hate beaches, but all those tanned boys and their swinging cocks made them tolerable.

Have you ever been to a bath house?
I went to a place in Athens called the Ira Baths, in the (then) very down-market Omonia Square. It was a most anaphrodisiac experience. Rent boys and their clients, men of astounding seniority, were bossed about by a fat, squawking female receptionist who might previously have been employed at Ljubljanka. It was all hideous cracked marble tiles, marble slabs and humid, cockroach-friendly darkness.    

What gay gene did you miss out?
I think most of them, looking back over this. 
Anyway, isn’t it time we retired the adjective ‘gay’, and ‘homosexual’ used as a noun? What information of any importance do they convey about anybody? Am I gay when I’m teaching? Am I a homosexual while reading a book on the train, or just  staring into space? I don’t think so. I just like dick but not pussy. So what? 

Now, if you will excuse me, I have backs to bite, false witness to bear and that which is unseemly to work. 



Wednesday, 14 November 2012

It is Better a Chylde Unborne than Untaught



HUMS (= ‘humanities) Module WTF 101’Sensitivity in Inter-cultural Communication’, Bernard Manning Building, room 3.11. Week 7.


‘This morning, ladies and gentlemen, we shall consider from a linguistic point of view the phenomenon of politeness, so shut the fuck up and listen.’ 

I notice that only half the group is present. (Nine people? This you call an audience? Hardly worth getting into the drag and slap for.) One student informs me that some project has to be completed for another module, hence the poor turn out. I am miffed that it should be my session they consider dispensable. I’ve spent three whole days researching and putting these two hours together, and now I have the grumpy, grudging feeling of having over-catered. Never mind.  

In preparing this module, I have made use of my many experiences of inter-cultural fuck-ups, and as a result become more forgiving of myself and others in situations where our cultural expectations (our ‘mental software’, as Hofstede calls them) have caused us to misinterpret one another's intentions, often wildly. I based a whole two-hour session on the saga of my first job in Greece, a monumental train wreck involving a marriage between a Greek school and a British Educational Trust, a match made in hell if ever there was one, ending in acrimonious divorce after only two years. This is a tale I might relate some time if I can disguise it sufficiently to avoid getting sued. Meanwhile I’ve also learned something useful about Chinese students and their ideas on politeness as it relates to behaviour in class.

I have to admit my prejudice here re newly-arrived Chinese kids, sitting there silent and motionless. Rote learners, I'd think. Parrots. No critical thinking skills. Cowed by authoritarianism. Once they started to open up, the thought would be there at the back of my mind that the thaw was due at least in part to my own efforts. The definition of prejudice is maintaining a frozen, over-simplified image of a person or race in spite of incoming evidence to challenge it, and I have been guilty of this, I’m afraid. Once the students get used to a new way of interacting, it's obvious that they are not and have never been simply rote-learners and regurgitators.

Teachers in China are accorded a degree of deference that would embarrass their western counterparts, or me at least. I now know that students in China are expected to be silent in class, and more important, why. ‘I understand what you want us to do, Sharon,’ one boy told a colleague in a tutorial in summer, ‘but all my life my father and grandfather have told me it is respectful to keep silent in front of a teacher.’ So Chinese students are taught to respect their instructors, which is fair enough, but it's a bit of a bugger for us language teachers that respect is shown by sitting schtum. 

Non-teachers will never know how unnerving it is to stand in front of a group of students, eliciting like mad and getting nothing out of them. Staffroom conversations at lunchtime are of blood from a stone, pulling teeth and pissing into the wind. The silence makes me ratty, I don’t always hide it well, and in this I’m not alone. Perceiving that the teacher is getting rattled but probably having no idea why, the students feel guilty for offending him and to atone, they lower their gaze even further and dial down their facial expressions to Buddha-like impassivity. This is done to ensure that they evince nothing that could be perceived as a challenge to teacherly authority, but it bloody infuriates the western teachers because to them, it looks like passive-aggressive resistance. I learned ages ago that it's best to get Chinese students working in small groups as soon as possible if you want a buzz in class, because nobody will speak out in plenary. I didn’t know why students were so reluctant to do this, and the reason again is politeness. To offer the teacher and class your opinion unbidden is seen as pushy, show-offy behaviour, vulgar and unbecoming. Discussing an issue in groups so as to arrive at an agreement strikes them as altogether more civilised.

So my module aims to get the participants to observe the behaviour of people from other cultures, and on the assumption that in classrooms and boardrooms all involved are most likely exhibiting behaviour intended to be polite and cooperative, make intelligent deductions as to why that behaviour matters within their culture.  
           
 ‘...and in this manner, ladies and gentlemen, we avoid stereotyping and culturism, and deepen our appreciation of diversity. Next week, gait. Observe if you will the sprightly step of the English lad: compare it to the sneaking Chinaman and the slouch of the Arab...' 

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Top Set, Bottom Set

All that Book-larnin and Thinkology, gonna be the ruin o' this Great Nation.

Amid the Alien Porn

I'm going to suggest that the Little CHEF (Centre for Hammering English into Foreigners) where I work might offer courses in EPP, English for Pornographic Purposes. This would be heavily promoted in the Czech Republic, where they seem to have more than their fair share of beautiful boys but no idea how to whet the appetite to watch them perform. EPP graduates would  able to avoid this kind of thing:

Nice Dicks Dudes Masturbate Together! 
From slow to fast each one haas their own technique to getting hard. Picking up their passer to totally fast, they stroke the shit out of their cocks till they cum all over themselves so tastefully. 

Ugh.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Another Day In The Life (and a puzzle)

Yesterday I woke at five from uneasy dreams (proposing sex to an old school friend and being angrily repulsed, followed by something to do with the North Korean military) and took the train to work. I was anticipating a good session with the MA students on my intercultural communication module, providing of course they had done the reading and the tasks I had set them last week, tasks that had taken me quite a while to prepare and which I felt pretty pleased with. At ten o' clock, seventeen Chinese students sat silently staring at me when I asked if they had completed the work. After much prompting, I dragged out of them that nobody had. Thoroughly pissed off but outwardly calm, I told them I was canceling the session, and left the room. When I went back some fifteen minutes later to retrieve my memory stick, they were still sitting there. Shit. There's nothing worse than staging a dramatic exit, then finding that nobody noticed you go.   

'Steve,' said the Chinese PhD student who comes to observe the session, 'I think they have some ideas, but they are too shy to speak.'

Well, some intercultural communicators they are going to make in that case, huh? I ascertained that nobody really had anything to contribute, repeated the instruction for next week, and sent them all away.

Last week a lad in the class told me that in China, if you disagree with your teacher, you will be punished. My constant elicitation of their opinions and reactions must therefore strike many of them as a rather sadistic way of setting them up for a fall, and however much I try to convince them that we are not dealing in Right and Wrong on this module, nobody really believes me. Anyway, I think my deliberate shock tactic might have worked, as in the evening I received this rather touching e-mail:

Dear Steve

I apologise to you on behalf of the whole class , we do not have any excuse for our own lax. And I promise you we will do better in the future, I will also supervise them in my own good premise.

Please forgive us for today , we will show you in the future.And thank you for been a good teacher to us as you always do.

Best wishes, 

Rui

P.S. we all did printed and read today , so the next time you can be at ease to our class.
It's a perfect example of the Chinese preference for thinking collectively, and one I can use in next year's module. Rui is the class representative whose only official duty in that capacity is to return a completed register to the administrator after each session, but probably at everyone else's prompting, she has written to offer an apology on behalf of the whole group. None of the three Europeans in the group has contacted me, nor did I imagine they would.

In the afternoon, I had a session with a group of lecturers from Thailand. They are preparing presentations. They are a delightful group, dedicated and good humoured, and made a welcome change from the silent Chinese kids. The presentations will be made tomorrow, in the presence of His Mind-Boggling Pointy-Headedness The Dean, who is in for a treat; five groups have prepared reports on that perennially fascinating topic, 'the best mobile phone deal for overseas students'. I have tomorrow afternoon off, most unfortunately.

I leave you with a puzzle. On, a young man from Thailand, is putting a request to me. We are standing next to a printer in the computer lab. Only I have the password to the printer. On the PC screen of On, there are bar charts, pie diagrams, graphs and what not, detailing the preferences of Thai, Chinese and Cypriot students for Virgin, O2, Giffgaff, etc. On says:

'I knee ping lea saw'

Spare a thought tomorrow afternoon for the Dean... Given the context, what did he mean? Answers in your very best typing, please.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Hi, I'm Steve, and I'm a Misophone

Christ, look at this! Somebody at last understands! I'm not a congenital misery-guts, I've got a condition

Monday, 15 October 2012

Raga Mishra Bhairavi: Alap

Raga Mishra Bhairavi: Alap by Kronos Quartet on Grooveshark

Kronos Quartet here, from their excellent album Floodplain. I particularly love this track, and wish I could say something intelligent and enlightening about it. An alap, I do know, is a slow, unmetred exploration of the notes of a raga, but you could work that out for yourselves. Plainly, I can't say anything intelligent or enlightening, so just listen and float away on it.  

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Update


I am briefly but intensely busy, hence the lack of posts recently. I have a bunch of students from Thailand, and they are a delightful lot, oozing good humour and enthusiasm and pausing every lesson several times to take photographs. I have a group of mostly Chinese students for my MA module in inter-cultural communication, a mixed-nationality bunch of kids for a foundation course in English for Business, and three groupies. The groupies are visiting lecturers from universities in China who appreciated my lessons and lectures so much that they were turning up every day, until the centre director requested that they cool it. Now, being appreciated is nice, but being showered with praise and respectfully questioned at the end of each session if I were the Buddha makes me rather uneasy. It’s all front, ladies. In my mind, I’m just a putter-on of shows, a deliverer of well-honed shtick, a performer who can work an audience and squirrel away the punters’ insights and reactions for later exploitation. Like so many teachers I know, I live with a nagging fear of one day being found out. It’s very wearing since it never happens, but even after 30 years I still feel I’m merely getting away with it.  

The Thais are lecturers from a university in Bangkok with a name as long as your arm. Before they arrived, we had been led to believe they were all teachers of English who would need a mixture of language development and methodology: money for jam. It turned out that they are lecturers in a variety of fields from a university that proposes to cast its nets wider than Thailand, and will thus require its academic staff to lecture in English. So they sent them to us to learn how to do it. Ah, the naïveté of non-language teachers when it comes to the investment of time and effort demanded to learn a language to fluency! It’s truly touching. Most of these people would be hard pressed to conduct the getting-to-know-you stage of an interview, so imagining that they might progress in four weeks to the point where they could deliver a fifty- minute lecture on molecular biology is more than a trifle over-optimistic. Some of them appear to have learned entirely through reading and had probably never uttered a word in English before arriving here. Thai-isms in English pronunciation include simplifying consonant clusters, docking word-final consonants, and applying a swooping fall-rise intonation to the last syllable in a tone group, making every thought sound unfinished as well as incomprehensible.

Yesterday we rounded off a session on the use of the passive voice in academic writing with a running dictation. For those who don’t need to worry about this kind of thing, a running dictation is a japesome bit of nonsense for goosing up a heavy lesson and leaving ‘em laughing when you go. You stick a text outside the classroom door, one you have carefully crafted to exemplify the grammar you’ve just been thrashing. The students are divided into groups of four or five. They elect one secretary and the rest are ‘runners’ each with a number. The number ones go out of the room, read the first line of the text, memorise it and return to dictate it to the secretary. Immediately upon their return, the number twos go out to memorise the second sentence, and so on. The first group to complete the whole dictation wins.

A lad called On came back into the room muttering his sentence under his breath. ‘Freight-rongue ten ten!’ he said to me, grinning. Given the context, I was able to construe this immediately as ‘very long sentence!’ Christ, I thought. He has to give a presentation in front of the Dean before he leaves. I have ten days to make him sound like Noel Coward.

*****

Personally, I don’t enjoy participating in games of any kind. Most just bore and confuse me, I mean cards, Jesus... However I seem to be in a minority here. I don’t know how valid an observation this is, but games seem to go down particularly well with students from the Far East, maybe because they find it pleasingly weird that classes can be so informal. I introduced Scrabble to a group of Chinese teachers a few years ago. They had never seen it before, probably because you’d need a space the size of a tennis court to play it in Chinese. They were utterly taken by it, passing around their cameras so that everyone took home a photo of their group seated proudly around a completed board. The running dictation usually unfolds in an atmosphere of mounting hilarity as people forget, garble and misunderstand, and have to go out again to re-read as time is running out. It failed only once. I had a bunch of rich, spoiled teenage brats from Spain. I set up the activity, and the first runners left the room, photographed the entire text on their mobile phones, returned, copied it out, and sat with arms folded, challenging me to keep them entertained, the little shits. I hope I never have to teach anybody younger than 20 again.

The Thai contingent is hitting Oxford today, the trip placing especial emphasis on the historic and venerable boutiques of Bicester Village. I didn’t know this had been arranged until after I’d given them a talk on Cambridge. We might be language teachers at our centre but we don’t do communication all that well.  

Monday, 1 October 2012

Crack of Dawn

The new academic year starts today. I've been up since four o' clock, having slept but little. I know I slept a bit, because I dreamed I was in trouble with a bunch of Muslim men for having invited a woman into my house - here a rather charming Greek island-style dwelling on a hillside overlooking the sea. One of the men, a former student of mine, tells me that the morality police have been apprised of my action, and that they will take steps. I find I'm holding a small plastic packet the size of those that hold a 'Stop' condom. (Available at good Greek kiosks everywhere. Widely, although probably unjustly, held to be as fit for purpose as bubble-gum.) On the packet, it says: 'The Naked Truth'. Well, the morality police are going to love that, I think, and I dispose of the packet by pushing it down a chute in the wall like a 'memory hole' in 1984. And Christ, I'm thinking, the house is probably chock-full of incriminating books, atheist stuff, gay stuff, Buddhist stuff, all the sort of thing you cannot justify to grubby-minded literalists of the kind I now expect to have to deal with. Fearing arrest and possibly torture, I get into wall-climbing paranoia and... why, it was all a dream!     

Fed up of tossing and turning and meteor showers of old memories, I got up at four, made coffee and dutifully wrote up the dream in my dream-diary. Here is more fuel for what Anthony Stevens calls 'hermeneutic frustration', i.e., the 'what-the-fuck-was-all-that-about?' feeling you get when pondering the symbols thrown up behind your eyelids every night. Am I letting the coming month's teaching keep me awake, for God's sake? Well, yes. I get dreadful stage-fright before meeting new classes. There's something even more nagging in dreams this year, though. Botched performances, collapsing stage sets, awaiting execution by beheading or being pushed off a high building - it's as if I am constantly being told I'm a fake, or at least that there's something elusively inauthentic about the way I am living.

Dear, dear. Must get into the shower, got to get the bloody train at seven today. All this will seem rather odd and quaint when the sun comes up.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Eats


 

I went with friends last week to Med One in Huddersfield. This is not a private health centre as the name might suggest, but an excellent Lebanese restaurant. I’d recommend rethinking that name, mes amis – it’s more suggestive of finger-up-the-tailpipe Well Man check-ups than the beautifully simple and healthy food of the Levant. I had chicken shawarma, and it was delicious. I decided to try to reproduce it as best I could the following evening at my mum’s, and it wasn't too damn bad, if I do say so myself. I’ve made it again a time or two since. Here’s how I go about it, for anyone who wants to have a go, or suggest improvements.

Take a chicken breast for each diner, and cut it into strips about the thickness of a finger. Put the strips in a bowl and pour over some olive oil, (I use the garlic flavoured stuff from Sainsbury's) some lemon juice, a pinch each of salt and cumin and some curry powder and / or a blob of harissa. I threw in a squit of tomato puree as a well. Toss the meat well in the marinade. Know that Sainsbury’s harissa is pathetic stuff. Harissa should make its presence decisively felt at both ends of the alimentary canal, and the Sainsbury’s own is timid and apologetic. Get the real thing and treat it with respect.

Set the chicken aside to fester while you whip up a dipping sauce. To a small pot of Greek yogurt, add a couple of generous spoonfuls of tahini, some garlicky olive oil, salt, and enough lemon juice to make a dip with the consistency of single cream. Add finely chopped mint and parsley if you like. I’m iffy about mint myself. I used to like it a lot, but unfortunately these days it simply reminds me of chewing gum, and I hate chewing gum even more than I hate butter.

After the chicken strips have had about twenty minutes in the marinade, shove them in the oven at 200 or so for around twenty minutes, and prepare a salad to keep you occupied while you wait. I might do cucumber and tomato with black olives, or maybe a horiátiki salata, which is the one everybody thinks of when they hear ‘Greek salad’. When the chicken looks OK to you, well, odds are it’ll be OK, so fall to. I serve this with lemony couscous, or herby bulgur wheat. I’m on a rosé wine kick at the moment, and I reckon it’s the perfect accompaniment.         

On the matter of Greek salads, too much horiátiki salata does pall a bit, so tonight I'm doing something different. In winter, when few foreigners visit Greece, it makes a welcome change to find polítiki salata on the menu. Horiátiki salata means ‘village salad’ and polítiki salata means ‘city salad’, the city in question being Constantinople. Polítiki salata, then, is somewhat more sophisticated and a bit more demanding to make, because the vegetables have to be very thinly shredded if eating the salad is not to exhaust your jaw muscles. For the most basic version, assemble very finely sliced cabbage, grated carrot and very thinly sliced red peppers. Then follow the very excellent advice of Peter Minakis over at 'Kalofagas': toss the vegetables with a sprinkle of sugar and some wine vinegar, and let them stand for twenty minutes or so. That typically Minakis touch makes a delicious difference to the end result. Drain, then add green olives or capers, some chopped open-leaf parsley and celery leaves, salt and pepper and a dressing of olive oil and wine vinegar. It is beautifully crisp and piquant, and of course it’s very good for you, so I expect to see the decks cleared, OK?    

Photo: Kalofagas Go there at once.

Monday, 24 September 2012

I Want Your Coke

Teachers who agree to be filmed know they'll have their pronunciation errors, ticks, mannerisms and choice of outfit mocked for decades to come, so let s/he who is without sin guffaw first, OK?

Right. Apart from the obvious pronunciation issue - darling, check out and practise the pron of words you know you'll be using frequently, OK? - there are other things you ought to be addressing. First, are you teaching morons? Why else would you need to repeat Cock / Kooollllaaa over and over? Why not just bring in a bottle of Coke to show them, love? They'd soon cotton on. And we could do with a more natural-sounding exponent for requesting a Coke, if you are teaching English to Koreans. I'm not quite sure if that is the case, or whether it's Korean for English speakers. I now suspect the latter, but wouldn't put money on it. Either way, get a picture of someone in a bar, use your coke bottle and a bit of mime, and then you won't need to keep hammering the bloody translation... Oh, for Christ's sake, sit down and let me do it.

.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Testing, testing...

This is an experimental post written using the new Blogger interface which was finally forced on us this morning. It has been threatened since last September, but today the choice to use this or stick with the old one was finally denied us. I hate this new interface with a passion, as much because it was high-handedly wished upon me as for any particular deficiency it might present, for so far after five minute use I haven't come across any. Except one: before, if you had comments, you saw this in the middle of the screen:

2 comments are awaiting moderation.

As a real comment whore, I always looked forward to seeing these bold blue letters. I'd wait a moment before clicking on them, and speculate as to who these remarks might be from. For me, that little blue announcement became, to use that hideously overworked and misapplied term, iconic. Now you have to scan the page to find if anyone has responded, the message is not made to stand out, and the comments, which are the lifeblood of a blog, seem less of an event. I realise that I have little to complain about in life if the only thing presently bugging me is the fact that bloody Google have changed the size and colour of the fonts in a link, but it isn't just that. It's the idiotic desire to fix what ain't bust, and the lack of choice offered to the user, c.f., the irritating and pointless 'timeline' on Facebook, which once you have chosen you cannot escape. I'm looking at the new page here backstage at Blogger, and its vast white spaces and orange lozenges remind me of Easyjet, which I used once and am in no hurry to try again. I've clicked on 'send feedback' and had a moan - actually, two moans - but I know I'm stuck with this new design unless large numbers of people are moved to moan as well.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Makam Rast

A new CD arrived from Amazon this morning, Orient-Occident from Hesperion XXI. It was recommended to me on my Amazon page on the basis of my love of eastern minor modes and general insouciance with money, so I had no choice but to order it. Here is the first track, Makam Rast 'Murassa'a' usul Düyek, which I think is marvelous stuff, and played three times before letting the CD run on. Makamlar are melody types from classical Turkish music, he said, as if he had a clue. If you want to know more, go here. Otherwise just play the piece and sway lithely about the living room like smoke rising from a joss stick.



Thursday, 6 September 2012

What They Don't Want You To Know About The Pyramids


Today, students heard a lecture about the pyramids. We marked their notes. Here's some stuff I bet you didn't know. 

'Biggest pyramid was seven miles high.'

Right. That's getting on for three miles higher than Everest. Today in a tutorial, a Chinese student asked me to explain what critical thinking is. Pity I did not have this to hand at the time. 

'Pyramids were banned by biological government.'

Maybe she meant... no, can't be arsed.

'They were built by scrimes and buddows' 

Well, weren't they?

'The Egypt people used to put food and furniture in their bum' 

Must have been sighs of relief all round when they finally packed that in, then,  arf arf. But for bum read tomb, and it becomes boringly logical. The student obviously knew neither word, and rendered it phonetically as best s/he could. Pity we can't award marks for ingenuity and entertainment value. Lest you think I'm being superior and mocking, I should point out how entertainingly ludicrous these students find my attempts at Chinese.

*****

The population of the city where I work is 50% non-British in origin, and this must explain the obliviousness of British demotic demonstrated in the names people chose for their businesses. Why else would anyone call their shop The BS Off-License? Would anybody with any knowledge of queer slang open a fast food outlet and call it The Chicken Cottage? It's probably pure provincialism that lies behind  Le Petit Four Francais (no cedilla) a caff that does English fry-up breakfasts and sarnies traditionelles au bacon, sauce ketchup tomate.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

We Value Your Feedback IV



I was marking essays on the train this afternoon and came across this:

Secondly, e-learning can enhance the coagulate power and centripetal for the coworker.

I puzzled briefly (centralise power, corporate identity, workers' solidarity) wearied of puzzling, moved on. I have twenty of these to get through by Friday, so I'm buggered if I am going to spend ages trying to interpret every lexical train-wreck.

The perpetrators of this batch of essays are a bunch of very lively graduate students from China, Japan, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam. They are a gift: this course is usually so intensive and fraught, and it is such a joy to have an enthusiastic, good-humoured group of people who enjoy each others' company and pretty much teach themselves. (They like my CDs, too - we groove to Dobet Gnahore in our group-work sessions.) At the essay planning stage, Yoshiko from Japan, who knows I have the teensiest smatterette of Japanese, showed me a list of ideas whose relevance and interdependence escaped me. I asked her how she was going to integrate them. She did a classic bit of Japanese 'high-context' communication on me: after a slow intake of breath through the teeth, head inclined to the left, she whispered 'muzukashi!' meaning 'it's difficult'.

'Muzukashiku nai!' No it isn't! I said, in the sort of hearty jollying-you-along style I can't abide when people do it to me.

Yoshiko went back to her seat looking quite upset. Here I am, I thought, about to start teaching my MA module on intercultural communication for the second time next month, and I have completely forgotten something I've known for years: the whispered 'muzukashi!' means literally 'it's difficult' but it carries extra baggage, viz: 'I'm not sure of my ground here, so please do not ask any more questions.' What a clod I must have seemed.

I have another much less lively group. This morning's lesson proceeded like a seance. I texted the course director at the break to inform her that if news reached her that eighteen Chinese students had been gunned down in cold blood over at the Hawley Crippen building, I was the perp and I regretted nothing. This afternoon I did a few tutorials with some of these students. We ask stuff like 'how do you feel about the course?' 'Can you suggest any improvements?' and that sort of thing. The responses were mostly positive: teachers are kind and patient (we are good actors, anyway) but a couple said the lessons are sometimes boring.

'They are if you sit there like a bloody Guy Fawkes on a street corner,' I pointed out kindly.

'I have a friend at another university in the UK,' said one girl, 'and the teacher gives them rewards if they get things right.'

'What kind of rewards?' I asked.

'Candies!' 

I had to check I'd heard that right. I had. Now listen love, I'm not sure I approve of that practice even at infant school level, but I am most definitely not handing out fucking sweeties to undergraduates, so you can put that right out of your mind. Even with my class of Trappists, we've had some lively lessons with lots of laughs, but there's this sense from several of the kids I talked to today of their entitlement to be entertained, of the expectation that they see no reason to participate unless the activity proposed seems suitably japesome and larky. Well, at some point you have to learn how to write an essay, follow a lecture, make a presentation and compile a bibliography. With some ingenuity, we tutors could devise games intended to practise all these things, but why the hell should we keep sugaring the pill? Surely the way we actually teach, by setting up the conditions in which students find out for themselves through discussion and guided discovery, is interesting enough in itself? I wish I could find this teacher who's handing out jelly babies for every correctly formatted in-text reference, and tell her to bloody well cut it out. We shouldn't have to bribe university students into learning, damn it.

*****

Lest I sound like I'm always complaining, it's September, my favourite month, and Autumn, my favourite season, approaches. You should see the colour of the sky from my sitting-room window right now. A baby spider is traveling like a minute cable car along a thread that joins a houseplant to a vase of flowers. There is darkness at a proper time, none of your insipid ten p.m. light that makes the British summer seem like endless insomnia. I'm thinking of wild rice, mushrooms, dark greens, roasting sweet red peppers, red wine, and thanks to a bunch of teachers arriving next month from Thailand, I'll be able to afford them, at least until December.

Then I'll start complaining.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Surabaya Johnny


Surabaya Jhonny by Ute Lemper on Grooveshark
This is the marvelous Ute Lemper singing Kurt Weill's Surabaya Johnny and it's my latest brain-worm, i.e., a song that plays over and over in your head. The only way to deal with brain-worms is to treat them homeopathically: I'm playing, singing and whistling this song all day and all bloody night, so that eventually my brain will be utterly pig-sick of it. It's a bugger, really, because so many of my CDs are now like chicken carcasses minutely picked over, endlessly sucked and tasteless. I don't want to hear them again, at least not for a year or two. The flesh regenerates, fortunately. Meanwhile, the acrid, smoky, sweaty tang of this thing! The song manages to sound both sensuous and funereal, all crapulous regret and rage, and Lemper brings to it the perfect balance of inexorable longing and furious contempt for Johnny, their worthless object. A translation here, but Brecht's terse lyrics exploit the hard, consonantal edge of German so expertly, I don't want to hear it in any other language.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Gap Filling


'Prices have gone up tremendously over the past six months.'
'........................................., most people seem to be doing really well.'

That there’s a gap-fill exercise. Students read the exchange and fill the gap with the ‘appropriate’ word or phrase. Have a go. How many ‘appropriate’ phrases can you fit in?

One reason I left Greece in 2005 was that ELT there had become intolerably exam-driven, and teaching, for the most part, was reduced to little more than presiding over the filling of such gaps. Since gap-filling is a very popular testing device, especially with American exams, few students could be persuaded that doing endless practise tests in class was NOT the best way to become fluent in English, any more than peeling a hundredweight of spuds every evening would turn you into a chef. My efforts to introduce more interesting, productive, meaningful and memorable activities would often meet with suspicion and only grudging cooperation, as if I had failed to see the real point of learning English, which is getting a piece of paper to put in a frame.

‘They don’t want to be fluent in English,’ teachers would tell me, as if I were some over-enthusiastic greenhorn. ‘They just want to pass the exam.’ This would rile me. Why couldn’t they see the utter pointlessness of scraping through a test in order to possess a certificate for a subject they were no good at and intended to drop as soon as the exam was over? For nine years I worked opposite the Olympic Airways HQ on Syngrou Avenue in Athens. A story leaked out of a new employee who had just passed her Cambridge First Certificate. Apparently she had raised her colleagues’ eyebrows early in her career by asking: ‘παιδιά, τι σημαίνει το ’flight’;’ ‘Guys, what does ‘flight’ mean?’

Anyway, the gapfill.

'Prices have gone up tremendously over the past six months.'
'........................................., most people seem to be doing really well.'

Now I didn’t give you any options to narrow down the possibilities, which isn’t quite fair. So here you go:

a) Yeah, but fuck it,
b) That notwithstanding,
c) Meh,
d) Yeah, but isn't that just a funny thing, what a funny thing, I was saying to Laverne just the other day, didn't I, I said, Laverne honey, 

You certainly chose the correct one: ‘That notwithstanding’, didn't you?

'Prices have gone up tremendously over the past six months.'
'That notwithstanding, most people seem to be doing really well.'

I don’t know… It sounds stilted and stuffed-shirt, rather like some naïve person’s idea of how clever people talk. It comes from a book I was obliged to use in Kalamata, the only EFL book I have ever come across that totally stumped me. I had absolutely no idea how to make it work in class. This admission would have mystified many a Greek teacher. You set the exercise, the kids do it, then you tell them the answers. Simple. 'Interesting and meaningful'? You’re joking, right?

I had done my bit over fifteen years to help in trying to change the face of Greek ELT, but at that late stage in my stay, reading out the correct answers to stilted gap-fills and occasionally answering the query 'what does mean X?' was somewhat lacking in intellectual challenge. Vae victis; I packed it in and came home. You cannot entirely escape, though.

The other day over at Candy’Stripe, Candy Van Olst posted a list of vocabulary items that a student had given her. He wants to pass the TOEFL exam and the items in question were, he maintained, ‘typical TOEFL words’. I reproduce the list in its entirety:

agrarian absenteeism
Apollonian
antebellum
to baffle pursuit
beam splitter
brace box
to brisk about
buttress up the facts
cavity magnetron
cicerone
dip net
elasticity of compression
famine fever
fatigue party
hasty pudding
helical gear
languid attempt
lax vowel
the Massacre of St Bartholomew
minute anatomy
Olympian calm
resurrection man
rural dean
spell down
spot broadcasting
supple Tam
tease number
ternary time
thorough bass
tilt hammer
trying plane
utter barrister
vacant possession
visceral divination
ward heeler

I don’t know where the student got this ragbag of bizarre snippets or who managed to persuade him that any of it might be useful for the filling of TOEFL gaps, or any other purpose. It serves to remind us yet again of how many barmy notions of language and language learning are still out there, and how unnervingly respectful people often are of writers, books and teaching materials simply because they don’t understand them. As Candy points out, first job is to ditch the list. Before we do, though, I thought it might be a giggle to try making texts from it. These could then be used to give students who have been sold these ‘typical words’ the kind of teaching material they’d pay a fortune for. Below are two of my own efforts, and anyone with more time on their hands than sense is invited to contribute theirs.

Some rousing, exhortatory and vaguely Christian twaddle:

Tease number and tilt hammer, O supple Tam! Be thou my beam splitter and cicerone! Buttress up the facts, lest rural Deans’ minute anatomy brisk hasty pudding from thine Olympian calm! What though famine fever baffle thy pursuit, shall helical gear fatigue thy party, or vacant possession spell down the dip-net of Resurrection Man?

Some dark, troubling and minatory twaddle – wars and rumours of wars?

Utter barrister and trying plane
Spell down –
Ternary times tease number.
O Brace Box, minute anatomy of
Helical gear, vouchsafe
Visceral divination -
Ward healer?
Olympian calm?
Or vacant possession, and
Apollonian massacre of
St Bartholomew?

Anyone else want to play?

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