Friday, 24 February 2012

Tanya Ditty

I'm real proud to  introduce our speaker today, Ms Tanya Ditty, state director of Concerned Women for America of Georgia! CWFA is a coalition of conservative women which promotes Biblical values and family traditions, so that we and our children will know whom we may despise on a Bible-based basis. I invite you to go here to learn more. Ms Ditzy is opposing a bill that would outlaw discrimination against members of the LGBT community, wherever that is. I guess they must have a club house somewhere near Georgia. Anyway, Tanya is concerned that if the bill passes, not only will Concerned Women for America and their friends no longer be able to patronise gays and lesbians openly, every conceivable 'orientation' will have to be catered for in the workplace, which Tanya and her fellow concerned women would suggest would be inappropriate. For example, if we as a nation condone beastophilia and beastliacs, the term 'animal lover' would take on an inappropriate connotation, one which Concerned Women for America feel could ruin the innocence of our children's childhood and possibly our children's children's childhoods also, if they like pets. 'Voyagerism' will be widespread, and that could increase everybody's carbon footprint, and you know, it's truly felt that that would not be good for our children, or for our children's children, and would therefore be inappropriate. Klismaphiliacs - boy! Tanya knows some jaw-breakers, right? - will come out and demand inappropriately the right to marry their enema nozzles, and who knows, maybe the anus would replace the traditional heart on Valentine cards? We would have to ask ourselves if we truly feel that this would be appropriate. Were we to give the green light to necromaniacs, teachers who like dead people would likely bring their latest corpse to school with them, and engage in inappropriate touching with their deceased partner in front of children. 'Hey,  kids! Say hi to the late Jared, my new squeeze!' Would we feel this was appropriate? Imagine the mess.


Quote from Ms Ditzy, who is a teacher: 'pornography destroys lives, destroys homes, and I just don't think that's good for Atlanta.' No evidence is adduced for such a sweeping statement, which I would suggest is hardly appropriate from a teacher. Any 'destroyed lives' are in all likelihood those of Christians raised to loathe their own bodies and repress their desires. As Concerned Human for Humanity, I would suggest that Ms Ditzy's presence in classrooms is inappropriate, because I feel that our children should not be taught by earnest, bible-bewitched simpletons who don't know their orientations and paraphilias from a hole in the ground. I would consider this inappropriate. Thank you for your time. 

Thursday, 23 February 2012

On Not Giving Up (Or trying not to)

I scheduled an appointment with Hamid yesterday for twelve thirty, so he turned up at three. His plan for Monday’s observed lesson had been waffly and pointless, and the execution of his lesson of a piece with it. I needed to go over his plans for today and Friday in the hope of rescuing him from total failure and his students from catatonia. (Actually, they’re from France, Libya and Vietnam.)

I do not easily give up on people. I maintain the innocent hope that even the authors of certain comments appended to this Yahoo news article could, if we spent a little time together, be brought round to seeing what witless, vicious, benighted, illiberal, ignorant, arrogant shits they are, and mend their ways. I’ve witnessed the scales fall from the eyes of many trainee teachers, scales often forced upon them by a tacit agreement among their relatives that X is the dunce of the family and not expected to be good at anything. It’s always a marvellous thing to see someone dump a lifetime’s accumulation of other people’s patronage and scorn. I knew that Hamid’s problem was not a want of self-belief, but an inability to be specific about goals and a cheerful obliviousness of the possibility that having specified them, one might plan to achieve them. We sat down together, he smiling and eager, and me in Anne Sullivan mode.

His new lesson plan was as vague and airy as its predecessor. Reading it, one had no idea what was to be taught, why or how. Phrases from some pro-forma lesson-plan template somewhere were scattered throughout: ‘teacher engages in evaluation’ ‘to equip students with tools for online research’. Our exchange might have been scripted by Ionesco:

- So, you’re going to use the internet?

- No.

- What are you going to do at the start of the lesson?

- I’m show some bicture.

- What of?

- Some bicture, show them.

- Pictures of what?

- I find on internet.

- Why?

- Estudent will be look this bicture.

Oh, bugger it, forget the bloody pictures and move on.

- You don’t have any phonology aims here.

- Yes, I say them how bronounce some word.

- Which words are you going to focus on?

- Some word, from teckerst.

- OK, give me one example.

- This teckerst, from book.

- Hamid, give me just one frigging example of a bloody word whose pron you want to teach.

- ‘Football’.

Hallelujah! They know the word already, but what the hell, it’s the first specific item he has come up with in twenty minutes.

- What will you show them about ‘football’?

- How can we bronounce: football.

- Where’s the stress?

- ?

- What happens when the /t/ and the /b/ come together in this word?*


OK, forget pronunciation, this is obviously a refinement that needn't detain us: more pressing to establish whether Hamid has any clue why he is standing in front of a class in the first place. I tried to get him to imagine himself in the lesson, to walk through it mentally. What will you do, I asked, at the very start? What exactly will be your actions and words?

- I’m say them about what will be the lisson.

- What. Precisely. Specifically. Will. You. Say.

- What abouts the lisson, generally.

We continued in this vein for about twenty-five minutes. Hamid just doesn’t appear to possess the neuronal pathways along which thoughts of planning and organisation proceed, or which are capable of crystallising a single idea from his mental miasma. I have met plenty of people thus afflicted, usually on introductory methodology courses in Athens or Kalamata. They are like those poor sods who can’t sing for toffee but who nevertheless confidently audition for Britain’s Got Talent. The rejection must be most lowering.

That Hamid holds a senior teaching position in his own country is easily explained: uncles, cousins, friends pulled the necessary strings. How can it have come about that he is studying here on a training programme? Was he interviewed? Surely not. He’d never have got past that first hurdle. He submitted a superb first assignment, linguistically and academically way in advance of anything he could have produced on his own. He was adamant in the teeth of tutorly insistence to the contrary that it was his own work, and only the threat of being brought before a plagiarism board at length persuaded him to admit what everyone knew, that he had paid someone to paraphrase a textbook for him. This is a solution to the problem of assignment writing that appears perfectly reasonable to a frighteningly large number of students, many of whom are flabbergasted to find that we disapprove so heartily of the practice. The poor lad is headed for failure unless he has a Road to Damascus-type revelation sometime soon. This is not unprecedented. Saul of Tarsus had one, they reckon, and it straightened him out. Hamid might be next.

Everyone else is doing fine. One teacher had to use a text about Mick Jagger. I couldn't tell her to ditch it but knew the students wouldn't have a clue who he is, so I suggested she found a You Tube video of him at his most libidinously extravagant to reinforce the message of the text about Jagger being a rebel at school. That was in a fleeting moment of Hamid-induced madness: the students are mostly from Saudi, and libidinous extravagance does not go down well. The video Gül chose was pretty tame, but Sayeed sat with his head down and hands over his ears, the way I would if forced to attend a public execution.

* Regressive assimilation. They can’t touch you for it.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Como pod' a Groriosa

Como pod' a Groriosa os mortos fazer viver, 
ben outrossi pod'os membros dos contreytos correger.

Just as the Glorious one can cause the dead to live, 
So can She straighten the legs of cripples.

OK, show me just one, for Christ's sake... No, no, stoppit, spoiling it for others, let's not let cynicism prevent our enjoyment of this beautiful 13th century song by Alfonso X de Castilla, which tells the story of how the Mother of God straightened the limbs of a crippled girl brought to her on a pilgrimage, and 'therefore we offer you praise, as is fitting for such a gracious lady, for you pardon sins, and heal all pain'. Yeah, right.

The song is from the album Sound in Spirit by Chanticleer, and reviewers are not unanimous in praising it. That it attracted so many unenthusiastic comments inspires one reviewer to say rather sniffily: 'What you will hear requires some discipline to appreciate and more patience and concentration than most members of the Sesame Street Generation can summon up.' So that's you told. This is serious music and as such it makes justified demands on the attention, but it does try my patience when the aural gorgeousness of tracks such as the one above, Beata, Axion Esti and Grace to You are interlarded with birdsong and the sound of rippling streams and ribbiting frogs. That's just bloody naff. And I think the tracks Night Chant and Past Life Melodies are flat-out awful. However, this arrangement of Como pod' a Groriosa has a beautiful, reverential opening, then a wonderful sense of swinging forward motion, and a triumphant ending. I think it's worth the price of the album.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Nice Weather for Beans

To the long list of things that get on my wick:

1. Chewing gum
2. Other people’s personal stereos that sound like rattling tambourines and prevent you reading on the train
3. The vocal delivery of teenagers
4. The mere presence of teenagers
5. Come Dine With Me
6. Train guards who say ‘station stop’
7. Illogically-placed stress on prepositions and auxiliaries

…I have added TV and radio weather forecasts. Long ago, weather forecasts were often exploited by teachers and materials writers to contextualise the ‘will’ future for learners of English. This might not have been an entirely accurate reflection of real-life use, as writers had to go by hunch rather than draw on corpora as we can now. Anyway, pay close attention to the next weather forecast you hear. I would be willing to bet that there will not be more than a couple of instances of the ‘will’ future, if that. I’m not indulging in nostalgia or advancing the mad claim that only 'will' is appropriate for predicting the weather, just pointing this out. Most of the phenomena now are described using the present continuous – ‘fog patches developing overnight...’ - and the UK weather forecast genre now requires anthropomorphism (or theriomorphism?) of the elements: ‘that band of rain creeping in, temperatures struggling to reach double figures’, and an assumption that we all hope fervently for sunshine, but know that rainfall is the dull, predictable norm and disappointment inevitable: ‘parts of the north east getting away with a few hours of sunshine, but then there’s that band of rain creeping in, I’m afraid, and some pretty heavy showers in store before evening.’ What pisses me off about all this is that it’s all pitched at the lighter, higher end of the speaker’s voice range, sounding all chummy and cheery, the obligatory smile audible over the radio waves, and it seems to me to be an attempt not to sound too authoritative. Don’t sound authoritative these days, even if you know you have a right to, as every bloody ignoramus feels entitled to talk back, or click ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ after what you’ve said. I really would prefer some stuffed shirt in a dinner jacket informing me in a clipped, metter-of-fecked, early-fifties sort of way to expect skettered shahs, rather than the garrulous matiness we must endure these days in any public announcement: ‘cashier number four, please!!!’ Come on down!

How did you get me started on this? I was going to chuck in a recipe. Well, what with temperatures sweating to attain figures above minus two and low clouds pootling about overhead (but not underfoot) I decided to make fasolada, bean soup, the Greek national dish. It’s nutritious, comforting and very cheap, perfect for the climate, meteorological and financial. My last attempt at fasolada was not successful. The white beans I bought at the local health food shop must have been rather elderly. I soaked them overnight and cooked them for the better part of the day, but the skins remained tough, and eating the soup, you’d have thought I’d added a tablespoon of fish-scales to each bowl. This time, I bought tinned black-eyed beans from Waitrose, thus cutting out all the faff of soaking in bicarb, boiling, draining, rinsing and boiling again. It still required a good couple of hours cooking to get the texture right, but the result is infinitely preferable to the last batch.

So, get a couple of tins of white or black-eyed beans, or both; a lot of good olive oil, a can of chopped tomatoes, a carton of V8 vegetable juice cocktail, a few chopped carrots, a couple of bay leaves, a bunch of oregano or thyme, (I used the latter) a fistful of chopped parsley, vegetable stock powder, some garlic or garlic infused olive oil, and a fat onion. You could use chicken stock for the liquid, but I have an aversion to any sort of meat stock - quite irrational when I’m perfectly happy to eat the flesh. Fresh garlic never seems to make its mark in this sort of dish, so now I add garlic-infused oil just before eating. Fry the onion gently until it softens, add the garlic if using, then your tomatoes, carrots, and beans. Chuck in some V8, stock powder and water, and add the herbs and plenty of extra virgin olive oil. Let this cook on a low heat, plopping and burping gently, for rather a long time, adding more liquid if it gets too gloopy. The beans should cook to a creamy smoothness whilst holding their shape.

I cooked this last night and let it sit in the fridge, as it is always tastier the following day. During the night, we had about a foot of snow, so this evening the fasolada will be most welcome with a salad of cucumber, tomato, olives and feta, some wholemeal bread and a glass or two of red wine. Fasolada will happily keep in the fridge for a few days, so it’s worth making a big potful.

Today, temperatures will lunge gamely to hit the zero mark, but they’ll run out of steam and fail abjectly, having a fair old tussle to get a leg over minus two. Some of you cheeky little tinkers in the Peterborough area will be jammy enough buggers to see just a teeny, heart-cockle gladdener of a peep of sunshine there, you lucky little sausages, but it’ll be back to the same grey, mumbling, disgruntled clouds that the rest of us are having to put up with before you know it, so don’t be getting too bolshy about it, OK?


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