Thursday, 26 April 2012

Appio, and Gay Stuff

A colleague and I spent Tuesday morning assessing the presentations of my cross-cultural communications group. I once heard Powerpoint compared to ‘an OHP on speed’, and the comparison is apt, I think – after ninety minutes of skittering captions and snazzy visuals, I could do with a glass of Sanatogen, an aspirin and a lie down. I do tell students this before they start preparing their spiels. Visuals in a presentation, mes agneaux, are meant to focus the attention, not commandeer it. Screens, of tellies, of iPhones, of calculators or of iPads, are notoriously difficult to ignore, so don’t give Powerpoint anything to do beyond what is strictly necessary, which in my opinion is not much.

I observed nine presentations, and they divided neatly into three excellent, three bog-standard and three crap. The excellent ones were informative and well-organised and the presenters made every effort to demonstrate the relevance of their chosen topic to the lives and future careers of their listeners. I was impressed, and knew that almost parental kvelling you feel when you watch your students bounce something original off what you have taught them. The crap ones were all crap for the same reason: the presenters just had no idea why they were standing at the front of the room. Each slide was a grey wall of dense text from which the perpetrator simply read aloud, her back to the audience, oblivious of the fact that nobody was listening and everyone had turned their attention to their phones and iPads. On the pre-sessional course, that chaotic five weeks of academic square-bashing in August, we ban phones and iPads from presentations, otherwise nobody listens to anybody else. I decided that for the MA module, either the presentations would be interesting enough to keep everyone from arsing about on Facebook, or they wouldn’t. Some weren’t.

Watching all this while writing a feed-back sheet and giving marks for the introduction, the content, the visuals and the Q&A is rather like rubbing your stomach and patting your head simultaneously, and as always I am worried about the fairness of my marks. I keep a note-pad for personal reference next to the official feedback form, and on it are scribbled remarks like ‘crap’ and ‘o fr chrsts sk’, and I worry that after a particularly bad effort, the succeeding presentation might be judged unnecessarily harshly. While I was hurriedly amending a note I had made on a previous presentation to something kinder, I was distracted by what the present presenter was saying. This was Bao Yu. ('Precious Jade') I look up. As always, her appearance is striking. For her presentation at ten thirty in the morning, Bao Yu has chosen a dazzling sequined beanie, a white jacket with tartan collar and cuffs, the briefest of white skirts, canary yellow tights and shimmering, rainbow-coloured court shoes. Her false eye-lashes look like Hoover accessories. She is talking about gestures and the various interpretations the same gesture will elicit in different cultures.

‘Dis jester, Ingrand people will be put ‘Appio’ interpration,’ she’s saying. ‘’Appio’ interpration, it’s mean ‘gay stuff’ interpration.’


The picture on the screen is of a hand in the raised middle finger ‘swivel on this’ gesture. Now I get it. ‘This gesture, in England, will be given an ‘up yours’ or ‘get stuffed’ interpretation.’

Friday, 20 April 2012

Out of the Mouth of Babes and Sucklings

I'm posting this for the seven or so individuals on the planet who have just been released from solitary and haven't seen it yet. I think it is important to see this kid while she's utterly, utterly adorable, because it looks like you could be wishing she'd shut her insufferably opinionated gap some twenty years from now. All toddlers go through a babbling stage when they try out various sound combinations, but few, I suspect, do it with this degree of intensity. This is not mere babble, it's rant.

She produces only one recognisable phrase: 'da ba' for 'the bath'. Do you know what your first identifiable utterance was? Mine, at 18 months or so, was 'so long'. My mum was with a bunch of friends, one of whom took her leave.

'Right. I'm off. So long.'

I said: 'So long'.

'Did that bleddy kid just say 'so long'?

Objects were waved in front of me, pictures, bendy toys and God knows what, and their names elicited. My second recorded utterance was 'Popeye'.

I cannot remember a time when my niece wasn't highly articulate. When she was but a babe in arms she could say what you were merely thinking. After a shopping expedition my sister, Danielle on one arm and a bag of groceries on the other, would be struggling to unlock the recalcitrant front door, the baby snarling 'bleddy door. Bleddy 'ell. Bleddy rotten door' on her behalf. Once, aged about two, she indicated to me in passing my nephew's carry-cot on the dining-room table and said casually 'sodding cat's been in that.'  

Like all kids, my niece went through that stage of over-generalising the rules of grammar that results in the rather sensible ironing out of irregularity: 'we goed', 'two mans', that sort of thing. The same over-generalising of meaning can apply to vocabulary items. When I cooked Danielle a Chinese dish with stir-fried chicken and peppers, we weren't sure if this would be appreciated or not. It met with approval, slightly tempered: 'it's nice, but can I rub them green things out?' A potentially embarrassing over-generalisation was her interpretation of the word 'doggy'. My parents had at the time a large, boisterous and slightly deranged mongrel which was confined behind a gate in the back garden whenever my niece was at their house. Danielle saw only his black face peering at her from the bottom of the garden steps and would designate him 'doggy' every time he barked at her. Soon she began to say 'doggy' when people passed by the living room window, and it soon became clear that she was applying the term only to Pakistanis and Jamaicans. It seems then that in her mind 'doggy' meant 'anything with a black face'.

My nephew's first attempt at 'spider' came out as 'pie-pice', and since I come from a family that is sickeningly sentimental about animals and routinely addresses them with baby-talk, I still find myself every spidery September coaxing arachnids under wineglasses with 'come on, pie-pice, so's I can put you outside...' Then I suffer agonies of guilt when I slide a piece of paper under the glass and slice its legs off.

'I know what vowels are, Nana,' my six year-old nephew told my mum.

'Oh yeah? What are they?'

'Them little round things behind yer willy.'

When Danielle was about three, I was once asking her why she had, without provocation, nearly knocked her small brother unconscious by braining him with a heavy toy train. 'Cos when he's a big boy,' she said reasonably, 'he'll hit me.' The nephew and niece are now in their early and mid-twenties respectively, he a PhD student, she a teacher, so the language manglings are unfortunately no more, nor has Danielle's prediction of fraternal violence come true.

Kids do come up with some very odd justifications for belting one another. In Kalamata one of my students aged 11 was called to account for having decked a small female classmate.

'It's OK,' he said. 'We're related.'

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

By All Means

A friend in Cambridge has been conducting IELTS oral tests. One candidate said he was studying 'penis' at university. How exactly this was to be understood remains unclear. Maybe he really is studying penis. If so, I'd be interested to know if there's a practical component and how this is assessed. I might then put myself forward as a moderator. If you have any suggestions as to what he might have meant, please leave a comment.

An utterance from another candidate served to remind us once again that the right vocabulary with the right connotations is so often much more important than the right grammar. He entered the room breathlessly and said 'I'm hot, hot, hot! Can I take my clothes off?'

Friday, 13 April 2012

Anónimo (improv.) 'Jota', México, XVIII

This is track 6 of the CD  Villancicos y Danzas Criollas de la Iberia Antigua al Nuevo Mundo by Hesperion XXI. I bought it a couple of years or more ago, but only got around to playing it yesterday. Ay, this track me encanta, as they say. It's an improvisation on the Jota, a genre of music and associated dance that probably originated in Aragon. I didn't know any of that until two minutes ago when I wikipedia'd the term, which I found in the CD booklet. This Jota is from Mexico, early 18th century. It begins prettily, like a music box, then gets decidedly more sensuous as it develops. It's highly addictive and I've been playing it all morning. Espero que os guste.

Anonimo-Jota by La Capella Reial de Catalunya, Hesperion XXI, Jordi Savall on Grooveshark

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Καλή Ανάσταση!

Above you see a postcard that was distributed through the post by one Kevin Childs, pastor of  The Rock Church, Conway, South Carolina. Some of the flock thought that the image and caption constituted something of a breach of taste, so Kev apologized, sort of. Terming those who were offended ‘fussy over-churched little Pharisees’ he said he could not care less if they were upset. This probably offended the offended even more, but Kev was unrepentant. No, what really bothered him, on more mature reflection, was the possibility that the image of the splattered bunny rabbit might have pushed unbelievers further from faith. ‘If our attempt at edgy, irreverent outreach cast our church and Christianity in a bad light, blame me.’

It seems that Kev had imagined that seeing a picture of a dead rabbit instead of Jesus shouldering the sins of the world would make people think, hey, those dudes at the Rock Church must be a real fun bunch of guys to hang out with, and they’d come right on over and get saved. Sorry, Kev. If here we have reached the ceiling of your edgy irreverence, you can count us out. It takes more than a squashed rodent to make us admire your daring or swallow the poison you preach. How about this, in reference to the bullying gay school-kids endure: “I have been suspicious from the jump about the avalanche of sentiment toward “anti-bullying.”…I am hesitant about “protecting” the tender sensibilities of one whose demeanor eagerly invites comments because of his/her lifestyle choice.” First off, Kevin, that's unkind, to understate the matter vastly. Secondly, it's lazy: what the fuck does anyone's sexual desire have to do with the stupid advertising jargon of 'lifestyle choice'? What school-kid 'eagerly invites comment' of the kind we are dealing with here? Grudging ree-speck to Kev, however, for publishing my comment on his blog - click on 'poison' in the previous sentence - even if he doesn't reply. Most fundie Christers simply delete what they don't agree with.

The title of the post 'kali anástasi' is what the Greeks will be wishing one another next Saturday, as Jesus is Coming Back from the Dead tonight in the UK and, by popular demand, taking the same act to Greece for the 14th of the month where, if previous years are anything to go by,  it will be enthusiastically received. (Starts around midnight.) The Anástasi is the Resurrection, and the feast in celebration of same. I suppose the wish should be left untranslated, unless someone can come up with something better than ‘have a good Resurrection’.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Putting the House in Order

At the now sadly deleted Gatochy’s Blog, Marianna would occasionally post a photograph with the title ‘This is so spiritually me’. Well, this is So Spiritually Me, the kind of room I’ve fantasised about inhabiting since early childhood. It would ideally be deep in a cool forest, way up in the canopy, in perpetual rain. The rain drumming on the roof and sighing in the leaves outside the window highlights the warm, gold-lit cosiness within, where you curl your toes in unending delight at the sheer cuddlesome snuggliness of your life here.

- How do the fridge, cooker, shower and loo work under such circumstances?

- They just do, alright? Hear the ice tinkling in my scotch?

- Won’t you have the Devil’s own job to fight black mould, what with all that damp?

- I’m just dreaming, OK?

- How come the place doesn't just collapse into a festering swamp, if it never stops raining?

- Christ, can’t I have a bloody fantasy?

No, not for long. The practicalities keep intruding. The reality is that I live in a small flat where I am very pushed for space. Lots of time on my hands these days, so I'm tidying the place up. I can’t stand the sight of disorder at home. (Work’s different – I have no emotional investment in my desk.) I can’t relax unless every cushion is plumped and every bowl, plant and candlestick is standing just so in relation to every other bowl, plant and candlestick. However, the place is usually tidy to outward appearance only. Wherever I’ve lived, in every drawer and cupboard there has been shut away a thicket of old bills, receipts, USB cables, CD ROMS, candle stubs, board markers, nail clippers and dozens of those small, unnameable odds and sods that have fallen off other odds and sods, and that you don’t chuck because you think you might one day discover what they’re for. Yesterday I had a ruthless clear-out, filling two and a half bin-liners with old papers and junk. Now you can open the cupboards without unleashing an avalanche. As always after a clear-out, I’m worried in case I’ve pitched something of vital importance for my paltry savings or dreaded retirement, but it’s too late now.

Today I decided to get started on the book cases, as it had become almost impossible to locate anything easily. I’ve had to ditch dozens of books during dozens of moves over the last 30 years, and so now I am absolutely not going to part with a single one of the six hundred or so I’ve accumulated since I came back to England nearly seven years ago, despite the space they take up. Whilst trying to sort them into categories, I was amazed to find one hung onto but untouched since school; Molière’s Dom Juan, all sixth-formishly annotated in my huge insecure teenager’s writing, and one saved from Cambridge, von Kleist’s Die Marquise von O…, a tiny yellow bog-roll Reklam paperback. It’s in near mint condition thirty-five years after I bought it, and I assumed that must be because I had never read it – certainly I couldn’t tell you a thing about it. Flicking through, I saw I had put just one lone note in a margin: ‘all is not what it seems’. You could have had a rubber stamp made with that one on.

Why can't everybody be as clear as Russell?  
‘All is not what it seems’ Yeah, how true, I thought, looking at some of these volumes, bought with such good intentions. Someone glancing over my shelves might think, ‘cor, bet vis geezer en arf an egg ed’, but am I ever really going to read Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason? I’m not even tempted to open it, let alone absorb it. Certainly I don't have any intention of displaying such stuff to impress anybody - there’s never anybody here to impress, for a start. There’s so much I want to have read, but feel so bored when I actually start reading – you know, they’re just not funny... I’ll probably get more immediate benefit from Coping with a Mid-Life Crisis and Living with Your Hiatus Hernia than I will from Beyond Good and Evil. I always have at least three books in my briefcase to read on the train to work. My Alan Bennett books are wrinkled and fuzzy-edged, while Spinoza’s Ethics is crisp and sharp - in appearance, I mean - even though I‘ve had it longer. I just find it utterly unreadable, along with quite a lot else that sits ageing on these slowly buckling shelves.

Closer to home...
I live the life of a recluse these days, belatedly realising that I’m really much more gregarious than I want to admit. I’m also an addictive, ‘all-or-nothing’ person who has settled for ‘nothing’ since coming back to this country. I need to be able to talk with others about the stuff I read if it is to live for me, just as I argued, ate, breathed and slept language teaching in Greece for fifteen years.

Right, I’m starting on Coping with a Mid-Life Crisis straight away.

Stuff by the Godly and the Ungodly. And Karen Armstrong.

Realised too late that Homebase shelves are designed for nick-knacks, not books.
After a couple of years they start to sag. 

Monday, 2 April 2012


 God Hates Fags: Genesis 19:1-25
It’s Day One of the Easter break, but I have had so little work since Christmas that the break feels unearned and I’m already going a bit stir-crazy. There are twenty-one days still to come and I’d like to be planning trips away here and there, but finances do not permit it. As usual, there are rumours of courses that might start, or then again, might not. I could be called upon some time soon to teach English grammar to native speaker undergraduates who are training to become speech therapists. Just in case, there’s a tome on syntax and morphology sitting on the floor next to me like some heavy, stale loaf. Given the time on my hands I can offer no plausible excuse for not reading it, but since I took it from the university library five days ago, I haven’t managed to finish the first chapter before I'm almost weeping with boredom. It’s all that stuff with tree-diagrams that make it look like a maths text-book, and nothing turns me off more than a maths text book. As soon as I close the book, what I’ve read is instantly wiped from memory. It’s my usual problem: I’m a very poor abstract thinker and impatient with theory. Until I meet my speech therapists and understand what precisely they need to know and how they will use it, this stuff will remain indigestible as cardboard. Once I see what they need, it’ll all fall into place. The first sessions will be me teaching by the seat of my pants again. Sigh.

So, to put off the moment when I pick up the syntax and morphology book, I got into another argument with some religious bone-heads on You Tube. Creationist cretin Kirk Cameron was on the telly a week or two back, giving Piers Morgan of CNN his deep thoughts on the peccatum Sodomiticum:

‘I think that it’s ah…it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s unnatural, it’s, it’s, it’s detrimental and ultimately destructive to so many of the foundations of our civilisation.’

Now, Cameron’s a silly cunt, partly because he does stuff like this * with such earnest conviction and partly because he doesn’t seem to know that same-sex desire was of more than fleeting interest to such Threats to our Civilization as Aristophanes, Marlowe, possibly Shakespeare, Tchaikovsky, Wilde, Britten, Tippett, Llorca, Cavafy, Gide and Copland, to name only the first random selection of illustrious old poufs to come to mind. Of course, Cameron has his supporters, because God hates homos and Kirk was fuck'n brave to stand up for his beliefs, cuz hell, ever-body know dat homosexuality is filth, man. I asked one of his partisans to say what he meant by ‘filth’.

‘I meant filth to mean sexual acts between humans that are contrary to a sound sexual norm, such as Male and Female relationships’, he replied, going round in circles. He needs my syntax and morphology book, obviously, as his choice of 'such as' makes it sound as if he’s saying the opposite of what he means, but this was You Tube, remember; you keep your expectations of anti-gay God-bothering loudmouths low. Then he added helpfully: ‘'Filth' is used as a social term to promote the badness of something’.

Denouncers of 'filth' are legion on the threads relating to Cameron’s appearance on CNN, and they may well ultimately derive their views from the publications of another Cameron, the rather nastier Paul, founder and head of the Family Research Institute. Paul is nastier because he lacks the goofy, affable sincerity of the rather simpler-minded Kirk. He writes:

The typical sexual practices of homosexuals are a medical horror story – imagine exchanging saliva, feces, semen and / or blood with dozens of different men each year. Imagine drinking urine, ingesting feces and experiencing rectal trauma on a regular basis. Often these encounters occur while the participants are drunk, high, and / or in an orgy setting. Further, many of them occur in extremely unsanitary places (bathrooms, dirty peep shows), or, because homosexuals travel so frequently, in other parts of the world.

What a sheltered life I’ve lead.

No respected scientific journal will touch Paul Cameron’s work, but he is very influential among anti-gay groups: the fervent loonies of the Westboro Baptist Church with their ‘Fags Eat Poop’ signs come to mind, but it’s not only the patently deranged whom he influences. Many Christians claim they oppose gay marriage out of love for their fellow man, hoping to rescue us from this ‘lifestyle’ of getting hammered and wallowing in shit, piss and spunk, and its attendant reduction in life expectancy - Cameron tells them that gay men live an average of 45 years. He taps into what Martha Nussbaum (2010, p.7) describes as ‘…the discomfort people feel about their smelly, decaying, and all-too-mortal bodies [which] has ubiquitously and monotonously been projected outwards on groups who can serve as, so to speak, the surrogate dirt of a community, enabling the dominant group to feel clean and heavenly.’

Imagine trying to communicate that idea to your average You Tube queer-bashing loudmouth. Well, actually, I did have some success with one of them who had objections to anal sex, even though he had no desire for it and therefore it did not impinge on his life in any material way. Incidentally, I have no desire for it either, but don't see why others should abstain on my account. That this is a simple matter of à chacun son goût is something many straight blokes, from boors to bishops, will not concede.

Now call me stupid, but i think most men wouldn't ram their pecker in a custom fitted garbage can full of toxic waste, but there are alot of libs, so who knows.

OK, you're stupid. Anal sex was the only fail-safe method of contraception up to 1960, so a lot of straight ass-fucking has gone on for the last 200,000 years. Maybe female assholes are cleaner than yours. Anyway, lots of men rammed their cocks up women's butts in order to avoid the only thing sex was ordained by God for. Shocking, isn't it? You can clean rectums, you know, with enemas. You wouldn't kiss somebody who'd just vomited, would you?

After a little more Evangelising on my part, he said:

I may disagree with certain aspects of morality some choose, but at the end of the day, I understand that EVERY human being deserves to live his/her life as they see fit. The true haters are blind.

I like to think I brought about a slight change of heart. I have what to a bigot must be a very irritating six year-old’s habit of just asking ‘why?’ Why do you say this? Why do you believe this? More likely he just wanted to get rid of me.

Here is a warning from another You Tube Jesus-Botherer on the perils attendant upon sex:

A major misconception is why homosexuality is bad. It is natural, but not right. The reason sex before marriage is banned is because after a person's first contact, they will seek out sex. From there, their drive will continue to advance. This eventually leads to them forgetting sexual boundaries. Some stay straight but become womanizers or "sluts." Others lose all barriers and seek only sexual pleasure, this leads to pedophilia, homosexuality, or beastophilia. These are detrimental to everyone.
All in all, then, you’re better off not starting. He doesn't explain how marriage acts as a barrier to the snowballing effect of lust, but you don’t expect these people to make much sense. You just shake your head in wonder, knowing they’re allowed to vote and reproduce.


Cameron, P., 'Medical Consequences of What Homosexuals Do' Pamphlet issued by FRI. May be read online here, if your blood pressure will stand it.

Nussbaum, M.C., 2010. From Disgust to Humanity. New York:OUP.

* Fuller version of that debate here


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