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
to baffle pursuit
beam splitter
brace box
to brisk about
buttress up the facts
cavity magnetron
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?

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Questions, questions

This morning my students had their first brief taste of devising questionnaires for report writing. Each small group was asked to think of just two interesting questions they could put to the members of the group next door. They would then analyse and interpret the information gathered, and decide whether or not it was worth anything. (And if not, why had they asked such damn fool questions - but this was for later.) The 'interesting' stipulation baffled them for a few minutes, and table tops were contemplated in silence as my heart sank - they're going to stone-wall it, I thought. Anyway, after a while a buzz got going and they came up with questions such as:

Do you ever go sleep-walking?

I liked the way it made sleep-walking sound like some fashionable new pass-time. Then there was:

If you wake in the morning and find you are gender switch, what will you do?*

Then this rather baffling one:

Do you ever go in  a heterosexual toilet?

So, maybe straights are getting into cottaging? 'But I was sleepwalking, officer!' No. It was, of course, misuse of a Chinese-English dictionary: they'd keyed in 'opposite sex' in Chinese and that is what it had come up with. By further changing the Simple Present ('Do you ever?') to the Present Perfect ('Have you ever been?') we made the meaning clearer and also made what I had originally thought a potentially quite fascinating question into something utterly banal. Sorry.

Me, I stick with the homosexual toilets, and here's a thing: Chinese boys at the urinal will not merely open their zips, but unbuckle and folollop their entire three-piece suite over the waist band of their Calvins, openly appraising their neighbour's tackle. I offer this as raw data for you to interpret, as I don't have to write a bloody report.


* Three respondents (out of 19) said 'commit suicide'.

Monday, 20 August 2012


Today began week two of the busiest course of the year. We’re putting some five hundred students through the five weeks of academic square bashing known as a pre-sessional. It’s fraught, sweaty and exhausting. In every classroom you could scoop flabby wodges out of the air and serve them up as junket. I had two days off last week with the summer cold from Hades and am still itchy-eyed, achy, snotty and sneezy and very much Not In The Mood. I’m even more irritated than ever with weather forecasts that would have us ‘basking’ in this muggy heat. ‘Basting’, more like.

Courses with five hundred students are always rather chaotic. Everything takes more time to complete than has been budgeted for. One day last week I reduced the lunch break to half an hour so as to cram in a brief overview of the course aims and assessment and to read the riot act about lateness and absence, all between police registration and a tour of the library. As I was returning early to class to start this, a young colleague was approaching. Her veil covered her hair entirely, her garments revealed no flesh. As befits a Muslim lady in Ramadan, her demeanour was gentle and modest. ‘It was a right bloody load of fucking shit this morning’ she said evenly. ‘We got sod all done.’ But we’re British, we muddle through.

‘Steve, why you giff me only fifferty-two bercent for my bresentation?’ Hamid asked me as I was returning to class in another building after lunch with only two minutes to spare.

Hamid, do not ask tutors to justify the mark they gave for a presentation they assessed three weeks ago: you might as well expect past-life regression.

‘I have here’ he said, pulling out his smart-phone and bringing up a photo of my feedback sheet reduced to the size of a bus ticket.

‘I can’t see that, you must be joking!’ I said, and made vague noises about discussing it later. I hope he’ll forget, but doubt it. What the hell makes him think I’d remember anything about his presentation out of the seventeen or so I assessed in two days three weeks ago? I don’t know if it’s a complement to me or a sign of megalomania in him.

‘My presentation, I wan discuss abow litre on chaining’ a young Chinese boy told me later. Litre on chaining? It took me a minute or two to think about that and conclude that I hadn’t a clue what he meant. After an embarrassing number of requests for repetition, I had to ask him to write it down. He wants to talk about ‘return on training’.

Unfortunately for us, our unfailingly cheerful and highly efficient administration officer is moving on to a job down the Smoke next week, and apparently we are getting a new admin person who is to be joined by a ‘front-runner’. ‘Front-runner’ is management-speak for ‘mug’, i.e., a young person who is being offered the once-in-a lifetime opportunity to do all kinds of office drudgery for no remuneration. Somebody should be walking around rather stiffly from having shoved this ‘job’ where they might justifiably have been told to shove it, but nobody is that I can see.

Students submitted their essay plans for feedback today. I wrote comments on seventeen of them on the train on the way home. Most are reasonable, if over-ambitious for a thousand words. I have a lovely, enthusiastic Chinese PhD student who seems to have submitted an outline for her thesis. On the opposite side there’s this:

  • In this essay, firstly the situation will be mentioned.
  • After that the problems and causes will be discussed.
  • Finally the issues will be carefully examined and deeply analysed.
Imagine we were running a catering course and the task had been to plan a celebratory Sunday lunch for a family birthday. Would this have been sufficiently informative?

  • First I will be serve a starter
  • Next I'm put a main course (various things)
  • Finally it is a dessert

    What do you reckon? Should I just append a red tick, and see what she comes up with?

    Friday, 10 August 2012

    Monkey Mind

    ‘So, just lie down and relax and breathe real easy. Count your out-breaths, one to ten, then ten back down to one. Ten, fifteen minutes or so, just counting your breaths, ok?’

    I was introduced to meditation in 1979 by a lady called Elspeth Heilpern, a Jewish Californian who bore a striking resemblance to George Burns. Elspeth was working at the Cambridge University Counselling Service and I was one of the clever but paralysingly self-conscious, self-censoring, socially inept and directionless late adolescents whose unbosomings made up her data-base, for she was doing a Ph.D. on privileged neurotics who didn’t know how good they had it. A parenthesis here: the year after I became one of Elspeth’s cases, she died, but there was no causal connection that I’m aware of. An obituary for her actually made its way into Punch magazine’s ‘Country Life’ column, a collection of unconsciously funny excerpts from the provincial press of the kind you now hear on Radio 4’s ‘The News Quiz.’* I shouldn’t have told you that, because I can’t remember what the obit said, or why it was unconsciously funny. Anyway, I attempted to meditate in the manner Elspeth had stipulated.

    What was the point? I didn’t see it then. It is in fact to quieten what Buddhists call our ‘monkey mind’, the mind that goes tearing from one thought to another like an ape swinging from branch to branch, one thought leading to the next by association, the process often causing our mood to plummet. I hadn’t come across the term ‘monkey mind’ then, but I remember in my diary characterising my thoughts as fleas, giddily pinging and boinging through the brain:

    ‘Nine o’ clock: I’m bored stiff with ‘Madame chuffing rotten Bovary’, maybe Michael fancies a pint? / But he’s in his room with just the anglepoise thingy switched on, so he’s busy, course he is, he’s so much more focussed than I am so he’s obviously more intelligent than me / everybody’s bloody revising except me / I bet nobody will want to come to the bar / they’ll despise me for wanting to go / tell me they have too much on / I shouldn’t really be here, known it all along / sod it I want a drink / what a loser; I’m like Puff the Magic Dragon after everybody’s grown up.’

    ‘How’d you get on with the meditation?’ Elspeth would ask.

    ‘I kept losing count,’ I’d say, apologetically.

    ‘That’s ok’

    ‘But I’d get to ten, then start again at one.’

    ‘That’s not a problem’

    ‘I fell asleep!’


    I was mystified that this was a technique you apparently couldn’t fuck up however ‘wrong’ you got it. Dogged concern with the letter, brethren, blinds us to the spirit.

    I stuck with the meditation on and off for a few years after Elspeth, and started to read about Zen. I pored with fascination and frustration over old stories of the Japanese Zen Masters, and longed for Enlightenment. This condition I took to mean having no ego-self to get angry and depressed, and being eternally and blissfully happy in an oceanic, amniotic, centreless, undifferentiated kind of way, i.e., I hadn’t a fucking clue what I meant by ‘enlightenment’. A recurrent motif in these old Zen tales is of a troubled young man who comes to ask a venerable Zen Master or roshi, how he is to attain enlightenment, or satori in Japanese. The master will answer his question with a non-sequitur or maybe hit him over the head, whereupon his questions vanish and he is completely satisfied with the Master’s response. What in hell was this all about?

    It did not help that the Japanese term satori is translated as ‘enlightenment’ rather than, say, ‘insight’, for that would at least have led me to wonder what it was you saw into. (‘Your own nature,’ Zenists tell you, whatever the hell that means.) To friends in the pub whom I bored with my half-arsed Zen talk, 'enlightenment' could only mean a divinely-mandated downloading into the brain of facts about life, the universe and everything, and I was a credulous idiot to entertain the idea. ‘But that isn’t what it means!’ I would protest, although I had absolutely no idea what it did mean. (We couldn’t have used the term ‘download’ in 1982, but it’s a better term for what was meant than anything we could have used.) It did not help my understanding that I had read Alan Watts’s The Joyous Cosmology and Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, and hoped that meditating would allow access to that apprehension of phenomena mediated through, or revealed by, LSD. Nor yet did it help to read newly-satoried North American Buddhists who wrote gush like this:

    ‘Tears of joy and amazement well up at every sight and sound – the ring of a teacup as the spoon lightly touches the side... my hands as they collate papers to be stapled together, a red tomato… Am I mad to think that I alone have created heaven and earth?’ (Kapleau, 1978)

    Well, Sugar Britches, you might well be. It didn’t strike me at the time, but rereading that passage quoted in Roshi Philip Kapleau’s Zen: Dawn in the West for the first time in twenty-seven years, it strikes me now that it belongs in the same stable as:

    ‘I felt completely filled with joy, peace and love. I knew God loved me, right then, and I still know it, despite all the suffering in my life. I know how precious I am… I am perfect in His eyes, and so are you.’

    It would not surprise me to learn that the author of the first quote had grown up among the folks who churn out reams of the second type, stuff I’d heard dozens of times and angrily rejected. Such Buddhist ‘testimonies’ encouraged me in the hope that by sitting and breathing, stilling my thoughts as much as possible, in due course I too would be rendered gobsmacked with wonder at teacups and tomatoes. I couldn’t wait. Brad Warner has most astutely characterised writing of this kind as 'enlightenment porn'.

    It never happened, of course, and I got fed up with the Zen masters and their paradoxes:

    Questioner: If I understood you correctly, and I think you were quoting the Buddha, you said that nothing exists.

    Roshi: You didn’t get that straight. I quoted the Buddha as saying that things neither exist nor non-exist. That is quite different from what you said. (ibid.)

    I mean, let's all of us come off it - that reply is meaningless. It took me a long time to realise that all these non-sequiturs and punches in answer to questions were intended to jolt the questioner out of his habit of rationalising and discursive thinking, and that these stories belonged in medieval Japan, not 20th century Britain. Here, we are expected to develop and be proud of our analytical, discursive way of thinking, and deliberately pointless responses and slaps upside the head are more likely to provoke feats of discourse than deflate them.

    The 6th century Chinese monk Bodhidarma was one of a number of somewhat unhinged Zen loonies of whom apocryphal tales abound. One of the most famous is this one, in which the monk Huike comes to seek wise counsel:

    Huike: I have a restless mind and beg Master to settle it for me.

    Bodhidharma: Show me your mind and I will pacify it.

    Huike: But when I look for my mind, I can't find it.

    Bodhidharma: There. I have already pacified your mind.

    This is too pat to be taken seriously as an actual exchange, but it illustrates an important fact about the mind. It took me ages, but I finally understood the story a while ago. Last summer I had a ten-day period of wall-climbing anxiety. I realised I had pretty much screwed up my life financially, that I was not yet an old man but no longer a young one, that my father’s mind and body were wrecked with Alzheimer’s and that any one of us remaining could go the same way, dying by inches with no hope of reprieve. I felt as though I were on a journey into oblivion that would become increasingly cold, monochrome and comfortless before the final and nevitable snuffing out. Thinking of the Bodhidharma story, I decided that I needed to resume meditation if I was to handle this onslaught of depression and roiling fear. So I began to sit counting the breaths again, and realised something that had escaped me through the 80’s: that meditation is not running from fear, but staying with it, knowing it, watching how it arises and abates. Where does it go to when it isn't occupying the mind? Nowhere. It is in reality just a brief coming together of outer and inner events – light and shadow, reactions to memories, reactions to hormones and electrical impulses and whatnot - things whose confluence we name ‘fear’ and having named it and given it an identity, we try to escape it, our own creation. You can choose simply to let it arise and abate without struggling to push it away, for the struggle is the sensation of fear.

    Or perhaps that's bollocks.

    Well, it’s something I can work with, at least. I am reminded of a recurring dream in which I’m standing in a dark room in front of a mirror, face lit from below by a candle, and making terrifying faces at myself to the accompaniment of crashing horror movie music. ‘You are the creator of all this,’ it tells me, ‘and you can stop it any time you choose. You just never bloody learn.'

    So, forget enlightenment, oceanic states of consciousness, teaspoon-induced ecstasies and astounding tomatoes. Just maintain constant vigilance, lest you be fooled by your own emotions and self-created demons. That’s what meditation is for me at the moment.

    My preferred source of information on the practice and effects of meditation these days is Pema Chödrön, a wise and gentle North American Buddhist nun. She utterly lacks the masculine, military zip of Japanese Zen, which is no loss as far as I'm concerned. Pema, you feel, meditates alongside you, not over and above you. She's been at it longer, she's been where you are, and she invites you to accept your frailties with humour. Elspeth did pretty much the same. That thought has only just occurred to me. 'Late Developer' is my middle name.

    Any other meditants out there? Please add your own reasons why you sit on your arse for long periods.     


    * One 'Country Life' entry I do remember was: ‘Saturday Night Disco for sophisticated people only! Free pie and pea supper.’


    This is my back room with cushions arranged for sitting, weights, overspill from bookshelves and Russian dolls, a gift from my last Russian group. I don't do the masochistic, full lotus, unsupported back, zen-til-it-hurts style meditation; much too uncomfortable, dears. I do do masochistic biceps curls until the muscles are completely exhausted, though, which isn't very comfortable either but which brings on a high from umm, endorphins, or something.

    I like this excerpt from The Practice of Zen Meditation, an interesting if rather po-faced book by the late Father Hugo Enomiya-Lassalle, Jesuit and Zen Master. He quotes Harada Roshi on the practice of shikantaza or 'sitting in awareness': 'It is like Mount Fuji majestically towering over the East China Sea.' Lassalle comments: 'Make use of this image. When you sit, become Mount Fuji. Just let your thoughts come and go, and remain unmoved, as if they were passing clouds. Whether the sky is clear or overcast, the mountain stays the same.'        

    Right. Most of my meditation lately is spent trying to ride the tide of rage caused by the moronic, repetitive hooting of pigeons, which drives me nuts, or which I allow to drive me nuts. I try to be as Mount Fuji, but keep getting distracted by thoughts of creating silence by machine-gunning the bloody things to buggery. Enlightenment may not be on the cards for this incarnation.  


    Enomiya-Lassalle, H. (1995) The Practice of Zen Meditation, London: Thorsens.
    Kapleau, P. (1978) Zen: Dawn in the West, London: Rider and Company.
    Warner, B. (2013) There is no God and He is always with you, Novato: New World Library.

    Monday, 6 August 2012

    Oma Maa

    Here is the cantata Oma Maa ('Our Homeland') by Jean Sibelius, composed in 1918. I've had the complete symphonies and tone poems of Sibelius in my CD collection for three years but heard this piece for the first time only a week ago. It was like finding twenty quid in the pocket of an old pair of jeans. The reason I had never played it is that it follows Symphony no 7, the ending of which leaves me spent, limp and in need of a refractory period, so the CD never got played in its entirety. As usual with music, I cannot say anything intelligent or instructive about Oma Maa other than that I hope you find it as fine a piece as I do. There's some background information here for anyone interested.   

    The CD booklet has the Finnish text and a parallel English translation, a rather clumsy bit of translatese which I have tidied up a little in this excerpt, just so we have some idea what they're sounding so ecstatic about:

    'Clear were the wintery days, beautiful to behold: Northern Lights in the heavens blazing, glorious to behold. Oh, the Midsummer time, days without end, when the sun does not cease to shine over water and over land! Once more, O Fate, I pray, carry me there' etc., etc. I'm sure it sounds a whole lot better in Finnish. 

    Friday, 3 August 2012

    More Odds and Sods

    'Random Objects' Stephen Evans

    I spent yesterday and today assessing presentations, so mine's an extra-large glass of the Merlot, if you're buying. All the presenters were undergraduate Chinese students, or even under-undergraduate Chinese students, as they have not started their degree courses yet. I saw some corkers: thoughtfully prepared and interesting stuff from knowledgeable and enthusiastic young people. Carrie presented a plan for opening a Chinese restaurant in the town centre. Maybe I liked her spiel because I had suggested most of the main ideas myself, but her enthusiasm for these ideas and the lovely visuals she had prepared were all her own. The Chinglish turn of phrase was delightful. She proposed to create Chinese food as close to traditional recipes as possible so that 'China homesickness people, zey can enjoy, and I sink zey can have sweet feeling.' (Yeah, babe, gimme some o' that sweeeet feelin'.)

    The discussion that this presentation provoked was instructive. I have frequently moaned about the impoverished and non-committal contributions Chinese students make to discussions and how eliciting an opinion is like pulling teeth, but at the end of Carrie's spiel there were dozens of questions and a great deal of good-natured sending up of some of her ideas for their financial naivety, which had gone right over my head. The moral is that any discussion that isn't instigated by the students themselves is going to fall flat on its arse.

    Kids newly arrived from China are often excellent readers in English, but they have never been encouraged to speak, so their pronunciation can be pretty ropey. Observing presentations, I often look up in puzzlement from my notes to see if the slides offer any clue as to what is being said. A young woman's presentation about the founding and business strategies of  'Madonna Louse' was actually about the fast food chain of the slightly similar name that plays about with the form of English stative verbs ('I'm lovin' it' would have been non-standard when I was a new teacher - is nothing being sacred?) Madonna Louse sell 'football food', the presenter informed us. After a few repetitions of this I worked out she meant 'affordable food'. Most of her presentation was pretty incomprehensible but enlivened by her extraordinary outfit, a black one-piece pants suit with abundant gingham-y frills, like something Yves St Laurent might have designed circa 1968 for a the chorus in Annie Get Your Gun.    

    A nervous, sweating, damn-near hyperventilating lad gasped before drying up that he would (gasp) 'discuss about Auntie-ji'. Could 'Auntie-ji' be his mother's sister, emigrated from Beijing to Delhi, I wondered idly as he paused to try to catch his breath.

    'Huh... yeah,' he said, recovering slightly. 'I'm discuss abow Auntie-ji anna Disadawauntie-ji of Internet banking.' Gotcha.

    Then here is Sam. He has prepared ten minutes on the pros and cons of a variety of computer operating systems: Bollix, Ubu, Polio, or some such things. He's obviously very knowledgeable but it's lost on me. I'm not complaining though, because Sam's as cute as a button, compact and boyish and unusually hairy for a Chinese lad if you know when and where to look, and I do. He is serenely unaware that both his teachers are as gay as Christmas and really quite taken with him. I texted my colleague on the first day: 'One really cute lad. Won't tell you his name.' He replied on day two: 'Is it Sam?'

    I gave him 60% for the presentation to show that I am not swayed by emotion.


    Lest any of the grey-faced Christer homophobes I've been arguing with on You Tube recently reads this (Stan, it's you I'm thinking of) and shakes his head in pious deprecation of the sexual incontinence of those who 'turn to a gay lifestyle', let me tell you about the texts and Facebook messages emanating a couple of weeks ago from a drinking den where some of my female colleagues, one of whom a middle-aged married woman, God bless and save us, were sizing up the male talent among our students from Russia. Stan thinks it's a straight choice between heterosexual monogamy and Sodom and Gomorrah, and cannot come to terms with the fact that life crackles with lust, poor sod, and that most humans are perfectly aware and respectful of boundaries notwithstanding. He thinks I'm the bloody Marquis de Sade and I cannot now break it to him that I've been celibate for over a decade. 


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