Saturday, 29 September 2012



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.


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.


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