Saturday, 30 March 2013

Close, but I'm afraid I can't give it to you.

Here is an online tool that analyses your blog and tells you who it thinks you are. Of me it says: ' writes like an old lady. Her style is personal and happy.' It reckons I'm between 66 and 100 years old.

I reckon it has the reading skills of a teenage air-head.


Typalyser is more successful. Spot on, in fact. Give it a go. 

Friday, 29 March 2013

Not So Good Friday

Here we see the procession of the Epitaphios, which takes place around nine o' clock in the evening of Good Friday in every district of every town in Greece. It's a solemn funeral procession with candles and chanting, creating a heavy, sombre atmosphere as it passes below your balcony in a cloud of frankincense. Even if Christianity ordinarily leaves you as cold as it leaves me, it is impossible not to get caught up in the ever-darkening mood of Holy Week, a mood that will be shattered at midnight on Easter Saturday by rockets and fire-crackers and the proclamation that Christ is risen. It's a great piece of stage management.

I went up to Marks and Sparks a couple of hours ago. The pedestrianised High Street was busy, even for market day, so summat was obviously up. There began a solemn drumbeat of the kind that in old movies accompanies the condemned to the gallows or the guillotine, and the crowd parted to allow the passage of a procession. I looked around for a flower-bedecked glass coffin borne aloft on a bier, and a parade of musicians and bearers of tall candles. Silly of me. There were just four blokes: the drummer, two more without drums, and Jesus. Jesus was identifiable because He had His cross to bear, but it wasn't very big and unlike the ones the Romans were supposed to have used, this was a handy Wheely-Cross. ('Why schlepp!?!?') Also, He was bare-chested and had wobbly red and blue lines painted on his back. The four of them trudged along the street through the channel created by the parting of the crowd. I got up a bit closer. Jesus was about fifty-five and had round shoulders and love handles. He'd removed his shirt but hadn't gone for a loin cloth - it was snowing lightly, after all, and he probably had a wobbly bum. In defiance of all conventional representations of the Saviour, this Jesus wore grey slacks and Hush Puppies. I have no idea what the two non-drum carriers were there for, except not to carry drums.

It might have been a clever attempt at Brechtian Verfremdungseffekt, as the spectacle was entirely successful in not creating awe, compassion, gratitude or any sense whatever of emotional involvement. Then again it might fuck as like. It was just a bit more style-less Brit-frump, of a piece with the awful, clod-hopping Morris dancing we'll have inflicted on us on the same street later in the year. The Greeks do it so much better.

Before any Greek readers feel too superior, on the occasions when we get kiddie brass bands here, those kids can play. I cannot abide brass bands, but I can appreciate technical skill. A friend and I were sitting on the sea front in Kalamata one evening where a local youth band, smartly uniformed, were giving us their repertoire. They were being applauded and cheered to the echo by everyone around us, but they sounded like sick cattle. We sank our beers and moved out of earshot.           

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Listening to IELTS, etc.

Excellent advice there from the Briddish Kyncel. Far better than 'I think they should just dive in without having a clue.'

I spent the morning invigilating tests. There is a species of test known as IELTS, and overseas learners are required to do it if they want to study over here. My Art and Design kids were doing some IELTS practice tests as part of the assessment for the course they have been pretty much ignoring for the last three months.

IELTS listening practice tests are read from stilted scripts by lousy actors who employ a variety of bizarre accents. These include quasi-Oz, almost Irish, and all-purpose foreigner. Thees latter eez achieved by lengtheneeng the /I/ vowel een every word where eet occurs. In today’s test we had to listen to Bruce and Drusilla (Quasi Aussies) maunder on about organising a charity run. While the kids attempted to fill in gapped sentences and charts with information from Brucie and Dru’s brain-curdling colloquy, I sat wincing at the inability of the writer and performers to produce anything that sounded like real human communication. They used full forms of all auxiliary verbs: ‘is not’ ‘do not’ and so on. They never interrupted one another, never spoke simultaneously or completed one another’s utterances, made no false starts or left thoughts unfinished, but instead used well-edited, flat-footed prose all the way through. At one point Dru tells Brucie what all the prizes and consolation prizes are, just so the students can tick these off on a list. There can have been no other reason. Bruce is, when all’s said and done, the bloody organiser, so presumably he knows already.

Now I happen to know a thing or two from direct personal experience about the publisher of this material, and I know that the writers and editors are just a tad on the naïf side when it comes to language analysis. They haven’t really noticed the features of spoken discourse I mentioned above, but they are obviously nagged by the feeling that their scripts need to be a teeny bit less tidy now and then. So, I imagine they sat down with their thinking-caps on and said ‘guys, what happens when people talk? They often misunderstand one another, that’s what!’  This insight led them to produce scripts not dissimilar to the following:

You will hear a group of students with funny accents discussing an assignment. Listen, and answer questions seven to twelve, if you possibly can.

BRUCE: Sow, hwin we finish the assarnmunt, we complete the rid form and hand it in at the disc? Thit’s what Dr Klutz sid, raht?

ARAMINTA: No, no, he said we ave to complete the peenk form. The red form eez only eef you ave an extension. Then you must geev eet directly to Dr Pecker. Or was eet Dr Meenge?

SASKIA: Ay, golly, I thought Professor Bonestroker said the yellow form was sort of for if you had an extension! Gosh, I'm rarely, rarely confused!

BRUCE: Nigh, thit was laaahst year. Thy chynged it in Oktauber. This year’s the rid form, and if you use the pink one you get capped at 50%

ARAMINTA: 50%? I thought eet was 55!

SASKIA: Ay, cripes! And here’s me thinking it was the yellow form all along! Or is it? Goodness, I'm like say confused!
1. The essays of students who submit a yellow form:

A. Might be capped at 55%
B. Could be capped at 50%
C: Will probably not be capped.
D: Might or might not be capped.

And so on. By now students and tutors forced to prepare them to listen to this sort of verbal train-wreck have temporarily lost the will to live. I mean, if you were part of this group of students, you would hold up a hand and shout ‘CUT! Let’s go to the office and get this from the horse’s mouth’. And if you weren’t part of the group (and as a listener to a CD, you obviously are not) the exchange would be of no conceivable interest to you. Yet here you are, being forced to try to engage with this needlessly complicated twaddle just so you can study computing at Sheffield Hallam.     

More on IELTS here and here . Also here. Here as well. You might get the impression of a certain cynicism on my part.

A colleague told me at lunchtime that a student had come to her to say he would not be attending the afternoon lesson. Non-attendance is much frowned upon and students are required to provide proof that they were legitimately absent: doctor’s note, undertaker’s bill, that sort of thing.

‘I go boast offers, giffing fenger brent.’ Aladdin said. (It’s a real name)

‘You’re going to the post-office to give finger prints?’ Alison asked. ‘Whatever for?’

‘Because many women.’ he explained.

Setting aside the bizarreness of his mission – it really does sound like something you’d do in a dream - Alison wanted to know why he couldn’t go to the post office at three o’ clock after the lesson. He had to ‘go his house’ first and get something, he said. We speculated that he might have left his fingers at home.

Any explanation as to why one might need to go to the post office with finger prints, because of many women? Answers on a post card, please.        


‘Iconic’. What a bloody irritating word it’s become. The brightly yapping announcer on BBC 4 TV news managed to shove it in five times in the space of half an hour yesterday evening, almost causing me to choke on my sherry. ‘Well known’ would have done for all five occasions.


The stress-trashing human announcers are all but gone from British railway stations nowadays, but the new robot announcers are still programmed by people with two linguistic left feet. At the station every five minutes a female voice warns us:

‘Smoking is not permitted anywhere on our station. However, please keep your luggage with you at all times.’

What a weird non-sequitur. I think I’d prefer:

‘Smoking is not permitted anywhere on our station. So there.’

At least it’d be of a piece with that proprietorial use of the possessive adjective before ‘station’.           

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Breaking News

Did you know there's a new Pope? It's just been on the telly. According to the BBC reporters, who've really got their fingers on the pulse, he's a man of 'great humility, deep spirituality', and stuff like that. He once washed the feet of AIDS patients, so it all goes to show, doesn't it? That was probably a good deal more pleasant than changing as many babies' nappies, but he's a priest and very pure, so foot washing's really impressive when you think about it, given his standing, and he's a bloke and all. He paid his own hotel bill after the conclave was disconclaved, then he carried his own luggage! In his own hands! So to borrow a phrase from the great Tony Blair, he's definitely the People's Pope. You lot are just cynical buggers.

Ratso departs in a flurry of petticoats. 'What, this old thing? Had it years, luvvie,
just threw it on cos the best frock's in the wash.'

Saturday, 9 March 2013

More Cheap Chow

Chicken with cannellini beans

The blogger spell checker doesn't like 'cannellini' and proposes, inter alia, 'cunnilingus' instead. A chacun son goût. Some crude joke about cunnilingus beans might be possible, but I'm not going there.

Anyway, this dish is lovely stuff, nearly as easy as beans on toast and muck cheap. You'll need chicken thighs or breasts with the skin on, some cannellini beans and some sliced red pepper for the body of the dish, and rosemary, thyme, garlic, chili flakes, grated lemon zest, white wine, olive oil and salt to goose it up. Despite its simplicity and economy, you could serve it to guests and they'd still feel cared for, mainly because it's so tasty but partly because it promotes vigorous peristalsis. All those beans will eliminate the need for the chronically costive to stay home periodically and purge. Pepys would have raved over it.

Yesterday, all day bound and with little wind, yet I made shift to endure it and did go abroad. At noon to my Lord Suola’s, and there a poor man's dish of beans sod in wine and a brace of capons. We had nothing but only this, which being stewed with sweet aromas was a pretty enough dish, but Lord, methought, so sorry a dinner, for my Lord Suola keeps a lean table and inveighs against venison pasties, neat’s tongues, muttons and salmagundis for the stopping of the bowels, and this I thought a strange thing; and not a handsome woman in sight, which was another. Then today, from the eating of beans, a marvellous great freedom of wind, and an easy and plentiful passing of goodly stool, neither watery nor barbed: and this without physic or clyster, for which I thank God and My Lord Suola’s dish of beans.    

If you want to feel virtuously frugal, you could buy your cannellini beans dry from a health food cooperative, soak them overnight, then boil the bloody things forever, but I find canned cannellinis save on time, fuel and flatulence. Just rinse the gunk off your beans and tip them into an oven dish. Sprinkle over them your chopped fresh rosemary and thyme, chopped garlic, lemon zest and a scattering of chilli flakes. Throw in your red pepper. I used peppers from a jar last time I cooked this, but next time I'm going to use one I charred and scraped myself, to see how well the smoky flavour complements the whole thing. If it turns out tasting as if it had been cooked in an ash tray, I'll let you know. A bit of free advertising here: the only jarred red peppers I can eat are the ones from the Spanish company Fragata. I find everybody else's too soft and slimy, and I hate slithery-textured food. Fragata peppers retain a just a little bit of resistance. Where were we? Oh yeah, add a slug each of olive oil and white wine, some salt to taste and give the mixture a damn good toss. Last time I added a little concentrated chicken stock, but I reckon it'd be perfectly good without it.

Heat the oven to 200-ish, and place your chicken, anointed with oil and sprinkled with salt, on top of the beans. Cook for about 40 minutes, stirring up the beans at about the half-way mark.  It occurred to me that these garlicky, chilied and rosemaried cunnilingus beans would go well with sausages, or be perfectly acceptable as a vegetarian meal. Eat with a green salad and some good bread. We can actually get bloody good bread where I live nowadays. Anywhere else in England - good luck.


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