Friday, 26 December 2014

He came down to Earth from Heaven...

Monday, 22 December 2014

Season's Greetings


This is Stella Splendens in Monte from the Llibre Vermell de Montserrat. Not specifically a Christmas song, but sounds as if it ought to be.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Bona Tidings of Dowry Joy

This is a post from a couple of years ago, one that was pretty much ignored, so I'm dishing it up again. I think it's a pity we've lost Polari, and this is my small effort to revive interest it. Besides, I can't think of anything else to bloody write. 

I read last week about a new Gay Bible. They obviously don't realise it's already been done, and better. Varda, I bring you bona tidings of dowry joy.

Herd-homies varda'd flocks by night,
All seated on the ground,
The angel of the Dutchess trolled,
And Gloria sparkled round.

Bencoves and heartfaces, for the quarter Sunday in Advent, our text is from the first chapter of the Gospel of Matilda, verses 18 to 25, from yer actual Polari Bible - mince over there in a bit and have a varda. Meanwhile, let us put aside for a bijou mo the swiftly-trolling fakements of this world (the gildy clobber, the prezzies, the bevvy and the bona manjarries to come) and get us sat for a serious cackle. We varda here that Gloria Her Absolute Very Self Herself swep' into the world, becoming carnish like other homies, only better: never cottaged, never had the trade round, never took it up the chocolate starfish or even had a J. Arthur so far as we know from the Bona Glossy. She jarried with the landladies and tax-collectresses, and trolled all over, healing the nanti varda and the nanti wallop, and casting out the wicked fairies. Then - and here is the Fantabulosa Gossip - she snuffed it for all the  kertervers* of homie-kind, however manky, and on the third journo, rose from the stiff. Well, after all that, natch, She’s absolutely in bits, bless Her - three to be exact: The Auntie, The Homie Charver and The Fantabulosa Fairy. We’re getting ahead of ourselves here, cos all this is part of the Holy Cackle Fart story, but this way you get a through picture and can see it all makes perfect sense.   

(*Rom 6:23 - 'For the parkering ninty of kertever is death' - but not necessarily!) 

The Gossip of Matilda

18 Now the birth of Josie Crystal was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Josephine, before they trolled together, she was found up the duff of the Fantabulosa Fairy. 
19 Then Josephine her homie affair, being a just homie, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. 
20 But while she thought on these fakements, varda, the fairy of the Duchess appeared unto her in a dream, cackling, Josephine, thou homie chavvie of Davina, fear not to lell unto thee Mary thy palone affair: for that which is conceived in her is of the Fantabulosa Fairy. 
21 And she shall bring forth a homie chavvie, and thou shalt screech his name Josie: for she shall save his homies and palones from their kertervers. 

22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was cackled of the Duchess by the prophet, cackling, 
23 varda, a nanti charver shall be up the duff, and shall bring forth a homie chavvie, and they shall screech his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, Gloria with us. 
24 Then Josephine being raised from letty did as the fairy of the Duchess had bidden her, and lelled unto her his palone affair: 
25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn homie chavvie: and she screeched his name Josie. 

OK, now let's remember the prezzies, the bevvy and bona manjarries (the mustard-infused artichoke hearts in Riesling, the traditional hot-smoked organic Cornish Pasties, the limited-edition kimchee Pringles) and how much the Homie Chavvy, Sparkle of the World, sets you back every bloody December.

You might like to troll over here and have a varda, an all. 


Friday, 12 December 2014

Cambridge and Stuff

That’s it for December. No more teaching now until January, and even then, not much. These last three months have been very thin, and a baffling directive from Human Resources made us fear that times ahead might be even thinner. Part-time hourly paid lecturers, we were told, would henceforth be limited to 550 hours per academic year. In a department that runs a specified number of modules per year this might be workable, but at the Little CHEF (Centre for Hammering English into Foreigners) there is no such predictability: famine alternates with feast, and an unexpected glut of students in a normally quiet time could use up many of the hours of the most experienced teachers, leaving the busier times of year to rookies. 

‘You know that 550 hours thing?’ the Centre Director asked me yesterday. ’It’s bollocks.’ (We are teachers of English, hence the elevated discourse.) So we are not limited to 550 hours after all, but who knows? We might even get fewer than that if there are no bloody students. 


We said goodbye last week to our small group of Brazilians, one of the nicest groups I have ever taught. They were interested in everything and very knowledgeable, especially about art and architecture. I did some Shakespeare with them and a session on theories of intercultural communication, which was a great improvement on the usual trudge through some upper-intermediate EFL coursebook. While we were preparing to listen to a lecture about introversion and extroversion, I found that one of them had studied the Briggs-Myers type indicator assessment, and was able to share her knowledge with the group. (Luana studies animation and told me that the types are used in creating characters for cartoons and video games.) I have a presentation about Cambridge that I trot out to groups that are about to take a trip. I chuck in a short diversion about Henry VIII and his string of wives, and bugger me if they didn’t actually know already about Big Harry’s headaches over Catherine of Aragon, Ann Boleyn and the Pope. All this is unprecedented. When we got to Cambridge, their delighted reactions to King’s Chapel, Trinity Great Court, the Wren Library and Kettle’s Yard made me feel as chuffed as if I had built them all myself.  

‘It’s not like a university,’ Carlos said, surveying Trinity Great Court in the winter sunshine. Now to me, Cambridge is the very essence of University, and the piles of concrete shoe-boxes most students attend worldwide are what seem unreal. I don’t think I realised until that moment how privileged I was. Am.

I could happily live at Kettle’s Yard. It’s an art gallery and house that was the home of art collectors Jim and Helen Ede. Its feel is much more house than gallery, and when I used to drag Italian teenagers there in the early eighties, it often left them severely underwhelmed. ‘Ma è una casa, they’d shrug, their habitual mode being offended and slightly incredulous shrugging. So it’s always nice to take appreciative adults there, and our Brazilians were certainly impressed. One of the elderly attendants (is that what you call them?) explained to us the visual connections between a Miró painting, the shadows on the wall beneath it and a lemon on a pewter dish sitting on an adjacent table. I'd need to hear it all again to get it, but well, you live and learn.

Joan Miró 'Tic Tic' (1927)
Lemon on a pewter dish. It is a reference to the yellow blob in the bottom right corner
 of the Miró - maybe a reference to Matisse? or maybe not.

I could sit here for at least quarter of an hour.

The Edes obviously never had cats.
 A memory of Cambridge, possibly distorted.

A colleague in Cambridge invited me to lunch one icy Sunday circa 1988. Kat always had something about her of the bohemian intellectual and I had none of that air and felt a bit… what?... ordinary in her presence. If I had people to dinner, I did all the cooking in advance and made sure guests would never see a dirty pan or used utensil. Kat was at the sink in her pinny peeling spuds when I arrived, and this struck me as almost daring. Now it seems most peculiar that I should have seen my preference for stage managing a meal as a sign of my social and intellectual inadequacy, but then I did, and there you are.  Kat’s daughter was intimidatingly patrician in manner, with a confident demeanour and impeccable RP diction. Her son was drop-dead gorgeous, a year under-age and straight anyway, so forget it. At lunch there was from the family gleeful and malicious calumniating of Kat’s divorced husband, whom the children called by his first name, and so that I could join in, more such trashing of our boss, who was certifiably nuts.  

After lunch, Kat decided she would introduce me to Lady Arabella Whotsitte-Thynge at her commune. (No, that wasn’t her real name.) So we drove to Grange Road and parked outside a large Victorian house hidden behind a tall hedge. The door bore the legend:


Inside, the house was dilapidated and patinated with age. I needed a pee and Kat showed me the nearest bathroom, the bath piebald with the worn enamel.  We went into a drawing room, a penumbral realm where six or seven men and women of considerable seniority were seated in a collection of decrepit armchairs and deck chairs on either side of a tree trunk that protruded some twelve feet into the room from the fireplace, where it was slowly being consumed. Most of these people lived here, aged bohemians, sharing whatever they had. A tall woman in a boiler suit rose, gave the tree trunk a hefty shove and after the sparks ascended and died, greeted us.  This was Lady Arabella Whotsitte-Thynge. She was a veteran of pretty much every 20th century conflict in which there had been a right-wing faction to fight against. As a younger woman, as soon as she heard of bother somewhere, she’d pack a boiler suit and get out there. I was introduced to Sandor, a former ballet dancer from Hungary, whom Kat called ‘the oldest gay in Cambridge’. An old Chinese woman had brought with her a girl from the People’s Republic who must have been planning to study at the university. In those days, people from the PRC were usually easy to distinguish from students from Taiwan. The Taiwanese would be glammed up to the hilt while the PRCs were mostly like this young woman: tortoiseshell hair slides, white lace-trimmed blouse, sage-green woolen cardy and tartan skirt, like a British school-girl from the fifties. The older woman refused to speak to her in Chinese, forcing her to use what little English she had. Of what did they discourse, these venerable artists and intellectuals? Sandor told us how best to prepare a mug of Nescafe. Apparently you must add the hot water gradually, stirring all the while. 'You schould not drrrrown zer koffee.'

‘Won’t you have some food?’ Lady Arabella asked me sadly. There was a hostess trolley in which sat grey beef, boiled potatoes and boiled runner beans, the source of the school dinner smell that hung in the room below the aroma of burning wood. I was glad I had eaten and could refuse, but this was an ungrateful reaction to such open-handedness. The sign on the door was an open invitation to anyone who managed to find the house, and any stranger who accepted it would be fed. It's true that the homeless and hungry would be unlikely to stumble into this green suburb of hedge-hidden mansions, but even so.

Probably not Lady Arabella's place, but close.
There’s no point to this anecdote, no issue. It just came back to me last month on our day in Cambridge, somehow all of a piece with its mixture of dilapidation and grandeur, the soggy fallen leaves and cold, misty dusk. And the idea of old age in a commune appeals to me, so long as we don’t have piebald baths and boiled veg for Sunday lunch.     

Approaching King's Bridge. This is how you learn to love freezing fog.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Fuck ELT to Hell

Thin times at the Little CHEF. (Centre for Hammering English into Foreigners) Thin times, and insecure. A colleague went for an interview at another establishment. Sharon has seventeen years' experience of teaching in England and abroad, and a diploma in English language teaching. She has taught all ages and levels from little kids to university students. She has brought up two bilingual sons and is working towards an M.A. with a special interest in dyslexia. With this degree of qualification, experience and expertise, language schools should be fighting over her.

The interview, for which Sharon prepared herself thoroughly and bought new duds, lasted four hours. This must be longer than the grilling Alan Sugar has his aspiring apprentices subjected to. She was successful: indeed I'm sure they snapped her up. An institution so selective must surely remunerate its hand-picked teachers well, you'd think.

The new job pays £9.31 per hour. This is only £2.00 more than Sainsbury's pay their checkout staff. As another colleague commented on Facebook, this is 'form over substance, inflated institutional ego covering up a total lack of appreciation for their staff.'

If you know anyone who is thinking of pursuing a... 'career' (Hah!) in ELT, do them a favour and shoot them.

(ELT, if you are fortunate enough not to have heard of it, is English Language Teaching.)

Thursday, 16 October 2014

The little devil...

Comment on the You Tube channel of fundie wingnut Perry Stone:

'...and yes please pray for me Satan has been a bugger lately.'

Monday, 13 October 2014

Chez moi II

Five years ago I wrote a post about my flat here in Stamford. 'Budget eclectic' was the name I gave to its appointments, and I lived with B.E. for five years until this year, when a busy summer and a modest but welcome windfall allowed me to improve the appearance of the place somewhat. I'm quite pleased with it, especially when I'm not wearing my new glasses. Putting these on brings everything from mellow soft focus into cruel, blinding clarity, revealing that the carpet is worn and forlorn and the paintwork could do with touching up here and there.

1. View from living room window

OK, cut the snark, I don't claim to be a photographer. It's a wet Monday morning in Autumn, the kind of morning when it's a delight to make coffee and take it back to bed with you, knowing everybody else in the neighbourhood is dragging their arse to work in the rain. From the photo you might think there's a steaming geyser out there, but that's just light from inside reflected onto the window. 

2. Commode

Up to last Wednesday this corner was occupied by the same chest of drawers as in the previous post. I had been intending to replace it for five years. My native Yorkshire dialect has the useful verb to thoil. Used in the negative, this means 'to be sufficiently in funds to purchase an item, but feel unable to justify the expenditure'. 'A were goin to get a jar o piccalilli in fert tea tonight' you might say, 'bur a cunt thoil it'. So I couldn't thoil a new chest of drawers until last month when I had to admit that the old one did not look quaintly distressed, but utterly panic-stricken. Anyway, I'm pleased with this one. It makes me feel more like a grown-up and less like a kid playing at house in the garden shed.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness... Actually, they're Waitrose 'ripen at home'. They usually stay hard as billiard balls for a week then go off overnight, so I don't expect to get to eat them. I think they look pretty, though.

3. The west-facing wall of the main chamber

This is where I'm lying right now, midst banks of sparkly Indian mirror-work cushions. Been intending to buy some for about thirty years. No selfie. Not since I got my new specs and faced the truth. (I'm still reeling.)

4. Gauds, conceits, knacks, trifles.

I am attracted to New Agey tat: joss sticks, crystals. tumble stones, crap like that. I suppose the fascination can be traced back to the second play I directed at school when I was 17, and searched the shops over the rehearsal period for anything that could be associated with 'magic'. At the closing of my Midsummer Night's Dream, Oberon, Titania and the fairies passed through the auditorium, pronouncing blessing on the audience whilst asphyxiating them with Maraschino Cherry incense. (Why that sickly honk? Why?) This was when Richard Ridings gave Huddersfield his Bottom, and I went on to achieve obscurity.

Tall thin bottle (one of a pair, c. 2013)
that had posh vinegar in it.

Marble eggs I bought ages ago on Hydra,
because the night before I'd dreamed about marble eggs.

Himalayan salt lamp. Christmas present from my niece
and nephew.

Bud vases I accidentally 'distressed'
by chucking them in the washing up.

5. That sodding fireplace.

What can you do with a fireplace like this? The landlord allowed that it is not a thing of beauty and said he would be happy for me to rip it out, but would leave it up to me to repaint the room after. Instead I decorated it like a Christmas tree with the sort of odds and sods mentioned above. By candle light it doesn't look all that bad. Honest.  

The glaring white light is actually ruby red.

6. Posh new lamp.

New reading lamp, made in India. The lacquer bowl I bought ages ago from a very friendly Vietnamese girl that used to have a stall on the High Street. She extolled it to me: 'It got a lid, yes? No nice if you soup go cold, innit?' So it's actually a soup bowl, and to Vietnamese eyes it probably looks as incongruous there as a can of corned beef would.

7. O Cloacina, Goddess of this place...

A world first, a place but few have looked upon. I've done my best with it, I suppose, hiding the ugly plastic piping with greenery, but theres something clunky about the colour and round-shoulderedness of the cistern and wash basin. I dream of a bathroom you can linger in, drinking champagne in one of those gorgeous Japanese wooden tubs, a place where bathing is a delight utterly apart from the khazi. It is not to be.

In August I bought a shower curtain in vibrant lime green. The bathroom faces east and on hot sunny mornings the light pinged and ricocheted off the curtain as you opened the bathroom door and it was marvellously invigorating to bleary eyes. Unfortunately if the weather was overcast the damn thing seemed to suck out the light and it was like falling into an algae-coated frog pond. It had to go.

Pretty kickshawses to beguile the time while at stool:

Next door's bathroom.
Quentin Crisp, who always lived in just one room, said 'I don't know what people do with the room they're not in.' I am much of his mind. The other room now looks like the set of 'Steptoe and Son' and makes me think of Lodovico's line at the close of Othello: 'The object poisons sight, let it be hid.'

Friday, 3 October 2014

Waste not, want not.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

This isn't whacha want

Since April, on opening this blog I get a thirty-second blast of very irritating music:

This is whacha waaaaant
This is whacha get
This is whacha waaaaant
This is whacha get
This is whacha waaaaant
This is whacha get
This is whacha waaaaant waaaaant waaaaant waaaaant

It drives me fucking scatty and I want it to be known that it is none of my doing. I don't know if this happens only on my laptop, or if everyone who visits is being irritated by it as well. So please tell me if you hear it too (and accept my apologies) and if you can, how I can stop it. Thanks.


24th Sept: Seems it was caused by the Site Meter widget, which I've now removed. If anyone else is getting this silly jingle, try nuking Site Meter. Thanks to Keri (see comments.) 

Friday, 5 September 2014

Dome of the Rock

This is the time of year when I have to keep telling myself I am most emphatically NOT well-off, but have difficulty believing myself when I do so. We're busy between July and October and the long-deprived money area of my brain gets a bit delirious when I check my bank balance online. Way-hay! Books! CDs! Moroccan lamps and lampshades! A dark wood Indian lamp-base! Sparkly Indian mirror-work cushion covers! Then, inevitably, the parental voices you never get rid of make me think: 'yeah. Right. Did I really need to spunk so much on that shite?'

My mum would shake her head in wonder if I told her I'd spent thirty-five quid on a CD. I mean, it pains her slightly to see me tip half a bottle of wine into a stifado. I splashed out on Jordi Savall's wonderful 'Jerusalem: La Ville des Deux Paix'. This brings together on two CDs music from Jewish, Christian and Islamic Jerusalem up to the 14th century, in the beautiful and insane hope that this might help to bring about peace between the monotheisms. In yer dreams, Jordi. Here nevertheless is 'The Dome of the Rock', a hypnotic Muslim chant from a text by Ibn Battuta (1304-ca. 1377) beautifully sung by Begoña Olavide.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

How Sweet the Moonlight

This is beautiful. Composer Jocelyn Pook, countertenor Andreas Scholl.


Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Varia II

Odds and ends from the last ten days.

A student from Iraq who has been worried sick about her husband and daughter was recently hugely relieved when the two of them were finally able to join her in England. We were so pleased for her. Last week, just a week or two after Esther was given cause to rejoice, another student had to return to Iraq where his brother and another relative had been killed in a shooting.


The 20-year-old nephew of one of my colleagues left last Thursday morning for Australia, where he was going to spend his gap year. Unfortunately, he was on Malaysian Airways flight MH17. I didn't know before this that my colleague had a nephew, but nevertheless have shed tears for his family over the loss of this young man they loved so much.


I was marking a batch of essays this evening on the train home. Abdullah's had the usual unmotivated choices of auxiliary, subjectless verbs and hit-and-miss spilling. Speling. Spellinge. In just short of two months, he is going to start an MA in English Language Teaching, God bless and save us. I've been getting increasingly indignant about this issay / esay / essai as the evening has progressed. DAMMIT, Abdullah, when I started to teach myself Modern Greek in 1985, I pored over grammar books. I wrote letters to a friend in Greece, looking up vocabulary, checking the spelling of every word and getting the grammar as accurate as I was able. Each letter was as laborious to complete as if I were chiselling it onto a stone tablet. When I received a reply from Voula, I'd set about decoding the thing, and it was up-hill work. Voula is Greek but she completed her primary and secondary education in Venezuela, so her Greek spelling was as erratic as your own efforts in English. When you see a Greek word, you know how to pronounce it, but because there are several ways of representing the same vowel sound in writing, you don't necessarily know how to spell a word from hearing it. If I had to look up a word from one of Voula's missives and failed to find it, I'd have to try alternative spellings until I hit on a word that fitted the context. This lead to my being able to spot words derived from the same root, and these days I can correct native speakers' bloopers, but forbear. Mark that I had no ambition to teach anybody Greek when I put myself through this. So on Thursday, Abdullah μου, I am going to suggest that you get a bit more obsessive-compulsive about your Inglish, Eglish. Fuck it. You know what I mean.


Tutorial with Niki, newly arrived from Thessaloniki. She said she was worried about her spoken English. I almost said 'good, so you should be', but thought it best not to. I'm used to students thinking such deficiencies are more my problem than theirs. But Niki is sensible and realistic and she knows she has a problem. After discussing her options for improving her spoken language we turned to more immediate practicalities.

'Yeah' she mutters, rifling through a file, 'I need to activate my cunt.'

Well, you're barking up the wrong tree with me, love. Or maybe I misheard?

Still rifling, she clarifies: 'my cunt at HSBC...' 

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Crossed Wires II

Shit teacher trainers say to novice teachers:

'Always check your instructions for tasks and activities.'

'Check that everyone understands the vocabulary you are presenting,'

'Grade your own language to the level of the students.'

That last one! Sounds obvious, right? Try it. Takes a fair while and repeated failures to acquire the knack. Every time I hear the bloke from student services address a new intake of dazed Arabic, Chinese and Thai speakers, I want to tell him to shut up, stand aside and let me make his speech for him. My favourite example of failure to grade appropriately was recorded by a colleague in Cambridge in the late eighties. A yellow-cardied and sensibly-shod trainee teacher-lady, wife of a Fellow of the University, was teaching a group of students of the level usually described as 'pre-intermediate', i.e., 'not knowing an awful lot of English yet'. They were reading a text and she was eager to move on.

'Well now,' she purred. 'If you can bear to tear yourselves away from this...'

I fear I've been less than totally successful myself this week in making sure all students understand what's being heavily piled onto them over the course of each muggy day. A colleague and I have been hammering the Harvard System of Referencing into a bunch of graduate students from Saudi Arabia, China and Taiwan. We point out repeatedly that not all departments use this system, and they will need to find out which system to adopt when they start their courses in September. Today I had the class look at the reference for the text I was using and tell me what information it gave them. This they did successfully. Then, inevitably, Badi chimes in.

'Teacher, I have quistion. How I can know how I must rifrence book?

'Like that. The one on the screen. In bold type. The one we have just pulled apart.'

'Yes, but teacher, how I can know how book will rifrence?

'Like I just fucking told you. What do you mean?'

'I mean, how I will know how I must rifrence books?'

Just before I nearly gobbed him one, the penny dropped. All the explaining Joanna and I have done about different referencing systems has been interpreted by Badi to mean that the system chosen depends not on the department but the individual book. Christ... I felt exasperated  this afternoon, but now I'm not sure if this misinterpretation is a dumb one or a clever one.

Group N were given three short texts on the evil that is plagiarism, and how it is to be avoided. They then had to write a short essay based on these texts, defining plagiarism, suggesting why students might resort to it, and ways in which they might be delivered from this evil. I marked the essays on the train on the way home. Fang Hua had produced hers by copying verbatim and without acknowledgement from source texts exhorting her not to copy verbatim and without acknowledgement from source texts.

Synthesising ideas from a variety of sources is something few of these students have ever done, despite being graduates. The colleague with whom I share Group N tried to clarify matters. 'This text presents idea A, and this one idea B, this one idea C...'

This mystified a Chinese girl even further.

'So which of those is my idea?   

Saturday, 21 June 2014

'Teacher, I have quistion.'

Every five weeks or so, tutors are required to write a report for each of their tutees. These are a royal pain in the arse (the reports, I mean) especially as summer approaches, classes get bigger and the name-to-face problem gets tougher. Is Chen Shuyue the girl who calls herself Crystal or the boy called Potato? For there was indeed a Boy called Potato once - and a Berserker, and a Styrofoam. I'm not making this up. The reports get more and more general and generic. They are mostly what you might call embassy-feed anyway. Some Saudi bureaucrat on Charles Street in London checks the name and IELTS grade, then consigns the file to darkness for the rest of time. I doubt if anybody gives a flying fuck what you write, so long as the numbers and percentages add up.

'X is an enthusiastic student who is always ready with questions to check his understanding' you over-write for the umpteenth time. Check that possessive adjective, just in case somebody actually does read this bilge: we don't want gender reassignment half way through. Willingness to ask questions is a thing we always praise, although it is not seen as a virtue by the Chinese, who'd probably feel more flattered if we wrote: 'X is an obedient student who never presumes to open his mouth in class.' I wish I could write that about Badi. Badi has nothing but 'quistions' and he drives my co-tutor and me up the wall. Yesterday as Sharon was going down the corridor to the loo, I called after her: 'teacher, I have quistion!'

'Not now, Badi, I'm... (looks over shoulder) Oh, bloody 'ell, it's you.'

'Teacher, I have quistion.' Badi, it is nine in the morning, the lesson starts at ten, and you will note that I am busy rearranging the classroom furniture.

'Teacher, I have quistion.' I am actually talking to Najla at the moment, Badi. She's just asked me something intelligent.'

'Teacher, I have quistion.' Lesson's over, Badi. I have a train to catch and I'm already cutting it fine.

'Teacher, I have quistion.' I'll be out in a moment Badi, just let me finish wiping my arse.

On Wednesday I corrected a minor but irritatingly frequent error:

*'The government must to pass a law.'   

'No to,' I said. 'bare infinitive after a modal.' And please stop imagining that the bald assertion that 'goferment must to pass law' is a sufficient, stand-alone solution for your situation-problem-solution-evaluation essay.

'Teacher, I have quistion. When I can use to after a modal?'

You can't.

'Teacher, I have quistion. What situation I can use to after a modal?'

No such situation.

I think Badi asked me the same question five times that day. When I got home I found he'd sent me an e-mail:

modal verb + to infinitive

the hot weather must to melt the ice

infinitive without to/modal verb

the hot weather must melt the ice

what is the difference? or is it right/wrong

second question...

I replied curtly that I had already answered the question several times. Then I remembered the marginal modals dare, need, and ought, which we had not dealt with, the primary modals deemed sufficient unto the day. So although he'd been a right pain in the balls, he might possibly have had a point, assuming he'd actually once met a marginal modal. Even so...

On Thursday he wanted advice on tackling a reading passage from the brain-curdling IELTS test, or 'Tist Eyelets' as it is known in Saudi Arabia.

'I read first teckerst, or read first quistion?'

In this case, I'd read the questions first.

'Or maybe bitter I'm read number one quistion, then teckerst, then number two quistion, then teckerst, then number...'

Read the questions first, then you know what information you are looking for, and what you can ignore.

'Or, teacher, maybe read one paragraph, then first quistion, then second paragraph, then number two quistion, then thered...'


'Or maybe first scan teckerst, then read quistion?'

You can't scan the text unless you know what you are looking for.

'I think bitter reading first teckerst, then after look questions.'

I didn't actually put a hand over his mouth, but assuming the manner of a headmaster of times now past, I spelled out an IELTS-busting procedure and a rationale for each step, to which he listened and murmured 'inch'allah' as the pearls cascaded from my lips. He stared intently at me. There was a long pause after my peroration. I took this as assent, and felt I might finally have got through to him.

'But teacher, I have quistion...'

By the end of the week, l had decided that all this was probably a wind-up from an attention seeker with a rather warped sense of humour. When you hear 'teacher, I have quistion' from a paying customer, you can't just say 'pull the other one' - you have to try to be helpful. The intense stare, I now reflect, may have betokened a kind of amused pity that anyone could be such a dupe. Fortunately the week after next he becomes someone else's problem, inch'allah.

5th July '14

He did not, in the end, become someone else's problem. I still have him twice a week. The other day in a discussion of graduate attributes we came across the term 'transferable skills', which nobody knew. I explained it pretty well, I thought - and surely it is not a concept entirely alien to a group of graduate students? It was to Badi, who claims to have a BA in Llama Park Management (or something) from a university in the UK. 'Teacher, what's mean transferable skills?' he asks several times after I have explained the term several times. At least the question is answerable. His other current favourite is 'teacher, when I must use preposition?'. 'When you need one,' I tell him.


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