Monday, 30 March 2009

El Pescador



This is the Colombian performer Toto la Momposina with a song from her album 'La Candela Viva', which I had delivered from Amazon on Saturday. I must admit to a prejudice against South American music - there you are, you see, lumping it all together under one generic heading is the very essence of prejudice. If I thought of it at all, I always had in mind maddeningly noisy, hyperactive braying - all brass, maraccas, whistles and hysteria. Sorry, South America, I was all wrong. I was getting a bit weary of the wailing, Middle Eastern minor mode melopees and ululations that make up about sixty percent of my CD collection, and this is the perfect antidote. If she doesn't make you drop your narghile and get off your sandalwood-scented divan and dance, you are probably dead.   

El pescador habla con la luna
El pescador habla con la playa
El pescador no tiene fortuna
Solo su attaraya

The fisherman talks with the moon
The fisherman talks to the beach
The fisherman has no fortune
Only his net.



I ordered another Mompesina album, which arrived this morning (4 April) Mistake - this one is much more like the Latin music I knew and loathed: frantically upbeat, relentless rhythms, and horror of horrors, brass. How I loathe the sound of trumpets.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Hear, hear.

This is exactly what I'd have fucking said if the bastards had bloody well asked me.



And here is the show:

Here's How to Find me



The highly erratic* stats counter widget-thingies embedded on this blog give me the referring URL for all visitors, so that I know how people manage to come across lathophobic aphasia among the hundred squillion or so blogs competing for their attention. Nobody googles the phrase ‘lathophobic aphasia’, of course. I had a run in February of people landing here from the appalling website of the ghastly Westboro Baptist Church, and at the moment a dusty old post from the blog’s attic (or Attic?) about the Greeks' conviction of the superiority of their language over everybody else's is getting more hits than it probably deserves. I can see how search engines found these posts, but today someone from Saudi Arabia (who ought to be bloody careful - you'd better swallow your hard disc, mate) got here by googling ‘Two horny mature school teachers getting buck naked in the classroom’. Man, I’m like, WTF, I'm like, OMFG, innit, yeah? How the hell do you get directed here with a query like that? I may indeed be a horny mature teacher, but I don’t recall ever saying so. Does Google read minds?

*****

* I average 30, 60 or 5 visitors a day, depending on which one I choose to believe.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Coming Out






I taught a vocabulary lesson about clothes last week. First words for individual items, then some verbs useful when buying clothes (try on, fit, suit) some clothing related activity (wash, iron, fold, put away) and finally some discussion. The students, three Algerian blokes, do not, of course, wash, iron or fold their own clothes. They have wives and sisters to see to such tedious chores. Eventually the conversation turned to my own domestic arrangements. Deep breath... I live alone, I said, and if I don’t wash and iron, nobody will. They were very puzzled. I live alone? As in, not married? How is this possible? I must be divorced, right?

‘No,’ I said. ‘Never married’. And I can cook and clean. Even dress myself.

‘But…’ said Ishmael frowning, ‘I think… you need a woman?’

This is not the first time I have been here. Arab and Mediterranean men are inexplicably proud of their domestic helplessness and my competence in this field strikes them as not quite appropriate. I deflected the question by making some remark to the effect that I live alone in a flat, not a monastery, and I’m allowed visitors now and then. The matter was dropped, and they drew whatever conclusions they drew. I suspect that they probably did not entertain the idea that I might be gay. I have their respect, and such a revelation would probably cause them to withdraw it immediately.




There’s a health food cooperative in Cambridge called Arjuna and here I used to go in the late seventies and early eighties to buy their wholemeal bread, tofu, lentils and Hessian-weave quiche slices. (Mill Road was like, rarely, rarely alternative in thayze days?) I used to eye their copies of Gay News and their array of badges, with which you could proclaim that you were an anarchist, an environmentalist, a feminist, a dyke, a pouf, and various combinations of these. I knew someone who wore a badge the size of a saucer, bearing the legend ‘I’M A FUCKING QUEER’. It might have been said with some justice that his speech and demeanour rendered this information redundant, but still I admired the courage and defiance he showed in wearing it. This was a time when homophobic rant from politicians, police, clergy and the press was routine. One day I went to Arjuna for a loaf and a wind-inducing lentil and fava bean cornish pastie and thought, right, fuck it, I’ll have a Gay News and a pink triangle badge, please. The smell of ideologically sound bread and pinewood shelves full of beans and seaweed and other virtuous fart-food always reminds me of that day. There was, along with that wholesome smell, a satisfying crash as I finally discarded tons of mental junk I had been schlepping around since schooldays.

I should here thank the straight male friends I had back then for their support. I amassed a small collection of badges, some blatant, some more cryptic (‘Sodom today, Gomorrah the World’) and some only recognisable at the time to those in the know, such as the pink triangle. Pat and Michael must sometimes have felt a bit exposed and uneasy with me and my badge du jour as we propped up bars, sinking our pints of Abbott, but I don’t remember their ever remarking on it, and I wasn’t courageous / daft enough to wear badges in pubs where we risked getting taken apart. A ramrod-straight military type who was a bar man in the graduate union once termed me a ‘bloody Mary Ann’ but subsequently turned very polite, and the barmaid there, who became a friend, said ‘I thought you wore ‘em ‘cos you really hated queers.’ (Never fathomed that one.)

People would say ‘but why do you have to announce it? I’m straight and I don’t go round telling people!’ and this would allow me to deliver a little sermon about how one is assumed to be straight unless one states otherwise. I might have been a pain in the neck on the subject sometimes, but I still feel the 23 year-old me was right to make an issue of being gay and make it other people’s business when they would have preferred it to be none of their business. There are young gay men now who don’t know that homosexuality was illegal in the UK only forty years ago. They know nothing of the vitriol spewed at gay people by the press at the start of the AIDS crisis and they have never heard of Section 28. They are not free from taunts and prejudice, but they have far more support and recourse than the gay men and lesbians of my generation. If life is somewhat easier for them than it was for us, I like to think I done me bit for the cause. (I just wish they would read up a bit on their own history.)

*****

Which brings me back to the Algerians. My badge wearing days are over but I don’t make any secret of the fact that I prefer blokes. If straight colleagues can talk casually about their wives and boyfriends, well, fair dos, I can talk casually about my relationships. The same should hold with adult students, I think, but most of my students are from Muslim countries and their respect for me, which is real and for which I am grateful, would in many cases evaporate instantly if they were to be informed of my sexuality. After it became unacceptable for most intelligent westerners to express homophobia, a more subtle put-down was ‘oh, I don’t know why they keep making a fuss about being gay – nobody minds any more.’ Those who stopped 'minding' did so relatively recently. Here in Britain we were the last minority for whom you could openly express contempt in the public prints, long after racism and sexism became unacceptable. Homosexuals around the world face everything from ostracism, through lengthy prison sentences to death. A lot of people harbour a lot of hatred, and they like to focus it on the sexual behaviour of others. Queers, who are defined by their sexuality, make a good target.

In a lesson I want to be able to say, if the matter arises, look, I’m the same teacher now you know I’m queer as I was a minute ago when you didn’t. What’s changed? Well, for some of them, it would be everything: they would simply think I had deceived them. Others, I hope, might think, ‘yep, he’s right: it makes absolutely no difference to anything.’ I am not going to do this though, because I haven’t got the guts any more. In 1980s Britain the time was ripe for some confrontation and defiance, but that time is still far off for Algeria and Saudi Arabia.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Odds and Sods


A fallow time, this, a time of Blogger's Block, so I resort here to a list of random odds and sods about me and my handful of obsessions. Maybe others share them?

  1. I am plagued by a crackpot kind of animism. When I consider rearranging my little displays of vases, bowls, candle holders, pebbles and what-not, at the back of my mind there twitter such batty thoughts as ‘I wonder if these two bowls will get on? Is this vase fed up of being in the bathroom? If I break up this grouping, will they miss one another?’
  2. I don’t understand romantic love, or jealousy. I understand lust and I understand companionship, but why anyone wants an exclusive relationship with one other person is a mystery to me. ‘I need to share my life with someone,’ Alonso, a Brazilian boyfriend, told me back in the Eocene. My response was that you open the front door in the morning and there they all are, the people you are forced to share your life with. The best bit of each day is getting home and closing the door behind you. This was not the required response, I gathered. Later, when Alonso had struck up another relationship, he asked me ‘what does ‘swamped’ mean?’ Now, I wonder who could have employed that word in his presence?
  3. I’ve been a teacher for nearly thirty years but I experience stage-fright before almost every lesson, now even more than in the past. At the moment I have some of the nicest students I have ever taught, but I still wake up on Wednesday  mornings feeling intensely relieved that this is the day when I do not have to face a class. I have evolved a teaching persona over the years, a split-off version of myself that leads people to think me a good deal more lively and sociable than I really am, and the persona is beginning to annoy me, like a tulpa that has taken on a life of its own.
  4. In the past, the term ‘workaholic’ has been applied to me. No more of that, πα, πα, πα, πα, πα. I ate, breathed and slept English Language Teaching for twenty of the past twenty five years, training teachers, midwifing research projects and teaching teens, and enough’s enough. I do sufficient to get by, and if I could, I’d jack it in tomorrow. There might be another way to teach the present perfect continuous, but if there is I don’t give a stuff. However...
  5. ...I really enjoy teaching presentation skills. This is partly because overseas students get so nervous about presentations that you have them firmly by the balls, and they will apply themselves with a diligence that few other areas will elicit. Also in lessons, where the presentations are dry-runs and they don’t have to be serious, the students often come up with some very entertaining stuff. Last month my Russian group came up with a Dragons’ Den style pitch to request funding for a new brand of Kazakh vodka, one guaranteed to have a very positive effect on male potency. It came in a vessel shaped like the Artemision Bronze and the booze was dispensed through his knob. 
  6. That snazzy viagra-vodka pitch aside, does anyone really, honestly like or need Powerpoint? Is not its ubiquity in universities due simply to peer pressure? In the coming weeks, I am going to have to evaluate dozens of Powerpoint presentations and as always, I will emerge from the darkened classroom unable to blink my eyes in unison after watching dazzling pictures fade in and out and captions skidding around the screen. Powerpoint is for a generation with a short attention span. It's just a bombastic overhead projector with an ego. So there.
  7. I'm typing this lying on the bed with the laptop on the bedside table and I've got a crick in the neck and aching legs as a result, so this is where I am forced to finish.   


               

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Day has Broken

 
Ach, Hellas, I've been away too long. I'm fed up of England. I bought a ticket on Sunday morning and am going back to Greece in September, when the university summer courses are over, for a fix of  undisguised emotion and unapologetic chaos. This will be an antidote to the tight sphincters and hidden mess of England, where people just pretend they are efficient and have to keep on being reminded to be so with vapid slogans:

'Centre of Excellence'
'Working together for better Health'
'Dynamic Teachers Wanted', etc.

Just reverse the meanings of these cliches to see how fatuous they are:

'Shit Hole'
'South Kesteven District Council: Not giving a Monkey's'
'Jaded old Farts Required'.

God, I might even manage to feel benevolent to a sullen Vassilopoulos check-out girl after four years of the poor sods at Marks and Sparks, where some shiny-arsed twat with an MBA and an 'O' level in Language Mangling has decreed that check-out persons shall behave with obsequious garrulousness. 'Thank you for waiting. Any cash back for you today for you at all today? Did you need a bag for you at all for you today? Are you OK with packing? Lovely, I'll just lie down and you can wipe your feet on me.'

I am getting into the mood already. Here is Savina Yannatou again, singing a wedding song from Kalymnos, evocative of astonishingly strong early morning sun, coral pink light on a mill-pond sea, and the smell of bread and cinnamon wafting on the breeze from bakers up with the larks.

Μέρα μέρωσε
Τώρα η αυγή χαράζει
Τώρα τα πουλιά, τα χελιδόνια κελαϊδούν
Τώρα λαλούν και λένε
'Ξύπνα, αφέντη μου!'

The dawn has broken, a new day has come,
Now the birds, the swallows, they sing,
They give voice, and say,
'Awaken, my prince!' 
    

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Babelfish Attacks Again



Now look, I’ve warned you before, don’t trust Babelfish! It’s the bluntest of blunt instruments. You might as well play tiddly-winks with a mallet or pick your teeth with a cricket bat. Someone in Athens came across the previous post and Babelfished it into sort-of-Greek. The original read:

When I was in the fourth form, an English teacher with a knack for laddish talk characterised Keats to us as ‘airy-fairy and a bit of a pouf’. Shortly thereafter, a teacher who definitely did not have the knack for passing as one of the lads was ascending B staircase, followed by members of my form who were chanting sotto but audibly:

Airy-fairy, bit of a pouf…
Airy-fairy, bit of a pouf…
Airy-fairy, bit of a pouf…


Babelfished, the paragraph looks like this:

Όταν ήμουν στην τέταρτη μορφή, μια αγγλική δάσκαλο με ένα κόλπο για laddish μιλάμε Keats μας χαρακτηρίζεται ως «ευάερο-νεράιδα και λίγο ένα πουφ μαξιλάρι. Λίγο αργότερα, ένας καθηγητής που σίγουρα δεν είχε την ευχέρεια για να περάσουν ως ένα από τα παλικάρια ήταν αύξουσα Β σκάλα, που ακολουθείται από τα μέλη της εκλογικής μου μορφή που ψαλμωδία SOTTO αλλά ακουστικό:

Ευάερο-νεράιδα, λίγο μιας πουφ μαξιλάρι ...
Ευάερο-νεράιδα, λίγο μιας πουφ μαξιλάρι ...
Ευάερο-νεράιδα, λίγο μιας πουφ μαξιλάρι ...

And could be translated like this:

'When I was in the fourth shape, an English teacher with a trick for laddish we said Keats to us is characterised as ‘well-ventilated fairy and a little of a pouf cushion.’ A little later, a teacher who certainly did not have the facility for them to pass as one of the fine young men was increasing B staircase, which is followed by the members of my electoral shape who chanting sotto but earphone:

Well-ventilated fairy and a little of a pouf cushion...
Well-ventilated fairy and a little of a pouf cushion...
Well-ventilated fairy and a little of a pouf cushion... '

Heaven knows what that poor reader imagined the post was about.

Once, when I had nothing better to do, I spent a while answering questions on the language section of Yahoo Answers. It was amazing, and scary, to see the number of whacky Babelfish translations offered in all seriousness to those who had asked for translations from foreign languages into English. Did the answerers actually read the crap the programme produced? They can't have. Some of them were not native speakers of English, but most were. Do we now have kids so unpractised in reading and writing that they cannot tell if a passage supposedly in their own language makes sense or not?

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Teens



When I was in the fourth form, an English teacher with a knack for laddish talk characterised Keats to us as ‘airy-fairy and a bit of a pouf’. Shortly thereafter, a teacher who definitely did not have the knack for passing as one of the lads was ascending B staircase, followed by members of my form who were chanting sotto but audibly:


Airy-fairy, bit of a pouf…
Airy-fairy, bit of a pouf…
Airy-fairy, bit of a pouf…

The teacher was clearly determined not to react, but a deep, dark blush pumped up from his neck to his hairline, as if his head were being filled with grenadine. I was not one of the chanters – too much of a goody two shoes. In any case I must have been in front, not behind, to have clocked that blush. Even so, I’m pretty sure I found the spectacle as hilarious as everyone else did. Pretty sure? OK, I enjoyed it thoroughly. That all these leering, heartless, utterly unlovable little shits would very soon be reasonable young men was of no comfort to that teacher at that moment.

Teenagers were a mystery to me even when I was one, so it should come as no surprise to learn that I was no great shakes at dealing with many of them in my early days in a language school full of eight to sixteen year olds. After twelve years of working with self-starting adults on teacher training seminars, I was not well equipped to deal with that alternation of exuberance, sullenness, dependence, resistance, flashes of maturity and sheer bloody nastiness that adolescents present. I was also aware that some teachers in the school couldn’t wait to see me fall flat on my arse. This foreigner with his diplomas and big ideas, who’d been down here from Athens before to lead seminars at the school owner’s invitation, who was paid a fortune every time and regaled with vats of Johnny Walker at the owner’s home... now here he was on a permanent contract as Director of Studies, if you don’t mind, getting his hands dirty in classes of kids for the first time. We’ll see if he can hack it.

Petros was a bright, specky, cocky, insecure little misfit of thirteen, who could, when the spirit was upon him, be a royal pain in the neck. He was not popular with the other kids and he retaliated by being an even bigger pain in the neck, a vicious circle I recognised from my own days as a bright, specky, cocky, insecure little misfit of thirteen. I veered between the desire to protect him and the desire to smash his teeth in. One evening Petros was deriving such innocent pleasure as he could from repeatedly snatching books off his neighbour and poking him with the pointy end of his pencil. The neighbour was gratifyingly rattled by this, so Petros redoubled his efforts. I asked him to desist, but he went right on snatching and poking. Now, the best course of action would have been to ask Petros to bugger off home and annoy his mother instead, but this did not occur to me at the time. So I got him to take up his book and pen and parked him in the teachers’ room to finish the task on his own. I offered him a glass of orange juice from the fridge as I sat him down, but he had turned from giggly to sullen, and refused it. Separating him from the class was a mistake – Double Mistake on a Bun with a side helping of Fries and extra Ketchup, in fact, although that didn’t occur to me at the time either. I went back to the classroom to finish the lesson, checked on Petros’s work before he left, did whatever I did after that, then went home.

Next day in the principal’s office Petros’s mother, in her quiet, nervous way, made much of ‘the incident with Petros’ and how it had upset the poor mite. She suggested that I might have reasoned with him, cajoled him. Bollocks, I thought, but did not say. Petros, she went on, liked the way I did my lessons and had great respect for me. I pointed out that if this was the case, he had a bloody funny way of showing it. Anyway, she gave me to understand that the kid had felt humiliated in front of his peers, and as politely as I could I gave her to understand that he should get over it, and stop getting on people’s tits.

A few months later my mobile phone went AWOL. One missed call, three missed calls, seventy missed calls – the numbers racked up as it sat there on silent through the summer course lessons. I had at the time a class of six fairly mature, biddable sixteen year olds, and wondered aloud to them about the reason for the ever increasing numbers. They said nothing, just smiled and shrugged and looked at their shoes. Later, during the summer holiday, I began to get call after anonymous call, numbers withheld, different teen voices asking me in English and Greek ‘hello, are you gay?’ ‘Hello, is this Mrs X?’ and various other puerile taunts about my sexuality. It was like being fourteen again.

I could never prove it, but I am quite certain that after I had sat Petros down in the staffroom and left, he had keyed my mobile number into his phone from the contacts list on the wall. By September all my students knew of the wheeze, and there was much guffawing and giggling for a period, and the word ‘gay’ scratched on my classroom door. Anyone experienced with teenagers would have told me to get over myself and stop feeling so angry and humiliated, but that is how I felt for a while, especially as ‘gay’ was for these provincial innocents the most contemptuous term they could lay on me.
          
Two years later I saw Petros in the street, and whereas earlier he came only up to my shoulder, now I would barely have come up to his. He did not see me. I wonder if he is gay. Whether or not he is, the issue was certainly salient enough to him at thirteen to push him to taunt me with it for a summer. If he was, how much more useful if I could have reasoned with him as his mother suggested, but on the lines of, look, this is no big deal, you will be able to get away from here at eighteen and be yourself, and it will be nobody else’s business, and you have been given the opportunity to see over the top of the clannishness and conformity of this backwater.

In your dreams. A year or two before this, I had taught a course in study skills for kids who were about to leave for universities in the UK. One day I drew up some thumbnail sketches of imaginary flatmates of the kind they might be thrown together with in the coming months. We would discuss how they might react and handle each one. The list included, inter alia, a boozy Brit rugby hearty, a noisy untidy party girl, a half-Greek girl who was ashamed of her Greek side, and a boy who was gay. I handed out the list for the students to read. After a few minutes there was a collective gasp of incredulity, and every male in the room was guffawing, and looking round the room to make sure every other male saw he was guffawing. There was absolutely no possibility of discussion, and the activity was dropped.      

*****

P.S. December 31st 2015

In September this year I found 'Petros' on Academia.org. He's studying social and political philosophy in the Netherlands. He said: 'You were really great as a teacher, probably the best we had. It's kinda lame admitting it after all these years and a big shame that we were so immature and overdid it at certain occasions. We weren't able to appreciate many things back then. I guess many of us had serious oppression issues coming from our homes and the school and tuition centers were just playgrounds of rioting appeasement.'  By this I think he meant places for letting off steam. That was nice to hear, and I was delighted to learn of his academic success. It's nice to grow up.


Thursday, 12 March 2009

Man with Santur

I have already said how fond I am of Persian music and Iranian men, so I was very pleased to find this video of a tasty young man playing the santur. He is playing in circumstances of drearily tight-arsed formality, and to desultory applause. A few candles, carpets, cushions and a bottle or two of red wine wouldn't go amiss here. (Yeah, I know.) I know nothing at all about music qua music, so music I like is music I can mentally make visible, edible or potable. I love the sound of the santur, and the image that always comes to me when I hear it is of a cascade of toffees wrapped in shiny paper, falling and bouncing off player and listeners. There's a performance of Raga Piloo by Ravi Shankar and Yehudi Menuhin where Menuhin makes his violin sound like shimmering lime juice streaming out of the night sky, tart enough to make your mouth water, before the crunchy celery of the tabla breaks in... well, you get the idea.

People more knowledgeable about Persian music than me (i.e., most people) saw fit to criticise this boy's wrist technique, presumably in connection with his santur playing. I do hope you won't mind.





What the sound of a santur looks like.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Caring and Sharing


Caring and Sharing in the Foreign Language Classroom : a Sourcebook of Humanistic Techniques.’ For anyone who thought ‘Patch Adams’ was a moving experience and who was not irritated to distraction by ‘Dead Poets’ Society’.

There was a brief period in the eighties when certain teachers of EFL began to get ideas somewhat above their station. Trainee teachers on diploma courses would be asked to (yawn) list-the-roles-of-a-teacher, and come up with 'friend, counsellor, knower, nurturer, facilitator, guru'. No, they didn’t put ‘guru’, I made that bit up, but you get the drift. We were to have ‘impact on our students’ lives’, not merely teaching them English, but freeing them from inhibition and leading them to self-actualisation. Or something. The young, thrillingly alert female vivacities at the Bell Schools began to get instruction in the Alexander Technique, that they might have the poise of ballerinas, and some of us got it into our heads that we must enter the classroom with bliss-bestowing hands, as if guiding students towards satori rather than Cambridge First Certificate in English. Such ghastly egotism was soon punctured. Students by and large just want teachers, and respond more to straightforward professionalism, friendliness and the immediate relevance of what is being taught, rather than to ‘people skills’ and attempts to liberate the inner wotsit. I mean, let’s all of us come off it.

Very occasionally, though, I have wished I had some hard knowledge about dealing with difficult or disturbed students, rather than vague ‘humanistic’ crap aimed at infantilising the ‘normal’ ones. In 1988 in Cambridge there was Sery, a young man from South Korea who sat in lessons head down, covering his book with heavy black hachuring. If he wrote anything, it was never more than self-castigation, even if it was supposed to be a letter asking for information. The inconvenience of his shut-off, gloomy presence in class was nothing compared to what his landlady was enduring. Sery had covered his bedroom windows with black bin-liners and thrown a blanket over the reading lamp, almost causing a fire. Any attempt to communicate with him failed, as he would not maintain eye-contact or respond with more than murmured monosyllables. Eventually he decided he wanted to go to Canada. Naturally, we thought this was a very, very good idea and encouraged him in it, and soon he was out of our lives and somebody else’s problem. Did we handle him well? I don’t suppose we did, but we were right not to try. I still have no idea what, if anything, I or any of us could have done to help this lad.

Ten years on, in Athens, we have Irene, which you must pronounce not to rhyme with ‘styrene’ but as ‘Irini’, each vowel as the ‘ee’ in ‘weep’, so that it sounds beautiful rather than frumpy. Irene was about nineteen and a trainee on my course for neophyte teachers. The other course participants, all ladies, were a lively, talkative and opinionated lot, but Irene sat in silence doodling skulls on her notebook. At breaks, she stood aloof from the others with their coffees and cigs and banter, glowering at the floor. I asked the secretary to call Irene’s mother, to see if she might explain a few things.

‘What did she say?’

‘That she’s got a problem.’

Yeah, well, thanks a bundle, mum, we’d got that far. Irene failed the course, but there’s a happy ending this time. The centre director and I sat with her and dragged out of her that she had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome – a condition I had not then heard of – which meant that the input sessions for her must have degenerated into the enervating, meaningless echoing of an indoor swimming bath. The time and persistence required to extract this information showed how shaming her family believed her condition to be and what a burden they were making of it. Irene did the course again, with the understanding that she would leave the room whenever she felt overwhelmed with information. One day, in teaching practise, she made a brilliant job of the warm-up stage of a lesson, and was visibly chuffed to bits, which was a wonderful sight after her earlier angry and defeated demeanour. The Hollywood version of this would have simpering violins, soft focus, trembling lips and moistly sparkling eyes, but you know, sometimes it really is worthwhile.

Finally there was Matthew, an Englishman resident in Greece for many years and a participant on the first RSA Diploma I taught there. He had a girlfriend who ditched him and married another man. Matthew went into a profound depression. One Sunday he came to my flat to sort out a few problems with the wayward electricity, which stopped and started, lights switching themselves on and off as though the place were haunted. It was obvious that absolutely everything radiated misery at him. ‘God, this wall…’ he muttered as he hooked up my answering machine. When he had finished he leaned against the way too thin glass of the French windows and put his hand straight through it. He gave a short bark of a laugh as though this accident confirmed his view of the worthlessness of life. A month later he was dead. His ex-girlfriend was in hospital the day after giving birth to her first child. Matthew went to her house and rang the doorbell. The husband answered, whereupon Matthew produced a hand grenade, pulled the pin and blew himself and his rival to Kingdom Come. If you are wondering how he managed to get hold of a hand grenade, well, nothing is impossible in Greece for anyone who has the money. Some time before Matthew had sold off most of his possessions because, he said, he was leaving Greece for good. I know now that the few thousand drachmas I paid for his desk-lamp, spot-lights and dumbbells had contributed to the fee for the hand grenade.

Of course, cases in which one’s trainee teachers combine suicide with murder to spite their ex-girlfriends are relatively rare, and I don’t expect to come across many more. Back in the Neolithic I wrote a comment on the feed-back form of a young trainee teacher who treated his students with the high-handedness of a French traffic cop. ‘Never underestimate the pain students bring to a classroom’. I think the twenty-eight year old me probably felt quite smug with himself for handing down that bit of advice, and if it makes me wince a bit now, it’s at the po-faced manner in which it was vouchsafed rather than its content. Maybe I ought to have said ‘you and your students, just like everybody else, are mammals with holes at either end and a personal history of being treated well and badly and of doing the same to others. So stop being such a bossy sod.’

Monday, 2 March 2009

Hugely so. I Mean it.



Come, thou monarch of the vine,
Plumpy Bacchus with pink eyne!
In thy vats our cares be drown`d,
With thy grapes our hairs be crown`d:
Cup us, till the world go round,
Cup us, till the world go round!
Whoo-hoo!


Shakespeare, that. I added the last line. Right. Ok, then, I wish to thank… heartily… thank all those who deserve a damn good thanking for wished, sorry, wishing me Many Happery Turns and a Happy Birth. Birthday. Yesterday, I mean. It was yesterday. Fifty! Fucking fifty, Christ! Yes, well. Mah fellow bloggers and readers of lathophoberry dyspepsia, whatever the fuck it is!!! Thank you hugely all very intensely. Deeply. I mean that. YOU i (caps lock thingy stuck fuck it) mean you have no idea how appreciative it is. I am. For your wishes and that. ANYWAY! we We went to this Chinese restaurant where the waiter has a bum to get down on your two knees and thank God for, and the fod’s foods food’s not bad either, quite good actually, of course that seaweed stuff they serve for the horse's ovaries looks like green pubes, everybody says so every time, ha ha, won’t mention it again, Christ we God got through some fucking wine. Or rather I did, As Per Bloody Usual - the other two were driving, so selflessly I drank for them, imbibing what they’d have imbibben had they not been. Driving, that is. Gin and tonic I had as well, before they arrived, just to attract the waiter’s bum. Attention. Oh, and I had a semi-on in the Tobie Norris , white wine, that is, before I had the anticipatory ginand tonid. Tonic. With gin in, and some ice. Slice of lenom. A good night, a good night, but why do they have to reduce the lamb in Chinese restaurants to something with the texture of burnt feathers, bloody hell, anyway nice enough apart from that. Never mind. Doesn’t matter now. Until next time! One of them still owes me twenty quidy. Quid. Right, night night.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Happy Birthday to Me



Today is my 50th birthday. I was inflicted on the world on Sunday, March 1st 1959, at three a.m. on the dot. I was a week premature, born dozy and drugged up to the eyeballs, and spent most of my first few days in an incubator. This circumstance I must have found congenial, because ever since then I have tried to make of every place I have lived a hideaway that excludes the world in so far as it can be excluded. (The best part of every day is getting home and closing the door.) The sun is in Pisces, and us natives are usually characterised as unambitious and unworldly solipsists with a fondness for the bottle. In my case this is spot on. I have just been looking on the net and found that we are also ‘imaginative and sensitive, compassionate and kind, selfless and unworldly, intuitive and sympathetic’ and generally fey and mimsy collectors of shells and pebbles, burners of joss-sticks and scented candles, too fragile for this world. We are supposed to have ‘a catlike appreciation of luxury and pleasure’, which is certainly true of me – give me a sandalwood-scented divan piled with Indian cushions over a bracing country walk any Sunday of the month. Likewise I’ll take a raga over a brass band, lights-out over reveille and vanilla over BDSM. There’s some gross-out stuff here too: ‘Pisces governs the feet, liver and lymphatics, and its subjects can be threatened by anaemia, boils, ulcers and other skin diseases, especially inflammation of the eyelids, gout, and foot disorders.’ Yeuch.

Kiddies’ books in my childhood often used to have this little rhyme in them:

Monday's child is fair of face.
Tuesday's child is full of grace.
Wednesday's child is full of woe.
Thursday's child has far to go.
Friday's child is loving and giving.
Saturday's child works hard for a living,
But the child who is born on the Sabbath Day
Is bonny and blithe and good and gay.

Well, I was a Sunday child, and the ‘good and gay’ bit is accurate at least. I wonder if this might also explain my lifelong hatred of Sunday, that day with its interminable afternoon when your mind (or mine, anyway) starts to feel like a dusty old frock in a musty trunk in a gloomy attic… Anyway today won’t be too Sunday-ish as I am going out this evening with friends for dinner, so Happy Birthday to me.

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