Saturday, February 28, 2009

Why PIE - Goat's cheese, onion & pepper flan - part 2 of 12

The challenge to make a pie every month continues - just sneaking in to this stupidly short month. Although some of the ingredients were a little past their sell-by date. So I may be gloriously sickly by tomorrow. But no sign of any problems yet, so I'm guessing all is well. Sell-by dates? Eggs? Goats' cheese? (Goat's - is that where the apostrophe goes? Is it the produce of one goat or several, I say, just one goat, that goes by the name of Jessie.) Yes, eggs and cheese about um 10 days out of date. But no one cares about that. The problem was I forget to buy double cream. And then forgot again. So it was almost the end of the month. How highly interesting this is....

Here are my photos to prove I did do it. Managed to burn the edges a bit. And not sure the squidgy pie element is meant to be that squidgy. I am an amateur....

Friday, February 20, 2009

Why the Brits 2009 was designed on an Excel spreadsheet

Designed on an Excel spreadsheet by accountants. And that's fine. And I shouldn't even be watching. I'm sure it's designed for someone else..... hmmmm, stupid people? No, that's unfair. I'm sure the accountants have made an attempt to square off the target demographics of the audience required to hit the correct profile for advertisers something something... So I don't normally just want to write very negative things, but...

At the Oscars they pretend that there's some sort of artistic value in the awards. There usually is - whether you agree with the eventual winners or not. But the Brits (sponsored by Mastercard)?

O sigh.

Here's how the winners are worked out:
  • List best selling albums/downloads of the year in column 1 of spreadsheet. Amounts sold in column 2.
  • Highlight columns & press 'Data -> Sort by numerical value'
  • Add 3rd column - listing the relevant record companies - you cannot have one company winning all the awards so things have to be spread out a little.
  • There you go. There's the winners.
  • Were they accepting bets on this? Given it was all so obvious: Katy Perry, Duffy, Kanye West - okay, the listeners' votes might throw up some oddities but nothing you couldn't work out...
Bah. Humbug. You could say I'm too old to be watching it, but that's not true cos it's not aimed at 13 year olds. Or else Neil Diamond wouldn't be one of the nominees for 'International Best Male'. Fact is older people are one of the big target markets as they can't get their heads round free downloading.

No. I should just sit back and enjoy it. I really should. Skip through the adverts. And try to be positive:
  • U2. Teeny tiny thumbelina sized Bono makes some 1990s Vogueing shapes as he sings his slogan-arific 'Get On Your Boots'. Surely some grammar issues there Mr Vox? Less a song more a collection of meaningless slogans:
Rockets at the fun fair
Satan loves a bomb scare

Hey, sexy boots

Candy floss ice cream
All our kids are screaming

Actually. I'm sure I'll be humming along eventually. I like that first couplet actually. See. Positivity. You go, Mr Vox. Satan does love a bomb scare.
  • Girls Aloud. Less a song than a jingle without a tune. Less personalities than slightly different hair styles.
  • Coldplay. Always funny. Like public school boys at a punk concert in 1977. They're trying their best to be wacky. Their mum has sown some crazy badges on their school blazers. You can't hate them. Too nice. Nice little tunes. Well done boys.
  • Elbow. No one can have a word to say about Elbow - a bad word. That is the law and I'm not about to start breaking it. I've been in the same bar as Guy Garvey. I was reading something out. He wasn't listening but he was there. Hurrah for me. They're your affable uncles. Although if things hadn't gone so well for them they might be your loser uncles that your mum points out when she's telling you, "If you don't do your A Levels you'll end up like your Uncle Guy and his mates. They were in a band y'know. And look what happened to them. He lives in a shed. Eats turnips for his dinner every night." But happily Mr Garvey can eat tatties with his neets. Hurrah for Elbow. One of the greatest words in the English language. And lovely tunes.
  • Duffy. Winning every award going. But please, why must she wear those 9" heels? Is that part of her contract? She walks like Barbie. A Barbie that has been attacked by acupuncturists. Still, she sold lots of units so she wins lots of awards. Very bla frankly.
  • James Corden & his skinny Frank Spencer mate from 'Gavin & Stacey' - oooh, how did they get the job of presenting? Let's think... was it because they'd sold lots of DVD units of their sitcom? O yeah. That would be it. And how are they going to be funny? O yes, they can use the time worn 'French & Saunders' technique of dressing them up - and yes - hilarious - one of them is a bit fat. Ha ha ha. My aching corpulent sides. Hoo hoo ha. Now I'm sure they're very good at 'acting' and reading out lines but not so great at actually adlibbing and making things up. Arrogance Mr Corden can do, geniality and warmth, perhaps less well. But I'm sure someone finds him amusing. He likes himself a lot so that's a start.
  • God I'm bitter.
  • Anyone else like to step up onto the podium? Some boring Americans thanking God. Yawn. Kings? Of Leon? Leon must be very proud. You're a lovely bunch of boys. At least Brandon Flowers from The Killers made an effort and killed an ostrich to make his jacket more resplendant. Thanks, Mr Flowers. Nice name by the way. I remember your brother Mike and his band the Mike Flowers Pops. Lovely version of 'Wonderwall'. Now where were we?
  • Jive Bunny & The Master Mixers AKA The Pet Shop Boys. Now I bow to (almost) no man or lady in my admiration for the first 2/3rds of The PSB's career. Fabulous. Clever. Danceable. Cheeky. Chris Lowe wearing a hat, not moving, a Kraftwork robot come to life. Neil Tennant looking like the uncle your mum wanted you to admire. "Now your uncle Neil, he had some common sense. Got himself a job at that Smash Hits magazine. Didn't put his all into the pop music thing. He doesn't live in a shed like your Uncle Guy. Never did marry though, did your uncle Neil. One of those 'confirmed batchelors.'" Thanks, mum.
But Brits!!!! Brits 2009. What were you doing with the Pet Shops? Ok, a medley of hits - fine - but all 24 tracks off the greatest hits album in 3 minutes? Why not just get the announcer to list the titles quickly? Or have a scrolling feed of the titles at the bottom of the screen? And yeah, I know Zavvi closed and Woolworths closed and times are hard - but - this is not the time to bring back Jive Bunny and the Master Mixers. The Stars on 45 remix of the Pet Shop Boys!!! Let them sing a song. One song. And tell Lady GaGa to go away.
  • I'm not sure I should get started on The Ting Tings & Estelle. Just... when you 'mash' 2 songs together - shouldn't there be a smidgeon of coherence? Or else it's just 2 people singing different songs at the same time. Like overhearing your neighbour's radio and turning yours up to compete with it. Just an opinion like.
  • And why do I still have an opinion..... I obviously care too much. I need to give it up. But it's a tradition and part of the fun is slagging it off, I guess. Audience participation. Next year let Michael Jackson and Jarvis Cocker present it. Or bring back Mick Fleetwood and Sam Fox. And decide the winners by lottery, just for a laugh. Of course, you can either disagree or not care. I enjoyed not enjoying it frankly, if you know what I mean?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Why writing essays is hard all of a sudden.

Ooooh!!! No one ever told me I was gonna have to do all these essays when I signed up for these courses.

Did they? yeah, well, they probably did. I just wasn't listening. And anyway, it's fun at the beginning. It's a novelty & you're proving you can do it. You assume you an just go - witter, witter, I'm very clever, these are my opinions, witter, witter - the end.

Then you get your essay back and you get like 40% and you think, what? I spent ages do that! 'Harvard Referencing'? What's that when it's at home. Structure? Reasoned argument? Conclusion? Pah....

Writing blog-style nonsense is easy, but these academic johnnies don't want rubbish jokes and random opinions. Why not? What's wrong with ill-informed unstructured ramblings, Mr Professor? Welcome to the modern world! This is how we bloggers write!!! We're sure we know all the answers and the only research we do is on Wikipedia....... well I'm talking for myself here. I also use the Internet Movie Database. But that's not much use when you're doing an English MA & a teaching qualification.

Although I was tempted to quote Michelle Pfeiffer in one of my recent Learn-to-be-a-Teacher essays, "An interesting method of teaching poetry to ruffians is shown in the 1995 film 'Dangerous Minds' as illustrated by the following slightly dull quote:
Mr. Grandey: This wouldn't happened to have been their reward for reading poetry would it?
Louanne: In my classroom, poetry is its own reward."

Yeah, Pfieffer, you tell em. But no. You have to read real books & as far as I can work out, those people in America that promise to write your essays for you if you pay em - well I gave em the money - but they aint sent me an essay yet, the buggers...

So it's hard. It's hard in a way that isn't brain surgery, cleaning floors or surviving in prison. But it's also sometimes dull.

So I've got M.A. stuff to do. I've got PGCE stuff to do and it's all *doable*. I'm not really complaining (yes I am). And being a pretend student and getting a student loan does give me time to (waste) writing other things (my long-lost novel). So I really should be grateful for my mercies. Hey! I've even got a student railcard. I can get 10% off in TopShop.... if I wanted to...

So being a student aint so terrible. But it's the being mature thing I'm having problems with at the moment. Cos I'm a mature student - I'm not supposed to be so effin lazy! I'm supposed to 'realise how important education is'. I'm supposed to enjoy it.

But this last PGCE essay - it nearly killed me. It was like a tidal wave of DULL that engulfed me. Oh it was uninteresting. I can scarcely bring myself to describe it less I send someone to sleep just reading about me not wanting to do it...

But I knuckled down and started researching it. I read the books. I surfed the web and read the appropriate articles on the subject. I downloaded the government Pdfs (Oh how I loath reading pdfs....). I fell asleep. I didn't write any blog. I wouldn't allow myself. The essay must be done.

For 3 weeks I just tried and tried. Essay writer's block. I just hit the wall. I banged my head against the wall.

I didn't have the maturity or the youthful enthusiasm. I didn't even have a dog I could blame for eating it. I considered the more modern, "My laptop exploded. Just burst into flames!" excuse.

Quality Assurance and how it impacts on you and your college; Quality Improvement and ...... oh dear. Detail and discuss the Learner's Journey and your role facilitating something or other. Evaluation.

I read so much. I cared so little. OfSted by the bedsted. And yes, I know it's important but boy was it dull. And I was such a little waster. I just couldn't help myself, I kept being distracted by everything and anything while I was trying to write it. "I'll just check my email..... Oh, I wonder what the news is....... I think I'll make a cup of tea, make a quick phone call then re-read my notes.... Is it 2am already?" I was worse than a 14 year old failing to do his geography homework.

How I yearned to write some crappy blog, some tedious Twitter, some scurrilous email gossip. Please God - no more Quality Assurance..... And don't ask me what it is. I want to forget.

But it's done. IT'S DONE!!! And now I feel bereft. Lonely. Purposeless.

The night after I completed it I just didn't know what to do with myself. "What do I normally do with my time?" I went to Asda and started to consider how Quality Improvement impacts on their checkout queuing process. I wondered if they would like my feedback. I was tempted to take my clipboard and start evaluating their customer service processes.

I fear I might have brain-washed myself. I am the saddest man alive.

I've got one more project/assignment to go for my PGCE (well apart from the hell of my personal portfolio of evidence - but I'm trying not to think about that - that's what Easter's for....).

One more then I can retire from academia....... or do a Phd. Cos as much as I hate it, I think I might be slightly addicted. A Phd in blogging? My assignment is going to be about the uses of Web 2.0 applications in the classroom.

Anyone using Twitter for something useful? No, didn't think so...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Why The Shield is the best tv show you will never watch

So what is this? Is this some programme about Iraq? The surge in Baghdad? Or a documentary about the drugs wars? But a fake documentary, right? Cos this isn't realistic, right? The camera darting about. Lots of guys with guns shoutin n kickin in doors.

Brown fellas face down on the floor gettin shouted at in a language they don’t understand. Red necks n uniformed boneheads pointin guns at their heads. It all looks a bit nasty. There's bad guys - they're the ones covered in blood lyin on the floor. But the good guys don't look that good, do they? And isn't that Franka Potente? You know - her from Run, Lola, Run & The Bourne films?

That's how it looks if you flick channels and arrive mid-episode and get to watch Vic Mackay & his Farmington police buddies headbuttin n screamin their way through another random house search. Deep in enemy territory. Breakin heads, breakin rules. Involved in a labyrinthine plot involving the murder of two police officers (by police officers), an Armenian 'money train', a Mexican property magnate, a........ no, it's too late. It really is too late for you. You either know what I'm talking about or you've had it. And believe me, I've worked to get this far.

Episode One of the final series was on tonight, and to be honest - it wasn't the greatest ever - the greatest ever would have been in series 5 or 6. But even series 3 was pretty special. And I worked my way through them. I avoided every internet article about the programme (I still do - it's finished on cable & in America & no one is gonna spoil the ending for me now).

I studiously went through series after series on dvd. Even watching the dvd extras such was my addiction - but oh yeah, I've got a bone to pick with you dvd compliers - don't have an extra on dvd 5 out of 6 - that gives away the plot twist about to be revealed on disk 6. That's annoying.

Here's 10 more reasons you'll never watch it

1. It doesn't even get good until series 2 or really good until series 3. And even then you're thinking, "It's not exactly The Wire, is it?" But then the LAPD, it's not exactly filled with sensitive chaps who make furniture for dolls' houses, is it? More likely to be guys that headbutt first, and ask questions later. And it can sometimes be hard to empathise with those guys. You have work to do as a viewer.

2. It's not realistic. Despite the docu-style handheld cameras, the lack of music, the dialogue you can't always catch. There's something very *telly* about it. The plot for one. The plot is BIG. It's like a cartoon version of Macbeth. Macbeth meets The Itchy & Scratchy Show - with chainsaws. Starring a man so male he may as well be a penis with legs. A man that looks like Homer Simpson come to life, but with none of the generous humanity or empathy of the original cartoon character.

3. Glenn Close as Capt. Monica Rawling, in Series 4, is a Mrs Thatcher style commander. No, a Hillary Clinton. You can't empathise with her either. She's as cold as ice with a heart buried somewhere deep in the past. She's a genius of denied emotional depth.

4. Forest Whittaker (Series 5) might be one of the greatest actors alive, but why are we meant to dislike him and take the side of Vic Mackey (the Homer Simpson lookalike)? How can they write it like that? How can they make us want Mackey to outwit him? Why is it all so utterly unnerving?

This cop investigating corruption - Whittaker plays him like a divine madman. An avenging angel sent down into the 5th circle of Hell to pray on Mackey. Peck at his head like a carrion bird. He is a man to scare the living daylights; he is a man able to scare the dead & shiver their cold bones. He digs up the corpse of a murdered cop. He comes to represent the ghost of that cop. That cop that Mackey murdered. Whittaker is like the accusing Ghost in Hamlet. He demands action. He knows the truth. He twists and torments and prompts, makes Mackey doubt his own mind, before forcing him into further bouts of convoluted Mackey-avellian skullduggery.

Whittaker and his strange squinty eye, his increasingly gaunt appearance, his descent into madness..... it's utterly brilliant, but it's Series 5, so you may as well forget about it.

5. Just when you think they can't come up with a more ludicrous plot line than, ummm, 4 cops stealing 12 squillion dollars, then latino counciller David Aceveda gets raped at gunpoint. And the act is filmed on someone's mobile phone. So Aceveda has to go and find them and revenge them (kill them) before anyone finds out what's happened. It would not help his political career to have that vid out there on the internets. That's a grim story. You wouldn't like that. And I've spoiled the story for you. Just as well though.

6. It's really all just about the impotence of middle-aged men. The realisation that they can't own or change the world. It's Nick Hornby with shotguns, drug lords and torture. Hang on, that sounds interesting...

7. Weirdly, if you really do like all that violence, shouting, running around and getting your head messed with by immoral plotlines and blurred boundaries between 'good & evil' - you end up having to put up with real life issue about childcare, the difficulties of teaching dyslexic children, and sexism, homophobia and race issues in the workplace. Yeah, all that liberal crap. How does a Christian cop cope with his homosexual desires? How does a single mother return to working full time as a front line police officer so soon after giving birth? How did they wedge all that *issuey stuff* in there?

8. Did I mention the fact that you're 7 series behind? And that the best series is the 5th one? The madness of The Shield has cascaded and whirled by Season 5. The bloody hands of the dead are reaching for Vic. Like dead souls in the 5th circle of Hell. Everyone wants a piece of him. He is a man apart. Alone. Intense. Afraid. But not able to admit any of that to anyone. Like so many embittered, ranting middle-aged men they are afraid of failure and aware of their own mortality. Only if they plunge in and enter into the fight can they, like the ageing bullfighters they are, prove their worth, their masculinity, their power and so their glory. Vic Mackey is an existential hero in his own world. The world does not revolve around him. He makes the world spin. He is the God of his land. Woe betide those that strike up against him.***

*** Did I mention that in order to believe in The Shield - you sometimes have to put your sense of humour on a shelf and go with the flow. Be prepared to accept the Shakespearean nature of the thing? Yeah, well, y'do. And did I also mention that point number 8 is really just point number 6 dressed up in a frilly shirt? Well, that's all just part of the Nietzschean nature of eternal recurrence - well, hey, I said this was gonna be pretentious didn't I? It's okay. You've given up, that's allowed. I'll do the last two on my own. It's better this way...

9. The title music. It's pretty bad, I'll give you that. Jaggg da jagg da jagg ahhhhhhhh... No. That's off putting, I can imagine. You have to push past it.

10. I would give you some cute quotes but I'm not sure there are any. It doesn't work like that. It's all about the power of old fashioned storytelling, convoluted structures, deep character, and some mighty mighty plot reverses. Who would have thought that would have happened at the end of series 5? But yeah, obvious really when you think about it, right? But yeah, I'm just gonna enjoy the last few episodes. I know it's not real. I know it's silly. But it's entertainment. Violent, nasty, stupid, clever, amusing, thoughtful entertainment. The best kind....

Friday, February 13, 2009

Why I hope he's gay

So there's this guy right. Yeah, I know what you're thinking, that's how it always starts. The confession... But there's this guy. He works in the university library as some sort of computery fixy person. He twiddles wires and does that I.T. click, click - wait ... click, click, sigh ... *smug grin* ... click, click - pushes his chair back and stands up - the problem is fixed for the poor admin person.

The poor admin person then gives the I.T. man a sad grin and has to carry on with her job. Secretly she had been wishing for a total Network blackout. A chance to write things down on a few bits of paper - a bit of a crisis - a chance to blame technology - anything other than sitting there like a supermarket check-out girl - zapping and stamping book after bloody book...

So, there's this guy. He works at the university library. We've got that far. He's got big burly hairy forearms. Forearms like a pig's hind legs. He wears rugby shirts, baggy jeans and trainers. He's got a close cropped beard and a stubble shaven bald head. He doesn't seem to say very much. And he's about 20 stone.

And watching him at work I couldn't help thinking: I really hope he's gay.

Cos if he's gay: he's a big bear of a man. He'll be wanted and prized. Cos he fits into that big hairy man category. Someone will like that look. (Or so I've heard)

Result: positive self-image, shags, possible string of non-geek mates to go out drinking and carousing with - he might even be in a loving, caring relationship. What do I know about any of this? Hmmm.

But if he's straight: then he's a fat, bald IT geek. And last time I looked there wasn't a community of women queuing up to get in those guys' pants:

"Smart professional female VGSOH, 23, seeks fat IT nerd for weekends of data programming & Blake's Seven marathons."

Yeah. I know. That does sound like fun. You want to me to give him your number. Okay.

But really? Whilst personality goes a long way, it's gonna have to go a very long way for our IT guy if he's gonna compete in the cut & thrust of the speed dating scene - or the cut & paste of the online dating scene.

Or maybe he's happily married with 3 kids. After all, while women might have more of a universal standard of gorgeousosity - they can be pretty accepting and forgiving of physical imperfections. Except when they look in the mirror. Umm, perhaps that's why... So perhaps he's a jolly fat man with a portly wife and 3 grinning kiddies of various sizes. Let's stay positive.

I started off wanting him to be gay. Now I want him to be married. I need to just let this guy live his own life! Leave him alone to plug in cables, can't you!?

Next time I'm in there I'm going to tell him how much I admire him. But not in a gay way...

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Why does Hollywood like 'Manchester' so much?

Charlie: Never disrespect a fellow Mancunian.
Naomi: You're from Manchester then?
Charlie: I am. The band got its start at the Night and Day Bar on Oldham Street.
I've been watching Series 3 of Lost - it's what you do when you're too much of a vegetable to read books - you lie around in bed and watch dvds of tv series you never managed to watch first time round. Well, it's either that or watching property & antique valuation programmes on BBC1 - and spending your time like that is likely to make you sick. Mentally damaged.

But for those that don't know (and there's no reason you should) one of the main characters in Lost (a programme about a bunch of people who crash in a plane and are lost on a desert island bla bla - if you don't know now it's too late for you - but then with box sets - it's never too late...)

Anyhoo, back in the real world Charlie was in a briefly famous rock band from Manchester. Y'know the type, his lead singer brother was completely hedonistic and was always getting wasted on drink and drugs. Charlie was the more sensible and creative one. Yeah, that's right, Charlie is Noel Gallagher without the eyebrows. So that's fine, that's amusing and the actor Dominic Monaghan's Manc accent is pretty convincing for someone from Stockport...

And I love the slightly cartoonish flashbacks to the silly band and his silly brother and occasionally accurate references to learning to swim at Pontins and playing gigs in Blackburn, but then he has a flashback to his dad teaching him to swim - his supposedly Mancunian father...

Listen for yourself (ignore the mawkish Elton John song in the first 10 seconds) and wait for dad to appear - where does he come from?

a) Manchester
b) Scotland
c) Canada

Hmmm, I have no idea. Is his dad meant to be Scottish/Manc? Just odd. But why do Mancs turn up in these tv series? It seems like they only do about 4 British accents in Hollywood:
  • Posh - usually a handsome Prince, or else he's a cad, possibly an evil villain
  • Scots - amusing Willy from the Simpsons or someone noble and down-to-earth
  • Mockney - almost always a pathetic American impersonation - from Dick Van Dyke to Don Cheadle's cheesy effort in Ocean's Eleven.
  • Then you've got the random Mancs.
There's never any Brummies (too weird and hard to understand, I guess), no Geordies (ditto), no Northern Irish (umm ditto?). And not many Scouse - as far as I can remember. All would need subtitles in Ohio. But a vaguely Northern, nominally Manc accent - that'll work, right? And it signifies a certain down-to-earthness that probably goes down well in the mid-west. Well, it's a theory. Even if it isn't an interesting one. But it is a good excuse to post a clip of Anthony La Paglia (an Australian actor) as *Mancunian* Daphne's brother in Frasier. It's very hard to watch. It'd be funnier if he was trying to be a Brummie, that'd be really hilarious...

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Why I'm NOT allowed to make references to 'Mind Your Language'

So teaching. I remember that. I remember how I flounced out of my previous teaching placement at (nameremoved) College. Difference of opinion la la la. Say no more. But obviously I needed to do some more practice. Practice getting better. And being less flouncy.

But December/January wasn't a great time to be looking for a new placement. This 'Christmas' thing was happening and no one was answering my emails. Then apparently it was 'New Year' and no one was answering my phone calls. Hmmm. Work shy.

But happily now it is February and all is well. (Why can I never spell Feburary - it makes no sense - and if I'm to be an English teacher I need understand these basic rules "r before u especially after b"?)

All is well but all is very changed. New college, new course to get my head round, new students - all new. Not GCSE, not A2 or AS, but ESOL. Yes, that's right, come on, everyone knows what ESOL is, right?

I do. I've looked it up (a while ago). English for Speakers of Other Languages.

See, you worked that out anyway. So not chippy teenagers trying to put one over on the 'student teacher' but, well, people from overseas, wanting to learn English.

How odd. Not what I had in mind. Not something I'd ever really considered before to be honest. You hear about people going abroad to teach English (TEFL). You can get that qualification in about a month as far as I can work out. It always seemed quite an exciting idea if you were a young graduate to flounce off to Tokyo and teach English, have affairs, go to the Sudan, organise a lesson where you call a teddy bear a name that ends up getting you arrested.

But, teaching people from overseas English in Britain, you rarely hear about that. My last memory of it (for those old enough to remember the dark politically uncorrect years of the 1970s) was: 'Mind Your Language'.

As Wikipedia describes it: "The series focuses on the adult students of the English as a Foreign Language class in a London school. The classes take place in the early evening, and are taught by Mr. Brown. The class consists of foreigners with varying degrees of English proficiency. The humour of the show is derived from the students misunderstanding English words or terms, and plays up to the cultural stereotype of their individual nation of origin." A series for which the phrase, "not politically correct" was probably invented...

Although, that's pretty funny actually. I'm sure there are are lots of offensive bits and highly dubious racial stereotyping (especially of the Asian characters I seem to remember) but really all that's happening in that clip is: this speaking English lark, this teaching lark - it's hard. Misunderstandings are funny. Understanding someone speaking in a different language is hard. So hard, it's a joke. Like I really need to brush up on my grammar and to ensure that I know the answers - or admit that I don't. "I'll get back to you on that one..." Best to be honest. What is the pluperfect tense? Why is there no plural of sheep? Why does my local greengrocer sell vegetables labelled 'corjets' & 'auberjeans'?

So that is my new adventure. It's new and I'm enthused (although temporarily off sick).

I'm teaching at Level 2 - which is (apparently) one step below the GCSE equivalent - but really isn't. It's a way to go to get there. Some of the students have only been in the country since September. But those ones are young and seem to pick it up all too easily - although they're also the most prone to the usual mobile phone misuse and general messing about. Oh! The youth of today...

But it's nice and good that people coming here want to speak English, that they are prepared to put in the effort - do homework - and in the meantime work in rubbishy cleaning jobs. I think you need a decent standard of English to become a citizen too, which is also a good thing, I'm sure.

So in some ways they don't have a choice, but in other ways some of them do. Lots of people live within their ethnic communities and survive with very little knowledge of English. In fact, in some ways, the larger the community is, and the more resources it has, the less need there is to actually learn the language of the country. Like Brits on the Costa Del Sol or in Dubai, if you've got everything laid on for you: entertainment, shops, jobs, tv channels, friends - why would you bother learning a difficult second language?

So I bow down (not literally) to my new students and hope that they will be hard working and willing. Although I already know that some of them like to be cheeky and turn up late, and want to leave early and leave their mobiles turned on cos they're expecting a very important call from bla bla bla.....

That's just part of what being a teacher is all about. Learning to cope with that sort of billshut.

All the same, the mix of students is very interesting, being made up primarily of asylum seekers (and those granted asylum? I'm not sure yet) Iraqi Kurds, Eritreans, Iranians, Somalian women, people from the Congo - then in the higher ability levels various European nationals: Russians, Polish people, young people from Spain. A mixture of economic migrants from eastern europe (with a sprinkling of young people from Spain coming to Manchester because it's Manchester), and people from countries where they threatened with death due to some religious, racial or political reason.

But I'm not there to decide on cases or reasons why some get sent back and some don't. I'm just there to help them speak English. I like that. It makes life more simple. Makes me feel like I know why and what I'm supposed to be doing. I didn't feel that so much when I was teaching bored students to get a slightly higher grade at GCSE. So maybe this is right for me. Maybe I am Mr Brown from 'Mind Your Language.'

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Why snow seems almost impossible to understand the first time you see it.

Snow! 1.3 Billion lost by the economy in a day. But hang on - if the bankers don't turn up at work, that might prevent them losing more money. And we can build igloos. I've got one for sale for £20,000 if anyone's interested. Perfect for someone affected by the credit crunch. Outside toilet, obviously. In fact, buy it quick, it won't last. It's more of a Igslush really. Ideal as an outside play area for a dog, perhaps (a slush puppy).

This is the first snow, real, snowball snow for years, as far as I'm concerned. At least 2 years. In Victorian days people used to skate across the Thames, how cool would that be? Imagine the consternation on the faces of the Dickensian characters totting up the billions of pounds lost in a day...

I can't help thinking this is one of the things that makes Britain Great. The fact that we're sometimes a bit rubbish at stuff. That everything isn't terribly organised. And whilst that's annoying when it's a train you're waiting for, it does allow us to improvise and bring out our playful side. Dunkirk is remembered as one of our greatest national achievements - and that wasn't organised, just people doing their best. Necessity is the mother of invention. Or else stay at home and put on a jumper. What is it with people not wanting to put a cardy on these days - Grumpy Old Man head on - for flatmates' benefits - it's winter. Put on a jumper before you turn up the central heating again. Thanks.

Of course, the snow will be rubbish when it freezes and I fall over on my botbot on the ice. But I was walking down the road in my current superslow style earlier - and it was school kicking out time. And there were contrasting pictures:
  1. Dad/mum delivering children home in the car. Telling them not to dillydally and get themselves in the house. Kids fascinated by the thick dollops of snow on the garden wall - tempted, oh so tempted to start chucking snow pies at each other - dad shouting again. Kids disappear inside.
  2. Random lads marching home purposefully. Carrying piles of snow, off to have some great battle or build a snow robot.
  3. Wistful kids slightly bemused but delighted by it all. Sweeping snow off the top of cars, not sure whether to collect the snow or just watch it fall in big cold sheets. It really was like they didn't know quite what they were supposed or allowed to do.
This observer makes the observation: kids should be allowed to walk home on their own if at all possible - or with their friends - or in a big gang of loosely supervised kinder - (though not allowed near roads if they're little). You learn more when you're not being told what to do. Learning by doing... What's the betting the car kids put the telly on as soon as they got in... Get outside - but put a pair of socks on your hands though - kittens for mittens - we don't want your gloves getting ruined.

As an adult I remember waking up on Christmas day in Edale a few years back - in a complete white out. It was very scary but we had a guide. Nature is dangerous and beautiful and in Britain we have the most unpredictable, changeable climate going. Isn't that great? So if you're going walking, pack your waterproofs. But I wouldn't have gone up Snowdon when there's snow at ground level, it's crazy nasty up there in July.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Why a general anaesthetic can give you the hee-bee-gee-bees

So. Where was I? How long was I asleep for? It seems like an age since I sat here typing in this blogger box. And it is. Anyone would think I had died.

Well I didn't. But I am a bit sore, if you're asking, and I know, imaginary reader, that you're not. You come here to find the answers to some of the most important questions of the day and were frankly disappointed that I didn't have anything to say about Prince Ginger and his naughty talk - but hey, Royals making a fool of themselves, they're like buses going down Oxford Road, there'll be another one along in a minute.

My feeling on the matter - seeing as how you didn't ask - is that the mistake is expecting them to act like normal folk. Either chop off their heads, or bow down and obey them unquestioningly. That's your basic choice, I'd say.

Otherwise why not just have excellent robotic royals. That'd bring the crowds in. Look at those tourists queuing outside Madame Tussauds to see some unconvincing waxworks. Imagine the the queues if there was a fantastic up-to-date Terminator style android Prince Harry. That'd bring the crowds in. And we could send him off to fight wars without having to worry about the threat of death or casual racism. Job done. Next...

But I'm wittering like someone who is under the influence of very strong painkillers.

Where was I (part 2)? Yes. Operations where they put you to sleep. I've just had one and luckily my age old fear - not from dying on the operating table - but that they get me confused with the bloke that's having the sex change - didn't happen. Imagine waking up to that:
"Hello Mary Sullivan, I'm glad to tell you that the operation was successful, we didn't have a great deal of material to play with, but we did what we could, and we have made it into quite a convincing va-"
"-Sorry? Can I just stop you there? Did you just call me, Mary?"
"Yes, isn't that how you wanted to be referred to after you'd had your willy chopped off?"
"Ummm. Errr. I wasn't planning..."
"And we'll have you back in in 2 weeks to have your breasts fitted."
"Hang on. You've chopped off my winkle, and now you're telling me you're gonna to fit me with bosoms?"
"Yes. Is there a problem?"
"Oh well. I wasn't so happy about the first part, but I get breasts, so... Swings and roundabouts I suppose."
Anyway, that didn't happen. That was the first thing I checked. Although I am booked in to have my boobs fitted in 2 weeks. Okay, I'm lying.

The point is: it's a little bit scary isn't it when they send you under. Well to be honest I wasn't that scared cos I hadn't eaten or slept much for the previous 18 hours so I just wanted to get on with it, but in the days leading up to it you do start doing a bit of *what if* thinking. And obviously the worst thing you can do is watch Paul Newman's Oscar nominated performance in The Verdict [YouTube here of a lovely Mr Newman speech from the film]. The moral of that film is - make sure you tell em when you last had something to eat. Or things can get a bit grim...

My memories of general anaesthetics go back to when I was a kiddywink in the dark ages when they used to give you "the gas" when you were having a tooth out. The mask came down over your face - you blacked out - and then you woke up crying and muttering jibberish - while your mum led you out and took you out to the bus stop. Where you'd still be crying and jibbering and probably hoping no one from school saw you - if your brain was capable of complex thoughts like 'hope'.

I've had a few operations this year for my on-going (non-life threatening) *issue* and usually the anaesthetic bit is fairly mundane. They wheel you in, ask you when you were born, what your name is - like they've forgotten - like you haven't just told them 30 seconds previously - but given my fears of becoming something like Mary - I don't mind. Then they get you to count backwards from 20. And you can never get past 14. The ice cold brain freeze juice comes flowing up from your wrist - and you're gone...

Except this time it was a little different. For a start they had lots of learners in. So there were about 6 women checking my bits (but not my bobs) and all asking me questions at the same time. And my chief anaesthetic doctor lady was very beautiful. I was a bit... whooo... she looked a bit like Kate Middleton only 6 foot tall and she had a slightly blurred face. Well, perhaps not, but I wasn't wearing contact lenses or glasses so everyone looked a bit Monet-esque. Beautiful & blurred. It was a bit like being in a James Bond film, I couldn't help thinking - these 6 blurred beauties doing all sorts of weird things to me - lulling me into a sense of false security with their laughter and questions - before they delivered me to the evil Doctor - and then I'd wake up 30 minutes later all battered, bruised and bloody in some dark dingy room having no idea what had happened and where I was. It was a bit like that.

Except they never did the counting thing. They'd decided to up the ante. It was like the anaesthetic conversation for Mensa members or QI viewers:

Nurse lady: "I know a baby deer is called a fawn, and a baby eagle is an eaglet, but what are baby rabbits called?"
Me: "Errrmmm... bunnies?"
Nurse lady: "Hmmm. Do you think?"
Anaesthetic doctor lady: "I love the fact that a group of zebras is called a crossing or a dazzle. And it's a congregation of alligators. A skulk of foxes."
Me: "Ermmm. Nice."
Nurse lady: "A confusion of guinea fowl."
Anaesthetic doctor lady: "A parliament of owls."


That's me checking out. Waking up in a daze. But thankfully the nurse was calling me Mark not Mary, and she wasn't testing my knowledge of animal collective nouns.

They are nice though those sily collective nouns:
  • A trembling of finches
  • An unkindness of ravens
  • A yoke of oxen
There's a list of em here - but my question is - to anyone who might be undergoing surgery any time soon, did they know I was bored with the counting thing - or is this QI style cleverness standard practice now? I think we should be told...