Thursday, 31 January 2013

The Guardians

Do we have "gardien(ne)(s)" in English? I'm sure if we did they'd be "building managers" or "block supervisors,"  because we seem to love over-complicating our jobs in English. This was the subject of our French lesson this evening, and it was quite fun. Apparently there's a stereotype, or cliché in French. I'm not being facetious; according to the excellent (and, for its excellence, incredibly cheap) book The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through The Hidden Connections of the English Language, cliché is "a technical word in printer's jargon for stereotype."

I much prefer Thursday lessons, and being partnered with an Indian guy is great - his accent is really, really peculiar and I have to pay attention when he talks. Although I probably won't meet any other Indian people whose only other language is French, the fact remains that not all French people have a Parisian accent, and being able to understand those who normally have difficulty will make me friends.

This morning was, I confess, like something out of my nightmares - my colleague came into the office sounding as though she was not only at Death's door but had married Death and was being carried across the threshold by the same. She could barely even speak.

While maintaining my distance as artfully as I could, I tried to convince her to go home. It worked, thank goodness, but I suspect I didn't manage it soon enough - I can already feel the tickle in my throat that indicates approaching sickness.

However, I have been cheered enormously by a package that arrived today from my family. Behold:

With the address blacked out, I'm lucky I got it at all.

At this point, you could be forgiven for thinking I was excited about a box. But it's not just a box. Inside:

That's right. They sent me a box of spices. I love spices, they make cooking more exciting and can turn any dish into a masterpiece. So imagine how upset I was when it turned out my mother had played a cruel trick on me, and sent me only old newspapers:

But wait! What's that, hiding underneath?


Dark chocolate Lindt Lindor balls. Green & Blacks selection. An InterRail book, because I'm tempted to go adventuring and two tailor-made shirts my brother brought back from Hong Kong.

My family are awesome. 

Thank you for sticking with me through that, by the way, it was long-winded but I feel it was worth it.

Tomorrow is Friday; the weekend beckons with lessons aplenty to give. And possibly a frog to gut.

I should have eaten before writing that...

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Rules for happy cohabitation

That's the title of the French homework I'm writing at the moment, and I feel like it's got a little out of hand. So far we have:
  1. When you leave the apartment, remember that you are representing the apartment and everyone in it. So suit up.
  2. We salute all officer ranks. Anyone who does not salute pays a forfeit. 
  3. If we want to go out and your girlfriend makes you stay in, you will be mocked.
  4. On April 1st all bets are off. Seriously. Watch your back. 
  5. If there's a tie on the door, come back in half an hour.
  6. If there's still a tie on the door, go back to 5.
In the original there were things like no pets and no children, and silence after 10. These are boring. In fact, in my rules you get extra points for short-term baby-napping and any exotic pets.

Spiders, by the way, are not pets. Things that people normally try to avoid living with are not pets. This bracket includes spiders, ants, and Piers Morgan - although, America, you're looking after him so well that you can keep him.

If you have any other ideas for rules, please let me know.

I've also just discovered this and, best of all, it's almost silent - just an amazing score. No speech, so this is brilliant for anyone with any level of English. Share this with your foreign family, friends, anyone.

Honestly. If you don't love this I strongly suspect you're not even human, and I so hope you are. Proving David Icke right would be the low point of anyone's career.

My day today has been pretty good; I'm in charge of the website for the next week so here's hoping nothing goes so wrong that I can't fix it. My old office is in the final stages of being packed up and, much like the books I've been backing, looks very odd with nothing inside. It's also meant I've had to check over DVDs that have have come back with complaints, and strangely I've found no problems - which means either they're wrong, or I've got a magic laptop.

I hate to assume anyone else is wrong, so looks like I've got a magic laptop.

Arthur C. Clarke, you were right!

(Arthur C. Clarke was a science-fiction writer who used his powers for good, unlike Mr Hubbard. He coined the phrase "Sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" and, at a time when I can speak to a friend in Australia instantaneously, I think he's right.)

So my afternoon consisted of watching films at high speed, checking to see if there were any issues. I went straight out and bought trainers after that, as my former ones have given up the ghost. I will take care of these ones. Maybe. I did a two-mile gentle jog tonight; hardly marathon winning but the area in which I live is gorgeous, so when I fall to the ground feeling like my legs are solid and rubbery I can stare at a gorgeous panorama of stars with my rapidly tunneling vision.

This keeping fit is going to kill me.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

There is no "overkill." There is only "open fire" and "time to reload."

Today's been a mixed bag. I've been calling up alumni of the school and asking in what I imagine is a very nagging voice why they've not updated their email addresses. I don't enjoy disturbing people like that, but it needs to be done, and it's good French practice - nothing like a sudden unexpected question to make you wonder how to speak French.

Lunch was disappointing, to say the least - the broccoli was over-salted, the meat was reheated from yesterday and the overall dish was overpriced. Lunch is usually the highlight of my day, and to have it be so awful is aggravating in the extreme. Food should be a delight, and usually the French do it very well. When people are brilliant at something and then don't bother to do that thing, it's irritating.

The source of my discomfort is not simply the lunch; it is rather that a friend of mine has great talents but doesn't utilise them. The link is immediately apparent, of course, and it drives me utterly bonkers. To be incredible at something and to ignore that potential is beyond crazy. And I don't even believe in God, I think you've got those talents by sheer chance. Go forth and use them. Make awesome things. Do awesome stuff. Be incredible.

The afternoon was given over to talking my colleague through the website designer we've got; it's a really simple set-up but there are a few things one has to do that aren't entirely obvious, so we worked through that slowly until she got it. It still freaks me out that there are kids who don't remember a time before the internet. I can remember our IT teacher telling us about this amazing thing called e-mail, and had us email our parents. It was the most incredible thing ever.

A French lesson followed that, and I have to confess that I completely misunderstood last week's assignment. Like big time. We just had to present something, anything, on the topic of "Resolutions." Other people had brought cartoon strips or adverts. I memorised a forty line monologue from a 19th Century play.

Overkill? What's that?

In any case, I'm now absolutely certain about what I'm doing for next week, and have to write something for Thursday too. Tomorrow my colleague goes on holiday to Spain - nice for some - and as she is currently the source of most of my work, I'm hoping to pitch an idea for a multi-cultural video to encourage potential students to come here with my free time. It'll be quite an effort, but I'm excited - and of course I can put some of that spare time into coding as well.

I've got a call to make to Australia, so you must excuse me, but in the meantime here's the source of the quote that makes up this blog title:

It's from a brilliant webcomic, and you can find it here.

Monday, 28 January 2013

The Age of Aquarius

January is drawing to a close, and work in the office is drying up. I'm casting around for a new project and have a little idea I've been kicking about for a while, so I might pitch that to my supervisor tomorrow. It involves filming and a multiplicity of languages, which are two of my favourite things. Fingers crossed I get permission and get the interest to make it happen.

Speaking of making things happen, my teaching colleague has outlined what she would like from a new and shiny "Language Hub" website. It looks like a three month job for someone who knows what they're doing and I don't know what I'm doing. I've not learnt HTML or CSS coding yet.


The fact is, I like a challenge, and learning how to code will look fairly slick on my CV alongside a new website. Of course, to get the slick look she would like, I will have to squeeze money from the boss of bosses in a recession. It's going to be tricky, and I suspect I shall be stuck - without the money to make it shiny my colleague will be disappointed, but I can't imagine the funds being released at the moment. It's a puzzle.

I sat in in a couple of coaching sessions today, which were really interesting. The professors in question teach a lot, so their level of English is fairly high already, and I was pleased to be able to bring some new ideas to the table. The Economics professor in particular seemed puzzled that I could talk about elasticity, consumer surplus and the free market but I quite like Economics. It helped a little that I'd spent a couple of hours on the phone to a friend refreshing my knowledge, but I quite like learning as much as I can about everything. He offered me the opportunity to sit in on a few of his classes and help with translations where needed, and I have to say I jumped at the opportunity - a bit more education in disparate fields is pretty much what I aim for in life. Petroleum Economics Management, come at me.

This evening's class was harder, because we're moving into areas where my student struggles a little more. She knows the rules, and when she talks slowly she's brilliant, but she has difficulty getting the ideas out and the frustration clearly bugs her. We let up after forty-five minutes and moved on to conversation, and for next week I've asked her to write a small text. It feels very strange giving someone older than me homework, but it's what I have to do.

A frantic email got me worried but it was just a friend excited about a prospective future job, so with the wind snatching at my clothes I rang her back and we chatted as I strolled home. It still blows my mind, backwater redneck that I am, that I can talk to someone an hour in the past and hundreds of miles away as though they were right next to me. Mind-boggling.

I've finally sorted out a present for my sister, thank goodness, and now I am going to memorise a forty line monologue in French.

And some people say I'm boring.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Sunday was brought to you today by innocent

If you've not tried innocent's fruit juices do it now. Right now. They are excellent. I've just drunk an entire bottle of orange juice. That stuff is amazing.

Sunday didn't start off so well; I woke up to pouring rain and on my run discovered that my shoes aren't as waterproof as they once were. They've also got more holes than I'm really comfortable with, the number of which is one. The one I insert my foot into. As a result, I've got to head to town tomorrow and buy some new shoes, and I'm feeling Kalenjis - they've got great reviews and they're less than 20€.  Absolute steal.

I met my two new students today, Clémence and Louis. Clémence watches a lot - a lot - of American programming, and this in tandem with her studies means she speaks excellent English. Her brother, Louis, is a little unsure of himself, but needn't be. The only problem with them is the more complicated English; it's hard to structure lessons around the little corners of their ignorance that still need illumination. I'm excited by the challenge though; coming up against barriers is useful because if I don't know where the problems are I can't work through them.

I'm writing this listening to Animal Farm on the BBC; it's absolutely brilliant and, since it's on the radio, available throughout the world. Those students of mine who read this blog should listen to it, especially if they have access to the book as well. If you can't see what Orwell meant by it, if the metaphor is not clear within ten minutes, then ask. But I suspect you will work it out.

My line learning is getting there; I've got most of the lines down, it's just stringing them together that's proving to be a little tricky. One more push this evening and I should be settled.

Helped a friend out with some Economics and it made me realise how much I miss it, although hearing that Clémence also studies Russian has made me want to take that up too. There are simply not enough free hours in the day. I need more time!

Unfortunately, a friend posted a clip on Facebook from 30 Rock, and now I'm doing nothing but wanting to be Alex Baldwin, and take up acting.

Dorian Gray was a full. He was young for years and wasted it on hedonism and opulence. If I could live forever...

Do I know any good painters? No reason...

Saturday, 26 January 2013

The night I drank whisky

Whisky, like coffee and socks for Christmas, is something one really only appreciates as one gets older.  Last night I put some serious effort into appreciating a bottle of 12-year old MacAllan, along with about a litre of very fresh, very strong coffee and a bar of 85% cocoa chocolate. Considering the disparity in levels between the bottle when it was opened and the bottle when I opened bleary eyes this morning and saw it on my desk, I don't feel entirely awful.

Yesterday was a weird day. The move is almost ready to go - I foresee us heading upstairs in the next three weeks or so - but with my material all over the place I was pushed to my colleague's office, as she doesn't work Fridays. I managed to finish off the three translations I got on Thursday and emailed them to be verified by our - let's say boss. We have a sort of civil service system in place, which I find interesting as it's one of the places I've always seen myself ending up.

My colleagues are permanent assistants to the Association, and we all work for the Association. But the Association needs to be "lead" by someone, and those people are Alumni. They come from different areas of oil and gas and are fascinating people but they are also not translators, accountants or web designers. As a result, I find myself translating documents for someone who will read it and be able to tell, with 90% accuracy, if it's English or not.

I can see why civil servants get frustrated by ministers who breeze in and out and who are, from the viewpoint of a "lifer" in the service, here today and gone tomorrow. Gove is in charge of education, for goodness' sake, and the only contact he's had with that field is because he was once a child and was, despite all appearances, educated.

In any case, I got the work done to my satisfaction and also read through a CV and cover letter for a student. We also discussed interview techniques, and I've set aside some time for him to practise with me next week.

Today I've got several pages of work to do, including lesson plans for the new students (starting tomorrow, very exciting!) and for Monday's student. I've also got to learn a sketch for Tuesday's French lesson; I've set myself the task of learning "le tirade du nez" from Cyrano de Bergerac. This is how Russia's newest film star does it:

It's a little hard to translate, for those who don't speak English, but when Steve Martin remade it and called it Roxanne he updated them and, while they lack the flow of the French, they're not bad:

For those who do speak French, see if you can spot the one or two lines which have been literally translated. For those who don't...

Here is an English version. It feels a trifle forced, but it's otherwise excellent. Which is better, Martin's updated version or the translation?

Ah no! young blade! That was a trifle short!
You might have said at least a hundred things
By varying the tone. . .like this, suppose,. . .
Aggressive: 'Sir, if I had such a nose
I'd amputate it!' Friendly: 'When you sup
It must annoy you, dipping in your cup;
You need a drinking-bowl of special shape!'
Descriptive: ''Tis a rock!. . .a peak!. . .a cape!
--A cape, forsooth! 'Tis a peninsular!'
Curious: 'How serves that oblong capsular?
For scissor-sheath? Or pot to hold your ink?'
Gracious: 'You love the little birds, I think?
I see you've managed with a fond research
To find their tiny claws a roomy perch!'
Truculent: 'When you smoke your pipe. . .suppose
That the tobacco-smoke spouts from your nose--
Do not the neighbors, as the fumes rise higher,
Cry terror-struck: "The chimney is afire"?'
Considerate: 'Take care,. . .your head bowed low
By such a weight. . .lest head o'er heels you go!'
Tender: 'Pray get a small umbrella made,
Lest its bright color in the sun should fade!'
Pedantic: 'That beast Aristophanes
Names Hippocamelelephantoles
Must have possessed just such a solid lump
Of flesh and bone, beneath his forehead's bump!'
Cavalier: 'The last fashion, friend, that hook?
To hang your hat on? 'Tis a useful crook!'
Emphatic: 'No wind, O majestic nose,
Can give THEE cold!--save when the mistral blows!'
Dramatic: 'When it bleeds, what a Red Sea!'
Admiring: 'Sign for a perfumery!'
Lyric: 'Is this a conch?. . .a Triton you?'
Simple: 'When is the monument on view?'
Rustic: 'That thing a nose? Marry-come-up!
'Tis a dwarf pumpkin, or a prize turnip!'
Military: 'Point against cavalry!'
Practical: 'Put it in a lottery!
Assuredly 'twould be the biggest prize!'
Or. . .parodying Pyramus' sighs. . .
'Behold the nose that mars the harmony
Of its master's phiz! blushing its treachery!'

Not too long. Easy peasy!

Thursday, 24 January 2013

The Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den

Work has blossomed like love - right when I'm in the middle of something else. My room plan is utterly complete with tables, shelves and other paraphernalia one finds in a library. It looks perfect and uncluttered, unlike my desk, which is straining under the repeated assault from translations in varying states of draft. Most of the actual resources one would expect to find have been moved to other parts of the building, and my office now needs a revolving door as students line up to ask the same question, apparently hoping that for them I shall leap out of my chair and say "YES! I sent everyone to another part of the building but YOU, random student whose acquaintance I have only just made! I have been waiting all day for YOU! Take the resources I have cunningly hidden! Go forth and learn!"

That does not happen very often.

However, I've also now got three translations to finish for tomorrow afternoon and two pieces of English work from students to check over, as well as learning some piece of theatre or sketch for my French class on Tuesday and writing a one-side piece on old people in Britain, which is going to be quite good fun now I think about it. Le boo and le hiss to the Tories.

I've also done all my laundry and met a chap from America who's come equipped with five sentences and assures me that it will be enough. The arrogance of anyone who goes to live in a foreign country and doesn't bother learning the language is so enormous that I never know whether to laugh or weep. Is getting by enough? I'd understand if he'd come for a week. But six months, on an English-only programme - what cultural benefit could he gain?

I don't know. Maybe a lot; maybe I'm being a language snob.

An urgent email punctuated an exciting 4.30 meeting; a friend of mine seeking help with revision who knows that flattery is the surest way to wrap me around son doigt. So at some point tomorrow I shall be dredging my brain for Economics information, which means tonight I'll need to go over my notes.

I'm still really energised from my French class, where I was helping the friendliest guy in the world. He struggles a bit with French but speaks fluent Spanish and English, so go figure, he's already way ahead of me. Class was huge fun, because we have a professor who, like me, loves tangents. We were reading a short article in which there was a Chinese name so I asked my friend Adeline how to pronounce it.

She did. We repeated it back. She shook her head and repeated it again. We tried it once more. Some of us got it, but the rest of us didn't, and it led to a good ten minute debate in very flowing French about languages and their roots and relative difficulties. The spelling rules of English (a phrase which is ironically demonstrative, as I had to rewrite it to avoid "English's"because I'm really not sure it's right) came up as a large hazard, but the Chinese way of writing a different character for every different word trumped it. Persian apparently lent the Arabic world their alphabet, but a few letters were lost on the way, and Russian, like its semi-automatic rifles, hasn't changed in years and sounds astonishing.

I also got the chance to share some very useless knowledge, courtesy of QI - we were discussing menu, a Middle-French word that cropped up in La Fontaine and in the article that we were reading today and means small or little. I have a theory that menu being a synonym for carte came from food served à la française - whereby every course would appear together as an enormous display of opulent and stupid power, since nobody could eat it all at once and so most of it would be cold before it could be eaten. Thus un menu, a little card displaying a smaller selection, could be offered to patrons who actually wanted to enjoy their meal.  Service à la française is no longer truly practiced because, as previously stated, wasteful and stupid. It still exists in the form of the buffet but is, hopefully, dying out.

It was surpassed by service à la Russe, which may be more familiar to you - I don't know how often you eat 14 course meals. At its most basic it is the form of service we know whereby food is served in courses, thus ensuring optimum temperature and avoiding melted ice cream and cold soup. In true Russian style, you are given an empty plate, and staff circulate and serve precisely as much as you wish - a host who serves you a full plate risks either seriously underestimating you, leaving you irritable, or overestimating you, leaving you insulted and unpleasantly bloated.

Bloating is acceptable among the upper classes, but insults - never.

Work - and love - is calling my name. I'll leave you with a beautiful Chinese poem.

Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den

In a stone den was a poet called Shi, who was a lion addict, and had resolved to eat ten lions.
He often went to the market to look for lions.
At ten o'clock, ten lions had just arrived at the market.
At that time, Shi had just arrived at the market.
He saw those ten lions, and using his trusty arrows, caused the ten lions to die.
He brought the corpses of the ten lions to the stone den.
The stone den was damp. He asked his servants to wipe it.
After the stone den was wiped, he tried to eat those ten lions.
When he ate, he realized that these ten lions were in fact ten stone lion corpses.
Try to explain this matter.

Or, in pinyin (the way of writing Chinese in Roman script):

Shī Shì shí shī shǐ

Shíshì shīshì Shī Shì, shì shī, shì shí shí shī.
Shì shíshí shì shì shì shī.
Shí shí, shì shí shī shì shì.
Shì shí, shì Shī Shì shì shì.
Shì shì shì shí shī, shì shǐ shì, shǐ shì shí shī shìshì.
Shì shí shì shí shī shī, shì shíshì.
Shíshì shī, Shì shǐ shì shì shíshì.
Shíshì shì, Shì shǐ shì shí shì shí shī.
Shí shí, shǐ shí shì shí shī shī, shí shí shí shī shī.
Shì shì shì shì.

And she tells me English is difficult.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

What was Moses' basket made of?

There is something strangely satisfying about building a plan of a room. You get all the dimensions exactly right, and you measure things and then turn them into digital versions of themselves and put it all together and label it. By doing so you find out things you didn't know before. I've built up my whole office and I'm seriously pleased with it now.

Of course, it's taken about a week now and has been punctuated by exasperated yellings, but I'm learning, and learning is what I'm here to do. I've been speaking a lot more French too, and I'm working on my projection as well, which is sure to thrill Centre Stage. Centre Stage is the drama society at the University of Aberdeen, and I miss it. I may have to convince students here that they want to perform a play in English. Something where foreign accents would be entirely natural. If you have any ideas then let me know.

The audition piece from the other day has been almost universally ignored, but has gained me a charming new acquaintance. Aside from the obviously desired outcome - to whit, the director breaks down in tears and declares that the play must be delayed until this talent is returned - this is a very pleasant turn of events. Acquaintance is a word that has unfortunately fallen out of use but I find it useful because it's so neutral. It's not someone one is friends with, nor an enemy, nor a lover. It holds the potential to be any and - human nature being so complex - all of the above.

This morning the building work continued and I did my best to escape through running errands. I'm surprised anyone sleeps here at all; every errand I ran I was offered a coffee by the recipient and my French is still so poor that I'm yet to work out how to say no.

I guarantee that, like this morning, I shall wake up at 4am and be ready to face the day. I have a tidy room, a freshly made bed, I've re-read The Prince and it's still excellent - but unfortunately that means there'll be nothing left to do at 4am tomorrow morning. The perils of sleeping little. Book recommendations are gladly received, and I'll try to review any you do recommend.

Work is actually heating up now, which is really exciting, with translations coming in and plenty of Excel work. I'm becoming an absolute Excel demon, a phrase which didn't sound cool in my head but will look brilliant on my CV, I'm sure. I'm also slowly gearing up to take some of the work from my colleague, who's retiring soon, so I'm putting together proposals for a committee and consequently learning the dark arts of the same. Apparently placement, the order, the price - all come together in a certain way and can be used to influence the choosers. I'm looking forward to trying them out.

To finish, I want to say thank you for reading and pushing my blog over 5 000 views. You're awesome. A large chunk of that came from reading what I wrote yesterday so I heartily recommend my friend Kat, who writes more eloquently than I and has an infinitely more interesting life. Check her out over at Fuck Yeah, Feminist Agenda.

It's Wednesday, you're through the worst part of the week. Watch Derren Brown mess with this poor shop ownder and wonder why you bother working at all.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Girls, girls, girls

This morning was stressful. Soon my shiny new office will be ready and we will be able to start welcoming students to the new médiathèque. It may also be getting a rebranding, so that's really exciting - names are important, but not as important as the thing, as Juliet was so keen to point out - a Rose by any other name would smell as sweet. It's true; if you have a friend called Rose, ask her to pretend to be Jennifer for a day, and you'll notice she still smells of rainforests and sunlight. And sweat. Just a bit. She's human. We all are.

The problem with a shiny new office, however, is that it needs shiny new fittings and shiny new lights and that means shiny new drills need to be used to bore holes in walls, which would be absolutely top-hole and spiffing if my new office were not next to my current office. Making phone calls while a workman kicks his power drill up to 11 and goes to town on the poor wall is impossible, and conversation in the office became a little strained. Still, I powered through the tasks that needed doing, and before long I was ready to head into my basement to measure more things. My supervisor wants a plan ready for the new occupants of my basement office, and so I'm measuring and teaching myself Sketchup and very frequently cursing under my breath because I've accidentally spent twenty minutes making a gorgeous desk and only just realised it's floating two metres off the floor. And I have no idea how to get it to obey gravity, so for the moment whoever moves in next will need to make do with an anti-grav desk.

We also finally sorted out the books that we're keeping and the books that we're giving to anyone who wants them along with a load of VHS tapes and cassettes, in case Doc Brown turns up.

Not the Doc Brown from yesterday's blog. (Although thank you for reading so regularly.) The other one. Big hair. Owns a Delorean.

That's the bunny.

Incidentally, did you recognise him the first time you saw him as that destroyer of childhoods Judge Doom, from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? I did, and it was not a pleasant moment. I kept expecting him to do this:

And he didn't. I got to the end of Back To The Future and was so tense I couldn't stand up. My mother actually used me as a doorstop for an hour before I relaxed. Sensible women, my mother.

All of that was a lot of verbiage for the joke that we have VHS tapes and they're old fashioned, but I am quite sure you'll agree it was worth it. If you are a student in the place in which I work and, for some reason, have a VHS tape player, you may come and see me and help yourself at lunchtime.

I had my first French class today, which was interesting. We focussed on the future simple tense, which was quite fun. The teacher is very animated and the exercises are quite fun, so I may well appropriate them for my own classes because plagiarism is the highest form of flattery. I would say without boasting that I am one of two students with an already good level, but it's really interesting to see how I've gotten rusty through needing only relatively basic French and tenses. Several times I found myself struggling for words that I really ought to know, but it was nice to get back into the swing of speaking French with a variety of people.

It's also interesting to see where I've changed; I've not been in a classroom setting (as a pupil) for quite some time, and so I was surprised to find myself encouraging my classmates to answer and pushing them to take centre stage. Those who remember me from shared classrooms in the hazy days of youth will attest to the fact that I was an insufferable know-it-all, a boy whose arm was the greatest short-twitch muscle ever seen. I could answer a question the teacher hadn't finished asking. Hell, sometimes I even answered questions they hadn't planned on asking. I was the uncool kind of disruptive kid, the one the teacher and the rest of the students hate.

I am now a thoroughly more chilled out chappy, though that's not to say I don't get a bit cross when things like this

Taken from artist's Tumblr,
(which, by the way, is a piece of art criticising the slut-shaming, it's-your-fault-because-you-dress-like-that attitude which is way too fucking pervasive) appear on my feed titled "Use this as a reference guide." I'm bound to get a tiny bit irritated with anyone who is so apparently unable to control their animal instincts, so stuck in the Stone Age that they need women to cover up from neck to ankle. What utter twattery.

Do you know how to tell if a woman is asking for it?

She opens her mouth and she asks for it. 

She can be as naked as the day she was born and if she isn't asking then you need to man the fuck up and walk on.

Gorram, we live in a world where we have instant access to all humanity's knowledge, we live longer, we can fucking fly through the air and I still have dumbasses posting this as a "reference guide" like we're still living in caves and hunting saber-toothed-tigers and are literally only prevented from committing sexual assault because our potential victims cover themselves up. 


It's not my place to lecture anyone on feminism but: if you're a girl or a woman and you agree with that picture then think about what that means. It means you think guys should have the right to decide how you dress. It means that sexual assault is partly your fault.

And they don't. And it isn't.

Monday, 21 January 2013

The Picture of Dorian Gray

There are two parts to this blog. The first will interest those who, for reasons unbeknown to myself, are kind enough and interested enough to read the petty going-ons of my life here in France.

The second is entirely for me, and is utterly self-aggrandising. You will forgive me, I hope, but it is only a little moment and it is entirely pointless.

So: today has been a most excellent day, in which I have spoken more French than I have spoken at any other point so far. My English colleague was unfortunately snowed in today, which has meant that I have spoken nothing but French all day. Wonderful times. I will confess, however, that of all the days on which I am permitted to speak only French, today was not the perfect one - we found a disparity of some 18.000€, which is most alarming. The root is proving tricky to find when my grasp of accountancy French is not as strong as it perhaps might be.

I signed some more people up for English lessons at lunch and booked the rooms for language lessons for next week - last term I let it get on top of me, but I've learnt my lesson and will book them well in advance from now on - and then had a most interesting discussion with a young man called Juan, regarding the Bible and the "nuclear family." I am always fascinated by the process of logic by which an otherwise sensible young man throws years of education to one side and insists that although his only proof is God, it is sufficient proof to condemn gay men and lesbian women who wish to marry.

This is not the place for a furious diatribe on why, exactly, that is bollocks from beginning to end, but suffice it to say that I am for equal marriage, and anyone who wishes to oppose it will find me as their opponent. A man who says he has friends who are gay but would oppose their right to marriage does not, in my opinion, understand the meaning of friend.

Or perhaps understands it so well that he wishes to save his friend from that particular hell, but I suspect that is not the case.

In the afternoon I became my alter-ego, Technical-Help-Man, and aided in the conversion of two stubborn files for my colleagues. It is so exciting to see the older generation - I have no fear of saying that because one day, and I am sure that day is not in the distant future, that label will be applied to me - embracing technology with such fervour. I think it's important to keep everyone in the loop, and tech is becoming such an important social measuring-stick that we must all be kept up to scratch.

I left the office this afternoon tired but happy as my colleague took over to run her TOEIC preparation classes. I can foresee more classes being needed before long and a return to a later reveille but also a later départ, which I am not so keen on. We shall see. I also start French lessons tomorrow; having met some of my classmates I am confident that my level of French will be in the top quarter of the class, but we shall see what we shall see.

And now the second part, which is entirely self-indulgent. My university amateur dramatic society is putting on The Picture of Dorian Gray by Mr Wilde, a man whose tomb I recently smooched. It is one of my favourite books and to see it turned into a play without me is awful. I feel as though I have fallen asleep on Christmas Eve and woken up on Epihany. I have missed everything I have waited so long for. It is heartbreaking. It is a tragedy. It is utterly melodramatic; that is to say, I am making a great song (melos) and dance about it.

As a result I have made like Dr House and filmed my audition from a far off country. You may view the audition below or you may continue on your merry way without pause.

I apologise for the wordiness; reading Wilde always makes me so.

I can't apologise for the words, because they are not mine - which would require apology - nor are they Wilde's, in which case no apology would be needed.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Stir crazy

Snow has been falling solidly here in my little corner of France, and unfortunately I'm not likely to be able to pull a fast one and pretend I can't get to work - I can see my office from my window.

The flat hunt continues: I've spotted a couple that are relatively expensive, but the money I'm saving this year is starting to mount up a little bit, so I figured why not? I prefer to have things pre-planned, so I can move straight in and start looking for a job, another prospect I'm actually rather looking forward to - I really enjoy bar work, it's what I'm good at, so the chance to go back to it is exciting. I'm good at plenty of other stuff, but the tips aren't quite as good, although the hours are better and one doesn't usually end up at a casino having breakfast most nights.

Or perhaps you do, in which case I'd love to work in your office.

So it's on to more applications, which are incredibly boring but sadly necessary. I'm currently just making enquiries, because a CV sent now for a job in August is a little too keen, even for me. It'll get put to the top of the pile now, because I've got some good experience, but the top of today's pile is the bottom of tomorrow's and the waste-paper lining of August's. So, like a cash-strapped doctor, we must have patience.

I've got another two students for sunday afternoons which is brilliant, a boy and a girl, so I'm looking forward to meeting them. The snow continues to fall and is about 10cm deep; not much, especially not compared to Aberdeen, but the local government here don't appear to have gritted or salted the roads - so consequently the roads are an absolute nightmare. I don't have sensible shoes for this kind of weather at all; at least not here - back home I have heavy, steady hiking boots that would be wonderful. But I wasn't expecting it to snow here, and so I left them at home - and by the time they get here, the snow will be gone. My advice to third-year-abroaders is, then, pack for literally anything.

My father and brother come back from their trip today, so I hope their journeys are safe and they get in okay. He's taken loads of photos, and it would be hard to find anywhere so vastly different from here - camels and outdoor pools and sand all against a backdrop of azure skies. Here all is skeletal, cold, with white snow against a glowing grey sky providing the background. All the same, we'll see sun before long and I'm looking forward to the spring. Not the summer so much, but certainly the spring.

I've done my good deed for the day and would invite all readers to do the same; a great friend of mine from Aberdeen is hoping to raise money to go to Morocco to build a school, presumably because she felt that being bright and beautiful were not sufficient qualities in a person. She is a shining example and consequently makes me feel like I should do more helping people and less writing, so please donate to her page here and send her off to do some good.

I finally watched Bienvenue Chez les Ch'tis, and I absolutely cannot recommend it enough, especially if you need reminding that even sometimes the French are confounded by the French. The part of France closest to Blighty apparently speaks as though its inhabitants have had top-quality painkillers injected into their jaws. This, of course, is in direct contrast to England, where everyone speaks the Queen's English - nowhere is this more true than in London, our capital city:

Well, I think that's perfectly clear to everyone.


Alright, what about this chap:

The clips above are from the film Adulthood, which is well worth a watch, and the second is a guy called Doc Brown who's just amazing.

Alright, so perhaps we do have some dialects.

In any case, Lille and Calais have a very, very strange accent. I wish I'd known that when I first went with my father and spent what felt like hours trying to understand the very friendly but utterly intelligible butcher. Mind you, that struggle directly led to me improving my French and coming here so, as they would say:


Saturday, 19 January 2013

Mon Martre? Ton Martre? Everybody's Martre!

Awkwardly wedged in joke aside, I had a really good day today. My body woke me up at 8, which is kind of cool - although I don't think I'll be ditching my alarm clock any time soon. Far too neurotic to rely on my own body.

In any case, getting up nice and early gave me an opportunity for an exceedingly long and luxurious shower and a browse of this week's news. I read a little Sherlock Holmes as part of a lesson plan - my life is awesome - and made crêpes. It's the weekend, and I am firmly of the opinion that calories consumed over the weekend absolutely do not count. You will see further evidence of my faith in this along the way.

In any case, I thought I was doing rather well when I strolled out at 11 to make my way into the city. On the way out, however, I passed a Dutch friend of mine who had been up for two hours already and had been training solidly on his bike for those two hours. It would be grating if he wasn't such a nice guy.

I also got to read Kate's new blog post, after a hiatus of far too long. My friend Mary is also blogging, so for a uniquely American point of view I recommend her new blog too. Final recommendation is a webcomic that I think is absolutely amazing called Looking For Group. There are lots and lots of pages, and they're hilarious and filled with great nerdy pop culture references. If you're confused about where to begin, then I can only offer the advice of the King of Hearts:

"Begin at the beginning," the King said gravely, "and go on until you reach the end: then stop."

Excellent advice, even if it comes from a playing card.

I digress again; you must forgive these flights of fancy. I made my way into Paris, going first by bus to La Défense and from there taking the RER to the Arc de Triomphe. A stroll along the Champs d'Elysée with only a little window shopping and an awful lot of pictures brought me to the great wheel at Concorde and Cleopatra's Needle, tipped with gold, blazed in the cold winter light. After a great slew of pictures (which I shall try to edit and refine tonight) I made my way to Montmartre. It looked glorious, and the Sacré-Coeur cathedral which perches atop it and commands astonishing views across Paris is a perennial beauty. I took the stairs up and the funicular down, which bizarrely seemed to be the contrary view - coming down I had the little carriage to myself but walked past a long queue of people apparently unwilling to march up the steps. There are 300, but in the freezing cold I was glad of the increased blood flow. I was so pleased, in fact, that I stopped for a solid three-hour lunch.

Lunch consisted of a half-litre of average red, an excellent stew of beef and rice and a cheese plate.

Let me share the cheese plate with you. I can only share the image, but I wish I could have shared it with you there and then, because I'm of the opinion there was half a kilo of cheese on that plate.

Since you weren't there, my friends, I had to make the best of it. It is worth pointing out at this point that I have a mild lactose intolerance. It is not as bad as some people get it, but as I left I could feel my bloated belly straining at my belt and, fearful of buttons pinging off and removing the eye of some innocent tourist, I hastily made my excuses and left, a little merrier for the wine and the small bill. As a result I recommend L'été en Pente Douce, 8 rue Paul Albert, if you fancy an excellent meal at the top of Montmartre. Just make sure, if you order cheese, that you've a friend to share it with. Or a lactose intolerant enemy.

A quick trip home and I found that an internship whose deadline I'd missed had been re-opened, so I've spent the evening recording and re-recording myself, because I like perfection. And finally, finally! I sat down and started writing this. I began at the beginning, as the King recommended, and I have gone on until I reached the end.

So I'll stop.

Friday, 18 January 2013

The return plan

Another week over. I've got a week to decide whether or not to re-apply to the British Council and find myself journeying off to some other corner of France to teach more English. I'm finding it very tricky to decide; I'm really too old as it is - at this rate I'll be graduating in 2015 with around £30 000 of debt, which is such a large number I might need to go and lie down for a bit.

If I wasn't so confident that this time abroad and the skills I'm learning will ensure me a decent job, I'd be a hell of a lot more nervous. I'm still on the old fees, back in the days when Scotland was cheaper than England and the education of an equal level. Now - I'm sure I don't need to tell anyone reading this - it's £9 000 a year, in bonnie Scotland or green and pleasant England. A three year degree, like the one my sister is doing, is going to land her with approximately the same amount of debt as me. Incredible. Utterly incredible.

In any case, I'm really struggling because, as I said, I am way too old to be thinking about spending another year abroad and putting off graduation, but on the other hand - looking at my finances for next year is a deeply unpleasant prospect. Flat prices are higher than ever, and the only downside to this year abroad is that my ex-flatmates now have new flatmates. Such is life; I can hardly expect them to turf out someone who's been a close friend for a year just for me. So I repeat my plea; if you know of anyone moving out then I implore you to get in contact.

I did some more work with Sketchup today, and at one point managed to accidentally turn my model inside out. Obviously the first reaction is fear and surprise, but after realising it could be undone with a simple command-z, I spent fifteen minutes trying to recreate the effect. My curiosity will one day be my downfall, but perhaps it illustrates my scientific bent. A comic by XKCD illustrates what I'm trying to say:

The mouseover text, which unfortunately you can't see here, says "How could you choose avoiding a little pain over understanding a magic lightning machine?" I wholeheartedly concur.

I've spent quite a happy little day messing with Excel and making graphs in the morning before clambering around my soon-to-be-moved office trying to find the electric sockets for the room plan I'm making. I found a tool that measures things and fear I may have gone slightly overboard; my latest draft is a mess of numbers that are only understandable if you zoom in to about 2 000%. 

I've got the weekend off this week, and it's come as a bit of a shock. My student is out in Abu Dhabi (I know, poor guy) so I have two days off, and I'm really not sure what to do with them. This is where I hope my readers will come in. Amy has suggested a tearoom just outside Paris, which I'm quite excited about, but what else can you suggest? I have a whole weekend, so if you can recommend a little corner of Paris that you've stumbled upon let me know - comment below or tweet me; @jonodrew.

A Friday tune, because I suspect there's snow billowing outside your window. Have a wee bedroom dance. You can't help it.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Bards and poets and wizards

I am having a student friend for dinner. I am not sure what to have for dessert.

She's coming to sing for her supper - or rather, speak. I think stories are a great way of using tenses with advanced students, because when constructing stories we have things in the past, the past perfect, the imperfect as well as wishes, desires, hopes, dreams, ambitions and so on and so on. That's why a good storyteller is a wizard, and to be a wizard you have to be able to tell convincing stories - after all, what's a spell but a story that starts with a desire and ends in fulfillment?

And everyone has stories to tell, whether they're autobiographical (auto, Greek, meaning self- or one's own, hence automobile - self-moving and autograph, something you wrote yourself) or famous tales from one's homeland. Strange and marvelous things happen to us all the time, and they happen by chance.

Take the story of the crane operator who was an hour late to work on Wednesday and, hustling up his ladder, saw a helicopter smash into the structure above him. Two people died in this awful accident. They died because that day they got up on time, and he survived because he happened not to. That's it. The universe is random and without purpose.

Returning to stories, then, and my autobiography - my story written by me, although since it's typed - but I digress.

I have finally concluded the translation project that I thought I'd finished way back in December, so I'm going to add that to all of the important documents that make up my application for a job when I (finally) graduate. My colleague was so pleased with it that he insisted I put my name on it, and so I am now immortal - or will be, for as long as this unit is taught with this translation. Still, it's something. I've also been finalising a video - for some reason a perfectly gorgeous video in iMovie became absolute, pixelated crap when converted to .avi, but a little research and a solution was found. The internet is brilliant.

I've also taught myself the basics of plan drawing, and using Sketchup - and playing around with a lot, there's a strange sort of childish glee with grabbing a cube and deforming it like putty - I've knocked together something at which I daresay my brother would cringe. On the other hand, he's in Dubai, but because he's a really good guy the minute I mentioned I'd done it, he facebooked me and asked why I hadn't asked him. He's in Dubai and he's still willing to help me out at a moment's notice. My brother is awesome.

In any case, it's been a really interesting day, despite my first French lesson being cancelled. Next one's on Tuesday and I'm actually a little bit nervous.

So here's something fun I've found, because laughter is a natural cure for nervousness: NFL players overdubbed with very bad lip-reading. Hilarious.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

You're making things up again, Arnold

I'm extremely keen to see The Book of Mormon, from whence comes the title of this post. The reason for this title is that a student of mine asked for a story, and I was momentarily stumped. I enjoy telling stories enormously; give me a skeleton of ideas and I shall happily lay flesh on its bones - hardly a talent, as I'm sure anyone can do it.

However, to just make something up - to ask for creativity to suddenly rouse itself from slumber and behave in an orderly manner - is utterly terrifying. I applied for something at +Edelman, and have never been so thankful when they gave a solid and interesting creative writing task. I cannot feasibly imagine anything more terrifying than being under pressure and just being told to "Write something" or "Show your creativity."

All of this is by way of explaining that the high point of my day has been retelling a Norse legend about Loki and discussing the Theory of Forms which, to my eternal shame, I ascribed to Aristotle and not, as it ought to be, to Plato. I await with anxiety the displeasure of the philosophers who read this.

In the news today the shock that horsemeat has been found in burgers rumbles on, which I find very peculiar. A person who eats sheep and cows and pigs but is unsettled by horse is surely logically inconsistent. Either you eat meat, in which case you eat meat whether it be horse or pig, cow or cat. There is no reason not to. Alternatively you are a vegetarian, in which case you're probably pointing out the same thing as I am and, maybe, feeling a little smug and superior.

If you are a cannibal then I suspect you've no idea what all the fuss is about, but you might be interested to know that you are etymologically kin to Caliban, the savage in The Tempest, and that both spring from Columbus' rendering of the Carib's name for themselves.

Projects are coming in thick and fast now; a transcription, a video to be edited and more favours to beg of my brother as the move from my basement to an office with windows edges closer. For those teaching English abroad, are there any particularly good resources you can suggest for my new, 21st-century media center?

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Exponential views!

My blog will soon pass three thousand (!) hits, and I would like to thank everyone who reads regularly for making me feel like the most important person on the internet. I'm 99.9% sure I'm not, but it feels pretty good to believe so. Therefore - thank you.

I arrived back in France yesterday after a very odd Eurostar journey. We were well into France, perhaps an hour away from Paris, when the most awful din started up. It sounded like the noise that occurs when you drive your car over a newly gritted road, but since I was on a train I could not for the life of me work out what the noise was. It was seriously unsettling, and the baby seated on its father's lap evidently agreed and began bawling its lungs out.

I was struggling to get back into French mode and was hesitating a little at the ticket window when a chap stepped so close to me that I could feel his beard and asked in French if I was going to take much longer. In French, but with a British accent. A British person who had clearly been away for so long that he had forgotten common courtesies. I confess I was a little sharp with the man, who huffed and told me that he was in a hurry.

Had I then dawdled and passed the time conversing with the man behind the window about the unknowable nature of God I daresay karma would have forgiven me but I resisted. I completed my transaction with appropriate haste and made my way down to the station, standing to one side on the escalator for this be-whiskered oik pass at some speed. Despite his alacrity he was,
 sadly - so sadly! - just a little too late for the train. There was another along in three minutes, and he twitched and paced for 180 seconds. I would have liked to know what  the terrible hurry was, but like many of the mysteries we glance in the lives of others it shall always remain so - a mystery.

It is pleasant, in any case, to be back.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Apparently it snowed

You wouldn't know it from the way every damn person on your various social media collectively lost their minds and ran around taking pictures with their camera phones and exclaiming with glee that actual freaking water was coming out of the sky except colder than normal. 

For me, it was a terrific pain in the arse. Journeys are made continually more difficult by snow in the UK; I have foreign readers so it's quite hard to explain the reaction of the British transport system to snow. I shall try. If you imagine that overnight every single engine in every single vehicle across the entire country suddenly changed into a sugar cube, you have some idea of the confusion and mayhem that reigns across this little island when two centimeters of snow falls from the sky.

In any case, I was journeying up to Loughborough to meet an old friend; a flying visit, but I've been meaning to see her for a long time and the wedding proved to be an ideal opportunity. Those photos will, unfortunately, remain private for the moment (an awkwardness around their bosses' opinions of interdepartmental relationships), but I would really like to share very quickly the cake that my mother made:

So that's pretty.

In any case, I arrived at the university last night and we kicked back and caught up; introductions were made and apparently my reputation preceded me - as my friend tapped away at her essay, her flatmate with boyfriend in tow asked for my help with a verbal reasoning test. The test was part of the now-standard battery given to anyone hoping to apply for an internship in any sort of organisation, and while I'm not convinced of their efficacy, it is always a pleasure to pit my mind against the examiners.

We bashed through it with 56 seconds to spare, and I'd like to say that I helped as little as I could - most of the work came from the man himself. A nice guy, built - as all the chaps at Loughborough seem to be - like a brick outhouse, and a bit Welsh. Not too much, but noticeably so - although perhaps I sounded a bit English to him. In any case, I hope he's got it; he seems smart enough but he's basically honest while the questions are designed to be sneaky and catch out normal people.

I wound my way back to my friend's and caught sight of the first few flakes of snow puffing against the window. We stood and watched it fall for a while, and then retired to bed to watch Brave, which I have to roundly recommend to anyone who likes Disney movies, Scottish accents, red hair or any combination thereof. If you are expecting anything other than a 90-minute movie with a solid moral message, a lovely bit of character growth and an extremely well-animated, personality-infused bear then this may not be for you - but as something to chuckle to as snow falls outside and you huddle together for warmth, then it's worth a watch.

We separated to sleep - her flatmate had taken the hit and volunteered to sleep with her boyfriend so that there would be a spare bed, what a trooper - and woke early, so that I could have a chance to look around the campus and partake of the delights of lunch. I have to say that for uni food it was pretty good, and much better priced than my own canteen. She and I ran into a couple of old faces, until we wound up back in her room and watching Africa. 

Now I have no, or hardly any, access to iPlayer from France, so I have missed the most recent glorious example of BBC nature programming. It is, as has been vaunted many times before, filmed at the animals' eye levels, which adds a very odd angle to it - it certainly humanises the animals, although all birds seem to stare at one in the same way that a Glaswegian with eight pints of Tennent's best inside him does. Especially if one uses "one" in everyday speech, even if the context is the correct one.

There was a slightly panicked moment as I turned her room upside down until we realised I'd not had an umbrella when I arrived, and a solid twenty minutes of nervous waiting for me when I arrived and realised that the train I had expected at 2pm did not, in fact, exist. There was a train twenty minutes before, and a train twenty minutes after, but a train on the hour there was not. Considering my Eurostar departed a mere fifteen minutes after the expected arrival time of this train, and French customs had stopped me to go through bags at an agonisingly slow rate before, my nails had been bitten to the quick and I was about to start on the knuckles when we pulled into London.

I made it - obviously - but the sooner the British transport system gets over its fear of snow, the better.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Wedding Belles

I am not a religious chap, in general. I don't like religion of any sort; the tunes are pretty but the words are sort of creepy. However, I do appreciate the role of symbolism and ritual in doing anything. They feature everywhere in life, and religious ceremonies are the best places to find them.

Last night was a triumph; a gorgeous ceremony in a beautiful church and the couple surrounded with love. Love is just as amorphous an idea as God, but I've seen more evidence for love than for God, so love is what I believe they were surrounded by.

We were due to arrive at 1pm, and 1pm is precisely the time we arrived. Although this seems obvious, within my family tardiness is the norm rather than the exception. We actually sat in the car for a minute, struck dumb by shock, before disembarking in the usual shambolic way. I know that in theory it is possible to exit a car with style and grace, but I am yet to discover the secret. We also disembarked the cake, the secret cake the photos of which were embargoed yesterday. It was extremely heavy; we carried not only a 10 kilo cake but the responsibility of the wedding cake. It added to the mass in no small way.

We shipped it onto the coach and made the greetings that one must make amongst family that one hasn't seen since the last religious rite. It's tragic that I only see these wonderful people at times of great sadness or great joy, but that's the way life is - we are brought together only to see it at its best and its word. Reality, that great squisher of dreams, interferes in the idyllic life we would otherwise lead.

The traditional greeting between younger and older generations are always the same: "Auntie So-and-So, how are you? It's so nice to see you! You've not got any older!" And, of course, the standard response, "Jono! It's been so long since we saw you last! Haven't you grown!" That's especially kind in my case, because my height peaked when I was 12 and the only way I've grown is outwards. The coach brought us to the church, an absolutely stunning early Gothic construction. It is Roman Catholic, and so the ceremony proceeded with all the pomp and circumstance inherent in that institution. The words were excellent, and I am glad that someone chose to change the usual ones just a little - cherish has a less misogynistic tone than obey. Their voices were a little quiet, but what do you expect - they were binding themselves together three times, which has always been a powerful number in mystic systems. The Christians still have three parts of a one God, and marriage binds a couple three times - before God, before the State, and before the love of their friends.

Soon the ceremony was over, and it was time for pictures, and hundreds thereof. The couple looked embarrassed and proud and nervous, and could barely stand to be apart. The dress was daring, a sheath with a good meter of train, and the bride was accompanied by her mother. They came out to the traditional shower of petals and cheers; the bride doesn't know it, but she's married into one of the most boisterous and loving families in the world. We went on to the reception, which had a casino downstairs in which my sister managed to win £110 on her first go. Beginner's luck, and I don't even believe in luck. The prices were extortionate and the staff added a service charge to every transaction, and although the setting was beautiful I have no qualms about naming and shaming the Millenium Gloucester as practically criminal. To add a service charge to every drink served is an absolute outrage, especially when a request for a large vodka and tonic was met with the kind of gawping expression one generally finds on a goldfish. I don't mind tipping - I've worked in bars, and I'm proud that I can usually earn a goodly sum in tips - but to just add it to orders regardless is disgusting.

My dad did his speech, and it was excellent, although a collective groan went up when he clocked in at only 8 minutes and 12 seconds - a sweepstake had been run, of course, and my cousin cleared up, having plumped for 8 minutes. My father's ability to ramble is legendary amongst my family, and the conservative estimate had been fifteen minutes. He did incredibly well, and I was massively proud, even if he went off-script a couple more times than I'd have liked. It didn't matter. He captivated the audience.

At long last we wound our way home; jollier and fuller than we'd arrived. And so I write this in the afternoon, with a head that only aches a little and still surrounded by the love of my family. It is something we carry with us always; like the Queen's crown or a wedding ring, it need not always be physically present. When the Queen is in the shower, she is still the Queen. If you wear your ring or not, you are married. And whether you are in the midst of your boisterous family or far from them, their love is still with you. Those still with us and those taken from us in sadness; all are with you and - do not forget this - you are with them.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Le Jour J

Le Jour J is a French idiomatic expression which is equivalent to D-Day; however, in French it can also be used to mean "the big day." It is in this sense that I am using it - I do not plan to invade the beaches of France quite yet.

My cousin's wedding approaches; three o'clock is the hour. Incidentally, Jesus Christ was crucified at the third hour. I'm quite sure there are no similarities between the two events.

My father is still working on his speech. He is a very chilled out man; if he were any more laid back he'd fall off the face of the Earth. My mother and I, on the other hand, prefer to plan ahead - to have things at least rehearsed. You can imagine, then, the tension in our house as the hour draws closer and my father insists that the speech needs the bounce and the banter that comes from having bare bones notes. A large part of me has faith that he'll pull it off, and with panache, but that doesn't quite drown out the other part, which is imagining horrible scenarios in which he forgets everything and just stares goofily around the room.

My mother has made a cake for the wedding, and I'd like to share it with you. Perhaps it's because I'm related, but I think this cake looks - well, you tell me.

EDIT: My editor has told me that these photos are not to be made available to the general public until after the event. 

We apologise for this break in the usual programming. A description follows, for those with imagination.

The flowers on the top are individually hand made and edible. The cake itself is a fruit base with two sponge layers on top. The cake is dressed in lace, which is rolled out on a mould and fitted to the cake.

The box and the lace mould came from Cake Craft World in Sevenoaks, but the work is pretty much all down to my mother, with a little help from a friend who came over for a cup of tea and ended up adding icing pearls to this amazing cake.

Bear in mind that as she did this, she also cooked a lasagne for fix people.

The cake is incredibly heavy and has a seat to itself on the coach we've booked to take us to the wedding. It is the second most important guest of honour and at the moment is dressed a lot better than I am - no lace for me, just a charcoal three-piece.

Yesterday's riddle was a little easy, I suspect, especially for anyone who like Harry Potter. Mundungus is a lovely word that means stinky old tobacco. Interestingly he's also a Fletcher, which is an old word for someone who put the barbs on arrows.

Most of my lawyer student friends spend a lot of time in bars - probably too much. But they're also studying to be a bar-rister. What's the connection?

It looks like it's time to get ready. My darling sister is trying to convince me to have a haircut. I had one less than six months ago, I surely don't need another.

Friday, 11 January 2013

I'm on the road again

I have travelled back to the land of my fathers, where the place known as Hill Hill Hill can be found. Hill in Welsh is pen, and invaders who settled there called it Pen Hill, assuming pen to be the name of the hill. Before long, more invaders had arrived, and over time the hill in question had become Pendle. The same thing happened again, and Pendle Hill, or Hillhill Hill, can still be found in Lancashire.

I am back in these United Kingdoms until Monday and I'm really excited about the weekend ahead. Tonight my parents are making a lasagne, a treat without compare when you consider I have no access to oven facilities in my chic little studio apartment.

Before I left I finished all my work and actively sought out my supervisor to make sure she knew I was leaving - the last thing I need this weekend is a call about an urgent translation, especially as my phone is patchy at best here - and made some minor adjustments to the Student's Association's application for sponsorship to some local businesses.

We're off to a wedding tomorrow, and I've been requested to bring my camera - if I take any particularly good shots I'd love to share them here, but it means I shall have to avoid drinking myself under the table. Weddings strike me as an odd sort of affair, people being given away like presents and members of each party eying each other up in the hope of further strengthening ties between the two families - something that also apparently happens under the tables, so if I drink myself into a stupor at least I'll still have subjects.

I went into the local supermarket before I went home, as I've promised to bring my boss back some Marmite. At first she thought I said marmalade and turned her nose up; "Je n'aime pas des confitures," she said: I don't like jams. "Ah non", I said, "it's savoury, a British delicacy." So she agreed to try this spread, little suspecting that it is one of the foulest things we've ever invented. In any case, I went, I got in line, and after some light flirty banter with the cashier I made it home.

I like flirty banter, and I humbly suggest that more people do it in their day-to-day life.

I'm also going up to see an old school pal in Loughborough on Sunday, where I suspect I shall look entirely out of place amongst the über-fit and healthy students of the university. And then a swift journey back on Monday to London and then on to home and my oven-less studio apartment.

The scent of lasagne is calling me to the table, but before I leave, I ask:

Which character from the world of literature always smells like old, stinking tobacco?

Thursday, 10 January 2013

The same tired old refrain (Some swearing)

PR is a fast-moving, forward-thinking industry. In my opinion it simply has to be; you cannot stand about waiting for stories to break or a friendly journalist to take a sudden interest in your story.

Politics (I thought) was similarly fast-moving and forward-thinking; indeed, there shouldn't be many people thinking further forward than politicians.

And yet today I feel like both of these opinions have been utterly squashed. The first was by a PR firm for whom I otherwise have great respect for and the second was by the Conservative party, who are apparently trying to out-shit even their own bloated caricatures.

Firstly, the PR firm. I understand the argument that is suggested, to whit: you are getting an education, and as a result, you should pay towards the cost. I disagree with this idea for a couple of reasons: first, I'm producing content. I will grudgingly accept that I ought to put some cost towards my university fees, although £9,000 (I know, technically I pay only a fifth of that, but I am speaking generally) goes a little past ridiculous and into the realm of the truly ridiculous. All three of my students today, one French and two Russian, expressed utter disbelief that we had such an insane system. Mind you, the Russians also needed convincing I was British because I was, in their words, "Too animated."

It's nice to see the stereotypes of Britain as a nation of stick-up-arse, stiff-upper-lip, what-ho-Jeevesing chaps and chappesses has absolutely not gone anywhere. In any case, the education I receive at university is entirely linear; I am taught, I produce content, but none of it is going to add to the prestige of the university - the books on which we write our essays have already been examined in minute detail, which I imagine is the point. It gives us, the students, more data on which to base our conclusions, thus ensuring our essays have at least the semblance of a well-researched piece of work.

An internship is entirely a two way street. I am still receiving an education, except this time the work I produce will go to directly padding the bottom line of the company who have interviewed me and decided that I am good enough to work for them. They have, presumably, satisfied themselves that I am not going to defecate into an envelope and mail it to their clients. They have faith, I suppose, that I am not going to take photographs of my genitals and post them to the official twitter feed. And while these are extreme examples I also hope that they understand that they are taking on someone who has no more skill or ability than a graduate in this area - and that occasionally they will need to go over my work, as they would the graduate's, because nothing will be perfect first time.

The only difference seems to be that the graduate would be paid his wage, and I would receive £100 per week as expenses. A monthly ticket to the office from my rent-free parent's house would set me back £440. The minimum wage would mean paying interns just under a thousand pounds a month, and increase of £600. That's at minimum wage.

He has a point.

So come on PR firms. Be forward-thinking and awesome like I know you are, and pay your interns what you think they're worth.

And if you really think they're worth £2.50 an hour, then I suggest you fire whoever's recruiting them.

I've nothing to say about the Conservative party, save to share this little nugget where the guy in charge of collecting tax explains how to avoid paying tax.

It should be noted that of course this is young Osbourne. He may have radically changed his ways and not done any of those cheeky things like, say, flipped his house for £400,000 of profit.

Depressing day.

Last tango in Paris

I really like making friends. I like the way we all bounce around life and our friends introduce us to friends we would never have otherwise met.

Such is the case with Paula.

Paula is from the United States and has been mentioned here before, but in brief - she is a person with an enormous personality and a continually bubbly outlook on life. Last night was her last night in Paris, and so she and I went out for dinner.

I confess that things didn't go exactly to plan - which is why I write this at 11:30 ante-meridiem, rather than post-cibum. It began with Paula turning up, as is her wont, a little late, although since this time it was a mere 40 minutes I think I should be quite thankful. We met at the Gare de l'Est, and strolled in the light drizzle that swirled about us to the restaurant, with a brief detour through a homeless kitchen.

The restaurant we went to is called Les Enfants Perdus. A google will give you their site, but unfortunately the link for the menu is currently broken. You can find it at 9 Rue de Récollets in the 10th arondissement, only about five minutes from the station.

When we arrived, the first thing we noticed was the size - it is not large. The bar is extremely small and was staffed by a tall and impressively be-whiskered man while two waiters rushed about in the French style. I believe that at French restaurant schools waiters are taught that every inch of space must be utilised, and consequently the three small rooms that made up the restaurant were thronged with people. Squeezing myself and Paula in was a struggle, but we made it. We had reserved a table, and just as well - two couples were turned away as we arrived.

We ordered very, very slowly. The service was excellent, if perhaps a little over-attentive - but only a little. I gave her a small gift, as a souvenir of Paris - I'm quite she has no others - and we finally ordered. Paula decided to be brave and ordered foie gras while I picked salmon crumbed with sesame seeds. It was served with a sort of vegetable that was utterly delicious while Paula's came with duck pâté and caramelised red onions and solid slides of toast. My salmon was absolutely delicious, the slight saltiness of the fish combining with the sesame and vegetable to make a fantastic mouthful. From the look on Paula's face, her bravery had paid off, although I had to lend a hand with the duck, of which there was a much larger portion.

We had also ordered a bottle of wine, and before the starters arrived the proprétaire, the owner, came over and - having apparently been told we were speaking English - launched into an explanation of the wine we had chosen. Thomas did not sound like your average French restaurant owner, and that's because he isn't - he's an ex-pat from Chicago. Thomas is an absolutely fantastic guy, and he explained that the wine we'd picked was still very natural. Paula and I looked at each other and placed our fate in his hands; the wines are all very reasonably priced and so we asked him to surprise us. He did not let us down, and came back with an absolutely exquisite Marsannay from 2009. If you have one, keep hold of it, because I imagine in three years it'll be even better. As it was it went incredibly well with both the starter and the main.

The main came after a wait of around thirty minutes, which suited us perfectly - neither Paula or I like to rush our food, and our meal took on a distinctly Parisian bent: before long we had covered religion, politics, touched on science, travel and were finishing our plates and moving towards the nature of free will when I noticed that the last train home left in five minutes, a third of a bottle of excellent wine still remained and the bill had yet to be paid.

What could have quickly degenerated into disaster was saved by the friend Paula was staying with, a Greek called Efi who speaks four languages and is studying law. And is astonishingly pretty, which makes no difference one way or another but merely proves that some people have all the luck. She kindly let me spend the night, although we still managed to stay up until three just talking.

We rose again at half past six, dressed quickly, Efi and Paula saying goodbye and clearly unwilling to let go - a last hug was followed by another and another. It will be interesting to see if Efi and I become friends, and would deliver us in a beautifully cyclical manner to the beginning of this piece.

The answer to yesterday's riddle was five minutes past three; the reason clockwise is the direction it is is because it is the same motion traced by a sundial in the northern hemisphere. Had the clock been invented in Australia and the same mechanism been used, clockwise would be what we think of as anti-clockwise. I do hope that made sense, I prefer to explain with the aid of gestures, but I have faith in your imaginations.

Today's riddle is: What place in England is called Hill Hill Hill?