Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Ghost Town

First up, housekeeping. To the right of this post, if you're reading it online, is an email sign-up box. If you'd rather get these blogs out and about, or if you're not tech-savvy enough to know about feed readers, you can put your email in there and get these posts straight to your inbox. Which is handy if you've got email set up on your phone, because it should mean you can read them as you sit on the bus or ride the Underground or snatch five minutes between hectic shifts at your job at Great Ormond Street Hospital. Gosh.

It was my first day back at work today, and I'm happy to say I really missed it. It's interesting to find that even though I've been learning this language since I was about 8, I still get really nervous speaking it around Actual French People. Or even Actual English People Who Moved Here When They Were Nineteen. It's good that I'm nervous, though, because it means I pay far more attention to my endings, agreements, and the various other bits and pieces that I tend to forget after speaking for a while. It's really, really easy to get complacent when speaking a language one has a good level in. The fact is that native speakers let you get away with an awful lot so as not to appear stand-offish or rude.

My colleagues are all lovely, and as a result I really have to urge them to pick me up on the mistakes I make. Re-reading What Every Body Is Saying by Joe Navarro is also helping a little; if you're interested in body language then I can't recommend a better first read. It's helping me to look for the signs when I make a mistake; generally it's a half-hidden smile or a small frown, depending on the size of the mistake and the social faux pas that I've made.

Faux pas is probably best translated as misstep, although in English we tend to use mistake.

In any case, the term begins again tomorrow and the students have been returning in dribs and drabs, a phrase of uncertain origin which may have roots in Irish prostitution. We've also got some new students who hail from Russia and are unsettlingly good looking. The sort of good looking that makes you seriously consider giving up your resolutions and committing death by chocolate. 85% cocoa solids, if it comes to that. I want my end to be like my life. Bitter, but somehow moreish.

That sounds morbid, but I assure you it's not.

So my tasks for the year have started to accumulate already; I have around 150 pages of raw data to turn into graphs which is fantastic because, well, give me data and Excel and tell me to make graphs and I am as happy as Larry. Larry was probably an Australian boxer who never lost a fight and took away a purse of £1,000 on his last fight - which in today's money would be about £399,000. That's enough to make anyone happy.

However, I also have to overcome the obstacle of bad French handwriting. There are two parts to this. The first part is the French; they form letters in a very different way to English writers, but it's relatively easy to overcome - one simply has to learn the pattern. So far so good.

If this oddity is combined with handwriting that would puzzle a doctor, however, there is literally nothing I can do save stare at the scribbled mess and wonder bitterly if a court would accept this as evidence that the student's death was entirely understandable. There is nothing more frustrating than bad handwriting coupled with the writer's assumption that the reader will know what they are saying. And the worst thing about this is that I know that someone dear to me will read this and laugh, because my handwriting is akin to a drunken spider with inky legs.

In any case, my challenge is set, and I'm excited by it. Huge amounts of data excite me, because they offer huge amounts of possibility. So much information can be gleaned from it.

My other challenge is equally exciting, but in quite the opposite direction - I have been asked to write a small email greetings card, and to write a poem within. One of my colleagues has made a sweet little animation, so all I need do is a tiny little four line poem. She's left the rhyming scheme and the meter up to me.

I have never been so paralysed by my lack of vocabulary. Not in all my born days. I was suddenly rendered utterly incapable of counting syllables, of matching sounds. I look into my English vocabulary and words practically fountain out. I look into my French vocabulary and it looks a little bit like the bag of letters at the end of a Scrabble game.

However; my deadline is the end of the week, and as soon as I have finished writing this I shall be cracking on with trying to rhyme oiseau (bird) with absolutely any word I can. 

While I suffer, I should be intrigued if anyone knows why heroin, a terrifically nasty and addictive drug, sounds the same as heroine, which is like a hero but more womanly. Or, if you're a comic book artist, with a breast to waist ratio that would make Barbie uneasy. If you know, comment below.

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