Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Monday monday

What a weekend. I can't believe you're still here. I can't believe I'm still here. Monday was, by contrast, a relaxing and tranquil day. I had breakfast, I worked hard on translations and my colleague and I finished our crossword. It's been a massive team effort and my thanks go to everyone who helped, including Adeline, Susana, Ruben, Stefano, Sourour, Prakesh, Kathy and Elena. You all have my eternal thanks.

Despite feeling fatigued all day I made it through to the end where I was cornered by Adeline, whose friend needed help with an application letter in English. Since she'd so recently done me a favour, and she's a good friend, I stuck around for a half-hour and helped polish that off. She's going to keep me in the loop; I like hearing how these little projects I help with turn out.

After that I went to my last lesson with my normal Monday night student! I took cake - one must have cake for endings - and we drank a bottle of wine and essentially reminisced about the months we've spent as teacher and student. She's improved so much that I'd almost started to feel bad for taking her money, as the lessons have really just become 2 hours of great conversation and excellent wine. You shouldn't be paid for a life that good, and yet I was. I've said it literally hundreds of times before but teaching English on your +Third Year Abroad is the best thing you can do.

It was over all too soon and I said goodbye, making her promise that she would keep in touch. Like I said; I like hearing how these little projects I help with turn out. She has made such incredible progress - she's reading Hemingway now. Hemingway. And then she critiques it! Amazing.

I was soon home, having bypassed that kebab-house of temptation, and Adeline came to see me once more to return a dictionary and a book, and to give me a couple of beers. I am surrounded by excellent friends, and leaving them will be a wrench.

Still. The road goes ever on and on, and I must follow if I can.

Monday, 24 June 2013

What a weekend!

Good lord.

Yea, three days of blog to catch up on. Let's not hang about.


La fête de la Musique, or The Million Gigs. Million is no understatement; anyone who could hold a guitar the right way up two times out of three was strumming as if their very lives depended on it. I made my way into Paris after my usual Friday lesson, feeling quite horrifically ill. This was a theme that, like many of the songs I heard, would start softly and develop into something quite different over three movements. While out, I got a great message - a friend of mine, a fantastic friend, is travelling all across the world and she was in Paris that very night. Indeed, she - +Katy Campbell - is here until later this week, and she lives such a glamourous lifestyle that it's impossible not to adore her. I also got to meet her cousin and her cousin's best friend, both of whom are on their way to Madrid where they're nominated for an international film award against Sir Ben Kingsley.

Yeah. That Sir Ben Kingsley. (Credit: +David Shankbone/Wiki commons)

Like I said - glamorous lifestyle. Their names are Brandon Miradi and Bryan Becker, for the film Revolve. I've not seen it, but meeting these guys was the best part of my weekend - funny, charming, utterly disarming. In fact, they were so much fun that I figured I'd see them again. More on that later.

Friday itself was a mix of music; strolling through the city meant I got little auditory tidbits, a little rock and roll here, a little jazz there; here a drum circle, here a group of drunken stoners banging empty pots (though as the night wore on the line between the two became more than a little blurred). At half past one, thoroughly drunk - it was the Negroni at the Brooklyn Bar that finished me off - I managed to lose Katy, Brandon and Bryan and decided to make my way home. I thought this would be easy. I thought the RER would run all night.

Oh boy, was I wrong.

It wasn't as bad as it could have been; the location in which I'd lost my friends was close to a station that the 14, which was one of the only lines still running, serves. The 14 goes to St Lazare, whence my night bus departed. That was the longest, drunkest, most uncomfortable journey of my life. There is nothing so horrible as being drunk enough to want to get off a bus, but sober enough to know that if you do you'll never get home. It's easier to simply be drunk or sober. In the middle is No Man's Land.

In amy case, that brings us to a 4.30am weaving walk back to the flat and a 5am collapse into bed, still full clothed. A few short hours my phone, which had gone from 100% to 1% in 6 hours and then lasted another 5 hours at 1%, went off to remind me that it was a glorious new day and I should get up.

I had to get up, because my alarm requires you to calculate some basic mathematics (this morning's 4-part questionnaire featured 15 x 5 + 12) before it turns off. Not only does it wake you up, but it wakes you up and really annoys you. To join in my pain/fun, you can get the app here (android only). Waking up meant that is must have been


The second movement of my illness. The Dark Knight of my nose and throat. The crescendo which culminated in deafness and no voice, just the thing when one is wandering around and performing magic tricks for students and parents of students who paid triple-digit sums to be there. Ever seen a magician ask you to take a card and then watched in horror as he apparently emptied the entire contents of his brain into a handkerchief? And then didn't even produce a rabbit from the sodden rag? It's not nice, I imagine, and from the looks I got I believe I am correct in that assumption. Nonetheless, a couple of little pieces I've been working on went exceptionally well, and the effect will be multiplied when I can

  1. Speak the same language as my audience with fluidity, grace, and less snot
  2. Hear my audience
  3. Take a breath without choking like a hanged man.
So that's enormously exciting. It was also the first outing for a new deck, which I can't show you just yet, but I assure you they're exceptionally nicely done. Alright, since I'm a show-off (I'm an amateur magician; as I am sure +Derren Brown has said, magicians are simply children who never learned to stop saying "look at me!") the four horsemen are below. In classic cards, they were supposed to represent four great rulers - Caesar, Alexander, Charles and David. 

I don't see it, personally.

The night was incredible. The cruise was unbelievable, and Paris by night and by river is the most romantic thing I've experienced. And I experienced it with a colleague who's been married for several years and has a child; I can't help but imagine what it would have been like with Mary. Still, there'll be other times. In any case, here's a picture of that tower that's always hanging about in the background of Paris. Apologies for quality.
Gaudy, awful, brilliant thing.

Statue of Liberty. Made way less sense after a drink.
There were stars above and stars below that night as this year's BDE turned out to congratulate last year's graduates and, as the clock turned towards 11, a great gaggle of this year's students waited at the quay for our return - not for us to get off, but to get on, as the party would continue until 4.30am. I confess I flaked out at a measly 2.30, but this time the bus ride was not quite so bad - only fatigue assaulted me this time, in place of the previous night's nausea.

The fatigue was because France apparently does not stock non-drowsy anti-allergy medication, and so I'd held off on taking a tablet until the last moment in case they were as strong as the pharmacist told me they were. I took one before I got on the bus and was woken up as we pulled alongside the residence, so the answer to that unspoken question is apparently yes. I've got them on my desk and I'm eying them with great suspicion; perhaps it is some lingering pride but something smaller than my little finger's nail should not have the capacity to put me out like it did, because put me out it did. I slept through until 2pm on


when I was supposed to be meeting Katy in Paris, at ohshitonefortyfiveshitshitSHIT. I text her conveying my sincere and everlasting apologies and received in response a message so chilled I suspected I was communicating with a snowman. I really cannot express how much that was appreciated; anyone who knows me knows I hate being late for anything. I still hated myself, but at least she didn't hate me too. We met up at Châtelet-les-Halls and found a little restaurant to tuck into some grub and while away the hours speaking about nothing of great importance. I mostly listened, a consequence of an enormous and delicious burger and the fact that Katy's stories are wonderful. She's the one who got me onto the student newspaper at Aberdeen and into PR later still. She is a Big Deal.

Later that day we met up with Bryan, whom I helped chat up a French girl - I am on purely wingman duties for the foreseeable future - and had a very slow, very enjoyable drink and chat. Bryan is amusing, intelligent, and an actor. It doesn't hurt much that he has cheekbones you can shave with, eyes you can drown in, five o'clock shadow you could use to sand a door. He is the very pinnacle of good looks and an actor. By rights I should despise him immediately and mock him incessantly. Instead, he's such a nice guy that I couldn't help but get along with him. Brandon, Katy's cousin, was just as nice; a quick wit and a passionate foodie it was he who had found the restaurant we dined in later that night. It's called Le Verre Volé and it was pretty good. Nowhere near as good as I'd hoped, I confess, but I had high expectations. Any other night it would have got a solid recommendation, but this time - worth visiting, but not worth going out of your way for.

The bill was high, but not too much, and before long we were out into the fresh air again. I said quick goodbyes and dashed to the train station, making the last train for home by thirty seconds. I was home and in bed by 3. The fact that I counted that an early night can not be a good sign.

Three days is enough in one go, I think. Any more and you will start to chew off your own arms. Drop by tomorrow for more of my +Third Year Abroad.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

The grapes of sickness

Do you know what your uvula is? In latin it means little grape, uva being grape and -la being a diminutive. It's actually the little dangly bit that hangs from your palate; if you open your mouth up wide you'll see the little thing dangling far, far away.

Welp, mine is currently a grape. And not the little grape with the sudden sweet flavour, the huge grape that you look at and have to show people. (Incidentally, we humans seem to do that a lot if we find something that's much smaller or bigger than it is normally. "Look at this tiny little bottle of whiskey! Look at this huge chip!  This human is tiny, it's so cute! Bizarre.)

As I was saying - I seem to have an infected uvula and it's causing me some mild irritation. Being aware of the fact that I've got a dangly bit of flesh at the back of my throat is really quite a distraction, and I've been doing tongue gymnastics to try to touch it. I failed, but I question why I was doing it in the first place.

Today was slow; the translation drags on and I press-ganged a couple more students into translating things for me. Arabic and Chinese are now live, hoorah! I also played a quick game of chess, which ended with a barefaced lie from me (and they say chess is not a performance sport) and a sneaky mate on c7. Very pleasing. Aside from that, we had the penultimate French class of the year where I managed to insert and explain the words "meme" and "petrichor" which was also quite cool.

I got my T.F.I score back too, and it was abysmal. I'm going to blame it on the fact I was intolerably ill, though I also suspect I could have spent the periods of wakefulness during that day revising instead of going fetal. Still, it is what it is.

That's been my day; nothing overly exciting. Tomorrow you may well not get a blog as it's the music festival with literally hundreds of concerts all over Paris. I'm going for jazz and rock, and maybe some classical. The RER runs all night but I have to be back in Paris for 4 to set-up the graduation dinner, so if I'm lucky I'll get a minute to post on Saturday. If not, I'll be gone until Sunday.

Oh, and I ordered something from the States - does anyone have any experience of this? Would love to hear from you.

That's all for now. Thanks for reading as always.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Thunder and lightning/Very very frightening

Alright, so I'm writing this while sipping something alcoholic and iced because it has been boiling hot today. There has been torrential rain, non-stop thunder and lightning, but somehow it's remained utterly, swelteringly hot. My fingertips are sweating as I write this. My laptop is threatening to melt into a little puddle of metal. It's very hot, is what I'm saying.

So: today was more translation and the return of my morning colleague, who came back to 202 emails - I don't think I've even received 202 emails at work - which proved to be very exciting as she brought back sweet things. That tuxedo dream is disappearing faster than a far-right party leader in Scotland. Otherwise my day progressed as usual; my translation is slowly shifting and students are bringing back tests they borrowed last year. I've also converted my colleague to cloud computing, and we've shifted all our shared work to +Google Drive so we can edit together in real time. It's utterly brilliant to see her getting excited about collaborative work.

Yea, that's nerdy, but nerds run the world now. We have balloons that deliver internet. Welcome to the future people, where there will be a wireless signal everywhere you look and laptops will be wafer-thin. And just future, it's going to be amazing. Make sure you're there.

That was a tangent. My day continued with even more translations and work on the polyglot crossword for next year's students. So far I have clues in Greek, Spanish, English and French but I want more, so I'm going to capture me some Russians, Arabic-speakers, Chinese-speakers and anyone else I can grab. I want all the languages.

(Also, if anyone over at +ThirdYearAbroad.com wants to share some of their knowledge, do give me a little bell. Contacts are all over the home page. Ta.)

Aside from that it's chili for dinner and a stroll in the glorious petrichoric outdoors. Petrichoric from petros, stone (same root as Peter, Pierre, and petrify) and ichor, the blood of the gods. And it means, of course, the smell after rain. Best smell ever. So I'm going to go enjoy it, and hopefully come back with washboard abs.

It could happen.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Getting into the USA step one - done!

Alright, so today started incredibly well because my girlfriend sent me her reaction video from season 3, episode 9 of Game of Thrones this morning. It's brilliant. Like absolutely fantastically brilliant, even if it confirmed that she likes animals more than she likes people. You might not think this is a good thing, but she's dating me, which means she likes me more than animals and most humans. She likes me more than Robb Stark's butt, and I mean look at that thing.

There are two exceedingly good tushes in this picture, and I don't know which I like more.
So that's a good thing.

In addition, I finally got round to confirming my visa, so:

First step complete. 
I can, according to this authorisation (I'm hanging on to that spelling as long as I can), still be turned away at the gates and so I invite you to comment or tweet with the hashtag #whatnottosayatcustoms. I'll start with a couple:
  • Can I skip this queue?
  • I have nothing to declare...save my genius.
  • These are not the droids you're looking for.
Alright, those weren't brilliant. I have faith in you though.

Aside from that, it's been an interesting day. I'm starting to wind things up and do some prep for my replacement, including pitching a social media presence to a line manager (seriously terrifying) and setting up a template for next year. It's got to the stage now where I'm convinced if I touch it anymore it'll break, but it's still a mess. Like how you tidy your room. Starts untidy, so you get sorting, tidying, cleaning. Two hours later you look at your room and it's even untidier than it started. This is not possible. You feel suddenly uncertain and, if you pile stuff up like I do, suddenly lost and alone in a paper labyrinth. 

But of course if you keep at it you decrease entropy and make the system more organised, defying thermodynamics and the Dewey decimal system because nobody's got time for that.

That got away from me a little, but the point is that in setting up a template I'm at the point where my formulae run to nine or ten arguments and I'm really, really nervous that I've missed a letter. This will only become apparent when data are entered, so I've started doing practice runs with members of the families of the Game of Thrones universe. So far Joffrey is failing everything.

One other thing happened to me today - I got told I'm helping out with a graduation dinner on a boat that's going to cruise down the Seine. On Saturday. That means that before Saturday I need to lose about 4 inches off my waist or wear a different suit.

Different suit then. Damn you, France, and your delectable cakes. 

Monday, 17 June 2013

Side tracked

So it's been a little quiet on the blog front. I may have gotten slightly distracted by +Game of Thrones. Not so much the televisual series, which has come out as worryingly a) crap at representing homosexual relationships and b) seriously crap at representing what's on the page and ending the third series with, well.

The season closed with a whole lot of brown-skinned slaves being liberated by the white-skinned girl; the same white-skinned girl who'd been sold into sexual slavery, "civilised" her savage (brown) husband/rapist and, well, how does this image not make you just a little bit uncomfortable?

This isn't a reflection on Martin, by the by. He takes about slaves from all the corners of his imagined world; pale-skinned Westerosi to Summer Islanders with skin like onyx. The point is that anyone could be sold into slavery; it's not a condition that only affects people with brown skin.

Except HBO think it is, and I'm really quite pissed off with that. It's a dick move, playing to the audience who gets a little leery about white slaves because apparently that's more upsetting than - augh. Too much irritation.

So I've been losing myself in the books, which are normally the size of bricks. However, thanks to my mother and technology, I can carry the whole collection around on my kindle and add less than the weight of a strawberry to it. That's not a totally random analogy, by the by - the entire weight of the internet has been reckoned to come to about the same as a strawberry. Science, yo.

I've also been losing myself in translation work and travels in Paris, where I've been investigating things for my parents to do when they visit in two weeks time. Excitement. It was Father's day yesterday, and if you forgot ring your dad up now and tell him he's awesome because if you're anything like me telling your dad you love him would be weird. So tell him he's awesome and hope he understands.

Dad, if you're reading this, you're awesome.

M'colleague and I have almost finished with one of our tasks for next year; all that's left is to think up clues. I'm tempted to think of cryptic clues as well, because I happen to think they're cool. I've also started filling in application forms for internships for next year because being keen seems to be working for me so far. It's a stretch, I know, but I want to be interning somewhere - anywhere - other than Britain next summer. It's going to require a lot of work, I know, but I've got a feeling it'll be worth it. Chicago, D.C, New York or Paris. Or Berlin, if I can scrape together the few particles of German festering in my memory banks and force a sound out of them.

The students are leaving in droves to far off and exotic places, like Aberdeen, and today I got an email through from the Registry at uni - the countdown has begun. Before long I shall need to start sorting out my electives and courses for next year, and while I'm pumped, I'm not looking forward to the return to essays and lectures. We shall see.

I am looking forward to a return to the icy cold. This damp heat (22ºC and raining today folks) has absolutely laid me out, and I don't know whether it's a cold or hay fever but the entire liquid contents of my body are doing their best to escape via my nose. I'm starting to wonder if I'm asleep and dreaming; in real life, I'm hanging upside down, which is why fluid going into my mouth is seeming to exit almost immediately via my nose.

I'm going to try a cup of tea with lemon and honey. If that doesn't work it'll have to be two corks.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

A song of ice and fire

This morning I was loath to get up, and the blame lies squarely with my inability to stop reading the books that form A Song of Ice and Fire. I'm profiting from reading them slower, exploring the links between the characters and the houses. I warn you that once you get into it, you find yourself making maps, drawing family trees, wondering, breaking, weeping. The game of thrones is a serious business, my friends, and the Martin does away with the literary convention where the named characters survive by killing at random. After a couple of books you realise that what drives the story onwards is not the need to tell a story but the characters themselves, living out the world in which they find themselves.

As I said. Enter at your peril. Enter the French version with even more care, because you will soon wear through your dictionary, though your mastery of the passé simple will be legendary.

Today, as I said, it was hard to get up, but get up I did. This morning was slow; my colleague is in a hurry to finish all her work before she leaves on Thursday, but that didn't leave her an awful lot of time to find something for me to do. Rather than take up space underfoot, I moved next door and worked a little on some writing, though nothing was going well. Sometimes there are days like that, and the best thing to do is try something else. So I relearnt A-level Economics, because that kind of thing cheers me up enormously, though it does have a very Keynesian bent. I like Keynes, I just wish we were taught others, if only so we can debate them better. Still, Keynes is better than nothing, and it was a very pleasant way of passing a couple of hours.

Yes, I enjoy Economics. Goodbye the brave few daily readers.

Lunch was spent in pleasant company and then came the afternoon, which was absolutely jam-packed with students needing practice tests (for the test they'll sit tomorrow) and the thesis, part four. I feel that needs more of an introduction.

The Thesis, Part IV - The Conclusion

Still a nightmare. And there's more to come and, o joy of joys, she's given my address to her colleague who also needs their thesis proofread. More geology. More reservoirs. More about faults, and coarse-grain and fine-grain stone, and more modeling and on and on ad infinitum.

Still, I did have French this evening, and that was enjoyable. We talked about love, and how it hits the French like a thunderbolt while the Czech have it at first sight; how a person who falls in (and out) of love often is a Spanish hummingbird but has a French artichoke heart. I can understand the logic of the Spanish, but the French thus far evades me. I daresay I shall get there in the end.

An interesting assignment to work on tonight and more Song of Ice and Fire - I can't stop, even though everyone's dead. Although I have just got the part where Joffrey bites the dust, and if you want to avoid spoilers I highly recommend not highlighting that space there. It's a good moment though.

My final thought is that I have strawberries, my window open, and a small glass of beer, and I could not be happier. Winter is coming, but for now let's have strawberries.

Monday, 10 June 2013


I've not written, once again, for a couple of days. It's been an eventful weekend. Saturday was spent almost exclusively teaching A, and 4 hours of mathematics really take it out of a fellow. Raging against teachers who'd rather teach the long and winding road, rather than the simple path, is also a deeply tiring process. For the rest of Saturday I made more words into sentences for an article I finished a couple of hours ago for +ThirdYearAbroad.com. The rest of my Saturday was spent re-reading +Game of Thrones, because I can't watch it on the abysmal internet connection I have here. Well, I probably could, but I don't like pirating stuff. It's a weird thing I have, but it seems too much like theft. If I put up a chapter of a story I'm writing, and then everyone cheerfully read it and declared that it was fantastic and then didn't buy the book, I think the top of my head would explode with anger.

Anyway, that's something else, and entirely off-topic. However, it did entirely absorb me for the rest of the day, and I have to say it's the first time I've really appreciated my Kindle - the whole collection of books for £20 is a steal, and about 15 hours worth of reading to boot. I know this because my Kindle has a little countdown timer; it calculates the speed at which I'm reading and then tells me how much of the fantastic emotional rollercoaster is left. This means I keep tensing up as it gets to its final moments because I really, really want things to start getting tied up. And while there's no shortage of that, endings are pretty hard to come by. The fact that I'm still reading it as I type this should speak to just how engrossing it -


By the way, I've not seen the episode yet, but this is a fun thing to do to your friends who aren't yet caught up with it.

Anyhow, Sunday. A lazy day, cooking a risotto (discovered I had no risotto rise halfway through. Did I panic? Did I fret? No. I used basmati, and it still turned out epic. Fresh pea and chicken, since you're asking.) and reading some more. Around half past two I headed out to meet Mary, who arrived in St Lazare station looking like quite the most ridiculous, the most beautiful tortoise you've ever seen. In all seriousness, if you've never seen a girl with a backpack approximately twice the size of her body then you've not lived. Still, we made our way to her hotel by the airport and she did the arcane things that women do to make themselves more beautiful. I am not privy to these arcane secrets; women are majestic and mysterious creatures and I am but a man. She emerged beautified and, with me feeling the luckiest man on the planet, we made out way to dinner.

We were dining, as regular readers will know, at the Georges restaurant, which can be found on top of the Centre Georges Pompidou. This museum and art gallery sits not far from Notre Dame, the centre of Paris, and with sheet glass windows in place of walls and six stories up Mary and I had quite frankly exquisite views of the city as the sun went down and the lights came up. The food was a mix of French and Asian cuisine and was delightful; we had foie gras to start with followed by cod with a light mandarin sauce for her and crispy duck for me. Utterly delicious all. Before glancing at the dessert menu we stepped out onto the terrace and looked over the City of Lights with a glass of white wine in hand.

I challenge you to find anything better than the moment of stillness that exists between two people when no words need to be said; when a view speaks for you both, and the moment etches itself on your memory like acid on metal. Life is made up of moments, and some of my moments I've spent snoring, and some drinking, and some holding my head and wishing I'd done less of the latter and more of the former. But this moment - it's one of my best.

On the way back we made a friend: a lost-looking girl from California who asked us if we spoke English. She was struggling with the metro system and so of course we helped her out and, since she was going the same way as us, the three of us enjoyed a bizarre and meandering conversation as we wound our way back to the airport.

Alright, alright. I'll stop. I can't tell if that's envy or disgust I feel from you, but I'll desist in either case.

So this morning we were up by 10 (ish) and out by 11 (ish) and off to the races, and by races I mean we walked down the corridor and onto the shuttle-train, got off, bypassed the queue - a side note: it is almost always worth checking in beforehand and it is absolutely always a good idea to see if you're in the right queue. We moved to the queue marked "Bag drop only" as Mary had checked in on-line, and thirty seconds later a woman with an accent straight out of Chicago asked if we had already checked in on-line. Mary said yes. In short order the queue reformed behind us. We were the leaders; the prophets, discovering the secret path to speedy bag-checking. And then we had a pain au chocolat, the fuel of kings. I'm sure I'm not overstating when I say Moses might have made it if he'd had this tasty pastry to keep him going.

All of this verbiage - and it is excessive, really - is to disguise the fact that saying goodbye to Mary was really, really tough. Goodbyes, and endings, are an ass, and having to say goodbye to someone you love is even worse. Still, with Skype, maybe goodbyes aren't quite as final as they used to be.

Plus...a trip to Chicago is on the cards, as well as a road-trip to Iowa to see the charming Paula for her birthday. And if I'm really lucky I'll get to meet someone from +Edelman while I'm out there. Cross your fingers for me folks.

Yea, this was the view. No big deal. Hey Eiffel Tower.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Something wicked this way comes

Going to see this in August. Words can't express. Also, there's a link to the title. Points if you know it.
The end of the week, when all my cheerful little students come to me to get practice tests for the exam in five days. I guarantee that flow of nervousness will only surge stronger as the date gets closer. As for me, I had the task of editing the video I shot yesterday. It's not all ships and wiggles, you know - I did some seriously hard graft today, not least trying to get iMovie to do what I want rather than what it thinks would look good.

Ken Burns.


In any case, I managed to bash through that in a couple of hours, to be faced with round three of the thesis. I was armed with my red pen, and together Diana and I absolutely savaged that thing. It's almost legible now, but I can't guarantee it'll stay that way. In the course of this edit I've learnt more than I ever though I'd need to about modeling, and not the fun kind. The kind where you crunch a thousand data points and come up with a 3-D model of the way the earth beneath our feet looked 3 million years ago which is pretty cool. She's promised me that she'll come back on Monday to let me read her results chapter. "Only fifty pages."

Oh good. Only fifty pages.

In the afternoon I drafted a condolences email for a colleague (yea, that's a weird thing, writing condolences having been given a précis of the deceased's life and personality) as her English is not yet good enough to do it herself, which I found challenging. It's the first time I've ever needed to write one, and novelty is to be cherished even if it is rather morbid.

I also gave a presentation of a translation I'd done to the security guys, all of whom spoke no English and were each built like a small tank. When one shifted in their seat, I could hear the seat protesting. Seats were not made for tanks, the metal seemed to groan. However, I seem to have just about pulled it off - there were questions, which I managed to answer to their satisfaction, and there was some ribbing on the member of their crew who'd been volunteered for the video. That done, and only sweating a small river down my spine (it was the heat, alright, I don't get nervous) I made my way back to the office. A few more students, a commiseration with a friend about the exam she and I took together (French, don't ask. A need to vomit, a blinding headache and a buzzing about the ears do not make for a well-examined exam paper) and then it was time for lessons with C and B. C is making strides, and I suspect she's being the kind of student I despised when I was a student and revising between lessons. Swot.

(I was not a good student, but I've improved some, and it seems I'm not a terrible teacher.)

With B I've started on modals, which have thrown him a little - he's gotten used to "I want + infinitive, I like + infinitive," etc. So as a result I can almost see him furiously trying not to say "I can to get some water?" Modal verbs. Because nothing passive-aggressively says "I hate you" like making your language an arse to learn.

And that concludes my day, aside from one small thing. Well, two small things. +Lizzie Fane, editor, founder and all-round supremo over at +Third Year Abroad has asked me to write something for her fantastic website and I am so excited for that. If you're have gone/are going to go on a year abroad, get yourself over to that site. It is literally a one-stop shop for all you need.

Secondly, by this time next week I suspect I'll have passed 30,000 views, which is quite frankly mind-boggling. So here's the deal. If you've been reading but never commented, here is your chance. If you comment on the blog post that pushes me past 30,000 I'll write something for you. Whatever you want; a cover letter for the job you want, a poem to entrap the heart of the person you've had your eye on forever, or a blog post detailing just what a fantastically awesome person you are.

Up to you, but you've got to be in it to win it. Have a great weekend.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Got up this morning and felt crêpe-y

I made crêpe batter last night, and if there is anything that can pull a chap out of bed 45 minutes earlier than is his custom it's the thought of making wafer thin, lemon-juice-and-and-sugar crêpes. They are best when devoured quickly, and to ensure the rapidity of my breakfast I made like the professionals and ladled in my juice and sugar while the crêpe cooked. Folded, folded and folded again, my breakfast was three of these beauties in quick succession:

I tell you, when I have my flat in Aberdeen, and my coffee machine installed, every morning will be crêpes or eggs and toast or something glorious and hot and filling, because Aberdeen is where the Winter lives. Paris at the moment, it seems, has been gripped by solid, stultifying heat - when a step outside means an assault on the eyes, the nose, and the skin. It is as powerful a blast of heat as you might experience upon opening an oven door.

And so I, in a dark suit and a dark shirt with dark hair and dark shoes, near melted into the ground. Mary assures me it will be hotter still in Chicago. Splendid. It will be nice to have melted on both sides of the Atlantic.

This morning, as you can tell, started well. Yesterday ended well as well; I finally sat down and watched much ado about nothing via a wicked site called +Digital Theatre. There are plays on there that you can rent or buy, and my choice (since there's another version coming out soon, whose trailer is below) was Much Ado About Nothing, featuring David Tennant and Catherine Tate as Beatrice and Benedick. It's absolutely fantastic, with the laughs coming thick and fast courtesy of the brilliant leads and supports. My favourite is still this version, though, because Emma Thompson is beautiful and lovely and speaks Shakespearean English as though she were the lost sister of Elizabeth herself. Please, I implore you to watch it. It's how Shakespeare should be done.

This trailer is for the upcoming Joss Whedon (Avengers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) version of the same, and it's out in the UK on the 14th - hopefully not much longer after that in France. I'm really excited for it, because a new look at the best Shakespeare play - and yes, I said it - is always welcomed.

But I've been massively sidetracked, and I suspect I've lost some readers in Youtube's labyrinthine corridors. Onwards.

This morning I was faced with an extensive translation and a couple of articles to check, one of which the author had written in English. Though it seems cynical I suspect he had done so with the aim of sneaking past the committee the fact that it was essentially an extended advert for his professional services, since they do not speak a lot of English. I passed it up with a note attached to that effect. With a little spare time I lent a hand to a friend of mine, who'd written a cover letter to a very prestigious company without mentioning the prestigious company once.

Cover-letter-writing should be a class. Ditch an afternoon's PE or geometry and teach kids how to write a decent cover letter. Please.

At about half past ten I was cornered by a PhD student who wanted me to take a look over her thesis, which is "only" a third finished and "only" 120 pages so far. There are times when I wonder what happens in the polished corridors of Academia, where 120 pages can be graced with an adjective like "only". In any case, we set to it and cracked through 80 pages before lunch, which I ate in half an hour. This will seem normal - nay, luxurious - when I work at a desk,  but in France it is a sin. No, worse than a sin, because sins are forgiven. It is almost high treason.

The reason for my hurry was that I had an appointment with the head of security to do some filming. I spent about an hour and a half with him and his colleagues, directing a brief bit of film entirely in French. And then we went off to secure a filming slot with the nurses. I went away almost skipping; some days I only speak English due to teaching or reading. And then there are days like these, when I can feel the rhythm of the words and look back at how abysmal I used to be and see the progress - these are the best days.

After that it was time for round two of the thesis, as well as instructions from my supervisor and a call to update the project leader on what progress I'd made with the filming. It felt great to be able to say how much progress I'd made, and also to tell him what I'd organised for next week. Great day.

Finally, I had a French lesson, where I spoke more French and tried not to tear my hair out as a classmate tried to convince me that the soul exists because we can be moved by Art. Having emotions does not signify a soul. Still, it was a useful practice, and I managed to give the teacher a minor heart attack by demonstrating "soudain". I did this by sharply banging both palms on the table at once, without warning, demonstrating the rapidity with which attraction can strike. And apparently how swiftly heart attacks can come on, as I looked up to see him collapsed in a chair. I also managed to bring a little Wilde into the room, explaining that it is important to get engaged several times in order to be perfectly practiced when one does it for real.

Jack.  Gwendolen, will you marry me?  [Goes on his knees.]
Gwendolen.  Of course I will, darling.  How long you have been about it!  I am afraid you have had very little experience in how to propose.
Jack.  My own one, I have never loved any one in the world but you.
Gwendolen.  Yes, but men often propose for practice.  I know my brother Gerald does.  All my girl-friends tell me so. 

Well now. I think that's quite clear, don't you? No lady wants a man who is unpracticed in getting down on one knee and doing what it is necessary for a man to do.

A long day. I grabbed a bag of cherries on the way home and got them for free because of loyalty points. Today has been just a gigantic win. I hope tomorrow is the same.

Monday, 3 June 2013


There is no better feeling than reaching out to another human being and feeling them react. I believe that wholeheartedly; it's even influencing my career choices. Today I got the opportunity to write a piece designed to tug heartstrings and elicit donations and, although it's not your every-day fare, I was really quite pleased with it. There's nothing more exciting than pouring your ideals into a message and it working. When you read it, you can almost feel the shift in the room, feel the synchronicity as the audience's breath and heartbeat start to move to your command, collectively building to the climax your proscribe. I'm probably overstating, but all the same - it is enough to know that you've reached even one person to feel that perhaps what you're doing is worthwhile.

It's a bit babbly, I confess, but today (with any luck) I wrote something that will convince the students to reach into their pockets and cough up a little money to help a student who needs it get into the School. It's a tough sell; students are poorer now than they've ever been, but - I look at it this way:

“I shall pass this way but once; any good that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being; let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” - Etienne de Grellet
I'm not a religious man, though Etienne de Grellet was - he was a Quaker, in fact - but his words ring true for me. I am an atheist, and that means I am certain that I will pass this way but once. I don't get to come back, or shower blessings down from Heaven - nor cast up curses from Hell. Instead, I get one shot, one chance, a big break of maybe one hundred years to do the best I can, to be the best I can. When I go I don't get to take anything with me, and as long as I'm fed, and I'm happy, and there's a roof on my head, I feel like I ought to give something back. A few euros now, when I'm certain I'll earn many more in the future - it's nothing.

Sorry, I sound disgusting. Charity should be more subtle, I know, but maybe some of my students will read this and find their hands reaching into their pockets by themselves. We can but hope.

Right. Enough of moralistic proselytising. Here are some pictures of my flatmate:

He's so fluffy. Or she. I'm really not sure.

Rest of today: putting together a crossword (holocene, refining, and thermodynamics are some of the words that need to go in and absolutely will not)

Showed m'colleague how to apply some clever macros to Excel to sort her work for her, and sat in on some tutoring with my other colleague. We had a fascinating discussion about connectedness; my older colleagues felt that the way young people were continually attached to their phones was horrifying; for me, it's a step on the way to making sure you enjoy your work. I love getting emails early in the morning about new opportunities - they literally make my day. That's why this response, from the Facebook page of +Edelman, made me do a little jumpy-happy-dance.

Ohh myyyyy.

So hopefully something may come of that.

Elsewise it's pretty much chilling with a beer on a balcony.

Enjoying it while I can. Aberdeen beckons.

Sunday, 2 June 2013


Cat-sitting is a deeply uninspiring thing, and if you were considering it as a potential career my only advice is not to. However, I am sitting on a gorgeous terrace overlooking a small town in the outskirts of Paris with the last of a bottle of wine and the moon somewhere in the sky, so I suppose it does have some perks.

This morning was spent with A as per usual, and all went quite charmingly to plan - his work is neater than ever and a break of five minutes in the middle when he started to become a little fragmented helped him to refocus. The next few months are going to be difficult, with him traveling across the world for tournaments - some people have terribly hard lives, you know - and me traveling across the pond because Mary had the foresight to be born in America.

Aside from that, it's been a very relaxing day - putting out feelers here and there and watching a couple of things develop in the news, but aside from that quiet and deeply uninteresting. I wish I could offer more but sadly that's all there is to offer.

I will say, though, that if you wish to be made hideously jealous of what a marvelous boyfriend I am, you can click here to see where I'm taking my lady love on her last day. It's a secret, mind, so don't tell her.

Right. I've got an early morning tomorrow, so I must bid you good night. I have a hellish commute of almost a mile tomorrow, and I confess I don't know how people cope. I truly don't.

Oh, and more bad news. Apparently you have to be a "recognised actor" before being cast as The Doctor. Honestly, it's like they don't want me.

Saturday, 1 June 2013


Alright, double blog. I can only apologise; things have been a little hectic and my side projects are nibbling at my time like a shoal of piraña. Let's see: Friday I worked with the Association on their video presentation, for which I'm learning more advanced iMovie techniques. Still in French, mind, when it comes to editing footage in English I shall be hopelessly lost. The afternoon was spent working on the HSE video project, which is ready to start filming, so I'll be out and about with my camera over the next couple of weeks and will, with any luck, get some good footage of students.

The evening, as usual, was spent teaching, and once again C was doing very well. Teaching her has been eye-opening for me, because I've suddenly had to face up to the fact that a lot of English verbs are irregular and thus very frustrating. I'd given B a much harder task than normal, because it was more about comprehension than grammar, but he did very well considering. The two of them only have one more week of school and then it's hols, which is might depressing. Turns out in the real world you don't get summer hols, you just get a hotter office.

I got back quite late, having dawdled in a coffee shop practicing something I'm working on. There were a few kinks in the method but it's fixed now; all that's left is the delivery. I understand this is cryptic and, if you are anything like me, enormously frustrating, but I want to share as much with you as I can without giving too much away. Hopefully it will become clear before long.

In any case, on the way home I got a text from Adeline - asking if I was going to the last BDE-organised party of the year. I replied in the negative; one BDE party per year, I have learnt, is my absolute limit. She wasn't going either, so I invited her up for orange juice and The Princess Bride, because she had apparently never seen it before. I showed her a little Rocky Horror Picture Show before, but I suspect that wasn't entirely her cup of tea. I literally don't understand why not.
(be honest, it's kind of hypnotising)

Why would you not 

love this show?

Stop whatever you're doing right now, by the way, and do the Timewarp again.

(Alright, maybe it's not for everyone.) In any case, we finally said goodnight to each other at 3am, because when it's The Princess Bride you don't stop watching just because it's 2.30am and you're teaching at 10am the next day. You watch and you try to work out who all the actors are under the thick make-up, struggle for ages, and then stop caring because it's so damned good. 

Today, Saturday, was spent with A in the morning. His mental maths is getting faster and there were a couple of times when he almost caught up with me, which is really encouraging. He's benefitting from not being given the answers; as he's following an internet-based course the majority of questions are multiple choice, which I think makes it too easy - one needs only to eliminate the incorrect answers, rather than seeking the correct one from the get-go. So instead I read the question and he cracks on with speed and only infrequent mistakes.

For lunch I made fajitas and discovered once more than living by oneself is wonderful, right up until the point you realise you can't get fajitas for one. So you've got to store it in the fridge, and the wraps never taste so good the day after, and so you always eat just one more and end up utterly rotund, eating a carrot for dinner and wondering how on earth someone could love you.

Saying that, carrots are tasty as anything. Getting on the raw-veg-baton-and-hummus bandwagon when I get home. Hummus recipes from all please.

So that brings us to here, where I say goodnight, because I'm going to drop off before long. Thank you all for bringing your lovely eyeballs to bear on this page. It means a lot.