Friday, December 23, 2005
Well, we slipped out round the corner just before to one of the hundreds of little Xmas tree markets and got ourselves a tree...a Xmas tree, a pagan Xmas tree!
It looks a lot better in reality than in the picture - I don't know how to take pictures in the dark without flash so it's all too sort of lit up and not romantic but what the hell, you can use your imaginations a bit!
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
The first votes were for pizza of course but then Nicky, my older daughter, started brainwashing the rest of the family to want Greek. She has a real talent for brainwashing!
So we all wanted Greek...but what exactly? Well, with Nicky's help, we settled on a poikilia for five persons and gyros for four...we phoned the local Greek and a couple of us trudged out into the whirling snow to get the grub.
Fortunately, we got there a little before they had finished preparing it so there was time for a quick beer - just to while away the moments of waiting - and an ouzo or two on the house and it was in a happy hungry mood that we crunched back through the blizzard.
The others had laid the table so we got started on our starters straight away...tzatziki, tarama, melitzanasalata, saganaki, florines, dolmadhes...mmmmmmm - washed down with the smooth retsina I had got for my birthday...and with the aroma of the gyros warming in the kitchen drifting into the dining room.
The starters were getting well snaffled and plates were being wiped with pitta bread when Tanja Maria went out to get the meat - she brought it all in, steaming in a big Greek oven pan - a tapsi - garnished with onions, fresh parsley and wedges of lemon - caught her sleeve on a chair...and sent the whole panful flying - as we all looked on in shock and disbelief...gyros tumbling gracefully in slow motion through the air and down onto the floor with a clatter as the pan landed alongside it all - demonstrating, in an experiment I am sure Gallileo had never thought of, that Newton's Laws hold true even in the Newton household...
I found myself gabbling, "it will still be ok to eat, it will still be ok to eat..."
But it wasn't. Even though the floor had not long before been vacuumed, the meat was all dusty and fluffy and gritty and basically..bleaaaargghhhh!
So we had to phone the restaurant again and they found our Greek food tragedy all very amusing...we could hear the cackles of laughter from the kitchen down the telephone..."sto patoma, sto patoma, re!!" ("on the floor!").
A different delegation was sent out to bring back the meat and it all went well. The Greeks said they had given us extra large portions this time and that we should call back if anything else went wrong.
If they had had my so-called sense of humour (fortunately they haven't), they would have sent a Xmas card with the second lot of food and written on it...
"Merry Xmas and a Happy New Gyros!"
Sunday, December 18, 2005
Already there have been accidents on the motorways resulting in vast traffic jams with people stuck in their cars in the cold for hours...
Normally I would be getting slowly into a panic about the roads and the conditions - it is about the time I would be thinking about setting of for Liverpool - but this year I don't need to worry about it as we are staying here.
The first Xmas without my mother will be hard enough I think without being in her house and having constant reminders that she is not there any more. Xmas was her favourite festival..she always used to say, "I can't be bothered with New Year...all that waiting around for twelve o'clock and by the time it comes we're all either drunk or tired out!"
She much preferred Xmas with its emphasis on family and that's why we went back in the festive season as often as we could - and especially in the last three years when she was ill, we were always there to get her out of the nusing home and try and give her the family Xmas in her own house which she so loved.
Last Xmas we even had snow in Liverpool...a thin dusting which was just enough to make it a white (and only slightly green) Xmas. On Xmas Day we were all together in the living room and my mother was in her wheelchair looking out of the window at the garden which was turning white before our eyes.
Following her stroke she could hardly speak but she managed to enunciate the sentence, "I wish I could just stay here forever..."
There are some presents you can't give...
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
When I was in
I recall saying, ‘what?’ out loud on the train.
Later that week, talking to my cousins, I mentioned this and they said, ‘oh yeah…you are also not supposed to say A.D. or B.C. any more either…it might offend the Islamic groups…’
I thought it was an English eccentricity but now I have seen quite a few
I’ve never been a great fan of the kind of political correctness which infects our society at present but I suppose you could argue that it is the lesser evil and perhaps it makes us think a moment before saying or doing something that would be offensive but this kind of idiocy makes us all much more aware of differences and stokes resentments.
I asked the Asian guy who runs our corner shop what he thought of Xmas.
‘Best time of the year,’ he said, ‘great for business!’
I said I meant whether he thought it offended his beliefs. He just gave me a funny look which I guess was the best answer.
It is a wonderful thing that we live in a society which tries to be tolerant. In fact I believe we should be tolerant of everything except intolerance (is this another example of Gödel’s incompleteness theory?) but tolerance is not a one-way street - it needs to be mutual.
When you look in from the outside, some religious practices can seem more than a little weird but if you think hard enough you can often find reasons for them. Take Christmas itself as an example. It is just the old pagan celebration of the winter solstice – the time of the year when the sun seems at its weakest and dark night time is winning its battle against the day. In the old days of superstition and fear I can see lots of reasons for having a big party to try and convince the sun to come back again…and to use the pine tree, which unlike the other bare, black and leafless deciduous trees, has retained its needles and remained green throughout the winter, as a symbol of eternal fertility and maybe decorate it…come to think of it, perhaps we should stop using this pagan symbol of the Xmas tree…it might offend the Christians.
Friday, December 09, 2005
Anyway, the Friday book, yes...this week it is by an author who I think is not at all as well known as he should be. Which of you has heard of Robertson Davies??
Well, you should all just run straight out to yout local bookstore and order something by him because he is brilliant!!
The book which jumped down from the shelf is "Fifth Business". It is ostensibly the life story of Dunstan Ramsey and the characters with whom his life is intertwined but it ranges all over the place from Canada where Ramsey grows up in the dour village of Deptford to the France of the First World War and other parts of Europe; it unites myth and hagiography, magic and psychoanalysis and is just indescribably good.
Here is Dunstan being caught out by his mother for stealing an egg. He has been inspired by a book on magic he finds in the library and now has the perhaps somewhat over-ambitious aim to become a prestidigateur. He takes an egg from the kitchen at home to practise a particularly deft bit of manipulation which ends in him putting his thumb through it in his back pocket:
Ha ha. Every boy has experiences of this kind, and they are usually thought to be funny and childlike. But that egg led to a dreadful row with my mother. She had missed the egg - it never occurred to me that anybody counted eggs - and accused me of taking it. I lied. Then she caught me trying to wash out my pocket... She exposed my lie and demanded to know what I wanted with an egg. Now, how can a boy of thirteen tell a Scotswoman widely admired for her practicality that he intends to become the world's foremost prestidigateur? I took refuge in mute insolence. She stormed. She demanded to know if I thought she was made of eggs.
(Dunstan gives a cheeky reply)
My mother had little sense of humour...and from the kitchen cupboard produced the pony whip.
"Don't you dare touch me," I shouted , and that put her into such a fury as I had never known - she pursued me round the kitchen, slashing me with the whip until she broke me down and I cried. She cried too, hysterically, and beat me harder, storming about my inpudnce, my want of respect for her - until at last her fury was spent, and she ran upstairs in tears and banged the door of her bedroom. I crept off to the woodshed, a criminal and wondered what I should do. Become a tramp perhaps? Hang myself?
(Later Dunstan has to apologise on his knees)
When it came time for me to go to bed my mother beckoned me to her, and kissed me, and whispered, "I know I'll never have another anxious moment with my own dear laddy."
I pondered these words before I went to sleep. How could I reconcile this motherliness with the screeching fury who had pursued me around the kitchen with a whip, flogging me until she was gorged with - what? Vengeance? What was it? Once when I was reading Freud for the first time, I thought I knew. I am not so sure I know now. But what I knew then was that nobody - not even my mother - was to be trusted in a strange world that showed very little of itself on the surface.
The characterisations are stunning, the plot gripping and the background information fascinating. This was the first of his books which I had read and as the end approached I found myself feeling wearily sad because I could not believe that the author would be able to do this again in another book...I feared it would be a one off into which Davies had put his all and which as a result would mean his other works would be thin and disappointing. Well, he had indeed put his all into this book but he did manage it again in the next book I read...and in all the other books I have read of his - each one was quite unique and exasperatingly good but totally different from the others. The only other author I have ever known who kept coming up with top quality was Thomas Hardy and the only writer with such a range of understanding of the human condition was Shakespeare.
After you have read this book you will want to nag your friends until they read it too!
Fifth Business by Robertson Davies. Published in Penguin Books 1977
Monday, December 05, 2005
William's picture was a portrait of Einstein done in pencil and there is definitely a touch of the thin line between genius and madness in his portrayal. There were a few other pictures done by kids from his school and other grammar schools in Munich...some of them featuring Einstein as a super hero, others concentrating on the atomic bomb which his theories helped to create. It always struck me as ironic that such crowning intellectual achievements as the special and general theories of relativity should be put under a veritable cloud...a mushroom cloud only forty years later and be forever linked to the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki...that's humans for you.
Anyway, my mother would also have said, "another artist in the family" - so far we have Katherine who is studying art and Jimmy who is on the way to being a bassist, he's in a band already and will be performing with the school big band at Xmas, and then there's Nicky who is an artist of life...
It's great...I love it...
...but I wouldn't have minded if one of them had been interested in fixing cars!
Saturday, December 03, 2005
This week the book which was waving from the bookshelf is one of a few titles from an author who will probably figure again one Friday.
It is "Unweaving the Rainbow" by Richard Dawkins.
Dawkins seems to spend half of his time defending Darwinism against the misrepresentations of creationists and lately so-called "Intelligent" Design-ists and the misunderstanding of various established scientists who really should know better and the other half defending himself against those who seem to believe that the fact that he roundly rejects religious beliefs automatically implies that he must be some kind of child-eating monster who blatantly ignores human moral instincts. Many people seem to believe that the merest whiff of atheism implies that the person in question is likely to live their life under no restraints at all and perhaps think he or she can freely commit murder and get away with it; strangely many other people who are believers in some religion or other assert their murderous inclinations by revealing that "god" whispered in their ear or that they had a "conversation" with this self same "god" - and, chillingly, you can go to some very high and important places to find people who profess this kind of thing.
It's a wonder that Dawkins has any time left to write anything let alone books which are stunningly excellent.
In "Unweaving the Rainbow"Dawkins aims to emphasise the wonder which science can spark and refutes those who think it has reduced the beauty of the world to a few formulas on a crumpled piece of paper. He shows us that poetry is very much alive and well in the way that science is slowly unravelling the mysteries of the universe. He looks at light and sound, how DNA is used in the lawcourts, proffers an explanation for our tendencies to create and believe in superstition and generally passes on his great enthusiasm and passion for his subject. And all this written in an English which is breathtakingly good.
The Sunday Times said, "The way Dawkins writes about science is not just a brain-tonic. It is more like an extended stay on a brain health-farm ... You come out feeling lean, tuned and enormously more intelligent".
Unweaving the Rainbow by Richards Dawkins. Penguin Books 1999
Thursday, November 24, 2005
The fact that it is still Thursday gives you an idea of how this is going to pan out...but my excuse is that I have an English course all day tomorrow and I have to play in the evening so I might not have time otherwise.
So, the book which waved at me from the shelf turns out to be an absolute perfect first book for this weekly literary ramble. It was my ancient falling-to-pieces copy of John Steinbeck's 'Travels with Charley' which I managed to liberate from the shelves of the school where I was working, the now defunct Pitmans' School of English in Munich, when they were closing down in 1982. I snaffled the book and at the same time a couple of tables - one of which is in this very room as I write, covered in all sorts of papers and letters, cassettes and what-not.
I love this book but I have to be careful about reading it because everytime I do it makes me restless and gives me a dose of what the German language, reaching into its stock of very useful and expressive words, would call Fernweh ...which I suppose I would translate as 'itchy feet'.
John Steinbeck decides he needs to get back in touch with his own country, to find out what people are really talking about, what your typical American thinks, feels, is moved by; so he gets himself a sturdy little camping truck and sets off with his dog, the eponymous Charley to cross the United States - that alone is enough to make me burst with envy and my feet itch me to near insanity. There follows "a rambling passionate soliloquy written by a man whose simple goodness is the true continuity."
He sets off just after Labor Day, which is the first Monday in September if I am not mistaken, and this is a little bit from very early on in the trip:
"We drove on in the autumn afternoon, heading north. Because I was self-contained, I thought it might be nice if I could invite people I met along the way to my home for a drink, but I had neglected to lay in liquor... ...a small store was set well back from the road in a grove of sugar maples. It had a well-kept garden and flower boxes. The owner was a young-old man with a grey face, I suspect a teetotaller. He opened his order book and straightened the carbons with patient care. You never know what people will want to drink. I ordered bourbon, scotch, gin, vermouth, vodka, a medium good brandy, aged applejack, and a case of beer. It seemed to me that those might take care of most situations. It was a big order for a little store. The owner was impressed.
"Must be quite a party."
"No - it's just traveling supplies."
He helped me carry the cartons out and I opened Rocinante's door.
(Rocinante is the name Steinbeck has given to his truck)
"You going in that?"
And then I saw what I was to see so many times on the journey - a look of longing. "Lord, I wish I could go."
"Don't you like it here?"
"Sure. It's all right, but I wish I could go."
"You don't even know where I'm going."
"I don't care. I'd like to go anywhere."
Just going through that little bit I realise how much Steinbeck has influenced my style of writing (I hope) even down to the use of hyphens - and it has also made me want to read the book again instead of writing this post!
This Friday book thing could be about to stop before it has begun...
('Travels with Charley' by (the brilliant) John Steinbeck is defo available from Penguin and MUST be read...)
Monday, November 21, 2005
One thing they can do though is trailers. The trailer for the following week inevitably makes you think..."hmm, that looks interesting...lots of strange things going on there...wey-hey" but when you come to see the episode it bears no relation to the trailer whatsoever and you realise it had just been cunningly cut to get you to watch the bloody thing.
And so you watch it and you see that nothing actually happens...things only nearly happen...someone almost sees something...and someone else very nearly contacts someone...a couple of castaways are cutting their way through a forest when they come very very close to finding the meaning of a half-buried something-or-other...
And then there are the bloody flashbacks...flashety flash...oh, it's Jack in Australia with his alcoholic father...flashety flash...ah, it's what's-her-name getting arrested for something...
I find myself shouting, "oh, who CARES??" at the TV.
So, on this snowy Monday when there is a "feature film-length" LOST on which lasts all night, I have retreated to my cubby-hole with my laptop to moan about the very programme I am avoiding.
At least it's not another LOST Monday.
Friday, November 18, 2005
It has been a bit gruelling the last 10 days or so. Driving back from Liverpool and then plunging straight into an all day intensive English course from Monday to Friday. Now I have a bit of a weekend when I only have to do a couple of translations and all my paperwork from the week - and then it is back into intensive course mode next week.
All good honest graft I suppose and at least it means the kids will have something to eat for another week ;-) ...
Devoting my limited brainpower to thinking up ways to keep adults interested in learning English all week has prevented me from putting in the last chapter of PAME! though. It should be going in over the weekend. I hope I won't seem mercenary if I put a link on the last section of PAME! where readers who have enjoyed the story can send a donation in...I suppose I will seem mercenary actually because I am being mercenary...oh well...ho hum...and all that.
I am also going to start from next week a regular Friday post with a quick mention of a favourite book and a favourite quote from it - we authors have to stick together.
Whoops, almost forgot - I was dragged through the snow last night to watch the latest Harry Potter film; "Whatever It's Called". I should say at this point that I am not particularly a fan - I got to page 39 of the first book, having been put under duress by certain family members to read it but gave up as I ..erm .. couldn't sort of get into it (I have to be careful as I am surrounded by HP freaks - it's the same with "Lord of the Doodahs", all the kids went mad about the films and I had to sit through them one very long afternoon during which I spent my time trying and failing to work out who was fighting for who against whom and what the buggery they were fighting for in the first place...).
Anyway, the latest HP offering is an entertaining romp through startlingly impressive landscapes and includes a nicely observed subtext on the stirrings of adolescent desires. The story line is a bit weak and straightforward - apparently, according to a somewhat irritated Tanja-Maria afterwards, they had cut out a lot of the intricate twists and turns of the plot in the book - but that was probably just as well as otherwise I would have been fighting and failing to keep up with all that too.
The two and a half hours passed by pleasantly enough and unlike most of my other late night visits to the flicks I didn't fall asleep...so "well done Harry Potter!"
So, before I sign off and nod off for the night, let me wish you all a pleasant weekend!
Monday, November 14, 2005
I have not known the M6 so quiet since the 1970s. It was wonderful! The M1 was relaxing!! The M25 was almost pleasant. Almost.
I made it from Liverpool to Dover in 4 and a half hours...without thrashing my bus (he wouldn't let me thrash him anyway - he's a stately 18 years old).
There was a hold up coming out of Calais, round about 21.00 after the ferry had docked and spewed out its cargo of cars and trucks and one camping bus...it looked like an accident somewhere up ahead; a few emergency vehicles squeezed past us...blue lights flashing - the traffic was at a complete standstill and people were wandering over the carriageway to try and see what was happening. That lasted about an hour by which time it was getting a bit cold and even I couldn't convince myself any more that listening to some Frog DJ on the radio was fun.
Finally we got on our way again passing nothing that looked capable of blocking the motorway so totally.
I drove on till I reached Aachen and then found a lay-by for a sleep. The bed in my bus is just simply the best...I slept deeply like...well...like a deep-sleeping thing...and woke up in the middle of a dream about being involved in a crash. Great!
Then trundle trundle crosswise through Germany until I reached Munich at about half three in the afternoon.
Not bad...and by the way...England won against Argentina...just watch us win the World Cup in Germany next year...and you saw it here first!
Saturday, November 12, 2005
Before I set off, I have the same thoughts every time, "I have to drive every single one of those miles, kilometres, yards, metres..." - ugh!
It is also very difficult to leave the house, this forlorn little house, all alone. It was a weird week; all the time I was thinking things like, "I'll just go shopping and then go and visit my mum in the home", or "ah, I could take her in a custard cream...or a pie..." and then I would remember that she isn't there.
Yesterday, wandering round Sainsbury's doing some shopping for Xmas stuff, like mince pies and Xmas pud I had to hold back the tears...the first Xmas I will ever have known without her.
Weird; I suppose you just have to go through these experiences...ho hum...
See you in Munich!
Thursday, November 10, 2005
So I can go here…
and catch the train to here…
when I would rather be here…
Just as in the summer my pedantic English teacher’s ear has been picking up a few “developments” in the English language which I don’t like. First of all, there is the question of the emphasis on the word “research”.
On tele at least everyone seems to say, “re- search” with the emphasis firmly on the “re”. This is the American pronunciation. We should say, “re-search”, when we mean the kind of things that scientists do and reserve “re-search” for talking about searching for something again.
This is mildly irritating.
Rather more irritating is the use of the superlative when comparing only two things. The Chelsea manager Mourihno started this when he said “the best team lost” referring to the semi-final of the Champions’ League semi-final last season (I seem to recall that Chelsea lost to Liverpool, could it be?? Ha!!).
As you all know, if there are two objects being compared you use the comparative, “better than…”, bigger than…”, “more expensive than…” and when there are three or more objects you can use the superlative; “the best”, “the biggest”, “the most expensive”. Well, Mourihno is not a native speaker so he can be forgiven – grudgingly – for not getting it right. But when I find the same mistake in today’s Times…uh oh.
So that’s the kind of mistake which makes me flinch.
The mistake which really gets my back up and pumps up my blood pressure is also on the increase even on the BBC. It is when people try to say, “6th”.
It is “six” with a “th” added on; i.e. “sixth” or for challenged pronouncers, “si-ks-th”.
It is NOT “sikth”!!!
So, do you say “siXth” or “siKth”? Are you prejudiced against “x”?
It makes me “sik”.
And to finish on a learnéd note with a little Latin,
“Caesar et sum iam, Caesar sic in omnibus”
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
I will be sampling a bit of British bureaucracy soon. I have to get the local train into the centre of Liverpool and go to the Queen Elizabeth II Law Courts and find the Probate Office. There I have to prove that I am my mother's son and that I can administer her will. Yoohoo.
The probate people have actually been extremely helpful so far arranging the appointment to coincide with my trip and so on...but you can never be sure with the "Civil" Service. Maybe I am paranoid after years of having to deal with the civil service gold medalists in Germany. Afterwards I have promised myself a visit either to the Grapes in Matthew Street (home of The Cavern - before it was demolished and subsequently somewhat red-facedly rebuilt) or the Philharmonic up near the Philharmonic Hall (the pub - if you know your Liverpool - with the famous men's toilets). These establishments both have hotspots where I will be able to get some kind of speed on my connection - at the moment I am on a slow-motion snail's pace of 46.666 bps) and download a few things while enjoying a pint of whatever brilliant bitter they have on offer. That should deaden any pain caused by my encounter with the bureaucrats.
I am also expecting at some point today my blog's 3000th visitor...it might be YOU!!! If so, welcome.
After 4 pubs and at least 4 pints I have finally found out how to use a hotspot!! So this is live from the Grapes in Matthew Street!! Picture may follow if I can hold the camera straight!
Sunday, November 06, 2005
I am posting from Liverpool this week. I drove over from Munich, a 20-hour journey from one rainy city to another rainy city; passing Stuttgart, Karlsruhe, Koblenz, Aachen, Liege, Lille, London and Birmingham on the way. For anyone who has been reading “PAME!”, my power station in north-west Germany is still there and looked particularly impressive as I passed in the dusk. It was belching out steam and seemed to be throbbing with an inhuman nervous current. I must take a decent photo of the place sometime.
I have done this route hundreds of times but never at the beginning of November and that made it special. There is one part of the journey which I have always disliked; it’s the stretch between Karlsruhe and Koblenz in Germany. This is a wine-growing hilly region and I have always found these flat, bare hills very oppressive. They roll on for miles and are always a sort of sickly pale green. I don’t know what associations they trigger off in my mind but whatever they are they make me feel closed in and threatened.
Well, I was getting ready for this bit of the Autobahn, steeling myself for this unpleasant experience…but when I got my first glance at the first hill, I was amazed…it was awash with autumn colours, reds, golds, yellows and browns. All the leaves on the thousands of vines were at various stages of their slow autumnal decay and it was tremendous. I found myself saying “pwah, wow” all the time as these beautiful colours kept smearing themselves all over my retinas. It looked as if someone had knitted a cover for the hills using random balls of wool in all the golden October colours. Tremendous.
The ferry crossing was also a novum – the first time from Dunkirk with Norfolk ferries.
I don’t know where they got the ferry from but it could have been Titanic II. Thick pile carpets everywhere, stainless steel and wood furnishings…blimey!
I asked one of the crew if the boat was really only going across the Channel to Dover. It looked as if we might be setting sail on a cruise to Bermuda.
I arrived at my mother’s house at around 6. It is a very forlorn, desolate-looking place since she died.Still the morning sky put on a good show…you might have to use a little imagination to look at the picture though…
The dawn sky...the clouds should be a bit more pink
Wednesday, November 02, 2005
I have just come back for a quick break from teaching to find...MY BOOKS!!! They have just been delivered.
It is a very exciting feeling to hold your own book in your hand and leaf through the pages...WOW!
I could get addicted to this...now we just have to sell them - here comes that elusive first million!
Update: brilliant business man that I am, I didn't think about putting a link to where you can order the book!! So, here you are...
either from me:
Tuesday, November 01, 2005
This is very nice for them but sometimes a pain in the bum if you a freelancer as I am.
The other bad side is that there is no post today of course which means that the first copies of my new book will not be arriving till Wednesday at the earliest...boo-bloody-hoo.
I have to admit to getting quite excited at the thought of holding this first real book of mine in my own hands. I have had a couple of things for English learners published so far but they were very much within the framework of what the publisher wanted; this is much more my own thing. It is the same kind of feeling I had when I brought home the boxes full of copies of my first CD...a sort of tickly butterfly feeling in the stomach...
But getting back to the plethora of public holidays, one thing I always like to do in classes is ask what the particular holiday is about....what significance it has for the church or whatever. This always leads to a long and sometimes heated discussion because no-one ever seems to know for sure but everyone wants to try and make it look as though they do know.
If they ask me about holidays in England I tell them that we have "Bank Holidays" every now and then and invent some cock-eyed reason why we have them. So if a German ever tries to tell you whence the institution of Bank Holidays originates and it sounds pretty eccentric it might well be one of my old students!
Saturday, October 29, 2005
Begod and begorrah, it looks as if my book might finally be coming out!
I haven't actually mentioned this project on the blog yet for fear of superstitious repercussions...I don't normally indulge in magic thinking (not any more anyway) but in this case I didn't want to take any risks!
It seems like years (mainly because it has been years) since I had the idea of doing a book for Germans about the typical mistakes they make when they are learning English. I was at the Frankfurt Book Exhibition a few years ago trying to tout the early version to publishers and got a favourable reaction but no takers.
Now it would appear that we finally have a product...pressed and printed, ready to be sold to millions of frustrated English students...just in time for the Xmas present season...hallelujah!
I will be posting a bit more regularly on the trials, tribulations and successes of the book from now on .
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
The level is elementary and yesterday we were doing the verb "to be". There was an exercise where they had to correct statements which are wrong and we came to the sentence:
"A Rolls-Royce is cheap".
To which the students are supposed to say,
"No, a Rolls-Royce isn't cheap. A Rolls-Royce is expensive", thereby practising the negative form of "to be" and adjectives.
But there are some students who can unwittingly make the most unpromising material funny.
"A Rolls-Royce is cheap..." I read.
"No", said one of the students, "a Rolls-Royce is not a jeep; it is a limousine."
Monday, October 24, 2005
The galaktobouriko was brilliant too - just one little thing went wrong; as Tanja-Maria was brushing the melted butter onto the layers of filo pastry the bristles started coming out of the brush leaving her holding just the handle when she had finished and making us have to eat the galaktobouriko as if it was a fish which hadn't been boned properly!
It still transported me to Greece though in my thoughts and as I was driving the kids around later to pick up things like bicycles and bass guitars and stuff, I remembered a story about the first year I spent in Greece.
My cousin Margaret has four sons. They are now all strapping lads in their 30s but at the time I was in Greece the oldest would have been around 10 or 11. I heard that they were totally impressed that I was in Greece and they were telling all their schoolfriends.
"Our cousin Phil is in Greece!"
"Phil, our cousin, is in Greece!"
"Really, that's ace!"
None of us could work out why all the kids found this so amazing until one day they came back from the cinema all disappointed and crestfallen.
"We didn't see Phil anywhere...", they complained.
They had been to see Grease - and that was the Greece they had thought I was in!
Sunday, October 23, 2005
I have just posted chapter 7 of PAME! which is the beginning of the story of my love affair with that Hellenic country and quite a few of the people who have read it have urged me to continue and tell the tale of that year, 30 years ago, when I fell in love with Greece and first realised that it was possible to live somewhere else than in England.
I actually planned ages ago to write a story based on living in Greece but focusing on recipes for my favourite dishes and there was also an idea to do a story which would sort of subconsciously teach the readers a little Greek while they were reading it.
I got as far as the first few pages of the first idea and the title for the second idea!
BUT...maybe I should go ahead and write all these ideas and then put the pieces together in a "Greek compendium"; doing a kind of Homeric starting-in-the-middle thing...hmm...
Time to go a stir the beans, I think.
Saturday, October 22, 2005
Tanja-Maria has just made a galaktobouriko, a fantastic Greek desert, for tomorrow too - just tried a bit...it's brilliant!!
What with my birthday present last week and the writing of PAME! I seem to spend most of my time thinking about Greece; a pastime which is actually much preferable to the normal kinds of stuff I find myself pondering on!
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
The whole family was in the know but sworn to secrecy which meant that I got a lot of indulgent knowing smiles, there was a lot of eye movement going on between family members whenever I was talking and any time I asked a question about the weekend I would get the answer, "oh, I have really no idea!!"
On the Saturday I was kept out of the way all day and occupied with a series of unimportant tasks which were obviously totally transparent ploys.
Finally the kids lead me into town on the U-Bahn, Munich's underground system and we ended up in a music club where I sometimes play to find a couple of barrels of my favourite Munich beer, a sumptuous buffet, a load of instruments set up on stage and a warm bunch of family and friends to greet me. It is weird but for someone who has been fronting bands for years, I don't relish being the centre of attraction, however they made it as painless as they could and we set about food and drink and chat and playing music with a will.
At midnight there was the inevitable discordant "Happy Birthday" chorus and then present opening.
This was surprise number two.
Knowing of my love of Greece and also well aware of the fact that I haven't been able to get there for years due to more or less "commuting" between Munich and Liverpool to look after my mother, Tanja-Maria and the kids had asked people not to bother with presents but to contribute to a collection to pay for me to have a Greek holiday!
Wow! I was so amazed that I hardly reacted..."stunned" I think is the word.
Then came surprise number three.
All four of my children went up on stage with microphones, two guitars and a bass. William (10) announced that this would be "one of the highlights of the evening" - he was right.
They started playing a song from my CD (excerpt here ) which I had written about them (original lyrics here). When they started singing I realised that they had changed the lyrics and were singing about me...oooh, ouch, goosepimples and tears followed shortly after. My younger daughter Biddy was keeping a beady eye on my eyes to see if they were getting moist. I don't think she was disappointed!
Here are their lyrics (there are a couple of "in" jokes which I will not even begin to try and explain but the rest is clear enough):
Song for Daddy
We asked you why the sky is blue
We asked you what is two plus two
Your answers they were mostly true
And our World is New.
If you asked us what's your favourite word
Then we would have to say "superb"
And our World is New.
On Sundays we have breakfast
And then lie back down
And for Jim it’s a pleasant break
From living with drei Frauen.
You used to like to play with sticks
Now your blog waits for our clicks
And our World is New.
You taught us how to see the stars,
And made us feel like the sky is ours,
And our World is New.
All the years we wondered
But the answer was never clear,
And now we’ve finally resigned
To resolve the mystery of grey hairs we find
And our World is New.
You always tried to keep the peace
Although you’d rather have been in Greece.
And our World is New.
We asked you why the sky is blue
We asked you what is two plus two
But we wouldn’t be here if not for you
And our World is New.
Oh god, our World is New.
Our World is New…
I am not sure what the words would be to describe the emotions I felt on hearing that...pride was
definitely mixed in there somewhere though.
Thanks to all involved in the whole experience.
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
I will be back with more fine details later!!
Saturday, October 15, 2005
Friday, October 14, 2005
Trouble is I can't help thinking that something is going to change in some odd way. Come to think of it I haven't had this feeling since the day before my 10th birthday when I made a point of studying my face in the bathroom mirror so that I could compare it with my face the next day and see if there had been any changes.
Maybe it is to do with the fact that when my dad turned 50 he spent a lot of time in hospital being very ill...operations and all that...and it was a critical point in his life which transformed him into an "old" man physically at least. And my mother always used to say in a prophet of doom voice, "50 is the dangerous time for a man...if they manage to get through it they can be ok."
The terrible thing is I remember things which happened 30 and 40 years ago - I was there!! My younger daughter Biddy (don't ask) once wanted me to tell her what it was like when the dinosaurs were still alive. I see people I watched as a kid on TV and they look OLD!!! Some of them have bleedin' well died!
Hmmm...two days left and the countdown has started.
Now if I were a cricketer I would be looking forward to reaching my first half-century. Blue Gal is right! I should do it with a four smashed to the mid-on boundary or a six hammered over the bowler's head.
So, where's my linament?
Thursday, October 13, 2005
Belgium is actually lovely...erm...and I really like...um...erm...Stella Artois.
(I mentioned not liking Belgium once, but I think I got away with it!)
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
It was a dark, rainy Tuesday afternoon in room 7 in the east wing of the school; a dismal, barely illuminated classroom. I was sweating over a maths problem set out in a dusty, yellowed old maths text book which seriously expected me to use a quadratic equation to work out how quickly a blob of ink from my fountain pen – actually going from the age of the book it may have said quill pen – would spread over my blotting paper…
Now, it may be that they do use quadratic equations to work out the blottiness of blotting paper and that the infinitesimally small fraction of the population which ends up working in the development department of a blotting paper factory would find this essential, but on that far off dingy day I could only think, “who the fucking hell cares?”
This attitude stood me in good stead up to the o-levels where I somehow scraped a 5, which in England is a respectable pass for a no-hoper.
And just when you think you will never have to do anything like that again…your kids get to senior school.
William, my youngest, admitted to having a problem with his maths last night...late last night…too late to do anything about it last night. So we decided we would have to get up early this morning and go through it after breakfast. I had a look in his school book…it was set theory which for me at school came just after algebra on my list of detestables. They were looking at the set of natural numbers and how that is an element of the set of natural numbers plus zero and how the set of natural numbers plus zero is therefore NOT an element of the set of natural numbers…
Well, there you go…
And so it came to pass that I was lying in bed this morning trying to think of some way to make it all a little more…worldly.
And I had this great idea: McDonalds!! There is a set of McDonalds products – M. One element of this set could be, for example, hamburgers – H – of which there would be elements such as cheeseburger – cH – and, say, baconburger – bH.
Then there is a set of milk shakes – S – and this could have elements like strawberry milkshake – sS – and banana milkshake – bS. So while sH is an element of M it is not an element of S and bS is an element of S but not of H.
So I explained it this way to William: M is the set of McDonalds’ products and H is blah blah and S blah blah etc etc.
A mathematical McDonaldical tour de force.
And at the end what did William say?
“But I don’t like McDonalds!”
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
We actually got as far as the little Greek restaurant round the corner. With writing this last week about my trip to Greece 30 years ago - PAME! - and thinking about the first year I spent there I keep getting these cravings for Greek food (perhaps relating the story is more of a birth than I thought) so we went to slake that thirst for tzatziki and retsina and then wandered around another corner to the local pub - with another craving; this time for a couple of beers and a Rémy and then completed the square by falling around another corner and back home to bed. That was the signal for a very lazy weekend.
This was also my last weekend before I turn 50 - OH NO!!!!!
There are all kinds of strange phone calls going on right now and muffled conversations and discreet discussions which stop abruptly the moment I enter the room. There is obviously something afoot.
But 50! Oh my goodness...50! No, sorry, don't like 50...
Monday, October 10, 2005
The first chapter of "PAME!", the story of an epic journey to Greece undertaken by Deborah and myself 30 years ago this week is now available HERE!!
Nip over and have a look - and if you like it, leave a comment (if you don't like it...hmm, ok you can still leave a comment).
The subsequent chapters will be appearing soon...
Friday, October 07, 2005
Thursday, October 06, 2005
"You won't get me going to any of those bloody pensioners' dance afternoons...they are full of auld women dancing with each other because their husbands have already snuffed it! I'd be the only bloke and I'd end up having to dance the whole bloody afternoon"
In the group we talked - in stilted but acceptable English - about the possible reasons; stress or lack of it, drinking, diet, etc.. and thinking about diet it suddenly occurred to me that it would probably be possible tell the sex of a person by what they have in their shopping bag after going round the supermarket. I put it to the group and apart from one guy who after telling us what he normally bought said, "so, I musst be a voman!" - we agreed that it might well be so.
There is a distinct difference if I have been shopping or if the T-M has been. Her bag tends to have a somewhat higher proportion of vitamin C, less alcohol and more natural branny, grainy sorts of things than mine. If I have been it tends to be all fish and meat in batter, pizza, beer and wine and surprisingly often a big bag of potato crisps which I always swear I didn't put in the bag.
I put all that down to the vestiges of the hunter/gatherer dichotomy.
I also normally get moaned at for not getting enough (ok...not getting any) fruit or veg...and this I put down to the fact that fruit&veg always comes at the start when you first go in the shop and I want to get on my way a bit before I stop.
But as for who lives longer and so on, my dad also always used to say, "life depends on the liver"...well, I think my liver's ok for a while.
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
It was dead easy to install too...Feedburner is the website (or was it Beedfurner or Furnbeeder) and they just guide you through the process and you just do it...and there you go.
I even put their animated button on my website for a laugh...they guided me through that too...and that's the bugger of it all. When I did my website: www.philnewton.de back in the days when I thought FrontPage was a badly spelt and punctuated expression for page one of a newspaper - the page where the footy isn't, I had to do a lot of the html stuff myself and I got quite good at it. In the meantime I just change a few things here and there and now I am buggered if I can remember how to do anything with that spidery language. It's all easy and convenient one click stuff but the only way to learn is to spend hours just trying to get one picture to load on a page...or persuading a link to link - ho hum...it's an easy life.
Sunday, October 02, 2005
Anyway, tomorrow there is just time to drag myself out of my sick bed and visit the Oktoberfest for my 2nd and last time this year.
Tomorrow is the last day. Normally it would have finished today but as the 3rd October is a public holiday in Germany - The Day of German Reunification - we get one more day to go and get the beers down our necks.
There is also going to be an eclipse of the sun tomorrow - the only problem is that tomorrow's weather forecast says that grey pendulous rainclouds will hang over the city so I doubt we will be observing anything more interesting than the bottoms of our beer glasses.
That'll do at a push, though.
Friday, September 30, 2005
Maybe while I am at it I should get myself RSSed...hmm...
Comments and suggestions on this vague rambling self-dialogue welcomed.
(Hmm..looks like the flu has addled my mind more than I thought)
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
I am going to use the fact that I am off with the flu to have a bash at writing the story...so stay tuned...
Monday, September 26, 2005
I am supposed to be teaching English this week but the students would all be learning, "code in de dose" and so on...and I am supposed to be playing all over Munich...
Painful, chesty cough; runny, sniffy nose; throbbing, aching head...yak.
Why couldn't it have been the week of my dentist's appointment?
(Sympathy gratefully accepted and wallowed in)
Sunday, September 25, 2005
I don't think there is anything I like about going to the dentist...I don't like sitting in waiting rooms where all the victims gather before the onslaught; I don't like this awful chair dentists have and that blinding light they shine down at you..it's too reminiscent of James Bond about to be lasered in half the hard way from groin upwards. Then there is that brutal metal poking thing they jab in your gums, the cotton wool pads, the spit sucker-outer, that enormous fucking needle which injects you with the least effective anaesthetic known to mankind, the terrible whine of the drill and the smell of burning tooth - your tooth; the mumbled conversations you can only grunt along with, that glass of appalling mouth rinse and the frightened stream of saliva which just hangs there refusing to be spit out. After this there is that awful moment when your tongue finally gets to explore your teeth and finds them all wrong.
Above it all, hovering over the whole proceedings, there is the tense, raw fear which makes me stiffen my muscles and sweat embarrassingly profusely and which leaves me close to collapse when I finally try to get up from this butcher's slab.
I will then smile...or half of my mouth will, shake hands and thank this sadist for his work and quiescently go out into reception to make another appointment with terror.
And that is the tooth, the whole tooth and nothing but the tooth.
This year there is a trend for the visitors to wear the traditional clothes too. Lederhosen for the guys and dirndl for the girls. This is a great development, somehow I feel that in these days of political correctness and whatnot it is almost wrong to say this but...it makes the girls so look so bloody pretty!
Friday, September 23, 2005
Three beautiful words which I will be saying soon.
Ein is "a", Maß is "litre of beer", bitte is "please" and I will be saying this magical formula at the below-mentioned Oktoberfest within the next few hours.
After teaching, translating and playing music all week I finally get to go to the Wies'n - which is what the locals call the Oktoberfest in Munich.
They have probably already sold 3 million Maß already as the first week draws to a close but they should have a couple left over for me...
Friday, September 16, 2005
Over 6 million litres of beer will flow down a similar number of million throats and subsequently out of as many bladders or even regurgatively, antiperistaltically back out of those very same throats over the next two weeks (and it will be impossible to get a parking space in a radius of five miles around the Theresienwiese where it all takes place, i.e. impossible for me cos I live within that radius).
It's a bit like the pyramids in a way...if you have never been and experienced it you can't imagine the size of the Oktoberfest.
You hear "beer-tent" and you think of something in a park or at a wedding, big enough say for 30 people. Well, these beer-tents really mean business...they seat about 5000 and there are about 10 0f them. Construction started months ago.
And when you walk in to a tent - if you have just arrived and are still sober - there is this atmosphere - a virtual wall of noise, music and singing, shouting and laughing mixed with the smoke, exhaled beer breath and damp sweat - you just do not believe that it could be possible even to want to stay inside, never mind enjoy it...but get a couple of Maß down your neck and suddenly everything looks beauoooootiful...mmmm.
Monday, September 12, 2005
The only different features were firstly the fact that the English Channel seemed to extend from Birmingham to Belgium and into Germany; there was torrential...and I mean TORRENTIAL rain - a veritable wall of rain all the way along the motorways. I was expecting the road signs to be in fathoms.
The second difference was listening to the Ashes on BBC radio 5 which made the rain much easier to bear (if you don't know what the *%&# I am talking about, don't worry!).
Friday, September 09, 2005
What me? Rambling...?
Well, our Odyssey begins tomorrow...The Journey Back To Munich...featuring the perils of the English motorways...the hazards of remembering that in the rest of Europe they drive on the wrong side...the acute danger of forgetting that in England if someone flashes their headlights behind you it means, "please go out in front of me" but in Germany it means, "gett out of ze fackink vay! Und's war SCHNELL!!!"...the drooping eyelids, the stiff back, the aching accelerator foot.
On the way we pass by Birmingham, London, Dover, Calais, Lille, Mons, Liege, Cologne, Frankfurt, Nuremburg (hopefully in that order) without ever venturing inside those places...it is a bit weird this motorway travel really. It's a bit like the sailors of old who travelled to all kinds of exotic countries around the world but only ever got as far as the first bar on the dock road.
Anyway, I will be back to normal service by Sunday I suppose...I might even report on the trip.
So until then keep off the roads...
Thursday, September 08, 2005
One thing I really like about being in
I find I am even willing to get up early to enjoy it to the full. I set the alarm, drag myself out of bed - after two hits on the snooze button, put the coffee on or the water for a pot of tea and nip up the road to the paper shop.
This maybe stems from my time as a teenager at home. My dad had a drinking pal who worked for the local newspaper in Liverpool and in exchange for regular free samples of my dad’s home-made beer this bloke would drop the Sunday papers through our letter box on the way home from his Saturday/Sunday night shift - and when I say the Sunday papers I mean ALL the Sunday papers… a back-breaking favour even in those days.
So we got the News of the World, People, Sunday Mirror, Sunday Express, Sunday Times, Sunday Telegraph, Observer and for no apparent reason the Sunday Post with Scottish news. I still remember the almost never-ending sound of the papers plopping one by one onto the floor in the hall.
Anyway, what caught my eye this weekend were two stories:
First was the article about
This inspired us to have an apple crumble…sorry, une crumble d’apples on Sunday too - topped by something wonderful we found in Sainsbury’s, low-fat double cream…I mean, isn’t that wonderful..? Low-fat double cream ! You might as well try and sell low-fat fat.
It was trés wonderful though.
The other story which captured my imagination was about a young bloke who is an auctioneer at Sotheby’s. In accordance with a new trend to shed some of the materialistic panoply of modern life this guy has given up living in a house or a flat and instead spends his nights in a DITCH near
Imagine meeting him at a disco and getting chatted up…and then being invited back to his place…any girl worth her salt would soon ditch him…
This, however, led me to consider the worst places I have ever slept...but this will have to wait for another post, another time...
Friday, September 02, 2005
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
I have a 3-hour wait at
Köln is full of grinning, spotty-faced, adolescent Christians…all pimples and straggly beards…and that’s just the girls. They all look suspiciously as if they are about to hop about in pure Christian bliss and burst into a verse and two choruses of Lord of the Dance…
You see, Köln has been host to the Catholic Weltjugendtag which seems to have been going on and on for weeks.
There was also a guest appearance of the new superstar of the Catholic Church on Thursday last week, I think… Pope Doodah the 9⅜th or whatever. He grinned and waved…and they all grinned and waved back.
Since then politicians of all shape and size, gender and persuasion have been queuing to be photographed having an audience…this is very important as there is a general election in
It depends whether the Supreme Court here ever decides if Gerhard Schröder's call for an election was in fact constitutional…maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t – no-one seems to know.
The politicians are campaigning though, albeit a bit half-heartedly, just in case - but I think they were taken a little unaware by the whole thing and have been caught with their manifestos down.
You really get the impression that they just don’t know quite what they should be campaigning about…so they are treading water, sitting on the fence and umming and ahing.
Or…maybe they do know but they don’t yet know how to dress up the bad news in enough finery to get the people to vote for them.
In the end it is the same before every election. The politicians of all the parties have to prepare themselves for what, basically, is an extreme binge of falsehood with great dollops of deception and long lists of lies.
It makes you wonder how stupid they think we are.
How many elections do you have to go through before you start to realise this? The scheme is always follows a pattern. Let’s say the present government has been somewhat austere…then the opposition will talk about tax cuts, increased benefits, cutting crime, raising living standards…etc, etc…
The electorate believes it...votes them in…and then…well, all those things they promised…hmm…well, now…they are just not possible…yet…the new government has now seen what a truly awful mess the previous government had made of things and the situation is much worse than we all thought and so…unfortunately the tax cut/benefit increase/crime reduction will have to be delayed until such time as everyone has forgotten all about them.
I mean, how stupid do they think we are?
Then, remember Helmut Kohl. He had a fine story to tell the German voters…and myself I suppose as a payer of German taxes.
“To finance the reunification of
Well, there weren’t…but there was a “Solidaritätszuschlag” – a “solidarity extra payment”…not a “tax” you see!
And come to think of it we are still paying it 15 years later.
Then there was George Bush…the father, not the nincompoop son with his scandalous “read my lips – no new taxes” fraud.
How stupid did they think we are?
Why is there no come back? If you go on TV and tell people you manufacture a car that runs on fresh air and costs nothing, you are going to get into trouble, so how come the politicians get away with it all the time?
Is it perhaps something to do with the fact that they write the rules?
The most amazing thing is when they get together and spend months to decide about paying themselves more money.
“Talks have commenced today in the government’s salary think–tank on the percentage by which MPs’ salaries should be increased…”
Months later we learn that, yes, they have decided to increase their salaries…well, hey, what a surprise!
Imagine the voting session:
MP 1: “I propose that we increase our salaries by 10%.”
So what do they talk about the rest of the time? Probably how they are going to spend it all.
How stupid do they think we are?
They obviously think we are very stupid…and for once they might be right.
I have to check in for my flight soon. Perhaps I just have time to go over and listen to verse 146 of Lord of the Dance.