Thursday, November 24, 2005

First 'Friday Book of the Week'

This is the first in what I hope will be a weekly perusal of my bookshelves for all-time favourite books and quotes therefrom. The idea is that every Friday I take a book which I love and quote from it - or something like that anyway.

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?"
"All over."
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


...took me a while I know, but the last episode of PAME! is now posted...hope you like it.

Lost Monday

Monday night is "LOST" night in Munich...well for everyone else that is. I got totally fed up with it after a few episodes when I found out that they were making it up as they went along. The swines!! That sort of thing takes away the mystery for me because you can't second guess them about what the story is all about if not even the writers know what the end is.

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

Century Up!

This is post number 100 and with it I celebrate the first sale of my book. A student of mine said he wanted one, he paid me and I gave him a copy...and so it begins!

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 "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

Return of the Neutron

I tell you what...if you want to travel on motorways in England then do it when the English football team has an international game on TV.
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 looked like an accident somewhere up ahead; a few emergency vehicles squeezed past 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 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

The Long And Winding Motorway

Here we go an hour I will be setting off on my 1000 mile /1600 km trip back to Munich. Somewhere in a Rastplatz in Germany, sometime early tomorrow morning I will have forty winks and then carry on rolling, rolling, rolling. I reckon on getting home early Sunday afternoon.
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

No Wait for Probate..

Wow, this probate thing, whatever it is and which normally takes up to 2 weeks to get, is ready after just 2 days…and I can go in and get it myself, so I don’t even have to rely on the Post Office.

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

The Rain of Queen Elizabeth II

It is a right royal dark dull dreary drizzly day here in Liverpool - on the western coast of the Irish Sea whence the wind is blowing in grey pendulous clouds containing vast amounts of the Atlantic and dumping it on Wales and the North-West.
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 might be YOU!!! If so, welcome.

UPDATE: 14.42
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

On The Road Again

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 Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

I Am An Author!!

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 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:

The Book!



Tuesday, November 01, 2005

All Saints' Day

Well, I don't know about you and where you live but today, November 1st, here in Bavaria is a public holiday. It's "All Saints' Day", the day after "All Souls' Day", so we are all off! Don't ask me what this holiday is for or why "All Souls' Day" is not a holiday as I have no idea. Both these "Days" were always just something printed at the top of the page in my diaries...along with other things like "Corpus Christi" (also a public holiday over here), "Epiphany" (another public holiday) and "Whitsun" (yes, holiday), "Assumption Day" (holiday) and "Repentance Day" (no longer a holiday - it used to be but was scrapped and the money the government saves or earns or whatever for that day is supposed to finance the "Old Age Care" pension which is going to look after us all in our last days...we hope). In a case like this when a public holiday falls on a Tuesday, many firms turn the intervening Monday into a so-called bridge day so that people can have a long weekend.

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

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!