Thursday, February 28, 2008

From Peacocks to Pints I was teaching second conditionals to an English group and the word 'peacock' came in a text. They asked me what it meant and while I was explaining - bird, colourful tail, tastes like chicken (I don't know, maybe it does - I teach English not cooking) - I had an incredibly strong image of a pint of beer, of quaffing a pint of beer, of quaffing this pint of beer...

I told my students about my vision, they were bemused - actually, I believe they were thinking something like, "Himmels Willen, does he associate everything with a beer???"

It's all Freudian this association stuff isn't it? Well, if so, cheers for that, Sigi me old mate!

The thing is... there is a farm in Lydiate, just north of Liverpool, where we sometimes go to get fresh veg and stuff when we are over there... and there is a little pond with ducks and chickens and... peacocks.

First association.

Now, this farm can get a bit dusty, which can make your throat quite dry... and this is reason enough to stop, on the way back, at this pub, The Scotch Piper, about a mile down the road...

Second association.

This led, in a flash, to a marvellous malty memory of quaffing a pint of beer, that pint of beer above, a beer which swiftly became a favourite of mine.

Third (and best) association

The beer is called Sneck Lifter and it contains substances which give it problem solving qualities, or rather problem dissolving qualities. The first quaff, which should be seriously long and concentrated, gives you that pleasant ahhhhh-bloody-hell-that's-a-great-pint feeling; the second quaff, which can be equally long and serious but more sensuous than concentrated, makes all the colours around you seem to glow just that little bit more, and by the third these magic Sneck Lifter substances have reached the part of your brain where all your most awkward problems are kept and have begun to melt them slowly away and this produces the second, but in this case definitely capital AHHHHHHHHHH!!

So the example of a second conditional for the class was, 'if I were there, I would order a pint of Sneck Lifter.'

Dead easy English!

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Saturday, February 16, 2008


Anyone who saw the post here about mobile phones...? Sorry but it seems to have been more than a little unreliable!

More details here...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Bit of a Tuesday Rant!

People often ask me what my hobby is. I have always hated that question cos I hate the word hobby. It immediately conjures up pictures of wild wood shavings and the smell of glue and my desperately failed carving of a sparrow in woodwork at school and my not-much-less of a failed dove-tailed joint for which Woody Birch, the woodwork teacher, generously awarded me a 6 in the end of term exams.

However it has recently occurred to me, in fact 10 minutes ago, that I might just be able to answer the question in future. Could it be that science is a hobby of mine - or is it just an interest? Ah, hobby'll do.

I suppose I got entranced by science through the NASA space programme in the 60s. Following the Gemini and subsequent Apollo missions and trying to work out what it was all about. Why were they putting a seismograph on the moon, what was all this about a laser reflector to measure the distance between Earth and Moon exactly? I avidly read my Tomorrow's World Annual and had a load of astronomy books.

And I just kept on reading this kind of thing: Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Penrose, Sagan, Hawking, Dawkins, etc, etc.

These days they often - but, annoyingly, not always - have a section in decent bookshops called 'popular science'. I love browsing around there.

I have to admit I am still struggling with relativity; quantum physics is basically "huh?" but evolution, for example, now makes wonderful, elegant sense to me thanks to Richard Dawkins.

The strange thing is that the science of my youth, which seemed so clear and bright, has now become something which many people feel the need to attack or at least find boring and my-brain-hurts-Brian complicated. I find if I mention something I have been reading about in these kind of books, I get rolly-eye reactions, as if to say, 'it's not science, it's sigh-ence.'

Ok, it is complicated but so what? I am trying, for about the 20th time, to read 'The Emperor's New Mind' by Roger Penrose and a lot of it is still way above my head and always will be but each time I read it I find something new that clicks into place thanks to reading other books on the same sort of subject. This stuff makes me sit and think, ponder, consider, contemplate... to try and get some sort of better grasp of the subject, try to understand the experiments and what they reveal - and in the background there is always the knowledge that research is going on and that nature's secrets will slowly be further unravelled.

This is why I am constantly shocked by the slow insidious creep of stuff like creationism or 'Intelligent' Design and biblical literalism back into mainstream dialogue. It seems to be rampant in the US at the moment and unfortunately what is rampant over there seems to end up becoming rampant over here, viz. McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, hire and fire, etc.

'Teach creationism as an alternative to natural selection and evolution...' WHAT???

'Use the bible as a reference text for science...' WHA-HA-HAT?????????

I remember how dumbfounded I was the first time I met someone who believed that the bible (the Christian bible, Old Testament, New Testament, eye-for-an-eye, turn-the-other-cheek, etc) was literally true; that every word was the inerrant word of god. This was a woman I had worked with for a few months whom I had considered quite normal.

I was totally shocked, and funnily enough, so was she that I didn't think the same!

Taken to its extreme, this sort of thing just says, 'don't think, don't ponder, etc; if there is something we can't work out, god did it; if you don't understand, god doesn't want you to understand.'

Oh, and all this 'inerrant word of god' cobblers... which words are they which are supposed to be so inerrant? The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and the New Testament in Hellenistic Greek. And when I say written, I mean written... by hand, each copy. Each copy, yes each and every copy, written by hand by some educated/half-educated/who-knows-how-educated slave or monk etc. This is why there are schools of textual critics who spend their lives discussing variations in the various copies of the copies. And then the Hebrew and Greek gets translated into Latin and subsequently English and then the text is edited, revised, abridged...

Among other things, I work as a translator and when I think of some of the mistakes I have made... even in texts where I was being extra careful... ouch!

So which of these copied, garbled, misspelled, mistranslated, edited and revised words are the inerrant ones?

God knows.

Rant over, ta very much!

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Author of My Own Success?

I've been meaning to do this for ages and now I have finally got myself set up on the self-publisher website Lulu:

And here is - My Storefront!

There is also a widget right down at the bottom of this here blog. So far there are just a couple of things to buy, 2 books and one track from my CD, but it's a start.

Lulu seems to be quite an interesting idea... however, I will wait and see how long it takes to make that first million.

Still, the clock is ticking...

Friday, February 08, 2008

That's the Diet Up The Spout...

I bloody KNEW it!

Being overweight is largely genetically determined! Thanks mum, thanks dad.

The BBC reveals news of studies done in England.

So all I need is a new pair of genes...


Monday, February 04, 2008

The Lucky Ones

The death of someone you know - in this case a guy here in Deepest Bavaria whom I knew from the music scene and folk music sessions - has unpredictable effects on your thoughts.

In this case I have found myself thinking of the strikingly powerful start to Richard Dawkins' book 'Unweaving the Rainbow':

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born.

It does indeed make us the lucky ones when you think where we came from and how we came to be - an egg from your mother, a sperm from your father...

That's amazing enough as it stands but when you factor in some of the numbers ...ok, your mother would have produced about one egg a month but your father may have been bombarding those monthly eggs with quadrupillions of sperm; and all of these eggs and sperm contained a little package of chromosomes which could provide a unique collection of physical, anatomical, mental and psychological attributes. Each egg, each sperm with a slightly different mix, making you very very very (my ability to calculate probabilities is at the heads-or-tails level but even I know that the word 'very' back there should be repeated an astronomic number of times - but let's make do with three) unlikely to exist - but you do.

You reading this blog is the proof that you have made it - my writing it is proof that I am still hanging on here. There's this little slice of existence we are fortunate enough to be experiencing - it must be better than no existence at all...

Anyway, it makes me think that it's not so much a case of carpe diem but carpe your bleedin' vitam.