Monday, January 30, 2006

Oane, tou, sri, for

I give up. Pronunciation is notoriously difficult to teach (and learn) and I spend a lot of my working life correcting the usual "z"s for "th"s and "ee"s for "i"s. Some learners are so convinced that you don't need to pronounce the "h" at the beginning of a word that they don't even bother to write it, so I get this sort of thing to in essays "I ear the bells". On the other hand, they are often tempted to slip an "h" in before a vowel at the beginning of a word, as in "I hate my dinner". It's an uphill struggle and made all the more difficult by the fact that most of the students I come into contact with have been studying English for more than eight years and the mistakes are fossilised. It's really important to be exposed to correct pronunciation models from the very beginning.
It looks as if things are not going to be getting any better. Yesterday, while reading to E., I discovered this handy pronunciation guide in which the blessed Dora the Explorer (she speaks heavily accented English in the French version) recommends that the little people say él-lo for hello, sri for three, and for for four. No, no, no, no no, no, no. Dora is a dunce.

Saturday, January 28, 2006


Look! A cloud of commonly used words from this blog. I could even have it made into a t-shirt. Get your own from snapshirts.


I'm not a great reader of poetry. I did the usual stuff at school of course: a couple of pieces from A Child's Garden of Verses in primary school, some of the early Scottish ballads, that Tennyson about the eagle and the azure sky, "Timothy Whatshisname goes to school", a bit of Burns, some unfathomable T.S. Eliot,and and even some Verlaine in secondary school. I also attended and enjoyed readings by Roger McGough, Edwin Muir, and Norman McCaig. I remember buying an anthology of poetry for my French course at university but I can only dredge up a fragment of a single line from one poem by Paul Eluard: "debout sur mes paupières". If forced, I could probably still recite a bit of Burns, but that's about as far as it goes and I could certainly tell you more about the lives of Rimbaud and Verlaine than I could about their writing.
Although I own several books by poets, I tend to settle for their prose writing rather than their poetry. For example, although I find the deceptively smooth poetry of Hugo Williams seductive ("If it doesn't look easy you're not trying hard enough"), I far prefer his similarly suave column in the TLS and bought a collection of that prose writing a few years ago. I have also devoured and regularly reread Kenneth White's travel writing, but his poetry books, some of which I do have, just don't exert the same attraction. I have some incredibly poetic books by Kathleen Jamie and Alistair Reid too, but none of their poetry. The Collected Letters of Larkin sit on my bookshelf and have been read in their (occasionally tedious) entirety, but I don't have any of his poems.
I used to think that poetry held so little attraction for me because of my lack of musicality. Or perhaps I just didn't have enough soul. But, a passage from Ian McEwan's most recent novel, Saturday, suggests a better explanation. The protagonist finds that "even a first line can produce a tightness behind his eyes:
"Novels and movies, being restlessly modern, propel you forwards or backwards through time, through days, years or even generations. But to do its noticing and judging, poetry balances itself on the pinprick of the moment. Slowing down, stopping yourself completely , to read and understand a poem is like trying to acquire an old-fashioned skill like dry stone walling or trout tickling."
The truth is, then, that reading poetry is a skill that simply takes more time and effort than reading most prose. It's not something you can do properly lying in bed, and subscribing to a poetry blog is no magic bullet either, since the very nature of blog-reading means that one scans them quickly for instant reading gratification. Perhaps poetry podcasts are the answer — there is something very attractive in the idea of effortlessly assimilating the words of a poem whispered directly into my ear from my pink i-Pod as the tram whisks me into work. If it's not in bed and it's not in the tram, the alternative for me is reading poetry in the living-room with the repetitive cadences of Dora in the background: Chipeur arrête de chiper, Chipeur arrête de chiper, Chipeur arrête de chiper..

Monday, January 23, 2006

Statistically insignificant

In a recent comment about the increasing difficulty of standing out from the crowd, R. Brett Stirling recalls Milan Kundera writing that
"in Socrates day he was maybe 1/250,000th of the population, Lincoln: 1/1,000,000,000th. Each of us? 1/6,200,000,000th."
So here are some more sad statistics that have jumped out at me recently reflecting the unbearable lightness of our being.
The chances are that you will have eight great-children. Of those eight great-grandchildren only two will remember your name. I learned this in an excerpt from The Human Body that I use with students of medicine. They don't find it as depressing as I do. (We learned from the same excerpt that I can except to shed 19 kilos of dead skin during my lifetime. Now that gets a reaction)
And here, for balance, is another statistic confirming, this time, the inevitable heaviness of our (or at least my) being. In a chapter from Atul Gawande's book Complications that I had chosen to study in class today, I stopped at the following piece of information: a review of decades of diet studies
"found that between 90 and 95% of people regained one-third to two-thirds of the weight they'd lost within a year — and all of it within five years."
Again, my class of skinny 19-year-olds weren't as disheartened by that information as I was.

Sunday, January 22, 2006


I will spare you the "Streaming Puke Stream of Consciousness" post. Must get back to the washing.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Streaming Nose Stream of Consciousness

Your nose is runnin'/ And your eyes are red / Your head is achin'/ You'd be better in bed/ From the bottom of your fever/To the throbbing in your toes /You've got a cold. Must go to bed. Wonder if some warm Talisker would do any good. When will the winter to be over ? Wish I hadn’t left that pretentious remark in someone's comment box. What could we do this summer ? Maybe one of those house swap things. When will those children go to sleep ? the mercury's rising/ To a hundred and four/You've got a beauty, a bad ass / The mother of them all. What’s the likelihood of swapping our average under-equipped house for a sumptious mansion in the Hamptons? Maybe I'll buy a lottery ticket tomorrow. Picked a book off the shelf yesterday looking for a reference for a student. Book's called « L’Idiot du Voyage » by sociologist called Jean-Dider Urbain. Got in the car to turned the radio on after a couple of minutes realised I was listening to an interview with self-same Jean-Didier Urbain. Now that has to be some sort of sign, I hadn’t looked at that book in at least three years. I'd quite like to go to Cape Breton on a home exchange. The book is about tourists and tourism (as opposed to travel). Wherever we go, we'll be tourists. Tomorrow morning I’m going to order that armoire in the sale at La Redoute. I'm selling a mobile phone on e-bay, looks as thoough it'll go for 1€. Drat. When will those bloody children go to sleep ? Foreign bodies in your Kleenex/ You've got no taste at all/ While your system is dyin'/ the bugs are havin' a ball/ You've got a beauty, a bad ass/ The mother of them all/ You've got a cold I used to love 10CC, I've still got that Deceptive Bends album somewhere. Where? No classes tomorrow and Friday's a "journée morte" at the university: we won't be answering e-mails or phone calls, there'll be no classes. We're protesting against the paucity of the university budget: "la dotation globale du fonctionnement". Shut up please children. I do wonder about these people who land up here through search engines. Tonight I see someone was looking for an English translation of Hubert Félix Thiefaine. I saw him give a concert in Périgueux. The only song I remember is La Fille du Coupeur de Joints. Someone else was looking for "coitus interruption". I wish I could write back and give my opinion. Not a safe option. Today a girl at work told me that her sister had a baby in her flat this morning. She had one contraction, thought I'll just have a quick shower. Had another contraction and an irresistible urge to push. Came out of the shower, waters broke, 15-month-old older child jumped into her arms crying. By the time the pompiers got there the baby had crowned. One more push and she was out. Are house swaps safe? Must go and see if the blogger has responded to my pretentious comment.
Did I mention that I've got a cold?

Monday, January 16, 2006

The Moronic Inferno

Reading The Promise of Happiness, a novel by Justin Cartwright, I come across this paragraph:

"What the net has undoubtedly done is to encourage the loony-tunes to have a voice. There is no moral, educational or documentary standard on the net. It is truly the moronic inferno, with spelling mistakes. Everywhere, people are trying to find meaning in the thinned-out air; they believe that by writing their banal thoughts they are investing them with gravitas; they are proclaiming their destiny."

It's dispiriting, isn't it? And I would like to be able to refute the sentiment but to be honest I know that my own voice, my own banal thoughts are a tad loonytuneque.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Speak to me

According to Geeky Mom it's national delurking week in the USA. I have to admit that I am curious about the mysterious people who drop in without leaving a comment, so I'm making it international delurking week.
Go on hit the "comment" button just this once and tell me why you pop in here from time to time; what other blogs you read and think I might like; make a book/film/music recommendation; point out any annoying spelling mistakes you've noticed; tell me how you think I could improve the blog. Or tell me why you don't like commenting.
If your coming here was a terrible mistake, reveal why you were looking for the words to Hey Lolly Lolly or that "words-per-minute typing test", or a photo of Cap Ferret.

Go on. You know you want to.

Monday, January 09, 2006

I remember

I remember when we flew home after the holidays and my brother and I both had chicken pox and new green coats.

I remember when Mum got a fishing hook stuck in her forehead as we rowed out to sea.

I remember when we flew to the mainland in a plane that was so small that Dad had to sit beside the pilot.

I remember when my brother and I both got bikes for Christmas and the dizzy freedom of riding round and round the roads but going nowhere.

I remember the day Mum gave us some tomatoes and some cheese and let us go on a picnic on the old runway behind our house.

I remember late nights when the kitchen sink was full of sinister blue lobsters, and shiny mackerel about to be gutted

I remember eating peas in the garden and then chewing the pods because I liked the taste of the green juice.

I remember when we waited all night for the boat to Oban, saw it try to dock at the pier in a howling storm, give up, then turn back to the open sea.

I remember skipping across the machair to long white beaches with nobody on them.

I remember the oystercatchers and sandpipers and pewits and black-headed gulls and curlews and arctic terns.

I remember guddling in rock pools, taunting sea anemones and dislodging limpets.

This was inspired by two great posts by Nate and Jonathan.


Saturday, January 07, 2006

Four Things meme

When uninspired, do a meme. Nobody tagged me for this but it took my fancy when I saw it on
Michael Bérubé Online

Four Jobs You’ve Had

1. shop assistant in chemist's
2. shop assistant in fruit & veg shop on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh
3. campsite courier in Brittany and the Vendée
4. conference interpreter

Four Movies You Could Watch Over and Over

1. 37°2 le Matin
2. Sex, Lies and Videotape
3. Le Grand Bleu
4. Urga

Four Places You’ve Lived

1. Isle of Tiree
2. Edinburgh
3. Metz
4. Périgueux

Four TV Shows You Love to Watch

1. That Seventies Show
2. The Sopranos
3. Grey's Anatomy
4. Le Zapping on Canal +

Four Places You’ve Been on Vacation

1. Alquezar, Spain
2. Nepal
3. Arizona/Nevada
4. Colorado/ New Mexico

Four Blogs You Visit Daily
(I visit all the blogs in my blogroll almost daily, these are the ones that are updated most frequently)
1. Boing Boing
2. The Guardian Unlimited News Blog
3. Metafilter
4. Langauge Hat

Four of Your Favorite Foods

1. axoa
2. curry
3. fajitas
4. lebanese mezze
(and rösti, and my Mum's parsnip soup, and rhubarb crumble, and foie gras, and smoked salmon, and most canapés, and sausage rolls, and oatcakes, and .......

Four Places You’d Rather Be

1. San Fransisco
2. Santa Fe
3. St Kilda
4. Mongolia

Four Albums You Can’t Live Without
(I could probably live without any music at all, but these I like a lot)
1. The Year of the Cat, Al Stewart
2. Crosby, Stills & Nash
3. Live and Dangerous, Thin Lizzy
4. any early Bob Dylan

Four Vehicles You’ve Owned

1. Renault Scenic
2. Renault 19
3. Opel Kadett
4. I've only ever owned three but P. had a Citroën GS when I met him

Four Taggees

1. Sarah
2. Ms Mac
3. Antipo
4. L'Oiseau
and anyone else who lacks inspiration and fancies doing this.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Home Free

I love my ISP. Since 1st January for the usual monthly broadband fee, all of our telephone calls to Germany, Australia, Austria, Canada, China, Spain, USA, Ireland, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Singapore AND THE UK have been absolutely free. Oh, yes and I can watch TV on my PowerBook too.
Now all I have to do is find friends to phone in Australia and all Free has to do is sign up some decent television channels.


Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Did you say Happy New Year?

Is it just me (again) or does anyone else find the repetitive and compulsory wishing of health, happiness, and prosperity for the New Year a little creepy? Somehow, no matter how sincerely expressed, all these good wishes serve as a reminder that there are other possibilities; that for some, 2006 will be a year of famine and divorce and illness and redundancy and war and plague and pestilence and bankruptcy and other natural and unnatural catastrophes. (Feeling cheered up?)
Here in France it's not enough just to say a short "Bonne Année", you have to add something along the lines of ...."et tous mes voeux pour vous et votre famille" or "et bonne santé" often followed (especially if you're speaking to someone old and decrepit) by "car c'est le plus important n'est-ce pas, ha ha".
Why do we do it? Is it superstition? Do we really believe that by just expressing the wish that our acquaintances won't be affected by bad vibes in the coming year we will protect them in some way? (What do you mean I have Bodoquin's Gonorrhea, I can't have, Lesley wished me good health last January.) In which case, may I suggest that we do what the Mormons do when they baptise all those dead people and start looking out the electoral registers and wishing a HNY in absentia to every name on there.
I love that scene in Indochine where Catherine Deneuve looks at her beautiful grandchild for the first time and loudly exclaims what an ugly little critter she is, then explains that this is just a way of tricking the gods into thinking the baby's not worth bothering about so that they won't try to carry her off.
So from now, in an effort to ward off all evil spirits, I think I'll be wishing everyone an Abysmal New Year.


Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Twenty O Six

A very, very happy new year to you all.

I'd like to begin 2006 with a question and an apology. Is anyone else getting an ugly pop-up when they open my page? Even with the Firefox pop-up blocker 0n? Where does it come from? What can I do to get rid of it? Why me? And sorry if this has been bugging you.

The picture above is of me walking through a dark corridor lined with inflated rubber gloves last week. Very symbolic n'est-ce pas?



Being confined indoors most of the day, just the four of us, is reminding me of the days when my children were wee and most of our weekends ...