Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Mad Wednesday

Once again, the day started with me being locked out of the office. This is becoming an unhappy habit.

The morning was taken up by not very much at all, so to avoid the ennui that comes from reading the same thing day in and day out I shall skip ahead to lunch, which was absolutely full of returning students who, it seems, still need someone to hold their hand and tell them how to prioritise. These students have all received an email from their course supervisors, informing that they must take a specific test in order to graduate. This, for me, comes under the heading of really quite important, but despite living in an age in which you can freaking email from your phone, twenty students came to see me today - 10 days after the deadline.

They were full of apologies and, because school life is not really like real life, I signed them up anyway. I am a sucker for a good apology. On top of that, one student is taking the FCE - I have no idea why, it's a hideous mess of an exam and not as valuable as Cambridge think it is - but he will need fairly intensive coaching as it contains a free-writing part. That will fill my lunchtimes fairly solidly over the next few weeks, I think, and I'm looking forward to it.

Speaking of intensive coaching: I had my first session with a group of tiny boy-children today. I'm lucky my mother works with kids; any man unused to it might have felt some fear at the sight of a house with five - count them - boys under the age of 8, all tearing around and killing each other with missiles. Pretend missiles, obviously.

In any case, I settled them down after a few minutes and we did colours and body parts. It was a really, really tough lesson. They barely know any English, and it's really hard to resist the urge just speak in French, but I think I managed to push for half and half. Amusingly, because they know so little English, they don't realise where my explanations stop and the vocabulary begins, thus we had un avion - plane, a plane. Not a plane. Plane, a plane. We finished off the lesson by touring the house and sticking post-its everywhere. We found door, window, table, chair and mummy, though I don't know how impressed mummy was about being labelled.

A long stroll home - it's a good 45 minutes but a great chance to stretch my legs and listen to music. I just stretched my legs because my phone, my main repository of music, has a battery life of exactly one hour less than needed. If I need it to work until 8pm, I can guarantee it will conk out at about 7. If I don't need it, then  it'll be brightly showing half battery when I got bed at 1am. It is possessed by something. I wouldn't call it evil. Just a little malcontent.

In any case; I'm home, my French prep for tomorrow is done, I've a half-baguette for supper and I'm probably going to an ice bar tomorrow. So the blog may be very early.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013


I am exceedingly pleased with today's progress. French class was back up to full strength which meant I didn't have to answer every question. My supervisor has come back - she was away due to some personal matters, of which it is not my place to talk. And I've literally just finished Thursday's homework, so tomorrow afternoon will be dedicated to researching how best to teach two small children English. My mother has already given me spades of useful advice, so I strongly suspect that tomorrow after about 3.30 I shall be sticking, cutting, and writing in big letters with pens that are both colourful and highly addictive, if one gets one's nose too close to them.

I was up nice and early to watch my internet slow down to the approximate speed of a snail in treacle, and so instead I cracked on with the French work that I have just completed. If you have a desire to see a small and - most likely - badly written insight into my imagination, you may find it just here. If you don't speak French, I'm afraid it will be mostly useless, but if five people ask for it in English I shall gather the energy and do so.

This morning was actually full of false starts, now I think about it, because when I got in I sat in the office for a good hour by myself waiting for my supervisors, both of whom live out of town, to come in. As my door to door commute is about five minutes, including checking-myself-out-in-the-windows time, I didn't know that the road into town was absolutely blocked. So I kicked my heels for an hour with nothing to do; one of the dangers of working too efficiently. It leaves one with nothing on which one can work independently.

After lunch my colleague and I coached one of the administrative staff who's a main point of call for all international students and therefore has a pressing need to improve her English. We were interrupted several times, which was really good - it gave us a chance to see her in full flow with students. Remember that we have students who come from Russia, China, Iran...all over the world, and they bring a distinctly different cultural flavour - and English accent. Our colleague dealt with everything beautifully, and it was a real joy to watch her use phrases we'd literally just taught her.

The French class, as I say, was much better, and everyone seemed really energised. Perhaps the break that some of my classmates had taken had recharged their batteries. In any case, it's great to be back, though I think my teacher was less than overjoyed with the two page essay I turned in. I have absolutely got to learn how to edit.

A brief goodbye to my colleagues and classmates and I am home, having passed by the bank to drop off my hard-earned money. The BDE is having a party on Thursday in an ice bar, and three different students have insisted I come. The paranoid part of me has gone full Ackbar:

But the paranoid part of me can get stuffed. I'm excited about chilling with the students.

If that joke caught you by surprise then you have not read enough of this blog.

Oh, yesterday I asked you a question and nobody got the answer right. This is proof that I am making links that are far too far-fetched, even for the great minds who read this. The answer, by the way, was Lancelot, because a golf bag is where one keeps one's clubs. Lancelot is another name for the knave, or the Jack, of Clubs. Like all riddles it's annoyingly simple once you get it, and like all riddle-setters I am a smug twerp whose hat you'd pinch if you saw him.

It won't make me less smug, but at least you'll have a nice hat.

Monday, 25 February 2013

I seriously love my job.

Something I don't say enough is that my job is incredible. At least once a week - at least! - I learn more about something about which I had had only a passing knowledge.

Take today, for example. The morning was spent in the office, entering data into spreadsheets, struggling with a translation that had gone into French via Spanish. The phrasing was complex but I feel like the translation does it justice - we shall see when it comes back.

In the afternoon I had the chance to go over the newsletter produced by the BDE, the French version of our Students Associations/Unions. It was incredibly well written, considering the author's first language is not English at all, and although I discussed the issues with it in French - I ought to have done it in English, being the English teacher - he often spotted the mistake before I explained it. The BDE organises a lot of really interesting extra-curricular activities, and I'm continually surprised by how many students go along to them - I've seen how much work they have to do, and I don't know how they juggle it. For this particular student to go so far A and B the C of D and produce a ten page synthèse of the events is astonishing. I suspect he sleeps less than me, and yet he is a continual ray of sunshine. He will go far; I guarantee it.

After lunch I had a coaching session with one of the professors, and he explained his course to me - it deals with using waves to measure the sub-surface. In essence, one can send a vibration through the Earth, and that wave will travel at different speeds through different media. By recording how long it takes to get back to the surface, engineers can make an educated deduction about the substances below their feet - whether they are chalk, granite, oil or dwarven halls. These waves are also created naturally, by earthquakes, but since such events are far too destructive to induce on a regular basis, this method is used instead.

Several more students have apparently just woken up from deep sleep and realised that the deadline for the test was a week ago, and the remainder of my afternoon was taken up with adding them to my long, long list. With twenty minutes to go, the director of one of the programmes came in and asked for help drafting a delicate email. A former student had googled himself and found that he had been mentioned in a French paper by his former professor. Assuming that this was because the professor had either cited or, in fact, appropriated his ideas, the alumnus emailed all in a bother, talking about copyright law and the unprofessional attitude of the school.

What had actually happened, had this rude and petulant person bothered to read the paper, was that the professor had mentioned the alumnus along with the rest of his class, thanking them for taking the time to discuss certain ideas in the paper.

That's it. It's as though Adele's mother, upon hearing her name in the singer's thank-you speech, had rushed on-stage and tried to wrest the Oscar away from her daughter, claiming that the work was hers. It is that level of ridiculous.

It irritated me no end to simply read this person's whining; I dread to think how the author of the paper reacted to being accused of intellectual property theft by someone who couldn't spell "google." In any case, the director and I crafted a very strongly worded response which she said she would sleep on. It was very strong; the polite words only sharpened the message, which was - in effect - pipe down and be thankful your name was even mentioned, you ungrateful little rat. It might be more pertinent to politely explain the matter, despite the desire to give said rat the ticking-off he deserves.

I've been in for an hour now and I've got a blog ready and I finished my French homework a day early; the topic was Dîner Catastrophe! and if you're particularly keen to read my stab at French please follow the link. My next topic, for Thursday, is to be a discussion between myself and an acquaintance who wants the recipe for the delicious meal they just ate. It's a work in progress, but if I say that the meal was tantalising (from the Greek king Tantalus) then perhaps that gives you a clue as to the slightly dark path I plan to lay.

I must leave you now to give a lesson but, in the meantime, try to tell me who you're more likely to find in a golf bag: Julius Caesar, Helen of Troy, or Sir Lancelot.

Sunday, 24 February 2013


So this morning I was awake on time, spoke to my friend in Australia, and was ready to go forth and teach exciting things to people who weren't weren't even alive when Monsters Inc came out.
It was all going very well. I was wearing my gorgeous charcoal grey three piece suit. I confess it is a little tight around the waist but. Well. As I said yesterday, I have a tendency to overestimate. Today it was my gut.
I was in the middle of expounding on inequalities - mathematical, rather than societal, though I daresay I could hold forth on either - when with a curious stretching, tearing sound the button on my trousers made a break for freedom.
This is not what one hopes for an hour into a three hour lesson, or, indeed, one hour into a six hour teaching day. Never have I been so aware of my trousers. Never have I been so nervous about sitting down.
The rest of the day passed without incident, with C and L being excellent as usual - L in particular has come right out of his shell. We made great progress on phrasal verbs and they've asked me back for extra sessions next week. Excellent. I can't stand inaction.
In fact, since I got home I've scaled my mountain of dishes, cooked a risotto and written this. On my phone. Because I like writing, and I love you.And my damnable internet isn't working.
So well done. You kept me up until half past eleven.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

The land of fairytales

There was no blog yesterday due to a migraine that sat right behind my left eye and threatened to pop it clean out of its socket. That may not actually be how migraines work - I'm no Dr House - but that's certainly how it felt, and I went to bed with a heavy heart. The next day I was due to go to Disney, but with pain that severe I knew I'd have to cancel - and bringing two friends down from Le Havre and then abandoning them would have been awfully rude. Thankfully, with my alarm (summer storm today, completely surreal but very pleasant to wake to) came clarity and renewed vigour; energy, not agony, coursed through my brain. I had breakfast, I got dressed, and I checked the weather.

"Ressentie" means "feels like". "-10ºC" means "You ought to wear a coat, dumbass"
I confess a small problem of mine is that I sometimes overestimate my tolerance for things. These things include, but are not limited to, alcohol, cheese and the cold. As a result, I put an undershirt on, buttoned another over the top, threw on a suit jacket and attached a gift to it and made my way into the cold. The bus arrive quickly, and although it felt nippy, I assumed it would warm up - the sun would shine, the cloud would burn off, and Disneyland would twinkle and sparkle in the light.

Being wrong once is bad luck. Being wrong twice is indicative, but being wrong three times is a good sign that you are not as smart a cookie as you'd like to think. The short version, for those who believe that brevity is the soul of wit, it was exceedingly cold and, despite having got back 90 minutes ago, I have only just regained sufficient fine motor ability to tap this out.

I've also taken on another two students because their father called me when I was tired and freezing, and it was easier to just agree than to turn him down and then explain why. So my week now looks like this:

Not pictured: free time
So that's my week ahead. Frightening. But exciting! New students are younger still, 7 and 9 (I think, the connection was abysmal, if it turns out they're 70 and 90 it'll be interesting for a different set of reasons) so I can foresee this being a real challenge. I'm going to aim for 50-50 English-French teaching and will need to start looking at more detailed lesson plans to really hold small children's attention. If anyone has any advice, I'd really appreciate it.

So: my friends, it seems, slept incredibly badly - no more than five hours sleep between the pair of them. We had to make an emergency stop at Starbuck's before a brisk walk to the RER station Auber. The RER A goes pretty much directly through Paris East-West, and although it's faster than the Metro, it still took us around 45 minutes to get out to Marne-la-Valée and DisneyLand Resort Paris.

It started snowing on the way, big, thick, perfect flakes of snow. This was to become a recurrent theme.

We arrived and were at once struck by how cold it was. At no point did we swear, because Disney never has swearing. Even when lions are being thrown to their deaths by Jeremy Irons (warning: all the sads), and you'd think that at least merits an f-word. Minimum. So there was no swearing at all, all day, even when mentioning how extraordinarily, finger-blackening, blood-freezingly cold it was. We made a game effort and went around every part of the park, tagging the Teacups and Indiana Jones on the way round. We were hampered in our efforts to get onto the more exciting rides because other people were willing to stand in line for 80 minutes to get on them, and we don't have that sort of determination. We were all far too cold.

We broke for lunch in a gigantic theatre and half-watched several of the incredible shorts Disney/Pixar have made. If you've not seen them yet, then here's a lovely little one from Wall-E to get you started.

We all know that feeling.

In any case, by five in the afternoon we were just about ready to crash - trotting around on no sleep in the freezing cold had ground us steadily down, and we made for the train station. Before long we were zooming back through the snow, falling even heavier now, and dragging our weary selves into the station. I said goodbye to my friends, who looked as dead on their feet as me, and made my way by metro and then by bus back home.

The bus, being a bus sent by Satan, stopped half a mile from my flat. That's not far, but in the state of mind where all one wants to do is sit in the warm and drink tea that half mile stretched far, far ahead of me. And blew snow in my face.

In any case, I've made it home. My laundry is on, my alarm is set, and my 7-day week starts again in 10 hours, so if anyone needs me, I'll be the one passed out in bed and not snoring. 

I hope.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

My shoes got less sacred today

They've got less sole than yesterday.

People tell me I'm too serious, so I thought I'd lay my best joke out at the start so that it's clear I have a fun side.

In other news, today has been a total bust. I got up nice and early and spoke to someone in Australia and went through my emails (I'm getting to that exciting point where the novelty of receiving thirty emails overnight is no longer ego-inflating and is instead tiresome and frustrating). I've started using two apps which have changed my approach to working, and since nothing of any great interest happened today I'm going to talk about them.

I appreciate that this may not be what you came here for, so here's another video for you, and especially for +Sheila Bennett who requested the excellent piece in question.

For anyone still here, I've started using a sleep tracking app (Sleep as Android, 14-day free trial) to see if it can clear the groggy sensation caused by re-entry into this world from Morpheus' and an organising app (Astrid, free) to ensure I stop forgetting things. Sleep as Android has massively improved the way I get up, and for that I am deeply indebted to it and its creators. It has some way of tracking sleep and wakes me up at the moment that it will hurt the least, and does so gently. It could only be kinder if it made tea at the same time, and I am sure someone is working on that now.

What it has also done - and this is one of the negative points - is shattered one of the illusions I had about myself: it turns out I snore. Various girlfriends have mentioned this to me, and I have laughingly agreed with them, knowing that their tiny brains can not possibly the difference between fantasy and reality and that they were probably dreaming. I cannot so easily dismiss an android. The evidence is irrefutable, and the worst sort of embarrassment.

If you've ever listened to your voice played back to you then you have at least experienced some measure of this hideous phenomenon. It turns out that how we hear ourselves is not how other people hear us, and the voice that to you is as dark and rich as 80% cocoa solids is in fact very much more like the noise produced by stretching the neck of a balloon and letting the air out.

Now imagine the cultured and refined image you maintain day to day by plucking, brushing, shaving and bathing in asses milk. Fix that image solidly in your mind. Now let it shatter into a thousand pieces like a dropped wine glass as a snore, a throaty, meaty, dear-god-he's-trying-to-swallow-his-own-tonsils-snore, drills all the way through it. Nothing prepared me for this. I was still weeping in the shower twenty minutes later and giving serious thought to becoming a permanent bachelor, purely to ensure no unfortunate member of society should have to suffer through it.

Never record yourself sleeping. There is something deeply unsettling about the odd way bodies have a mind all of their own, and it is at night when that mind comes out and just messes about. I have learnt my lesson. Hideous.

The final low point of the day came during my French lesson, when I got my homework back and found it replete with awful, simple errors. There's nothing more frustrating, but I shall be triple checking future work to avoid them. It was only myself and one other student, and she's not as confident as me - her grammar is probably better (looking at my homework, I would be willing to put money on it) but she barely says anything, and so before long it was the Jonathan Kerr show - a show that is exciting and full of facts but helps no-one improve their French.

I bought some new shoes, I recorded two videos - one you see above, the other needs editing. Otherwise, as I said, this day has been a bust. On the other hand, I've my two lovely students tomorrow and teaching methods to research - so perhaps I shall do something useful after all.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The absence of books (or, sadness is an empty library)

This morning I went into work and found out that the person for whom I had done the translation - for whom I had gone into work early - had had it translated by someone else as well. I have zero problem with this, understand, but when the email that came with it said "I could learn something from it" I confess I had to suppress just a little jolt of rage when the educating document had five errors in five paragraphs. The number of errors in mine, though I am loathe to admit it, was 0. I do not object to second opinions, but I object strenuously to those opinions being thought superior to mine when this is patently untrue.

Not a great start, you'll agree, but it got better quickly. I filed some cheques, I ran some errands, I located the memo with all the days off and put them into my agenda. I'm really excited about May, we have a five-day weekend so I'm tempted to grab the rest of my days off and make it a ten day holiday. Who'd like to suggest somewhere for me to go?

The afternoon was given over to settling into my new office. I should have been at a French lesson, one of only two a month, but unfortunately the teacher was ill, so I was at a bit of a loose end in the afternoon until H, my supervisor, asked me to update my little technical plan with the electrical sockets that had been found after the shelves had been moved. I trotted down and my goodness me, that room is a cold, empty cavern without books. It echoes. The roof seem suddenly very high and the walls very far, and it was unsettling in the extreme. I made my measurements and left Echo by herself.

Returned to the bosom of my lovely little office, I was greeted by all and sundry from the floor. The second floor is given over to economists and other intellectuals, so I shall feel quite out of my depth, but for all their brains they're very friendly and have coffee on a continual turnaround, which is a godsend.

I can't procrastinate any more, so here is the moment you've been waiting for - a dramatic reading suggested by Paula: Taylor Swift's I Knew You Were Trouble.

Please forgive me.

I'm working on something else, but for the moment - and I use this word in its widest possible sense - enjoy.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Holy frack!

The first order of business is to congratulate +Sheila Bennett, a friend and my intellectual superior by a factor of about ten thousand. She was the only one to tweet me the correct answer to yesterday's question, so she gets a big shiny mention at the top of the blog. She also brews a wonderful coffee. That's neither here nor there, but it's a skill that sadly very few people actually have.

(As a side note, and because I absolutely know I'll get a message in angry Spanish if I don't, my beautiful but absent friend Paula also got it right, because she's smart, but forgot to tweet me, because you can't be the beautiful and notice all the details.)

The reason this blog is entitled Holy frack is because it passed the 10 000 view mark sometime today, and quite frankly I couldn't be more humbled. I enjoy writing enormously, and this has just encouraged me to keep doing it, so thanks. You guys rock.

As a token of my appreciation, I would like to offer you guys a chance to be the boss. Tweet me (@jonodrew), or leave a comment, give me a monologue or dialogue or, in fact, anything at all and I shall record it and put it on this blog. Any requests received in the next 24 hours only will be performed to the best of my ability. Any.

So: this morning I went in early and absolutely smashed through the translation I was given at the last moment. Seriously chuffed with myself for that; it was only a page and not too hard but the credit I now have with my colleague (who comes in at eight) should stand me in good stead in the future. In any case, I've started getting up a little earlier; I actually find that on four hours sleep I work just as well as on six, and since time is limited and I have a lot of stuff to read I've just started waking up earlier. There are less people using up the bandwidth as well, so I can watch the French news as I read.

I'd not had time to pick up breakfast yesterday so this morning I whipped up a two-egg omelette, which I highly recommend as a day-starter. Went in at 8.30, translation was completed by 9.30. There was more administration to take care of, and before very long it was midday. I went down to my poor, empty, hollowed out mediatheque and spent the day with sleeves rolled up, packing away the last few books and video cassettes and transporting things to my new office on the 2nd floor.

Oh yes. I have a new office, and it is absolutely gorgeous. I have it for exactly 8 weeks. I must learn not to fall for it; ours will be a short love, but a passionate one.

I paid my weekend wages into the bank today at last, so with any luck my little travelling fund will swell a little tomorrow morning. This evening's French lesson was frustrating, the other students seemed completely uninspired and as a result the atmosphere was leaden. Everyone has days like that, and the teacher did her best, but it takes a great teacher to make the subjunctive "mood" exciting.

I want you to meet my very good friend Mary-Lyne. She's normally quite scary. Honest.

She just doesn't seem that way. She just seems kind of cute. However, once you're past the intro, she tells the story really well and with a lot of humour. Good storytelling.

So: once again, all requests for dramatic readings will be honoured, new office (groovy), subjunctive tense (not groovy) and my friend who pretends to terror but is really just terrifically cute.

Year Abroad winning again.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Too much to read

We have almost completely emptied the mediatheque now, and I had the misfortune of catching a glimpse of the outgoing piles of New Statesman, The Economist and New Scientist. And so now I have about two feet of reading material, the time for which I think I shall have to magic out of the aether.

I am, much like my mother, something of a hoarder. However, while she hoards things - plugs, cables, instruction manuals for equipment long since dismantled or disregarded - I hoard information. As a result, I have a room which could legitimately be the study of a professor of linguistics, statistics, or politics. It could even, at a pinch, serve as the flat of serial chef. (It should be noted that a cereal chef, although it sounds the same, is not. It's not even a real kind of chef.)

There is a chess set, in the middle of a game. A book of poems by an excellent poet of my acquaintance. A library covering titles from Why Does E=Mc2 to The Bartender's Bible (which is going to be an absolute nightmare to get home, I have not the first clue why I insisted on bringing it). A camera, a Kindle, five packs of cards and a shot glass complete the ensemble.

In any case, with the room nearly packed the question of where I shall be going has apparently only just reared its head, much to my consternation. It appears nobody knows where I am going, and I shall likely be shoved into a closet office in the back end of nowhere. However, a colleague has offered me space in her office and she's really nice - plus, it should lead to me speaking even more French than ever. Result.

My extra-curricular working week is now over, and I have to say it's cheering that even in the three weeks in which I've not seen C she's made a concerted effort to keep her English up to scratch. She'd written the story of The Three Musketeers in her own words and for the most part it was excellent; very few mistakes and lots of elaborate tense use. She still tends to use enormous sentences, a habit many French people form (and a habit which of which I am often guilty), so we worked on cutting them down and on coordinating conjunctions.

And now I'm home, and I've written, and I've realised I've nothing for breakfast. I work too hard. Anyone want to be my butler?

Oh, bonus question - which country literally means silver? No googling, and answers to @jonodrew

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Money makes the world go round

This day has not been one of my favourite days. Weekend buses to my student, A, are once an hour and thus, as you'll imagine, I am always in time for them. I had my book with me, and was reading with an eye on the road, when I saw my bus sailing past.

Sailing is a word that is really only appropriate for boats, because only boats (and ships, I suppose) have sails. It is a word that speaks of regal, gliding motion that disregards you completely.

That was my bus. It glided past silently, regally, and ignored me completely.

I yelped. There is no other word for it; a sound escaped my lips that was more canine than human. I tried to catch up, but a bus is powered by horses. I'm only powered by my legs. Five minutes of running later and the only thing I was closer to was a heart attack. The bus was still ahead, and making ground. I gave up. Suits were not made for running, and neither was I.

In any case, that meant I turned up to teach the lesson thirty minutes late, and as those who are close to me know, I despise tardiness in other people and, consequently, even more so in myself. I was in a pretty epic fit of self-loathing when I arrived, and it wasn't helped by A's niceness. He is as nice a guy as anyone could hope to meet, but when one is in a fit of self-loathing one rather wants to be loathed.

In any case, we cracked on with Mathematics, that joyless and beautiful structure. Reviewing it in my dotage has given me new respect for my teachers of the subject, and a new love of it - helped in no small measure by the excellent book I'm reading, The Ascent of Money, which charts the whole history of that elusive thing. So far I have learnt about inflation, hyperinflation, the East India Trading Company and some background to the Merchant of Venice, so if you are at all interested in Finance, Economics, the world and its history (which, to paraphrase all coppers everywhere, can be summed up as "Follow the money.") then I urge you to buy/borrow/download a copy at once.

Being half an hour late pushed my lesson half an hour later; that extra half hour meant I missed the one bus an hour and would have to wait another hour and a half for the next - buses over the weekend take an hour for lunch. I can't get my head around that at all, but that's what happens, so I walked home. The descent is far easier than the ascent, and the sun shone out of a gloriously blue sky. It's still cold enough to crystallise the breath from one's nostrils but not so cold that being in it is unpleasant, and I enjoy that weather. All the fun of the sun without the hideous heat.

I called my little sister on the way home to wish her happy birthday; she appears to be suffering from amnesia and a hangover of epic proportions, so I wish her a speedy recovery from one, if not the other. Her birthday means that our little clan is now entirely adults, but I hope to spoil her one last time before we all start doing grown-up things like getting jobs and settling down.

More reading this afternoon, as well as laundry, mean I am utterly chilled and relaxed before starting work tomorrow. I confess I will never understand people who lie about on weekends, especially students who are strangers here - a year, a precious year, and you spend hours of it doing what you can do anywhere.

People are crazy. Which seems to be the overriding theme of the book. Honestly, it's a great read, can't recommend it enough.

In other blog news, my friend +Claudia Mangeac is moving to London to pursue a life in fashion. It's a cutthroat world and she'll need all the help she can get, but she's also going to be the next big thing - so go show her some love. She blogs here.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Beef stew bubbling on an open fire

So: I didn't write anything yesterday. I got an awful lot of flack for not writing anything yesterday. I'm gratified that I have such eager readers, and I enjoy writing more than anything, but please realise that I'm only human and sometimes I need a night off.

Last night was that night off, but let's start in the morning. The morning started badly; my colleague was somewhere between an hour and an hour and a half late and, since I have no key to the upstairs office, I instead went downstairs and continued to record the DVDs we have. Four hours of that later and I was just about ready to end it all, my very will to live reduced by the illogical way the pile of DVDs appeared to get no smaller. I seemed to be stuck in a parallel universe.

Lunchtime came and went, and that was just about the highlight of my day - a Portuguese student of startling vivacity and a regular in my little mediatheque came in at the same time as me and so we ate together. She speaks Portuguese, of course, as well as excellent English and is attacking her ignorance in French with vigour. She was curious about where I'd come from and what I did, and I likewise was curious about her - I see students so rarely and they all have such interesting stories. Nearly everyone does.

After lunch I lent her La Fille sur le Pont, a black and white French comedy/romance/drama that I really enjoyed. The copy we have is not subtitled so it may be a struggle, but I think she'll profit from it. If you've not seen then I'd highly recommend it. The trailer is just about the most wonderfully...French piece of film I think I've ever seen, and although the quality is abysmal, I hope you'll get a sense of it from the clip below.

If not, imdb has a great quality copy (that I can't stick in my blog) over here, although the voiceover adds a dimension of reality to the whole thing which is somehow disappointing.

The afternoon was given over to more of the same and I left feeling utterly drained and itching for a drink. The drink was to come, but first I had my two new students, who are 12 and 15 and shall be known as C and B. Teaching anything from basics is very difficult, but language more so - I learnt English through assimilation, and so I have a sense of what "feels" right. Going back to the start and trying to explain the tenses is difficult, and I almost wish we'd been taught the rules in school. In any case, it was a success, as it relied on me being able to explain in French, so I taught pretty much 50-50 French and English. All was understood and some small amount of progress has been made, and that makes me feel warm and fuzzy, like a blow-dried panda bear.

B, on the other hand, has a good level of English, so I've set him a writing task to see if his written measures up to his spoken. We talked a lot about past tense, and that seems solid, though as with many French students he wants to say have where we use be, in examples like j'ai quinze ans - I am fifteen (years old).

A minor blip, though, in an otherwise strong ability. I'm really excited about these kids; new challenges and new things to be taught.

And after? I headed into town for a games night. This was my night off; spent in the company of international people, with tapas on one side, pastis on the other and the whole gamut of humanity before me. People were playing go, from China, abalone from France, chess - which has taken a roundabout route from India, where it was called chaturanga in Sanskrit - and poker, which may have come from Germany or France but took off in the States.

It was a really fantastic evening, and I'm already looking for ward to the next one.

Today has been my normal weekend student, A, with whom I'm exploring problems requiring linear functions to solve. Nothing too complex, but again I'm having difficulties in slowing him down. He answers the question before reading it, and it's causing no small amount of headaches. Does anyone have any advice on how to encourage students to slow down and consider their work more carefully? Comment below and I'll be eternally grateful.

For the rest of the afternoon I'm scaling Mount Dishes, another physics-defying construction which can never quite be utterly conquered. I've thrown together a stew too, which bubbles merrily behind me. I've crunchy, still-warm French bread to go with it, though I confess I'm starving myself for dinner and it's looking more and more likely I'll need to go back to the shops before long. The smell is intense.

Finally, and most importantly, my baby sister is 18 today. If 200 people say happy birthday to her, then something amazing will happen. She's on twitter. Go forth and wish her happiness.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Reflected sound, as of underground spirits

I write this listening to Le Roi Lion. Those readers with sharp eyes and quick brains will note that Roi bears a passing resemblance to the English royal, which in turn is linked to the latin rex - as in Tyrannosaurus Rex, which is a vile mongrel of a word, containing Greek, Latinised Greek, and Latin. It means Tyrant-Lizard-King, and is quite frankly overkill. Clearly there's some overcompensation going on for those tiny arms.

Some people may well have not noticed, but it's Valentine's Day today. I've written at length about this particular festival, and if you are interested in reading that soft and squishy part of me, then I invite you to click here for love.

Otherwise, we shall say no more about the subject.

I only did a little translating this morning - some coding that a much smarter person than I had created needed its user-facing language translated - and spent the rest of my time deleting the records of alumni who'd died. It's a weird thing to do, scrubbing away the evidence that they were alive, but there's not much point in the in the automated system continuing to send out birthday cards and invitations to dinner. All the same - once our bodies have died, all that's left is echoes, and here I was systematically destroying one of those echoes. As I said, odd.

Lunch was spectacular again; the quality of the food keeps improving and I'm incredibly pleased by that. I'm eating more fruit and veg than I've ever done so take note, prospective third year abroad-ers - your complexion will clear up, your body will tone itself naturally, and your mind will leap like a salmon in spawning season.

I kid. You're going to eat way too much good food and have to be rolled home like the delicious cheeses on which you've been gorging yourself. You could be taken up to Montmartre and released, and virile young French men and women would chase you.

Cheese chasing. It's a real thing.

Because if there's one universal language, it's stupidity. Personal favourite moment is at the end, when a guy going at full pace sees what can only be described as a brick outhouse disguised as a human standing with shoulder pointed forward. Going fast, it has been said, doesn't hurt at all. Stopping suddenly - that's the kicker. Poor guy, he absolutely collapses. With friends like these, who needs enemies. Or kidneys, apparently.

My afternoon has been spent further expanding the inventory and an hour lesson with my favourite economist, who's given me homework. This is the problem with teaching teachers, it becomes something of a stalemate. Half the lesson is given over to checking each other's work.

In any case, I've got something called The Ascent of Money, which sounds marvelous, and have an article authored by the man himself about whether OPEC is still a cartel.

My brain is expanding in exciting ways.

In other blog news: Mary-Lyne updated her blog en masse, a French phrase which means while at church, and it's viewable here. The riddles are fiendish.

Finally: this blog will likely hit 10,000 views -

.gif stolen from
over the next week, and it's Valentine's, and I normally despise writers who break the fourth wall but -

To every single reader, from Finland to France and from Canada to Australia, you reading this means a huge amount to me.

You know, even if the Finns could perhaps be doing a little more.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

How to make someone fall in love with you in 29 steps.

More old books have gone!

In the same breath: I can't believe anyone wants all 29 volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Wikipedia has more information than all 29 volumes and it doesn't take up all that space on your wall. The teacher who took it told me that he was tired of looking things up on wikipedia and then printing them out. "It's just not the same," he said.

I have literally no idea how to react to that. I realise that paper copies of anything still hold a certain fascination for people; the debate and extended metaphor I got into with a friend of mine over on tumblr speaks volumes as to how passionately people feel about it. All the same, those 29 volumes weigh a huge amount, and he takes the bus to work. I'm struggling to work out how he's going to engineer getting them home. Maybe he'll take them one at a time, puzzling his fellow travelers, until one of them - who's had a quiet crush on him for a while - asks him about it. They talk, they make plans for coffee, they fall in love and out of it and finally get married.

And I probably won't get invited to the wedding, but that's life for you.

I've run out of things to do in my mediatheque as things are decided high above me, and so I've started making an inventory of our DVDs for the students who want to borrow them while they're in storage. So far I've found a ton that I really want to borrow. Oh, the glorious power. In any case, that's how my afternoon has been spent, broken up by lecturers coming in to see if there's anything of interest left on the shelves. A few more books went today, including a study guide to the GRE and a book about British motor cars. Last thing on the agenda today was a call from the (at least) trilingual marketing co-ordinator who wanted a second opinion on a student-targeted press release.

An early blog means I'm focussed on supper, which tonight is salmon with a creamy spinach, parsley and lemon sauce. The parsley is by accident; persil is a kind of laundry detergent in English but means parsley in French and, rather than admitting my mistake, I took the parsley and found the laundry detergent myself.

In the words of my ever-charming American friend Paula - so British it hurts. See also: British problems, real and terrifying situations natives of my little isle find themselves in every day.

I leave you with a surreal look at the most obnoxiously handsome French man I've ever seen, promoted to me by another American - my friend +Helen Alexis Yonov. Take a look.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

In which our hero feels trapped. Inside a whale.

Ah, last minute projects. I love the way they turn everything into an irritating distraction. The bird that tweets gently outside the window becomes a whirring dentist's drill. The click of a stapler across the room is as loud as gunshot and the kettle boiling behind one could not be more distracting unless it was poured down one's back.

The first last minute project came in the form of an urgent translation. My colleague had fed it through Google translate, which had spat out strings of nonsense - more of a reflection on the original author than on Google. He has the most gorgeous style in French, but translating that to English just makes for rambling paragraphs with no clear point. We tend to prefer slightly shorter sentences; at least in press releases. In our private writing we can ramble for ever; clauses tumbling over sub-clauses, meaning lost somewhere in the flotsam and jetsam of what resembles, but may in fact never be - for, in truth, what can ever be said to be - the ending or conclusion of that which we, having started, must now find within our means to end.

Awful. My very fingers cringed as I wrote that.

I am yet to find a satisfactory translation for responsable; it's the person responsible for something else and therefore changes according to context. Despite that minor headache I completed the project on time and made my way to my now very empty looking office. All that we're keeping and moving to the new language center has been boxed and put into storage and we've invited the staff to take anything they wish; video cassettes and coffee-table books full of pictures of rich people's gardens seem particularly popular. They have descended and picked the shelves clean. The room appears eery now. Empty shelves and huge spaces where tables and chairs once were. It's like being inside a whale skeleton. Disconcerting. Still, with the plan I've made to guide them, the room will soon be full of students again.

Lunch was fantastic; there's a chef on the staff who seems to absolutely love his job. He's got such enthusiasm, and loves talking about the food he's serving. On his recommendation I had a beef dish; swimming with sauce and apricots. It was fantastic and enormously stodgy, and I suspect it tasted better because I'd not had anything in my stomach for about twenty hours before that moment. A recent acquaintance told me that we measure love in loss, and I think she was right. My delicious lunch proved her poetry.

The afternoon saw me finishing off my technical drawing, and here it is in all its technicolour glory:

Some people think colours should be understated. None of those people are me.
This one was more of a push, but with half an hour to spare it was complete and three dimensional. With the spare half-hour I brushed up on last week's grammar points before my French lesson. The lesson was okay; we didn't learn anything new at all and one student tried to pick holes in the language. I don't understand why anyone does that; there are exceptions and things one simply has to learn in any language - aside perhaps from Esperanto - and complaining and nit picking does nothing but slow the class down. Be a clever-clogs after class.

Homeward after, homework done, but no pancakes consumed. I suspect that may well be tomorrow's enjoyable task. I've mentioned it before, but my mother bought me a crêpe pan and I've got it well seasoned now. It is a thing of beauty, and I cannot wait to get it home and onto a hob that doesn't slant.

In other blog news, my friend Alexandra went to Amsterdam, Kate imagined herself West Winging, and in unrelated news the zombie apocalypse is starting over in Montana.

Oh, and I literally just picked up another two hour teaching gig. Happy days.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Weakness of the flesh

Alright, so in comparison to yesterday's hiccup, today has been a thousand times more unpleasant and I really, really ummed and ahhed about talking about it. It's in no way a pleasant subject, but on the other hand I have committed to writing every day and, unfortunately, what happened to me today has been focussed on something deeply unpleasant.

Today started pretty well, although I'm running low on pressed shirts. That meant wearing a shirt I wear only for seduction and looking ruffled, and today I looked very ruffled - the neck is a half-inch too small and so I have to wear it undone. With a tie as well I looked...deshabillé, which given the country in which I live is only to be celebrated.

Suitably unsuited my day started well, a dull but necessary task with a translation thrown in for extra fun. At ten-thirty I went down to my soon-to-be-ex office; as with all my exes, deciding what to keep and what to throw is proving difficult. I'm trying to get rid of everything that's just too old now; video cassettes and OS maps of Sussex are simply no good to anyone in the era of Youtube and Google Maps, though I am offering them to anyone with an iPhone.

Staff members came and went in a fairly constant flow, taking videos and old English training manuals for their kids. I chatted away in French, extolling the virtues of huge tomes of photographs of Ireland and recipe books written by Delia, back when she was young and pretty and not into cheating at cooking, though if you're keeping score I wonder against whom you're playing.

My supervisor decided I'd done such a good job with the technical plan of my old office that she has asked me to do the same for the new office, only in a day, rather than the week I had last time. Despite the time constraints, I felt confident. There's no need for 3D models with this plan so it should be nice and easy.

That was before lunch.

After lunch I discovered that something I had eaten had disagreed with me, and was doing its best to escape. Consequently I had to leave work early and my whole world has been narrowed to the distance between my bathroom and my desk.

Let's leave it at that.

In any case, I'm now missing several important measurements and will have to run around measuring things in the morning, assuming my universe can expand to that distance. Plenty of fluids and bed rest tonight will hopefully see me back to my vibrant and hydrated self.

First and only time I feel sympathy with his Holiness: the human body is a frail thing, and it is frightening when it fails one. I, for one, am not happy about it.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

A shameful confession

Today has, as I had hoped, been a very interesting day. I was up by 8 and out of the flat by 9, on my way to teach a lesson. I confess I took the bus; I ran a couple of miles last night far too quickly and my legs were not slow to reprimand me. The lesson that I had expected to run for three hours ran only for two, and this is where the day started to get a bit wonky.

Now last night I planned my route around my students; they live about three miles from each other and three miles from me; thus, a path from my flat to the first to the second and home is a natural triangle. I had one hour between the first and the second student and was looking forward to a genteel stroll with some music to listen to.

Now, for some reason when I left my first student's house I thought it had been three hours, and not two, and so I made my way to the second student. It had started to snow lightly, but it wasn't settling - just melting and pouring past me in the gutter. I hunched myself into my nice warm coat and hustled a little; snow is lovely until you realise at 20 miles an hour the delicate little flakes become nature's own shuriken.

The extra turn of speed provided to me by the unbroken assault of snow shaved a quarter of an hour off my journey, and before I knew it I was buzzed through to the house. The students' mother looked surprised to see me and the family were just finished dinner; I felt a little embarrassed at having arrived fifteen minutes late but was assured it wasn't a problem.

As before, I had daughter and son for an hour each and daughter seemed exceedingly keen so, beneath her mother's disapproving eye, we headed through to the study. I'd set her a couple of short essay questions to expand her writing ability and it seems she has a similarly verbose style; I'm impressed with her ability but it really doesn't leave much for me to teach. Son came next and we talked about what he studied; I had him explain atoms, the free market, and David Beckham, so I'm pretty sure the poor guy'll be even more unwilling than usual to go back to school tomorrow. They both got new and exciting essay topics and I have to say I look forward to reading them next week.

Having concluded lessons I made my way back to the kitchen where students' mother asked if next time I could come closer to three, as it was very unfair on her to have come so early. I confess I was a little put out; I had been only 15 minutes early but, I thought to myself, she's the boss.

I was halfway down the road when I looked at my watch and saw, much to my surprise, that it was only four. I was not supposed to have finished teaching until five. Had my watch stopped? Had I only taught my students for half an hour? Had -

That was when it dawned on me. That was when I located my missing hour and re-viewed the past two in my head. Considered from the students' mother's point of view:

A relatively handsome man whom she has met only once turns up an hour and fifteen minutes early, gives weak platitudes in apology and then vanishes to the study for an hour with daughter.

I could not have been more mortified. A vampire in transit passed me by completely, thinking me by my complexion already dead. Utter, awful horror washed over me. She had not been impolite in her goodbyes, merely trying to reassure herself that the man whom she had invited into her house could tell the time and had more sense than to barge in when people were having lunch.

Were I not British the upper lip might have jolly well trembled. My visible composure could have shattered but, save for a certain clammy, pallid air around the face, I remained resolutely unshattered. It was only within that the storm broke, but broke it did with wailing and gnashing of the teeth.

In any case, I struggled home, the ice that had frosted my hair and crowned me the dark-haired prince of some winter realm now melting and running down my face like the manly tears I absolutely did not shed. The heat from internal shame boiled the water and before long I was steaming inside my own jacket like King Edward. Sorry, a King Edward.

Tonight is my last night of sketch writing (until I start again tomorrow) so I'm polishing and trying not to over-word-ify. A real thing and a real danger.

I've also got a very hot pan behind me and a well seasoned steak, so it looks like aside from the minor hiccup today has been a Good Day.

If you're interested in my sketches, and want to see what it looks like when I actually try to be funny, do please let me know. I'm always keen to get feedback.

Saturday, 9 February 2013


This is kind of awkward.

Today I have done absolutely nothing of note except have a coffee date at ten, write (sketches and the first chapter of a new story in the vein of The Dresden Files) for 8 hours, get seriously into House of Cards again - the old British series, I can't get the new Netflix because Netflix is unavailable here in France - and do my dishes.

Honestly. This feels very surreal.

I've got three students tomorrow, so with any luck there'll be more to talk about.

Shortest blog post in its history. Very weird.

Friday, 8 February 2013


Today I had the day off work to go to Expo-langues, the annual convention for those who teach languages. It was amazing to see so many languages under one roof; from Arabic to Urdu via Chinese, Spanish and Russian. I picked up one or two little things:

There were several leaflets about immersive intensive courses, which are really exciting, and also leaflets about prospective jobs - I had never realised the possibilities open to students of linguistics. I also picked up brochures for Masters programmes because it's good to keep one's options open, and compared to UK prices it doesn't seem a bad idea to look abroad for further educational possibilities. An extra language has opened up a whole other country to study in, and for me that's awesome.

The EU's languages and employment department had a big stall and was handing out free stuff as fast as it could - there might be a metaphor there - like rubbers, pens, umbrellas and DVDs. The DVD is actually excellent, and all the films can be seen online here. I'd really recommend Change Please, as it has a really cool premise and the ending is brilliant. Falling in Language is also very cute. 

I got a Russian lesson and a Japanese lesson for free, joined a tea ceremony at the Hanban stall and watched possibly the most awful playing of Much Ado About Nothing ever, although I could only sit through the latter for thirty minutes. With so much amazing stuff on offer, wasting one's time on sub-par interpretations of the Bard is futile. 

There was also a weird moment where either somebody was winding me up, or I've had my identity mistaken in a huge way. A lady on one of the stalls broke off in the middle of a conversation with a customer to wave and wink at me. Intrigued, I went over, where she asked the customer to excuse her, took me five paces over and asked why I hadn't called.

Somebody with spotless morals would, at this point, have admitted that they were not the person who hadn't called. 

I am not quite that person. I apologised, said I had lost her number, and now have a date.

Very surreal situation.

I also picked up another couple of contacts and made acquaintances, as well as meeting a man who can only be described as a mad genius. He genuinely believes that English can be taught in a week. Personally, I found the idea fascinating, although the man himself should stick to writing books and get someone else to do his PR - nobody trying to sell something should be made so furious by a request for proof. He rattled through the material, banged his board for emphasis, refused to speak in English despite me being English and him being English and at the end just turned and walked away. Very bizarre man. I'm going to share his video here, and I want you all to know that his accent has not improved an ounce nor has his presence become any more friendly.

Be that as it may, his idea seems to have some merit. Check it out for yourself.

Thursday, 7 February 2013


I've written quite a long explanation of what I learned in my French class today and realised that you're probably not here for the French grammar lessons that I am. If you're interested in reading then by all means, it's over here, but otherwise my day was as follows:

Going into the office to discover that I had made two small errors the previous evening both, unfortunately, to the same person. Having finished a minor proofread and edit I sent the editor a cheery email, explaining that I'd only found some very small errors and that with my enclosed corrections the piece was ready to be published. As I sent it I realised I'd forgotten to attach the document, and shot off another quick message, apologising for the first and reaffirming that with my attached correction the piece could be published. I then went home.

You're all laughing, because you can see where this is going, but I couldn't and didn't.

So when I came in this morning I settled into my desk, opened my inbox, and got an understandably irritated message and, shortly after, a phone call. All was fixed in minutes, but the editor had a point - without the article he'd been left twiddling his thumbs. I try not to err, as it only reminds me that I'm human, but I do think that all email systems in the world could do with something like this from +Gmail:

I did! Thanks, Google!
Aside from that, however, my morning progressed as normal - I took some phone bookings for the cultural events we run for alumni and my supervisor and I adjusted the plan I've done for my old office. Since it's now finished with, I'm going to share it with you, because I think it's awesome and I hope you'll appreciate the huge number of hours I poured into it.

Isn't it glorious?

It's also a 3D model. Even as I type that I can hear the appreciative susurrations of future friends and acquaintances.

In the afternoon I discovered two things; one, that dates for the next TOEIC session had already been set - a fact I discovered by opening my inbox and watching 120 inquiring messages come in - and that someone high above me had given the order for my office to be moved, bypassing both my colleague and my supervisor. I suspect this is a danger in many large organisations; it's hard to ensure that right and left hand both know what they're doing at the same time. After sorting out a more suitable date for them to deconstruct everything the foreman and I had a pleasant chat about my internship and he congratulated me on my French. Happy days.

Last thing today was French class, which was interesting. I've done preceding direct object pronouns before but one thing caught me out; preceding indirect objects which, as it turns out, don't agree. The lessons are really helping with vocabulary and to clear up little grammar points I've always been a little shaky on and, as I love teaching, the professor puts up with my chattering as I try to nudge my classmates in the right direction. I really like this particular professor, although the fact that he's never read Calvin and Hobbes may prove to be a source of serious contention. 

In fact, here. Have some Calvin and Hobbes to warm your heart.

Bill Waterson, you magnificent, genius son of a gun. Come back.

Ce que j'ai appris aujourd'hui

French is an exceptionally complex language. I offer here a brief summary of my French lesson today, in the hope that it will help anyone struggling with agreements.

Let's break it down.

J'ai cassé mes lunettes. - I have broken my glasses.
No agreement at all. Lunettes is a feminine plural noun. (This will be important later.)

Mes lunettes sont cassées. - My glasses are broken.
The part participle agrees with the subject! An extra e and an extra s are added because lunettes is feminine plural. (I told you it would be important later.) Notice that the verb in this case is être.

So far, so good.

Now, there are a few irregular verbs in French that use être instead of avoir because of reasons that are really exciting if you're a linguistic nerd like me.

Working on the assumption that you're not, we'll move on.

Those few verbs that do take être also need to agree with their subject. Thus Je suis venu, because I am a chap, but elle est venue, because she is not. And elles sont venues because elles are all ladies and there is more than one of them, hence the addition of both e and s.

So far so good.

However, if we move the direct object of the verb in front of the verb, we agree the part participle. But not with the subject. With the object.

So let's imagine Yoko and John are talking.

J'ai cassé mes lunettes, she says.
Où sont les lunettes que tu as cassées? he asks in response. Where are the glasses that you broke?

First sentence: Avoir, object after verb, no agreement.
Second sentence: Avoir, object before verb, agreement.

Remember that sometimes we can replace the whole object with an object pronoun:

Où sont mes lunettes? - Where are my glasses?
Je les ai cassées. - I broke them.

Once again, object before the verb, agreement - even though it's avoir.

Now let's move onto way more exciting things.

Reflexive verbs!

Yoko and John are talking again, and Yoko's been in an accident.

Je me suis cassée la main. - I've broken my hand.

Poor Yoko. Note that cassé has an extra e not because la main is feminine but because Yoko is. Notice also that in French our body is not really ours: we hold it, as it were, at arms' length. See also je me brosse les dents, je me lave les pieds, and je me brosse les cheveux.

The conversation continues before dinner:

Est-ce que tu t'es lavée les mains? - Have you washed your hands?
Oui, je me les suis lavées! - Yes, I washed them!

John's kind of a controlling douche.

But: in the first we have an agreement with the subject, tu, who's Yoko and a girl. In the second, the agreement is with the preceding direct object les, which stands for les mains. 

I've added direct to my litany because there's one more stop on the grammar train, and it involves direct and indirect verbs. Indirect verbs take a preposition, direct verbs just get straight up in your grill. Most communication in French is indirect: je parle à, elle téléphone à, ils montrent à while receiving sensory information and doing things is more direct.

We've only worked with direct verbs so far, so let's add in some indirects. Yoko, John?

As-tu parlé à ta mère? - Have you called your mother?
Oui, je lui ai parlé plus tôt. - Yes, I called her earlier.

What the what? Preceding object but no agreement. French is a funny old language.

The reason is because lui is not a direct object pronoun. It's indirect. Preceding indirect objects get no agreements, but preceding direct objects do.

So: Never agree verbs with an avoir auxiliary, unless the object comes before the verb - in which case agree the past participle with the object - unless that object is indirect, in which case do not agree with anyone, do not pass Go, do not collect £200. Unless it's Sunday, in which case all rules are reversed and we'll all play Mornington Crescent until someone wins.

Now just for fun, translate the following sentence: I washed my hands. I washed them and scrubbed them, spoke to them and broke them. 

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

In which our hero discovers writing is hard

Today has been absolutely full of writing things. If using one's brain burnt calories, then I'd have the perfect excuse for the slice of coconut cake I had with lunch. As far as I can tell, it doesn't, and I don't.

This morning I liaised with an Association member who needed a rewrite of her MBA application letter. It was a complete rewrite, and at certain points I wondered what she hoped to gain from submitting a letter written in good English but having an interview in which she would struggle. Still, ours is not to reason why; I raised the question but she waved it away, assuring me that she could converse fluently in English if necessary. I was not reassured, mostly due to the fact that we spent two hours rewriting and spoke only in French. I also edited an article for our quarterly review by a super-hilarious guy who was pleased that safety was the number one concern for companies, "especially those working in remote offices where local workers have little or no education and no concern for the own health." Yup, those funny foreign people, they have no sense of self preservation because they're not really human beings. Git. In the same article he wrote about how the West is the best because we have democracy. Double git.

I took a nice early lunch today with my colleagues; a strange situation where I got to experience three English people sitting with a Colombian person and speaking French as the lingua franca. It's really exciting that there are still small pockets and combinations of people where English is not necessarily the only way in which to communicate.

My early lunch was because I had a French class at 13h30, and although several of my fellow students were missing the six of us had a very interesting lesson. We did a mini-test, a micro version of the full TFI that we'll be taking before long. Apparently the TFI is not as well known as the TOEIC/TOEFL, so I'll have to give some sort of addendum to it. The test did not go as well as expected, and I've now got a long list of grammar points on which I have to focus.

A good lesson though; a test is a great way to see where weaknesses are and saves me having to go through an entire grammar book getting frustrated with practising the things I already know. Now I can target my learning. It doesn't sound like fun, but it's the lesser of two evils - if you know you've got to study then rather than studying more, study smarter.

I've my post-apocalyptic French essay to write now and then to relax I'm going to write some more; I managed two acceptable sketches and then had to give up. This writing malarkey is tough.

A picture to close from my friend Meg, because it's funny in sort of not funny way at all. I can appreciate the pun but simultaneously be kind of horrified that it's an ad.

"Even I've been accused of penny-pinching. But I paid Penny off"
Sexual harassment in the workplace. Now it can sell conference calls.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Equality! Equality everywhere!

France voted for it, and so did the British. Marriage for everyone.

I'm sure I needn't tell you why this is an awesome step forward for equality, nor why those who believe that their god wants them to stop it are completely wrong. If I read "It's Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" once more I'm going to give up on you all and go and live on an island where nobody speaks English.

My pitch went quite well today; I say quite because while the idea was praised I wasn't actually told I could go ahead - it's frustrating to be told your idea is good but they want to wait a while. However, while I wait I'm going to get busy writing: Newsjack, a sketch show pays for sketch submissions from the general public. If you'd like to know more, then click here, but remember that every sketch is up against mine. And you can't beat me.

This morning has been crazy hectic, with three translations and a crash course in QR codes I gave to my out of office colleague via the telephone. My three translations were down to one and I was starting to relax and try to research where I could watch the debate later when, without any warning, a part-time associate of the school dropped a seven-page business school application in my lap. Spanish being her first language, French her second, and English her third, this is a challenge of epic proportions. Words floundered weakly in the swollen rushwater of sentences that ran on and endlessly on, commas dotted throughout as though a member of the NRA, drunk on moonshine, distilled from rats, had filled a shotgun with them - commas, not rats - and blasted merrily away at the offending sentence.

So that took up a couple of hours and two strong coffees. In a bid to not eat as much I'm drinking more coffee, but I've found that one can buy bags of little dark chocolate squares to dip in coffee and, well, long story short I'm back at square one.

Lunchtime came, and a guy called Rufus came to see me. He's studying a mix of business and management for a specific field, and following my sort-of-comprehension of derivate markets yesterday we talked about that. As it's the area in which he wants to end up we managed to do a lot of work in industry specific jargon and had an interesting debate about nationalisation vs privitisation. As we left, I to lunch and he back to lessons, he told me he wanted to learn about how to inject humour into his English. Public speaking, he said, is easier if you can make your audience laugh.

"You're right," I said. "The most important thing about comedy is - "

I broke off, walked ten paces along the corridor, and whirled round.

"- timing."

I winked and did the old double-finger-pistol-shot. He wasn't there any more, but I did it anyway. If someone had walked in at that exact moment, it would have been hilarious. That's what timing means, and why it's so hard to get right. It almost always happens by accident. There has never been a documented case of planned comedy amusing anyone, this blog being a perfect case in point.

My afternoon was given over to some interesting coaching sessions and learning of the many, many administrative hurdles that foreign students are asked to leap through to be allowed to study here. It seems counter-productive, but then this is a country where the parliament stayed in session for a solid week to debate gay marriage. Over the course of three days - Friday to Sunday - 240 000 words were said, a third of the Bible or almost half of War and Peace. At one point a right-wing speaker was compared to Bree Van de Kamp of Wisteria Lane and the session almost had to be adjourned, such was the violence with which this insult was received. They stayed overnight. Dedication. Take note, British politicos.

I've started reading Finance and the Good Society, which promises to be a challenge as I suspect it's going to try convincing me that unregulated financial capitalism is a good thing, rather than a really clever way of making rich people quite a lot richer than they already are. So far the author has pointed the blame squarely at uneducated people, so I'm sure we're going to get along famously.

Sketch writing will commence now. Ah, the life of a penniless writer. (Actually, if I moved to Canada, I could be just that...)

Monday, 4 February 2013

How to make money and influence markets

Today has been an incredibly enlightening day. My crêpes progress magnificently and are getting thinner and more perfect all the time, and my pitch for tomorrow is almost ready. I updated the records of our magazine in preparation for its digitisation - hopefully members will be able to simply search for things they like and get articles from previous issues.

The afternoon was almost entirely given over to coaching. The first session was two professors who also interview prospective students, so I had to think on my feet to come up with answers that a geology student might give. They weren't very good but, in my defence, I have never studied geology. I know, I know. It rocks.

The following session was even better - one of my favourite lecturers, the head of the Economics department. He explained the derivatives market to me (if you're interested, I wrote about it over here) and lent me Inside Job, a film exploring the reasons behind the financial crash. It looks like fascinating watching, so I'm planning on kicking back and watching that tonight as my regular student is ill, poor lamb.

There's nothing much else to say about today; I've a French lesson tomorrow and some homework to finish off so to make up for the incredibly long blog from yesterday and the derivatives explanation I know you're reading, class is dismissed for the day.

Oh, but I think I'm in love with a Russian who said of my French-English transitions when I was helping our gardienne with a Chinese student: "You make them like a ballerina."

Nicest comparison ever. Especially as she is a ballerina. She knows what she's talking about.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

The day of rest

Yea, right. I can understand taking a day off if you've created a universe and everything in it from scratch in six days but since I haven't, I've been busy today. I got up early enough to go for a run, have breakfast and walk up to my student's house. The hill was less surprising today, but on the other hand I probably shouldn't have run before hand. Rookie mistake.

I took my camera because, as I said, I had planned to go museum-hunting. I left my card at home because I have a curious love of souvenirs, a remainder from a childhood desire to buy the cheap rubbers and pencils on offer at Hever Castle. We always went to Hever Castle.

In any case, that meant I had only the cash from my tutoring that morning to last me through the day. After that I would be stranded, and the walk home is a long one, so the first thing I did was buy my all day ticket. Young people - thank you, French state, for still believing in my youth - can get a three-zone day pass, valid on all forms of transport, for 3.65€ on the weekends and on bank holidays (jours fériés). During the week it's a lot pricier.

So I headed in, armed with my camera and 3.65€ lighter. In Paris you can pretty much throw a stone and hit a museum, and although I'd planned certain locations, I threw that plan to the winds and picked the first one I walked past. It was the Musée Guimet (site in French only), and good lord, was it beautiful.

Nearly completely Asian sculpture with heavy emphasis on religious icons, the heavy mass of stone really reflecting the solidity of the Buddha. Christianity has a frail icon, and that's the point - Christ broken and reborn is the root of Christianity. Buddha, on the other hand, is the solid antithesis of all that's bad in the world - he attained enlightenment through meditation and a middle path between self-indulgence and self-mortification. He seems kind of a solid dude.

There were also plenty of Hindu deities, with their many heads and arms, cast in bronze or gold. Unlike the Buddha they had sustained some damage over time, but the carving is still exquisite - though still nowhere near the utter mastery attained by Michelangelo. I mean, look at this:

Look at the folds of cloth, at the ribs, at the freaking veins. Two years. I couldn't do that in two lifetimes.

But I digress. There were two floors of incredible art and I highly recommend it. There are no pictures, because it felt strangely disrespectful. There was also a Cambodian Buddha who looked frighteningly human, despite being cast in bronze. Very unsettling.

I was heading towards Notre Dame when another museum caught my eye. The quai Branly is a very different sort of museum to the Guiment, very darkly lit, but also more interactive. I have to say that the at first the lack of light irritated me, but once my eyes adjusted to the gloom I found it really helped focus on the exhibits. It also highlighted the arrogant people who read the "no flash" sign in three languages, with a symbol, and decided it didn't apply to them. I have no time for that sort of person and so I shall move swiftly on.

There were artifacts from every ancient culture in the building, and after a while I started getting museum fatigue, All of this information wore me down, and the knowledge that we wiped out most of these civilisations because at the time we thought it the right thing to do got me down. I took a couple of photos, and I wanted to share this one with you.

Because he scared the bejeesus out of me, and I like to share. Look into his eyes.

Oh yes. There are eyes there. There's a cross on the crown, but it's like the light of the angler fish. Luring you in before gobbling you up. Once you've looked, it's all over. Helpless. Drowning.

I tore my eyes away at the last moment. It may just have been one of the French cub scouts - boy, is it weird that they have cub scouts - but I'm sure I heard a scream of rage and frustration. Suddenly revitalised by my brush with Satan up there, I quit the building and my stomach growled - I always get hungry after brushing with Satan - so I turned my feet towards a friendly looking ristorante. 

The first impression was not good. I sat down and asked for a coffee and the waitress looked at me very cooly. 

"We're not a café, you know. We only do food."
I was astonished. I was astonished because the couple sitting next to me were drinking coffee.
"I am going to order something later," I said. "I just need a coffee for the moment."
Clearly my good looks and easy charm convinced her, as she gave me a sunny grin and whisked herself away to get my coffee. The menu looked inviting and reasonably priced for the area in which I found myself and, having been without an oven for four months now, saw pizza and craved it immediately. Calzone is one of my favourites, and I ordered it without hesitation. I also got a carafe (50cl) of red wine to go with it.

My calzone arrived. Nice dough, tasty cheese and ham and WOAH, WHAT THE WHAT.

Orange goo had started leaking from my delicious calzone. An egg yolk had been popped into my calzone before it had been sealed. Why? Why would anyone add egg to a calzone? I like eggs, don't get me wrong. I was planning on having some for breakfast tomorrow. But on a pizza?

So did I complain? Did I stand up, throw down my napkin and roar "This is unacceptable! Eggs do not belong in calzones! Scramble this guy, poach his brother and fry his sister and I shall munch them all the live-long day but in my calzone? You go too far, sir!"

Of course I didn't. I'm English. I'm polite and besides, like I said: I like eggs. It wasn't bad. My dessert, however, was on another plane. Aside from the pronunciation issue - why did I assume anyone but us would read c-o-l-o-n-e-l  as kernel? Very awkward two minutes, but it arrived. A delicious, light and refreshing lime sorbet that had then been liberally doused with vodka.

We're talking pretty much equal volumes here.

I also got a straw, because that way it's easier to suck up the melted sorbet/vodka mix at the end.

I'm pretty sure there are nightclubs in the UK where sucking 30ml of ice cold vodka through a straw is considered an end-of-night-thing. I was having lunch. 

The reason why the French don't do much after lunch is becoming clearer.

With the bill paid I made my way homeward, my jollity increased by my excellent lunch. The whole meal came in at 28.50€ and so I recommend Dell Angelo, 6 avenue Rapp, as somewhere to take a date or have lunch. Fantastic. Have a Colonel.

Just one, though.

If you'd like to see the rest of the pictures from today's jaunt, click here.

Oh. I also saw two policemen on inline skates. Weirdly intimidating.