Saturday, 30 March 2013

Making ready

Going to Germany for a whole week is causing me a logistical headache. I may spend the next two days naked as I strongly suspect I've blindly packed every item of clothing I own into a suitcase. This may or may not be an issue, depending on how far I plan to roam from my room.

My first lesson back with A was this morning, and it was amazing. We did English, and it was during this lesson that I learned why I keep hearing the aberration "different than." It is, of course, merely a question of style, and in the wider picture it is meaningless to even mention it but, all the same, it is abominable. Apparently it is entirely common in American English, which demonstrates that our two languages are simply growing further apart. In another thousand years they'll be completely different.

That lesson was a meaty three hours of hard grammar work topped off with a 250-word editorial piece. That was all the instruction that was given; no mention of how to write an editorial or what particular language one should use. Simply the command: "Do."

In any case, A came up with an interesting idea about coding, suggesting that it should be taught to children from primary school. He made a compelling argument (with a couple of stylistic nudges from me, I confess) and now we wait. He's promised to email me to let me know what the teacher thinks.

The rest of the day has been given over to shopping and sprucing the flat up. Mary's coming down, and I can't have her realising I live in a pigsty. Once again I leapt head first into a conversation with a shop assistant without knowing the vocab. If you've ever tried to mime "cleaning fluid"...well, I don't recommend it. It just looks strange and draws a small crowd of people all wondering why this deranged chap was wandering around by himself.

It was a very helpful crowd though. I am now equipped with the words for "cleaning fluid".

The clocks go forward tonight, that time of the year when the nature of time seems at its wibbly-wobbliest. To tie in with that Doctor Who is back on British screens this evening, and if I so much as hear a syllable of spoiler there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. And I look ridiculous when I wail and gnash my teeth.

My last item for today - I had an hour to kill while waiting for my bus and, since I'm a fan of urban fantasy stories The Dresden Files Amazon recommended me Crimes Against Magic, by Steve McHugh. According to my Kindle I've managed 42%, which simply shows my stubborn nature because I knew it was awful from 5% in, when the protagonist seduces a woman in (literally) two minutes and ten sentences, then knocks her out, steals a priceless artifact with effortless magic and then zooms off into the night in an Audi TT he'd stolen earlier.

Not even 5% in and he is the most unlovable character I have ever run into.

The plot progresses in an unsurprising fashion; turns out this Mary Sue is also immortal, a hit with two other attractive women and, to top it off, a martial arts expert with a cold heart and a calculating brain. Except when he's laying on the lovin', which McHugh does with toe-curlingly awkward aplomb.

Don't bother with this book. Even if it's free, your time has a value, and this book is not worth it.

I hate to be negative, I truly do, but this book was such a stinker that I had to mention it.

Updates will be spotty over the next week, so you can drop by every day and be pleasantly surprised or subscribe (there's a button on the right hand side of the screen of the home page).

To Germany!

Allons-y! Wait, no. Gehen wir!

Friday, 29 March 2013

Love Day

Today has absolutely flown by. I'm sure this happens to everyone, but I've just sat down at my laptop to start writing a blog and had to do a double take at the time. There's no way it can be 10.

Don't forget that clocks go forwards this weekend, meaning we get robbed of an hour of sleep. Or whatever else you might be doing on Saturday night; whatever your activity of choice, be aware that you'll be doing it for an hour less. Everyone who works in a bar is understandably staring daggers - because technically the clocks don't go forward until 4am, nobody in a bar gets to go home early. They do get to wake an hour earlier though, which means this weekend is my least favourite of the year.

In addition, it's Easter, and there is the usual mass of milk chocolate offerings stocking shelves left, right and centre. Milk. You ever had the bottom fall out of your world?

Milk makes the exact opposite happen to me.

There's also a resurgence in religion, but luckily this blog isn't where I talk about that. I will say props to the people who melted down their prized possessions to make a new statues, well done to the Pope with a fortune who claims to represent a carpenter's son and super-well-done to the bigots who claim God is love but marriage is only for certain people.

That's all about religion.

I started my day checking over my statistics work and talking it over with my supervisor. As I was leaving her supervisor wandered by and asked how I was doing, if I was enjoying myself, if I was attending all the French lessons. I stammered out that last night I was called away to something else, and his eyebrows came together in a frown.

He has impressive eyebrows. They're like caterpillars, and when he frowns they meld into one salt-and-pepper line across his forehead. Distracting but impressive caterpillar-brows.

You must got to lessons, he insisted. That's why you're here. That's why you have this opportunity.

Yup. Got told off for doing work for my colleagues instead of going to simple French lessons. This year abroad is the greatest thing ever.

Lunch was followed by an interesting meeting with a student who puts biblical quotes in his emails. He is one of the sweetest guys I've ever had the good fortune to meet, but he tells me he's struggling to get past the interview stage. I do not want to suggest it, but I strongly suspect that might be the reason. How does one gently tell a man with such great faith that he needs to tone it down in order to be more employable? Should we? Or should we encourage them to be themselves?

On the one hand being true to yourself is incredibly important, but on the other moral fibre has no nutritional value and can't be made into a roof.


My evening finished with my students who are making leaps and bounds in progress; nervousness is still a limiting factor but they overcome it with greater ease each time. In addition, every lesson I teach I believe I become a better teacher for them, learning when to push and when to ease back a little. It's really, really exciting to watch them grow.

Soppiness does not become me, but you'll pardon it this once.

Today is good Friday (good Freya's day) in German Karfreitag (sorrowful Freya's day) and in French vendredi saint (holy Venus day.) Merely from looking at the words you'd think it was something to do with love, and to some people it rather is. Whether it is or it isn't, one major feature of today in the West is the Stations of the Cross. These always fascinated me growing up, but the carved images I saw were ancient even then. However, a parish priest who's on twitter (and doing it really well) has been posting modern images under the names of the stations. The whole series is well worth a look, so I collected them for you here.

That's all for today folks. Happy Easter. I hope you enjoy your milk chocolate.

Bitter? Me? No.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Oh, bugger

The title might have tipped you off, but unfortunately I did not get the internship I was hoping for. However, the reasons are optimistic; they wanted someone who was available for a longer time period. That's fair enough; it was a stretch to ask for a three month internship that they hoped would morph into a full-time employee to be turned into a two-month internship with the hope of an employee in two years time.

I can't pretend I'm not gutted, but such is life. We get up, we keep going. It means that all the Heisenberg-esque uncertainty has resolved itself into the need to get myself set up in Aberdeen with a job and a flat, so I'm afraid it's back to that same old tune - who's got a flat that Jonathan can move into?

That unpleasant business out of the way, my workload has been mounting again but I've been permitted back into my old new office. I am reinstalled and receiving students, and it's giving me joy to see certain students who return again and again and who clearly keep copious notes. They make my heart glad. They make my soul sing. They make me wonder if it would be ethical to clone them.

Today was peppered with translations; one a mailing to be sent out to a few thousand people (so no pressure) and the other an exam for a particular program (again, no pressure). On top of that I'm polishing off next week's work nice and early, booking rooms and informing people who need to know where I'll be.

The evening was given over to a presentation by a very interesting man who works in project management. I confess I was cynical at first, of the opinion that managers are essentially useless, but he won me round. I will now admit that managers are only a bit useless, but one thing resonated especially - project managers are necessary because there is one resource that is incredibly hard to control, and that is people. Getting people to work together, and work together well, is a skill worth more than anything.

So folks, there's my day. This weekend my girlfriend will be coming down before I jet off to Germany so I don't know how much writing I'll get done, but I'll try to jot something down every night. If I can't get access out there (does Germany have internet?) I'll upload everything when I'm back. I promise to return with souvenirs in the forms of photos and humorous stories.

Not as cheerful as usual, but I'm a little down. Normal, teeth-aching cheeriness will recommence tomorrow. Until that time, have some eye candy. Suitable for everyone of almost all ages.

For people who like attractive and nearly naked chaps

And for people who like attractive and nearly naked ladies

Wednesday, 27 March 2013


I really miss my oven.

I'm making a big old pot of bolognaise sauce, but I really want to put it in the oven. It gets a lovely richness and flavour that you can't really get from stove cooking. Still, it's going to be delicious, and keep me going until Tuesday.

Other excitements today: had my fortnightly T.F.I class, which merely confirmed that I must try harder on grammar. I'm going to start doing daily exercises again, just to add to the litany of things on my to-do list. I'm using Astrid to organise that part of my life, and it's very good. It helps that it won't stop squawking at me until I do things.

Aside from grammar most of my other comprehensions are good, so if anyone knows of any good sites or apps to cajole me into grammar practice leave them in the comments section and I'll take a look.

This morning I struggled with the fact that Google maps won't let you copy and paste their maps. I can't understand it in the slightest; I'm trying to make a poster and a matching invitation to a conference and I can't stick a google maps map on it. Why? I can't comprehend. The same is bizarrely true of all of the other major map sites. I'm getting tempted to draw the thing by hand.

This afternoon, after my lesson (which was comprised of me and one other person) I passed by my colleague's office, to be met by a man with a blowtorch.

This is not a regular occurrence for me, and the day it becomes so I will need to find a new job.

Aside from that, I have a little pile of work to do, including another presentation with figures and an economics paper to read through from my colleague who's come back from Cape Verde looking positively barbaric. He is as softly spoken and eager to learn as ever, however, and we went through a few pages of his work. His paper is really, really interesting, as it deals with the growth and decline of commodities markets during and in the years immediately after the crisis.

If you don't find that interesting, then instead here's a thing I found about how tiny the odds of your existence are. It's unsettling stuff.

I like the text so much I want to recreate it, so you may see something similar before long. I've also been co-opted onto a work committee to come up with entertainment for next year's students. To do that well I'll need input, so if you've got opinions please let me know.

I've also started etymologising again; my current displays charts words connected with "salt." Go and have a look; it's on my office door.

Don't ask which one. Too long a story to recount.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

The comedown

After a weekend like the one I had, nothing could really compare. I've been back at work and unfortunately there's not a lot of work to do, so I've occupied myself with trying to find a topic on which to base my year abroad report. I'm struggling, because there's far too much choice, but I think I've settled on something. I'm going to check some facts and see if I can make something of it.

Other than that, work is quiet. No, that's a lie. There is not much work, but there's not much quiet either. You'll remember I was moved to a shiny temporary office while my new office is made ready. Today I was kicked out of the temporary office and into the office next door while my temporary office was essentially pulled apart. I don't know what the workers were hoping to find; by the looks of things the treasure of the Sierra Madre is somewhere to be found in that room.

That wouldn't be so bad, were it not for the heavy-duty power tools they're using to dismantle cupboards, desks, and a secret compartment under the floor. My new temporary office, located next door, positively vibrates to the cheerful sound of saws and drills. Thankfully it is very temporary; I go to Germany on Tuesday (Third year abroad, it's the best) and I get to stay there for a week. I'm incredibly excited by the prospect. I shall consume culture which will hopefully help soak up the copious amounts of beer I will inevitably drink.

Other than that, however, there is little more to say. Yesterday's regular student has made huge progress and has started autocorrecting, which means before long she won't need me any more. My other student arrives back from tennis tournaments halfway across the world this weekend, which is exciting, if only because I'll get to see how much English he's forgotten. And how much work we have to do.

So: one week to Germany, two weeks to new language hub, and six weeks until I have to hand in my year abroad report.


(Oh, and I'll find out about the job by the end of the week. It's only interesting to my mother and I, but she reads this so I mention it.)

Monday, 25 March 2013


Today I wrote two full length blogs with pictures.

Honestly, even I'm bored of my own voice now.

I shall write tomorrow about today's events, which are not really very interesting, tomorrow, along with all of tomorrow's news.

In the meantime here is a picture of a cat which thinks it has laser fists.

Silly cat.

Le Havre, and what I did there. (Part 2)

We woke at about 9 and set off for a little breakfast; a small bakery that Kate had showed me yesterday does the most enormous, the most delicious brioche rolls for less than a euro. Admittedly at first the chap got my order wrong; he was too busy staring at the vision of beauty beside me to actually listen. There are disadvantages to having attractive friends.

(Well, that's not quite right; there's a disadvantage to living in a society where being attractive also means being treated like a piece of art, or a piece of meat - something to be looked at and sized up.)

Tucking in and strolling back, we met up with the last member of our little trio and headed to the hotel to pick up Mary's parents and brother. We'd told him we'd be over at 11 last night, but we rocked up to find sleepy faces all round. We should have seen the flaw in our plan last night; at 2am it would have been tricky to tell their parents anything, since they were absolutely fast asleep.

In any case, they told us they'd be ready briefly and we retired to the bar downstairs for a coffee. Before long the Scales has descended (sorry) and we set out, heading towards the beach. The weather was a little less misty than yesterday, and I managed to snap a look out towards the cape.

That's a patch of sand. It should be noted that Mr and Mrs Scale kindly didn't point out that beach here has quite a different meaning to the one it has in the US; I suspect they were expecting slightly more in the way of sand and slightly less in the way of...well, rocks. 

This is them, by the way; the very sweet (and very slightly chilly!) Scale parents:

And no, I don't know where he got the beret and yes, I am exceedingly jealous. It's a lovely beret. 
Having looked out to sea for a little while, we struggled back up the rise of rocks and to a little stall the girls had nicknamed "Victory Fries." I struggled to understand why until I tasted them; truly they are kings among chips and would be crowned victorious in any contest of taste.
However, the elder members of our little fellowship were starting to struggle in the cold, and we made for a restaurant nearby. The restaurants by the sea in Le Havre are rather unique; they are essentially collapsible. Come tourist season a lorry drops them off, they are constructed overnight and in the morning you have a fully-functional restaurant, including kitchen, floor, chairs, tables and all the other wonders one thinks of when one thinks of restaurants. This included heat, a welcome relief as we sank into chairs. It fell to Mary, Kate and I to order, which we managed with a hodge-podge of orders spoken over each other with pauses to speak to our English speaking friends. I have to commend the poor waitress; understanding only one half of a conversation being held in front of you must be frustrating in the extreme but she smiled all the way through.

Conversation was varied and the food was excellent; I had a warm goat's cheese salad and divvied up the tomatoes and olives between father and daughter. I hate tomatoes. Mary and Mary's father are rather keen on them, and as I felt a certain kinship with the pater familias I favoured him a little more. I have suffered Mary's keen wit once or twice before; to have lived with it was, I felt, deserving of an extra tomato. Mary did not feel the same. The look she shot me through her lashes would have skewered a lesser man, but I rallied and skewered her straight back. 

Kate and Mary's mother had mussels. Kate had an ingenious way of excavating the little morsels from their shells; using an empty shell as tweezers she made short work of a shell that years of evolution had crafted. The rest of the Scales stayed away from seafood and plumped for pizza instead. All was sumptuous, and when the bill came Mary's mother surprised us first by offering to pay - a great kindness - and then by revealing that she spoke French as well. The tip she left was as generous as the lady herself, and the waitress stammered thanks as we left (a little slower, unwilling to leave the heat) and made for the ice cream stall.

I had sorbet, lemon and strawberry. An unfortunate intolerance to lactose meant I was already feeling unpleasantly unwell from lunch, and so decided not to exacerbate that particular problem. The others plumped for various different flavours, all of which sounded scrumptious (including salted caramel, which I'd have never thought of by myself). Ice cream in hand, we made our way back to the hotel in which the Scale family was staying and ordered hot chocolates and coffees to round off the day. 

The rest is unexciting; I caught a train back to Paris, another to La Défense, and a bus home. Sadly at every point I was confronted with "Manif pour tout" flags, a nasty little aberration which is attempting to block a law giving gay couples rights equal to those of straight couples. I'm not going to waste another byte on these people save to say that taking your kids to a protest is stupid. Kids have absolutely no opinion on the subject, and it just makes me feel that you're trying to indoctrinate them from the cradle and that's messed up.

Enough about them. They're unpleasant and I hate unpleasantness. Instead, marvel at this picture taken inside the church at Le Havre which is square, with a circular spire that inspires someone who's spent too much time with Assassin's Creed (me) to give serious thought to climbing it. Note also the helical staircase that clings to the inside of the tower and which gave me a shiver just to look at.
So that was my weekend over. Thank you for sticking with me all the way through.

Le Havre, and what I did there. (Part 1)

My release has just been sent; you will hear no more on this subject until I know more. Promise.

And so to Le Havre. A small town on the coast which can be described simply as "grey." The beach is grey rocks under a grey sky while grey buildings stretch into the distance. But if you know me - and being a reader of this blog I like to think you do - you know that I despise simplistic descriptions.

Le Havre is filled with colour, from splashes in windows to the fragments of smooth, frosted glass that glitter on the beach. The people are colourful too; a large Algerian population means that berets jostle alongside hijabs and the market traders switch fluidly from French to Arabic. It's wonderful to listen to and realise that wherever one goes in the world, all market traders are the same: vocal, cheeky, and willing to say anything to entice you to buy. It's as though there's a global network of training schools, or a manual that's been translated worldwide.

I started the day with Kate, my uni chum, whom you saw yesterday. She is a continual fountain of giggles and happiness and so dear to me that I cannot do it justice here. She lights up every room she finds herself in, and not in an arsonist kind of way. In the way that lights do.

She was kind enough to show me all around the town. We saw the Hôtel de Ville, which translates as the Town Hall (or as near as possible) as well as various other little bits and pieces, including a couple of sculptures of birds:

Birds are a continual fascination for me, because flight still strikes me as the most beautiful and perfect way to travel, even as I grouch and growl at the fact that a trip to the US will take 9 hours. Birds have an exquisite and exclusive kind of freedom. It is to be envied by all of us who are earthbound.

We also saw the beach and took a stroll along it. Mist blanketed the sea, and from it came the call of huge ships, their deep, booming horns scattering the little yachts that flocked around the shore. One appeared suddenly from the whiteness. It was unsettling; one moment there was an unbroken wall of mist and the next a huge shape coalesced out of it. We sat a moment and then struggled up and made our way towards the town again. With aching legs we decided to take the tram. It is a thing of beauty, all sleek lines and near-silent humming. Edinburgh could learn something.

Kate and I settled for a lazy movie and we put on Les Intouchables, which has been translated into English as The Intouchables, which I feel is a lazy translation. Of course it is only me, but I would have preferred The Untouchables. Merely a letter, but for me it changes the meaning a little.

As I said yesterday, it is a wonderful film and I highly recommend it. Omar Sy in particular is fantastic; keep an eye out for him in upcoming weird-fest L'Ecume des Jours (Froth on a Daydream). Until then, however, you'll have to keep reading this. At about 5 Mary dropped by with her brother in tow and invited us back to her room for Jello shots.

I have never had Jello shots before, and if I am very lucky I will never have them again.

We headed out for a bite to eat to a Macdonald's; Peter, Mary's brother, wanted to find out if we did things differently over here - and I confess after those Texans had commented on it, I was curious too. We ate and chatted (the conclusion, by the way, was that the burgers are the same but the sauce is seriously disappointing) and then strolled gently back. Peter is a really funny guy, and it's nice that in Le Havre everything is so close.

I should mention that if you point a camera at Peter, he cannot help but pull a very strange face. I have no idea why. He is a handsome and charming man, and yet point a camera at him and he cannot help himself.

I am certain that he is already a great actor and that one day he will be a famous one too.

We got back, we went on Youtube. Kate and I shared British comedians with Mary and Peter, and in between those moments we shared stories of horrific injuries - Peter's catalogue of broken bones and torn ligaments are a story all of themselves - and before long it was 2am. I had planned on taking a train at 8pm. Having missed it by quite a margin, I spent the night in Le Havre.

And, in fact, most of the next day.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Le Havre (will be postponed)

What an extraordinarily long weekend.

I set out at 7am yesterday and wound up back here at 8pm.

Along the way I saw a very interesting square church, met three more Americans, experienced jello shots (I don't recommend them) and watched Les Intouchables, which I would recommend to everyone.

Despite the length of the weekend and the many things I could consequently talk about, I'm afraid it will have to wait, because I'm about to fall asleep on my laptop.

This might improve the quality of my content, but would also make my face look odd.

I will say that it was a joy; that there was a restaurant, a small portion of chips, the triumph of new friendships over British awkwardness and a moment of total awkwardness that I think you'll all enjoy.

Kate has the most beautiful laugh in the world.
I will write about it tomorrow but for now - I have my press release to polish before it goes away tomorrow. In the meantime here's a couple of pictures to sate your hunger for my news.

Hôtel de Ville

Metallic flamingos. A very rare sighting.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Writing and writing.

Today I completed or polished:

  • A translation 
  • A poem (my own. Not very good.)
  • The writing exercise from yesterday, which gives me all weekend to polish further.
  • And I printed off tickets to go and see my uni chum in Le Havre tomorrow, although because I'm apparently unable to stop tormenting myself the train leaves at 0808 and I will have to leave here an hour before.
Year abroad. You'll do things.

My new office is being installed, which is brilliant. My current office is directly above it, which is a little bit less brilliant. Nevertheless, the judicious application of headphones and a dose of The Piano Guys (if you don't know who they are, here's my favourite piece of theirs. Guaranteed shivers.)

I'd love for there to be more to talk about, but aside from my usual Friday students, there's not much to say. C, who is nervous until she gets over it and then talks at quite a pace and B, her brother, who's slower but pays more attention. I think both are excellent for their stage; C's still getting the hang of the language and I want her to talk more so she has a better feel for it while B needs to knuckle down and get the grammar and complicated bits solid, now that his spoken English is at a good level. I saw an advert for the The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde on the way to the bus stop and almost decided to see it - but this week has been hard, and I've got to be up early.

So this will have to suffice for tonight. I'll try to write tomorrow but, if not, meet me here on Sunday. 

Forget Thorpe Park, Skype's where the scares are really at

For those who read regularly, it will be unnecessary to remind you that I had an interview yesterday. For those who've just arrived; welcome. I had an interview yesterday (backstory here) and I'm pretty confident. I'll be doing a breakdown later, purely for my own enjoyment (read: horror), but if you're interested it'll be appearing over on my PR blog later.

In brief: I think it went very well, but as there'll be a more in-depth look later, I'm going to focus on the fun stuff that happened later, as my interview is hardly interesting to you. I will mention, however, that Skype behaved perfectly almost all the way through, allowing me to explain myself and my ideas in two languages with no problem.

However - and I suspect gremlins, because it is the only possible explanation - at the point when my interviewers said "Okay, this is what we'd like you to do next..." Skype just lost it. No sound, frozen picture, and my heart did its best to escape through my throat. Thankfully Skype recovered after that slight wobble, which meant only a minute of repeating "Hello?" at different volumes and pitches. I say "only" a minute, but it seemed longer, in the same way that touching a red hot stove for "only" five seconds feels like a whole lot longer.

That thought courtesy of Einstein, by the way.

So: the first stage is complete. Now to demonstrate my style. Elsewhere. Onwards to Thursday.

The day was filled with strolling around the school, shaking hands and making sure there were no problems in translation. It was great to see all of my students looking slick and suited, although there were certainly some who looked uncomfortably constrained.

Lunch was excellent, as I was invited to sit with the companies in the dining hall on the third floor. There were waiters. There was wine. There were three courses and coffee. It was delicious, although the starter took some getting used to - it seemed to be a mix of pistachios, salmon, cream, balsamic vinegar all served in a champagne coupette. Weirdly it worked, but I don't know if I'd have ordered it given the choice.

After lunch we waddled back to work, and I spent the afternoon emailing fielding requests from students and polishing off the translation I started earlier this week. After that, a little more prep for the interview and then there was nothing left to do but sit nervously.

So that's what I did. At two minutes to six I was added, with a short message to tell me that the interview would be pushed back by ten minutes. No problem.

Ten minutes passed. Then two more.

"We don't seem to be able to call you," my interviewer typed.

Oh excellent. 

I tried ringing them and got through immediately. Apparently the internet here blocks incoming calls. Useful to know.

The interview continued from there, for the most part in English but with French interspersed. I'm confident and, as I said, I've now got a piece to write for Monday to show my style.

The rest of Thursday evening was spent in Chatêlet Les Halles, at a wonderfully Parisian little wine bar (La Trinquette, Rue des Gravilliers, 75003). I've talked about the the particular way in which the French run their bars and restaurants, and this was cheerfully, wonderfully stereotypical. We seized a bottle of well-priced red (honestly, I'm yet to find anywhere in Britain where a £20 bottle of wine could be as complex and wonderful as it is here) and - there is no other word for it - crushed ourselves into seats.

Before long (3 hours later, there's that pesky relativity again) we wobbled our way out, squeezing past patrons and serving staff, and parted ways. The RER A rushed me home and the cold air on the twenty minute walk home served to sober me up a little. A dish of pasta and pesto later I fell asleep.

You're not a real student until you wake up hugging an empty bowl of pesto pasta.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Suit up!

Today started earlier than expected. I was so surprised I lay in bed, feeling suddenly and totally wide awake, for five minutes. It was a bizarre experience. Has anybody else experienced it? Sudden, total wakefulness from utter dreamless sleep in a heartbeat.

This morning passed without event. A little filing, a little correspondance, one compliment from an lady who was in the group with whom I went to the Dalì exposition - very calm. In fact, exceedingly so, and I took to the corridors to find out why all was peace. I soon found the source of the silence; several companies from the energy industry were giving talks and although I could make neither head nor tail of it, the rooms were packed to the rafters. This merely affirms that I am not cut out to be an engineer.

My lunchtime was busy, as students hustled in and out, asking for corrections to CVs and interview practice before their one-on-one sessions with recruiters tomorrow. A growling, squelching rumble told me that lunchtime had passed. I threw students from my door, promising to be back once I'd appeased my stomach.

Once I'd appeased it (with so much glorious food, I have genuinely no idea how I'm going to survive next year) I was back to work on a translation, interrupted at irregular intervals by students looking for help and silly students.

Now silly students are a tiny bugbear in my otherwise flawless life and job. Silly students are students who, having been told something once, keep coming back to you to check. Not that they've understood, mark me, but that you've understood. They want to be certain that you know what you're doing.

And it is frustrating me.

Tiny bugbear. Tiny.

I was interrupted again at 4, at which point I may have silently pointed a finger at the door and prayed for the ability to explode things. Nothing happened. While my latent superpowers developed I barked "Come in!" at the door. It swung tentatively open and my conversation class, their ranks swollen by two more keen students, peered in. They wanted to know if they could start early and I, unable to resist students eager to learn, leapt from my seat and began at once. We covered economics, politics and taxation before moving onto my map. I've talked before about my map. I've grown slightly used to it, but it still pleases me to see how unsettled students are by it.

Starting early meant finishing early, and with great pleasure I strolled home. The only problem with living so close to work is that it's not much of a stroll home, and I was home almost before I started.

Interview has been moved to an hour later tomorrow. I'm taking final advice from Barney:

You bet Barney. You bet.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Suddenly, love!

This morning I played the clown for my colleague, acting the parts of the older members of last night's trip to the exposition. Even if I say it myself, I'm a hoot, though I imagine that no small part of that is down to my accent. Foolishness over with, I went to greet my supervisor and find out what I'd missed yesterday evening.

Yesterday evening I missed a meeting for those volunteering with the huge careers day/forum event happening at the university. This will be its 7th iteration, and no drill sergeant in Her Majesty's Armed Forces has been so fiercely punctual of timekeeping as the event's organiser. She has given me the role of bad cop, with the responsibility of going around the rooms and essentially cutting people off when it's time for lunch. People who refuse to leave will be locked in their rooms and will have no lunch and, having already spoken about lunches here in France, you can understand why that would be seen as a Bad Thing.

The rest of my day passed uneventfully; the last few stragglers are signing up for tests, I have a brief translation to complete for "whenever" (Oh, how I love vague deadlines, how I adore them, how pleasing it is to be suddenly told 'I need that translation now') and, of course, hanging in the horizon like a star is my interview for -

I want to tell you all who the interview is with. I really do, because it's exciting and if I get it then I think it will realistically change the whole direction of my career and life. And this blog has readers who, despite the inanity of my life, keep coming back, and I should dearly like to reward those good and patient people with something exciting.

I assure you this sudden dip into seriousness will be temporary, but for the moment do bear with me.

Taken from
So: I have an interview with Agence ELAN, a French PR firm which opened an office in London in 2011. They've directed PR for companies like Moët Chandon, L'Oréal, and Eurostar. They are the essence of where I want to be; fast moving, European - my immediate supervisor will speak three languages fluently and has three degrees - and working with a broad range of clients. This would only be an internship, of course, but even the first inch of a toe in the door is sufficient for me.

Okay. So that's happening on Thursday and I'm fizzing with excitement, but I'll try to bottle it for the moment. I shall likely pop a little on Friday, but I will do my best to keep it off your lovely clothes.

I rounded the day off with a French film, which was incredibly good fun. L'Arnacoeur is formulaic and even features a frame-by-frame reproduction of the dance sequence from Dirty Dancing - 

You know which one. Don't make me -

I hope you're satisfied.

But it still had some great, laugh out loud moments, and I'd recommend it to most anyone, although it does see this poor guy get stood up by the girl he adores.

Unfortunately this isn't the first time this has happened. See also: Love Actually 


That's a hell of a thing to be typecast as, isn't it. The guy who gets his heart broken.

What a blog. And it's only Tuesday. Here's to the rest of the week.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Culture shock

Culture shock is really the only way to describe coming face to face with Dalì. You see images online and thing, "Okay, that's weird. I don't get it. It draws me but I can't get my head round it. Next."

And then you see the actual painting and you get so close your nose practically touches the canvas. You can't help it. The colours are so rich and the images so vivid, so striking, that you can hardly help yourself. The exhibition features works from the entirety of Dalì's career, from the early cubist images before suddenly jack-knifing into surrealism. It is clear that he never looked back.

The exhibition is currently being shown at the Centre Pompidou (Metro, RER Chatelet-Les-Halles) and is worth your time and your money. The entrance is an egg, with a projected slideshow of the artist himself as you go through it. This bizarre beginning sets the tone for what you are about to see.

As I said, Dalì started with cubism. This is my favourite of this period. I like the angles, I like the expressions on the giants' faces and I like the colours. I'm pretty sure my friend Fanny is tearing her hair out at this, since she is an art historian and could talk about composition and what nots, but I just like the blue.

No sign yet of ants, but they're coming. Oh, they're coming.

Instead we have the feminine and, interestingly (to me only, I'm sure) the masculine's complete disregard for the same. The hat perched on his head forms a halo and the vein in his wrist seems very prominent - that, alongside his aloof nature, make me think that perhaps he's a saint.

I could just as easily be entirely wrong, but that's what I think. If you disagree, or even better if you agree, you can tell me as always on Twitter and in the comments below.

Onwards to the ants!

Dalì quickly moved into surrealism and the interplay of decay and love; atrophie et amour. His films, too, reflect this mindset, with new life springing from rotting corpses. Ants are throughout as a symbol of the decay that all things experience, and once you know that you seem them everywhere. Worse still, knowing that is what they signify means that the otherwise healthy figures on which one finds them become filled with dramatic irony; they don't realise it but we, the audience too. They are decaying.

Before long it was melting clocks and spindle-leggèd elephants as we moved towards the middle part of his life. Now we had telephones with lobsters for handsets and the Venus de Milo with drawers carved into her. It's at this point, I confess, that I started to lose my new found fondness for the man. It all seemed so very...silly, I suppose.

But this was swiftly followed by two exquisite artworks that I'd be glad to have in a future house. The first is the most relaxed Jesus ever :

Notice: no nails, no crown of thorns, unblemished back. You can't actually see it's Jesus. It could be anyone. For me this just incredible, and in its original form it's literally breathtaking, if only because it seems such a huge break from things like The Great Masturbator and The Metamorphosis of Narcissus, which are in and of themselves exquisite works. But this, for me, stands out.

This painting is my other favourite, because there is just so much going on within it. It's almost endless.

I mean just look at it. There's a face, a fruit bowl, skeletons centre-right reaching up to a faceless figure, a dog arching over all...I could sit in front of this painting for hours. I nearly did. It's utterly fantastic.

Regretfully I had a home to return to and a growling stomach to attend to, and so I have come back, collapsed into bed, and written this. I will now make an omelette.

And try not to think of what Dalì put in his eggs.

(Ants. The answer is ants. Brrrrr.)

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Versailles, where the Sun and the Moon rose together

Versailles is the most incredible monument to one man's ego. It is so vast, so immense, that I hardly know where to begin.

Let's start with a little history. Louis XIV reigned in France from 1661 to his death in 1715. He single-handedly neutralised the power of the old families and rebranded himself as the Sun-King, identifying himself with Apollo, the Roman god of the Sun. He revolutionised the law, the army, and the power of the crown.

And he did a lot of this with Versailles.

Approaching the gates of Versailles is intimidating even today. It is hard to imagine how it must have felt to courtiers who knew that their lives and their livelihoods were in the palm of the hand of the man who lived at its centre.

Gold leaf covers spikes, a potent metaphor for Louis' court. Smiles were false and the only thing that counted was appearance. Being seen, and being seen to be seen, were far more important than being clever or even useful.

Let me give you an example. Louis expected, upon waking, to be surrounded by courtiers who hoped for some favour from him. This was not an entirely new system; instead, it harked back to Roman times, where it was necessary for people to visit their patronus, a man of greater wealth or social stature, in the morning. This was called salutatio, and served to remind the inferior of the power of their patronus. Louis, who saw Rome as the pinnacle of civilisation, reinstated this, and so expected his ministers and courtiers to greet him when he woke up. This was known as lever, the rising ceremony. It was split into two parts, but that's a little heavy for this light little blog. In any case, once the King put in place this ceremony, it became fashionable to copy it, and consequently lower level courtiers would need to rise at a ferociously early hour in order to rush to the lever of their superiors who, in turn, would then hurry off to the lever of their superiors. Consequently Louis' lever was towards noon, and he would actually get in a good couple of hours of hunting before re-retiring to bed.

There's your little history lesson over. Onwards to Versailles!

I was at Versailles with Mary who, apparently undaunted by last week's meeting, had agreed to keep me company as I wandered around the grand château. My entry was free; hers, regretfully, was expensive - citizens of the European Union under the age of 26 get in gratis. Americans, sadly, do not, regardless of age. Entering, we followed the signs around the building. A sign two metres in expressly forbade the use of cameras and videocameras. Despite the sign being in three different languages many of our fellow tourists ignored it completely; I, being British, could not bring myself to do so. Consequently I have no pictures of the inside, which is an incredible shame, because it's glorious.

The tour leads you through several rooms, all of which have breathtaking paintings on the ceilings. Mars, Diana and Hercules all tower above you as you move from room to room, and it wasn't long before Mary and I felt our necks stiffening up as we did our best to drink in every image. I know it would take up too much space, but there's a lot to be said for putting long benches in these rooms. People could lie back and stare up and thus better appreciate the incredible artwork.

The opulence of the rooms doesn't stop at the ceilings, however. The walls are clad in marble and finished in gold. At every step you are reminded that you are in the home of a near deity. At its centre, like a spider in a web, is the bedroom of the King. It is magnificent in its opulence. Gold thread, gold leaf, silk - all adorn every feasible surface and ensure that everyone in the room is aware of who has the power.

The tour was over far too quickly and Mary and I escaped to the grounds, which even in overcast weather were beautiful. They are free to enter (free for all, without concern for the country in which you were born), and we strolled together around the enormous cruciform lake which is the centerpiece of Versailles' gardens. We were lapped several times by eager joggers, bikers, and one chap on what I can only accurately describe as a cross-trainer on wheels. We took a more leisurely pace, discussing Anglo-American differences and future plans and ideas. We stopped off for lunch at a little eaterie; Mary had a sandwich and I had a roast chicken. I confess, I am something of a glutton. Some people look at vices and see sin. I see a list of achievements waiting to be unlocked.

We were halfway through when a family of seven or so Texans sat down next to us, clearly unsettled by the prospect of being sat next to people they didn't know. This is a peculiarity of the continent that Brits and, apparently, Americans are not used to. It can be summed up very simply as: if you fit, you sit. You can be friendly or you can ignore your neighbour, but that's just the way it is.

In any event, eavesdropping on their conversation caused me to have to bite my lip a couple of times while Mary cringed just a little as they remarked on the differences between the States and Europe. It would be easy to mock, but the fact that they've made the journey is greatly reassuring - I read recently that only 3.5% of Americans will ever travel overseas on vacation. So anyone who leaves that country and tries to get some of the ancient culture they lack is a hero to me.

All the same, it shouldn't be a surprise that Macdonald's is different here.

The long walk brought us to the top of the cross. To give you an idea of the sheer size of this lake, Versailles is the central building in this photo. The dark blobs in the foreground are 4-man boats.


On the stroll back I attempted to explain cricket to Mary, a task of mammoth proportions because cricket is not the simplest thing to explain. We've made a deal, though - if I go to Chicago she'll take me to a baseball game and she, in return, will accompany me to a cricket match in England.

I cannot wait.

Today, in a nutshell, has been recovery. I lay around until 10 feeling stiff; apparently I am now old and cannot walk a few miles without needing to rest my bones for a day. Orange juice and a baked potato have restored my vigour, however, and I am now off to teach. If you'd like to see a few more pictures from Versailles, including a few shots from the garden, then just click here.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Oh man. Friday

First up and because I can't wait to share it with you, here's a video about what happened after those Happily Every Afters:
On the one hand this guy is just fantastic, and the lyrics are intelligent and sharp. I'm sure he only did it because it scans, but BP hasn't been British for quite some time. So, you know. Not our deal.

Secondly: onwards to Friday. Fridays are when the whole school winds down in preparation for the weekend. That's great for the school, who look forward to quitting at half four and escaping to their homes and loving families.

Me, I have more private lessons to teach. Teaching puts me in a great mood, and I love it, but kicking about while other people breeze past singing "au revoir, bonne weekend !" is absolutely no fun at all. In addition, for one reason or another, work is thin on the ground at the moment. Nothing drives me barmy like immobility, but I asked all around me and rien. So I started planning my interview and realised that I was being a crazy person and stopped.

However, having this time will allow me to work on some sort of project to invigorate the new Language Hub. I'm actually considering some sort of one question - fifty people thing. You know, like:  It's long, but totally worth it. 
My question - for those students of mine who read this, you'll have a head start - I think the question will be:

No, thinking about it, I want it to be a surprise. 

Speaking of which, my friends Kate and Mary got tattoos. She blogged about it, but don't tell me what they have if you read it. I haven't, and I intend to be pleasantly surprised tomorrow.

Speaking of which, I need to get stuff ready for tomorrow. I'm going to Versailles tomorrow, and the weather currently looks foreboding.

P.S: The blog about my flowers mix-up got retweeted by +Arena Flowers and I've got hundreds of views, so a huge thank you to the social media team there for making my ego practically unbearable today. It's appreciated, and your flowers are brilliant.

Versailles tomorrow. Pictures to follow, though possibly not that evening, as I can see myself going straight to bed. So there should be a blog on Sunday. 

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Things are in motion

A mysterious title, to be sure. Things are moving; that is to say that things are in motion.

My boss called my mobile this morning, always a bizarre thing to happen. She invited me to come down and see my old office, my old mediatheque, in its new form. It looks incredible; a huge, open space with a lick of baby-blue. As I watched desks and computers came out of storage and the room started to look like the plan stuck to several of the walls.

My plan. You'll remember I constructed a technical drawing of the room as it would be. Once done I didn't think any more of it; it was just an exercise - a guide, really, for someone to do a real job.

Nope. People were actually working to my plan. People were congratulating me on my plan. Being in education for as long as I have, I'm unused to this. I have never had an essay back without at least one criticism. People weren't criticising. I was so freaked out that after ten minutes I had to leave.

In any case, once that job's complete, they will start work on my new office. I'm beyond excited, especially as my map came today. It's huge, and it's exactly what I wanted, and it's going up in my temporary office tomorrow. I was going to put it up in my room, but then nobody enjoys it except me. And that's a waste.

Aside from some vague supervising this morning - I hate supervising something I can't get involved in, it makes me feel ten times worse than useless - I finally closed the book on the statistics project. It was a labour of love, no doubt, and means I can give numerous little facts about my school's rate of graduate employment (79% after 2 months, 94% after 6), average salary one year after graduation (45 000€) and ratio of men to women (3:1).

That, by the way, is about the same ratio as men to women in the UK parliament.

Having completed my statistics, I cast about for something to do. Nothing. Nothing at all.

So I wrote up the statistics and learnt how to use array formulae in Excel because nerds rule the world now. At one point I got an unexpected answer from an extremely long expression. This is not uncommon, but at that point I usually cadge together a new expression from the ones I know and make a messy but effective job of it. This time I reread my instructions and nosed out the problem.

It was a translation error, by the way. French Excel likes certain syntaxes which English Excel despises, and vice versa. Even in a program based around numbers, which are universal, there had to be differences.

At half past four I polished off and submitted my French homework and then strolled along to the class. The class was cancelled. Joy, I thought to myself. I've spoken French all day. I could go home. I could decide what I'm going to do about Google Reader closing down (I'm using feedly now and, although it's nowhere near as good, their Android app is gorgeous). I could cook an actual meal, having lived off bread and soup every evening for some time now. Working hard is a joy, but I'm starting to miss my chilli. A good chilli takes an hour. A great chilli takes four. I don't have that kind of time.

Except today I did. I was free at five. I could go straight home and have a fantastic chilli ready by half past eight, if I compromised just a little and cut it short by an hour. All I had to do was drop off the completed statistics package and hurry home.

My supervisor is a very interesting person, and every other minute I meet her I am in awe of her patience with my French and the depth of her knowledge. Every other opportunity I have, I learn things from her.

I just wish that today she had been just a little less interesting, because then I could have got home before half past six.

So it's savage mushroom soup for me this evening.

We get the word savage from the French sauvage, which just means wild. But savage mushrooms are just a more pleasing thought, as long as they're kept behind plate glass.

Oh, and it's Steak and Blowjob Day. I found out via my brother's girlfriend's twitter feed.

I don't even know where to start with how horrifying that is, so I won't.

See you tomorrow.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Having faith in yourself could save you money.

Today was a crazy busy day. I'd really like to talk about it, but my last couple of days have been stressed. I imagine that people are rolling their eyes as they read this. "Not more stress," they say. "All I ever here is stress, stress, stress. It's like being in a pronunciation class."

So instead I'm going to recount what happened over the weekend when I wasn't in Rouen. 

On Thursday, having been reminded by Google, my brother, and an alert I set up last year, I went online and bought my mother a gigantic bouquet of flowers. Gigantic. The flowers were great value, but delivery was a bit of a hike because I wanted them delivered on Sunday.

This is called using demand inelasticity to your advantage.

In any case, I ordered the flowers. I sat back and felt contented in a job well done. I wrote a blog. I felt the sort of smug that always comes before a calamitous fall.

I had two days to wait for it.

On Saturday night, as I walked home from the station, my brother facebooked me. 

- You got mum a present?

Yea I had, I thought smugly. I got it on Thursday. Let me check my inbox for the confirmation email.


Checked my deleted items, panicking just a little.


Checked all other potential email inboxes and deleted items.


You know that cold sweat that comes over you when you can't quite believe the way reality is unfolding?

You know that fear that steals over you, starting at the base of your spine and scuttling up, its sharp claws digging into your skin?

You know how your tongue, normally a fount of liquid words, dries into a sponge and attempts to jump down your throat?

Check, check, and check.

I rushed home, fear now stealing through my hair and giving me cause to scratch frantically. I muttered iterations of curse words in French and English. I made some new ones up when I ran out. I got home. I threw clothes off myself and threw myself into my chair. A screw came loose. The seat fell off. 

Smug, meet fall.

I scrambled back up and logged into the flower shop's website. The site looked familiar. Had I dreamed the transaction? The transaction!

I eagerly logged into my bank account. If I'd bought anything then the money would have left my account. I tapped the keys eagerly. There was light at the end of the tunnel.

No recent transactions.

The light resolved itself into an express train.

In even more of a panic, with sweaty palms slipping over the mouse, I bagged the last collection of tulips, tapped a frantic and deeply apologetic note and, ashamed and chastised, clicked the button for it to be delivered on Monday. 

That night I lay awake frantically worrying. I'd forgotten Mother's Day. I was in another country. Perhaps I could get a train home. Would my presence be enough to abate the storm? 

I sweated all night.

I wore a hole in the bedsheets with my tossing and turning.

At one point I considered concocting a story about a rare but debilitating disease in order to have a valid excuse for why I'd not got anything. I was three pages into the grosser parts of Wikipedia before I realised I'd probably have mentioned African sleeping sickness in my daily blog.

I got up late. I called my mother immediately to offer a groveling apology. 

"Thank you for the lovely flowers!"

I blinked. Still asleep, clearly.

"The man just delivered them, they're lovely!" My mother has a way of drawing out the syllables in lovely. She rolls the word around in her mouth, as though just the word is a pleasure to say. She's said it that way since I can remember. She said it that way when I presented her with what can only be described as a blob of pink with a pencil mouth and my teacher's neat script explaining "Mum."

The way my mother says "lovely" cannot be replicated.

I was not dreaming. This solved the problem of flowers on Mother's Day wonderfully.

I froze.

It also raised the problem of extra flowers (not really a problem, my mother loves flowers) with a note that apologised for forgetting Mother's Day. Which apparently I had not done.

I hate looking stupid.

Being smug. Now with twice the karmic backlash.

These are the flowers, by the way, delivered by the extremely decent (and very funny on Twitter+Arena Flowers. If you need flowers, they're the guys. And gals.

Photo credit: my brother.
(I've just had to go on their Twitter page to get the link, and the last two post are "Cliff Richard appears dressed as an owl. But there is no crowd. He's at home. In his kitchen. Alone. Hooting 'Devil Woman'." and "Do turtles find tortoises attractive? You wonder..." Honestly, if you like your comedy smart and surreal follow them.)

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

There's something wonderful about snow

Yesterday, as I strolled home and spoke to my smallest sister, it started to snow. Great big clumps. This morning when I awoke it was to find that the snow had not, and everywhere was covered in a thin blanket of sparkling snow. I say sparkling because, despite its whiteness, there was a sparkle that lay just below the powder. In any case, as I scurried across the car park (I can run from my bedroom to my office in thirty seconds) those thoughts were the ones that struck me with the greatest force. Snow adds an ethereal beauty to anything, and anything already beautiful merely has its beauty magnified - be it a town or a person.

Enough proselytizing. You love snow, and I'm sure I need not convince you of how wonderful it is.

This morning was spent completing the task I started yesterday, a task for which I was rewarded with a bottle of something novel and exciting. It's an apéritif, and not one I'm familiar with. Normally I'd put a picture of it here but, in the dash to get home and do shopping, it's still in the office. However, I promise if you check back after 11am GMT there'll be a photo of the gift in place of my grinning face.

See? Looks exciting, non?

Having delivered the goods, completed the assignment, and been incredibly surprised by the kind gesture of my colleague - perhaps I'm cynical, but every time a colleague gives me a thank-you gift for some work I've done I'm completely bowled over and stammer thanks in two different languages.

That's how you know you're getting better at second languages. You use it to thank people because it provides useful filler while you try to get your brain back in gear.

The only other thing that happened today was that I called up my interviewer to fix a time and date for the aforementioned interview, time being a bit weird between here and London. She answered the phone with the distinctive "'Allo?" of almost all French people. My resolution, which had been to speak exclusively in English, went swiftly out the window. Hearing that "Allo?" at work has become a signal, for me, to speak in French rather than English. Like a Pavlovian dog, I switched into French. (The following has been translated:)

- 'Allo?
- Ah hello, am I speaking to --
- Yes, speaking.
- Hi, we spoke yesterday via email, I'm just calling to confirm the interview time and date.

And so on, as you would expect that call to go. Except it was totally in French, and at no point did either of us suggest switching to English. It just seemed completely natural, and that pretty much made my day. A genuine French person who's never met me felt more at east speaking French than English. Joy.

The afternoon was absolutely full of work, which was also really pleasing. After lunch my colleague and I did a coaching session with the same colleague who'd gifted me the scrumptious looking bottle above, and ten minutes from the end my supervisor rang me on my mobile.

-Tu es où, Jonathan? Where are you, Jonathan?
-Je suis à l'école, Madame. I'm in school, Miss. Bear in mind that the coaching session we were conducting took place not more than 100 meters from my supervisor's office.
- But why aren't you picking up your phone?
I walked into her office.

It was a good moment. She looked completely nonplussed, stared at her own phone for a good ten seconds, and then looked at me. I apologised and explained why I'd (apparently) spontaneously materialised outside her office. She told me that the marketing and press department were looking for me, hoping to utilise my knowledge of English. A press release was ready to go out, following an interview with a CEO and alumnus of the School. All that remained was for me to okay it.

You can imagine how my ego swelled. Coming on the heels of the interview that I confirmed this morning this fresh massage of my ego (well recovered from its bruising descent yesterday) and so I stormed up to the department and spent a comfortable hour discussing very tiny variations in language. English is so rich but also so very sensitive to change; anyone who has looked up the difference between get on and get off knows what I mean.

Now, at this point I'd love to talk about how my evening was interesting, how the French lesson was brilliant, and how I trudged through snow that crunched underfoot.

Instead, I'm somewhere between elation and terror, so I'm going to close this blog here, take a dram, and prepare for my interview.

If you're slightly perturbed by the abruptness with which this blog has finished, permit me to recommend you a blog by a schoolmate, Sophy - who's in Vienna - and another German assistant +Joanna Ford, who I don't know personally but writes with the elegance and easy wit that is so often lacking from this blog.

I'll see you all tomorrow.

EDIT: Sophy, not Sophie. I'm an awful person.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Moonday, Loonday, Mad Men, Come Play

Exciting news sports fans!

You'll remember I mentioned a French PR firm back on Friday. An update for you: I have a Skype interview next week with the firm in question and I'm incredibly excited, although at the moment it is only an interview. Let us be calm and not overdo it.

Alright. That'll do.
That email came this morning, meaning I had to balance replying in French with a translation I'm undertaking for a colleague's daughter. That's a little unfair; it's not a translation. The daughter has written a little presentation on Simone Veil, she told me, would I mind checking it over quickly?

I was honoured to be asked and agreed, of course. I went over to my colleague's office and had a look over the printed document.

Alright, five sides. Not a quick job, but a half hour maximum. And then I read the text.

Nothing else will be said on the subject save that I will need some time tomorrow to finish it.

So: aside from my happy dance and the translation, nothing else of great interest happened today save for the recommencement of an oral class; some debate this evening on prostitution, drugs and guns. Because there are safe topics, that students will never talk about, and there are topics that are dangerous, cause arguments, and absolutely will come up in everyday life.

I would rather teach students about them.

Plus, one of them argued passionately that the 1st Amendment of the Constitution protected the right to bear arms, and he was doing so well and flowing so easily that I couldn't bring myself to point out the flaw in his argument. I hope someone else does.

Following my oral lesson I was off to another oral lesson; this one private. It was excellent as ever; her errors are becoming less and less frequent and are centered more around complex tenses and sentence structure. As I left she told me about some more holiday she'd be taking; I'm a little gutted that I won't get to see her but it does give me some free evening time to catch up on some reading I've been meaning to do. Silver linings are everywhere.

On the way home they were directly above me, and the lining parted from the cloud and landed on my head with a soft flump. The snow had arrived, having swept down past Scotland, blanketing London, Normandy, and now blowing into my face in rather large clumps. 

I got home eventually, looking more like a panda bear than I have done in a long time, but also terribly dramatic: a long black coat, turned up, a scarf covering my mouth, nose and neck alongside my naturally pale skin. Apparently my sudden apparition from the snow was unexpected, because one of my students caught sight of me as she left and skidded marvelously on the fresh snow. Legs, arms, bag, windmilling everywhere. It was a work of art in its gracelessness. 

It was matched only by my own performance as I made it through the door and onto the tiled floor. The tiled and recently polished floor. I didn't stand a chance.

In any case; I'm back now, I'm thoroughly warmed up, and I've just read Mary's account of our trip to Rouen. It's here. You may need a strong stomach.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

100 posts and the concluding chapter

This is my 100th post! And it is also Mother's Day in the UK. Whether or not you're in the UK, send a message to your mother: call her, text her, email or Skype her. Remind her that you love her and appreciate her.

Public service announcement over. Let us return to Rouen.

So: when we last met, Mary and I had ascended the Gros Horloge and looked out over the glorious vista of Rouen. Having looked, all that remained was the descent. The descent past five floors, down hundreds of steps whose height changed without warning. The feeling of jolting terror that filled me when I put my foot down to where I thought the step would be (and instead found empty air) became my constant companion. A difference of even three centimeters is enough to cause the human brain to fold in on itself and collapse like a soufflé.

I didn't realise quite how tense the descent had made me until I reached the bottom. I had to walk like a robot because my legs had cramped up so completely that my knees refused to bend. Twenty minutes later I was still feeling a little wobbly as we paused to review our progress and our map. Following lunch, Mary had indulged her love of apples and crunched happily away as we watched the market close down around us. We stepped briefly into another cathedral, l'Eglise St-Maclou, in the hope of finding the crypts but the whole place seemed to be under renovation. We nosed around, but the day was drawing on and we retired from the building with an urge to sit and enjoy the peace.

We found a park and settled ourselves on a bench. To our left was a gloriously large house of the kind one only seems to find in France. Beside it was another towering spire and behind that the sun set. A long day and, to put it bluntly, we were pooped. After sitting for a while, watching children play football with their dad, listening to the music and sounds of students around us, we roused ourselves and looked for a bar.

Thankfully bars are both plentiful and easy to find in Rouen. We settled at a table outside in a little square and waited for the waiter to come past. I may have mentioned this before, but managers in the French hospitality industry have a near phobia of hiring more staff than they need, and as a result getting served in France is a matter of waiting and being absolutely ready to order when a waiter stops at your table. If you say "Um," he will be gone, and you will be thirsty for another thirty minutes, unhappily regarding the golden-coloured beer that others are drinking.

We snapped off orders fairly quickly and the waiter was overjoyed to meet an American and an English person who spoke a little French. He disappeared, he reappeared, two tall glasses of cold and delicious beer were presented to us. The evening drew on and we talked about this and that, nothing of any importance. We had another beer, looked at the time, and made our way towards the station after one or two false starts on my part. Having reached the station we embraced again, parted, and I collapsed into my seat. Opposite me was a young lady who looked unhappy and had arrayed about her exercises in English grammar.

I offered what little help I could and what followed was an impromptu lesson in English, because, as previously mentioned - I like teaching. As we got off I offered her my card on the assurance that she would call if she needed help; I doubt she needs an English tutor but - you never know. The only sure way to gain nothing is to do nothing.

So: Rouen is beautiful. If I have learnt anything from this trip, from this year, or from the events that transpired over this day it is that opportunities should be seized around the waist and passionately embraced.

Metaphorically speaking.

A final photo that I particularly like; the rest can be found at this link.