August 31, 2007

Yup, Still Dead Then.

Ten years ago this weekend I was floating in an overpriced Provincetown pool, asking anyone who'd listen, "Who gets their miles?"

Ah well, it made us laugh at the time, and those who were not amused merely scowled and left us to our vodka-infused mourning. Much the same as Camila is doing today.

But let's not forget that it wasn't just Diana who perished a decade ago. Mother Theresa also died this weekend, but there was no moment of silence at Harrod's for her. Oh no.

Alas, I still wonder where we'd have gone if Frequent Flyer points were transferable. Can you imagine?

August 30, 2007

Just Tell Me What You Want

I picked up a new student this afternoon ... he was surprisingly light ... and ended up having a little come to Jesus with him.

Seems he'd made some complaints that his teachers weren't giving him the attention he needed. He hadn't learned enough in the past ten weeks. He spoke very little English when he arrived, and he's at a pre-intermediate level now so he's making decent progress, but his vocab and pronunciation are still very weak. And, of course, he hangs out with friends who share the same mother tongue. Guess what they speak to each other? Not English.

Last week, a bell rung (or he looked at the calendar) and he realized his return to China was just around the bend. He's going to have to tell his boss (who's also his father and speaks no English) that he's not quite ready to be the factory sales manager and/or represent their manufacturing company in upcoming trade shows in Milan, Frankfurt and Vegas. I think they expected him to be quasi-fluent in eleven weeks, which could happen, but not on three hours of group work a day.

So he asked for private instruction. Late in the game, but at least he asked. And since the Kazakhs left early, I was free.

"Who is your teacher in the morning?" I asked. I figured I could chat him/her up and get a clue on how he's doing in his group.

"I'm sorry, I don't know."

Okay, I can find out. We'll move on.

He wanted to do writing today and tackle pronunciation and business conversation tomorrow. That's two 2-hour sessions to find the magic bullet. No problem.

We ended up trying to edit a couple pages of marketing brochure copy, loaded with superlatives and meaningless marketing jargon. The text I'd gotten he gave me [thanks BW for pointing out my hack writing ;)] was clearly a literal translation from his handheld Chinese-English electronic dictionary. He wanted it to be web-savvy prose.

Over the past six years, proud we have accumulated the essence of valves kind and satisfactory clients in markets wide the world, married to principles of solidarity, highly efficiency, quality assuring, and diligence.

I helped him out as best I could (believe it or not, my knowledge of hot-forged ball valves is somewhat limited).

"I don't like the number second .... what do you call that?" he asked, pointing to a paragraph after he'd typed a couple of our English words into his calculationary (that's a new word I just made up, nice eh?).

"What don't you like about it?"

He stared at me. You could see his mind whirring.

"What do you want it to say?"

Bless. He couldn't tell me, and I could sense his frustration, but still ... I had to let him know, in no uncertain terms, that private tuition fees do not include a freelance copywriter.

"This is complicated marketing material you are working on," I said, watching his face fall. "You need to be able to explain in basic English what you want before you can expect to write it out in a sales brochure."

Poor kid, he's only got one more day ... where I'll give him as much pronunciation and basic business sales vocab as I can. In two hours.

The sad thing is, there are plenty of people in the building who speak his language and could have helped him express his goals more clearly had he only swallowed his pride. He's had almost three months. Now he's going to have to go home and fall down on the sword ... and probably blame the teacher whose name he doesn't even know.

So I Had an Idea

Michael Cunningham reworked Mrs. Dalloway.

Zadie Smith twiddled about with Howard's End.

Amy Heckerling took a stab at Emma.

So I've been contemplating a going for a Masters. Why not rework Middlemarch for my thesis?

In my spare time.

No, that's just silly ... and pretentiously Jonathan Franzen of me.

:: :: ::

But just what would George Eliot have to say about the NHS and David Cameron?

August 28, 2007

It's All About the Rain

I watched Sense and Sensibility yesterday afternoon and, again, felt Marianne's pain when she stood in the pouring rain, staring longingly at Willoughby's oh-so-humble shack down the hill. Me, I don't mind a libertine so much, but that's not the point.

The point is, I just saw this for the first time, and rain is a good thing.

Now I just have to go find that baker from Whole Foods and wait for the next downpour.

Tuesday 200 - #55

I loathe lateness. And yet there I was, rushing into the pub forty minutes behind schedule for our third date. I’d run out of Midol, so I’d passed on punctuality in favor of preempting PMS.

Ben was sitting at the bar, editing a manuscript. The TV behind the bar flickered into his half-empty pint.

“Sorry, darling,“ I said and ordered a double whiskey neat from the strapping barman.

“How are you, kitten?” he purred, kissing me on the cheek.

“Stressed”, I said, knocking back the shot and motioning for another.

“Ohmm,” he pantomimed some new-agey breathing ritual. “Vacation starts Friday, what could possibly be wrong?”

Before I could mouth my myriad of moans, he pointed to the TV. “Well, there is that.”

It was an entertainment clip featuring Keira Knightley’s chin in its new film. “She’d want to atone,” he quipped.

“Not a fan?”

“Don’t get me started,” he said, apparently too late. “I’m sick of talent-light, nay … talent-free anorexics getting paid to pout in petticoats and have it called ‘acting’.”

“Speaking of waifs,” I asked while lighting up, “any thoughts on Gwyneth?”

“Hate her.”

“Thank God.”

And then he asked me to marry him.

:: :: ::

What's a Tuesday 200?

Last week's time's Tuesday 200 (Sorry, I was dead busy last week).


August 25, 2007

Okay Then. Enough.

Gerry McCann was just on the BBC, being interviewed at the Edinburgh TV festival, saying he and his wife didn't really ask for all this continuous media attention.

I suppose that's why he and his wife are posing in a two-page spread in the 28 August issue of Hello!, "the place for celebrity news."

I'm sorry for their loss, but I think they're idiots for leaving her alone in the house. And I'm awfully tired of seeing them every day, not to mention the fact they're making money off the whole thing.

August 20, 2007

It Takes A Village

So. Apparently I'm wrong about something.

It seems, according to my Kazakh student (who is my age and about a kazillion times richer than I'll ever be), that women and men can never really be equals. This because their brains are made differently and women cannot think as logically are strategically as men. They also have no long-term vision and are genetically too emotional.

I challenged him to bring in some data to support his claims, and asked if we could go back to my lesson plan of "will" and "shall" to express intent for the future.

I think I shall introduce him to some of my more politically-charged, business-savvy lady-type friends.

Or maybe I'll just leave him to his hunting (he'll gladly show his wolf-killing videos he keeps on his mobile) wish him a bon voyage when he heads off to Dubai in a couple weeks. Oh those silly central Asians and their old-time beliefs.

He then told me he likes Hillary Clinton better than Bush ... so we have to cut him a little slack. Not that he can vote (or would) for her.

Just Another Night at XXL

I saw this headline and thought something went horribly wrong at Soho Pride last night ...

Bears eat man at beer festival

Sounds like Serbia's caged their premise for next year's Eurovision entry.

August 18, 2007

Bitter, Sweet and Strange

A few thoughts on a Saturday morning ...

  • Saw Best Actress/Best Actor Miss Coco Peru at the Soho Theatre last night. The house was sold out, the audience was lovely and Coco was brilliant. It's a perfect evening's entertainment ... a lovely comedic cocktail of neurosis, cabaret, and shrewd observation all shaken up with a dash of bitter rage (and a couple of Disney songs). We all loved it. She's here for another week, so get your tickets while you can.

  • My best London pal Eduardo has flown the coop, following his mid-life crisis bliss to a new work gig outside of Abu Dhabi. Bliss makes for a strange travel companion sometimes. I've been a little sadder by his leaving than I've let on ... and I had a wee epiphany about that this week.

    Normally, it's me who is up and going, leaving everybody else behind. I'm not sure that I enjoy the shoe being on the other foot. Alas, it's not like he's moved to the other side of the world ... just the middle East. Ahem. And we, the abandoned, wish him all the luck and happiness in the world.

  • Thought I was going to have a quiet Saturday, but it turns out that he is meeting the original Big Blogger goddess just down the road from home, and has invited me to pop in. Then I'm off to Clapham for a birthday party.

  • Not only that, but I'm having a celebutante lunch with the always charming and funny Bob Smith, who's asked me to review his new book. And oh, look at the time ... I'm going to be late and haven't even cracked into Middlemarch today.

Busy busy busy.

August 15, 2007

Bye, Auntie Lorna

Last September, at her youngest granddaughter's wedding, Larry's Aunt Lorna asked me to get her a glass of wine. She was having surgery the following week, but had delayed the operation until after the wedding.

"White or red?" I asked.

"Red, please."

"Merlot or Pinot Noir?"

"I don't give a shit, just pour me something."

And that was Auntie Lorna in a nutshell.

She passed away this afternoon. May she rest in peace.

She will be missed. I'm happy to have known her and grateful that she went out of her way to make me feel a part of her family.

Y'all send your good thoughts to Toronto tonight. There's a slew of sad people there right now.


August 14, 2007

Tuesday 200 - #54

"Maaaa, can we have bongs for breakfast?" my 9-year old hollered from upstairs.

Surely I heard that wrong.

"I'm on long distance with Aunt Vicki,” I yelled back. When in doubt, blame technology and your in-laws.

I topped off my mug with the last of the Maxwell House half-caff, hoping against hope it’d be good to the last drop, and splashed in some Bailey's. "Is there some new cereal I don't know about?" I asked her.

"Dunno, but there *is* a hot new story about two twinks on 'As the World Turns'. Blonde one looks like that boy you stalked in high school."

"I didn't stalk Jimmy Burke, I just invited him for a shower."

"Yup, every day of junior year. Anyway, these two boys on ATWT send me right to my shower massage. Is that wrong?"

"Everybody needs a hobby," I said. "Speaking of, didn't I see you on Dr Phil ... the one about fag hags who won't let go?"

"Ha. So what's Mikey squealin’ about?"

"Something about bongs. Last PTA newsletter I saw was about keepin’ ‘em off crack, not weed."

“Little fuckers’ll take anything. That’s why I keep my oxycontin in the Midol bottle.”

:: :: ::

What's a Tuesday 200?

Last week's Tuesday 200.


August 13, 2007

Stranger than Fiction

I've got some Edam cheese in the fridge and on the label it says ...

Suitable for Vegetarians

For whom did the people who make cheese labels think they had to include this information? For vegetarians? Surely they know what they can and and can't eat ... they've chosen to be on said dietary regime. Maybe it's for friends of vegetarians.

"Irv, I think Sally's become a vegetarian. Can she eat the cheese?"

"I dunno Miriam, but I ain't having none of that tofu shit. Heat me up a can of beans an franks."

:: :: ::

So I'm having a lovely chat with my Italian princess this morning and she's telling me how sad she is because her boyfriend's now in New York and she's stuck in London learning English.

She seemed to be having problems wrapping her head around the five hours difference between time zones.

"Yes," I told her, "there's a 5-hour difference between here and Manhattan."

"Well that's so weird, because at home (in Rome) there's a 6-hour difference. And there's an hour difference between London and Rome."

"Exactly," I said, cueing up the next listening exercise.

"So why isn't it a 7-hour difference?"

And she was dead serious. I pulled up Google maps and tried to explain.

I fear learning English is the least of her worries.

August 12, 2007

A Sunday Afternoon Update

In no particular order ...

  • At 203 pages on Day Seven, I'm well ahead in my Middlemarch game. I've left Miss Brooke (now Mrs. Causabon, poor dear fool) crying in Rome, a trifle vexed because ...

    Having once embarked on your marital voyage, it is impossible not to be aware that you make no way and that the sea is not within sight — that , in fact, you are exploring an enclosed basin.

    Miss George Eliot is a shrewd one. And she's making me laugh quite a bit. Who knew?

  • He who I share said basin with went out for a bike ride awhile ago. I told him to be careful and he said, "I'll try not to get clipped by a motorcycle this time."

    "When did you get hit by a motorcycle?"

    "Oh last week. We were both stopped at a traffic light, and he must not have seen me, because he turned in front of me, clipped my front wheel and knocked me off my bike. All these people came running over to me. It was embarrassing. I was going to tell you, but you were running a LIfe Club or something, then I forgot."

    "Please don't get killed. It would be an awful mess trying to get my work permit resorted and I'm not ready to leave the country yet."

    Besides, one family member in the hospital at a time is more than we need.

    So he's out cycling now, and I keep hearing sirens. Nice.

  • Larry's Auntie Lorna is said ailing family member and by all accounts isn't doing great. Send all good thoughts her way (and to Uncle Fred and the rest of the clan) in Toronto. You know it's awful when morphine can't make it better. Bless.

  • Had lunch yesterday at a new Mexican place recommended in this week's Time Out. It's called Wahaca and, especially given the dearth of good Mexican food in London, is worth a visit. We'll be back.

  • Also in the same issue of Time Out is an interview with the always charming Miss Coco Peru, with whom I have the pleasure of dining with tonight. We met Clinton/Coco on last year's holiday and it'll be lovely to spend some time with him before he gets all wrapped up in what's sure to be a huge success at the Soho Theater.

    Go and see the show. It'll be very funny.

  • Took the Kazakhs to the National Gallery on Friday afternoon. Not as successful as taking my Italian student to the Tate and Hayward on Thursday, but I got to see Van Gogh's chair (note to CB: interesting how he put a tiny pipe, something to be filled and sucked on, on his chair and a huge burning phallic candle on the matching chair he painted for Gaugin) and Degas' Ballet Dancers. At least I was inspired.

  • Watched Junebug yesterday and Amy Adams slayed me.

    God loves you just the way you are. But he loves you too much not to want you to change.
  • Got an email and baby pictures last week from someone I thought I'd lost touch with. Baby Isabella is beautiful, and I'm glad to hear from her mum. Looking forward to a face-to-face catch up.

  • I'm shortlisting the nominations for Post of the Week this week, so get out there and find me some good things to read.

  • The next two weeks are insane. 3 hours a day with my Italian girl, trying to get her up-to-speed for an interpreter exam. An hour a day of social conversation with a VIP diplomat from Iraq (not sure if they told him I'm American ... a little nervous). 3 and 1/2 hours with the Kazakhs (only two more weeks and they're off to Dubai for six months). I've also get 2 nights of 2-hour business writing sessions with an HR consultant from China and 2 Life Clubs to run. No rest for the wicked, but I'm still enjoying it.

And what's new with you?

August 9, 2007

A Trippy Field Trip

blindlight.jpg I took one of my students to see the Gormley show at the Hayward and the Dali & Film exhibit at the Tate this morning. I rock as a teacher.

The Blind Light box is a trip. It reminded me of doing mescaline in the fog back in the day. It's probably a claustrophic's nightmare, but I found it fascinating. It's amazing how quickly you can lose your peception of space and distance.

Once you find the exit (easier said than done), it's also very cool to go outside stand on the terrace to see all of the Event Horizon men staring down at you from their vantage points all over London's skyline. Just don't blink.

The Dali exhibit has enticed me to go back the Tate and spend more time there on my own. I want to sit down and enjoy the Buñuel films, which we didn't have time to watch. There's also a seven-minute restoration of an animated movie he worked on for Disney in the 30s. Dali and Disney. Hmmm, I didn't know about that collaboration.

I guess I'll have to rent Spellbound now as well. I don't think I've ever seen that one.

August 8, 2007

Middlemarch by mid-September

I was feeling a little glum this weekend, for no particular reason. You know, the non-specific Man in the Chair syndrome. Well, not so much glum as a bit bored and restless.

Contrary to popular belief, I'm in quite the good mood lately, despite the alleged darkness of my recent Tuesday 200s.

Anyway, I attributed my ADD-addled ennui to bit of Big Blogger post-partum, combined with ruminations on my impending birthdayweek (another year older and what have I accomplished?*) and the prickly annoyance that nothing I've been reading has held my interest (save for Harry Potter, and surely I have more brain power than that?).

Like my friend Belle, I found myself thinking there must be more than this provincial life.

Hmmm. Isn't there a book about living in the provinces? Ah, yes ... and it's been on my to-do list for about, oh, twenty-some-odd (Cat darling, is that hyphenated improperly?) years.

Three times in the past couple weeks I've been drawn to the plight of Miss Dorothea Brooke. I was talking about her to someone at school. There was a write-up on Eliot's epic in one of last Sunday's papers. And then the other day I was hunting down MAK's most recent literary plunge and I happened across a re-release of what Virginia Woolf has called "one of the few English novels written for grown-up people."

Three's a trend at Bob's Yer Uncle.

Hmmmm. I live in England. I'm (more than) old enough to be considered a grown-up. I'm not afraid of Virgina Woolf. And I would like a project to keep my mind off being as old as I'm going to be in five weeks (it's the 13th of September, for those of you who like to shop early).

All right then. Synchronicity has spoken. When in doubt, return to the classics.

Yeah yeah, I've tried it before and failed, but that won't stop me. I now have a plan.

Twenty-three pages a day from now until September 12th, and I'll have Middlemarch under my belt. I'm already ahead of the curve, on page 83 after three days.

Who wants to join me?

* I know, I know. I haven't accomplished anything aside from getting a the highest grade possible in my teaching certification, starting a new job (and doing well at it), getting published for charidee, winning a silly blogging competition, and going to Africa and the Baltics. Come on, if a Virgo can't be hard on himself every now and again, then we have to completely dismiss life as we know it.

And it was only a little glum/bored/restless ... it quickly passed.

August 7, 2007

Tuesday 200 - #53

She was limping up the street, weeping. We see that a lot around here — middle-aged women having a bit of a cry, dark roots sprouting up through bad bleach jobs.

Willie sighed and reached into his shirt pocket.

“Don’t,” I said, two seconds too late. Bongs for breakfast always trumped any good sense he might have woken up with.

“I’m a trained professional,” he assured her, handing her a card from his salon, Curl Up and Dye. “I can help.”

These poor ladies, teetering back from central lockup, where they’d left their sons and husbands. They couldn’t afford to post bail, let alone a double-process.

“Two hours ago, I had a gun to my head,” she said.

“Okay, then,” Willie chirped. “Step away from the Law & Order extra.”

“Sorry about my friend, ma’am. You want a coffee or something?” There was a cafe just around the corner, and she looked harmless.

She took a cigarette from behind her ear and reached into her purse. “I thought it’d get better,” she smiled, pulling out her lighter. “Guess not.”

Her bleached head exploded into a pulpy mist as she crumpled into the sidewalk, the gun wrapped in her bony hand.

:: :: ::

What's a Tuesday 200?

Last week's Tuesday 200.


August 6, 2007

Perfect Day, Unless You're a Cow

I've been feeling really bad for the cows the past couple days.

I know they're being raised for slaughter and all, but hearing the BBC report all day Saturday about the cull, I couldn't help but feel like they'd been given a premature death sentence. And then seeing them herded into the that tiny corral like, well, cattle. I guess free range ethics go out the window when there's disease afoot.

I know. I know. It has to be contained.

Today I saw that only 2 of the near 100 dead animals tested positive for foot and mouth. Didn't stop the slaughter though, did it? Better safe than sorry.

I don't know why it bothers me so much. I'm not a vegetarian (although I'm feeling like shying away from beef for a while ... my chicken salad was delicious for lunch today).

Maybe it's just that when I see something like that I wonder how far (close?) we are to herding up infectious humans and culling them like they were possibly infected cattle.

Maybe I shouldn't have watched Children of Men this weekend.

:: :: ::

On a cheerier note, somehow my 1-to-1 student and I got on the subject of "Perfect Day*" by Lou Reed this morning. She mentioned that she loves the song (she's a 22-year-old fashionista from Roma) but can never understand all the words.

Instant new lesson plan -- we were working on listening skills this week anyway.

Not only does she now know all the lyrics to a cheery little ditty about heroin (or a fickle lover ), she now understands how to use the idioms "keep me hanging on" and "reap what you sow" in every day speech.

* Thanks, darling Cat. World ... Day ... whatever. I really must get off the smack and pay more attention.

August 4, 2007

Angst is the Price We Pay

elling_big.jpgJust back from one of the most enjoyable nights of theatre that I can remember. John Simm (a teeny tiny master man, who knew?) and Adrian Bower (my new actor boyfriend) are both brilliant in Elling, now playing at Trafalgar Studios. They are roommates, just released from an Oslo asylum, who must prove to their social worker that they can fit into "normal" society.

It's just wonderful, and worth a plane ride over to from the States to see it.

I guess now I really need to watch Life on Mars and Teachers.

August 2, 2007

Oh Donna

Now that the blogging contest that shall not be named is over, I can pimp another good cause.

This is Donna. I'm sure you'll agree that she's lovely.


My pal Graham and his brother Lewis are driving this exquisite piece of automotive finery from London to Mongolia, as part of the Mongol Rally 2007.

You can read more here, or just go directly here to help them out (it's not just for fun, it's for charity as well).

Last we heard from the boys, they were in Baku. Don't know where that is? Find out in an update from them after the jump. It's a much better story than any I have to tell right now.

Busy busy busy.

Greetings from Baku!

(Baku is the capital of Azerbaijan for those of you that don't know. And some of you doubted whether Donna would make Dover!) It's hot here. And the only thing more prevalent than the heat is the corrpution. After a good trip through Turkey, and a really enjoyable time in Georgia, we have had hassle and aggravation in Azerbaijan. While the locals seem friendly enough, although not averse to overcharging, the officials are the worse we have encountered so far. Having waited for hours to get in, refusing repeated attempts for bribes and souvenirs, we were subsequently stopped twice on the way over by policemen demanding money, the main grounds for this being that they are policemen and that this somehow entitles them to whatever they want. We have argued with them, and so far got away at only the cost of cigarettes and energy drinks.

The roads here are interesting too, ranging from really quite good to really quite unbelievably bad. So far, however, Donna has coped extremely well, the overheating remaining a persistent issue but not causing too much difficulty as we haven't been able to drive fast enough for it to be a problem on these roads. She is still generating attention, but not as much as in South Eastern Europe simply because they don't seem to know Trabants here. The fact that we are travelling in convoy is helping with attention though - especially given that the other two are equally unusual looking - a Ford Fiesta dressed up as Starsky & Hutch's Grand Torino and a Bedford Rascal painted like the A Team van. The three of us make an outstanding impression!

Given the corruption and inefficiency (and/or laziness) of the officials here, we thought that we would probably not make the crossing to Turkmenistan in time before our visas run out. It's a shame but it means that we have changed our plans and will now be catching the ferry to Kazakhstan, and then go south to Uzbekistan, instead of Turkmenistan and then north to Uzbekistan. In total it will probably mean more miles in less days, but we will just see how it goes. There are a lot of teams here in Baku, many of them in a similar boat (so to speak) and it's been good to swap stories and compare frustrations. And of course, it means that we will have a quality night out tonight....!

It's nice to be travelling with other people as it gives moral support, safety in numbers and more fun on the road - the CB radio was a great idea. Plus Lewis and I ran out of things to talk about in France, so it's good to have additional input! For worried relatives, we are eating well and keeping healthy. In fact, last night we had dinner with Dad. Not our dad obviously, but when we asked a random taxi driver to take us to a restaurant, he came and ate with us. This was bizarre as he spoke no English, but we managed to communicate to certain extent and some words are understandable internationally (problem, vodka etc.) And he sorted us out with a cracking meal at a great place, so we won't complain too much about the fact that we think we paid for his meal and his time!

That's it for now, more in due course. It only remains for me to make the usual sponsorship requests to those that haven't and thanks to those that did. The website has the details: