Friday, March 31, 2006


It has been brought home to me today, rather forcibly impinging itself upon my consciousness in fact, that Friday afternoon is not the most opportune time to be teaching teachers.

I am afraid I lost it.


We were 'doing' prices, to which end I had given them a café style menu with which to practice.

The menu had pictures of all the items on offer and the first task was to match the pictures to the words. One wouldn't have thought that Hamburger & Chips would have caused too much concern but I had reckoned without the headmaster.

"Simon, what does 'chips' mean?"

Oh. My. God.

"Well, how do you say 'hamburger' in Hungarian?"


"And can you see a picture of a hamburger on your menu?"


"And that pile of potatoey things next to it?"


"Okay then. So what's the problem?"

"What does 'chips' mean?"

I had also, to save time and add a touch of verisimilitude, used the ampersand (&) on the menu. I had not gone so far as to use the aberrant apostrophe but even this small touch of shall we say, expediency on my part proved too much for the headmaster's henchman who wanted to know whether or not the '&' was universally interchangeable with 'and'.

Anyway, onwards and upwards.

I gave them 10 minutes to ask each other how much any combination of menu items was and was pleasantly surprised to hear there were very few problems. Minor errors of pronunciation maybe, but this was not the focus so I let them go. I brought the activity to a halt and, rather foolishly I must admit, asked if there were any questions. Cue the Head of Textile Technology.

"Simon, what does 'pound' mean?"

At this point I must confess that it was rather difficult for me to restrain from demonstrating its alternative meaning by repeatedly bringing into close conjunction a hard-back book and the top of her skull but...what?

What is it about a foreign language that drives normally rational and intelligent people to lose all sense of reason and logic? To fail to apply their intelligence to arrive at a reasonable interpretation of a text?

Why is it that when the focus of the next lesson was the Present Simple and they knew the following words, " lives...Australia...small town...Alice Springs...not ordinary doctor...flying doctor", that they couldn't be satisfied with what might be termed a global understanding and had to spend at least 10 minutes in fervent Hungarian discussion of just what the phrase 'in the small town of Alice Springs' might mean? Lack of comprehension? Hardly.

"Where does Bob live?"

"In Australia."

"Where in Australia?"

"In Alice Springs."

"What is Alice Springs?"

"It's a small town."

"So, what's the problem?"

"What does 'in the small town of Alice Springs' mean?"

They crunch me on Fridays.

Monday, March 06, 2006


A Balance of Payments


A question I am still asked with alarming frequency and one to which I am still tempted to respond with a sharp left hook and an instep to the groin. It is as if I have broken some natural law, removing myself from my native environment and replanting in alien soil. The fact is that all I was really doing was pedalling my bicycle a little further than that nice Mr Tebbit had in mind when giving his awfully considerate 'Words of Advice for Unemployed People' some many moons and no few blindingly boisterous benders ago. That would not, in itself have been enough. What really tipped it for me was the fact that I realised with absolute certainty that I was among those whom he would personally have escorted to the airport. Shipped out. Passage paid. Chattering class.

Well, not actually of that coterie of playwrights, dons, television producers et al so derided by the tories of the time but certainly among an audience prepared to give as much time to them as to that other gang of playwrights, dons, television producers et al, not a chatterer among them obviously, who never earned the wrath of the grammar school classless by the simple expedient of agreeing with them. I doubt Roger Scruton, Alan Walters, Roger Ordish or Sir Alec Guinness would have made it onto the passenger list but I digress.

Anyway, the country had somehow survived the eighties but had emerged divided and quite suddenly, it didn't feel like home anymore. It wasn't that I was on the wrong side of the chasm, more that trying to straddle it while retaining my balance was becoming almost impossible.

Personally and professionally, my life had stalled and I was in need of a fresh start. England had little appeal at the time, the country was going to hell and there was bugger all I could do about it. Being there only involved me in its decline due to the simple fact that it was impossible to ignore. Can't beat 'em, leave 'em.

Now, it's a spectator sport only. I can watch the ovine being led by the bovine and all I feel is amusement and relief. Not that any of you would fall into either of those two categories, I'm sure...but viewed from afar and en masse? Leave. Abandon ship. I'm an intelligent, get me out of here.

I am now twice removed. From the blight of my native land and from my country of domicile...I will never truly belong here or be affected by it in the same way as the natives. I am indeed an island and I find I enjoy it. I have pruned my responsibilities down to the bare minimum of family and friends and have removed myself as far as possible from any...what?, I suppose. Whatever anyone, anywhere is doing, I can quite honestly and categorically state that it is not being done in my name. Whatever happens to me is almost entirely down to me and me alone.

I have a daughter now. Five and a half years old. Intelligent, generous of spirit and equally at home with the en point and the forearm smash. Do you honestly think I'd entrust her to the English education system? Naah, I ain't coming home.

Maybe not quite what you had in mind, Doc...I might be able to come up with something a little if you give me a day or two but for now my advice is of the Nike variety.

Just do it, girl.