Friday, December 29, 2006


On Xmas Day I went, as usual, to a flea market in Kyoto, with a bunch of friends. I had a lovely day, but didn't buy much (three little sake cups and a pair of earrings) and didn't even take many photos. One of my friends bought these figurines. Anybody know which manga characters they are?

Of the other photos I took, a definite theme emerged. Heads. There were heads all over the place. I thought of buying some. How would my room look like with a row of heads on sticks around the walls? I stared at that first box of heads and thought about it for a while, trying to imagine it. As I stared, the heads started to develop personalities.

I decided to photograph them and confine them to my blog instead. I think that was a sensible decision.

It cheered me up

An interview with the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra (with live music!) is up on Playing Favourites - but it won't be there for long. The first three minutes or so are particularly happy-making.

However, if you miss it, you can always go and see (and listen to) the fabulous orchestra at their website.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Bad tactics

I do not enjoy giving students a failing grade. It does not give me any sense of achievement. In fact it makes me get all snarly. Sometimes it is inevitable, however, because there are always a few students who force it on me. This post is for them. Of course they will never read it, because they don't like English and never wanted to learn it in the first place. I know that, which is why I make my classes easy and fun. The opportunity is there for them to learn something if they want to and get high grades, or to pass the course with minimum effort (and a minimum grade) if that is their preference. I try to make it easy.

But not easy enough, apparently. The following are details of some tactics that will not work in my classes, collected over the past week or so. I am still working on grades, and we still have a couple of weeks left in the new year, so some students might redeem themselves and scrape through, but not if they use the tactics listed below.

Here is what not to do.

#1. If you are having a conversation test, and have a few minutes to prepare with your partner before the test, try to chose topics you are interested in to talk about. If you are not interested in them it is highly likely that I will not be either, especially when you start your 'conversation' like this:

"Do you like sports?"

"No. How about you?"


And then freeze, flummoxed, into a long silence. THIS IS NOT A GOOD TACTIC. You have had TWELVE WEEKS to prepare for this. Why have you chosen a topic neither of you have any interest in?

#2. Also, complaining that the conversation topics were boring is NOT A GOOD TACTIC. I did not force any topics on you. Part of your class work every week was to choose topics you wanted to talk about and prepare the vocabulary you needed. I was there to help you. I did not give you any boring topics. You chose them yourself.

#3. At this time of year I leave ten minutes at the end of class to answer questions. I deal with the one or two that come up, ask if there are any more, wait, and when nobody has any and everybody starts leaving and I file away all my papers for your class and put them away (being careful not to mix them up with other classes' paperwork) and put everything into my bag, and start walking out of the classroom, well, THAT means the class is over. If you ask me a question at this point I will not be happy. It means I have to unpack my bag and mess up my careful filing, which I will then have to throw into my bag in no particular order when I have finished with your question because I will be late for my next class. I will not feel generous or helpful, and therefore THIS IS NOT A GOOD TACTIC.

Also, when this happens (in almost every class towards the end of semester - why? WHY?) your questions are almost always stupid ones, like the one in #4.

#4. When you approach me at the end of class (see #3) to ask if you will be able to pass, and when I show you the records that demonstrate that you have been absent six times, done no homework, missed all the tests, and have slept through the classes you did come to and will therefore fail the class, do not gaze at me with puppy-dog eyes and whine,

"Sensei, sensei, onegaishimasu! I'm sorry! What can I do?"

The only help you will get from me at this point is a grammar correction. I will tell you,

"You have used the wrong tense. Repeat after me: What have I done?"

Then I will hand you another copy of the same handout written in English AND Japanese that I gave you at the beginning of semester, which explained the requirements for the class. The handout explains that these rules are the same for everybody and will not be changed if you beg pathetically at the end of semester. I went to a lot of trouble to make sure you had every chance to understand this at the beginning of semester. Looking at the handout as if you have never seen it before will not impress me, particularly when I can see your old copy sticking out the corner of your textbook, where I told you to put it. And this is why begging pathetically at the end of semester is NOT A GOOD TACTIC.

#5. When you hand in the final homework at the end of semester, which you know you need points from in order to pass the course, giving it to me on a scrap of paper ripped from your notebook with class notes on the other side is NOT A GOOD TACTIC, especially when your handwriting is difficult to decipher. Did you write it on the back of a galloping horse? I will be particularly unimpressed when you write English words using katakana and add in parentheses, Sorry, I don't know spelling. If it is too much trouble for you to look up a word in the dictionary, I'm afraid it will also be too much trouble for me to give your homework a passing grade. If it is particularly bad, I will not give it any grade at all. You were told about that on the handout, too. It is a sad fact of life that for my classes, English homework needs to be written in English.

#6. Buying a textbook and bringing it to the third-to-last class of semester will not magically make up for all the other times you came to class with no textbook, no paper, and no writing implement and when I asked you why you were not doing anything you said you couldn't because you didn't have a textbook, paper, or writing implement. THOSE WERE NOT GOOD TACTICS.

I'm having trouble with this one deciding here which was the stupidest tactic - the one where you sat in class looking alert and cooperative but doing nothing (because you had no text or writing materials and therefore, "Sorry sensei! I can't!" I have no text!" (and I'm too stupid to think of sharing a text or asking someone for some paper, or...), the one where you used my class as nap time (because you had no text or writing materials and therefore 'couldn't' study), or the one where you paid all that money for a nice new textbook and a nice new notebook at the end of semester and expected it to make a difference. You showed me your new, blank notebook with such pride! Was I supposed to give you points for your fantastic academic achievement of buying a notebook and not writing anything in it? And was I supposed to give you points for keeping the seat warm the twelve weeks you came to class and did nothing?

When I was working on the grades yesterday, in your case I was strongly tempted to deduct points for gross stupidity, but I discovered that if I did that you ended up with a negative grade. So you will get a far higher grade than you actually deserve: 26%. That is amazingly high considering how much work you did. I am a generous person.

#7. You were a really good student. You were alert, cooperative, funny, and studied hard. You were a real asset in the classroom, and I enjoyed having you in my class.

But when I had to tell you last week that you had failed and there was no point coming to the last two classes, WHY WERE YOU SURPRISED? Hadn't you noticed that you had missed seven weeks of classes, not taken any of the tests, and 'forgotten' all the homework? Those were NOT GOOD TACTICS. Incidentally, when it came time to collect homework and you apologized sweetly and said you didn't know about it because you had been absent, did you really think that was a valid reason? And when I told you to bring it next time, and next time you apologized charmingly and told me you'd 'forgotten,' did you think you'd get the points for it anyway because you had a winning smile?

Yes, you are a charming and sweet guy. I like you a lot. I could do with more like you in my classes. I gave you maximum points for the work you did, because you did it so well. That means your grade will be, as I told you, 27%.

"Can I do extra homework?" you asked hopefully.

"Yes, of course," I said. (I am always helpful.) You looked ecstatic. "The extra homework is worth ten points," I went on. "That will bring your grade to 37%, if you do a really good job."

Why were you shocked at my 'meanness'? That was written on the handout, too. You know, the one you were holding in your hand while I was talking to you. The one I gave you on the first day of semester.

To all the other students who will pass with flying colours, get average points, or squeak through with extra points if you do the extra homework well, congratulations. You passed a brain-dead course. Mine.

Some of you might have even learned something.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Who farted?

"What's that smell?"

"Smell? What sme -- YECH!"



"Who was it, do you reckon?

"I can't imagine."

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Have a good one!

Merry Christmas to you all!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Please remember to leave the room backwards

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Imperial Majesty Badaunt the Mirthful of Goosnargh Leering
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

(via Pharyngula)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Stolen time

Yesterday I had to teach four extra classes at one of my universities. This was not because I had missed any. I hadn't. It was because ... oh, never mind. It is a very silly and meaningless bit of bureaucratic rubbish that I can't be bothered explaining.

But basically, the teachers have to be there whether or not students come. I decided to use this as an opportunity for students who were lagging. I gave a test a couple of weeks ago, and told students if they failed they could use the extra class to take the same test again. Others need not come, I said. This meant that all the sensible students studied, and passed it the first time round and I only had a handful of chronically lazy or disorganized students showing up yesterday.

And in the first class of the day, I had no students turning up at all.

I stayed in the classroom for a while, as I am required to just in case somebody comes, and when nobody did, went back to the teachers' room and kidnapped the secretary.

"We're going to the river," I said. "There were lots of gulls there when I went past this morning."

She didn't seem to mind being kidnapped. We went to the school store first, and bought some bread. Then we walked down to the river. It was a beautiful day.

The gulls saw us coming, and when we started chucking bread, they were pretty quick to catch on. I got the feeling this was a fairly frequent occurrence in their lives.

A couple of them were willing to eat from our hands ...

But most seemed to prefer playing catch.

They were pretty good at it.

In fact they were so good at it we ran out of bread rather quickly.

After that we hung around enjoying the sunshine for a while, then went back to work. We were only at the river for about half an hour, but it was the highlight of our day.

Sometimes the stolen moments are the sweetest.

Monday, December 18, 2006


"I'd be embarrassed, too. Pink? PINK? That is SO last year."

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Pigeon-related comment outbreak

This news item has a very unusual comment thread, especially for a news story. For example:

Posted by: Gilgamesh on 12:42am Wed 6 Dec 06

(via Dodderyoldfart at Rest Area 300)

Friday, December 15, 2006

A visit to the doctor

I was not feeling very well, so I decided to see the doctor. Before I left the house, despite the pain, I showered and dressed carefully. It was a little difficult, but I knew it would help.

At the clinic the nurse at reception greeted me smilingly.

"How lovely to see you, Ms BadAunt," she said. "And what beautiful earrings!"

"Thank you," I said.

"Are you here to see the doctor?" she asked.

"Yes, I am," I said.

"You will have to wait about twenty minutes, I'm afraid," she said. "He's rather busy today. Is that all right?"

"It's fine," I said.

"You know how it is," she added confidentially. "Some cases take a little longer than others. I do appreciate your understanding. Please, take a seat."

"Thank you," I said, and sat.

After about twenty minutes the door to the doctor's office opened, and I heard voices from within.

"Mrs Wilson, I hope you are convinced now that that is the most gorgeous hairdo I have ever seen on you. Just marvelous! And I really do think you should wear orange more often."

"Oh, thank you doctor," a woman's voice murmured. "Thank you so much."

"My pleasure," said the doctor. "We always look forward to your visits. You add colour and zest to our lives here. I am sure you must brighten the lives of everybody around you."

"My husband doesn't seem to agree," said Mrs Wilson. "He says I'm mutton dressed as lamb, and I may as well stop bothering because nobody looks at me anyway."

"I can assure you he is wrong," said the doctor. "It would probably be helpful if you could persuade him to come and see me. I think his eyes need testing."

"Well he DID say his eyes hurt, this morning when he saw me," said Mrs Wilson, as they emerged into the waiting room. "Perhaps you are right. I'll see what I can do."

"In the meantime, any time you feel the headache coming on, take one of these, and come back any time for another dose," said the doctor, handing her a fat envelope.

On her way out Mrs Wilson stopped to to touch up the makeup covering her black eye and to smooth her orange hair in the mirror by the door. She plucked a piece of lint off her matching orange jumpsuit shoulder. Then she raised her head, smiled radiantly at the waiting patients, and left, leaving a slight orange afterglow as the door closed behind her.

The doctor returned to his office. The nurse called my name, and I went through to join him.

"Ms BadAunt!" cried the doctor, his face lighting up. "Have a seat. What a pleasure to see you! No wonder the nurse was looking so happy! Do you know how much we look forward to seeing you here? Do you have this effect on everybody you meet?"

"Well..." I said modestly, sitting down.

"And is that a new blouse? It's gorgeous!"

"Thank you so much, doctor," I said. "You're looking rather spiffy yourself. You've had a haircut, haven't you?"

"Oh, how observant of you!" said the doctor. "You know, this is one of the most admirable things about you. You are such a thoughtful, observant person. And really, I must say that colour does suit you. Look at how it brings out the red in your hair! Wonderful!"

We smiled at each other. Then I frowned slightly, and winced.

"Red?" I said. "Hair?" Then I remembered why I was there.

"Oh," I said. "That's what I'm here about, really. I wonder ... well, actually my hair doesn't normally have red in it. It's possible that I might need a few stitches. I slipped going down stairs this morning, and ... well, I hate to ask for something so mundane, but it's rather painful, and no matter how often I rinse it just won't stop bleeding. Could you have a look at it? Also, come to think of it, I'm feeling just a touch dizzy, and ... "

I slid off the chair to the floor.

When I came round the stitches were in my head and there was a very tidy turban tied over the bandage.

"Your favourite colour," said the nurse as she pinned it in place. "Burgundy red. It matches your blouse. The doctor is right, you know. It looks great on you."

"Oh, thank you," I said weakly, sitting up. "Sorry for bleeding all over the floor."

"No problem," she said. "Your blood is a lovely colour." She smiled. "The doctor had to take care of another patient," she added. "But he asked me to let you know that when you pass out, you do it with extraordinary grace and style. He said he had never seen such an elegant swoon."

"How sweet of him to say so," I said. "It's so nice to be appreciated. I'd been practicing all morning. Do thank him for me."

"He also left this for you," she said, handing me an envelope. "Take one or two every four hours."

"Thank you," I said.

I went home.

Four hours later I opened the envelope and took out a slip of paper. I unfolded it carefully, and read:

BadAunt, you are a splendid person!

I smiled. I was feeling better already.

(Inspiring link)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

At least I was a ROYAL lunatic

I'm Charles the Mad. Sclooop.
Which Historical Lunatic Are You?
From the fecund loins of Rum and Monkey.

"A fine, amiable and dreamy young man, skilled in horsemanship and archery, you were also from a long line of dribbling madmen. King at 12 and quickly married to your sweetheart, Bavarian Princess Isabeau, you enjoyed many happy months together before either of you could speak anything of the other's language. However, after illness you became a tad unstable."

And so on. I'm too embarrassed to post the rest.

(Via Pharyngula.)

Saturday, December 09, 2006


"Hey, you!" said the egret.

I looked around.

"Me?" I asked.

"Yes, you," said the egret. "You're the one who gave the ducks all that free publicity, right?"

"Pardon?" I said. "That wasn't publicity! I was just reporting what I saw."

"No, you weren't," said the egret. "You were sucking up to the ducks. You're a duck-sucker-upper. What's so wonderful about ducks?"

"Well, it IS rather amazing how they walk on water," I said.

"That's NOTHING," said the egret. "WE can LEVITATE, but you don't write about that!"

"That's because I didn't know," I said. "Really? How? Do you use a Quack Echo Distributor, too?"

"Of course not, silly," said the egret. "We don't quack. Quackery's for the ducks."

"So what do you do, if you don't quack?" I asked.

"We bark," said the egret.

"You what?" I asked.

"Bark," said the egret.

"Like a dog?" I asked.

"Of course not!" said the egret. "It's the other way around. Dogs bark like us. Only they never levitate. They try, but they can't. It's because they're on land, and haven't figured out you need to be in the water to do it. They're a bit dim, dogs."

"That sounds a little strange to me," I said. "I mean, I've seen quite a lot of you, and I've never heard you bark."

"That's because with our superior technological skills we don't absorb only the echo, like ducks," said the egret. "We absorb the WHOLE THING. That's why we can levitate so well. You've seen us levitate, right?"

"Er..." I said, "I thought you were flying."

"We fly too, of course," said the egret. "And to the untrained eye there might not seem to be much difference, but I can assure you there is. Here, I'll show you."

The egret suddenly stuck its head in the water.

Then it emerged and did a funny little neck twist.

And then it ... levitated!

No, flew!

No, levitated!

Then it landed again.

"Well, what do you think?" it asked.

"What was that neck twist thing?" I asked.

"Oh, that was nothing," said the egret. "I got a frog in my throat. But weren't you impressed? Did you hear me bark?"

"No," I said.

"Well, there you are, then!" said the egret triumphantly. "That proves it!"

"Oh," I said.

"I think you should tell everybody about ME," said the egret.

"I will," I said.

"Show your photos, and don't forget to tell everybody I am barking," said the egret.

"If you insist," I said.

"I'm just surprised you hadn't noticed before," said the egret.

"Now that you mention it," I said, "I think I had."

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


The problem with a fake-wood fence is that when a colourful little kingfisher lands on it, the kingfisher looks fake, too.

It wasn't, though.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Enhanced reality

Today I used the textbook questionnaire about fears again, with a different class. I'm getting a lot of mileage out of that questionnaire, and I was looking forward to it. Every time I have used it the same question has come up.

Sure enough, when the students got to the question, "Are you afraid of flying?" they asked me what it meant, and this time I was ready. I pushed off gently with my right foot and levitated upwards until I was hovering halfway between the ceiling and the floor.

"Flying," I said. "See? Like this, only in a plane."

I wafted a little higher, and started to circle the room above their heads. I would not have done this if I had been wearing a skirt, but today I wore my fabulous new French designer trousers, so I was safe. The trousers didn't only make the view from below less embarrassing than it could have been, but also gave me confidence. I was pretty sure I looked good as I flew gracefully around the room.

"Oh, FLYING," my students said, as I descended slowly. My new boots cushioned my landing, and the students went back to work.

"Are you afraid of flying?" they asked each other.

"No," said some of them.

"Yes," said others.


In one of the breaks I remembered to ask the other teachers about the mysterious men and their mysterious machine last week.

"Did they visit you as well?" I asked.

"Not last week," said one of the teachers. "But they visited me a few months ago. They lifted up the ceiling panels, too. I thought they were looking for asbestos or something."

"Asbestos?" I said. "There can't be asbestos! This is a new building!"

Everybody stared at me, and I blushed. Sometimes I forget where I am. In the rest of the world the big asbestos scandal happened twenty or thirty years ago, but here it was just last year.

One of the Japanese teachers looked thoughtful.

"I wonder if they were still looking for that missing uranium?" he mused, and the Canadian teacher spat some coffee all over his nice clean photocopies. The rest of us merely dropped our jaws.

"What uranium?" we asked.

"Oh, the uranium that went missing from the physics department a little while back," he said. "They hunted and hunted, and had to send apology letters to everybody in the neighbourhood. It was a terrible scandal, although they tried to keep it quiet. I don't know what happened in the end."

The bell rang into the stunned silence that followed, and we immediately leaped up and rushed off to class, being careful not to pick up the wrong jaw from the floor as we left. There's nothing more humiliating than turning up to class wearing the wrong jaw.


Before I am accused of making things up again, right here and now I freely admit that one of the incidents in today's blog entry is, indeed, slightly fictionalized. I know you think you already know which bit it is. However, I am afraid you are probably wrong. I will tell you right now that the bit where the bell rang and all the teachers immediately leaped up and rushed for the door is NOT MADE UP. There is a certain amount of exaggeration in that 'immediately,' yes, but you can't really say I made it up. I just stated the ideal rather than the exact reality. You could call it reality enhancement. I'm good at that. It's the way my brain works.

So, despite your skepticism, I will insist that the made up bit was not that. I know it seems unlikely, but we did get up after the bell rang, and we did go to class. We were perhaps not quite as quick or as enthusiastic as I implied, but we GOT UP. And we WENT. Eventually.

However, with that red herring out of the way, I will not insult your intelligence by telling you which bit was made up. I am sure that with a little careful thought you are clever enough to figure it out for yourselves.

Monday, December 04, 2006


Yesterday I was marking homework again. This homework was the first assignment I gave this semester at one of the universities where I work. It took so long to mark because, um, I was busy? Well, no. First it was because I lost it. Then when I found it I kept leaving it at school because I thought I'd find time to mark it there. Finally I brought it home and decided to JUST DO IT. I've already marked two other assignments since then, and it was getting ridiculous.

In the classes I teach at this university there is a very wide range of English ability. This post started off as an extended (VERY extended) complaint about the worst results I got from the homework, from the lowest level class, but I deleted it. You've heard it all before. Those results were even worse than I expected, and I was baffled and upset. When you've had a class for a whole semester you expect them to improve a little, or at least not get worse. This lot had become worse. They seemed to have forgotten everything they learned in the first semester and then some. Was it me? I wondered, and worried about it.

But I've decided to blame the teachers of the OTHER two English courses that class had in the first semester, who were supposed to be teaching them grammar and writing. After all, I teach 'conversation,' right? I am only a lowly foreigner who is not trusted to teach something as important as grammar. The fact that their grammar got worse has NOTHING TO DO WITH ME.

Instead, for this post, I have decided to focus on the better results I got from another class. With this other class I had asked them to choose one incident in their summer vacation and write about it. I said it could be something small or something big. I explained that I would have a lot of homework to read, so it would be good if they could make it interesting, because when I get to the fifteenth (or fiftieth) paper that starts off, I had a very good summer vacation. I went to my hometown. I met my family. I met my friends. I went shopping, I get bored. And while I try to be fair, when I'm bored it becomes more likely that I'll give lower grades.

"Tell me some detail!" I said. "Tell me something that will make your story different from all the others."

They are not a very high level class, but they all tried hard.

I am very happy with the results. These students stretched their English to its limits and did not bore me. So instead of quoting some of the bad results from the disaster class, I'm going to quote something from my good class.

This story comes from a guy who told me that he didn't do anything during the summer vacation. He just worked at his part-time job and nothing interesting happened. It was boring, he said. What could he write about?

Write about something SMALL, I said, and he thought about it. Then he nodded.

I think he has proved that you don't need something exciting to happen in order to write a good story.

In this summer vacation I was being bitten by mosquitoes. I live close to a ditch. My house (a bit of house) is the back of the ditch. Mosquito larva breed in the ditch. Ah, horrifying! Thanks to them, I feeled itchy every night in this summer.

Problem was lack of sleep. Boom of them interrupted my sleep. Every morning, lack of sleep reduced my energy. I had to make up the sleep at all costs. Sleep is necessary for good health!

One day, I eventually bought a mosquito coil of incence at Loft in Umeda. The goods was expensive...

Night fell. It was a still night. I prepared the same item. I had to cross them for myself. Business is business. At last I burned a mosquito coil of incence. To kill them.

The following morning, I felt refreshment of mind and body. Since I have slept soundly. Sound sleep freshened me up. I felt better after a sound sleep.

And, I found the carcass of them on tatami.

Then, somehow, I felt lonely. Somehow, I regretted having killed them. I have a temperamental dislike for sentiment, but, I still was something lonesome...

All right, there are a couple of things I don't quite understand. Mosquitoes that go boom? And why did he buy expensive mosquito coils at Loft when you can get cheap ones at any supermarket or drugstore? I think I know where 'cross' comes from. (Everybody gets let down by their dictionary now and again.)

But I understood everything else. The story may be short, but it has structure. It is a vivid story of conflict and drama (with carcasses, even), and I can picture the whole situation - the open stormwater drain, the whine of mosquitoes, the broken nights, the frustration, the lack of sleep, the determination to do something about it, and the final ruthless massacre. I can understand everything he felt.

Except the regret. I must admit I don't quite understand the regret.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

I looked a bit like this before the shopping trip

What friends are for

Yesterday I had the most incredibly successful day shopping (for clothes) that I've ever had in my ENTIRE LIFE. I've been having a problem this year because I haven't bought any new winter clothes for so long that everything I have is either falling apart and/or getting holes that have to be patched up (the comfortable things I like wearing) or sitting there begging to be worn but never worn because ... well, basically I don't feel comfortable in them. (Those are mistakes I bought myself because I'm such a horrible shopper, or things I had given to me which look good on other people but don't quite suit me.) Things were getting desperate, so I went shopping last Sunday for the first time in ages, and spent about 6 hours walking around Kobe and buying nothing except several cups of coffee. I ended up exhausted and depressed by the whole exercise.

Obviously that didn't work, but then I remembered that last year before going to Europe I went shopping with a friend, and she gave good advice for clothes that I actually ended up wearing. It was just a couple of simple things, not expensive, but they were so successful I wore them almost the entire time I was away. That seemed like a good sign, so I asked her if she'd come shopping with me again this weekend. She was enthusiastic, and suggested meeting in Kobe today, which made my heart sink to my boots (since I spent so long there last weekend, so unsuccessfully), but I decided I should trust her.

We met, had a leisurely lunch at an Italian restaurant (lovely) and then set off. In the first place we went to, a shop I barely glanced at last weekend (pah! nothing there for me) I bought a skirt and two knitted jacket/cardigan things and a scarf, all very cheaply. The skirt is GENIUS. It was the sort of thing that you look at and think, well, maybe... but the moment I put it on there was no question, it was MADE for me. At the next place I got a pair of corduroy trousers. I'd already looked at on the rack and thought, nah, not for me, then my friend got to them and said, "Try these one, go on, just TRY!" and they fit perfectly and feel wonderfully comfortable, besides looking great and being on sale (some French designer label with a terrifying original price) and another spectacular skirt also on sale, designer, Italian, which I'd also passed by and my friend picked up. When I tried that one on I said, "There's something funny about the shape, am I wearing it the right way round?" and my friend turned it around so the zip was at the back where it was supposed to be and we both had another "Ooh!" moment - that skirt hangs beautifully when you have it the right way round. (But who would have paid ¥50,000 for it? Are they mad?) At the same place I got another knitted jacket they practically gave to me because they'd forgotten to put in the buttonholes, but it looks wonderful without them so who cares? After that we popped into an antique shop that also just happened to have some second hand designer clothes, and I got yet another skirt, wool, gorgeous, and a beautiful short tailored wool jacket, one button missing, both at giveaway prices.

Then it was boots time. Off we went to shoe shops, and I bought a pair of boots which fit like gloves and make me look TALL because they're sort of platform, not the sort of thing I usually wear but they look great and are really comfortable, but will I break an ankle? I walked up and down and up and down and up and down the shop trying to decide if they were good enough to work in, and finally decided to risk it. At the very least I can wear them for social events, if they turn out to be not comfortable enough for work.

Finally I took my friend to see the ox-blood-red Doc Martens which were the only things I tried on last week. I hadn't been able to decide. Too young for me? Too bright? Help! As soon I put them on she said "BUY THEM, THEY LOOK WONDERFUL!" and of course she was right, so I bought them. They were the most expensive purchase of the day but I expected that one. Feet are important, as you quickly find out when you're on them all day, and I don't care if I pay a lot as long as I'll be wearing them a lot. I've been wearing the same pair of boots almost daily for about five years now because everything else makes my feet hurt, and foot surgery is more expensive than good shoes, as several teachers I know have found out. I'm hoping that of these two new pairs at least one will be bearable on full teaching days.

Getting all this stuff home almost broke my elbows, but it was worth it. I have never felt so good about buying so much. It is all stuff I will wear. All I need now is a few more different coloured turtleneck cotton sweaters from Uniqlo and I will be able to mix and match and look fabulous. Or at least fabulously different from the way I've been looking the last few winters. My friend is a wonderful person to shop with. When I am uncertain she says, "NO!" or, alternatively, "YES!" and there is no waffling. I tried everything on again when I got home, and so far nothing has looked like a mistake. Nothing is startlingly different. (Startlingly different doesn't work when you tend to wear the same things for years.) It is all quality stuff I can wear for a long time. And now I can get rid of some things I've been wearing to work that are well past their wear-to-work condition, although there is a sweater I might have to keep despite the frayed cuffs and thin patches. It's only fifteen years old, and while it may be a little too shabby to wear it to work (although that didn't stop me last week) I'm sure it has a couple more years in it.

Usually shopping for clothes makes me miserable, but yesterday was fun. It was also incredibly quick. We got everything except the Doc Martens in the first couple of hours. The Doc Martens were a last minute thing we decided to check after our second coffee shop break, when we thought we had finished. I'm glad I got them. I now have some 'kick-your-arse' boots, and I shall wear them to work on days when I want to scare my students AND I will look good while doing so. Ha!

After getting home I emailed my friend to thank her for her help and for the fun I had. I think it was the first time I've ever really enjoyed shopping for clothes. Today I got an email back from her saying that she'd had a good time, too.

"Can't wait to spend more of your money," she wrote, and I thought, "Me, too!" Then I got worried. This is a new happy thing I'd better not get TOO excited about. It could get expensive if I indulged too often. Once or twice a year is probably about right.

And anyway, I still think that life would be a lot easier if we were covered in fur.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Meals on Wheels

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Bold as brass

Today near the beginning of my last class, while I was busy going around the class and helping the students to understand a handout I'd given them, something so bizarre but at the same time sort of ordinary happened that I almost instantly forgot about it. Why does that happen? Something you can't explain happens, and you block it out. I had fully intended to find out what it was all about after class, but already by then I had forgotten. I even forgot when I was meeting my friends after work. If I'd remembered I would have asked them if it had happened to them as well, but I didn't. I FORGOT. Why did I forget?

What happened was that my classroom had a couple of visitors. They were wearing what I think is the university janitor uniform, but might not have been (I didn't look at the uniforms very closely) and they didn't come alone. They came with a machine.

It was the machine that distracted me so badly. There I was towards the back of the classroom, chatting with a group of students, explaining something, when I heard a noise behind me. Thinking that another student was arriving late I turned, and there were the two men and their machine coming in the door at the back of the classroom.

The machine looked like a something that had been constructed for a very low-budget science fiction movie from the seventies. It was a gray metal box on wheels, about waist-high, with a few flashing lights and numbers on the front. The two guys wheeled it just inside the door, muttered to each other, and then the older one unhooked from the back something that looked almost but not quite like a vacuum cleaner tube with a sort of nozzle arrangement on the end. He pointed it up in the air and slightly forward, and held it there. Then the two of them stopped moving. They just stood there and did nothing as the numbers blinked and the lights flashed. The machine did not make any noise, or none that I noticed. (The classroom was not exactly quiet, so actually there could have been a sinister hum I didn't hear. You never know.)

I stared. I was only a couple of metres from the two men, but they stared past me blankly. There were three or four rows of empty desks between us. I was extremely tired and my brain refused to explain what was going on or what I should do about it. Nothing made sense. I turned back to the students I had been talking to.

"Who are they?" I whispered.

The students grinned at me blankly.

"Who are they?" I whispered, louder and more urgently. "What are they doing?" I think that was the first time I had ever asked this question in a language classroom and really wanted to know. The textbooks always have it somewhere, and it is never a sensible question. It is always OBVIOUS what 'they' are doing. This time it wasn't obvious at all.

The students shrugged cheerfully. They seemed to think it was funny, and waited to see what I would do next. Most of the other students had their backs to the men and hadn't even noticed them.

I turned back to the men and their machine, which was still blinking numbers. The men stood and stared blankly at nothing. They hadn't moved at all. When I leaned over into their line of sight and smiled inquiringly at them they didn't respond. They didn't even blink. One was still holding the nozzle thing up in the air.

It was bizarre. It was so bizarre I found I couldn't think clearly. But at the same time the two men looked so utterly ordinary they were instantly forgettable. All I can remember now is that one was younger and the other older.

(Why didn't I just ask them what they were doing? Had they hypnotized me?)

I turned back to the students.

"Aren't you scared?" I asked. (We did "Fears" last week as a topic in the textbook, and while I may have become stupid I still couldn't resist the chance to recycle some new language.)

The students, still grinning, shook their heads. I frowned ferociously and leaned in closer to them.

"Why not?" I hissed. "We don't know who they are! Didn't you see the news about that Russian spy in London? What if they are Russians, and they're poisoning us?"

The students laughed. "They're Japanese!" they said.

"How do you know?" I insisted. "They might be North Korean! And what is that machine? Maybe it's gas! Maybe they're trying to poison all of Japan's cleverest students! Quick! Open a window!"

The students giggled and pointed at the windows, which were already open. They thought I was trying to be funny, and I was, but I was also starting to scare myself. The men still hadn't moved. I glanced back at them and got the spooky feeling that if I went over and stood right in front of them and waved my arms and shouted, "MOSHI MOSHI?" they would not respond. Surely, if they were legitimate, I would have been warned they were coming? Why hadn't they explained themselves? Why were they behaving as though there was nobody else in the room? Why did the students think it was funny? (Had they been hypnotized, too?)

Then another student called for me with a question, and I went to answer it, and after that when I looked back the men and their machine were gone.

I made a quick note to ask the secretary about it after class, and then things got busy. By the time class ended I had lost the note amongst my papers and forgotten all about it. It was only after getting home that I found the note again and remembered.

But how could I forget something like that? And how could I be so stupid? A couple of North Korean spies came into my classroom, bold as brass, blatantly poisoned me and all my students, and what did I do about it? I CARRIED ON TEACHING.

I'm starting to feel a little weak already. I wonder how long it will take for me to collapse? Has the poison reached my brain yet, do you think? Is my thinking muddled? Am I hpomh ,sfz JR;[@@@

Sunday, November 26, 2006


Recently I've been listening to National Radio, from the Radio New Zealand website. I've also been downloading their podcasts and listening to them on my commutes.

Saturday mornings with Kim Hill is one of my favourites. I didn't used to like her so much, but she has grown on me. She does great interviews. Just when you're thinking, Oh, go on Kim, ask about - ! I want to know! she does. It's SO satisfying.

There is just one thing that really bugs me: why does she pronounce film as filim? At one point I wondered if she meant something else, and looked it up. Here is what I learned.

I learned that I should not look for rental accommodation in Filim, Oman. There are no rentals available. However, the weather is lovely.

I may be spelling it wrongly, however. Maybe she really means:


Noun 1. filum - a threadlike anatomical structure or chainlike series of cells

That doesn't really fit, though, and I am fairly sure she means neither of these things. She means film, in which case it all makes sense except for the way she pronounces it. That remains a mystery.

I listened to a Mary Wilson podcast on my way to work on Friday, and heard her interviewing Don Brash on his sudden resignation. I got the impression that you were getting impatient with him, Mary. You snapped at him like an outraged piranha, and I think you might have drawn blood. I can't say I blamed you, but I am not used to hearing that sort of thing at 6.30am on my way to work.

Brash deserved it, of course. This is the man who said he went easy on Helen Clark in debate because she is a woman, HA HA HA, and then he associated with (and accepted money from) those unpleasant, sneaky people and lied about it. He was contradicting himself again in your interview, and I do not blame you for getting snappy. But it did surprise me, so that I snorted, and embarrassed myself. It was your fault. You made me snort suddenly on my morning commute and thus confirm all my fellow commuters' preconceived ideas about weird gaijin.

But you're good at embarrassing me, or at least at making me embarrass myself, aren't you, Mary? You've done it before, HAVEN'T YOU? It may have been more than ten years ago that you visited, but I still haven't quite got over my brother calling to tell me he'd heard me on the radio.

"Eh?" I said. "Oh, that's right. I'd forgotten, and anyway I didn't think she'd use it. What did I say?"

"Something about being sex mad," he said.


And that's when I realized you'd only PRETENDED to turn it off.

After I'd shouted for a while my brother said, mildly,

"Well, it was something like that, anyway. It was pretty funny."

"I DID NOT SAY THAT," I said, and tried to remember exactly what I'd said. "What else did I say?"

"I can't remember," he said.

I couldn't remember either. It had been a couple of months since that impromptu interview, and I was very tired when I did it, which is the only reason I let myself be pressured into it. I had no energy to protest. I couldn't remember what I'd said five minutes after it finished.

"Anyway, you never listen to National Radio," I accused my brother. "How come you listened this time? I didn't think anybody I knew would ever hear it, so didn't worry about it. And she said she'd only use a couple of minutes of the interview."

"Oh, it was more like fifteen or twenty minutes," he said. "You went on and on and on."


He paused to see if I'd finished shouting, and carried on.

"Auntie Dorothy called and told me about it. "She just happened to hear it. And after that Euan, you remember him, our old neighbour from back home, he called, and, um, a few other people who'd heard from Auntie Dorothy. She called everyone she knew. I was hearing from people I hadn't heard from for years. She told us to call everybody we knew to tell them when the repeat was on."

(Auntie Dorothy was a terrible old gossip. Now that she is no longer with us I can safely say that this is why I never used to tell her anything I didn't want the entire population of New Zealand to know. I think she used to call people at random from the phone book if there was nobody else available to pass gossip on to. Thank goodness she never discovered the Internet.)

Mary, I am fairly sure you're not reading this, but if by chance you are (vanity Googling, caught you!), I'm pretty sure you'll have figured out who I am. The last time you caused me to embarrass myself publicly you bought me a drink the next time we met. You didn't quite call it an apology but it was good enough for me. (In any case, by then I'd decided to be flattered rather than appalled. It was too late anyway.)

Well, it's been a long time since we last met, but this is just to let you know you owe me another drink.

We support your socks life

Today I went shopping for clothes, but I didn't buy anything. I didn't even buy socks, despite all the support on offer. I am a complete failure at shopping.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

What is important

On Monday after work I hurried home. I knew I had a lot of work to do, because I hadn't done it on the weekend. I had to write a test. I had already written it, actually, but I had to check it, do the layout, and print it out. I planned to use it on Wednesday (today) and knew I would not have time (or energy) to do it on Tuesday evening. (It was not an important test. It was a MOTIVATING test, to wake up the students who have been getting a little lax about staying awake in class.)

I got home, did all the necessary, and felt virtuous. Then I ate dinner, relaxed for a while with a book, read a few blogs, watched a little TV, and started to prepare for bed. Then I idly wondered what I had planned for the next day's classes.

I checked my notes, and discovered to my horror that I had very good plans for Tuesday's classes. The horror was caused by realizing that these plans involved some OTHER work I hadn't done. I had to type up four classes' worth of homework.

So instead of going to bed, I got busy.

This homework was based on something we'd done in class. The students had done a worksheet which involved describing things. The idea was to teach them to use descriptions rather than stop and look in a dictionary when they didn't have the word for something. They are very bad at this sort of thing, and are quite likely, in the middle of a conversation, to stop suddenly and spend five minutes looking up a word. By the time they find it their conversational partner has wandered off, fallen asleep, or forgotten what they were talking about. (This is the better students. Most of them are more likely to give up when they do not know how to say something in English. They just ... stop.)

For homework I asked the students to write descriptions of five more things. The idea was that I would then type up their descriptions, and they could have a sort of game where one would read a description and the others in the group would try to guess the word.

It seemed like a good idea to me until Monday night. As I sat at the computer, way past my bedtime, it didn't seem quite so wonderful. What kind of idiot dreams up a lesson plan that involves so much WORK? I typed five pages of descriptions, correcting them, adding to them, and abbreviating them where it was called for. I also added a few, to get a good number for the game. (Quite a few of the students had not taken the homework quite seriously enough.)

Not surprisingly, on Tuesday morning I wasn't feeling too good. I had that spaced-out feeling you get when you have not slept enough. There was a mild buzzing in my ears, and I had the feeling that I was observing the world from behind glass. My eyes were gritty. I was also worried about the classes. This lesson plan was a new one, and I wasn't quite sure if it would work. If it didn't I was in trouble, because I had no backup.

When I got to work I made several copies of each of the five pages. When the first class started, after the initial 'conversation' stage (a weekly activity where the student are supposed to talk in English about whatever they want, with several partners, and sometimes even actually do), I put them in groups of four or five and handed out the pages of descriptions so that each student in a group had a different page. "This is your homework," I told them, and they boggled. They were sure they had not done such a neat job, or so much of it, and they were right.

I explained the rules of the game, which were simple. ('Read a description. The first person to give the correct answer gets a point. Give more clues if necessary'). When I was sure they understood, I told them to start.

Then I sat down.

It went WONDERFULLY. Days like yesterday make me unsure about whether I am a good teacher or a very bad one. I didn't actually DO anything. It quickly became clear that the students did not want my help, except with the pronunciation of certain words. They were teaching each other and did not want my interference.

One problem with this sort of activity generally is that the students tend to read rather than speak - they will show the question to the other students rather than read it aloud. This time, however, I had typed the answers right beside the questions, in such a way that it was hard to show the paper and not also show the answers to all the questions. This meant that students were forced to read the descriptions aloud, and they quickly learned that if they read them woodenly and without inflection (as they tend to do) the others in the group did not understand. Also, because they had the answers in front of them they felt clever, and were not inclined to give away the answer too easily by using Japanese. Instead they gave clues in English and mockery in Japanese. There was a lot of laughter.

The biggest problem was me. (This is often true.) I had nothing to do, really, except listen and offer help when it was asked for. This was not often, as they were figuring things out for themselves and doing very well at it. They were teaching each other, helped along by the knowledge that they had written these clues themselves, so therefore COULD figure things out. (I did not tell them that I had sneakily added a few of my own, but they got those, too, which just goes to show that they know a lot more than they think they do.) Being in class on Tuesday was like being at a party to which you were not invited and are tolerated rather than welcome. The students did not need me most of the time. They were perfectly happy on their own except when they needed a human tape recorder to demonstrate how a word was pronounced, and they were learning things without any help from me. They were also having a really good time, and I felt about as useful as nipples on a bull.

So I just sat there, wishing it was acceptable for the teacher to have a nap. I think I might have sprained my jaw in my attempts to yawn without opening my mouth. This kind of yawning is very difficult to do, as I'm sure you will know if you have ever tried it. I was extremely sleepy, and had to fight the urge to nod off. It would not look good for the teacher to fall asleep or to spend the entire lesson yawning extravagantly, and I was determined not to, but it was a real struggle.

I tried to keep myself awake by taking note of the styles my students were wearing. I don't usually notice things like that unless they are startling, but one of the textbooks a couple of weeks ago had a unit about fashion, and the answers the students had given to the questions in the book had given me a context.

One of the boys had some of his hair (but not all of it) tied up in a ponytail right on top of his head. His hair was quite long, so that the ponytail stuck straight up and then curved over. If his hair had been water it would have been a perfect fountain. (I mentally added a gnome.) Most of the other boys had dyed hair, worn in a tousled style. The explosions on their heads are carefully controlled. When you think of the expression not a hair out of place you would not think of these guys' hairstyles, but that's exactly how it is. I have seen them styling it on the trains, and, sometimes, in class. They carry mirrors, and each hair is in EXACTLY THE RIGHT PLACE. You see them fiddling with one of the strands, getting the 'random' look just right. They look sort of like this, or this. (I recommend the rest of the photo gallery at JapanWindow, too. There are some excellent photographs.)

The boys spend far more time on their hair than I do on mine. (I haven't had a haircut since, er ... when? April? I know I meant to get it done in the summer, but never quite got around to it.)

The girls have been sweating in skirts or dresses over jeans all through the hot months, but now that it has become cooler many are wearing high boots with low-cut shorts and short tops, usually with some bulky but short sweater or jacket on top, leaving their goosebumped thighs bare and also, frequently, an expanse of lower back when they lean over. A couple of times I got up and wandered around the classroom, trying to stop myself from falling asleep, and noticed something rather worrying: a couple of the girls have hairy backs. Is that normal? Is it cool? Are they showing off their hairy backs on purpose? Is it the latest thing? I wondered about this, and then it occurred to me that perhaps they didn't know. It is not easy to see your own lower back. Maybe I have a hairy lower back myself. (Must ask The Man.)

Fashion in Japan is, I suspect, extremely time-consuming. My students do not wear clothes, they wear costumes. They spend a lot of time on their looks, and a lot of money. I know, because that was one of the questions in the textbook (at a women's university), and my jaw practically came unhinged when the students consulted each other and decided that they spent, on average, at least ¥30,000 a month on clothes. I heard a group of them discussing the question in Japanese. One of them said that it depended on whether she had a successful weekend shopping. She sometimes spent ¥60,000 in just one weekend, but usually it was more like ¥10,000 or ¥20,000. Many of them go shopping every weekend, and while I knew that, I had assumed they were window shopping. They're not, and none of them seemed to think the amount they spent was excessive. And they were not particularly rich students, or at least they said they weren't. They are supported by their parents, as most students are here, but told me they paid for their own clothes from their part-time jobs. (For those who are wondering, ¥30,000 is about NZ$380, UK£135, US$260.)

Of course there are always exceptions, and there were a couple of girls who did not spend very much. But they were not the popular girls. It must be the same with the guys, I realized as I looked around the classroom on Tuesday. Nobody was dressed cheaply except the nerdy, friendless types.

And me. That explained why I felt like I hadn't been invited.

Another of the questions in the unit on fashion was, "Do you think fashion is important?" All the students, without exception, wrote, "Yes." That made sense when I looked around the classroom. To have friends you need to be dressed fashionably.

But never mind all that. The lesson plan worked, and I will be using it again. And really, it's not true that you need to spend a lot on fashion to have friends. I have proof.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Amateur proctologists

Another picture I came across yesterday was this one from Kuantan, Malaysia, and it also made me smile. This one was from this year. I don't know if you remember, but I mentioned two small boys who kept poking at us. We were forced to defend ourselves (by tickling them), and they eventually gave up. It was after they gave up that I took this picture. Before that I couldn't use my camera. I was too busy fending off these fiendish amateur proctologists.

But as you can see, we wore them out. By the time they staggered off, giggling, they were so weak they had to hold each other up.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Guard dog

Yesterday I discovered that there is now version of PixelCat for OS X, and although it doesn't yet have all the features it had before (it will not rotate pictures - that will probably come in a later build), I downloaded it and found it works just fine for what I want. PixelCat is an image viewer. It is very, very small, free, and does only one thing, very quickly: it shows you your pictures. You dump a folder of pictures on it, and there they are, all laid out in thumbnails ready to click and view. I have iPhoto, of course, but it tends to be a bit slow with displaying pictures when I have a lot of them, which I frequently do. It gets cumbersome, and I don't use most of the features. PixelCat is fast, and I can just whiz through the pictures and select the ones I want to be properly displayed/edited/kept, and chuck out the rest.

(Although the PixelCat web page is in Japanese, the program itself is in English. Click on ダウンロード(Ver.0.3) near the bottom of the page to download.)

Yesterday I went through my photos from the trip to Europe last year, and got distracted, which is how most of the afternoon disappeared. But I thought I'd share three pictures that made me laugh.

In France, when I was staying with a friend in the countryside, we went for a walk one day, and as we were going past someone's place we saw a little dog.

We went closer to say hello, and it became suspicious. It looked at us sideways.


"OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!" it howled.

And then, to make sure everybody got the message, it did it again.

It was a big noise for a small dog, and we decided it didn't want to be tickled under the chin after all.

If that was a guard dog it was an effective one. We jumped quite high, and I'm sure if we'd had any urge to invade the property we would have rethought our plans. Also, it must be difficult to conduct an effective invasion when you are laughing. I wouldn't want to try it.

ADDENDUM: It has occurred to me that since this was a French dog and I couldn't understand what it was saying, I may have misinterpreted. If we'd hung around a bit longer we might have found out that it was REALLY saying:

"OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!! La la!"

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Autumn colours

This year the leaves aren't nearly as pretty as they were last year. It has been warm, and then it suddenly got cooler and windy so that the leaves are mostly just blowing away without going all shades of beautiful first.

There are not so many beautiful yellows yet, but I'm hoping it isn't over. My students assure me that there's a couple of weeks yet, and the colours will improve.

One type of tree, though, is lovely, and I took some pictures of it today in the little park near the place I work. The leaves are going a strange purple colour as well as the usual reds and oranges, which gives an interesting effect.

Here they are closer up. I'm not sure what this tree is called, but it has an amazing variety of colours.

On this part of the tree there were none of the purple leaves, but I like the shadows in this picture.

This is the more common maple tree, but the real reason I like this picture is the sky behind it. It was a gorgeous day today, sunny and clear.

You can see that not all the leaves have turned yet, so maybe my students are right. Maybe next week I will get better pictures.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Yet another Friday

One of my students was away for ten days, in Italy with his family. Today he told me all about it. They visited eight cities in ten days, and packed a lot in.

He saw the famous Final Dinner, he said, but had forgotten to wear his good glasses so hadn't seen it as clearly as he would have liked to.

"You saw what?" I asked.

"The Final Dinner," he said.

We stared at each other.

"Oh, RIGHT!" I said, eventually. (I didn't get enough sleep last night.) "Da Vinci, right?"


I told him what it was called in English. He thought about it.

"Is there a reason it's not dinner?" he asked. "What's the difference? And why not final?"

I had to admit I didn't know. "It's just what it has been called," I said, "So it sounds funny when you use different words. Unfamiliar."

"I see," he said, and I think he did. I love having more advanced students sometimes.

In the last class of the day my two soccer students are still keeping me entertained. They always sit together at the beginning of class, which means that they almost instantly get separated and end up on opposite sides of the classroom, because I always count students off into groups at the beginning of class. Usually I want to separate noisy friends, but actually when those two are together they're pretty good, and they certainly keep me amused, so today, feeling in need of a little entertainment, I tried to 'randomly' count them off into the same group. This did not work, mostly because it was the end of a long week and I was not thinking quickly enough to figure out how to do it without being obvious. They ended up separated again, which meant that when I asked one of them to be quiet while I explained something to the class he had to slap HIMSELF in the face, because the other one was too far away to reach. It wasn't a gentle slap either, and after administering it he apologized to me sincerely, with a straight face and irrepressibly bright eyes, and waited politely for me to carry on with the class. (Which I did, with some difficulty. I found I had suddenly forgotten what I was going to say, and had to refer to my notes.)

The slap was surprising, but shouldn't have been. My soccer guys are ALWAYS helpful when a little discipline is called for. I wish all my students were as cooperative in classroom management.

But the other one had broken his hand, so perhaps all the discipline is going to be self-inflicted for a while no matter where they're sitting. At first they told me that the hand got broken when they were beating each other up, but this explanation quickly degenerated into a disagreement over who had been beating up whom, which in turn morphed into an mini-lesson in which I explained the difference between "I hit him," and "He hit me." (Yes, their English level really is that low, which only serves to demonstrate how very good they are at communicating with what little they have.) Once they understood they kindly acted out this lesson for the rest of the class, using the unbroken hand, and very carefully.

Finally one of them admitted that the broken hand was actually a soccer injury.

I pretended not to believe it.

"I don't believe you," I said. "I'm sure it was domestic violence."

There was a shocked silence, and just before they cracked up it dawned on me that they had actually listened to me when I told them that domestic violence was a serious problem and not something to joke about. They had thought about it, and taken it seriously. They had, in fact, stopped using that particular joke.

And then I had to go and ruin it all.

I am really not at my best for my last class on Fridays.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Today in two of my classes the topic in the textbook was 'fears.' There was a questionnaire to get the students talking, and one of the questions was,

Are you afraid of flying?

As I wandered around the classroom I overheard the students in one group discussing this question in Japanese. They were not sure how to answer it, which seemed a little odd. It wasn't such a difficult question, was it? They weren't the only ones having trouble, either. I could hear another group puzzling over the same thing.

As I eavesdropped on their discussions I suddenly understood what the problem was and had to suppress a giggle. I went back to the blackboard and wrote the question up there. Then I drew an arrow from flying and added underneath, in a plane.

"Ohhhh! In a PLANE!" I heard chorused behind me, and they wrote their answers and moved onto the next question.


They understood the first question perfectly, though:

What were you afraid of when you were a child?

Most of the male students (but none of the female students) wrote, without even having to think about it,

My mother.

That was a lot more worrying than their puzzling over how a person could remain airborne for long enough to develop a fear of flying.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Futon wars

I have complained about The Man's lizardly qualities before, most notably when the air conditioner wars get going every summer. I don't know whether I have mentioned the futon wars, however, which take place in winter.

We have a wonderful double top futon. You use one layer when the summer heat subsides and the nights start getting cooler, and then when it gets really cold you button on the other layer. WHEN to button the second layer on is the problem, for us. So far this autumn I have been perfectly comfortable with only one layer, but The Man has been complaining about the cold. I realized I would have to relent a couple of nights ago when it became obvious that he just wasn't warming up. I touched his arm sometime in the night and thought for a moment there was a corpse lying next to me, it was so cold. (I suppose it is possible that at some point he became a zombie without telling me, but I'm fairly sure I would have noticed. Aren't there other signs?)

We added the second layer of the futon yesterday. I don't know what we'll do when it really gets cold. More blankets, I suppose, but only on his side. I was pretty damned warm last night.

Well, I WAS pretty damned warm, at least, until at some point early this morning he turned to me affectionately (I thought) and snuggled up close. I said something, and he mumbled in reply and it was clear he was not awake. Then he pulled the top futon close around him, smiled, and turned over again, taking the entire futon with him.

It was a very neat operation, fast and totally efficient, and especially impressive because he didn't even wake up to do it. He just whisked it all away, quick as a flash, and I was left with no covering at all. It wasn't quite warm enough for that, and I sat up and stared at him, half admiring and half pissed off. He had become a great big cocoon with the entire, enormous, puffy, down-filled double-layered queen-sized futon so tightly tucked around him and held onto with so tight a grip it took me quite a while to edge enough back out to cover me. None of my tugging and cursing and laughing woke him up. It was amazing, really.

And it wasn't even cold last night. HE IS NOT NORMAL.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


I went to the giant booksale today, and bought FORTY BOOKS. You will have to wait until the books are delivered to find out what they are. So will I, actually, because I've forgotten what I chose in the end, aside from two I brought home with me. It was a wonderful sale. The two books I brought home were a Terry Prachett and a Flashman adventure, which I started reading on the train. I have never read a Flashman book before, and it is pretty much as advertised - old fashioned adventure with lots of historical detail and an extremely politically incorrect hero. What fun!

After getting back from the booksale I decided that tomorrow and Saturday I would catch up on paperwork, but for the rest of today I would work on the switch to Beta Blogger. Having made this decision, and braced myself, I logged in and discovered that I couldn't. The button (for switching over to Beta) that I've been noticing on my dashboard for the last couple of weeks has now gone. They've taken it away! Where did it go? And why?

It's probably just as well, though. Just now I fired up Internet Explorer to test the hacks I installed on my experimental Beta Blogger. These are the hacks I was going to use for this blog when I switched. I discovered that I have created a horrible mess, or at least IE has. They don't call it Internet Exploder for nothing.

Back to the drawing board!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Shake hands

This morning I was trudging along on my way to work when I passed a bus stop. A woman and her child were waving goodbye to someone on the bus, and I saw that the child, who was about five or six years old, had Down Syndrome.

When the bus left they turned away and started walking towards me. The little boy, who was trailing behind his mother and holding onto her hand, stared at me with open curiosity. Then, as they passed me, he looked up into my face and held out his free hand to me.

I took his hand, and the happiness on his face, the feeling of that little warm hand in mine, and his mother's smile when she turned to see why her wee boy was holding back, made me feel that perhaps today was going to be a good day after all.

It was, too. It wasn't bad at all.

I think that that little boy should be hired out to people who are suffering from the blues and getting cranky. He was magic. That was better than any counseling session. It was like being given an intravenous injection of love and forgiveness for every sin ever committed, plus a bunch of misdemeanors, petty offenses, and ungenerous thoughts. When I let go of his hand and waved goodbye the world was fresh and new and hopeful, and I felt smiley all the way through, from the bottom of my boots to the top of my head.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Autumn, cat, beta Blogger

Autumn is here, and the leaves are just starting to change.

The other day I spotted a cat, sunning itself in the grass and weeds beside the river. It did not want to talk with me.

"I do not want to talk with you," it said when I introduced myself. "I am extremely busy."

"Busy doing what?" I asked.

"Pondering," said the cat.

"Pondering about what?" I asked.

"Everything," said the cat. "I like to ponder. I ponder a lot. Sometimes I get sleepy and need a nap, and then I wake up and ponder some more. Ponder, ponder, ponder. It's what I do. Pondering is my purpose in life. Except when I'm napping. Or eating. Sometimes I stop pondering to eat. But otherwise I just ponder. I love pondering. Ponder, ponder, ponder. I ponder when I'm washing, and I ponder when I'm walking by myself, and I ponder when I'm sitting in the sun. There is such a lot to ponder about."

I didn't know what to say. For some reason the word ponder had started to sound really, really strange.


At some point, I know, I will have to change over to beta Blogger. I have not done so yet because it seems like too much work. Also, it hasn't been so long since I changed my template completely to three columns, and that was a lot of hassle. Now I have to do it AGAIN?

In fact I have figured out how to do the three-column thing (Hackosphere!), but it seems I have to also add all my links and so on one by one. I cannot just cut and paste them in. There is probably some way of doing it easily, but I suspect using the beta Blogger system is best because then it will be easy to add and remove links later. It is just the first time that will be troublesome. I will also need to make a new header, or adjust the old one to fit the new template.

But I might try to make the switch very soon. I have a couple of days off this week, so have a four-day weekend. I also have piles of homework waiting to be marked, and the monster booksale to go to, and a lot of other things that urgently need doing, but that just means I have more to procrastinate. So if my blog goes all funny over the next week or so, you will know why. I will be experimenting with the new system, and getting it all wrong.

Incidentally, a picture of the seriously silly glasses has been added to the seriously silly glasses post.