Friday, December 24, 2004

Hi. I've had a few comments lately that suggest that people don't see the archives menu on the right-hand side of this page. Just to make things clear: this page is not all of this blog; there's loads more. Just use the archives menus (underneath the blogs links).

And, as the entry below says, I'm now blogging at a new address: http://asassenachsoliloquy.blogspot.com.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Time to move on then people: nothing more to see here.

I've changed the name of the site, and the url. So change your bookmarks, and head over to A Sassenach Soliloquy. See you there.

Yesterday I achieved a childhood ambition: I was paid to play sport. That's right: I am now (for one day only, admittedly) a professional sportsman. Which is (in theory) more than those Olympians with all their medals can say. So boo shucks to you all.

Unfortuanately I had to sell my sole to the corporate devil to do so. Pepsi Max (Remember kids: "All the taste, with none of sugar") are doing a big marketing thing linking the fun and spirit of Ultimate Frisbee with their brand. And eight of us jumped on the offer to spend the day on Bournemouth beach playing demonstration games of Ultimate and teaching the public. A tiring day but, Christ, we normally pay good money to do this, and yesterday I wasn't just paid but accommodation, transport and food were all taken care of too. Lovely, and a much more fun for us than it was for all the aspiring actresses, singers and dancers that made up the "Pepsi Max Crew" that spent the day carrying huge backpacks of Pepsi around the beach.

Photos may follow when I get links to the publicity articles.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

I know, I'm being rubbish. I've posted irregularly since I got back from Italy, and although there was good reason for that when I was in Ely, I do have a bit more time now. I guess my momentum was thwarted and I haven't regained it yet.

I'm doing some cover work for a school in London at the moment. I went into a class the other day, scanned the room for new students and located two. I asked their names, and was somewhat taken aback when the one wearing lipstick, eye-liner, pearl earrings and a dress replied in a man's voice. I did a double-take and it was indeed a man. Dressed as a woman.

Another student has the biggest eyes I've ever seen - they're the size of golf balls - and today a Russian, in a class discussion about the greatest human achievements of the last 150 years, said that the liberation of women wasn't that great because women's natural place is in the home, men belong in business, and that women should be banned from Government. It's a surprise to hear such attitudes, and even more so when they come from a woman. Yes, that's right: I have men posing as women and women posing as male chauvinists.

Otherwise, yes, I'm well, thank you very much, apart from a mild anxiety about where I'm going to live in Edinburgh. Anybody know a good flat?

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Urban Berlin. The older building in the middle remins me of Metropolis.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Two photos from Berlin. One more to follow tomorrow.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Jeremy Paxman’s book, The English, has several interesting observations. One in particular that had me nodding in agreement was this, on our attitude to housing:

“..the obsessive English belief that the only ‘real’ England is some other version of Arthur Bryant’s land of singing milkmaids [Bryant wrote patriotic histories of England] is dangerous for three reasons. Firstly, it is counterproductive: the consequences of a belief that the only ‘proper’ way of life for an English person is to live in a house with a garden with access to what’s left of the countryside will eventually turn most of England into one vast suburb. Secondly, it does nothing to improve the conditions in which the vast majority of people live. And thirdly, it necessarily excludes most of the population from an idea of what their country is about.”


“Rich and poor differ in their expectations, but they share the same ambition. It is a house with a garden. Not all Englishman can live in a castle. But they all want their moats and drawbridges.” [emphasis in the original, although I would have added it anyway]

This determination to live an English ideal has led to a population that doesn’t know how to live in cities. Flats are considered a poor man’s choice and shared public places are not embraced by the populace, who prefer to spend their leisure time in a private garden. We love our cars and the freedom we perceive in them; an alternative interpretation is that our determination to live in the suburbs (for that, as Paxman points out, is what it is) leaves us slaves to our cars. Consequently the political will to improve public transport is wasted, while the will to improve the motorist’s lot is rewarded at the ballot box.

It was with these thoughts in mind that I travelled to Berlin, and they serve to explain why I was so impressed with the city: finally, somewhere that knows how to live in urban environments.

My first stop was the Jewish Museum, and it served as the most wonderful illustration I’ve ever seen of the power of architecture over our lives (something that would become a common theme on my trip). The exhibition was excellent, but the building is the star, both metaphorically and literally, since the design is based on a shattered Star of David. The ideas of the Garden of Exile, The Holocaust Tower and the Memory Voids are so simple yet original and wonderfully executed. I don’t want to go into detail lest I spoil it for future visitors, but I will say that this was my first (to my knowledge) experience of Liberskind‘s work and if this is anything to go by then Ground Zero is in safe hands.

In contrast the two museums I saw the following day were disappointing. Checkpoint Charlie, the museum at one of the former East/West Berlin border crossings, was a disgrace. Lots of excellent exhibits and a fascinating, relevant story ruined by amateur presentation. Haphazardly and incoherently arranged, poorly translated writing, too many people and overpriced it is the classic tourist trap. You can even buy Stasi border guard hats from the hawks outside, and one man had set up a stall selling an East Berlin stamp in your passport for one euro. You could also pay one dollar, which perhaps suggests where many of his clientele come from. The film museum was far more professional, but rather dull; there is a far better one in Girona, near Barcelona.

In between museums I strolled around the city, from second-hand clothing store to second-hand clothing store. Berlin must have the highest density of such places in the world, and this enthusiasm to recycle - to make new what is old - seems indicative of the city. Grey Socialist apartment blocks are now brightly coloured, modern desirable living spaces; bikes are the preferred mode of private transport and city bikes are obligatorily old; tram lines fallen into disuse decades ago are incorporated into a coherent public transport network; and old warehouses are turned into independent exhibition spaces and shops. This city is still obviously undergoing huge changes, and that makes it, now, a vibrant and exciting place to be: the corporates are yet to move in, but the individual has his own voice.

And then the crowning glory: New York’s Museum Of Modern Art is currently being refurbished, and so 200 of its most prominent exhibits are, for seven months, residing in Berlin’s New National Gallery. I may have been disappointed to arrive there at 7.30am and still find over four hours of queue in front of me, but it was worth it. I’m not going to sell it all to you here, but if you wish to know more, here’s the website.

In the evenings I met with some acquaintances and enjoyed good food and excellent beer. Having also seen the Brandenburg Gate and Norman Foster’s dome above the German parliament building, there was little left for me in the way of obvious tourist attractions. However as a place to live I have never been so impressed with a city, and could not recommend a visit highly enough. Especially if you go before MoMA returns home.

(Photos to follow next week. Meanwhile here is one more from Ely...)

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

For the last twelve months I have earnt (or “earned”? Depends where you come from...) my living spreading the dominance of my mother tongue as the global language. And then, on Saturday evening, I found myself reading Jeremy Paxman’s The English, surrounded by twee couples enjoying picnics of wine and English raspberrries and awaiting the commencement of an summer evening’s open air performance of Shakespeare (The Comedy of Errors, if you wish to know, and I thought it very good, especially the performance of the female lead). It seems I am living a cliche in the shires.

Friday, July 23, 2004

I often take reassurance when a new social group make small (harmless) jokes at my expense, as people only ever do it when they like you: when was the last time you mocked somebody you despised?  However, this good nature is occasionally and unfortunately abused: in fact, many of my friends think I stand for too much.  The stick often builds because, so I'm regularly told, I'm easy to wind up.  However the unusual truth is that invariably when I hear that I'm not wound up at all, and the nonsense simply drifts over me.  Of course, on those occasions when I have had enough, hearing that I'm easy to wind up dozen't help factors, to say the least.

What rushes through my mind at such moments is why on earth anybody would actually want to wind up anybody else, let alone a friend.  The feelings I encounter at such times always remind me of the unhappiest years of my life, when I was bullied for the first two years of secondary school.  And consistently I conclude that such behavior - the callous baiting (which, astoundingly, sometimes continues even with the knowledge that I think it's beyond a joke) and abuse of my good nature - is only quantatively, and not qualitatively, different to that of those bullies.  That is to say that although the scale of the behavior - words rather than fists - is different, the underlying attitude is the same: a motivation to joke and abuse for one's own pleasure but at another's expense.

Yet it is so common.  The regularity with which I meet such behavior in adult life suggests to me that in given circumstances many of us could abuse others; more specifically, many of my - and your - current friends, if placed into the disinterested, disfunctional class I was part of for the first two years of my secondary education would have joined with the bullies.  Indeed, everybody in that class did indeed do so at some point, and no schoolboy is unlucky enough to share a classroom with 25 proactive trouble makers.  Like all anti-social behavior, a few ringleaders lead and cajole the rest; what surprises is how easily and quickly each of us would follow their rude lead.  Indeed, the famous Stanford Prisoner Experiment of the 60s is a cold illustration of this awful reality.

Those friends and family I have most respect for are those that know what I shouldn't have to tell anybody: when to stop.  The unfortunate reality of our complex nature is that most people need the occasional reminder of where that line lies.  And so here I'd like to make a plea from the good-natured amongst us: next time the roller-coaster of peer banter runs too far too fast, stop and think, and ask yourself whether what you're about to say is decent and respectful.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Crikey.  I tapped my url into this machine, but typed in wrongly, getting the p and s in blogspot the wrong way round.  I was somewhat surprised to find that http://anenglishmaninverona.blogpsot.com/ is a url in use.  And it's run by Christian nutcases too...
In other developments, two Ukranians lads have bought a mini-fridge to keep their coke cans cool in their room, a Russian boy has had to be physically pushed into the shower and I spent last Friday evening happily dancing to bubble-gum pop with a bunch of mid-teens in Ely Cathedral.  It was great fun, since you ask.
They are, on the whole, lovely, and I'm learning that the conclusions I came to after my unhappy teenage years - that all the boys are bullys and all the girls hate you - aren't actually true, and that some kids are lucky enough to be having times that they really will look back on as the best of their life.  As one little part of that, I hope they remember me too. 

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Too busy. I will write something when I don't have to teach English, organise football tournaments or take 83 kids on a tour of London.

Need sleep.

Monday, July 05, 2004

There will be a proper entry soon about what it's like being back in the UK. Unsurprisingly I've been a bit busy seeing friends and playing frisbee to blog since I got back.

In the meantime, here's another picture from Milan.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Taken in Milan. If I had a beautiful girlfriend, and if I had more money, I'd take her there and then buy her the dress and the shoes.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Two friends from Verona are coming to London in August to have some fun and do a language course whilst they’re here. On Thursday I went up to town to watch the England game (no comment) and found myself thinking about what they’d make of the place.

It’s hard - less than 48 hours later - to explain what felt different after nine months in a relatively tiny and quiet place; I’m from London, so it doesn’t take long to readjust. But neither of the girls coming to visit has ever been here before, and the pace, sounds and size of the place will shock them.

After a bit of window shopping I drop Underground. It’s half past six (and the England kick-off is just over an hour away) and rush hour is in full swing. People are rushing around; anybody not fluent in using the Underground stands out a mile, mainly because they stand still, thereby breaking the second Golden Rule of Using The Tube (The First Golden Rule of Using The Tube being: stand on the right when using the escalator, for fuck‘s sake). I get to the platform and a tube pulls up immediately. Seemingly hundreds of people get off, as many get on and just 30 seconds after arrival the train is moving again. In Italy trains often take minutes at stations as people leisurely get on and off or say goodbye to relatives and lovers while the train drives has a fag. Here, travelling around town feels much like being in a large crowd: you have little choice but to be carried along by the weight and momentum of the crowd, and on the Tube you have little choice but to move at the frenetic pace of the locals.

I reach my interchange station. As I change lines I realise that the distance I’m walking under the city would take you half way across Verona. How many miles of network are there under London? Then I hear a busker playing the theme tune to Pulp Fiction. The excellent acoustics of the Tube system do a good job bringing the sound down the tunnel to me: the place is more than alive, it's a city system in its own right.

I reach the pub and it’s packed. No bar in Verona was ever like this. And, watching the game, I notice how many non-white faces there are, and they‘re cheering England. Although I grew up in a very multicultural area I still, when I return from more homogonous places, notice the cosmopolitanism of the place. The only non-white faces in Verona are in Veronetta, the city’s ghetto, and they represent a sub-culture; there seemed little, if any, integration into mainstream society. Of course, Britain still has much to do, but living elsewhere makes one realise how much we have embraced multiculturalism. Another surprise waiting for my friends.

I have nothing to say about the football that hasn’t already been said.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

I am back in England and in my parents house.

Things I have noticed since I landed:

(i) It is cold, grey and windy. And it was raining when I landed.
(ii) Everybody seems to have a beer gut.
(iii) I don't like these pounds and pence. I miss my Euro and I want it back.
(iv) The English are a bunch of stupid, xenophobic bastards. The very first conversation I overheard after landing involved two English guys, presumably arriving back from their holiday, in the queue for passport control:

"I've just been to the toilet. They have proper loos 'ere: runnin' water n everythin'"

"Yeah. But if we join Europe we'll have to go down to their level. We'll 'av to use their water"


And then the guy in front of me in the queue - who doesn't appear to know the two guys behind me - turns around and says "Nah - the French'll only go and nick it", and then laughs that satisfied laugh of somebody too impressed with their own humour. Twits, all of them.