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Sunday, 8 June 2014

Cats, sheds and transoceanic exploration

At first glance this post may appear a bit of a mish-mash. At a second glance, this post may also appear a bit of a mish mash. Frankly, its the best I can do as I nurse an enorgantic hang-over after a BBQ which finished a  week which may be described as bearing less than good news (of which more later) ..first up cats. Here's a few pictures of the cats Kali and Tosh,  who we shipped to the UK from Ontario. They themselves are transatlantic voyagers:

Cats have a very obvious point besides being rodent killers and mice suppressors, which is that they make people happy. They dont do anything else and they probably dont intend to make people happy (although how do we know either way?) but the fact that they do is why we flew them from Ontario. Next is a few pictures of a  shed that me and my friend Jeremiah James have built in some spare time for another friend in her massive and very beautiful garden. Even if it doesnt look like it, this shed is heavy on improvisation as it was constructed from discarded parts of another shed - it took considerable wood wrangling to make everything fit together and we are both incredibly proud of the result. In a way, the shed is a transoceanic thing because  Jerry (he grew up in a pretty remote village in Jamaica) and I crossed the Atlantic twice for settlement (and hope to do so one more time Westwards one day). In the pub the other night, Jerry and I were saying that we didnt know what to do now that we'd finished the shed.

Finally, last night we had a barbeque in my garden , largely cooked on a barbeque that we are looking after for the RHB's sister, Nysa. (NOTE: You all should know her name isnt Nysa but everyone on this blog gets a nickname and Nysa is norse for 'to seek') .We made far too much food and did nothing but eat, drink, sing and dance  until the early hours in the company of   people  some of who we will not see again. The people at the BBQ were from all around the world.  The reason we are looking after the barbeque is that Nysa is currently in Tonga (or thereabouts) in the middle of the Pacific an an adventure, sailing round the world on a sailboat. She really is a transoceanic explorer - she was gone for the best part of last year and will be about another year and a half travelling West before ending up in Italy or thereabouts. Its an incredible expedition for all sorts of reasons. I dont know exactly why our transoceanic explorer is doing what she is doing other than I know it is not for money: if I had to guess, I'd say she wanted a challenge.

Next time any idiot talks to you about 'human nature' in association with competitiveness or  rationale  economics and the application thereof to macro-economics, or alternatively talks to you about  immigration and its  problems (this is a dual use post) ask them to read this post before 'unfriending' them on Facebook.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

The Bad Back

BAckground: "I've got a bad back". A ridiculous piece of language when you think of it  - firstly the bodily area in question isn't a unitary thing, secondly it would be better to use a possessive pronoun,  and thirdly the back has'nt done anything wrong. Nevertheless, and ridiculous as it is, the phrase is accurate - to whit, I have a bad back. Or rather I have had a bad back in earnest  since about 1995 although even prior to that time, the back was suspect.  Suspect is another ridiculous word to describe a body part, used in soccer as follows:   'The boy Rigby has a suspect hamstring' (younger members of any given team are referred to as 'the boy...(name)'. Actually the more I think about it, the more ridiculous any and every language continues to be and a good part of me wishes we communicated in binary, with politicians limited to unitary. 

Anyway, the back (mine) has been bad (damaged not misbehaviour) probably the result of a combination of factors including yrs trly being long and stringy, damage caused by badly performed but  repeated physical actions (such as carrying  and lugging), bad posture and inappropriate or reduced exercise. The most recent bout has been the result of both inappropriate and reduced exercise but it has been in a good cause. This good cause has been the rapid writing of academic papers for publication which has seen me planted at the desk for much longer than normal.

The story: It all started with a visit from a famous academic in January. This particular academic is so famous that major parties consult him, he is frequently on tv and radio and now he was coming to my town to give a talk. I went along, not because I was impressed by the fame, but because I was interested to see that this guy's work had wandered into territory I cover in my research. I say wander, because the talk, although good, gave some impression that the speaker's interest in the topic was quite political and probably temporary - a kind of ideological diletante visiting 'immigration', possibly because every politician in the UK is obsessed with immigration at present, so the issue is 'current' (and we are obliged to swear in blood that our research will be current) . Equally however, the speaker's interest may be burgeoning and a lifelong commitment to researching immigration may follow. Whatever the speaker's motivation,  for me, and as being an immigrant is what inspired the PhD in the first place and because  I think processes of migration warrant further study rather than political visiting, the speaker's attention was welcome if, by dint of making a serious, academic and professional point at the conclusion of his talk, I could impress on him the need to make his visit (to the topics of migration) slightly longer and therefore have several important facts about migration relayed to senior politicians (who seem utterly unacquainted with facts of any type). That was the hope anyway, and if you think that the sentence immediately preceding this one is complicated, requiring a coupla reads before you understand what it says, you want to be there when I ask a question at academic conferences.

The problem is that I am so utterly out of place at academic events. No, really, this is not false modesty, I just dont belong at these things. Its not imposter syndrome either - I've discussed this with my good (newish) friends Riccardo and Cecilia and  they clearly  feel that someone will find them 'out' as new academics. If anything, I have reverse-imposter syndrome -  I believe I have found out the world of academia - a lot of it is constructed and stage managed so carefully  because some  people are terrified of (good)  radical new ideas . And this puts me out of place at academic events because although I recognize  the complex mirage-dance of manners, I just cant do it very well. Take 'the coffee bit' for example. I know that after you've grabbed your inadequately sized cup of shit coffee, you're supposed to chat, usually in some type of foyer, completely unsuitable for chatting. I havent got a clue what you're supposed to chat about , only that you're supposed to look intelligent or interested with a very controlled demeanour that should be pre-set somewhere between polite smugness and vaguely amused interest both with a dash of appraisingness while you drop names. In no circumstances ever  should you be "abso-fucking-lutely furious" (as I am about the immigration policy of the UK), and you should definitely not describe it in terms, or manner which indicates that you are abso-fuckin- lutely furious. You also should'nt find anything "brilliant", "really funny", "dead sad" or "a load of w***" all of which I have uttered during various 'the coffee bit'-s. If you do commit the crime of actually saying what you think, or talking about last night's footie or expressing strong emotion, there is a sideways glance and/or an imperceptible but perceptible shuffle on the part of your conversant and you find yourself alone-among-people in a large foyer that is completely unsuitable for being alone-among-people in. One solution to this is to take a conference-buddy, which is a bit like a f**-buddy (and may also be that as well), so that you dont have to endure 'the coffee bit' alone but this still means that if you ask a question within the talk, and you are not in the (or 'a')  'in crowd' you have to do so solo.

This was the point I was trying to raise about three paragraphs ago,  and that its taken this long to get 'there' may also be an illustration of why  I hate asking questions in academic situations: I find it really difficult to have  enough thoughts of the right standard while listening to an academic talk, let alone formulate coherent questions. Thus it is embarassing to feel that I have to ask a question at some point.  My accent - which is notorious  in the UK -  also doesnt help , threatening  (the accent that is) as it does,  through various social constructions of 'scousers',  to tell a joke, issue a threat of violence and be radically politically Left Wing simultaneously in a whiney nasal tone  in any question I ask even though I might'nt say anything which suggest any of those things with my words. The result is that when I do ask a question meant as a genuine enquiry it is wildly incoherent because I'm conciously trying to avoid sounding funny, threatening, Left Wing  or whiney but instead am trying to sound academic.

The result of asking my rubbish question is a bad back months after the event.  This is both a surprise and a problem because much to my surprise my observations strike a chord and I am identified as something of an expert, refreshingly regional and radical,  a bit dangerous perhaps  but academically sound. This is good for my research field, so is welcome, but is also a problem because having been identified in certain quarters as someone with something to say, I now have to say it, rather than (as was the current condition) say that I am going to be saying something (at some unspecified point). Thus much time has been spent writing furiously, glued to the laptop where I have had to concentrate on removing the word 'clearly' from everything I have ever written and replacing it with evidence. And such writing has reduced exercise significantly which has resulted in a bad back.  I've already resolved for the sake of the back never to ask another question in an academic conference again.

THe BA\d

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Dogged determinism

Well, Yrs trly has finished in York and not before time, mainly to do with patience. Dont misunderstand me, York is a pretty enough city, as blights on the landscape that cities represent, go. And I am now officially qualified to do what I have been doing for a number of years, namely teach people to speak the English. But a month was enough, for two, or possibly three, reasons.

Firstly, the commute. It doesnt take long before irritation sets in with commuting. The first thing that annoys me about this is the inanity of early morning commuting conversation,  repeated year-in-year out. I'm not  a conversation snob - listening to Mandy (our friend) telling her stories about work is a jaw dropping  pleasure. Mandy has  the 'she said and then I said' style of narrative down to an art form: "She said 'That's my mop' she said, and I said to her I said 'Get yer own naffin mop'" all delivered with shudders and finger pointing at exactly the right moment. But there is a certain type of lower middle management whose commuting conversation is a crime against speaking or any other form of communication. This is the type that actively wants to live in a new build estate named 'Elm Lea Grange' by the contractors Redrow in memory of all the trees they removed to build the inadequately insulated chimneyless plasticized boxes that infest English suburbia and who sprays insecticide everywhere in their garden to get rid of 'pests' but who likes going to 'country pubs' because its more natural who proudly describe themselves as  pragmatic  and the type who will survive a zombie apocalypse: unimaginative, prosaic, bilious and dull. An example of this during the last week of my commute was provided by Cathy. Cathy  gets on at Selby every morning with two friends and last week was planning a thirtieth birthday party, one of her primary ambitions for which was to ensure that 'people' did'nt get too drunk because she "could'nt be doing with" a party that was  "chaotic". In fact, Cathy's descriptions of "how much bother" was involved in arranging the party revolved around ensuring the maximum control over peoples' behaviour, including start and finish times (not too early, not too late), clothing ("I dont want anyone turning up like its a cattle market"), music (the dj's been given a list), children's involvement (they have specific duties), food ("the eating bit should'nt go on too long because then everyone gets settled and just talks") and arranging the date so it's impossible for people she does'nt like (but has invited anyway because she 'has to') to politely refuse to attend ("I told Emma weeks ago so she's got no excuse"). Cathy's friend's murmured agreement that as long as she could arrange everything exactly as planned,  "the night" should go well and offered a few suggestions for further control, such as the exact timing of when Cathy should allow everyone to sing her 'Happy Birthday' and how she should manage the receiving of gifts which everyone was required to bring, the purchase of which Cathy had directed in advance by issuing a list of acceptable items ("a good idea" intoned her co-commuters). Just before alighting at York, Cathy mused that sometimes she wondered if it was all "more trouble than it was worth", and I found myself nodding in furious agreement, the first, and only time  in the half hour I had been earwigging her conversation that we concurred entirely.

The second reason a month was enough concerns  the phrase 'station stop' (as in "Selby is your next station-stop"). Regular readers will remember my action filled one man campaign to have this hideous phrase removed from the lexicon, a campaign which I believed , at the time, to be successful. However,  as fellow activist campaigners will know and  as demonstrated by Nelson Mandela, the search for justice is never done, If a warrior for freedom abandons vigilance for even a moment, the forces of tyranny  will rise up again, relentless and implaccable. Thus it has been with 'station-stop'. Since I abandoned my campaign, satisfied that I had struck a blow against the hegemony of shit phrases, 'station stop' has returned with a vengeance, possibly being employed with more frequency than ever before. Clearly, a month has not been enough to re-launch my campaign so I have had to accept that at 07:37 every morning, the speaker in the carriage will crackle into life and "Selby is your next station stop" will echo unsonorously throughout the train. It has been tough on the nerves. 

The third reason a month was enough concerns the qualification achieved in the month, a growing discontent with which may have fuelled the irritations expressed above. The qualification was an English language teaching qualification, necessary for my future employment, but as the course progressed I experienced a mounting disquiet, similar to that experienced when being taught about 'learning styles' in my undergraduate degree. As a relatively recent acolyte at the altar of learning, and therefore not someone who can claim expertise, repeated contact with experienced academics and teachers has led me to the conclusion that learning (and teaching) without criticality is a waste of time. This criticality may take a number of directions, from functional analysis of reductive evidence in support of an idea (common in science) to analysis and critique of one's own worldview (common in social science) but despite an occasional divergence between academic paradigms (I know its a horrible word and one I try to avoid but the only one I can think of at the moment), the fundamental principle that is suggested is rigour (of thinking). In my recent course, debates over rigour focused n the thorny issue of  'pair work', which we, as trainee teachers, had been told was integral to good language teaching. One day, near the end of the course, I (who had been repeatedly marked down in assessment  of my teaching for not pairing students) could stand it no longer:

"What...." I asked, genuinely curious "...if like me, a student doesn't like 'pair work'?. What if, like me, they want to absorb new information themselves before discussing it with another person in case the other person is equally ignorant of the new information and themselves also require time to absorb it before they can say anything useful ? Also, what if, like me, they dont like the person they are paired with?" (this latter comment slipped out accidentally but reflected the actual situation in the training room because I really didnt like the person I was paired with and the extent of the dislike was such that it was evident to the rest of the class, causing an amused ripple in the room) "Not that I dont like the person I'm currently paired with"  I lied " but what if I didnt?".

The trainer smiled "An interesting point" he said "And thanks for that! So, like Mazzer says, how do we ensure students work in pairs? Have a think about it, in your pairs, for a few minutes..."

"I'm sorry" I said, utilising the phrase 'I'm sorry' in its full English usage "But that's not what I meant. I dont understand why we insist on 'pair work'. I mean, what is the theory behind it?"

"That's a good question. And thanks for that!" said the trainer, seamlessly practising one of the other tenets of teacher training which is to never engage in a debate about anything, especially when asking other people to debate something "In your pairs, also talk  about why 'pair work' is so effective. I want to see some real discussion going on". He leant closer to me and smiled "Thanks for that"  he said, then indicated that the class should continue.

The phrase 'dogged determination' is understood to  describe an individual's persistence because, according to vox populi comprehension,  it describes a canine pursuing a goal single-mindedly, such as gnawing on an old bone. However, there is nothing as determined as a cat which wishes to embrace the dawn chorus but finds the cat flap, or the back door,  locked and the persistence with which said feline will sit on the bed padding a human's face or sticking its sharpest claw up the right nostril until it gets a response, makes a dog look like a diletante. I returned to the fray, channeling  Toshack:

"But what are we discussing? Are we debating whether 'pair work' works or just accepting that it does and talking about it?" I asked, and determined not to be thanked again I rushed on, this time risking appearing to be that most hated of classroom entities, the smart arse " I mean, is 'pair work' based on Brunner's appropriation of the work of Vygotsky, the oft misunderstood notion of scaffolding? Because if it is, then surely it would only work if you were very careful about who was paired with who and..."

"Thanks for that!" the trainer interrupted smilingly "yes 'pair work' is effective because the students enjoy it as Mazzer says, and it helps them to learn and lots of research has shown this. So have a think about that,  in your pairs, for three minutes, then we'll have a discussion".

The inner cat slunk off. I capitulated and sat, in silence  with the other half of my pair while she carefully wrote 'Pair work' on a fresh sheet in her notebook, outlined the words with a little cloud and proceeded to tag the cloud with phrases like "students enjoy", "good practice"  and "good for learning". "What do you think? " she asked. "I dont" I replied.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Earth and Water

The sharp pain in the achilles, just above the ankle is indication that there has been an infrigement of mine personage. I turn round and see that its just Pat. I have been barged into by Pat, so I am the bargee and Pat the barger. Her instrument of choice is a scuffed plastic trolley, the topmost layer of which contains, for want of a better description, "food" items, and it would appear,  to the uniformed,  that Pat has just jumped the queue at Pumpkin, Hull Paragons foremost refreshment stand,  and is now, like me,  waiting for a hot drink. But looks can be deceptive, because Pat, according to her name badge,  is a five star member  of the Pumpkin's customer service team and this morning, her job is to replenish the supply of 'hot and cold snacks, sandwiches and light refreshments'  which henceforth we'll refer to as hcsslr,  that repose on the countertop near the till.

"Thiei dont get out'tt'way do thiei?" she asks Lindsey, as she lifts large plastic lids off plates of hcsslr. The lids, ill matches for the plates they cover, look like they've been purchased secondhand from Bargain Village, having that post-apocalyptic sheen typical of old plastic,  and have condensation on the inside which rapidly starts pooling on the floor which is where Pat has placed them. Other customers in the queue start retreating form the growing pool, but, as the bargee, I feel duty bound to stand my ground, so I dont move. This doesnt bother Pat, she just leans in, like a roller derby queen on the final bend, and sweeps the old hcsslr in front of me into a plastic bag. She drops a few into the pool of spreading water, but picks them up and chucks them in the bag.

"Yeh cant get at them from t'other side" says Pat, and I  realize she's probably earned her stripes through implementation of  innovative resupply strategies. When the plates have been emptied, Pat reloads them with the new hcsslr form the top of her trolley, pausing only to place her hand firmly on each item of hcsslr "Them sausage baps're still 'ot" she tells Lindsey, who has ceased service completely to watch Pat at work.

Now there are   times when a cessation of service at the drinks counter of a busy railway station may cause problems and some stress. If one analysed timetables carefully, one could probably predict when these times and the causal chain behind the resulting stress. I conducted such an analysis one morning while glancing briefly at the departure board, and the results were astonishing. In early morn, between ten two and five past seven, the trains for all of the natural commuter destinations realistically achievable from Hull (Selby, Leeds, York), and the most popular  business and airport destinations (London and Manchester) all leave. The pattern is repeated about half an hour later, with the delayed 7.37 leading the charge. Thus, one might predict that at a refreshment stand, demand might peak slightly prior to these departures, perhaps tailing off after ten minutes. In terms of service, this may imply a logistical problem - a log jam, in effect around these departure times as hordes of thirsty commuters roll up at your counter baying for a 'latte', 'americano' or even a hcsslr and a beverage.

You can imagine the hcsslr service staff who've worked these shifts as battle scarred veterans: ,steel eyed, square jawed, hard bitten survivors of a battle where steam bilged from the expresso maker as orders came in thick and fast "Latte!", "Tea!", "Capuchino" and even the dreaded "Decaf Americano" as the crowd of  pre-stressed communters built to a peak, flyers and business people impatient, waiting, urgent. In this imagining,  the staff gave as good as they got, hurling themselves from coffee maker to  fridge to cup storage to till... "one latte!!", "expresso!!!" "two pounds fifty!" "next please" .. hot beverage orders flying off the counter top until they did it.... they stemmed the tide. Like Spartans at Thermopylae they knew their victory was temporary but like Spartans, they approached their fate phlegmatically "We'll serve hcsslr in the shade" indeed.

This is perhaps a romantic view, but having commuted in the UK and travelled abroad (as they say), hcsslr staff are increasing Spartan. Identikit uniforms, scripted dialogue, scrupulously clean, ruthlessly, inhumanly efficient, and utterly careless about your (the customer's) fate. That is what customer service is about. You are brushed aside in order to prove how much the company care about you by showing you they can get rid of you quickly and this is done while they convince you that this is what you want.  Rush hours are not a problem - there's just more product to shift, efficiently, ruthlessly, inhumanly. Buying a coffee in York, Leeds or London rail stations  is one of the most demoralising experiences I have....and if you notice the tense, you will realise that I repeat the experience, frequently.

There's only two places I have been which buck the trend. In Hull, Pat has solved the problem of the log jam by timing her replenishment of hcsslr so that it co-incides with the imminent departure of the busiest trains. No service happens while Pat is replenishing from the front of the counter and the enemy attack just withers away. Commuters who are really hoping for a last minute coffee abandon the queue in droves,  and scores more by-pass Pumpkin. You'll only get a drink if you time your run perfectly.

"What can I get you love?" asks Lindey, brightly after Pat's finished "Any hcsslr today?". The replaced plastic tops  of the resupplied hcsslr plates are condensing quite quickly. "No thanks" I say brightly "Not today! Just tea!". Lindsey delivers, I pay and she asks "Where you off to today then?" as to my right a newbie customer is jiggling his change and  jumping up and down, apopleptic, but clearly English and Yorkshire,  because he says nothing about his agitation. "Just York like normal" I tell her "See you tomorrow".

As a note on the progress of this blog, I realise that this most recent spate of wrting is supposed to be about my adventures as a CELTA trainee in York, yet it is still only 06:56 and we havent left Hull yet after two attempts! Forgive my indulgence reader! I find commuting from Hull a unique experience but probably one which will not last forever, given increasing homogeneity. I can think of only two places I have been in similarly industrialised countries where the railway station or airport refreshment stands equal Hull's in terms of quirkiness and those two other places are Liverpool, where the main barrier is understanding anything the staff say, and Halifax NS where you get the feeling that hclssr might be Government make-work training schemes.I wil try to get to York tomorrow!

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Symbolic Interactionism and Waggagaling

Its a vagrant misty morning and two old companions have resumed a familiar routine. If I were to mention that  the aforementioned routine involves the Crosstowner, early, early morn and Hull's Paragon Railway station, regular readers would probably be able to deduce that the second member of the partnership is yrs trly. And having deduced that fact (which I can confirn), the same regular reader might be aghast. "Has he taken leave of his senses?" they might say "Surely, our friend, and PhD candidate MJ etc cannot have resumed commuting? Why it seems like only two years ago that I was reading, with horror, tales of the (delayed) 7.37 to Leeds". Shaking their head, the regular reader may decide to read on, but I imagine that some would make themselves a very strong cup of coffee before deciding whether to forge ahead - although (and as will be discussed in another post) there may be some debate on whether you can 'forge ahead' with reading.

To allay some immediate fears, it is not the (delayed) 7.37 that we are intending to rendevous. And, having rendevoused, the Crosstowner wont join me on the train, but will stable in a quiet berth, near the employees rest rooms, at Hull Paragon station. And it is not 7.37am that is our temporal target, but the slightly earlier time of 7.07. And as a final piece of essential information, the destination is not the hideous metropolis of Leeds, but the much more attractive city of York, where I have enrolled on a course leading to accreditation known as CELTA  necessitating a month of travel, of which, half way through I am. 'Why' may be addressed later, but lets return to the immediate (recent) past present and the scenario we opened with, the Crosstowner thundering across Pearson Park, breaking through the early morning mist like a warhorse on the fields of Agincourt.

We roll into Hull Paragon Interchange Bus/Railway Station/Taxi Stand at 6.45 and I ruminate, as I glance at the sign,  on the fact that  if,  half way through my commute,  the  undecided nature of Hull Paragon is a source of growing irritation,  I have much to be grateful for that this commute is not permanent. I breeze past coffee stand No 1 - not open - and head for WH Smith, vendor of newspapers and magazines. Those with long memories may recall a running battle between proprietor of said store and self, based around my refusal to insert the word 'Thank you' into every utterance. I walk into his store, grab a pack of gum and stick it on the counter with the exact money, wave cheerily without a word, especially 'thank you'  - as his face rapidly ascends to puce - and walk out. Or rather, I try to, because he calls out '!Excuse me sir'. Actually,  if I had to use phonological symbols, I could represent what he said better, because the ! is really a strangled 'Oi!' which he realizes half way through he is not allowed to say because of corporate customer care policy (WH Smith is a franchise in railway stations) so he transmangles the 'Oi!' halfway through utterance and starts his sentence sounding a bit like our cats when they are particularly annoyed by the rain. However, he makes it clear with his follow-up that I should return to the counter.

Stretching his palm out expectantly he says "Thank you, sir, I need to scan the gum". He is just short of waggaling (please note the spelling is deliberate to emphasize just how much he wanted to waggal at me) his fingers impatiently. I wont be pushed around, so I say:

'Cant you just scan another pkt of gum?'

His near- waggaling escalates into near-waggagaling:

'Cant do that, sir! Need to scan for stocktaking. The Gum' (an order, linguistically an imperative, near waggalling reaching new peak of intensity).Thank you' (an expletive, socio-anthropologically a challenge to a death match).

'Well I've torn the packet now' I say, indicating an unreadable bar code.

The near-waggagalling becomes the full waggagal, indicating I should hand over the bar accompanied of course, with a curt 'Thank You' (phonologically his 'thank you's' have also become shorter). He looks at the packet in disgust 'Technically, that's shop lifting, you see' he says 'until its been scanned'. While saying this he's trying to scan the half open pkt o'gum with its damaged bar code. He realises very quickly this is impossible so he redoubles his efforts exaggeratedly sweeping the gum past his scanner, sighing dramatically.He contorts his body, twisting his upper arms so he looks as if he's doing an impression of a nesting ostrich, but the pkt o'gum remains unscannable.

Meanwhile,  I am amazed that I have practically been accused of shoplifting,  so look for support to the growing line behind me with a sceptical raising of the eyebrows and equally theatrical nod towards puce-face intended to be visible to my audience. There are not sympathetic tuts or wry smiles, indeed no support is evident and there's no sign of an incipient constituency either : queue-ers in WH Smith at this time of the morning are, by and large,  a certain type of Middle England commuter, the type of person who tolerates losing three hours of every single day travelling to work on a crappy rail system and buys the same middle brow newspaper  which  regularly reports on the crappy railway system and inhuman job market that makes people travel ludricrous distances to hold down a-shitty-job-in-a-financial-institution-that-caused-the-unemployment-in-your-home-town-that-means-your-life-is-just-a-procession-of-transferals-from-metal/train-box-to-concrete/office-box in the first place and who thinks these reports are about other people. For commuters like this, utterly self absorbed, life is 'that's just the way it is' and things are done a certain way because....well just because. Buying gum without scanning the bar code or four 'thank-you's' is a hanging offence. I receive no support;  instead I am tutted at (we have discussed the etiology of English tutting before and I wont repeat the discussion here).

I get my gum in the end, a definitively Pyrrhic victory,  and wander over to Pumpkin, the notorious coffee franchise people may remember from my exploits as a Leeds-bound commuter. At one time relations with the Pumpkin staff were not good, following an incident involving a ham sandwich and a croissant, but over the last year or two , the Pumpkin staff and I have grown closer.

'Where'y off to t'day then love?' says Lindsey as I gesture vaguely, which she inteprets (correctly) as 'tea with a little bit of milk'

'York, again' I say. I've explained to Lindsey several times over the previous two weeks  that:

1. I used to travel to Leeds but dont anymore
2. On Thursday evening I go to Beverley
3. Now I go to York every day.
4. Occasionally I go elsewhere

'Oh thats right,...' says Lindsey '....there you go love (handing over the tea).....I forget where you're off to ...cant keep track of all your travelling'.

That someone  who works in a railway/bus station/taxi rank is surprised that someone they regularly meet at (and because of)  a railway station,  should travel a lot is itself surprising, but Lindsey is lovely- bright, bubbly and friendly. I hand over £1.80 for my cup of disgusting tea and tell Lindsey 'Cheers. Thanks. Ta! See you later'.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

ROH 3: The Full English Breakfats

 I acknowledge that this final installment on the ROH eventuates quite considerably after said vacation. Notwithstanding, and with all the usual excuses, I shall plunge onwards , if only for the sake of completeness.

As a recap, we are somewhere hot with a pool.............

It may just be that I lack the necessary perspicacity,  but I cannot tell, at a glance, that the locals of  somewhere-hot-with-a-pool (SHWAP) are lazy, at least not without the benefit of a good meal inside me. The subject of a good meal crops up in the following account but we are all driven by forces and emotions we cannot control - or at least the Racists later told me - and one of my driving fears, at least as far as these accounts go,  is that a true(ish) record unsequentially told may miss something vital, so I will start at how it started.

It is one am and I am drunk. This in itself is not unusual, but more unusual is the RHB is also drunk, ditto Skarra, who I have seldom.....correction never......seen so regularly blotto. Perhaps that's why we engaged in conversation with the Racists, but perhaps it was just the good mood engendered by sunshine, exercise under said sunshine and satisfying food. Much to my surprise, the couple that join us at the bar appear drunker than us if their attempts to mount the adjacent bar stools, resembling as they do  those of eager puppies trying to climb a smallish step. That they can have achieved a more drunken state that us is surprising, and frankly a little offensive, but not nearly as surprising and offensive as thei introductory remarks:

"Fucking Hell" shouts the female version "My fuckin oldest daughter's just spent two hours holding  her sister's fucking placenta. Those Fucking twats in the National Health Service."

The Racists are from Hull.

I look at our Greek host, a family man who own the bar and the apartment complex. He smiles, perhpas a little tentatively

"Hi Angela, what are you drinking?" he asks politely.

"I NEED a fucking drink" says the elderly lady "Gimme a gin. Double".

She then proceeds to describe the chaos that the "Fucking twats" in the National Health Service have caused by not turning up to her younger daughter's unexpected early delivery of progeny until called, including repeating a gynaecological description of the birth until we all understood that it was a messy affair. Having offended our host via an entirely culturally insensitive disregard for acceptable topics of conversation, she slumps exhausted at the bar with a final "Fucking.........twats".

"You're from Hull, arent you?" I ask.

"Born and bred" she says ignoring that breed isnt just the physical process of development but is usually considered to include some instruction in decorum as well.

"We live in Hull" I say brightly " its great"

This is all it took for the Racist to launch into a well rehearsed diatribe on how Hull used to be great but is now crap. Lnes of 'argument' include:

"They get all the housing - and I should know I am responsible for allocating public housing in the North End"

"I lock my car doors when I drive down Newland Avenue - its like driving through a foreign city"
[Note:  estimated BME population of Hull is about 8% of the total population and we live in Newland Avenue near the University where there are quite a few international students.]

"I'm terrified of them burkhas - you dont know whether there's a man under one with a gun or a knife"
(This said in relation to local bus services).

"Why did they have to come to Hull? Arent there enough crap places in their own country?"

"I'm not racist but (yes the male version  did actually say this or an anlaog of) unless they (?) stop them (?) there will be violence on the streets just like there used to be."
(The logic of this, and the historical accuracy escapes me but it was said in response to my objections to their comments.)

Now it should be noted that early in the diatribe, RHB and Skarra with drew from the conversation, on reflectoin a wise decision and an option which was open to me. I however was drunk enough to think that I could use reason and logic to persuade them, in a non-confronatational way, that not only were their words offensive and ill-chosen, but that their thoughts were also offensive and ill-chosen with the additional handicap of being wrong. And it should also be noted that while  I utterly failed in my attempt, I maintained a calm demeanour throughout, sensitive to maintaining the appearance of harmony in our host's establishment. Unfortunately, this tactic had the opposite effect, so much so that eventually the female Racist screamed at me and told  me I didnt know what I was talking about because I was an immigrant too and "as bad as all them".

In an act of conciliation, and further  in the interests of keeping our hosts' establishment peaceful, I offered and olive branch

 "Ok" I said "Let's agree to disagree and I dont think we're going to persuade eachother. I respect your viewpoints and I understand your fears" (I dont and I didnt) "Lets talk about this place... you know it quite well obviously " (they had talked about previous visits and how lovely "the locals" where, while presumably simlutaneously being grateful that he same locals were'nt in Hull)

The male racist agreed, and chummily slapped my arm "Fair enough" he said " You'll change when you've seen a few things. But I can tell you about this bar - best food on the island"

"Oh really" I said, grateful he'd picked up the lead "We love food - we're a bit 'foodie' I suppose! What's on the menu here?"

"I can tell you, my friend" the male Racist said, apprently to me "you can get the Full English Breakfast - thats' sausage, eggs, bacon, beans, toast, hash browns and tomatoes - here for only six Euros".

I must have looked a bit blank because he re-phrased:

"Sausage, eggs, bacon, tomatoes, hash browns, beans and toast for only six Euros. That would cost about seven in Cyprus".

I must have continued looking blank, because he re-re-phrased:

"In Hull, the full English Breakfast - that's bacon, eggs, hash browns, toast, sausage and tomatoes - would cost about six quid (seven Euros) and no cup of tea included. That's how good the food is here"

I have to admit, I felt like restarting the argument about immigration again but at that moment, RHB and Skarra announced that they were even drunker than previously so we headed back to our apartments.

The next day, I recounted the 'conversation' I had had with the Racists to both. As the holiday progressed, two themes emerged as a result of the conversation and my account of it. Frstly, Skarra started laboriously  listing every ingredient of every dish, or edible substance, at every opportunity. For example, if we were going to have coffee and a small pastry, he would say  "I will meet you for a snack - that's coffee, yeast, flour, sugar, milk and suitable flavourings - at eleven am".  The second theme that emerged was that it was obvious that the Racists, despite the apparent detante of the evening, had not forgotten and not forgien and that Not only I, but RHB and Skarra, had been tarred with the same shameful brush of  being tolerant and not-Fascist. When any of us went to the pool, either communally or individually, the Racists would sit glaring at us, sipping gin and beer and eating bacon butties, chunnering under their breath "there's the liberals, look at them with their offensive beliefs in the fundamental equality of human beings".

It got so bad that none of us felt comfortable going to the pool bar which was sad becasue the host was very nice and it was close enough to our aprtment that even very drunk you could still get home. Thereforeone night, I attempted a reconciliation, heroically seeking to take the burden of being labelled as socially divisive from my fellow do-gooders' shoulders so that they at least could get drunker near to home. I approached the Racists - who none of us had spoken to for two weeks- at the bar.

"Hey Guys" I ventured "Erm...."

I was about to say, in the interests of reconciliation,   that despite our introductory conversation,  were werent really all that tolerant and in fact were all suspicious of Klingons (an identifiable ethnic minority), which nearly made us Racists too. I have to confess that this was a bit of a lie - Skarra has declared his respect for Klingons and an interest in eating 'Ghaa' on more than one occasion - but what the heck, I thought, we are on holiday somewhere warm with a pool - you cant fight fascism every day.

The female rascist interrupted me. "Its ok" she said " We were a bit over the top the first night. We dont really hate immigrants - not all of them anyway-and I think we might have got off on the wrong foot......."

{The English love of euphemism needs to be commented on here:  'getting off on the wrong foot' implies a regrettable, but mutual misunderstanding between two people who, it is implied, largely share values. If I were being pedantic, I would say that we didnt get off on the wrong foot, rather, a racist met and anti-racist and had an argument. Wrong footedness had nothing to do with it, the basic problem was incompatible world view or weltenschauung. }

I realised I had not been listening and the racist was still droning on about how she wasnt racist it was just that she could'nt tell if  the five foot one inch tall person dressed in a burkha she had once seen was a female or a strapping male and as she was in a vulnerable place subject to terror threat (the No15 bus to Orchard Park)  her hatred of everyone in 'ethnic' clothes was hence justified  ".................but despite all that I think its fear rather than that I dont like them as people" she said.

I was temporarily staggered. I had just not-listened to the closest a biggot will come to admitting that the fault is not one of Other, but rather a trait that they themselves ought to 'deal' with . I remember thinking to myself that rapprochment would not get closer - at least not Somewhere warm with a pool. I bought them a drink and said something about 'well  that's good news' (at which female racist looked puzzled) and was enjoying the conversation dying as conversations do between people who have nothing to say to eachother, not even argument. The atmosphere reached a level of true tranquil serenity as the conversation breathed its last - it was so dead we may all have been utterly alone - then the female Racist said conversationally "Well, you know after all that fuss, we dont really know anything about you and your 'friends'...." she said (she and hubby harboured the idea that Large, self and Skarrat were in a menage a trois)  "...what do you all do , for work you know, and why did you come here?"   Despite the territoriality of the way she said "here' , the question was I believe well intentioned, the type of information she would need when describing to her friends back home the wierdos she had met. I answered for all of us, shorthand (and therefore I acknowledge not entirely accurately but I wanted to be back with my imagined lovers) :

"Oh we're academics, you know, RHB and Sk psychologists and I'm a kind of linguist..." I noticed a strange look developing on her face but  carried on   ".....and this isnt our type of holiday really... you know me and Sk usually go for a bike ride, last year we did coast to coast ..."

The explosion caught me somewhat by surprise "FUCKIN CYCLISTS !! AT THE  FUCKING UNIVERSITY !!! FUCKING .........................I HATE CYCLISYS.....FUCKING HI VIZ TWATS........FUCKIN UNIFUCKINVERSITY.....GET AREAL JOB......FUCKIN SNOBS..........."

I left shortly after and have not seen the World's Best racists since. The next day our trois (sans menage) flew home . One of the first things we did on arrival back in the UK was purchase a full English breakfast (vegetarian option).